Saturday, July 20, 2024

Tonight's Movie: Nightmare (1956) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Tonight I wrapped up watching Kino Lorber's Dark Side of Cinema XVII collection with NIGHTMARE (1956).

NIGHTMARE, like the set's other films VICE SQUAD (1953) and BLACK TUESDAY (1954), stars Edward G. Robinson. And like those films, I found it interesting and enjoyable.

To be sure, NIGHTMARE has flaws, starting with a sometimes-draggy script by director-screenwriter Maxwell Shane, but it also has several "plus" factors, including the great Mr. Robinson himself. Overall, I enjoyed the movie despite its problems.

NIGHTMARE is a remake of FEAR IN THE NIGHT (1946), which was also written and directed by Shane. In each case the script was based on a story by the prolific Cornell Woolrich.

Just last weekend, as it happens, I saw two other films based on Woolrich stories, the Argentinian movies NEVER OPEN THAT DOOR (1952) and IF I SHOULD DIE BEFORE I WAKE (1952). This year I've seen at least two other films inspired by Woolrich's writing.  He had incredible influence on the film noir and crime film genres.

NIGHTMARE has one of the wilder Woolrich stories I've seen filmed -- probably even crazier than one of my favorite Woolrich tales, NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1948), which also starred Robinson.

New Orleans musician Stan Grayson (Kevin McCarthy) wakes up from a terrible nightmare in which he killed someone. As Stan calms down, he's taken aback when he notices things like blood on his hand and a mark on his neck which hadn't been present before he went to bed.  

Stan can't shake the feeling that his dream was real...especially when a key he'd only seen in his dream appears in his room.

The disturbed Stan confides in his brother-in-law Rene (Robinson), a police detective, but Rene brushes off Stan's fears as overwork or stress. Rene warns Stan not to upset his pregnant wife Sue (Virginia Christine), Stan's sister, with his wild story.

As Stan struggles on the verge of an emotional breakdown, circumstances lead to Rene and Stan learning about a murder outside New Orleans which seems to have details which match Stan's nightmare. Rene is initially upset and believes his brother-in-law may be a murderer, but as more facts reveal themselves, Rene realizes something quite different may have happened...

Shane's script is a somewhat draggy 89 minutes; not that Stan doesn't have the right to be worried, but his whining and sullen behavior aren't fun to watch, and the script gets a bit repetitive as Stan tries to convince his disbelieving brother-in-law something sinister has happened.

The film takes off and becomes more engrossing about midway through, when the true story begins to reveal itself and Rene goes into detective mode, offering Stan support and hope instead of snapping at him.

Despite the imperfect script, NIGHTMARE has a number of plus factors going for it, starting with location work in New Orleans. The film seems to use a mix of back projections and actual shooting in Louisiana; I hope to learn more on that topic from the commentary track by Jason A. Ney.

The movie also has some very good jazz music and singing, with trumpet player-conductor-arranger Billy May playing Stan's boss as well as performing with singer Connie Russell, who plays Stan's girlfriend Gina.  The music gives the film a different vibe from the norm, and I enjoyed that aspect.

As a fan of Virginia Christine I also enjoyed her in a nice role as Rene's wife. The subplot with her expecting a baby after several years of marriage -- and being very hungry as a result -- is sweet.

NIGHTMARE was filmed in black and white by Joseph F. Biroc. There's nothing particularly noteworthy about the film's look, but it's a nice, crisp print. The Blu-ray is from an HD master from a 2K scan of the 35mm fine grain.

In addition to the previously mentioned commentary track, there's a gallery of three trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber.

While none of the films is this collection are perfect, I found each of them interesting and enjoyable, and I recommend this set. Fans of Edward G. Robinson will find it especially rewarding having the chance to watch some of his lesser-known but worthwhile films of the '50s.

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

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Raquel Stecher has published her latest "New and Upcoming Classic Film Books" list at Out of the Past. I always find interesting ideas on Raquel's extensive lists. This time around I'm especially interested in Laura Wagner's forthcoming book from McFarland, HOLLYWOOD BOOZERS, BRAWLERS, AND HARD-LUCK CASES: FIFTEEN ILL-FATED ACTORS OF THE GOLDEN AGE. I really liked Wagner's well-researched book HOLLYWOOD'S HARD-LUCK LADIES, which I reviewed last summer, and will definitely be getting her latest title.

