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  1. Top News Stories

    • Heaven's Gate on Blu-ray

    • Late in November of 1980 United Artists took out a glossy multi-page ad in Daily Variety extolling Heaven's Gate as the artistic triumph of the century. A few days later we read that the movie had been judged a complete washout, in some of the worst reviews ever read. It was pulled from exhibition in less than a week. More damning was the industry outrage that a director had been permitted to waste $40 million of Transamerica's investor dollars. In what amounted to a media lynching, "the biz" came down hard on Heaven's Gate. The newly elected Ronald Reagan was already in the process of forcing unions to bow to the needs of corporate America. The moneymen that controlled the studios blamed all their woes on profligate directors.

      Michael Cimino had been handed a once-in-the-history-of-movies opportunity with Heaven's Gate. Just a couple of years before, the heavy-hitting top brass of United Artists had defected to form Orion Pictures. The remaining UA executives green-lit Cimino's film and allowed him to run wild. This part of the story has been told in Steven Bach's book Final Cut as well as 1,001 sarcastic editorials decrying the expenditure of so much money on such a universally panned, totally uncommerical project.

      The movie has been in limbo ever since. The original 219-minute cut disappeared save for a few showings on the Los Angeles "Z" cable channel. United Artists was sold to MGM, which put out a truly terrible-looking non-anamorphic DVD in 2000. A couple of years ago Criterion licensed a group of MGM titles and set out to bring Heaven's Gate to Blu-ray in a new restoration.

      Is Heaven's Gate worth seeing? Yes, definitely. Is it an unrecognized masterpiece? No way, not by a long shot. Cimino's film is enjoyable in the way that many epics are enjoyable -- its size can be pleasing in itself. It has attractive stars, attractive scenes, and hours (and hours) of beautiful scenery. But it's also a heavy film, weighed down by its theme and a snail's-pace approach to the oft-told story of settlers forced to fight wealthy cattlemen for the right to settle the open plains. Starting with some research on barbed wire, Cimino fashioned an alternate, highly politicized version of this tale. The settlers are now impoverished Eastern European immigrants homesteading the inhospitable open range. The cattlemen are simplistic evil capitalists that place profits over human lives. To drive out the squatters, the cattlemen brand them as foreign degenerates, thieves and anarchists. The law, the army and the government look the other way Wyoming is 'cleansed' of undesirables.

      Cimino's main character is a mostly powerless witness to this social and political catastrophe. Twenty years after graduating from Harvard, the wealthy James Averill (Kris Kristofferson) is the Federal Marshall of Johnson County. Cully the stationmaster (Richard Masur) tells Averill that the Stockgrower's Association is hiring gunslingers from out of town to 'legally' kill 125 immigrants placed on a Death List. Association President Frank Canton (Sam Waterston) can't wait to secure the entire state as a privately owned ranch. One name on the Death List is Averill's girl friend, brothel madam Ella (Isabelle Huppert). She reportedly takes stolen cattle in lieu of cash for services rendered. Ella's other boyfriend is one of Canton's regulators, Nate Champion (Christopher Walken), who has already earned a bankroll by shooting immigrants that he catches with stolen cattle. A wave of murder is coming but Averill can't convince Ella to leave. Bartender John Bridges (Jeff Bridges) sympathizes with the immigrant mob but does nothing to help them. The local army commander (Terry O'Quinn) has been ordered to stand down. Upset that Ella has accepted Nate's proposal of marriage, Averill drinks himself into a stupor just as Canton and his mercenaries arrive by train to begin their war on the immigrant class. Spurred on by a socialist orator in their ranks (Brad Dourif), the disorganized homesteaders rush out to confront Canton's private army. It's class warfare, a rabble vs. the capitalists.

      Heaven's Gate has narrative similarities with Sergio Leone's later Italian westerns, operatic exercises in mythomania. As he does in parts of The Deer Hunter, Michael Cimino aspires to capture the free-flowing pageantry of Luchino Visconti or Bernardo Bertolucci, on a much larger scale and with a story that could be told in eighty minutes. After the situation in Wyoming is laid out, we soak up hours of detail and atmospheric set pieces while very little happens that is essential. Averill, Ella and Nate's romantic triangle amounts to a hangdog version of Jules and Jim minus forward momentum. Both rivals ask Ella to leave town at least three times, with a separate slow scene devoted to each attempt. Even after it has been made obvious that a militia is on its way to kill practically everybody, the main characters do not act. Scenes seem to be repeated, with little variation: noisy peasant gatherings, buggy rides, Canton marshalling his hired guns.

      James Averill's most heroic quality is a terrific fashion sense. He spends much of the movie avoiding the central story problem -- either passing the time with Ella or drinking himself senseless. When he does engage, he's only good for a random punch in the face or two. The dictatorial Frank Canton calls Averill a traitor to his class. One would think that Averill could use his Ivy League skills and connections to spread the word back East about the outrageous events in Johnson County. A scandal in the Yellow Press might nip Frank Canton's plans in the bud. Why is there no newspaper presence in Casper? Imagine the journalistic stink that the liberal firebrand Mark Twain could stir up over the plans of the Stockgrowers' Association.

      Cimino's style does not emphasize narrative pace or flow. He concentrates on real-time behaviors, the quality of the air, the feeling of 'being there'. We're given plenty of time for things like authentic clothing to soak in: the old-world rags of the poor people, the trendy dust coats of the mercenaries, Averill's stylish suits. Some secondary characters have a minimal effect on the story. John Hurt is fitfully amusing as Averill's fellow Harvard grad Billy Irvine (John Hurt), now become a dissipated fool. The abovementioned Brad Dourif rates dozens of close-ups reacting to the shouting immigrants, makes a weak speech about solidarity, and perishes in the battle. Geoffrey Lewis is a grizzled mountain man with one comedic scene, and Mickey Rourke an imbecilic pal of Nate Champion. A lot of minor characters mill about on Cimino's busy canvas, looking for something to do.

      After three hours of atmospheric scenery, cockfights, rollerskating, folk songs and static drama, Cimino builds to a near-apocalyptic climax. Averill absents himself for the first half of what becomes an enormous shootout amid beautiful scenery. The second half becomes the western equivalent of a Roman siege, with rolling barricades. Cimino turns a historical range war of isolated skirmishes into a huge battle, a mountain meadow Gettysburg.

      There is plenty to admire in Heaven's Gate. "Big Sky" westerns are enjoyable in themselves, and the show abounds with gorgeous scenery. When they finally arrive, the action sequences are truly impressive. All of Cimino's set piece scenes are elegant, even when they outstay their welcome; gorgeous images abound. Some scenes, such as a view of fifteen peasant women pulling a plow, look too much like an imitation of a classic painting. The film's nine solid minutes of roller skating and waltzing is a self-indulgence. Its poor folk's simple pleasure forms a contrast with the Association's decadent luxuries, belaboring the obvious. Even with Richard Mansfield's main violin theme it slows the narrative to a crawl.

      Cimino's visuals are rich but the associations they conjure are not always helpful. The crane shot that shows off the monster set for Casper's train station and main street will remind western fans of Sergio Leone's similar crane reveal of an entire town in Once Upon a Time in the West. The director would say he's being faithful to his vision, when he clearly wants to top the work of directors in the same genre. When the United Artists suits saw the enormous Casper set used in only a few seconds' worth of shots, they must have felt sick. Built mostly on government land and in National Parks, the big sets for Heaven's Gate all had to be demolished as soon as the filming finished.

