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    • Cut To The Chase: The Charley Chase Collection on DVD

    • The more one studies silent movie comedians, the more one realizes that their popularity has depended on the availability of their films. The great work of Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd was almost forgotten in the late 1940s when critic James Agee championed them as masters of a lost art. The pictures were shown mainly in museums and specialized theaters hidden in New York and Los Angeles. Buster Keaton's features were thought to be lost until collector Raymond Rohauer circulated them in the 1950s, effectively resurrecting the silent comic's career.

      All but forgotten yet still screamingly funny are the films of Fatty Arbuckle and Harry Langdon. Almost as popular was Charley Chase, a former vaudeville performer who had been acting on film for years. By the 1920s he was helping to run Hal Roach's studio, writing and directing fare such as the first Our Gang series. When Roach's top performer Harold Lloyd went independent, Charley stepped in front of the camera again. Cutting a dapper figure in smart clothes and a thin moustache, he played frustrated husbands and confused employees trying to get ahead. His repertoire was situational comedy and light slapstick. His comedies relied on good gags and his optimistic personality.

      The Milestone Cinematheque's Cut To The Chase: The Charley Chase Collection gathers 16 two-reel comedies from Chase's Hal Roach period. Although Chase was an accomplished director, the collection reveals the positive impact of the legendary director Leo McCarey. The later Academy Award Winner for The Awful Truth and Going My Way adds little human touches that motivate Charley's adventures and make his character more sympathetic.

      Charley Chase now seems the silent comedian most like the fictional silent star "George Valentin" in director Michael Hazanavicius' 2011 Best Picture winner The Artist. Both comedians sport winning smiles, weather romantic problems and escape from tough spots by performing amusing dances. In a couple of shorts Charley even interacts with a canine friend called Buddy the Dog.

      The pictures all appear to be filmed on Los Angeles streets, some of which aren't yet paved. The inter-titles contain charming little jokes and plays on words. As not all of the Charley Chase shorts have survived, the collection begins in 1924.

      April Fool sees Charley playing a recurring character named Jimmy Jump. The director is Ralph Ceder and the story is simply a string of practical jokes inflicted on Jimmy and others at a newspaper office. Cub reporter likes the editor's daughter but keeps running afoul of rather cruel pranks, such as sitting in a puddle of ink. The April Fools gags get so out of hand that nobody believes a phone call reporting that the editor's house is on fire.

      Directed by Charley's brother James G. Parrott, The Fraidy Cat is a distinct improvement. Cowardly Jimmy Jump wants the girl, but even the 'Our Gang'- like neighborhood brats push him around. A punching dummy gets the better of him. Mis-hearing the girl's father, Jimmy believes that he'll die in a week, which enables him to cure his cowardice. He rescues his girl from a bully -- while riding a cow. The malicious gags are nicely worked out in this one.

      Then comes Bad Boy, directed by Leo McCarey. The tone of the comedy improves immediately, as the gags are used to develop the characters. When Jimmie's money blows into a café window both Jimmie and the waitress grab for it and fall naturally into a kiss. Jimmie tries to impress the girl by taking a new job in the iron foundry, but his mother makes him play Pan in a garden dance. Seeing him gazelle-ing about, the girl is shocked: "You leaping tuna!" He finally attends a tough dance in disguise and is mistaken for a notorious thug. Charley's dance skills and body language add greatly to the fun.

      McCarey continues the good work in The Caretaker's Daughter. Charley's wife doesn't trust him. After a disaster with his old car, he gets involved with gangster's girlfriend, who is playing around with his boss. A detective (James Finlayson) follows the cast to a mountain cabin, where everyone takes turns impersonating the odd, limping waiter. The silly antics in the rough cabin interior will remind viewers of McCarey's later The Awful Truth.

      Be Your Age has no director's credit. Charley's bashful clerk falls in love with a widow's secretary, but he's indebted to his boss, who wants him to woo the old widow to secure her fortune. Charley gives it his best shot. Things get straightened out at a gala party where Charley ends up joining some Flamenco dancers. Oliver Hardy plays the widow's grown son, who just wants to make sure he keeps getting his support check!

      McCarey and Chase really click in the nicely paced Bromo and Juliet, a catchall show biz comedy that veers from a meeting of "radio missionaries" to a performance of Romeo and Juliet. While trying to bail a drunken actor friend out of trouble with the cops and an unpaid taxi driver (Oliver Hardy), Charley tries bootlegging to make some quick cash. The actor takes a bath in a store's picture window. Forced to perform Shakespeare to please his fianceé, Charlie pads his skinny legs with sponges. After a cop chases him through some lawn sprinklers, he plays the balcony scene with waterlogged legs squirting water in all directions.

      McCarey's DogShy floats some great coincidences to allow poor boy Charley, who is deathly afraid of dogs, to compete with a snobby nobleman for the hand of a beautiful society girl. Slickly timed gags enable Charley to enter the girl's home, taking the place of a new butler.

      More McCarey magic follows in the relatively romantic Charley My Boy. Unemployed Charley ruins the only suit he owns yet snags a job that asks for "a well groomed applicant". The best gags seem unforced. Charley sits on a fire hydrant to hide it from a cop, so his girl's car won't receive a ticket. He rotates as the cop circles, until the hydrant unscrews and shoots water into the air. Later, Charley scrambles to hide his boss's cases of illicit booze. Says another cop about to raid a private home in violation of the Volstead act: "Bring out the reserves -- and a lotta glasses!" Charley My Boy makes its home video debut on this collection.

