Slasher Film ‘Edge of the Axe,’ 1940s Noir ‘Black Angel’ Due on Blu-ray From Arrow and MVD Jan. 28

The Spanish-American slasher film Edge of the Axe and the 1940s film noir Black Angel are being released on Blu-ray from Arrow and MVD Entertainment Group Jan. 28.

From Arrow Video comes Edge of the Axe, which follows a masked killer picking off people in a small California village with — that’s right — an axe. The new 2K restoration of the cult classic (from the original camera negative) includes English and Spanish versions of the film; two new audio commentaries; a newly-filmed interview with actor Barton Faulks; “The Pain in Spain,” a newly-filmed interview with special effects and make-up artist Colin Arthur; an image gallery; a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourn; and for the first pressing only, a collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Amanda Reyes.

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Due from Arrow Academy is the 1946 film noir Black Angel, which marked the final time behind the camera for prolific director Roy William Neill. In the film, after a man is convicted of murder, his wife and the victim’s ex-husband fight to prove his innocence. Hated by author Cornell Woolrich whose novel served as the source material, Black Angel nevertheless is a sleek and stylish film for genre fans. It stars Dan Duryea, June Vincent and Peter Lorre. Special features on the new restoration of the film include a video appreciation by film historian Neil Sinyard; new audio commentary by the writer and film scholar Alan K. Rode; the original trailer; a photo gallery of original stills and promotional materials; a reversible sleeve featuring two artwork options; and for the first pressing only, an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by author Philip Kemp.

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Far Country’ and ‘The Bells of St. Mary’s’

The Far Country

MVD/Arrow, Western, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars James Stewart, Ruth Roman, Corinne Calvet, Walter Brennan.
1954.
Though his infectious smile directed mostly at Walter Brennan goes a long way to defuse this perception, The Far Country surprises a little by casting James Stewart as a real hard-ass with some unattractive traits, given that his character hasn’t been personally wronged the way he is in some of the other Stewart-Anthony Mann Westerns.
Extras: Includes a substantive Philip Kemp essay (nice still photos, too); a commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin; the always amusing Kim Newman on both the film and other Mann Westerns; and another documentary on Mann and Universal.
Read the Full Review

The Bells of St. Mary’s

Olive, Drama, $27.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman, Henry Travers.
1945.
Olive Films’ much appreciated “Signature” upgrade of director Leo McCarey’s The Bells of St. Mary’s offers a lovely visual rendering.
Extras: Features a voiceover commentary by Bing Crosby biographer Gary Giddins, a featurette about the film at hand in relation to McCarey; an on-screen essay by Abbey Bender, and a discussion of Bells’ prequel/sequel status from effervescent Prof. Emily Carman.
Read the Full Review

 

The Far Country

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

MVD/Arrow;
Western;
$39.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars James Stewart, Ruth Roman, Corinne Calvet, Walter Brennan.

Though his infectious smile directed mostly at Walter Brennan goes a long way to defuse this perception, 1954’s The Far Country surprises a little by casting James Stewart as a real hard-ass with some unattractive traits, given that his character hasn’t been personally wronged the way he is in some of the other Stewart-Anthony Mann Westerns. To be sure, he has his cattle taken away from him by an unusually colorful John McIntire in what is more precisely a “Northern” as genres go; the setting here is Seattle-to-Alaska. But this fourth of five collaborations that co-starred horses isn’t exactly akin to, say, the team’s concluder The Man From Laramie, in which the heavies do something dreadful to Stewart’s hand that the camera flinches from showing in full (and I thank you).

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Decked out in a distinctive stovepipe hat but no Abe Lincoln, McIntire channels his inner Judge Roy Bean to riff on that real life judge, ironically played for real and to a supporting Oscar by Brennan himself 14 years earlier in William Wyler’s The Westerner. McIntire, finessing a fictional version, is also jury and even hangman of Alaskan stop-off Skagway — to say nothing of taking a hefty cut from the general store (no Costco bargains at this place) and the local saloon where owner Ruth Roman is around to provide some glamour as well. For reasons at least partly physical, Roman becomes a surprise protector of Stewart after authorities try arresting him in Seattle on someone else’s past charge — offering him concealment in her room on the boat journey up to Skagway (a scene, as one of the Blu-ray’s bonus-section commentators notes, echoes Eva Marie Saint’s future help-out to Cary Grant in North by Northwest).