      Other observations:

      Although he claims that politics wasn't his primary motivation for filming Heaven's Gate, Cimino's film is loaded with references to class and ethnic injustice. The Association's thugs brutally beat a poor farmer as if they were Nazis harassing Jews.

      Cimino is no George Lucas -- his dialogue is unforced and natural. He nevertheless betrays his bias with frequent 'author's message' howlers. The Army captain is a font of wisdom: "You can't force salvation on people Jim, it doesn't work." In the first charge against the invaders, Ella shouts from horseback: "For America!"

      Despite her small size and vulnerable appearance actress Isabelle Huppert is ready for anything, whether it be full-frontal nudity or hard horse riding under very dangerous conditions. As Heaven's Gate is pre-CGI, the daring exhibited in the mass action scenes is exciting in itself.

      Schematic visual themes connect several of the film's set pieces. Cimino uses "The Blue Danube" for the mass dance in Harvard Yard, with dozens of waltzing couples spinning in a giant circular pattern. Later on, the roller rink sequence sets more circular motion to music. The final battle seems a parody of both earlier events, with Ella leading a horse charge around the barricaded Association mercenaries, like Indians racing around the settlers' wagon train in Red River. In the aftermath of the siege, composer Mansfield's mandolin picks out "The Blue Danube" over a shot of the corpse-strewn battlefield.

      Of the three "circular" events only the rollerskating seems natural. The waltz is an attractive but artificial piece of idealized choreography, and the battle seems rather ... exaggerated. The smoke, dust, shooting, screaming and chaos makes its point after six or seven minutes but continues for an eternity. The overkill causes us to disengage. The situation is not unlike Jack Buchanan in Vincente Minnelli's musical The Band Wagon. A dance rehearsal is overwhelmed by unnecessary smoke, flashing lights, explosions and moving scenery. Buchanan takes a look at the theatrical chaos and says, "It's all a bit too much, isn't it?"

      The stylized choreography of the Harvard waltz suggests a nostalgic dream, the same way that Averill's retirement-age "exile" to a millionaire's yacht in the epilogue seems slightly displaced from reality. Averill's little cigarette-lighting ritual with his listless trophy wife is downright spooky, what with their lumpy old-age makeup. We almost expect the couple to suddenly notice that, in the opposite corner of the room, stands a mysterious black monolith!

      Either that, or the very Nino Rota- like swell of music makes us think that Averill will see a passing steamship heading for Ellis Island, with little Vito Corleone among its cargo of unwashed immigrants. Fascinating to look at but sagging with self-importance, Heaven's Gate is an underdeveloped idea drowned in lavish visual detail. We search in vain for deeper significance.

      Criterion's two-disc Blu-ray of Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate will please most fans of this unique epic. It inadvertently changed the direction of American moviemaking -- few directors would again be allowed to run free without budgetary restraints and committee oversight. The release represents a major production expenditure for Criterion. The film's original negative had been cut down to yield the film's short 1981 "desperation" release, which nobody liked. But as color separations had been made for the long version, Criterion went to the effort to digitally scan, scrub and recombine them. The new work was only done digitally, so this is not a film restoration job.

      The opportunity was there to do a comparison disc set between the long and short versions, but the connoisseur label has a policy of releasing 'director's approved' discs. The film is now called Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate to reflect his active participation. Michael Cimino has taken the liberty to change the film substantially. Although an extra on the disc is called a 'Restoration Demonstration', the key word should be revision. It's not a George Lucas- style obliteration of the original version, as only a handful of shots have been slightly altered. But the entire intermission has been removed, in an annoyingly slapdash fashion that ruins one of Cimino's most beautiful scenes. In the 1980 cut the drunken Billy Irvine sits on his horse quoting poetry, and is enveloped by a cloud of steam from the railroad engine. When it blows away, he has vanished. It's a perfect accidental magic trick, the kind of unrepeatable gem of a shot directors pray for. The scene fades as the smoke rises and the word "Intermission" comes up. This elegant transition evokes the heady days of the Road Show epic, giving us a chance to anticipate the promised violent confrontation in the second half.

      Cimino now chops off the smoke early, before we can appreciate Billy's disappearing act. The image jumps forward to the next morning, with the unlucky Cully discovered sleeping in the open by Canton's trigger-happy horde. This shot is trimmed as well. The film's best transition is now a ragged jump cut. For reference, the uncut take can be seen in the disc's extras.

      Cimino's second major decision is more complicated. Heaven's Gate was filmed by Vilmos Zsigmond, an artistic cameraman with visual tastes that sometimes ran counter to commercial considerations. The strongest example is perhaps Brian De Palma's Obsession, which Zsigmond shot through heavy filters. By the time the film had been duplicated for release prints, its images were degraded to a greenish grainy smear. Zsigmond originally timed Heaven's Gate to desaturate some hues, as if to eliminate the 'pretty postcard' appearance of the natural locations. The cameraman also approved MGM's earlier transfers of the film, as shown in 1080i on their MGM cable channel, where the brown-on-gold-on-brown color scheme was retained.

      Whatever the politics might be, Vilmos Zsigmond has not participated in the new disc. Michael Cimino has decided to ignore the original color and time the images for maximum beauty. This is a sticky problem. Before, the monochromatic color numbed the eye's rods and cones into a perceptual stupor. Watching the film is now a far more pleasant experience.

      Michael Cimino also supervised a re-mix of the film's soundtrack. At 2012's The Reel Thing AMIA symposium, Lee Klein of Criterion reported that the director had admitted that his inexperience at the original session was responsible for a soundtrack in which background noise frequently overwhelmed the foreground dialogue. James Averill's talks with Richard Masur's Cully at the train station and in downtown Casper were largely indecipherable, especially with Masur slurring some of his words with an Irish accent. The balance is still tight but most voices now cut through.

      Viewers accustomed to the drubbing given Michael Cimino and his producer Joanne Carelli in Steven Bach's book Final Cut will find that Criterion's extras stick closely to the Cimino version of events. In a long-form interview piece, the director talks in fond terms about the freedom he had to create a world from the ground up. Cimino shows the abridged intermission proudly and without explanation. There is no discussion of the revised color and little mention of Vilmos Zsigmond beyond his presence in a couple of still photos. Ms. Carelli explains how she pulled the film's music together.

      In his interview, Kris Kristofferson says that he took the film because he liked the way its politics commented on the direction of the country in the late 1970s: money is considered more important than people. Richard Mansfield discusses his music career and how Carelli spotted him playing with Bob Dylan. His fellow musician T-Bone Burnett is seen performing in the roller skating scene.

      Second assistant director Michael Stevenson doesn't talk about Cimino in a personal way, but compares him to the tough, difficult to please directors he helped make epics with a decade before -- David Lean, Anthony Mann, Richard Brooks, Stanley Kubrick. Stevenson does say that Cimino has an eye like Kubrick & Mann.

      A Teaser Trailer and a TV spot are included. The teaser avoids moving images from the film but the faded TV spot makes all the shots look brown. For comparison, this original trailer gives a close indication of the 1980 release's original color values.