...Dennis Seuling's latest reviews for The Digital Bits include the Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray releases of THE MAN I LOVE (1947) and ACT OF VIOLENCE (1949).

...Vanda Krefft, author of THE MAN WHO MADE THE MOVIES: THE METEORIC RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF WILLIAM FOX, has a new book coming out early next year: EXPECT GREAT THINGS! HOW THE KATHARINE GIBBS SCHOOL REVOLUTIONIZED THE AMERICAN WORKPLACE FOR WOMEN. It will be published in March 2025 by Algonquin Books. This one went straight to my "future buy" list. And I love the cover design!

...Coming for Halloween from the Criterion Collection: A Val Lewton double-feature disc with I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) and THE SEVENTH VICTIM (1943). It will include commentary tracks from the 2005 Val Lewton Horror Collection along with the same collection's documentary SHADOWS IN THE DARK: THE VAL LEWTON LEGACY (2005). New extras material includes an interview with one of my favorite film historians, Imogen Sara Smith.

...The Criterion Channel's August streaming lineup includes "Spotlight on Mikio Naruse," "Directed by Preston Sturges," and "Vacation Noir." The Naruse series is introduced by Imogen Sara Smith.

...Over at Speakeasy, Kristina reviews the pre-Code THE SIN OF NORA MORAN (1933). One I've never seen!

...July 20th marks the centennial of the birth of singer-actress Lola Albright, who passed away in 2017. Please visit my obituary tribute to remember this lovely woman and her career.

...Colin's latest review at Riding the High Country is IRON MAN (1951), starring Jeff Chandler and directed by Joseph Pevney.

...VCI Entertainment is currently having a sale, which runs through July 28th.

...Here's an interesting book I recently learned about: THE BARBIZON: THE HOTEL THAT SET WOMEN FREE by Paulina Bren. It was published in 2022 by Simon & Schuster.

...Notable Passings: James B. Sikking, a Best Supporting Actor Emmy nominee for his role as Howard Hunter on TV's HILL STREET BLUES (1981-87), has passed away at the age of 90. He was also a regular on DOOGIE HOWSER, M.D. (1989-93). As a college student in the early '80s I was fortunate to see Sikking on stage in an Anne Commire play with Mariette Hartley, PUT THEM ALL TOGETHER, at the Coronet Theatre in Los Angeles...Shannen Doherty, whose career began as a child actress on shows like LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE and OUR HOUSE before she moved on to BEVERLY HILLS, 90210 (1990-94) and CHARMED (1998-2001), has died at 53 after a long battle with cancer...French actress Yvonne Furneaux (LA DOLCE VITA) has died at 98...Hallmark Channel announced the death of director Neill Fearnley, who worked on many projects for the channel, including numerous episodes of the TV series WHEN CALLS THE HEART...Beloved TV comedy actor Bob Newhart has passed on at 94. THE BOB NEWHART SHOW (1972-78) and NEWHART (1982-90) will continue to delight audiences long into the future.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please visit my July 13th column.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Happy Birthday, Disneyland!

Today was the 69th anniversary of the opening of Disneyland!

Disneyland opened July 17, 1955. Some big "round number" anniversaries are thus approaching with the park's 70th anniversary next year, followed by the 75th half a decade later.

I try to visit Disneyland on July 17th whenever possible. As many of my readers are aware, I worked at Disneyland "once upon a time" and met my husband there, so it's a day on which I feel gratitude not only for the park but for what Walt Disney's creation made possible in my own life.

We had a lovely dinner at Plaza Inn and did some shopping before heading home so I could get some work done.

Happy Birthday, Disneyland!

Previous Disneyland Birthday Posts: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2013, 2014, 2015 (and more here), 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Laura's Miscellaneous Musings Turns 19

Just a note to share that July 16th marks this blog's 19th anniversary!

Laura's Miscellaneous Musings began on July 16, 2005. How is it possible that next year it will have existed for two decades?

I'm deeply grateful for the wonderful people and great experiences which have been part of my life thanks to blogging.

My very sincere thanks to all of my readers, past, present, and future.

Previous blog anniversaries: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023.