She ends up on the trail with Stewart as they trek supplies to Dawson City, though he’s really interested in sneaking back to Skagway to take back his seized (by McIntire) cattle. As suggested earlier, Stewart focuses on whatever goal he has at the time to the exclusion of everything else. Breaking with parties also making the journey, he elects to take one path through snowy mountains while rejecting an alternative, not bothering to tell these settlers that taking other route is tantamount to courting an avalanche. When the others elect to follow their preferred destiny, the result is a wipe-out by boulders of snow while Stewart basically shrugs it off with a “life’s tough” attitude because it’s no icicle off his nose hairs. This is basically his approach to life on all matters.

And yet. There’s a subplot here about plans for Stewart and Brennan to have their own spread together someday, complete with a bell on a door to announce visitors who’ve wandered in 20 miles off the trail. Of the two, Brennan seems to be more of the instigator for this, though Stewart seems to go along with the scenario. But any event, this all seems in keeping with the premise of Mark Rappaport’s cheeky The Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender (1997), which found coded gay subtext in everyday genre situations (think of all the Westerns where the grizzled sidekick brews coffee for the hero when they awaken in the morning down by the river). Of course, Brennan was such a notorious real-life reactionary that anyone broaching this subject really would have been asking for it. There’s nothing like having your an eye put out by a heavy flying projectile that turns out to be dentures.

For whatever reason, though, Stewart can’t seem to get all that worked up even by Roman’s smoldering availability — and especially not by a smitten tomboy played by onetime starlet Corinne Calvet, a most atypical role for the underachieving onetime Hal Wallis glamour-puss whose autobiography (Has Corinne Been a Good Girl?) is said to be one of the most salacious howlers of its genre. Actually, Calvet is not inadequate here and lot more animated than Roman — an actress who engendered the most drama during her heyday by surviving the sinking of the Andrea Doria. (I’ll reserve the right to change my mind after I see her in Warner Archive’s new Blu-ray of Jacques Tourneur’s Great Day in the Morning, a Civil War Western for which I harbor a minor sweet spot from many years back.)

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Mann peppers Country with what looks like a high school reunion of instantly identifiable Western character actors who specialized in playing affable drunks, not so affable heavies and others who also could use fresh longjohns. These would include McIntire, Jay C. Flippen, Harry Morgan, Robert Wilke, Royal Dano, Jack Elam, Chubby Johnson, Chuck Roberson, Kathleen Freeman, Connie Gilchrist and probably a few more males I’ve missed that Judy Garland wouldn’t have wanted to be on her dance card in Meet Me in St. Louis. A few of these find themselves here on the high side of their careers, and I definitely don’t think I’ve ever seen McIntire this memorable before, even if his small role as the sheriff in Psycho certainly resonates.

Country got its U.S. release in early ’55 when Hollywood was still tinkering with trying to turn non-anamorphic films into something like widescreen releases by cropping the image. Universal-International sometimes liked going with a 2.00:1 aspect ratio in those days, and Arrow’s two-disc release offers both the film as it was shot and as it played many theaters, one version on each disc. I chose to view the 2.00:1 rendering in full but thought the image somewhat “in my face” and much preferred the 1.85:1 when I re-looked at several scenes in that format. This is good (for convenience’s sake) because the 1.85:1 presentation is on the same disc as the bonus extras, which include a substantive Philip Kemp essay (nice still photos, too); a commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin; the always amusing Kim Newman on both the film and other Mann Westerns (he’s hip to the unconventionality of the Stewart-Brennan relationship); and another documentary on Mann and Universal with an A-team of Alan K. Rode, C. Courtney Joyner, Michael Preece, Rob Word and my fellow Buckeye Michael Schlesinger. Putting all these altogether, we get a pretty good explanation of the fissure over 1957’s Night Passage that destroyed the collaborative relationship forever (Stewart and Mann also did three other non-Westerns together).