      Disc two of the set begins with another title exclusive to this release, 1925's The Uneasy Three, a parody title riffing on Lon Chaney's The Unholy Three. Charley, his girlfriend (Katherine Grant) and her pea-brained brother (Bull Montana) are jewel thieves after a dowager's fabulous diamond brooch; opposing them is a stubborn detective (Hitler-mustached Fred Kelsey, the personality parodied in Tex Avery's cartoon Who Killed Who?) Impersonating high class entertainers on the way to a party, they do great considering that they can't play their instruments. The situation resembles Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise.

      Another top Chase-McCarey collaboration is Innocent Husbands. Chase plays Melvin, another guy with a suspicious wife. She catches him faking a suicide attempt to get her attention. The last half of the show is a rapid-fire series of gags in which Melvin tries to keep his wife from discovering that he's got a woman in his hotel room. One joke is particularly inspired. Melvin is told to whistle three times beneath a hotel window, to signal his lover to throw down his key. He complies, and a rain of keys falls on him.

      The most elaborate film in the set is Isn't Life Terrible?, a bizarre comedy about a vacation in Hell. The husband is fed up throwing chickens over his back yard fence (don't ask) and tries to sell housewife Fay Wray a fountain pen that douses him in ink. He wins an ocean cruise, but his lazy brother-in-law (Oliver Hardy) invites himself along. The ship is a condemned wreck named the SS Davy Jones, with lifeboats that fall apart and life preservers that sink. Charley accidentally walks on board with a tiny black kid in tow, and then wonders why that little girl left on the dock looks so much like his own daughter.

      What Price Goofy? is another matrimonial mix-up, when Charley invites a college professor to his house not realizing she's an attractive woman. The wife shows up just as the professor is taking a shower. Fay Wray appears in a small bit part to accidentally douse our hero in perfume. Charley meets Buddy the Dog but soon regrets his choice -- the dog keeps 'fetching' the professor's silk slip in the middle of dinner, etc.

      Leo McCarey's Long Fliv the King is a parody of costume epics. The princess of Thermosa marries Charley, a man on death row, in order to keep her throne and fortune. Charley is pardoned and takes his place in her kingdom, only to be challenged to a duel by a villainous nobleman. Oliver Hardy has a small part but the most notable character is a Jewish friend who becomes Charley's food taster - and is served a thick slice of ham. Surprisingly, the ethnic jokes don't come off as mean-spirited. The nervy guy calls himself the "Pope of Palestine" and eagerly calculates his percentage of Charley's $50,000 royal crown.

      Mama Behave addresses the Charleston dance fad. To avoid going out with his dance-mad wife, Charley pretends that he doesn't know how. Of course, he's busted when she catches him showing his skill. More farce mix-ups ensue, with Charley passing as his rakish twin brother.

      McCarey's odd Mighty Like a Moose is like a De Maupassant short story gone totally wrong. It's also a big picture for Buddy the dog. Mr. and Mrs. Moose are tired of being the most ugly people in town: he has bad teeth and she has an enormous nose. Each gets worked on and becomes 'beautiful'; when they accidentally meet on the street they don't recognize each other. Great switcheroo gags ensue, post-haste.

      The last short is 1926's Mum's the Word. A woman marries a rich but jealous new husband. She doesn't tell him that she has a grown son, Charley. Coming home on the train, he meets a nervous girl en route. As it turns out she is his parents' new maid, so he pretends to be the new butler. The father misconstrues Charley's visits to his mother's room, while the new maid has secrets of her own.

      Charley uses a number of leading ladies, among them Martha Sleeper (The Bells of St. Mary's), Blanche Mehaffey and Beth Darlington. The recurring name is Katherine Grant, who is particularly good at playing innocent or troublesome as the storyline dictates. Sadly, Grant dropped out of acting early and died of tuberculosis at age 32. Hers wasn't the only sad finish to the Charley Chase story. His younger brother died around the same time, and Charley didn't make it through 1940. None of them lived long enough to see their films rediscovered by new generations of filmgoers.

      The Milestone Cinematheque 2-DVD set Cut to the Chase: The Charley Chase Collection will entertain and enlighten any fan of silent comedy. Charley made almost a hundred Hal Roach shorts during this period, and these sixteen may represent most of the surviving titles. Some are in excellent condition, transferred from 35mm prints, while others are from lesser 16mm copies. A few are incomplete, although none appear to be badly compromised.

      Adding immensely to the enjoyment are new music tracks by a number of composers. Accompaniment is heard from Rodney Sauer, Donald Sosin, Dave Knutsen, Dave Drazin, Ben Model and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

      For more information about Cut To The Chase: The Charley Chase Collection, visit Milestone Films.To order Cut To The Chase: The Charley Chase Collection, go to TCM Shopping.

      By Glenn Erickson

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  1. New Books

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    • Warner Bros.: Hollywood's Ultimate Backlot

    • By Steven Bingen

      Warner Brothers studio: the very name provokes images of Bette Davis telling Paul Henreid not to ask for the moon when they have the stars, Joan Crawford dressed in mink with a gun in her hand, Cagney and Bogart battling it out on the New York street filmed on the famed backlot. Before now, the only way film buffs could see the studio, the soundstages and backlot was to travel to Burbank and take one of the studio sanctioned tours. But now, there is a way to see the history of the studio without leaving home.