      The insert booklet contains an American Cinematographer interview with director Cimino, not Director of Photography Zgismond. Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan's essay lauds Cimino's film with odd comparisons (it's better than Soldier Blue?) and a positive view of the director's emulation of Visconti's style in The Leopard. She takes the European critical viewpoint, missing completely the fact that American critics were appalled not by the film's "unconventional dramatic structure" but by its lack of dramatic focus and its digressions and repetitions, along with the frequently unintelligible dialogue and reels of scenes obscured by clouds of dust. Criterion's attractive new disc makes Cimino's controversial epic more accessible than ever.

      For more information about Heaven's Gate, visit The Criterion Collection.To order Heaven's Gate, go to TCM Shopping.

      By Glenn Erickson

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  1. New Books

    • Mabel And Me: A Novel About The Movies

    • By John Boorstin

      Mabel Normand became a star known as much for her beauty as her comedic timing. In a series of shorts she made with Roscoe Arbuckle, Normand perfected that timing and became known as the Queen of Comedy.

      But Normand was also known for her hard-living ways, her attempts at sobriety and her love affair with legendary producer Mack Sennett .

      John Boorstein's novel is set in the early days of silent filmmaking, before the movies became an industry known as the Dream Factory. It is a coming-of-age story about a young man who finds himself as obsessed with the new art form--as much as he is with the woman at the center of it all, Mabel Normand. John Boorstein is a writer and filmmaker who works in a broad range of media. He made the Oscar®-nominated documentary Exploratorium; created Time Mobile, a pioneer prototype video game; was Associate Producer on All The President's Men; and with director Alan J. Pakula, wrote and produced the thriller Dream Lover. He is a member of the Writers Guild of America, the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities at USC, and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. He lives in Los Angeles.

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    • The Cinematic Voyage of The Pirate: Kelly, Garland and Minnelli at Work

    • By Earl J. Hess and Pratibha A. Dabholkar

      During Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's glory days, the studio's famous Arthur Freed Unit made an extraordinary string of dazzling musicals. Amid a glittering array of such film, one of the most interesting was The Pirate. Based on a successful 1942 Broadway production, the film was directed by Vincente Minnelli and starred Gene Kelly and Judy Garland. It showcased some of the brightest work of these three gifted moviemakers and entranced many critics and viewers with exotic set décor and costumes, brilliant Technicolor application, stunning dance routines, and a clever plot about an actor who pretends to be a famous pirate to win the love of a fanciful island girl.

      Drawing on extensive research, including archives, memoirs, interviews, and newspaper coverage, this story of the making of the film takes the reader from the original conception of the story in the mind of a German playwright named Ludwig Fulda, through S. N. Behrman's Broadway production starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, to the arduous task of crafting a suitable screenplay at MGM. Behind-the-scenes issues such as Garland's personal problems during shooting and the shaping of the film by Minnelli and Kelly are among the many subjects detailed.

      While initial reception of The Pirate reinforced hopes for its success, many audiences did not understand the film's tongue-in-cheek tone, and some critical reviews were mixed. This shaded perception of the film, and its significance. As this careful study shows, The Pirate was a commercial and critical success despite some early misperceptions. The movie made a small profit for MGM, and has grown in public appeal over time.

      Earl J. Hess is the Stewart W. McClelland Chair in History at Lincoln Memorial University. Partibha A. Dabholkar is a Retired Associate Professor of Business from the University of Tennessee. Although Dr. Hess's principal area of research is the Civil War and Dr. Dabholkar's is technology in services, both are connoisseurs of the film musical, applying their rigorous academic approach to researching and writing full histories of classic musicals. Their first book on the comprehensive history of a film musical was Singin' in the Rain: The Making of an American Masterpiece. The authors are married and live in the southeastern U.S.

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    • The Lost Notebook: Herman Schultheis and the Secrets of Walt Disney's Movie Magic

    • 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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    • The Making of Gone With the Wind

    • 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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  1. DVD Reviews

    • Southern Comfort on Blu-ray

    • A motley crew of Louisiana National Guardsman wade out into the swamps for weekend maneuvers. It's 1973, as the war in Vietnam is grinding away the soul of America and the heart of the military, and this platoon of weekend warriors--a volatile collection of rednecks, hotheads, jokers, and guys who probably signed up to steer clear of the draft--are like fresh recruits going into battle for the first time. They've got the fatigues and the cocky attitude but dubious discipline and training and their machine guns are loaded with blanks as they head into the bayou. To the Cajun swamp folk, the trappers and hunters living on the fringes of society, these men are invaders who trample their camps and steal their boats. And when one of the soldiers lets loose a burst from his weapon, laughing like the class bully after humiliating the new kid, these shadowy swamp dwellers defend themselves, becoming a guerilla strike force waging a war of terror on the utterly unprepared toy soldiers. They don't know that it's just blanks in those guns but it likely wouldn't matter if they did. They've been attacked and they will respond. These city dwellers are out their element and after their commanding officer (Peter Coyote) is gone, the first casualty in the war of attrition, they are out of their depth, flailing around with a panic that dumps their radio, compass, map, and pretty much everything else that was supposed to keep them alive.

      Southern Comfort will never be mistaken for a Nation Guard recruitment tool. Call it an anti-platoon movie. Hill gives the squad the outward accoutrements of a real fighting force, down to the uniforms and weapons, but this is a military unit in name only. Beyond the swaggering banter of the soldiers and self-deprecating comments of Spencer (Keith Carradine), the self-appointed company joker, they have no real training, no experience under fire, and no commitment to one another. These guys are more like barroom buddies playing soldier than a disciplined force.

      There are two voices of restraint in the wilderness, Spencer and new guy Hardin (Powers Booth), a transfer from Texas who doesn't know anyone in the company but sizes up their weaknesses quickly and realizes that they haven't much a chance as long as wild cards like Reece (Fred Ward) and Stuckey (Lewis Smith) go charging through the swamps looking for payback. Casper (Les Lannom) takes command by virtue of an essentially meaningless detail of rank and bumbles around quoting regulations and making speeches, doggedly following the book because he hasn't a clue what to do next. The filmmakers don't make him a figure of ridicule, mind you, just a guy falling back on the only thing he knows. In fact, none of them are necessarily "bad guys," though like any Hill ensemble, it has its share of jerks, bullies, racists, and anger management candidates and the pressure brings out their worst instincts.

      So yes, it's a story of American soldiers in an alien land, lost in an unfamiliar landscape and outmaneuvered by a guerrilla army at home in the jungle. Director / screenwriter Walter Hill and producer / co-screenwriter David Giler insist to this day that Southern Comfort was never intended to be an allegory for Vietnam, simply a survival tale in an overwhelming and unfamiliar environment. It's hard to take them at face value but it is easy to forget the allegory in the heat of the drama. It also shares DNA with Deliverance, another film about city boys with guns who take their sense of ownership and entitlement into the wilderness, threaten the locals, and end up hunted by them. But where John Boorman's primal thriller turns his Appalachian backwoods men into brutal outlaws who take pleasure in stalking the city invaders, Hill and Giler keep their Cajun soldiers hidden, seen as figures in the distance or blurs running behind the trees, ghosts on the fringes of sight. They treat the would-be soldier like wild game, silently shadowing their progress and whipping them into a state of panic to steer them into their traps. And whatever the short-fused guys in the platoon think, this is no cultural conspiracy to wipe out the invaders. Their enemy consists of a handful of isolated hunters who didn't start the war but by God are determined to finish it. The rest of the Cajun folks they meet don't seem to be a part of it, though after a couple of days in the swamps, the paranoia is powerful enough to make every sidelong glance look ominous. Ry Cooder's eerie and haunting score only intensifies the paranoia.