Arrow seems to have gone all out here by showcasing a 4K makeover as well. The long shots look fuzzy, but the medium shots and close-ups are often striking, and fortunately, there are a lot of those. So with this release, MGM’s The Naked Spur is the only Stewart-Mann Western not yet released on Blu-ray, and I’m surprised Warner Archive hasn’t given it a go. Stewart is so good here in a role where he’s more disagreeable than he might have been that I realized that I had somewhat underrated Country, which a lot of people do. Blasphemous as its sounds, given its fan base, I’m rather amazed that I’d personally rate Bend of the River the least of the five, even though many good movie minds rate it as best of the bunch.

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Far Country’ and ‘The Bells of St. Mary’s’

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Major and the Minor’ and ‘The Set Up’

The Major and the Minor

MVD/Arrow, Comedy, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Ginger Rogers, Ray Milland, Rita Johnson, Diana Lynn, Robert Benchley.
1942.
In the first Hollywood directorial outing from Billy Wilder, a grown woman posing as a 12-year-old meets and gradually falls for a kindly and thoroughly aboveboard Army major — who probably isn’t even aware that he’s on the road to reciprocating her feelings.
Extras: Includes a taut and nicely crafted voiceover commentary from film scholar Adrian Martin; a half-hour interview with British critic and academic Neil Sinyard; and a 30-minute Ray Milland interview.
Read the Full Review

The Set-Up

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Robert Ryan, Audrey Totter, George Tobias, Alan Baxter.
1949.
To some extent overlooked when it came out the same year as Kirk Douglas’s star-making rival boxing drama Champion, Director Robert Wise’s The Set-Up finally attained the rep it deserves after many years.
Extras: The Blu-ray includes separate commentaries from Wise and Martin Scorsese.
Read the Full Review

 

The Major and the Minor

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

MVD/Arrow;
Comedy;
$39.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Ginger Rogers, Ray Milland, Rita Johnson, Diana Lynn, Robert Benchley.

Standard histories have it that Billy Wilder decided to become a director to “protect his screenplays” (which, at that time, were co-written with Charles Brackett) after he didn’t like what Mitchell Leisen did to 1941’s Hold Back the Dawn. The latter, which Arrow released on Blu-ray this past summer, is actually a fine picture, but Wilder was agitated enough to take the directorial plunge and thereby searched for the most surefire property gathering dust on the Paramount lot at a time when the studio expected him to fall on his face by attempting something arty.

Something, however, to think about is the fact that The Major and the Minor couldn’t have been all that surefire in 1942 due to its premise about a grown woman posing as a 12-year-old meets and gradually falls for a kindly and thoroughly aboveboard Army major — who probably isn’t even aware that he’s on the road to reciprocating her feelings. British critic and academic Neil Sinyard (a film history teacher I would have loved to have had) hits this point on a half-hour M&M interview included on Arrow’s new Blu-ray, noting that this was a decade or more before the publication of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Even momentarily leaving industry censors out of it here for the purposes of discussion, Wilder (who continued writing with Brackett through 1950’s Sunset Boulevard) would have to walk a fine line — something, turns out, that he did for almost the entirety of his directorial career.

It’s a feat he pulled off here without (to the eye, at least) a hitch, and M&M doesn’t look like any director’s first outing. Though, to clarify, Wilder had previously co-directed a 1934 French comedy with Danielle Darrieux about a hot car ring (Mauvaise graine) that I liked better than expected the only time I saw it. For Wilder’s Hollywood debut here, he and Brackett even managed to open with a long establishing scene that’s topically relevant today — one where we see the degree to which Ginger Rogers’ character has been pawed, pinched and otherwise sexually harassed during a year in New York after escaping the hinterlands. The latest transgressor is a married wolf (Robert Benchley) who hires her to massage his scalp, sparking one of the more famed lines of dialogue from a vintage Hollywood comedy: “Why don’t you get out of those wet clothes and into a dry martini?”