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Tonight's Movies: Never Open That Door (1952) and If I Should Die Before I Wake (1952) - A Flicker Alley Blu-ray Review

One of the highlights of this year's Noir City Film Festival was the opening night film, NEVER OPEN THAT DOOR (1952).

The movie, known in its native Argentina as NO ABRAS NUNCA ESA PUERTA, was shown on a double bill with THE WINDOW (1949).

NEVER OPEN THAT DOOR was just released for home viewing in a dual-format Blu-ray/DVD edition by Flicker Alley. The disc also includes a rare archival scan of the related movie IF I SHOULD DIE BEFORE I WAKE (1952); the Film Noir Foundation print of that film is believed to be the last one in existence.

NEVER OPEN THAT DOOR consists of two separate stories told over the course of 85 minutes; the 73-minute IF I SHOULD DIE BEFORE I WAKE was originally intended to be included as a third story in NEVER OPEN THAT DOOR but was released separately.

In this regard the two Argentinian films reminded me a bit of the Julien Duvivier movies FLESH AND FANTASY (1943) and DESTINY (1944), which I saw at the Noir City Festival in 2016.

FLESH AND FANTASY consisted of three separate stories; a fourth story, DESTINY, was filmed for FLESH AND FANTASY but was released separately. Curiously, DESTINY was about a blind girl (Gloria Jean) living in a remote rural area, and the same theme runs through the second story featured in NEVER OPEN THAT DOOR.

All three of the stories featured in NEVER OPEN THAT DOOR and IF I SHOULD DIE BEFORE I WAKE were written by Alejandro Casona based on Cornell Woolrich stories, published under the pen name William Irish. Woolrich's writing, as many of my readers are aware, was the inspiration for a great many American film noir and crime films, including the previously mentioned THE WINDOW.

NEVER OPEN THAT DOOR melds crime with a fantastical tone somewhat reminiscent of the later U.S. TV series THE TWILIGHT ZONE. The tone also reminded me a bit of the Argentinian film THE BITTER STEMS (1956) which was released by Flicker Alley a few years ago.

In the first story, "Somebody on the Phone," a young woman Luisa (Renee Dumas) agonizes over gambling debts. She's followed around town by Raul (Angel Magana), who we at first assume to be her husband, but he turns out to be her caring brother. Before Raul can help Luisa, she dies, and Raul embarks on a course of vengeance with a very unexpected ending.

The second story, "Hummingbird Comes Home," is the tale of a blind woman, Rosa (Ilde Pirovano), who lives with her niece (Norma Gimenez). When Rosa's long-absent son (Roberto Escalado) returns home, Rosa comes to realize he is a robber and murderer. What to do...

IF I SHOULD DIE BEFORE I WAKE is strongly reminiscent of the thriller M, filmed in 1931 and 1951, which was about a man who abducted and killed little girls. In IF I SHOULD DIE BEFORE I WAKE a young boy, Lucio (Nestor Zavarce), whose father (Floren Delbene) is a police inspector, promises a little girl he won't tell her secret about a man who gives her lollipops and promises to take her to his candy house.

The little girl ends up dead, and when a second girl disappears, Lucio must find a way to save her while also keeping his promise to his dead friend.

Needless to say, it's a very dark film, but it's well told and the short 73-minute running time makes it a bit easier to handle.

Both films are beautifully acted, staged, and shot; they remain in the viewer's memory long after they've ended.

The Blu-ray print of NEVER OPEN THAT DOOR is quite beautiful.
While the print of IF I SHOULD DIE BEFORE I WAKE is not of the same caliber, I thought it was very good, especially considering the rarity; the negative the Film Noir Foundation used to make its conservation print has since decayed to the point it is no longer usable, so we're lucky to have it at all.

NEVER OPEN THAT DOOR and IF I SHOULD DIE BEFORE I WAKE were both directed by Carlos Hugo Christensen and filmed by Pablo Tabernero.

The Flicker Alley set also includes a very good documentary, CORNELL WOOLRICH: FEAR HAS NO BORDERS (2024), which runs 26 minutes and was produced by Steven C. Smith and Alan K. Rode. The documentary includes some footage from the Noir City screening I referenced at the start of this review, including portions of Eddie Muller's introduction.