      What ultimately differentiates them from the soldiers of a classical platoon drama is that they haven't bonded under fire and have never had to put their trust in one another. This group unravels and tears itself apart from fear and panic and unfocused rage. And in classic Hill manner, there are no philosophical musings or existential conversations. The closest the film comes to putting its theme into words is from the mantra of a terrified Simms (Franklyn Seales), who finds himself cut off from the group and suddenly aware of just how vulnerable he is. "I'm not supposed to be here," he repeats, as if begging the universe to correct some cosmic planning error. And then he's no longer there.

      While this band of infighting brothers wades blindly through the swamp without a clue as to their bearings or direction, Hill's direction never falters. He has always had a sure hand as a storyteller, keeping his plots uncluttered and letting the details of character, conflict, and the world around them define the story. Southern Comfort limits the world to the middle of the swamp, where we (like the soldiers) are unable to find any point of reference, and observes how the discomfort of the environment and the constant disorientation takes its toll on what little good sense the characters bring with them to the mission. It exacerbates the already dysfunctional dynamics of this platoon of battle virgins and is as deadly on its own as the native hunters who use the environment as a weapon in their arsenal. It's not necessarily skill or even luck that saves the guardsmen who survive the ordeal. In classic Hill fashion, it is a matter of intelligence, awareness, teamwork, and the commitment to do what is necessary to survive. There's no sense of victory in survival, merely relief.

      Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack. Both discs feature the new HD master but the Blu-ray of course features superior clarity and richness of color. Both are clean, strong images while the Blu-ray shows off excellent detail. The Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack puts the mix right up front. A couple of scenes of chaos and confusion overwhelm the dialogue with background sound, which is surely intentional but still seems a little out of balance to my ears.

      New to this release in an original 27-minute featurette with new interviews with actors Keith Carradine, Powers Boothe, Lewis Smith, and Peter Coyote and, on low-resolution video via Skype, director Walter Hill and producer David Giler, who collaborated on the script with Hill. The actors share stories of shooting in the Louisiana swamps in February with wet suits under their uniforms, six weeks of working in the cold and damp, and they remind us that they were all in it together. The crew endured the same conditions so no one had the right to complain. More interesting is the discussion around the themes of the film. Hill and Giler maintain that while they did not intentionally set out to make a Vietnam allegory they were aware that audiences would make that connection, while the actors admit that they knew it was an allegory from the moment they read the script. Keith Carradine's reading is particularly detailed and interesting. Curiously, none of the six participants mention Deliverance.

      Carried over from the old DVD release is a brief collection of outtakes and the original trailer. All of the supplements are featured in both the Blu-ray and DVD discs of the Combo Pack.

      By Sean Axmaker

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    • Tess on Blu-ray

    • Tess (1979), Roman Polanski's film adaptation of Thomas Hardy's 1890 novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles, has in 2014 received a sublime Blu-Ray and DVD release from Criterion. Restored by Pathe under the direct supervision of Polanski himself, the movie looks and sounds magnificent. At first glance, the lushly beautiful Tess is a seemingly unusual work for Polanski, whose films we tend to associate with horror and sex, but this was actually a highly personal project for the master filmmaker. It was his first picture after fleeing the United States in 1977, and also a project that his wife, Sharon Tate, had suggested he make as a vehicle for herself -- just before she was murdered by the Manson gang in 1969. Polanski read the novel after her death and realized it was indeed right up his alley, and he dedicated the eventual film to her with an on-screen inscription.

      Hardy's tale, to which the film is very faithful, is about a poor English girl, Tess, whose father learns he is a distant descendant of a once prominent, rich family, the D'Urbervilles. He sends Tess to the home of a remaining D'Urberville to find employment (or at least a handout), but Tess winds up being seduced by the ne'er-do-well Alec D'Urberville (Leigh Lawson), who becomes obsessed with her. Fleeing Alec, she eventually finds work at a dairy farm and starts a passionate relationship with a young farmer named Angel Clare (Peter Firth). But in this society, the revelation of the sins of her past, even if they were not her fault, could doom Tess to shame, ostracism and worse. Ultimately, Tess is about a woman struggling to make her way in the world, looking for happiness, or at least survival, but finding that a judgmental society, timing and even luck are all working against her.

      Polanski explores this theme vividly, sympathetically and cinematically. Costumes, speech and physical mannerisms of the actors all convince the audience of the time period and of the distinctions among the social classes, and the film's pictorial beauty does much to stress the contrasting cruelty of some of the characters. The movie is not "pretty" for prettiness' sake. Most important, one really feels the isolation of Tess throughout the film, which is at once sprawling and intimate. The plot itself, while important, feels less vital here than the depiction of Tess' emotional experience of the world she is forced to inhabit, and as a result, the long running time feels entirely appropriate and never tedious.

      Tess was shot entirely in France, mostly on locations in Normandy and Brittany, because Polanski worried that if he traveled to England he would be extradited to the United States. Polanski later wrote, "To tell the story at all, it was essential to find the proper setting, a twentieth-century equivalent of Hardy's nineteenth-century Dorset. The only way to convey the rhythm of his epic was to use that setting as an integral part of the film, signaling the passage of time and the change in Tess herself by means of a visible, almost palpable change in seasons. Once our rural locations were chosen, we would have to film throughout the year from early spring, through high summer, to the depths of winter." With such a shooting strategy, filming wound up lasting nine months over 80 separate locations, and Tess became, at $12 million, the most expensive film ever made in France to that point. Freak weather and labor strikes only added to the overall time and expense.

      If Tess is atypical of Polanski, it's in the way that The Age of Innocence (1993) is atypical of director Martin Scorsese. But in fact, both films are completely emblematic of their directors' concerns and are indeed suffused with violence. It's just that the violence is emotional, an undercurrent beneath a pristine surface -- exactly like the societies the films depict.

      That being said, it's hard to shake some of Tess's most exquisitely beautiful imagery, such as the lovely natural light of an outdoor dance, or the riders and dogs on a fox hunt who appear out of a sublime mist, or the face of Nastassia Kinski, who is heart-stoppingly gorgeous (a quality, incidentally, that is vital to the story). Cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, who had shot such films as Becket (1964) and Cabaret (1972), died a few weeks into production and was replaced by Ghislain Cloquet, who sadly would himself pass away two years later. They shared the Oscar for Best Cinematography. The film also won for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Score.

      Criterion's dual-format release contains one Blu-ray disc and two DVDs, with both formats containing the film and identical extras. And there are plenty, starting with three short documentaries about the film's making (originally included in Columbia's 2004 DVD release), directed by Laurent Bouzereau and totaling 73 minutes in length. Bouzereau expertly interviews key players like Polanski, producers Claude Berri and Timothy Burrill, co-writer John Brownjohn, actors Nastassia Kinski and Leigh Lawson, set decorator Pierre Guffroy, costume designer Anthony Powell, hair and makeup artists, the crew electrician, the assistant editor and others. The artists discuss fascinating details of production, like the challenge of getting the "strawberry seduction" scene between Kinski and Lawson just right (which astonishingly was shot on a rainy day despite looking on-screen like the height of warm summer), the creation of the Stonehenge set outside of Paris, and the design of the costumes to be authentic and truly expressive of character -- beautiful without being decorative. Powell is fascinating as he discusses his approach, and also about the little splotch of blood he put on the hem of Tess' dress at a key point in the story, which Polanski shot for maximum impact.