      As he did with his first book on the history of the M-G-M and its sprawling backlots, Bingen throws open the gates to the Burbank dream factory and offers an illustrated showcase of one of the oldest and most illustrious studios in film history.

      From the brothers Warners' humble beginnings in Hollywood, to their prophetic move to the Valley, to its heyday in the 1930s through the early years of television, the history of the studio is told through a detailed narrative and accompanied by behind-the-scenes photos, maps and rare photos from the vast Warner Brothers archives and the Bison Collection. This coffee table book is a true delight not only for fans of the studio but fans of the classic era of motion pictures.

      Steven Bingen is a historian, screenwriter, and former archivist at Warner Bros. Bingen has written and contributed to dozens of books, articles, and documentaries on Hollywood history. He coauthored MGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot , the first significant book ever published about a movie studio lot. He lives in the world's largest backlot, also known as Los Angeles.

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    • Is That All There Is? The Strange Life of Peggy Lee

    • By James Gavin

      Miss Peggy Lee cast a spell when she sang. She purred so intimately in nightclubs that couples would hold hands and huddle closer together and on television she could sell that same intimacy through the camera. No easy feat then or now but Lee was renowned for it.

      Lee epitomized cool, but her trademark song, Fever is the essence of sizzling sexual heat and has been covered by everyone from Elvis Presley to Madonna to Beyonce. Her jazz sense dazzled Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong. She was the voice of swing, the voice of blues, and she provided four of the voices for Walt Disney's Lady and the Tramp, whose score she co-wrote, and she was one of the inspirations for Kermit the Frog's lady love, Miss Piggy.

      She was also a North Dakota prairie girl who became a temptress of enduring mystique and a singer-songwriter before the term existed. Lee "had incredible confidence onstage," observed the Godfather of Punk, Iggy Pop; yet inner turmoil wracked her. She spun a romantic nirvana in her songs, but couldn't sustain one in reality.

      The story of Peggy Lee is one of incredible heights and shattering lows, but throughout it all is the music that sustained her and her ability to craft a lyric like no else.

      James Gavin is the author of the Lena Horne biographyStormy Weather. He has also written for the New York Times, Time Out New York, Vanity Fair and other publications. He lives in New York.

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    • Dalton Trumbo: Blacklisted Hollywood Radical

    • By Larry Ceplair and Christopher Trumbo

      Over sixty-five years after the Hollywood Blacklist was first used to deny employment to those with suspected political beliefs and associations, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo is still most heavily associated with that dark time in American history. Though he is widely recognized for his work as a screenwriter, playwright and author, it is for his role as one of the original Hollywood Ten that most people remember him, but this new biography of the writer reveals that Trumbo was much more than just that.

      He was born and raised in Colorado, found his voice as a writer while attending college and worked the night shift at a bakery for nearly decade as he honed his craft before becoming a reader for Warner Brothers in 1934. He found success as a screenwriter soon after and had his first Academy Award nomination for Kitty Foyle (1940), which won Ginger Rogers her Oscar for Best Actress.

      But politics always played an influential role in Trumbo's life and by the time America was entering World War II, Trumbo was well-known as political activist in left-wing circles. He had been part of the anti-facist Popular Front coalition of communists and liberals denouncing the Spanish Civil War and had written the anti-war novel, Johnny Got His Gun, which brought him not only wide critical acclaim but prestigious awards as well.

      The authors detail Trumbo's membership in the Communist Party, his long campaign against censorship during the domestic cold war, his ten-month prison sentence for contempt of Congress, his exile to Mexico and his thirteen-year struggle to break the blacklist. The blacklist finally ended for him and his family in 1960 when he received screen credits for Spartacus and Exodus. He ultimately was honored by the Motion Picture Academy for his work on The Brave One and Roman Holiday which he had written using pseudonyms.

      This comprehensive biography provides insights into the notable people that Trumbo worked with including Kirk Douglas-who gave him a parrot, Stanley Kubrick--and Otto Preminger as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the life of one of the most prominent screenwriters of the post-war generation.

      Larry Ceplair is the author of The Marxist and the Movies: A Biography of Paul Jarrico and Anti-Communism in Twentieth-Century America: A Critical History. He took over the writing of this book when co-author Christopher Trumbo became too ill to finish it.

      Christopher Trumbo was the son of Dalton and Cleo Trumbo. He was a television writer, screenwriter and author of the play, Trumbo: Red, White and Blacklisted. He passed away during the writing of the book.

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    • Life Could Be Verse: Reflections on Love, Loss, and What Really Matters

    • By Kirk Douglas

      To celebrate his 98th birthday, Kirk Douglas, one of Hollywood's greatest icons, offers his fans an intimate look into his life through a menagerie of poetry, prose and photographs. His poetry is uncomplicated but revealing; he pulls the curtain back exposing the bombs and blockbusters of both his personal and professional life.

      Comical. Sentimental. Painful. Romantic . . . Douglas candidly shares it all as he chaperones us through the stages of his life, including the untimely death of his youngest son and a helicopter crash that took the lives of two young people but spared his.