Additional disc extras include a commentary track for NEVER OPEN THAT DOOR by Guido Segal and a 16-minute featurette with Fernando Martin Pena reflecting on Argentine cinema. A beautifully produced 20-page souvenir booklet with glossy photographs is included in the case.

As usual for these Flicker Alley sets, the two discs were produced in attractive contrasting colors. The case includes reversible cover art.

This set is highly recommended.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...The Hyperion Historical Alliance has a new book out, WALT DISNEY & EL GRUPO IN LATIN AMERICA, by Ted Thomas, J.B. Kaufman, and Didier Ghetz. It can be ordered from Stuart Ng Books. These are top Disney historians -- and Thomas's father Frank was one of Disney's "Nine Old Men" -- and the HHA publications are always excellent. Kaufman previously wrote another book on the same subject, SOUTH OF THE BORDER WITH DISNEY; the new book has never-before-published photos and information.

...Chris Yogerst has written a brief history of Paramount Pictures for The Hollywood Reporter.

...An upcoming book by Chris Nichols and Adriene Biondo interests me: BOWLARAMA: THE ARCHITECTURE OF MID-CENTURY BOWLING. The cover alone is a mid-century feast for the eyes! It will be published in September by Angel City Press.

...Raquel Stecher has reviewed FORBIDDEN COCKTAILS: LIBATIONS INSPIRED BY THE WORLD OF PRE-CODE HOLLYWOOD at her blog Out of the Past. It was written by Andre Darlington.

...Hallmark's Christmas movie schedule this year will feature 40 new films on Hallmark Channel and their streaming service, which will be renamed Hallmark+, and nine new films on the Hallmark Mystery Channel.

...Glenn Erickson's new Blu-ray reviews at Trailers from Hell include WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (1951) and Kino Lorber's Dark Side of Cinema XIX collection, which features DARK CITY (1950), NO MAN OF HER OWN (1950), and BEWARE, MY LOVELY (1952).

...Notable Passings: Doug Sheehan, Emmy-nominated actor for his role as Joe Kelly on GENERAL HOSPITAL (1979-82), has passed away at 75. He later appeared on other TV series including KNOTS LANDING and briefly on SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH. Sheehan was very personable, and I've always wondered why he retired relatively early. He's seen here with GENERAL HOSPITAL cast members Richard Dean Anderson and Susan Pratt...Former GENERAL HOSPITAL producer Joe Hardy has died at 95, and exercise maven Richard Simmons, who also appeared on the soap opera, has died at 76.

...More Notable Passings: Actress Shelley Duvall has died at 75...Pat Colbert, who had a small recurring role on DALLAS for many years, has passed away at 77. Colbert played Dora Mae, hostess of the Oil Baron's Club...Film producer Jon Landau has died at 64...I was very greatly saddened by the passing of Joe Bonsall, tenor singer with the Oak Ridge Boys for decades. (He's seen in this photograph in his younger years.) That's Bonsall singing the lead on the classic Oak Ridge Boys song "Elvira," among others. He also wrote several books including a memoir of his parents. Bonsall was a friendly, positive presence on Twitter and will be greatly missed by many.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please visit my July 6th column.

Tonight's Movie: North By Northwest (1959) at the Egyptian Theatre

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing the new 70mm restoration of Alfred Hitchcock's NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) at the recently remodeled Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

The film was part of the American Cinematheque's Ultra Cinematheque 70 Fest; it's being shown multiple times this weekend at the Egyptian and then will move to the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica for additional screenings.

This was my third time to see the film theatrically, although it had been a great many years since I last saw it on a big screen; when I was in my mid teens I saw it at both the Tiffany in Hollywood and the Wilshire in Fullerton. The Wilshire was quite memorable, as the theater was a converted swimming pool! Incredibly, there was still a drain in the floor at the front of the theater.

I had an opportunity to see the new NORTH BY NORTHWEST print at April's TCM Classic Film Festival, but the cavernous Chinese Theatre isn't my favorite venue and I ended up choosing a different option which worked better with my overall schedule. I was thus very glad to see the restoration on the 70mm festival schedule.

Right off the top I'll say that while the new print looked wonderful and I had a great time seeing the movie on a huge screen for the first time in many years, the sound balancing was very problematic.

