Monday, June 17, 2024

Tonight's Movie: Black Tuesday (1954) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Tonight I circled back to the Dark Side of Cinema XVII collection from Kino Lorber, which features three films starring Edward G. Robinson.

I very much enjoyed VICE SQUAD (1953) from this set several weeks ago, and then with three film festivals and many more discs arriving in the intervening time, this box was briefly pushed aside. I pulled it out tonight to watch BLACK TUESDAY (1954), and I'm very glad I did.

On the surface BLACK TUESDAY seems like it might be a standard prison escape drama, but it's creatively staged by director Hugo Fregonese and has some unique, memorable aspects.

One of the things which stands out is noticeable immediately, as a prisoner sings a striking, mournful tune over the opening credits. Also of note is the black and white cinematography by Stanley Cortez (NIGHT OF THE HUNTER).

Death row prisoners Vincent Canelli (Robinson) and Peter Manning (Peter Graves) are shortly going to be put to death, but Canelli's moll Hatti (Jean Parker) puts an audacious plan in motion to spring them from prison.

Manning is wounded by gunfire in the escape, but he's key to Canelli's plan, as he has $200,000 in stolen loot stashed away and no one else knows where it is.

Several hostages are taken during the breakout, including a reporter (Jack Kelly, MAVERICK), a prison guard's daughter (Sylvia Findley), and a priest (Milburn Stone), and when the police move in on the gang's hideout, Canelli threatens to start shooting his prisoners.

It's a brutal, violent 80 minutes in which the deranged Canelli kills with abandon; however, thanks in part to the movie's fast pace, it doesn't become too overwhelming to watch.

A couple sequences are absolutely brilliant, especially the location work when Hatti and Peter retrieve his stash out of a bank safe deposit box. Everything from the authentic locations to the nerve-wracking staging, as Peter starts bleeding in the bank, is marvelously done.

I'm still wondering, though, why Peter thought the key was hidden in a safe was still there, but he was lucky.

Jean Parker is a notable standout as Canelli's devoted girlfriend. Thanks to heavy makeup and a stellar performance by Parker, the haggard, ruthless Hatti looks and acts absolutely nothing like Parker's sweet Beth of LITTLE WOMEN (1933) two decades previously. For me her performance was the highlight of the film.

The cast is packed with great faces. In addition to those named above, the cast includes Warren Stevens, Russell Johnson, James Bell, Frank Ferguson, and William Schallert.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray print is from a new HD master from a 2K scan of the 35mm fine grain. Picture and sound are excellent.

Disc extras consist of the trailer; two additional trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber; and a commentary track by Gary Gerani.

So far this set has two winners I really enjoyed. The last film in this collection is NIGHTMARE (1956), which I'll be reviewing at a future date.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray collection.

Tonight's Movie: Saigon (1947) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

SAIGON (1947), the only film starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake not previously available for home viewing, has just been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

Ladd and Lake's other films for Paramount, THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942), THE GLASS KEY (1942), and THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946), have long been available. Even VARIETY GIRL (1947), an all-star film in which they both appeared, has been released on VHS and DVD.

SAIGON has been out on a Region 2 DVD in Europe, but I'm not sure why it has not previously been released in the U.S.

In SAIGON Ladd plays Major Larry Briggs, who receives his release from army service along with his friends Captain Mike Perry (Douglas Dick) and Sergeant Pete Rocco (Wally Cassell).

The men are discharged in Shanghai, and rather than go back to the U.S. they decide to have a good time in Southeast Asia for a few weeks. Larry and Pete are aware that Mike is unlikely to live much longer due to a brain injury, but they keep the news from Mike. Mike doesn't have any family waiting back home, and his pals are determined to give him a good time.

Larry signs the trio up for a high-paying job flying a plane to Saigon for businessman Alex Maris (Morris Carnovsky), which will finance Mike's last few weeks.

When they're due to take off, Maris's secretary Susan (Lake) shows up at the airfield with a briefcase, but her boss is absent and shooting in the distance indicates he's unlikely to make the flight. The three men and Susan take off; it's a bumpy trip, but ultimately the quartet arrives in Saigon, where intrigue and romance await.

SAIGON, it must be admitted, is only so-so, especially compared to Ladd and Lake's three previous films. The movie's biggest problem is the repetitive script by P.J. Wolfson and Arthur Sheekman, based on a story by Julian Zimet.