      Burrill recalls that on location the filmmakers were only able to see the rushes days after shooting, rather than the next day, and not always under the best conditions. But gradually, he says, "we started to see what was happening, the magic that was coming off the screen, and the extraordinary professionalism of Nastassia.... I don't think there was ever one day when she fluffed a line. She was word-perfect, always."

      Second is a 52-minute documentary from 2006 by Daniel Ablin and Serge July entitled Once Upon a Time... Tess. This is also interesting, but it covers much of the same material as the Bouzereau pieces, with many of the same interviewees telling the same stories. It's also not as smoothly edited. But unlike the Bouzereau film, it includes composer Philippe Sarde, and delves more into Polanski's pre-Tess life and career. It also recounts the difficulties in Tess's post-production, particularly concerning the running time. Francis Coppola was brought in by producer Claude Berri to trim the film, which was deemed overlong, but Polanski hated the result, leading to a falling-out between Berri and Polanski and between Polanski and Sarde. Polanski himself eventually trimmed the film by about 20 minutes, resulting in the current running time of 171 minutes.

      Third, there's a 1979 episode of the French TV program Cine Regards, running 48 minutes, that looks at the making of Tess and interviews Polanski during the film's production. The interviews with Polanski are revealing, but the real strengths of the piece are the long, uninterrupted slices of life on the set as Polanski directs and thinks through scenes, conducting his orchestra of crewmembers. These sequences go on long enough to make us feel as if we are there.

      Fourth is a 1979 episode of the British TV program The South Bank Show, 50 minutes in length, in which host Melvyn Bragg interviews Polanski. And Criterion rounds things out with the film's trailer as well as a handsome printed booklet containing a fine essay by Colin MacCabe and crisp, colorful photos from the film, almost all of which feature the entrancing Nastassia Kinski. It's a beautiful package and motion picture, all very highly recommended.

      By Jeremy Arnold

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    • Used Cars on Blu-ray

    • The opening of Used Cars (1980) has the ominous, wind-scoured character of a modern crime film in a desperate southwest town where a Sergio Leone western wouldn't be out of place. The camera cranes down from a high shot over a struggling used car dealership, where a few pathetic beaters line the lot, and slowly glides over to one car with someone is crammed under the dashboard. The only sound is the lonely wind--the kind of strangled, desolate howl you get in dustbowl dramas and desert survival thrillers--and the grunts of the man struggling with the mechanics under the dash. And then we see the odometer turn back, shaving some 40,000 or so miles from the record. The title hits the screen, a brass band jumps in with "Stars and Stripes Forever," and the unidentified mechanic wriggles out to reveal Kurt Russell in a cheap, loud suit making his rounds to mask the sorry condition of the cars on the lot. It turns out that this is a crime movie after all, or at least a film of multiple misdemeanors and bald-faced misrepresentation, and the perpetrators are the good guys.

      The second feature from director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer and producer Bob Gale, Used Cars comes right out of the screen comedy culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the underdogs snubbed their collective noses at authority, propriety, property and privacy laws and anything else that crossed their paths in slobs vs. snobs comedies like Animal House (1978), Caddyshack (1980) and Ghostbusters (1984). Used Cars is raucous and reckless and far more gleefully corrupt than any of its brothers in rebellion, embracing the confidence games and illegal stunts pulled by the skeleton crew that works for Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden), who is the closest thing that the film has to an honest man. The devotion of salesmen Rudy (Russell) and Jeff (Gerrit Graham) and mechanic Jim (Frank McRae) to Luke is really all that separates them from Luke's rapacious brother and across-the-street rival Roy L. Fuchs (Warden again) and his slick sales force. That and the fun they have ripping off the rubes who wander on to their lot.

      The premise of film - two used car outfits at war with one another - was hatched by John Milius, who was one of the executive producers (along with Steven Spielberg), but the script is pure Zemeckis and Gale. The rivals are twin brothers, the Cain and Abel of used car dealers. When impending freeway construction threatens to destroy bad brother Roy's dealership and make the good brother Luke rich, Roy finds a way to speed the demise of Luke's bad heart and Rudy makes good on his promise to keep Roy from taking over the lot. Rudy has his own, more immediate motivation, of course--he's trying to buy his way into the local political machine and he's still a little short on the down payment--but it's also personal. Luke is something of a father figure to the crew, which makes them the mischievous sons who break the rules whenever dad's back is turned. After Luke dies, their antics more outrageous, from secretly burying Luke on the lot (his beloved convertible fittingly serves as his casket) to jamming satellite signals with wild pirate commercials replete with gratuitous nudity and senseless destruction of private property. The plot seems to careen from one comic collision to another but there's a nicely-constructed plan under it all, simple but ingenious enough that you don't actually see how the pieces are laid in place until it all comes together in the ragged spectacle of final act.

      It's not really a satire of American business so much as a wicked lampoon: lie, cheat and steal as the American way, as long as you do it with a sense of fun. Kurt Russell was just breaking out of his clean-cut post-Disney persona when he took on the role and he sinks his teeth into Rudy, turning the brash characters into the epitome of the smiling mercenary selling lemons to suckers with dirty tricks and phony promises. Gerrit Graham is his partner in commercial piracy, unfazed by anything but harbingers of bad luck, notably red. Deborah Harmon is both romantic interest and plot complication as Luke's long lost daughter, who shows up just after dad's death. Jack Warden has a field day playing twin brothers and Frank McRae is hilarious as the giant adrenaline-pumped mechanic. The crotch-grabbing Mexican junk car wholesaler is ubiquitous character actor and future director Alfonso Arau in his first great comic role in an American film (Romancing the Stone and Three Amigos soon followed). But the entire cast is in danger of being upstaged by the adorable dog Toby, who has his own role to play in the sale stunts. This pooch's hilarious performance makes him one of the greatest movie dogs.

      Zemeckis matured into a polished filmmaker and an ambitious storyteller and went on to make more sophisticated, more provocative, and certainly more subtle films, but he never made anything as savagely funny as Used Cars. Its banged-up ingenuity and rough-and-tumble energy and warped mirror reflection of the American Dream as a snatch and grab free-for-all is wickedly funny. Everyone is a crook here and the epilogue even enshrines mendacity as a virtue, at least when it comes to stepping into the used car game.

      Used Cars has a remarkably tidy visual aesthetic for a film about a seedy, shabby culture, with a screen that is uncluttered and flooded with desert sunlight in day scenes and blasted with floodlights as bold as a football stadium night game for the after-dark stunts. The new HD transfer shows a well-preserved print and is sharp and clear. Simply put, it looks superb.

      The commentary track with Zemeckis, Gale, and Russell, carried over from the 2002 DVD reelease, is almost as fun as the movie. "We wanted Jimmy Stewart in It's A Wonderful Life, except he's totally corrupt," is how Zemeckis explains the genesis of Rudy. Kurt Russell laughs back: "So you cast me!" These guys are having a blast laughing their way through their remembrances, but they manage to stay on track and keep the production stories coming. Few commentaries manage to balance the information and entertainment so well.