      Still, Douglas doesn't dwell on the sadness. He shares poems, stories, and some wonderfully candid photos of himself, his family, and many of his leading ladies, especially the one he has been married to for sixty years, the love of his life, Anne.

      Kirk Douglas is an acclaimed actor, producer, and writer best known for his roles in Lust for Life, Spartacus, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and The Bad and the Beautiful. He has three Academy Award nominations, an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement, a SAG award for best actor, and the Medal of Freedom. He lives in Beverly Hills and Montecito, California.

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  1. DVD Reviews

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    • Point Blank on Blu-ray

    • When documentary filmmaker John Boorman made the leap to feature filmmaking with Catch Us If You Can (aka Having a Wild Weekend, 1965), a low-budget rock-n-roll vehicle for the Dave Clark Five, he transformed the quickie into a surprisingly biting satire of popular culture set to a bouncy soundtrack, displaying a remarkable sophistication and creativity unexpected from such a project. It was enough to land him his first American film, Point Blank, where he revealed an even greater ambition and talent.

      Based on the novel The Hunter by Richard Stark (a pen name for Donald Westlake), Point Blank shuffles the lean, straight-forward story of a gunman named Walker (Lee Marvin), who is double crossed by his partner in crime and returns (seemingly from the dead) for revenge, into a surreal, abstracted crime drama. The plot is faithful to original novel, a hard-boiled piece of crime fiction reimagined for the underworld culture of the sixties, but Boorman and Marvin, who requested the young director and supported his unconventional vision for the film, refract it through a modern lens. Walker's odyssey from Alcatraz in San Francisco to the underworld of Los Angeles is splintered with short, sharp shards of memory that cut through his story, as if reflecting Walker's attempts to put the pieces of cause and effect together in his mind.

      Boorman views L.A. through an alienated lens and edits it more like a European art film than an American crime thriller, but fills it with offbeat, ultra-stylized scenes of violence. It opens on a gunshot that should have killed him and he struggles to put it all together when he wakes up: "Cell. Prison cell. How did I get here?" Marvin is enigmatic, to say the least, as he tracks down his unfaithful, guilt-ridden wife (Sharon Acker), his wife's sister (Angie Dickinson), his old friend turned double-crossing heist partner Mal Reese (John Veron), and finally the syndicate bigwigs, all just to get his due: "I want my 93 grand."

      This vision of urban Los Angeles is alternately crowded and noisy and urban, and austere and empty and dislocated. His footsteps echoing through an empty, anonymous hallway becomes the disembodied beat of his march of revenge. A scatting, screaming R&B singer at a chic night spot called The Film Club is the feral soundtrack of a brutal backstage fight, at once visceral and abstracted in the clutter of 35mm film cans and nightclub supplies. The aftermath of a suicide becomes a psychedelic vision of destruction, which disappears in a cut to the apartment suddenly empty, a ghost house with no evidence of life or death, just transition.

      The dialogue is loaded with references to "a dream" and characters constant remind Walker that he's supposed to be dead. Keenan Wynn adds another level of remove as the devil whispering in Walker's ear, another unreal figure with a carefully concealed agenda who is preternaturally attuned to Walker's movements. More than an informant, he appears from nowhere to provide a name, an address, a piece of information on the trail to the top man in the Organization as Walker's debt keeps getting passed up the chain of command.

      Walker is both an unstoppable sentinel who seems more than flesh and blood and a vulnerable man wounded by betrayal who has armored over his emotions with a mission. Marvin delivers both sides of the character without compromising either. There's a cold fury under his deliberate movements and his eyes betray a moment of regret and sadness when he finds his wife dead by her own hand, but it is all pushed down and kept in check by his single-minded focus. "I just want my money" is his mantra, not a matter of greed but a debt to be settled to balance the scales. Marvin is at once deliberate and relaxed, a veteran criminal soldier alert to everything, which makes his character even more fascinating. He doesn't demand attention on screen, he commands it through confidence and ability and cool focus.

      That alone makes him more admirable than Mal, who is played by John Vernon as an oily, arrogant, amoral rat, selling out anyone and everyone to buy his way back into the Organization. The rest of the members of the cast don't play characters as much as cogs, functionaries in a criminal enterprise as a cutthroat corporation, simply doing their jobs as if Walker was a rival in a hostile takeover. Only Angie Dickinson's Chris has the passion and fury and emotional life of a human being, siding with Walker out of both loyalty and for payback against Mal ("He makes my flesh crawl") and the Organization that has taken over her business and her life. Sharon Acker, who plays Walker's wife, comes off less haunted than simply weak. She barely leaves an impression, which is fitting for her character but fails to offer any sense of tragedy to her story, and she's almost instantly forgotten after she exits the film. It's really the only weak element of the film, which otherwise is strong, confident, and sure from beginning to end.

      Point Blank has been called a modern film noir but it has more in common with Performance, another crime thriller that fractures time, offers enigmatic and ambiguous characters, and equates organized crime with big business. Boorman delivers meticulously executed set pieces that are designed for the wide CinemaScope frame with a sure sense of space and a dispassionate perspective. He emphasizes intelligence over action and presents Walker as total professional, never flustered and always emotionally removed from the situation. And if Walker is an extreme incarnation of the revenge driven noir anti-hero, the modern syndicate has transformed the old school mob into a world of paper jungles and corporate businessmen, an alienating concept to a two-fisted, gun-wielding independent like Walker. "Profit is the only principle," is their motto. Almost 50 years later, it's more modernist than modern, a fascinating time capsule of an era when young directors brought nouvelle vague style to classic genres, and a cryptic crime thriller that turns Marvin into the most enigmatic criminal professional in the movies.