The screenplay recycles the main points over and over, as Ladd and Lake bicker far too long while he nobly tries to let Mike romance her and various parties try to figure out if Ladd or Lake is carrying some of Maris's money.

Still, any time spent with Ladd and Lake is time well spent; they're compelling personalities, and they're also at the height of their physical appeal here, with Lake gowned by Edith Head. When they finally admit to feelings for one another late in the film, the chemistry is as combustible as always. Ladd and Lake were simply a marvelous team in every way, and I only wish it had been in the cards for them to make more movies together.

Among the supporting cast, Luther Adler is particularly enjoyable as a friendly police lieutenant, and it's also good to see character actor Griff Barnett in the opening scene. Dick is fairly bland as the good guy who crushes on Lake but doesn't know he's not long for this world, while Cassell registers believably as the army sergeant.

Although much of the film seems to have been made on a fairly low budget, at least until the characters arrive at a nice hotel, there's atmospheric black and white cinematography by John F. Seitz. This is a good spot to also mention I particularly liked the opening credits design which does a great job setting the film's mood.

This 93-minute film was directed by Leslie Fenton.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray print is from a new HD master from a 2K scan of the 35mm original fine grain. Especially considering the poor quality of "grey market" prints which have long been the only way to see the film, the Blu-ray looks and sounds very good. Ladd and Lake fans will definitely want to pick it up.  The film may not be top-drawer Ladd and Lake, but it's good enough; I will definitely watch it again.

The film is presented as a Special Edition with cardboard slipcase; the trailer; a gallery of nine additional trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber; and a commentary track by Elissa Rose and the late Lee Gambin.

Note: Sharp-eyed readers may notice some sites list SAIGON's release year as 1947, while others list 1948. The reason is that there was a UK premiere in December 1947 which preceded the United States release in March 1948.

Sincere thanks to Kino Lorber for making this film available in the U.S. at long last!

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Quick Preview of TCM in August: Summer Under the Stars

It's time for a preview of this year's Summer Under the Stars lineup on Turner Classic Movies!

We now have the list of stars to be honored this August, which I'm sharing below. The schedule itself is still a work in progress.

There are many interesting names on the schedule; I'm especially excited about the inclusion of 20th Century-Fox star Jeanne Crain, one of my all-time favorite actresses.

Here are the stars to be honored with 24-hour marathons in August: 

August 1: William Powell

August 2: Ida Lupino

August 3: John Wayne

August 4: Julie Andrews

August 5: Gordon MacRae

August 6: Jean Harlow

August 7: Peter Ustinov

August 8: Eleanor Powell

August 9: Montgomery Clift

August 10: Meryl Streep

August 11: Cary Grant

August 12: Anita Page

August 13: Jean-Paul Belmondo

August 14: Anne Bancroft

August 15: Joseph Cotten

August 16: Jane Russell

August 17: Jerry Lewis

August 18: Katharine Hepburn

August 19: John Gilbert

August 20: Jeanne Crain

August 21: Jose Ferrer

August 22: Bette Davis

August 23: Robert Shaw

August 24: Grace Kelly

August 25: Fred MacMurray

August 26: Donna Reed

August 27: Ossie Davis

August 28: Marlene Dietrich

August 29: Leo Gorcey

August 30: Ginger Rogers

August 31: Tony Curtis

Look for complete details and a link to TCM's annual Summer Under the Stars microsite to be posted here around August 1st!

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the Internet...

...A couple weeks ago I posted the news that Jeff Arnold of Jeff Arnold's West had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer and was retiring from his blog. I'm very sorry to share the news that Jeff passed away on June 5th. I have read his blog for many years, and his insights on Westerns will be very greatly missed. I would often discuss Jeff's reviews with my dad, who passed away last year, and it seems very strange they're both now gone. The site will be maintained going forward by two longtime readers, Bud and RR.

...The Warner Bros. TV series THE ALASKANS (1959-60), originally due out on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection on June 14th, will be released July16th.

...Following up on a story I shared last week, the Academy Museum has pledged immediate changes to its controversial exhibit on the film industry's founding titans, which was perceived by many to be anti-Semitic, focusing almost exclusively on their negative issues and not on their achievements.