      There's a four-minute reel of outtakes (apparently taken from surviving video dub; it's all quite hazy), a radio interview with Russell, a car commercial featuring Russell, galleries of art and stills, and not one but two isolated score tracks: along with Patrick Williams' musical score heard in the film is an alternate, unused score by Ernest Gold. We don't quite get it in the context of the film (at least not with dialogue and sound effects) but it's a more conventional, less satirical approach. The accompanying 8-page booklet features another fine essay by Julie Kirgo.

      By Sean Axmaker

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    • Caught on Blu-ray

    • The American films of German-born filmmaker Max Ophuls have never been as celebrated as his more overtly stylized and seductively romantic French films. That attitude is fed by a sense of ill-treatment by the studios. He dropped the "h" to become Max Opuls in the credits of his Hollywood movies, which can either be seen as an insult to his heritage or simply part of the American assimilation that his fellow immigrants also went through. More defining is Ophuls' miserable experience on his first American project, Vendetta (1947), a production micromanaged by Howard Hughes, who ultimately fired Ophuls. That experience colored Ophuls' entire American period to the point that he himself dismissed the films he made as compromised. I disagree with that assessment. His films haunt the space between the idealism of unconditional love and the reality of social barriers and fickle lovers. Yet his greatest films are anything but cynical; ironic certainly, but also melancholy, sad and wistful, and always respectful of the dignity of those who love well if not too wisely. There is a great dignity in his best American movies, but where his European films present obstacles in the form of social "rules" versus emotion and desire, his American films frame the same issues in terms of economics, opportunity, and the lack of social and legal power to break out of circumstances.

      Olive previously gave us the Blu-ray and DVD debut of Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948), the most continental of his American movies, a romantic tragedy set in an idealized past with a decadent, self-absorbed high society man and a dreamy poor girl briefly swept into his world. Caught shares the same elegant camerawork, evocative production design, and the meeting of high culture and working class society but imports it into contemporary (circa 1940s) United States. It's the first truly "American" film of his American era and, for all the film's over-enunciated social commentary, it is a powerful drama rooted in the dreams and anxieties and realities of American filmgoers.

      Barbara Bel Geddes is the dreamily naïve and innocent girl from Denver who comes to Los Angeles to marry her way to success. "A charm school is like a college and finishing school combined," promises her roommate, a department store model who still can't afford anything better than their tiny shared bungalow. Rebranding herself with the name Leonora, she is reluctantly talked in to attending a yacht party thrown by millionaire industrialist Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan) and, through sheer luck (whether it's good or bad luck is your call) ends up spending the evening with him: the nervous, naïve good girl playing at being available and the hard, controlling businessman who looks for the profit in every social transaction. He marries her for the same reason he does anything and makes her a prisoner to his whims, a social prop and hostess expected to jump at every command.

      In this jaundiced look at the American dream, money is power for the sake of money and power. Smith Ohlrig is a cruel, angry Charles Foster Kane, born to wealth but determined to prove to the world that he's as self-made as they come by building it into a fortune and a legacy. The character of Ohlrig was supposedly based on Howard Hughes in the original novel. No fan of Hughes himself, Ophuls pushed the portrait into satire, encouraging Ryan to take on Hughes' mannerisms and play up the controlling nature and emotional coldness of the character whose defining motivations are competitiveness and vengeance. It's all about winning, whether it's a business deal or a marriage. Bel Geddes comes off weak-willed and meek next to the stony, confident Ryan, unsure and tentative and thus easily overwhelmed by him, but what looks to be an unsure actress is actually a perfectly evocation of the character.

      James Mason, who gets top billing, doesn't appear until the second act. He's Dr. Larry Quinada, an overworked pediatrician in New York's East Side, and Leonora gets a job as his receptionist when she finally screws up the courage to leave Smith. The rest of the film is a struggle between the two men over Leonora (Smith, of course, doesn't like to lose) and Leonora's struggle over what is most important: the aspiration to wealth and social position that she has grown up adoring, thanks to the fashion magazines and gossip columns that she devours, or the personal growth and satisfaction of doing good and doing a good job, both of which Larry encourages. Mason delivers all the explanations, the psychological analyses of Leonora (the psychiatrist, played by the great, underappreciated Art Smith, delivers Smith's diagnosis), and the social commentary. The script by Arthur Laurents puts it all in dialogue form, unnecessarily so given the script's structure and Ophuls' imagery. It's a weakness in the film but a forgivable one given the film's strengths.

      A dark Cinderella melodrama, Caught belongs as much to the murky world of American film noir as to the polished European dramas of high society social appearances and power games, and it takes on class in America head on. Like many a European in Hollywood, Ophuls takes up the issue with a slightly different perspective, one that you don't see in his European films. While Leonora is the center of the story, she doesn't even have a real identity as far as society is concerned. The headlines of the marriage proclaim a Cinderella story of a car-hop who marries into wealth and stature, as if this was the definition of the American success story, and never gives her an identity outside of her marriage. She is referred to not by her own name, as an autonomous individual, but as an accessory--"Smith Ohlrig's car-hop wife"--in gossip column pieces. Never mentioned but far too present to be healthy are the bottles of pills that Leonora reaches for when she's under stress or unhappy, bottles that are nowhere to be seen when she's outside of Smith's control. These touches are far more resonant than the psychological commentary of the dialogue.

      Though distributed by MGM, Caught was an independent production without the standing resources of a major studio. Ophuls, with the help of the cinematographer Lee Garmes (who helped Josef von Sternberg create his gorgeously gauzy imagery) and art director Frank Paul Sylos (who created wonders on low budgets on many an indie feature), makes the most of his resources. This world is created entirely in the studio, even the first meeting between Leonora and Smith on a foggy dock (you can see the seams in the cyclorama backdrop serving as the night sky obscured by mist on the Blu-ray). That artificiality works well in the high society world, where everything is about appearances, and Garmes delivers a deep focus depth less showy but just as striking as Orson Welles' work in Citizen Kane. Ophuls contrasts the cavernous, tastefully austere empty spaces of the Ohlrig manors (reminiscent of Citizen Kane's Xanadu), where Leonora and Smith are separated by a vast gulf with Smith invariably dominating the foreground in close-up dwarfing Leonora in the background, with Leonora's tiny, cluttered apartments and the cramped, bustling doctor's office. That visual contrast continues throughout, becoming knowingly comical in a scene when Leonora and Larry go dancing in a crowded East Side bar, practically fighting their way through the dancers packed into the tiny space. Ophuls' camera is remarkably mobile in this scene, elegantly yet unobtrusively tracking them through the entire sequence in an unbroken shot. This isn't the intricate choreography of The Earrings of Madame de... but its simplicity is perfectly matched to the subject.

      Along the way Bel Geddes' Leonora transforms from callow, naïve kid to woman of strength and moral fortitude while Mason tempers the saintliness of Larry with moments of doubt and Ryan reveals Smith a chillingly cruel manipulator whose only goal is to "win" at all costs. Ophuls beautifully twists the American dream into a nightmare, where even the happy ending feels just a bit tarnished.

      The film debuts on Blu-ray and DVD in a very good edition. Like most of the films released on Olive from the Paramount vaults, it is a well-mastered edition of archival elements. It has not been restored and minor abrasions, scuffs, and speckles are visible through the film, but the clarity is good and the image is strong, with vivid contrasts and deep, inky blacks. The mono soundtrack is perfectly fine and there are no supplements.