      Boorman creates a hard, austere look for the film and the new Blu-ray delivers a sharp clarity to his vision of Los Angeles as an impersonal modern city. Apart from a few scenes, he strips the frame down to isolated figures in an empty urban landscape under the hard light of the California sun. It's an urban desert and the disc preserves that atmosphere of a ghost city by day and a shadowy underworld at night when the crowds gather on the streets and in the clubs. The impersonal palette of concrete surfaces and blank office interiors in the day gives way to the color of human habitation after dark, which oddly enough has a warmer atmosphere than the harsh light of day.

      Carried over from the earlier DVD release is an audio commentary track with director John Boorman and fellow director Steven Soderbergh, a fan of the film who essentially hosts the commentary. He engages Boorman in conversations about the film's style, the use of color and camera lenses, working with Lee Marvin (who became close friends with Boorman), and making his Hollywood debut with a film that refused to play by the studio rules. Soderbergh's The Limey was clearly indebted to Point Blank in both its theme of revenge and in its fractured storytelling and unconventional use of flashbacks. Taking part in this commentary is like paying tribute to his inspiration.

      Also features the vintage promotional featurette The Rock (in two parts), which looks at shooting the film on location in Alcatraz, and the original trailer.

      by Sean Axmaker

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    • Ravenous on Blu-ray

    • Ravenous (1999) channels the story reminiscent of the Donner Party disaster and the legend of Alferd Packer (the only American ever convicted of cannibalism) into a gruesome survival thriller with a crimson-hued streak of black humor and an elemental hint of the supernatural. The resulting film takes top honors as the definitive frontier cannibal movie. Not that there's a long list to choose from, mind you, but this earns its position with honors, thanks to a gleefully weird and savagely bloodthirsty sensibility.

      Guy Pearce is Captain John Boyd, whose battle cowardice during the Mexican-American war inadvertently results in making him an accidental hero. The ordeal of playing dead under the bleeding corpses of his fellow officers also puts him off meat, as the opening scenes so vividly illustrate. Director Antonia Bird cuts straight to the heart of the situation as she intercuts soldiers devouring bleeding-rare steaks at a military luncheon with the bloody casualties of battle stacked like cordwood: meat is meat, at least as far as this film is concerned. Boyd's commanding officer (John Spencer of The West Wing), who knows that his valor is a fraud, ships him out to the fringes of military reach: a fort in a California mountain pass, which runs with a minimal compliment during the impassable winter months. "This place thrives on tedium," smiles fort commander Colonel Hart (Jeffrey Jones), who takes everything with a bemused indulgence. How else to survive a company made up of a useless drunk second-in-command(Stephen Spinella), a giggling weed-head idiot (David Arquette), a twitchy, mumbling chaplain (Jeremy Davies), and a macho soldier boy (Neal McDonough) who holds the rest of the company in utter contempt?

      The tedium is quickly dispersed when a bedraggled disaster survivor (Robert Carlyle) stumbles into camp. He spins a horrific story of a lost wagon train and an incompetent scout who strands them in the mountains, where as the winter snows traps them and desperation leads to feeding on human flesh. It's a tale right out of the Donner Party until it turns feral, but it's not even close to the real story of Carlyle's wild-eyed survivor. For a starving man, he looks remarkably fit when he doffs his shirt, and other clues suggest that this is no production gaffe. One night, while camping on the trail to his old camp to search for survivors, he's caught licking the bleeding wounds of an injured soldier. You know, tasting his next potential meal.

      That's when the film takes its twist into weird and wild horror, a bizarre plot that doesn't really make much logical sense but sure makes for a wicked mix of psychodrama and visceral body horror. The Native American Wendigo myth is referenced to explain madness, but you could say it's a vampire tale without the supernatural dimension--it turns out human flesh is addictive, and it helps to have a nest of fellow flesh-eaters to keep the diet coming--or call it a particularly gruesome metaphor for manifest destiny. However you label it, it is off-the-charts crazy, an eat-or-be-eaten thriller served very, very rare.

      British director Antonia Bird seems like an odd match for this material. She honed her craft on TV drama and made her reputation with the tough, wrenching dramas Priest and Face, two films with complex characters and socially conscious themes. What they have in common with Ravenous is star Robert Carlyle, who recommended Bird after the film's original director Milcho Manchevski was let go after three weeks and the producer's chosen replacement, Raja Gosnell, was rejected by the cast. Bird (who passed away last year at the relatively young age of 62 after a battle with thyroid cancer) was frustrated by the conditions of the production and the oversight of the producers and she complained that her cut was compromised in post-production. That may explain the awkward pace, jarring turns, and a climax that feels tossed together--an uninspired way to end such a devious film--but she is clearly the architect of the odd, offbeat key of the film's blackly comic tone and surreal atmosphere and Carlyle is her partner in outsized madness. He leads the cast in playing their eccentricities big, though next to Carlyle's juicy performance, Arquette and Davies come off more like actor's studio sketches in twitchy weirdness or fidgety indecision than actual characters. Guy Pearce provides the contrast, creating a character fighting to maintain control and keep his emotions and his reflexive revulsion in check as everyone else lets their freak flag fly. It oddly enough makes him the most intense character on screen. As all that fear and disgust and anxiety just bottles up behind his desperate eyes and increasingly battered body, Pearce shows us the toll this ordeal exacts on him. In this survival drama, he's the one in true survival mode.