...Coming soon from Kino Lorber: The Dark Side of Cinema XXII! It will include THE ENFORCER (1951), THE SCARLET HOUR (1956), and PLUNDER ROAD (1956). I saw THE ENFORCER at this year's Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival and absolutely loved it, and I enjoyed THE SCARLET HOUR at a past Lyons Fest.

...Also coming soon from Kino Lorber: THE COURT-MARTIAL OF BILLY MITCHELL (1955) starring Gary Cooper.

...The July lineup on the Criterion Channel will include a 12-film Columbia Screwball collection and an 18-film Neo-Noir collection.

...Here's a lovely piece by Elisabeth Grace Foley on the music of her favorite Western, RIO GRANDE (1950).

...Coming to Blu-ray and DVD in July from Ignite Films (INVADERS FROM MARS): William Wellman's THE STORY OF G.I. JOE (1945). The Blu-ray includes a restoration featurette, a new interview with William Wellman Jr., a reconstruction of the trailer, and a commentary track by Alan K. Rode, who was interviewed by Ignite here. Visit Ignite's listing page for links for the trailer and a clip of the Wellman Jr. interview. This sounds like an extra-special release, and I'm hoping to review it in due course.

...I'll also be reviewing the new Sony Blu-ray release of Frank Borzage's MAN'S CASTLE (1933), starring Loretta Young and Spencer Tracy. In the meantime, here's a very interesting review by CineSavant Glenn Erickson, including some details on scenes restored to the print for the first time since the late '30s.

...Films coming to the What is a Western? series at the Autry in Los Angeles this summer include THE COWBOYS (1972) and FOXFIRE (1955). The latter film will be screened in 35mm and introduced by Jane Russell biographer Christina Rice.

...Notable Passings: Former Los Angeles Times sports columnist Mike Downey has died at 72. His wife Gail was the daughter of the late Dean Martin....Tony Mordente, who was in both the Broadway and film versions of WEST SIDE STORY, passed away at 88. He was A-Rab in the stage production and Action in the 1961 movie; he also served as a dance assistant on the film and is seen here rehearsing Natalie Wood...Actor Armando Silvestre has died at 98. The native-born Californian was a star of Mexican cinema who acted occasionally in U.S. films, including MYSTERY IN MEXICO (1948), which was filmed in Mexico; WYOMING MAIL (1950); APACHE DRUMS (1951); and TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA (1970)...Actor Tony Lo Bianco has died at 87. His films included THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971)...Japanese actress Yoshiko Kuga has passed away at 93. The Tinseltown Twins have written a lovely tribute to an actress who worked with many of the great Japanese directors. I enjoyed her work in Yasujiro Ozu's EQUINOX FLOWER (1958) and GOOD MORNING (1959)...Leonard Maltin has written a moving remembrance of composer Richard Sherman.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please visit my June 8th column.

Tonight's TV: Colt .45 - The Complete Series (1957-60) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

One of the more intriguing Blu-ray releases this year comes from the Warner Archive Collection: COLT .45 - THE COMPLETE SERIES (1957-60).

COLT .45 was one of a number of Warner Bros. TV Westerns of the late '50s, airing alongside MAVERICK, LAWMAN, CHEYENNE, and several more. Like LAWMAN, it originally aired in a 30-minute time slot.

COLT .45 only ran three seasons, and as Toby Roan detailed at 50 Westerns From the 50s, star Wayde Preston left in the second season. Preston was replaced for a few episodes by Donald May as his cousin, then returned to the series later in its run.

Warner Bros. must have liked the "cousins" idea, given that MAVERICK would later introduce Roger Moore as Cousin Beau.

As longtime readers will know, MAVERICK is my all-time favorite TV series, a show I know inside and out. COLT .45 began airing just a month after MAVERICK, on October 18, 1957. Many of the sets and guest stars will be familiar to fans of not just MAVERICK but the other Warner Bros. TV Westerns.

As a fun aside, COLT .45's Preston is seen here second from right with several other Warner Bros. TV Western stars: LAWMAN's John Russell and Peter Brown, MAVERICK's James Garner and Jack Kelly, Will Hutchins of SUGARFOOT, and Ty Hardin of BRONCO.

As Episode 1 of COLT .45, "Judgment Day," began rolling I saw familiar behind-the-scenes names from MAVERICK in the credits, writers Roy Huggins and Marion Hargrove and director Douglas Heyes.