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Having reached her rope’s end after the episode that follows, Rogers elects on a dime to return home for good with the exact train fare she’s saved in an envelope, only to discover that the cost has gone up during the year. Disguising herself as youngster (complete with a balloon) so that she can score a cheaper fare, Rogers ends up in the drawing room of the title major (Ray Milland), who has just been in Washington trying to wangle World War II combat service despite a tricky eye that helps make it at least a bit more credible that he could fail to see that she’s no burgeoning adolescent. As Sinyard notes, there’s also the fact that Milland somewhat specialized in playing mildly dim characters early in his career — before Wilder later won both of them Oscars for the alcoholism drama The Lost Weekend.

At this time, Milland is stuck at a military school supervising a lot of horny male pubescents — a gig his snooty fiancée (Rita Johnson) is secretly scheming with higher-ups for him to maintain. For reasons that make perfect sense yet are no less funny for that, Rogers ends up at the school herself for a long weekend where she’s sexually harassed all over again — this time by boys who are 40 or 50 years younger than Benchley.

These latter scenes are still laugh-out-loud funny, thanks in huge measure to the world-weary expressions on the face of Rogers when she’s out on dates with these cadets (one to an hour) and enduring supposedly foolproof seduction patter from guys who barely shave. There’s also a fun subplot involving her temporary roomie/wannabe future scientist played by Diana Lynn in her first significant role (Lynn was a real-life piano prodigy who turned out to have a distinctive speaking voice and screen personality). As Johnson’s sister, she’s such a non-admirer that she’s not above steaming open the older sibling’s letters if it’ll help Milland get his transfer.

Already, we see the familiar Wilder virtues and even some themes. For starters, the performances are all first-rate, with Milland an appealing foil and even Rogers’ real-life mother Lela in a cute cameo playing the same role on the screen, momentarily dispelling Lela’s much written about notoriety as one of Hollywood’s most motor-mouthed political reactionaries. What’s more, the story construction is flawless, and there’s a fair share of Wilder’s trademark topical humor, including a hysterical gag involving girls’ hairdos at the big school dance. We also have the disguise theme, to which would Wilder would return in Some Like It Hot (though I also appreciate Harvey Lembeck’s attempts to temporarily palm himself off as Betty Grable in Stalag 17). What’s different, though, is an overall sweetness that we wouldn’t see from Wilder many more times. In the taut and nicely crafted voiceover commentary here from film scholar Adrian Martin, we’re told that Brackett used the word “enchanting” — which the movie certainly is. And never more than in the final scene.

The other main bonus feature to go along with a decent transfer is a 30-minute Milland interview conducted by two youngsters or relative youngsters who don’t seem to know his career as well as they might. The actor is personable, though, and covers a lot of decades for such a compressed running time — from the actor’s unplanned entry into pictures (quite a story) and the pressures of both TV acting when you might be shooting three episodes of a series a week and the perils of directing modestly budgeted features when the money may run out. Milland made it clear more than once that directing was his true love as far as movies went, and at least two of the films he did (The Thief and A Man Alone) are skillfully put together. I’m leaving Panic in Year Zero off this list because it’s been so many decades since I’ve seen to that I’m not even positive that I have, despite the fact that a lot of revisionist types have good things to say about it. In 1962, I wasn’t all that in the habit of catching post-apocalyptic Frankie Avalon movies.

It’s probably worth noting that M&M was remade in 1955 as You’re Never Too Young, which is one of the few Martin & Lewis comedies to capture the team tension of their live appearances. Though containing a surprising number of the same situations, it obviously made some major alterations, starting with Jerry Lewis playing the Rogers role. It was after totally different game than M&M, and taken on that level (which most dim-bulb-ish 1955 film criticism didn’t), it was pretty funny despite the always marginal Norman Taurog direction. Rainer Werner Fassbinder even paid homage to its wildest musical number in In a Year of 13 Moons.