      Scream Factory's Blu-ray features a solid new HD transfer that preserves the dynamic contrast between the white-out daylight scenes of snow and the ominous shadows of the deep forest and the dark rough-hewn quarters of the frontier fort. Night doesn't have to fall for the darkness to seep into the image. Given the elemental quality of the imagery--much of the film takes place in the snowbound wilderness, with the Tatra Mountains of Slovakia standing in for California--the transfer has a satisfying level of grain that not only preserves the texture of the film but gives the entire atmosphere an added level of authenticity. These images feel like they were carved into the film.

      The film was previously released on DVD over a decade ago with three separate commentary tracks. Director Antonia Bird and composer Damon Albarn team up for the most informative track, with Bird talking in detail about the physical challenges of the production. Screenwriter Ted Griffin and co-star Jeffrey Jones tend to lapse into silences in their track and actor Robert Carlyle is even more intermittent in his the solo track. Also carried over from the earlier disc is a collection of deleted scenes (many of them in rough-cut form) with optional commentary by Bird and a gallery of stills. New to this edition is a 20-minute interview with Jeffrey Jones, who looks back on the themes of the film.

      by Sean Axmaker

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    • 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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  1. Press Release

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    • TCM and Walt Disney World Resort Team Up

    • Turner Classic Movies, Walt Disney World Resort and The Walt Disney Studios Team Up to Share Stories Centered on Classic Film

      Features Include New TCM Integration in Theme Park Attraction and On-Air Showcase of Disney Treasures


      Turner Classic Movies has announced new strategic relationships with Walt Disney World Resort and The Walt Disney Studios to broaden its reach in family entertainment with joint efforts centered on classic film.

      At Disney's Hollywood Studios, the "The Great Movie Ride" Attraction highlights some of the most famous film moments in silver screen history and is set to receive a TCM-curated refresh of the pre-show and the finale. TCM branding will be integrated into the attraction's marquee as well as banners, posters and display windows outside the attraction. In the queue line, families will enjoy new digital movie posters and will watch a new pre-ride video with TCM host Robert Osborne providing illuminating insights from the movies some of which guests will experience during the ride. The finale will feature an all-new montage of classic movie moments. After guests exit the attraction, they will have a photo opportunity with a classic movie theme. The TCM-curated refresh is set to launch by spring.

      As part of the relationship with The Walt Disney Studios, TCM will launch Treasures from the Disney Vault, a recurring on-air showcase that will include such live-action Disney features as Treasure Island (1950), Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959) and Pollyanna (1960); animated films like The Three Caballeros (1944) and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949); classic nature documentaries, including The Living Desert (1953) and The African Lion (1955); made-for-television classics, such as the Davy Crockett series; special episodes from Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color; documentaries about the studio, including Walt & El Grupo (2009) and Waking Sleeping Beauty (2010); and animated shorts, such as 1932's Oscar®-winning "Flowers and Trees."

      Treasures from the Disney Vault is scheduled to premiere on TCM Sunday, Dec. 21 at 8 p.m. The opening night will include the holiday and winter animated shorts "Santa's Workshop," "On Ice" and "Chip An' Dale," followed by The Disneyland Story. The night will also include The Reluctant Dragon, Disney's 1941 film that combined a live-action tour of the Walt Disney Studios facility with animated shorts; Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (1955), a compilation of the first three episodes of the iconic series starring Fess Parker; the Oscar®-winning documentary The Vanishing Prairie (1954), part of Disney's True Life Adventure series; the rarely seen Third Man on the Mountain (1959), an Alpine tale starring Michael Rennie and James MacArthur; and Perilous Assignment (1959), a documentary about the making of Third Man on the Mountain.

      "At TCM, it's our mission to share and celebrate the greatest films of all time," said Jennifer Dorian, general manager of TCM. "Disney provides the perfect relationship through which we can share the magic of the movies with every generation, not only through an amazing new showcase on TCM, but also through newly refreshed components of 'The Great Movie Ride' Attraction."

      "We are looking forward to this collaboration, which complements Disney's commitment to telling great stories and immersing our guests in family entertainment," said Tiffany Rende, senior vice president of Disney Corporate Alliances and Operating Participants. "Through this alliance, we are able to share more classic Disney stories with TCM audiences, while further enhancing the guest experience by showcasing TCM content and talent."

      This marks an expansion of TCM's already robust relationship with the family entertainment and media enterprise. TCM set sail on its fourth TCM Classic Cruise in October 2014, the second aboard the Disney Cruise Line's Disney Magic. In addition, TCM has collaborated with Buena Vista Home Entertainment on various initiatives, including the 2008 documentary The Age of Believing: The Disney Live-Action Classics, which premiered in conjunction with a 25-movie showcase of family classics. The 2012 TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood featured a multi-film collection of Disney classics presented in collaboration with D23, The Official Disney Fan Club. And the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival featured the 50th Anniversary screening of one of Walt Disney's most successful films Mary Poppins (1964) at Disney's El Capitan Theatre.