"Judgment Day" introduces viewers to COLT .45's concept: Christopher Colt (Preston) is a traveling salesman selling the new Colt .45 gun. However, that's just a cover for his main job as a secret agent for the army.

That initial episode set in Cottonwood, Arizona, wasn't particularly interesting, as Colt interacted with a town bully (Andrew Duggan) and a missionary (Erin O'Brien), but I was tickled to see former "B" Western star Bob Steele in a supporting role; Steele appeared on numerous TV Westerns of the era. Also on hand was young Peter Brown, who would begin a starring role on LAWMAN the following year.

Other episodes are more compelling; the second episode, "A Time to Die," guest-starred Wayne Morris, who had become an excellent character actor as of the '50s. It was an absorbing episode scripted by writer-actor Leo Gordon (MAVERICK's Big Mike McComb) which took advantage of the half-hour format to provide a dramatic, action-packed short story, with most of the scenes featuring Preston and Morris. Dan Blocker, a couple years before TV's BONANZA, was in the supporting cast. The episode made ample use of stock footage, but it's in great shape, which makes the transitions more believable.

The third episode, "The $3000 Bullet," featured two cast members from Budd Boetticher's 7 MEN FROM NOW (1956), Walter Reed and John Beradino (later of GENERAL HOSPITAL). Michael Dante of Boetticher's WESTBOUND (1959) was in the episode as well. Western fans will find themselves constantly making those types of fun connections.

I checked out several more of the show's 67 episodes. I found that COLT .45 is more "standard Western fare" than the creatively written, engagingly performed MAVERICK or the particularly well-acted and mature LAWMAN, but I found COLT .45 enjoyable, especially as I like the "look" and casts of the Warner Bros. TV shows of that era.  I'll be continuing to watch this collection through to the final episode.

The guest stars will be familiar to anyone who has watched other Warner Bros. Westerns, with many familiar names turning up including Adam West (as Doc Holliday!), Kathleen Crowley, Ruta Lee, Robert Colbert, Mike Road, Kasey Rogers, Lee Van Cleef, Lisa Gaye, Andra Martin, Angie Dickinson, Joanna Barnes, Troy Donahue, Ray Danton, Jean Willes, Joan Vohs, Robert Conrad, Catherine McLeod, and many, many more familiar names and faces in roles large and small -- even Sandy Koufax?! Charles Bronson, too.

Given COLT .45's relatively short run and checkered production history, it strikes me as all the more remarkable that the Warner Archive Collection has made it available for home viewing, not to mention in such beautiful condition. The prints are remastered from 4K scans of the original negatives, and they look absolutely great. The boxed set contains each season in a separate plastic case, as seen here. There are no extras.

Those considering getting the set may also want to read the reviews by Glenn Erickson at Trailers From Hell, Toby Roan at 50 Westerns From the 50s, and Tim Salmons at The Digital Bits.

There's another very interesting Warner Bros. TV release coming soon from the Warner Archive Collection: THE ALASKANS (1959-60), a one-season series starring Roger Moore. I'm intrigued!

Thanks to Allied Vaughn for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from Movie Zyng, Amazon, and other online retailers.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Tonight's Movie: Take Aim at the Police Van (1960)

TAKE AIM AT THE POLICE VAN (1960) was recently shown by Eddie Muller on Turner Classic Movies.

The unusual title caught my attention, especially as I enjoy Japanese cinema. As it happens, I already had the film on DVD in the Criterion Eclipse Nikkatsu Noir collection, picked up in a past sale, so I pulled it out for viewing this week.

Very unexpectedly, the movie made a fascinating double bill seen back to back with another movie this week, TAKEN (2008). In both films the hero searches on a dark trail connecting him to seedy characters and ultimately the trafficking of drugged women.

In TAKE AIM AT THE POLICE VAN Daijiro Tamon (Michitaro Mizushima) is a prison guard. One night he's driving some inmates in a prison van which is ambushed on a deserted road. Two prisoners are shot and killed.

Although in reality there was nothing Tamon could have done, given that the shooters blocked the road with a large truck, he's held responsible and given a six-month suspension. Since the police seem to have no leads, Tamon decides to use his time off work to investigate the murders himself.

As Tamon follows leads trying to get to the bottom of the killings, more people disappear or die. He meets enigmatic Yuko (Misako Watanabe), who's running a mob-style business while her father is in the hospital. She seems to be an integral part of the story, along with former prisoner Goro (Shoichi Ozawa), who'd been a passenger in the van on the fateful night.