Definitely worth re-emphasizing is the greatness of Rogers’ performance when she has to play two major roles (her character’s real and fake self) and two or three more minor ones, including a climactic scene where she pretends to be her own mother. I always use Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth as my yardstick by which to gauge the perfection of Golden Age comic performances by attractive actresses, but this recent viewing made a persuasive case to me that Rogers just might come in second here. Brackett and Wilder give her a dream role (which doesn’t mean an easy one), and the movie has so much showmanship that it even finds a legitimate way for the character to break into a tap dance.

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Major and the Minor’ and ‘The Set Up’

MVD September 2019 Arrow Video Slate Includes Horror Re-releases

Arrow Video Blu-ray releases from MVD Entertainment Group in September 2019 include The Hills Have Eyes Part 2, Who Saw Her Die?, In the Aftermath, Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II. Arrow Academy will release The Major and the Minor.

Due Sept. 17 is Wes Craven’s 1984 sequel The Hills Have Eyes Part 2. Extras include a new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues; a new making-of documentary called “Blood, Sand, and Fire”; a stills gallery; the original theatrical trailer; six postcards; and a reversible fold-out poster.

Also due Sept. 17 Alan Lado’s Who Saw Her Die? George Lazenby and Anita Strindberg star as parents who search the streets of Venice hoping to find the black-veiled killer that murdered their daughter. Who Saw Her Die? features a new 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative. Includes newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack; a new audio commentary by author and critic Travis Crawford; new video interviews with Lado, actress Nicolette Elmi, co-writer Francesco Barilli and author Michael Mackenzie; plus original trailers and a poster gallery.

Clive Barker’s 1987 Hellraiser and its 1988 sequel, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, arrive as standalone Blu-rays Sept. 24. Both films hit Blu-ray with 2K restorations approved by director of photography Robin Vidgeon. The films were previously available on Blu-ray as part of Arrow’s 2016 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box trilogy collection of the first three “Hellraiser” films. The standalone versions include reversible box art.

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Also coming Sept. 24 is In the Aftermath. In looking to make his debut feature, director Carl Colpaert re-purposed footage from an older anime, shot some live-action footage and created a haunting post-apocalyptic look at Earth. The film is presented on Blu-ray with a 2K restoration. Includes new interviews with producer Tom Dugan and star Tony Markes; a new appreciation for Mamoru Oshii’s original anime film; a still and poster gallery; and reversible box art.

Billy Wilder’s The Major and the Minor arrives Sept. 24 from Arrow Academy. Ginger Rogers disguises herself as a child to save money on a train ticket, a decidedly genius move that nearly comes crashing down when she decides to smoke. She hides out in the compartment of Ray Milland and hijinks ensue. The film is noticeable for being Wilder’s first as a director in America and it essentially kickstarted his illustrious career.

‘Alice, Sweet Alice,’ Pacino Flick ‘Cruising’ and ‘Akio Jissoji: The Buddhist Trilogy’ Coming on Blu-ray From Arrow and MVD in August

Alice, Sweet Alice, the Al Pacino flick Cruising and “Akio Jissoji: The Buddhist Trilogy” are coming on Blu-ray from Arrow Video and MVD Entertainment Group in August.

Due Aug. 6 is the 1976 slasher film Alice, Sweet Alice. A young girl is brutally murdered by an unknown lunatic in a bright yellow rain coat and a freakishly creepy translucent mask. As the killer continues to strike again and again, the young girl’s parents are forced to consider this gruesome reality — perhaps the killer is their eldest daughter, Alice. Ranked No. 89 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments, Alice, Sweet Alice features hardcore kill scenes and marks the screen debut of Brooke Shields. Special features include a new audio commentary with Richard Harland Smith; an archival audio commentary with co-writer/director Alfred Sole and editor Edward Salier; “First Communion: Alfred Sole Remembers Alice, Sweet Alice,” in which Sole looks back on his film; “In the Name of the Father,” a new interview with actor Niles McMaster; “Sweet Memories: Dante Tomaselli on Alice, Sweet Alice,” in which filmmaker Dante Tomaselli, cousin of Sole, discusses his longtime connection to the film; “Lost Childhood: The Locations of Alice, Sweet Alice,” a tour of the original shooting locations hosted by author Michael Gingold; an alternate television cut; a deleted scene; alternate opening titles; a trailer and TV spot; the original screenplay; and an image gallery.