My hearing admittedly isn't perfect, but I don't usually have any issues at the Egyptian, and my husband had the exact same problems: The great Bernard Herrmann score and the sound effects often drowned out the dialogue.

My husband has since talked to a very knowledgeable friend also in attendance last night who confirmed that yes, the sound mix was as bad as we thought. I hope the Egyptian can correct this for future screenings.

Fortunately the film is a great favorite and one we know well, so we survived not catching all the dialogue and had a good time regardless. There were a surprising number of hands shown by people seeing the movie for the very first time, and I hope they didn't end up confused or miss some of the great lines.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST is special to me for many reasons; not only is it a superb movie, but it's a film where I'm very fortunate to say I've seen both of the lead actors in person over the course of my life.

When I was in high school, right around the time I first saw the film theatrically, Cary Grant narrated a Christmas Candlelight performance I sang in with my high school choir. And as I wrote in my recent centennial tribute to Eva Marie Saint, I've been able to see her at multiple events over the years.

Those appearances included seeing her opposite Henry Fonda in a theatrical production of THE FIRST MONDAY IN OCTOBER in the late '70s, hosting a Hitchcock night at the Hollywood Bowl a decade ago, and at multiple TCM events. These special memories were one reason among many I was glad to revisit the film in a theater at long last.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST thrills from its opening moments, with Saul Bass credits set to Bernard Herrmann's exciting score. Herrmann's pulsating music gives the film a unique "tang" which is absolute perfection and helps it stand out from the norm -- even from other Hitchcock films.

The script by Ernest Lehman is also a gem, balancing thrills and humor in equal measure. Cary Grant has the perfect role as Roger Thornhill, a cynical twice-divorced New York businessman who's baffled to be mistaken for a stranger and finds himself immediately thrown into inexplicable, life-threatening situations.

As Roger travels "north by northwest," ultimately ending up in South Dakota, he finds romance with mysterious Eve Kendall (Saint), not to mention reserves of courage and resourcefulness it's unlikely he knew he had.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST reminds me of my favorite Hitchcock film, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940), for its sheer number of perilous set pieces; the crop duster sequence is justly famous, and the story culminates, of course, atop Mount Rushmore. My 2021 post on the Academy Museum includes a look at the original Mount Rushmore backdrop, which was quite a thrill to see in person.

Everything in the movie fires on all cylinders, including Robert Boyle's production design (that house at Mount Rushmore!), the sets, and the photography of Robert Burks, capturing the movie's memorable color palette, heavy on woods and shades of brown and orange.

When Eve enters wearing her beautiful red and black dress -- which Saint has recounted she purchased at Bergdorf Goodman's with the director -- it stands out not only because it's beautiful but because the color design is noticeably richer than most of her wardrobe.

The greatest compliment I can give NORTH BY NORTHWEST is that I love short films and this movie's 136 minutes absolutely flies past.

The supporting cast is tops, starting with James Mason and Martin Landau as the villains and Jessie Royce Landis as Roger's mother ("You gentlemen aren't really trying to kill my son, are you?"). Also on hand for the fun are Leo G. Carroll, Josephine Hutchinson, Adam Williams, Philip Ober, Les Tremayne, Edward Platt, and Edward Binns.

I'm not sure it had ever registered with me before that John Beradino (Dr. Steve Hardy on GENERAL HOSPITAL) plays a cop in the sequence where Roger is arrested for drunk driving. More familiar faces such as Walter Coy, Patrick McVey, Ken Lynch, Maudie Prickett, Jeremy Slate, Olan Soule and Tol Avery are also in the cast. Famed extra Bess Flowers is in one of the hotel lobbies; I was watching for her in the crowd scenes but didn't spot her. Next time!

It's probably not necessary to say much more about NORTH BY NORTHWEST, as many of my readers have already seen the film and I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't. Let me simply say to be sure to see this one! It's most highly recommended.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST was released on DVD in 2004; this edition, in an "old-fashioned" snap case, has been on our family's Hitchcock shelf for the past couple decades. The movie was also released on Blu-ray in 2015. It also had a VHS release.