Whether Yuko will prove to be friend or foe and whether Tamon can solve the killings before he's killed himself are open questions...

I enjoyed this unusual detective film. I initially assumed that the suspended Tamon might prove to be something of a pathetic character, given that he's laid off for half a year for something which happened through no fault of his own, but instead Tamon proved to be sharp, savvy, and brave. He clearly has the respect of the police captain (Tatsuo Matsushita) he confers with, and one wonders a bit why Tamon was a police guard instead of a detective.

The story frankly isn't always easy to follow, to the point I rewound a couple scenes to make sure I was keeping the characters straight, but despite that issue, it's a fun watch -- an action-packed, brisk film which runs just 79 minutes. 

I also note that a couple scenes, including one with an arrow, are rather shocking for 1960.

In short, it was a very interesting, entertaining film, and I'm very much looking forward to exploring the rest of the Criterion set. DVD Beaver rated the overall set as "fabulous," and I've heard good things from others about this collection as well.

TAKE AIM AT THE POLICE VAN was directed by Seijun Suzuki and filmed by Shigeyoshi Mine. It was written by Shin'ichi Sekizawa based on a story by Kazuo Shimada.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Tonight's Movie: Taken (2008)

Every so often I feel like an action movie -- and more specifically, a Liam Neeson action movie.

This week that movie was my first viewing of one of Neeson's best-known films, TAKEN (2008), and it did not disappoint.

The plot of this briskly told 90-minute film concerns Brian Mills (Neeson), a newly retired CIA agent with, to quote an iconic bit of dialogue, a "very particular set of skills."

He needs those skills when his teenage daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy, daughter of David) are kidnapped by human traffickers while on vacation in Paris.

Brian's former colleagues provide him with information and tell him he will have just 96 hours to get from Los Angeles to Paris and save his daughter before she disappears forever.

This movie clicked with me from the opening scene on Hollywood Boulevard, where Brian pulls up at a store near Larry Edmunds Bookshop to buy his daughter a birthday gift. The Musso & Frank Grill is in view in the background.

As expected, the kidnapping scene is disturbing, and truth to tell I watched the film with my finger on the fast-forward button in case anything got too intense to be enjoyable; I skipped forward briefly twice. For the most part, the movie is Neeson doing what he does best, and I found it an enjoyable ride.

Brian's phone speech to the kidnappers is up there with Daniel Day-Lewis's "I will find you" from THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1992) in terms of memorably illustrating character and where the movie is going.

I also especially loved Brian's scenes with Jean-Claude (Olivier Rabourdin), a sellout French spy who's been taking bribes from the traffickers. In a shocking moment, Brian ratchets up the pressure on Jean-Claude by shooting his wife Isabelle (Camille Japy) in the arm. I admit to laughing out loud when he exclaimed "It's a flesh wound!"

There are other great moments, such as Brian revealing to his ex-wife's current husband Stuart (Xander Berkeley) that he knows absolutely everything about him, as he orders up wealthy Stuart's plane to be ready "an hour ago." I liked that the two men worked together cooperatively despite Brian's ex (Famke Janssen) being extremely brittle and edgy.

Brian's relationship with a singer client (Holly Vallance, below) he's hired to protect as a short-term gig provides nice bookend scenes to the movie. Vallance is appealing in the role.

TAKEN was directed by Pierre Morel; it was written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen and filmed by Michel Ambramowicz. The supporting cast includes Leland Orser, Jon Gries, and David Warshofsky.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13. In terms of disturbing subject matter, I found it closer to an R and felt it was more appropriate for age 17 and up. It's kind of funny that on the other hand, I thought Neeson's film RETRIBUTION (2023), which came out last year, was inexplicably rated R and should have been PG-13.

TAKEN is available on DVD as part of a three-movie set with the sequels TAKEN 2 (2012) and TAKEN 3 (2014). It's also on Blu-ray.

Previous Liam Neeson movie reviews: UNKNOWN (2011), NON-STOP (2014), THE LEGO MOVIE (2014), THE COMMUTER (2018), HONEST THIEF (2020), THE ICE ROAD (2021), MARLOWE (2023), RETRIBUTION (2023).