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Coming Aug. 20 is William Friedkin’s controversial erotic crime thriller Cruising. Pacino stars as a New York City cop assigned an undercover gig that sends him deep into the world of the gay S&M and leather bars in the Meatpacking District in an effort to track down a killer targeting gay men. Special features include an archival audio commentary by Friedkin; “The History of Cruising,” an archival featurette looking at the film’s origins and production; “Exorcizing Cruising,” an archival featurette looking at the controversy surrounding the film and its legacy; and the original theatrical trailer.

Also due Aug. 20 is a collection of Akio Jissoji’s films — This Transient LifeMandara and Poem — that make up “The Buddhist Trilogy.” These three New Wave films made for the Art Theatre Guild take a controversial and shocking exploration through faith. As an added bonus, Jissoji’s 1974 feature It Was a Faint Dream, a film that touches on similar themes as the trilogy, is included. Special features include introductions to all three films in the trilogy by David Desser, author of Eros Plus Massacre: An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave; scene-select commentaries on all three films in the trilogy by Desser; theatrical trailers for Mandara, Poem and It Was a Faint Dream; and an illustrated, 60-page collector’s book featuring new writings on the films by Anton Bitel and Tom Mes.

‘Weird Science,’ Bigelow’s Debut ‘The Loveless’ and Classic ‘Hold Back the Dawn’ Coming to Blu-ray From Arrow and MVD in July

The 1980s teen comedy Weird Science, Kathryn Bigelow’s debut feature The Loveless and the classic Oscar nominee Hold Back the Dawn are among the films on the July Blu-ray slate from Arrow Video and MVD Entertainment Group.

First up July 2 is the late 1970s rock-n-roll comedy FM. Oscar-nominated John A. Alonzo directs this story of radio station mutiny. After being forced to play more commercials, including military recruitment ads, DJs and other employees take control and fight their corporate bosses by playing as much music as possible. The new HD release, transferred from the original camera negatives, features extras including a new interview with the film’s star Michael Brandon; a new interview with writer Ezra Sacks; “The Spirit of Radio,” a newly filmed video appreciation of the era of FM radio and the FM soundtrack by film and music critic Glenn Kenny; a gallery of original stills, promotional images and soundtrack sleeves; original trailers; a reversible sleeve featuring two original artwork options; and for the first pressing only, an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by writer and critic Paul Corupe.

Due July 9 is Oscar-winner Bigelow’s debut feature (co-directed by Monty Montgomery) The Loveless. Set in the 1950s, The Loveless is the story of a motorcycle gang heading to the races in Daytona. Along the way they stop in a small southern town, leaving the locals less they pleased. Willem Dafoe, also making his debut, stars. The Loveless is presented restored and in HD for the first time, with a new transfer approved by Montgomery and director of photography Doyle Smith. Extras include a new audio commentary with Montgomery, moderated by Elijah Drenner; making-of featurettes; a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx; and for the first pressing only, an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Peter Stanfield.

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On July 16 come two releases, 1941’s Hold Back the Dawn and 1990s horror flick The Chill Factor.

Nominated for six Oscars, Hold Back the Dawn stars Charles Boyer and Olivia de Havilland in the story of one man’s hope of making it to the United States by marrying a citizen. The plan is to leave his would-be bride upon making his way into the country, but the plan has a few hiccups thanks to a determined immigration officer and a true love that begins to blossom. Presented in HD for the first time, the release includes extras such as new audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin; “Love Knows No Borders,” a newly filmed video appreciation by film critic Geoff Andrew; a career-spanning onstage audio interview with de Havilland recorded at the National Film Theatre in 1971; an hour-long radio adaptation of Hold Back the Dawn from 1941 starring Boyer, Paulette Goddard and Susan Haywood; a gallery of original stills and promotional images; the original trailer; a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jennifer Dionisio; and for the first pressing only, an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by writer and critic Farran Smith Nehme.

