Mike’s Picks: ‘A Face in the Crowd’ and ‘Tarantula’

A Face in the Crowd

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Anthony Franciosa, Lee Remick.
1957.
Elia Kazan’s warning shot about how broadcast mass media might be able to “package” political candidates the way Madison Avenue had done for antacid TV spots may be one of the most prescient of all American movies, and was Andy Griffith’s screen debut.
Extras: The Criterion bonus extras are illuminating, as they especially need to be on a movie like this. Interviewed historian Ron Briley strengthens the undeniable case that Kazan’s work got better and more committed after he named communists to HUAC, while an excellent 2005 featurette doc is carried over from the old Warner DVD release, which this 4K transfer puts very much in the shade. In addition to critic April Wolfe’s beauty of an essay, there’s a lengthy excerpt from Kazan’s introduction to the published Crowd screenplay from 1957, as well as the same year’s New York Times profile on Griffith.
Read the Full Review

Tarantula

Shout! Factory, Horror, $29.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars John Agar, Mara Corday, Leo G. Carroll.
1955.
Compact; helped by a casting mix that works; and the visual advantage of watching the jumbo title “thing” stalking the wide-open desert makes this one of the more disturbing ’50s mutation movies.
Extras: Includes an often funny commentary by Tom Weaver, David Schecter and Robert J. Kiss.
Read the Full Review

 

Mike’s Picks: ‘Wanda’ and ‘Phantom Lady’

Wanda

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, ‘PG.’
Stars Barbara Loden, Michael Higgins.
1971. What stands out about Wanda, aside from the fact that scouting its locations could well have been the most depressing gig in the business, is the degree to which its narrative is still such a downbeat grabber despite all of its raggedness.
Extras: Amy Taubin penned the Criterion essay, and there’s an hour-long audio interview that was done at the AFI in which star Barbara Loden talks a lot about simply getting this labor of love on the screen. We also get the actress/director in a half-hour educational film about a pioneer woman, yet the transcendent standout here is an hour-long documentary on Loden filmed just three months before she died in 1980 at age 48 from cancer.
Read the Full Review 

Phantom Lady

MVD/Arrow, Drama, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Franchot Tone, Ella Raines, Alan Curtis, Thomas Gomez.
1944.
After an extended build-up that makes one wonder if the movie will break out into something more, Phantom Lady is ultimately put over by three extended sequences that easily carry the story beyond what turns out to be a resourcefully versatile lead actress (Ella Raines) is already doing.
Extras: Includes an Alan Rode essay and a vintage noir doc that runs just under an hour.
Read the Full Review

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Wanda

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Criterion;
Drama;
$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars Barbara Loden, Michael Higgins.

Barbara Loden went from small-town, Southern-bred model to winning a Tony for Arthur Miller’s After the Fall, a controversial play full of Marilyn Monroe under-and-overtones that was directed by Loden’s real-life husband, Elia Kazan. Before that, she was also memorable in two Kazan films: as Montgomery Clift’s down-to-earth secretary in Wild River (a tiny role on which she put unique spin) and as the Warren Beatty sister and self-destructive pistol in Splendor in the Grass. Also impressive in its own loonier way was her earlier stint as an Ernie Kovacs TV sidekick, where it’s been said she donned heavy ape makeup to become a sometimes member of the three-simian Nairobi Trio, a contender for Kovacs’ standout concoction along with martini-swilling poet Percy Dovetonsils.

Then, roundabouts 1971, Loden wrote, directed and starred in Wanda (she also raised the money) — something that just wasn’t being done at the time in any mainstream movie milieu and certainly not by a woman. Extremely personable in ways that come across forcefully in bonus features from Criterion’s new Wanda release, Loden is sometimes regarded as one who died (at 48) without fully realizing her artistic gifts, but anyone with this resumé is one I’d automatically have wanted to meet. And what stands out about the finished film — aside from the fact that scouting its locations could well have been the most depressing gig in the business — is the degree to which its narrative is still such a downbeat grabber despite all of Wanda’s $115,000 raggedness. And its origin as a 16mm endeavor blown up to 35mm for the inevitably limited theatrical distribution it got. Well, yesterday’s underachiever sometimes becomes today’s side-door feminist salvo.

The unnamed setting, at least before Wanda becomes an on-the-lam road picture, is the lower-than-low-rent outskirts of Scranton, Pa., a decade before the term “Rust Belt” got coined. The title character (Loden) is introduced sleeping on her sister’s couch with a screaming and possibly unchanged baby niece or nephew nearby; Wanda’s mere presence in the household then precipitates an argument between her sister and brother-in-law as he storms off to work. It’s a discombobulating beginning to a day when she’s scheduled to appear in divorce court, an early appointment to which she is late before showing up in curlers. For her part, the journey just to get there would be arduous for anyone: a protracted trek across coal fields — the long shot of her doing so might be the most effective visual of its type since Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston duked it out from afar in William Wyler’s The Big Country — followed by a bus ride. This is not a story that takes place in Steve Mnuchin-ville.

As both the judge and an estranged husband await her, the latter — who may or may not be a lout; he seems reasonable — is advancing a credible case that Wanda is an unfit mother who flubs nearly all of their children’s needs. When she’s finally able to show up, Wanda agrees in a blink that the kids should go with their father and his new companion. This is a key to her character: She’s passive to a fault, which is probably not inconsistent with her blatant tendency to bed-hop. The fact that she still has her looks — and with no help from her wardrobe or makeup — means that she frequently gets unnuanced opportunities from the litany of male slugs who come her way. Then, purely by chance, she meets someone who gives her life some much-desired regimentation by telling her exactly what to do with the threat of punishment — even down to which condiments to order on his carryout hamburger.