Monday, June 10, 2024

Tonight's TV: Columbo (1973) - "Candidate for Crime," "Double Exposure" - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

My latest COLUMBO viewing, from Season 3, was a pair of treats: "Candidate for Crime," featuring Jackie Cooper as the villain, followed by "Double Exposure," with Robert Culp returning for his third go-round on the show.

Whatever the episode, the edgy Culp might have been Columbo's best nemesis of all, and indeed, "Double Exposure" is one of my favorite series episodes to date.

In "Candidate for Crime," directed by Boris Sagal, Cooper plays Senate candidate Nelson Hayward, who murders his controlling campaign manager Harry Stone (Ken Swofford).

Hayward takes advantage of supposedly having received death threats and sets up an elaborate plot for Stone's murder, suggesting it was a case of mistaken identity.

Columbo almost immediate catches on that something is awry in Hayward's story, from a suspiciously cold car engine at the murder scene to the odd timing of an order Hayward has placed for a new suit.

Tisha Sterling, daughter of Robert Sterling and Ann Sothern, plays a young woman with whom Hayward is having an affair, while Joanne Linville does a nice job as his wife. Familiar faces like Vito Scotti, Jack Riley, and L.A. newsman Clete Roberts also turn up in the episode.  The director's daughter, Katey Sagal, has a role as a secretary.

This was a solid, well-done show. It was filmed by William Cronjager, who also filmed "Double Exposure."

"Double Exposure" was written by the legendary Stephen J. Cannell (THE ROCKFORD FILES) and it shows, with an interesting, well-paced story and good dialogue. This was Cannell's only COLUMBO episode, and my first thought after seeing this was wishing he'd written more. However, the pilot for THE ROCKFORD FILES aired just three months after this episode, so I suspect Cannell was busy.

"Double Exposure" was directed by Richard Quine, who had previously directed one of the worst episodes, "Dagger of the Mind"; ironically, given that history, this episode may have been my favorite to date.

Culp plays a pioneer in the field of "motivational research" who is a marketing genius; subliminal cuts of photos into films which prompt behavior from viewers play a key role in both the murder and the denouement.

Culp bumps off an irritating client threatening to fire him. As always, his character does not hide his annoyance with the seemingly bumbling Detective Columbo. One might think that just once a murderer would try to be a little more subtle, but I guess then we'd be robbed of the fun of seeing Culp's impatient snark.

I also wonder why characters in various episodes think they can get away with blackmailing the murderer; it never seems to occur to anyone that they might be bumped off too!

This episode was a particular gem in terms of its 1970s L.A. locations. The grocery store was a Gemco (no pun intended!) once located in North Hollywood, and the Magnolia Theatre in Burbank -- seen showing HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973) -- was open from 1940 to 1979. I also loved the peeks at 1970s projectors and screening equipment.

Robert Middleton plays the murder victim, and the supporting cast includes Louise Latham. If I remember the name correctly, my dad knew Dennis Robertson, who plays Detective Marley, in college.

"Double Exposure" is highly recommended

Previous COLUMBO review posts: "Murder By the Book" (1971), "Death Lends a Hand" (1971), "Dead Weight" (1971), "Suitable for Framing" (1971), "Lady in Waiting" (1971), "Short Fuse" (1972), "Blueprint for Murder" (1972), "Etude in Black" (1972), "The Greenhouse Jungle" (1972), "The Most Crucial Game" (1972), "Dagger of the Mind" (1972), "Requiem for a Falling Star" (1973), "A Stitch in Crime" (1973), "The Most Dangerous Match" (1973), "Double Shock" (1973), "Lovely But Lethal" (1973), "Any Old Port in a Storm" (1973).

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray collection.

Sunday, June 09, 2024

Tonight's Movie: Thunder in the East (1952) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Favorite star Alan Ladd stars as a gun runner in THUNDER IN THE EAST (1952), which recently made its U.S. Blu-ray debut thanks to Kino Lorber.

Steve Gibbs (Ladd) flies into the newly independent India hoping to sell guns to the local maharajah (Charles Lung), knowing the province will soon be under attack by rebels.

The maharajah's peace-loving prime minister (Charles Boyer) turns down buying the guns...and sure enough, things start to get very dicey in town, especially for the British living there.

Steve falls in love with charming Joan (Deborah Kerr), who happens to be blind, but their initial romance runs into issues when Steve tries to sell seats on his airplane to potential evacuees, disillusioning Joan.

Eventually Steve and Joan repair their relationship, just as rebels advance on the palace where they're holed up...