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    • Dick Dinman Salutes "Smilebox" Blu-ray Releases

    • DICK DINMAN SALUTES "SMILEBOX" CURVED SCREEN SIMULATION RELEASES: Producer/host Dick Dinman's returning guest is David Strohmeier whose revolutionary "Smilebox" (Curved Screen Simulation) process is responsible for the stunningly immersive Flicker Alley Cinerama Blu-ray releases SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD and SEARCH FOR PARADISE as well as the miraculous restoration and remastering of what has long been considered the "lost" Peter Lorre film HOLIDAY IN SPAIN which has just been released on Blu-ray by Redwind Productions Inc.

      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.

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    • TCM Remembers Luise Rainer (1910-2014)

    • TCM remembers Luise Rainer, the first actress to win back-to-back Academy Awards®, who passed away at the age of 104. Rainier won her Oscars® in 1936 and 1937 for The Great Ziegfeld and The Good Earth respectfully before retiring from Hollywood shortly thereafter. She appeared at the 2010 TCM Classic Film Festival in front a live audience where she recounted her life and career with Robert Osborne.

      On January 12 TCM is airing a tribute to Rainer on what would have been her 105th birthday:
      6:00 AM The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
      9:00 AM The Big City (1937)
      10:30 AM The Emperor's Candlesticks (1937)
      12:00 PM The Good Earth (1937)
      2:30 PM Dramatic School (1938)
      4:00 PM The Great Waltz (1938)
      5:45 PM The Toy Wife (1938)
      7:30 PM Luise Rainer--Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2011)



      Like many compatriots in the pre-war central European arts community, Luise Rainer escaped the fascist clouds gathering over Europe to become one of the leading lights of Hollywood's German expatriate community, and the first actor of any origin to win two Academy Awards® back-to-back. An up-and-coming star in Germany upon the Nazi party's rise to power in 1933, she emigrated soon after, signing on with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and making her Hollywood debut in Escapade (1936). She soon had landed her first Oscar® for her performance in The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and won it again the following year for her role in The Good Earth (1937). She made nearly as much buzz challenging the reign of the studio moguls, clashing with boss Louie B. Mayer until he made an example of her. Though Rainer's decline would be cavalierly chalked up to an "Oscar® curse," Mayer - and by some estimates the actor's own Old School expressionistic acting style - subsequently denied her choice parts and prestige projects, prompting her to quit Hollywood after only seven years in the movie business. She would try her hand at the stage, including some star turns on Broadway, but would mostly be seen thereafter in odd TV projects in the U.S. and U.K. and, much later, in the European film The Gambler (1997). A classic thespian import of Old World style, Rainer's legacy would necessarily carry a cautionary example of how the bygone studio system would slap down even one of its most luminous stars.

      She was born in Düsseldorf, Germany on Jan. 12, 1910, the daughter of Emmy Luise and Heinrich Rainer, a wealthy import/export merchant and a citizen of the United States. Hearing the call of the stage early, she left home at age 16 to study at theatrical pioneer Max Reinhardt's Theater in der Josefstadt in Vienna, Austria. She acted in a raft of Reinhardt's productions, including Shakespearean works and George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan. She made her screen debut in the short film Ja, der Himmel über Wien (1930), and appearing in her first feature two years later in the musical comedy Sehnsucht 202 (1932). Rainer did two more German-language films, but the assumption of power by Hitler's overtly anti-Semitic Nazi party in Germany spurred her and other Europeans of Jewish ancestry, including Reinhardt and later Rainer's father, to immigrate to America. Wooed by Hollywood's prestige studio, MGM, Rainer signed a seven-year contract. The studio put her on familiar turf, casting her in the Vienna-set farce Escapade (1935) opposite one of its biggest stars, William Powell. She dazzled critics and impressed Powell enough that he insisted she be cast in his next film, a grandiose biopic of New York stage producer extraordinaire Florence Ziegfeld, The Great Ziegfeld (1936). It was only a small role, playing Ziegfeld's ex-wife, but Rainer's scene congratulating Ziegfeld on his imminent remarriage showed such bittersweet intensity that it helped her cinch the Best Actress Oscar® the next year.

      Even before her win, however, MGM production chief Irving Thalberg had set the stage for her next project, an ambitious adaptation of Pearl Buck's Chinese saga The Good Earth (1937). Thalberg had cast Paul Muni in the male lead, which complicated his hope to give the female lead to Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong, since the censorial Hays Office would not condone onscreen "miscegenation," the odious taboo America then assigned to interracial relationships. Over studio head Mayer's objections - he wanted to hone Rainer as another exotic glamour queen, a la Garbo and Dietrich - Rainer took the part. Her turn as the steadfast farmer's wife would win her a second Oscar®, but The Good Earth would prove Thalberg's last production before his untimely death and his absence would portend poorly for her career. Mayer assumed MGM's production stewardship, and he and Rainer soon were at loggerheads. Mayer's pathological veneration of women led him to disproportionately lighten MGM's fare and gloss over any complexity in female characters. He altered one script wholesale by changing Rainer's character, a prostitute, into a virtuous young lady, the resulting film The Bride Wore Red (1937) which eventually starred Joan Crawford instead. Rainer's 1937 marriage to playwright Clifford Odets, a leftist and iconoclastic founder of the Group Theater, did not thrill the conservative Mayer either. And Rainer, ever unimpressed with Hollywood's pomp and circumstance, only attended the 1938 Oscar ceremony after Mayer ordered her to go.