I've not yet heard any information about a Blu-ray release of the new restored print but am hopeful there might be some news on that front before long.  Seeing it at home won't be the same as seeing a 70mm print on a huge screen, but it would still be nice to have the updated print available for home viewing.

Finally: What was Netflix thinking installing a digital electronic sign above the classic Graumans Egyptian sign on the front of the theater? It clashes with the building's overall aesthetic, and they really should have known better.

Sunday, July 07, 2024

Tonight's Movie: Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Two of my favorite actors, Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery, star in Alfred Hitchcock's "divorce comedy" MR. & MRS. SMITH (1941). MR. & MRS. SMITH was just released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive Collection.

I've seen this film many times over the years and reviewed it here back in 2008. I generally enjoy it quite well, although how significantly I'm exasperated by the warring couple seems to depend on my mood at the time of each viewing!

David and Ann Smith (Montgomery and Lombard) have been happily, if somewhat noisily, married for three years.

One day they learn that due to a technicality they aren't legally wed. Ann blissfully expects that after a romantic date David will take her to be remarried, while David seems to find the idea they're not truly married exciting and puts off saying anything.

Ann is shocked when David takes her home from dinner without a stop to see a justice of the peace and spends most of the movie try to make her remorseful sort-of husband pay, including dating David's law partner Jeff (Gene Raymond).

As I noted in my review of many years ago, Lombard is as good as expected, though she gets away with being overly petulant simply because she's zany, gorgeous Carole Lombard.

Montgomery is at least equally deserving of kudos in his role. His facial expressions are delightful, and there's an appealing steamy undercurrent to his portrayal as well.

This isn't Hitchcock's typical material, but he gets the most from the cast, especially the lead actors. Either Lombard or Montgomery is onscreen most of the film, and they certainly make it 95 minutes worth seeing.

Gene Raymond does a good job as the ostensibly clean-cut lawyer who's not as noble as he first appears. Amusing supporting cast members include Charles Halton, Lucile Watson, Philip Merivale, and Esther Dale.

The gorgeous Blu-ray print is a 1080p HD master from a 4K scan of the best available preservation elements. It looks and sounds terrific.

Extensive disc extras consist of the trailer; the 17-minute 2004 featurette "Mr. Hitchcock Meets the Smiths" with Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell, Robert Osborne, Peter Bogdanovich, and more; the cartoons THE CAT'S TALE (1941) and SPORTS CHUMPIONS (1941); the Technicolor short CINDERELLA'S FELLER (1940); and two MR. & MRS. SMITH radio productions: A Lux Radio Theater (1941) broadcast w/Lombard and Bob Hope, and a Screen Guild Players (1942) broadcast starring Errol Flynn and Lana Turner.

This is an entertaining film which stands up to repeat viewings, presented in an excellent print with impressive extras. Recommended.

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

Saturday, July 06, 2024

Tonight's Movie: Crashout (1955) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Today I wrapped up the Kino Lorber Dark Side of Cinema XVIII Collection with a viewing of CRASHOUT (1955).

CRASHOUT is a prison break movie; in fact, it's the second such film of that type I've watched in the last couple of weeks thanks to Kino Lorber. The preceding prison break film was BLACK TUESDAY (1954), from the Dark Side of Cinema XVII Collection, starring Edward G. Robinson.

Both these films are tough and violent, but I found BLACK TUESDAY more enjoyable to watch. CRASHOUT is well-done -- but wow, does it go to some dark places.

The film begins with the breakout itself, and those familiar with L.A. movie locations will recognize that the prisoners immediately find themselves in the middle of Iverson Ranch. The Iverson Ranch locations for this film, including the strikingly shaped "Turtle Rock," are chronicled by Dennis Liff at the Iverson Movie Ranch page.

The breakout gang is led by Van Morgan Duff (William Bendix), a man so nasty that one of his fellow jail breakers eventually refers to him as "the Devil." Duff is shot but it hardly seems to slow him down, and he has absolutely no gratitude toward the doctor who saves him. (It's not often that I feel sorry for Percy Helton in a film.)

The other men are played by Arthur Kennedy, William Talman, Marshall Thompson, Luther Adler, and Gene Evans. As time goes on, their number is whittled down -- most poignantly Thompson's character, who briefly glimpses a chance at a better life when talking to a sweet young girl (Gloria Talbott) on a train. The Thompson-Talbott sequence is haunting and memorable, and to my thinking it's the best part of the film.