The Chill Factor, also known as Demon Possessed, is the only film directed by producer Christopher Webster. In the film, a group of friends out on a snowmobile trip seek refuge when one of them gets knocked unconscious following an accident. They locate an abandoned cabin to take cover. The cabin happens to hold a number of bizarre religious artifacts, and they mistakenly awaken a terrible evil. Extras include a new audio commentary with special effects artist Hank Carlson and horror writer Josh Hadley; a new on-camera interview with makeup artist Jeffery Lyle Segal; a new on-camera interview with production manager Alexandra Reed; a new on-camera interview with stunt coordinator Gary Paul; a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach; and for the first pressing, only a collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Mike White.

Steelbook packaging

Due July 23 is the 1980s John Hughes classic Weird Science available in regular and steelbook packaging. Starring Anthony Michael Hall, the comedy follows a pair of nerds that attempt to create the perfect woman via their computer. The release features a new 4K restoration from the original negatives and includes the original theatrical version as well as the extended version. As an added bonus, a standard definition transfer of the edited-for-TV release is included. Additional special features include an archive making-of documentary; new interviews with special makeup creator Craig Reardon, composer Ira Newborn, supporting actor John Kapelos and casting director Jackie Burch; a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tracie Ching; and for the first pressing only, an illustrated collectors’ booklet featuring new writing on the film by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Amanda Reyes.

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Big Clock’ and ‘Baby the Rain Must Fall’

The Big Clock: Special Edition

MVD/Arrow, Drama, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Sullivan, George Macready.
1948.
With a larkish approach to drinking straight plus several wacky asides, the toned-down movie of Kenneth Fearing’s novel The Big Clock isn’t exactly “noir” yet would still be a tough one to leave off a comprehensive list of films that are.
Extras: Among the extras is an impressively thought-out commentary by scholar Adrian Martin.
Read the Full Review 

Baby the Rain Must Fall

Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Lee Remick, Steve McQueen, Don Murray.
1965.
Despite its shortcomings, Baby is still a rewarding view for pure historical perspective if you love to follow career trajectories.
Read the Full Review

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The Big Clock: Special Edition

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

MVD/Arrow;
Drama;
$39.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Sullivan, George Macready.

With a larkish approach to drinking straight out of The Thin Man plus several wacky asides in keeping with Elsa Lanchester’s chortle-bait presence in the supporting cast as a bohemian artist, the toned-down 1948 movie of Kenneth Fearing’s novel The Big Clock isn’t exactly “noir” yet would still be a tough one to leave off a comprehensive list of films that are. For one thing, Gilda’s George Macready is in it, looking as ever as if his bed likely has a built-in shelf under the mattress for a stash of whips. For another, one homoerotic scene with publisher Charles Laughton and his “fixer” (a relatively buff Harry Morgan) in a massage table milieu doesn’t exactly portend a Great Outdoors Technicolor musical set against a wagon train.

Fearing’s novel has enough of a rep to have rated inclusion in a Library of America volume, but there was no way 1948 Hollywood was capable of indulging its casual approach to adultery or one major character being a lesbian. There’s so much hustle-bustle going on here, though, that the absence of these narrative possibilities is barely missed. Either via the actor involved or fictional character from the written page, I’ve already alluded to four individuals in the narrative without even completing a second paragraph. And I haven’t even yet mentioned the main protagonist (Ray Milland), who edits Crimeways magazine for the Manhattan-based Laughton empire whose building lobby boasts an imposing giant clock that’s always correct down to the last sliver of a second.