      By Sean Axmaker

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    • The Big Red One on Blu-ray

    • Director, writer, pulp fiction author, raconteur and all-around maverick character Samuel Fuller was as proud of his military service as any of his artistic accomplishments. Like hundreds of thousands of other Americans, he enlisted in the armed services after Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese. He joined the infantry and, as a rifleman in the First United States Infantry Division (aka "the Big Red One"), he participated in the Allied assault on North Africa in 1942, fought his way through Sicily, landed in the first wave on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion of Normandy, took part in the liberation of France and Belgium, and marched into Germany, where his squad helped liberate the Falkenau Concentration Camp. "I began a journal in North Africa," he shared in his autobiography, A Third Face. "If I survived, I was going to write about my war experiences." His experiences informed The Steel Helmet and numerous other war films but it was forty years before he put his own story down, first in the novel The Big Red One, published in 1980, and then in the film that came out the same year, in a compromised form that was partially restored in 2004.

      The Big Red One is Fuller's most autobiographical film, at once an old-fashioned war thriller and a portrait of the insanity and senseless destruction of combat, and the most expensive and ambitious production of his career. It charts the journey of his own real life unit (1st Infantry, 1st Platoon) through the experiences of four riflemen. Robert Carradine, Mark Hamill, Bobby Di Cicco, and Kelly Ward play the "four horsemen," as their tough, taciturn Sergeant (Lee Marvin) names them, the eternal figures in a rifle squad filled out by a couple of hundred replacements whose names they finally give up trying to learn over the four years of combat. The rest are simply "dead men with temporary use of their arms and legs," explains one of the riflemen, and in Fuller's clear-eyed portrait of combat, the only glory in war is survival.

      We never learn the platoon leader's his name--he's just The Sergeant or Sarge--but this retread (the film opens on him during the final day of World War I) guides them from green volunteers to hardened survivors. A World War II vet himself, Marvin's face is a road map of the war, the worn, battered, yet unusually calm and warm face of a survivor. His heart is hidden under a helmet and three-day stubble, but the weary serenity behind his eyes turn warm and protective when the children of liberated villages follow Sarge around like puppies and he wordlessly adopts them for a few heartbreaking moments.

      Carradine's cigar-chomping, pulp-fiction-writing Zab stands-in for Fuller--his journal entries provide the narration and commentary and at one point in the film he finds out that his novel, "The Dark Deadline" (a twist on Fuller's "The Dark Page") has been published and sent to the front in a military edition--but there's a little of Fuller in all of the young men. Hamill's Griff is a marksman who doesn't think he can murder another human ("We don't murder, we kill," explains Sarge); Di Cicco's Vinci the smart aleck Brooklyn kid; and Ward's Johnson the artist who sketches his impressions along the way.

      Fuller gives us North Africa, Italy, even D-Day on Omaha Beach, all recreated on a fraction of the budget and a sliver of the cast that Steven Spielberg had at his disposal for Saving Private Ryan. He shoots with a spare, suggestive visual style, largely in close-up, in part to keep the focus on the immediate experience, but also to make the most of his limited resources. Isolated, deserted locales dominate their odyssey. Death is abrupt and brutal, ready to strike at any moment. It verges on the unreal, and these boys learn to respond instinctively to the unreality of it all. For such a sprawling portrait, it is all about the details: condoms used for everything except sex, a wooden crucifix with the crucified dead-eyed Jesus in the desert presiding over scenes of death and destruction, the indescribable, cold fury that hits Griff when he discovers the horrors that the Nazis perpetrated at the concentration camp they liberate.

      Fuller's original rough cut reportedly ran over four hours. That cut is lost to time and commerce (its ownership bounced around as studios sold off libraries) but in 2004, film critic, historian, and documentary filmmaker Richard Schickel oversaw a reconstruction using a trove of unearthed footage and Fuller's original script as a guide. It doesn't come close to the lost cut but The Big Red One: The Reconstruction fills out the film with over 45 minutes of new and expanded scenes that restore characters lost in the cutting, fill out experiences, and give the film a shape missing in the original cut. Schickel also gives the film the perfect opening Fuller quote: "This is a fictional life based on factual death." The most defining addition (apart from the sense of heft that the accumulation of details gives the experience) is a structural element: a Nazi Sergeant (Siegfried Rauch) whose journey mirrors the Sarge's. In the theatrical cut he appear at the end of the film in a collision with Sarge that bookends the opening scene. In the expanded version he's a ruthless Nazi (he kills his own soldier in one scene) and a brutal officer who winds through the film in parallel to Sarge, a warped mirror double. It gives the climactic echo of the opening scene a much more complicated resonance that reflects Fuller's distinctive approach to the war film. At the end this Nazi is, like Sarge, just a soldier and soldiers don't judge. They kill and when the war is over they stop killing.

      The Blu-ray debut of The Big Red One only upgrades the theatrical cut to high definition. It looks superb, with noticeable improvement in clarity, detail, and color. The expanded 2004 Reconstruction is included in standard definition only, making it more like a supplement than what it should be: the featured attraction. Given that, it looks very good, just not 1080p good.

      The Blu-ray imports all of the supplements from the two-disc DVD special edition. Film historian and reconstruction producer Richard Schickel provides commentary on the reconstructed version, discussing the changes in terms of story and theme. The Real Glory: The Reconstruction of the Big Red One is a 48-minute documentary from 2005 that opens with the young stars (now 24 years older) doing their impressions of Fuller growling and barking orders with a gruff energy ("That was what it was like to be directed by Sam Fuller in The Big Red One") and concludes with a journey through the legend of Fuller's long lost original cut, the inspiration for the reconstruction, the process of searching for and restoring missing scenes, and the technical tools used in the reconstruction.

      There are over 30 minutes of further deleted scenes, including an eight-minute "French Vichy" scene that was an entire subplot originally shot for the opening sequence but unused in the reconstruction (for editorial as much as technical reasons). Two scenes are shown in their rough form (Sam Fuller's voice is heard in one) and there are comparisons of the Amphitheatre Cavalry Battle and the "Tank Baby" scenes from before and after the reconstruction. All are presented with commentary by reconstruction editor Bryan McKenzie and post-production supervisor Brian Hamblin (which is, frustratingly, not an optional track--you can't view the scenes without their commentary). They explain why some scenes were not incorporated and point out the differences in extended reconstruction scenes.

      It also features the complete Fuller-produced 30 minute promo reel which tantalized film historians with footage cut out of the original release and inspired the reconstruction project when it was discovered in 1999, Richard Schickel's 1973 documentary The Men Who Made the Movies: Samuel Fuller, the archival War Department documentary The Fighting First, a still gallery, original TV and radio spots and trailer and the 2004 reconstruction trailer.

      The disc is available as a stand-alone single-disc Blu-ray release and as part of the four-disc set World War II Collections: Invasion Europe, along with the feature films The Dirty Dozen, which also stars Lee Marvin, and Where Eagles Dare with Richard Burton and young Clint Eastwood, both on Blu-ray, and the documentary George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin, which is included as a "bonus DVD."

      By Sean Axmaker

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  1. Press Release

    • NOIRCON: October 30-November 2


      NOIRCON 2014: This biennial tribute to all things noir--from literature to film, art and poetry--will take place from October 30 through November 2, 2014. The conference is produced and headquartered at Society Hill Playhouse in Philadelphia, PA.