The THUNDER IN THE EAST screenplay by Joan Swerling was adapted by George Tabori and Frederick Hazlitt Brennan from a novel by Alan Moorehead.

It's an engrossing 97 minutes, thanks in large part to the always-compelling Ladd. His character's journey here is reminiscent of his role in CHINA (1943) several years before; he starts out as a man in it for himself, but getting to know a thoughtful woman in the midst of serious conflict changes him for the better.

The relationship which develops between Ladd and Kerr is quite charming, as they connect with a shared sense of humor and a genuine liking for one another. I appreciated that her blindness really isn't a factor as they get to know one another; the main time it comes up in a significant way is when Steve asks Joan to relocate to the safer Bombay and she explains how daunting it will be for her to start her life over in a place she doesn't know.  

The film builds to an open-ended finale which is a bit of a jaw-dropper; I'm not quite certain if it was disturbing or potentially hopeful, but it plays pretty dark.

Supporting actors in the film are Cecil Kellaway, John Williams, John Abbott, and Leonard Carey. Corinne Calvet is wasted in a small role, and the film might have been better off excising her and shaving a couple minutes off the running time.

The film was directed by Charles Vidor and filmed in black and white by Lee Garmes and the uncredited John F. Seitz.

THUNDER IN THE EAST was filmed in the spring of 1951 but Paramount delayed its U.S. release to early 1953, apparently wanting to stagger putting out the final films Ladd made under contract to the studio.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray print is from a 2022 HD master made by Paramount Pictures from a 4K scan. It looks and sounds very good.

The Blu-ray is presented as a special edition with a cardboard slipcase. Extras consist of the trailer; a gallery of eight additional trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber; and a commentary track by Elissa Rose with the late Lee Gambin. Gambin, who frequently contributed commentary tracks to Kino Lorber and other releases, sadly passed away in late May.

A side note: Charles Boyer previously starred in a film alternately known as THUNDER IN THE EAST (1934) or THE BATTLE. There is no connection with this later film by the same name.

While I wouldn't list THUNDER IN THE EAST as one of my favorite Ladd films, it's worth seeing, and his fans will particularly want to check it out now that it's available for home viewing at long last.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

Tonight's Movie: The Good Die Young (1954) - An MGM Blu-ray Review

The moody British heist melodrama THE GOOD DIE YOUNG (1954) has just been released on Blu-ray by MGM.

THE GOOD DIE YOUNG was directed by Lewis Gilbert (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME); Gilbert wrote the screenplay with Vernon Lewis.

The first hour or more of the film's 100 minutes is told in flashback, as we meet four very different men in London:

*Joe (Richard Basehart), a Korean War vet, abruptly quits his job in New York and goes to England in search of his British wife Mary (Joan Collins), who returned to her native country to care for her ill harridan of mother (Freda Jackson) but inexplicably hasn't returned. It turns out Mary didn't come back on schedule as she's pregnant, but her mother keeps thwarting the couple's plans and they don't have airfare to return to the States.

*Eddie (John Ireland), an Air Force pilot, has a blithely unfaithful movie actress wife (Gloria Grahame) and ends up going AWOL.

*Mike (Stanley Baker, HELL DRIVERS) is a prizefighter who loses a hand along with the money he'd been putting away to start a business once his fighting days were over.

*Rave (Laurence Harvey) is a disturbed man who comes from money, but his usual financial support from his father (Robert Morley) and wife (Margaret Leighton) dries up just as he owes money to some bad sorts.

Eventually the quartet gets to know one another in a pub, where Rave puts forward a heist plan that would solve everyone's financial issues.

Little do they know just how awry things will go...though anyone familiar with heist films from THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950) to RIFIFI (1954) and more can probably guess.

With its significant use of flashbacks, the movie also made me think a bit of the later "non-linear" heist film THE KILLING (1956), and I especially had to wonder if Stanley Kubrick drew inspiration from this film's final scene for the later movie.

THE GOOD DIE YOUNG is almost two movies (or more!) in one; initially it's the story of working class men struggling to get out of dead-end jobs or relationships. The time spent on this background does make it more plausible that three men with no criminal backgrounds would fall into crime, though questions lingered in my mind.

