Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Tonight's Movie: The Fearmakers (1958) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Some of my favorite releases of the last couple of years are the Dark Side of Cinema collections from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.

So far 11 sets have been released, with at least four more coming in 2023. The next volume will be released in April.

I've reviewed the vast majority of the titles in the available sets, but a few are still on my "watch list" simply due to the volume of interesting releases. This week I've circled back to the Dark Side of Cinema VII set to watch Jacques Tourneur's THE FEARMAKERS (1958).

THE FEARMAKERS stars an all-time favorite, Dana Andrews, as Alan Eaton, who as the movie begins is recovering from the physical and mental trauma of a long stint as a prisoner in the Korean War.

Alan returns to Washington, D.C., intending to slowly resume work at the public relations and research firm his partner has been managing in his absence.

Alan is knocked for a loop when he discovers that not only was his partner killed in a hit-and-run car accident but that he sold the company to Jim McGinnis (Dick Foran). The partner only had power of attorney to manage the company, not sell it, but McGinnis brusquely claims otherwise.

McGinnis offers Alan a job, saying his former business connections can be of help to the firm, as some clients have gone elsewhere. Alan isn't enthused but is encouraged to accept by his old friend Senator Walder (Roy Gordon), who is suspicious of how McGinnis is running the business. The senator believes McGinnis is manipulating polls to help favored politicians willing to pay for it.

Alan begins looking into both the business and his partner's death with the help of young secretary Lorraine Dennis (Marilee Earle), but things become very dangerous very quickly.

This film was brand-new to me, and I liked it quite well. Some of the subject matter discussed by Alan is both incredibly prescient and undated; he dissects things such as push polling and using polling data to mold opinions rather than reflect what the public is thinking. The power of a few people to end TV programs via ratings polling is also discussed. I found those aspects fascinating. Not much has changed in 65 years.

The film isn't perfect; for instance, two of the villains (Foran and Kelly Thordsen) are cartoonish loudmouths, played without subtlety. Oliver Blake as Dr. Gregory Jessop, who "conveniently" meets Alan on the plane home and directs him to a place to stay in D.C., is a different type of character but also obvious in a smarmy kind of way.

The most creative depiction among the bad guys falls to Mel Torme as a beleaguered young employee with Coke bottle glasses. I got a kick out of seeing Torme in this, especially as when I was young I would occasionally see him in the audience at classic film screenings. A fond memory.

Earle is pleasant enough but I think the role would have been better served by a more mature, savvy actress. There's a 25-year age gap between Andrews and Earle, although their characters developing a relationship makes some sense in the context of the story; Alan has been traumatized and probably sees in Lorraine not only someone helping his cause but someone fresh and young, to help erase a horrible couple of years.

Still and all, even with its flaws this is a good film with messages which remain relevant today. The combination of Andrews and Tourneur is potent, and they make the most they can of the material, with Andrews onscreen in most of the scenes.

The script for this 85-minute movie was by Elliot West and Chris Apley was based on a novel by Darwin Teilhet. The supporting cast includes Veda Ann Borg, Dennis Moore, and Joel Marston.

The Blu-ray print of THE FEARMAKERS is from a new 2K master. Other than a handful of faint wobbly vertical lines in the early going, this is a fine-looking print showing off the stark black and white photography of Sam Leavitt.

Disc extras consist of a commentary track by Jason A. Ney and a gallery of three trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber.

I've previously enjoyed CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL (1957) from this set, and I'll be reviewing John Payne in THE BOSS (1956) at a future date.

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


Anonymous Barry Lane said...

A terrific analytical series of observations and I personally either agree with all or understand their rationale. On the other hand:

The rapport and relationship between Marilee Earle's character adn the part Dana plays works well for me. The world is full of attractive, and occasionally unattractive lovers, of disparate ages. The fantasy follows, will they stay together indefinitely. No one knows. Take what comes.

6:28 PM  
Blogger mel said...

As a Mel Torme completist (music, films and literature) I have had the DVD of THE FEAR MAKERS for some years and it's am excellent print. The BluRay must be even better. Your mention of seeing him occasionally at classic film evenings confirms that he was indeed a huge film buff. In one of his books he entertainingly relates the friendly rivalry he had with fellow film collector Sammy Davis, Jr.

8:35 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you very much, Barry. I appreciate that. And what you say about The age gap of the characters makes sense -- it does happen!

Mel, I'm glad to know you have enjoyed this film on DVD. It was really fun to notice Torme at screenings. One specific theater I remember seeing him at was the Plitt in Century City, at a FilmEx screening in the late '70s. The theater, which was very comfortable with nice red seats, no longer exists.

(Another, unrelated fond memory: Standing in line behind Efrem Zimbalist Jr. at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Leo S. Bing Theater. I don't remember what the movie was!)

Best wishes,

11:27 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

A Dana Andrews film I’ve never even heard of. Sounds interesting. I love how one finds something new even after decades of film going.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

So well said, Vienna. I'm always amazed at how I keep finding new films to enjoy.

Best wishes,

9:14 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older