      Programming includes panels on Friday, Saturday and Sunday; parties; movie screenings; an awards banquet at MOCA (the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art) on the banks of the Delaware, on Thursday evening; and a Sunday visit to Philadelphia's Port Richmond Books.

      Farley Books of New Hope will be on site at the Playhouse throughout the weekend as the official bookseller for NOIRCON.

      Featured Guests:
      Fuminori Nakamura of Tokyo, Japan, who will receive the David Goodis Award for excellence in writing. Nakamura has won many prizes for his novels including Japan's most prestigious literary award, the Akutagawa Prize . Two of his books have been translated into English, The Thief and Evil and the Mask, both published by Soho Press. Tom Nolan, of The Wall Street Journal will do a one on one interview with this outstanding young writer on Saturday.

      Bronwen Hruska, Soho Publishing, is being recognized as an outstanding publisher in crime fiction with the Jay and Deen Kogan award, last given to Otto Penzler of Mysterious Books. She has led the way in translation publishing and opened many doors for women in the field.

      Eddie Muller, better knows as the Czar of Noir, will accept the Anne Friedberg Award for contribution to Noir Education and Preservation, and will also introduce a special screening of the film The Prowler (written by Dalton Trumbo and first released in 1951), at 1pm Thursday, October 30 at The International House. A novelist from San Francisco, many of his books relate to and examine Film Noir.

      Scheduled panels include: The Black Dahlia, Jewish Noir, Existential Noir, The Politics of Noir, A Ross MacDonald Examination, Veering Off the Highway: How Springsteen's Music Shapes Crime Fiction, and Three Minutes of Terror, when every attending writer gets three minutes to share his work or ideas.

      Among the program participants are: Joseph Samuel Starnes, William Lashner, Joan Schenker, Stuart Neville, Jean Cash, Jonathan Woods, Robert Polito, Vicki Hendricks, Steve Hodel, Carole Mallory, Sigrid Sarda, Buffy Hastings, Jeff Wong, Duane Swierczynski, Tom Nolan, Alan Gordon, Megan Abbott and keynote speaker Eric Miles Williamson.

      Dr. Louis Boxer and Deen Kogan, director of Society Hill Playhouse, co-chair NOIRCON 2014. For further information call 215-923-0210 or check the website:

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    • DICK DINMAN SALUTES LEGENDARY VOCALIST VIC DAMONE (PART THREE): Iconic vocalist Vic Damone shares some fascinating stories about his years as an MGM star with producer/host Dick Dinman and also reveals why he ultimately turned down an important role in THE GODFATHER. Among the songs included in this show are Vic's rarely heard outtake number that was not used in ATHENA as well as an exclusive presentation of Jane Powell and Vic's never before heard musical audition (with piano accompaniment only) for THE STUDENT PRINCE/DEEP IN MY HEART.

      DICK DINMAN SALUTES LEGENDARY VOCALIST VIC DAMONE (PART FOUR): Vic Damone candidly reveals to producer/host Dick Dinman how the callous behavior of acclaimed director Vincente Minnelli made his experience costarring in MGM's mega-budget musical extravaganza KISMET so relentlessly unpleasant. Among the songs included in this show are Vic's rarely heard duet of "This Is My Beloved" with Judy Garland.

      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 or


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    • "The Making of GONE WITH THE WIND" Exhibition

    • 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

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    • Frank Capra's THE DONOVAN AFFAIR (1929) at NYC's Film Forum

    • A special presentation of Frank Capra's THE DONOVAN AFFAIR (1929), with live actors dubbing the long-lost soundtrack, along with live music and re-created sound effects, will be held at Film Forum on Tuesday, October 14 at 8:00 and Sunday, October 19 at 3:40 pm.

      This unique presentation, last performed in New York at Film Forum 18 years ago, was the hit of last year's TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, where it brought down the house at the palatial Egyptian Theater. Aside from these few special screenings, DONOVAN has not been seen since its original release, 85 years ago.

      A classic Dark House comedy whodunit, with a classic denouement, based on a play by the prolific Owen Davis (whose 1923 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Icebound is currently being revived Off-Off-Broadway), THE DONOVAN AFFAIR was for Capra "the beginning of a true understanding of the skills of my craft" and his first "100% all-Dialogue Picture."

      But its original soundtrack - recorded on 16" disks (before sound-on-film became standard) - has long been lost. The one existing print, at the Library of Congress, is completely silent, rendering the picture completely incomprehensible. The re-constructed soundtrack and dialogue reveals Capra to already be a master at sound film technique.

      For two exclusive screenings at Film Forum, the lost DONOVAN AFFAIR soundtrack will be re-created live at Film Forum, with the dialogue instantaneously dubbed by actors hand picked for their affinity to the acting style of the late 20s and 30s.

      The cast includes:

      ALLEN LEWIS RICKMAN: Film and TV credits include the Coen Brothers' A Serious Man, HBO's I Don't Know Jack, and a recurring role on Boardwalk Empire.

      JAMES KAREN: named by Vanity Fair as one of the most recognizable character actors working today, with such credits as The Pursuit of Happyness, The China Syndrome, Mulholland Dr., Wall Street, Poltergeist, and Return of the Living Dead - but perhaps best known to New Yorkers as "The Pathmark Man."

      MICHAEL BADALUCCO: Emmy-Award winner for TV's The Practice, Boardwalk Empire (recurring role), and a Coen Brothers regular in such films as The Man Who Wasn't There and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (as Babyface Nelson)

      STEVE STERNER: veteran actor and Film Forum's longtime silent film accompanist, who doubles as musical director and voice actor on The Donovan Affair.

      YELENA SHMULENSON: A Serious Man, Boardwalk Empire, The Good Shepherd

      SAM GUNCLER: The Gathering (Broadway), The Quarrel, Bug (Off-Broadway)

      RICK PASQUALONE: Melissa and Joey, One Bad Choice, Deadly Devotion (TV)

      ASHLEY ADLER: familiar TV commercial voice-over artist (Crest, Smokey Bear, AT&T, Samurai Daycare, etc.); Off-Broadway at City Center, Signature Theatre, and Symphony Space

      KATIE FIRTH: New York theater includes Picture of Autumn, Susan and God, Far and Wide; Ugly Betty, Law & Order, Guiding Light, and BBC's Grange Hill (TV); narrator for Recorded Books.

      The cast of seasoned performers will be dubbing the missing voices of Jack Holt (star of Capra's Submarine and Flight), Dorothy Revier (said to be the model for Columbia Pictures' "Torch Lady"), Buster Collier, Wheeler Oakman, Alphonse Ethier, comedians Hank Mann, Fred Kelsey and Ethel Wales, and Agnes Ayres, most famous for being swept away in the desert by Rudolph Valentino in Son of the Sheik.

      This special presentation of THE DONOVAN AFFAIR, produced by Bruce Goldstein, has been performed only five times in 22 years - the only times this important landmark in film history has screened since its original release.

      THE DONOVAN AFFAIR is being presented as part of Film Forum's tribute to director Frank Capra, running October 10-23.

      Admission for the special screenings of THE DONOVAN AFFAIR is $20.00, $13.00 for Film Forum members.

      Repertory calendar programmed by Bruce Goldstein
      For more information, links and showtimes, visit

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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 or


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Frank Capra: The Early Collection DVD
Frank Capra: The Early Collection DVD
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Columbia Pictures Pre-Code Collection (DVD)
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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