The three working-class men are largely sympathetic, though the frustrated Ireland threatening to drown Grahame in a bathtub pushes the envelope. (Apparently this scene was more lighthearted in the original UK release.) Harvey, as the criminal plotter, is curious as his character is a very evil sort for many reasons, yet I found him absolutely boring in a leadership role that calls for someone with charisma.

We should see more of what is so alluring to the men about Harvey and his plan, but while their need for money is clear, I found him very flat and not particularly believable as the ringleader -- or at least it wasn't believable to me they would all throw in with the edgy Harvey, especially when he unexpectedly hands out guns.

Ironically Morley (in a single scene) and Leighton are very much more interesting as the other people in Harvey's life. Among the supporting cast it's also fun to see the 20-year-old, lovely Joan Collins, though her character is more than a bit of a wet noodle, so to speak.

The movie lags a bit as it gradually builds a sense of impending doom, but the well-done heist sequence is beautifully filmed in black and white by Jack Asher; it's all dark streets, wet pavement, and shocking moments. A scene in a train yard is particularly memorable.

In the end I found the film worth seeing, though not on a par with favorite heist films cited above; that said, I suspect that like another gloomy film set in London, NIGHT AND THE CITY (1950), this film could grow on me with further acquaintance.

Print and sound quality are fine; this is a good-looking disc. There are English subtitles but no extras.

Thanks to Allied Vaughn and MGM for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. THE GOOD DIE YOUNG may be purchased from Movie Zyng, Amazon, and other online retailers.

Saturday, June 08, 2024

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the Internet...

...The theme for this year's Lone Pine Film Festival will be The Thrill of It All: The Art of Filmmaking. The festival will be held October 10th through 13th, 2024. Watch the festival site this summer for announcements regarding guests, films, and tours.

...Coming August 13th from Kino Lorber: Ealing Studios' NICHOLAS NICKLEBY (1947).

...The Warner Archive Collection's July Blu-ray releases include IDIOT'S DELIGHT (1939), NORTHWEST PASSAGE (1940), and Elvis in HARUM SCARUM (1965).

...Susan King, who formerly covered classic film for the Los Angeles Times, reviewed TV's ELSBETH for Gold Derby and likens it to a modern-day COLUMBO series. I really enjoyed the character, played by Carrie Preston, on THE GOOD WIFE and am curious to check this series out.

...Coming soon from the Hyperion Historical Alliance: WALT DISNEY & EL GRUPO IN LATIN AMERICA by Theodore Thomas, J.B. Kaufman, and Didier Ghez. Kaufman is the author of the great 2009 book SOUTH OF THE BORDER WITH DISNEY: WALT DISNEY AND THE GOOD NEIGHBOR PROGRAM, 1941-1948. The HHA books are always great. (Thanks to Keith Buczak for this cover image.)

...More Disney news, from Jon Burlingame: There are reel-to-reel tapes of MARY POPPINS (1964) story meetings. Some will be heard on a new podcast, Disney: A Recorded History.

...In my 2021 review of the Academy Museum I mentioned the complete absence of Hollywood's founding titans from museum exhibits, which some in the industry interpreted as an anti-Semitic omission. The Academy pledged to rectify that with a permanent exhibit...but if this report is accurate it has not gone well, being overwhelmingly negative rather than noting their considerable achievements. The Academy said, in part, "We are looking at how to address those concerns best."

...Laurel and Hardy's "Music Box Steps" in the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles will be receiving an historic marker.

...Charlie Largent has reviewed Kino Lorber's new Republic Pictures Horror Collection at Trailers From Hell.

...The Max streaming service has hiked the price of its "ad-free" tier to $16.99 a month.

...Last week I revisited two very enjoyable musicals I reviewed here years ago: Deanna Durbin in SOMETHING IN THE WIND (1947) and Alice Faye, Don Ameche, and Carmen Miranda in THAT NIGHT IN RIO (1941). Both recommended for lots of fun.

...Notable Passings: Tom Bower, who played Mary Ellen's husband Curt on THE WALTONS, has passed away at the age of 86. Richard Gilliland, who played her second husband on the show, died in 2021. Judy Norton, who played Mary Ellen, has paid tribute to Bower in a video...Erich Anderson, who played Ellyn's husband Billy in the final season of THIRTYSOMETHING, has died at 67...Actress Betty Anne Rees passed on at 81. Her TV roles included a few episodes as Fred MacMurray's secretary on MY THREE SONS.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please visit my June 1st column.