Beverly Michaels of WICKED WOMAN (1953) is sympathetic as a woman whose farmhouse is invaded by the gang. She and Kennedy's character, in another life, might have been a compatible couple but...

The film has some very grim, violent moments, although Michaels' date (Adam Williams) throwing a lamp at one of the criminals is, in its way, rather satisfying given all that's gone before. The body count ramps up as the movie hurtles toward the end of its 89 minutes, leaving us with a somewhat ambiguous conclusion.

The cast also includes Melinda Markey (daughter of Joan Bennett), Bing Russell (father of Kurt), Morris Ankrum, Chris Olsen, Adele St. Maur, Edward Clark, and Tom Dugan.

The movie was directed by Lewis R. Foster (DAKOTA INCIDENT), who also cowrote the screenplay with Hal E. Chester and the uncredited Cy Enfield. It was filmed in black and white by Russell Metty.

The print is nice and crisp, with fine sound. Extras include a commentary track by Alan K. Rode, whose tracks are always outstanding, plus the trailer. There are two additional trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber.

CRASHOUT is well done and worth seeing; I simply found it a little harder to watch than BLACK TUESDAY. It caps a solid Dark Side of Cinema set which also includes the previously reviewed FINGERMAN (1955) and CITY OF SHADOWS (1955).

More Dark Side of Cinema collections are on the way!

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

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...John DiLeo, whose last film book was THERE ARE NO SMALL PARTS in 2022, has a new book coming from Glitterati this fall, NOT EVEN NOMINATED: 40 OVERLOOKED COSTARS OF OSCAR-WINNING PERFORMANCES. I've reviewed John's books going back for many years -- links may be found in my review of his last book -- and have found them uniformly enjoyable, so I'm certain I'll enjoy this one also.

...In April I mentioned the forthcoming Kino Lorber Dark Side of Cinema XX Collection. That set, which contains CAPTAIN CAREY, USA (1950), APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER (1951), and MAKE HASTE TO LIVE (1954), now has an August 27th release date. As usual, the set will come with commentary tracks for each title.

...Kino Lorber has a new podcast called SHELF SPACE, and the initial episode included the information that more Dark Side of Cinema collections are on the way, along with two more Audie Murphy Western Collections! Amazing news. And as Toby Roan reports at The Hannibal 8, Kino Lorber will also be bringing DONOVAN'S REEF (1963) to Blu-ray. Our family has always loved this film, which feels somewhat like attending a party.

...Last week I paid tribute to Eva Marie Saint, who celebrated her 100th birthday on the 4th of July. Saint was interviewed by People and shared "I certainly don't feel 100 years old" and that her daily pleasures include watching Dodgers games.

...There's a new documentary, HOLLYWOOD FALLOUT, on the ill-fated THE CONQUEROR (1956). A significant number of the cast and crew, including stars John Wayne and Susan Hayward and director Dick Powell, would later die of cancer. Details are available from Leonard Maltin as well as Zack Budryk at The Hill.

...I mentioned in May that DOWNTON ABBEY 3 is on the's now been announced it will be released in the fall of 2025.

...Some of the latest Blu-ray reviews from CineSavant Glenn Erickson at Trailers From Hell are VICTIMS OF SIN (1951), aka VICTIMAS DEL PECADO, from the Criterion Collection and THE MAN I LOVE (1946) and ACT OF VIOLENCE (1948) from the Warner Archive Collection.

...A new book coming this fall from the Walt Disney Family Museum: WALT DISNEY TREASURES: PERSONAL ART AND ARTIFACTS FROM THE WALT DISNEY FAMILY MUSEUM. That one definitely goes on my wish list!

...From Thomas K. Arnold at Media Play News: "The Disc is Not Dead; Neither is Brick-and-Mortar Retailing."

...Author Noah Gittell was interviewed about his new book BASEBALL: THE MOVIE. As I mentioned in May, I've bought it, but as of now it's still in my summer reading stack. I love the subject matter.

...In her "Noir Nook" column at Classic Movie Hub, Karen Burroughs Hannsberry writes about a film which is "Unmistakably Noir," DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944). In the coming months Karen will be writing about other films which she believes fit this category.