      As the relationship soured, she found herself snubbed for roles she actually wanted. She reteamed with Powell in The Emperor's Candlesticks (1937), played the wife of cabbie Spencer Tracy in Big City (1937), essayed a sister immersed in a love triangle opposite Melvyn Douglas in The Toy Wife (1938), and headed an ensemble in the anemic inside-acting yarn Dramatic School (1938). Her last true feature hit would be The Great Waltz (1938), in which she played the beleaguered wife of composer Johann Strauss. After that, however, her unwillingness to accept parts being offered her led Mayer to release her from her contract. Rainer moved to New York City with Odets - though the marriage deteriorated and ended in 1940 - and returned to the stage, starring in plays in the U.K. and making her Broadway debut in A Kiss for Cinderella in 1942.

      Rainer returned to Hollywood briefly to make Hostages (1943) for Paramount, the taut tale of a group of Czech citizens jailed by German occupation forces until someone confesses to the murder of a German officer. Like many movie stars during WWII, she lent her celebrity to war-bond drives and entertaining U.S. troops, making tour stops as far afield as North Africa and Italy after Allied forces had secured them. But thereafter she would essentially leave show business and the U.S. behind by marrying English publishing executive Robert Knittel in 1945 and moving to England. It would not be until 1949 that she would make another movie, the BBC telefilm By Candlelight. She took to the stage again in 1950, starring in a brief revival of Ibsen's The Lady from the Sea on Broadway. She would crop up during the 1950s in featured one-off performances in early U.S. television anthology shows, such as Schlitz Playhouse of Stars (CBS, 1951-59), Lux Video Theatre (CBS/NBC 1950-59) and Suspense (CBS, 1949-1954), but for the most part retired to her and Knittel's homes in London and Switzerland.

      Privately, Rainer tried her hand at painting and was lured back before the cameras only rarely in ensuing decades, playing a countess in an episode of Combat! (ABC, 1962-67) in 1965 and making an improbable guest-shot on The Love Boat (ABC, 1977-1986) in 1984. In 1997, she returned to the big screen in a UK/Hungarian/Dutch adaptation of Dostoyevsky's The Gambler, drawing raves for her scenes as an aristocratic matriarch invigorated by her discovery of the roulette table. Ensconced in a luxury apartment in London after Knittel's 1989 death, Rainer made an appearance at the 75th anniversary Academy Awards® broadcast in 2003 for a tribute to past winners. In 2012, she was profiled in Entertainment Weekly in a story entitled "The Oldest Oscar® Winner Speaks," in which the 102-year-old legend granted a brief interview, discussing her colorful life and brief tenure as a reigning star of Hollywood's Golden Age.

      By Matthew Grimm

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    • Dick Dinman Salutes Kino Lorber/UA Classic Blu-ray Releases

    • DICK DINMAN SALUTES "MARTY'S" OSCAR WINNER ERNEST BORGNINE: Kino Lorber's Blu-ray release of the cherished film classic MARTY (which ran away with four major Oscar awards) has inspired producer/host Dick Dinman to repeat the first of his many chats with the late Ernest Borgnine who talks lovingly about some of his favorite costars such as Tracy, Clift, Ryan, Ladd, Holden etc. and reveals how shocked he was when he received his completely unexpected Oscar for Best Actor in MARTY. PLUS: Kino Lorber releases pristine new Blu-ray incarnations of sought after masterworks by William Wyler, John Huston, Billy Wilder, Martin Ritt, and Stanley Kramer.

      DICK DINMAN SALUTES "WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION" STAR TYRONE POWER: Possibly the greatest cinema courtroom melodrama ever released is Billy Wilder's suspenseful (and occasionally uproarious) adaptation of Agatha Christie's WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION and producer/host Dick Dinman salutes Kino Lorber's superb Blu-ray incarnation of this edge-of-your-seat thriller by paying tribute to its dashing star Tyrone Power as he welcomes guests Tyrone Power Jr. as well as previous Power costar Coleen Gray.

      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.

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    • DICK DINMAN PRESENTS "THE VIC DAMONE STORY" (PARTS 5 & 6)

    • DICK DINMAN SALUTES LEGENDARY VOCALIST VIC DAMONE (PART FIVE): Vocalist Vic Damone returns to regale producer/host Dick Dinman with more of his remembrances about his enviable career which include his affectionate tribute to Jane Powell, how he almost missed the recording session for one of his biggest song hits (An Affair To Remember), his memorable duets on his popular weekly television show with such legendary musical superstars as Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Andre Previn, Count Basie, Mel Torme etc. and he reveals the truth about his totally unexpected prolonged and passionate kiss with Judy Garland after one of their duets.

      DICK DINMAN SALUTES LEGENDARY VOCALIST VIC DAMONE (PART SIX): In this very special extended length final show with producer/host Dick Dinman's guest Vic Damone Vic reveals how he was almost murdered for breaking off an engagement with a mob bosses daughter, how he got drunk for the very first time on his initial date with Ava Gardner, the elaborate steam room joke he played on Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., his working out with Bruce Lee and his regrets about the "lack of romance" in today's music and culture.

      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.

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Frank Capra: The Early 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
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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