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The picture is quite astute in having anticipated today’s media conglomerates, and though Roger Ailes was a No. 2 who still had to answer to Rupert Murdoch at Fox, Laughton does a great job that he obviously wasn’t aware of in portraying Ailes’s corpulence while cast here as the key corporate honcho. Armed with a revolting personality and power-wielding amorality, he at one point threatens to blackball Milland in the profession merely because the latter would like a vacation. He also plays around, which gets him into trouble when his current mistress ends up dead in brutal fashion; putting a memorable spin on the role is Rita Johnson, an actress whose career was largely curtailed when brain surgery largely failed to correct the aftereffects of a hair dryer freakishly falling on her just a few months after the movie premiered.

Complicating screen matters is the fact that Milland rather publicly had drinks with this once mercurial victim in nightspots (both trendy and un-) shortly before her ugly payoff. (Milland doesn’t serially cheat on his wife the way he does in the novel but will still always have a drink or 12 with a strange woman if asked). The story’s subsequent gimmick — and it’s a good one — is one of the few things that remained in the acknowledged yet all but unrecognizable 1987 remake, No Way Out, much of which is set in the Pentagon. And this is that the person in charge of the sleuthing (Laughton wants Crimeways and Milland to solve the case) finds all the evidence pointing in his direction. This takes a most tolerant wife, and the one here is played by Maureen O’Sullivan, who is adamant that she and Milland take a years-delayed love trip with their son to Wheeling. (Apparently, the conglomerate doesn’t own a travel-tips publication.)

But O’Sullivan turns out to be a valuable assistant to her husband, who otherwise has only an assortment of colorful barflies to watch his back when the increasingly malevolent Laughton becomes adversarial. Laughton’s own helpers are more threatening, the kind that power-mad sociopaths who work in buildings named after them can afford. Macready, his No. 2, is the polished, dominant one (though the way things are going, he’d better watch his back), and Morgan is around for rough stuff — never once speaking a word in the movie, preferring to let his actions do all his shouting. Without giving much away — note that the movie begins in flashback with our protagonist on the lam inside the corporate headquarters — the deeply-in-trouble Milland has to ankle it all over the skyscraper looking for hiding places, the clock among them.

The director is John Farrow, who was married to O’Sullivan in real life and fathered a sizable brood that included Mia. On an impressively thought-out Blu-ray commentary, scholar Adrian Martin tries making the case (and he’s not alone) that Farrow was badly underrated. Maybe, but he made a lot of clunkers, with this picture and John Wayne’s Hondo probably topping the list of his career achievements. (Other high-enders include Milland’s Alias Nick Beal, the intentional camp-fest His Kind of Woman, and a few solid entertainments like Two Years Before the Mast and A Bullet Is Waiting.) Along with a really good script by Jonathan Latimer, one has to concede that Farrow’s flair for movement here (note the all the scenes where multiple characters zip out of the frame and back) really carry the day over one of two things I could do without (the final bit is a little cutesy).

Another Adrian (Wootton) appears on camera to discuss Farrow and the movie’s origin as well, while the actor Simon Callow brings to his discussion of Laughton the historical and analytical ammo he attained writing an outstanding ‘90s bio of the actor, which I read not long after its publication. Callow makes a tough-to-refute case that 1939’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame so burned out Laughton that the actor lost his edge until almost the end of his career — though this movie, Witness for the Prosecution and, of course, his direction of The Night of the Hunter were standout exceptions. Otherwise, what’s an Oscar-winning actor to do when, for whatever reason, he’s electing to do Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd.

The great John Seitz, who backed up Billy Wilder during the latter’s Paramount period, photographed The Big Clock, and I was a little surprised that the Blu-ray was somewhat on the rough grainy side the way the DVD was as well. (We could be talking the same old master.) The appearance is striking enough but hardly as luminous as Shout Select’s recent Blu-ray of This Gun for Hire, which Seitz also shot at that same studio. Better, though, that luminosity be saved for Hire’s Veronica Lake if a viewer has to choose; there’s so much mayhem going in Clock that the eye has less time to focus, anyway. This is a movie I saw for the first time at age 12 on a TV late show in 1960, and has continued to grab me through years that would include my programming days at the AFI Theater when we’d run the UCLA Film and Television Archive print ion the movie in 35mm.

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Big Clock’ and ‘Baby the Rain Must Fall’