...It was great to read this Classic Movie Blog Association interview with Rachel of Hamlette's Soliloquy, a blog I've enjoyed for many years. Rachel is a fellow Alan Ladd fan!

...At Speakeasy Kristina has continued her series of films directed by Fred F. Sears with Part 5...These are my kinda lesser-known movies! I have previously enjoyed THE NIGHT THE WORLD EXPLODED (1957) and THE WORLD WAS HIS JURY (1958) and now I need to watch CRASH LANDING (1958).

...Aurora pays tribute to Betty Grable with a review of MOTHER WORE TIGHTS (1947) at Once Upon a Screen...At Comet Over Hollywood Jessica reviewed Gene Autry and Ann Miller in another musical, MELODY RANCH (1940)...and Colin reviews Jeff Chandler and Joan Crawford in FEMALE AT THE BEACH (1955) at Riding the High Country. FEMALE AT THE BEACH was directed by Joseph Pevney, and Colin plans to write on more of his movies this summer.

...Film festival news: Some (interesting!) titles have now been announced for Cinecon 60, which takes place in Beverly Hills from August 29th-September 2nd. I anticipate sharing more info on this festival closer to late August...And film titles, tours, and guests are now available at the Lone Pine Film Festival site. I urge anyone considering attending to book tours as soon as possible, as they sell out! I'll have a more extensive post on what's coming to Lone Pine this fall at a future date.

...Notable Passings: Screenwriter Robert Towne (CHINATOWN) has passed away at the age of 89...and be sure to read the lovely new tribute to Jeff, written by his nephew, at Jeff Arnold's West.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please visit my June 22nd column.

Friday, July 05, 2024

Tonight's Movie: City of Shadows (1955) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Today I returned to the Kino Lorber Dark Side of Cinema XVIII collection, which consists of a trio of 1955 movies: FINGERMAN (1955), CRASHOUT (1955), and CITY OF SHADOWS (1955).

CITY OF SHADOWS is a brisk 70-minute Republic Pictures "B" film directed by Westerns and serial specialist William Witney.

Witney keeps the film fast-paced and entertaining. It's definitely nothing more than a mid-range "B" film but at the same time, it's just the kind of movie I enjoy checking out.

Dan Mason (John Baer) grew up as a streetwise kid (played as a child by Jimmy Grohman) who hit if off with racketeer "Big Tim" Channing (Victor McLaglen).

Channing becomes a father figure to Dan, eventually sending him to law school. Dan has a knack for finding legal loopholes that help Dan in his crooked dealings, but after meeting Fern (Kathleen Crowley), the lovely sister of his roommate (Nicolas Coster), Dan determines to only work in businesses which are on the up-and-up. Dan doesn't want Fern or her upstanding family to have any reason to disapprove of his work.

Dan believes the new security company he sets up with Tim is a legal business, but unknown to him, mobsters are profiting from it behind the scenes. Dan's secretary (June Vincent, BLACK ANGEL) is informing on him to her crooked boss (Anthony Caruso), which leads to an undercover detective (Richard Travis) being killed.

Dan feels he can no longer honorably marry Fern, but a remorseful Tim is determined to unite the couple and set things right with the business and the bad guys.

The movie has a little too much McLaglen for my taste, though admittedly he's one of the better actors in the cast. Baer is bland and Grohman, playing Dan as a child, is frankly obnoxious, but I really enjoyed seeing the cute young Crowley in this.

I also really enjoyed seeing familiar character favorites like Frank Ferguson and John Maxwell in the cast. Other actors in the movie include Richard Reeves, Charles Meredith, and Kay Kuter.

The movie was written by Houston Branch and has a fairly interesting story, which helps despite the film's acting deficiencies. It was filmed in black and white by Reggie Lanning. I'm curious about where the snowy finale was filmed and hope the commentary track by Gary Gerani will shed light when I listen.

In addition to the commentary, the disc has a gallery of three trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray looks very good indeed; it's hard to imagine a relatively unknown film such as this one ever looking better. Sound quality is excellent. Kudos to Kino Lorber for making this movie available for home viewing.

I've really enjoyed the first two films in this set and plan to review CRASHOUT in the near future.

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