Unfortunately, the value of such tutelage is limited, given that this colossally dyspeptic sort (Michael Higgins) is a petty thief who, unknowingly to Wanda, is robbing the otherwise empty bar where the two meet late at night as the bartender lies unconscious-or-close out of sight under the cash register. Faced with an existential decision — not that “existential” is a word thrown around too often in this film — she elects to join him for a life in shabby hotel rooms and convenience store “eats.” We immediately have a sense that this isn’t going to end well — and, in fact, it didn’t for the real-life woman whose news story inspired Loden to make this film in the first place. Yet in an odd way, as things turned out, the result actually may have, a pitiful resolution (Loden often related it in interviews) that’ll intrigue anyone with a sense of irony.

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For all of Loden’s accomplishments in getting a largely successful movie on the screen, Higgins deserves a lot of credit here because his characterization is so eminently watchable. With glasses and close-cropped hair that make him look like certain pictures of John Dillinger — it’s a visage much closer to the Warren Oates/John Milius screen Dillinger than Lawrence Tierney in the ’40s sleeper at Monogram — he’s the complete tinderbox of exploding emotions without many redeeming qualities. And yet, he does display genuine affection for a couple senior men here, one of them his father. It would be fascinating to get a bead on this guy’s backstory — though, as with everyone in this movie, he probably started without a single card in the deck that would have even allowed him to break out into, say, Pittsburgh.

The big women critics of the day — Pauline Kael, Judith Crist, Kathleen Carroll — all dumped on Wanda in large part because of the title character, who wasn’t much of a role model then for young women and is even less of one now. But in terms of portraying basic survival instincts (the day-to-day kind, that is, without any long-term goals), it immerses one in its story pretty well from the get-go. Loden also thoroughly immerses herself in the role, a performance that never gives away that she was a whole lot sharper than the character she was playing. The contrast is so striking that it almost rates a chuckle when we see Loden comparably dolled up but still looking natural on a Dick Cavett promotional appearance in early ’71, included as a bonus extra. (The other guests are Jimmy Breslin and Howard Cosell, just before the first Ali-Frazier fight, further proof that the ’70s Cavett shows had no talk-show peers when it came to smorgasbord guests — ever).

Amy Taubin — who’s a critic I’d want to read on this movie — penned the Criterion essay, and there’s an hour-long audio interview that was done at the AFI where Loden talks a lot about simply getting this labor of love on the screen (after several attempts with others, she basically stumbled into finding a financial angel when she wasn’t even trying). We also get the actress/director in a half-hour educational film about a pioneer woman, yet the transcendent standout here is an hour-long documentary on Loden by Katja Raganelli that was filmed just three months before the former’s death in 1980 at age 48 from cancer. Loden looks amazingly in shape here — and, in fact, was on an intensive dance regimen — but she has that look through the eyes that often hints that someone is really sick.

Briefly appearing in the doc is cinematographer Nicholas T. Proferes, who always seems to have the camera in the right place throughout Wanda without making deal of it; he subsequently shot Kazan’s The Visitors not much later when that two-time Oscar winner decided to go minimalist himself. Loden often compared Wanda’s passivity to her onetime self, and Kazan had to have been a demanding companion, judging from his autobiography (which is in a total class by itself when taken with all the other show biz memoirs I’ve read over nearly 65 years). Take it from there, but there’s also a long passage in the Raganelli documentary where Kazan goes on and on and on praising Loden’s virtues both as a talent and as a human being. It’s really moving and certainly appears to come from the heart.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Wanda’ and ‘Phantom Lady’

Mike’s Picks: ‘Detour’ and ‘Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?’

Detour

Street Date 3/19/19
Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake.
1945.
Seeing director Edgar G. Ulmer’s absorbing Detour after its restoration is an entirely fresh experience, though “fresh” is not necessarily how you feel after spending a blistering hour-and-a-quarter with its cast of mostly misfits.
Extras: A major part of this Criterion package is the 2004 documentary Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen. The package also includes an interview with film scholar Noah Isenberg, a long essay by critic Robert Polito, and a primer on how the restoration was done with the cooperation of sundry institutions and materials.
Read the Full Review 

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Comedy, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Tony Randall, Jayne Mansfield, Betsy Drake, Joan Blondell.
1957.
Tony Randall plays a struggling agency copywriter looking to sign a big star in this engaging romp that is one of director Frank Tashlin’s best.
Extras: NYU film prof Dana Polan is featured in a rather academic commentary carried over from the long-ago DVD release.
Read the Full Review

Detour

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 3/19/19;
Criterion;
Drama;
$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake.

It took maybe a day for the much talked-about new restoration of Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour to hit me with full force, and I just can’t chalk this up to the fresh novelty of seeing substantially more detail on male lead Tom Neal’s sweaty beard follicles. Like those eye blinks some people took when that old lady driving the station wagon on 2006 screens turned out to be Helen Mirren in The Queen, it can be enough of a full order for a normal brain simply to come down from the ambush of seeing somebody familiar in a completely different context. Just think of what it must have been like, say, for the cashier at the Florida spa to look up and see Patriots owner Robert Kraft (allegedly).

Here, the specific subject at hand is one of the grimiest of all ‘B’ film noirs — only now, we’re miraculously talking about a regular-looking movie no longer rendered via those scratchy, dupey prints which for most still living film folk have been an undeniable component of the Detour viewing experience. Now having said this, it’s also inevitable that we can expect a small band of purists/cultists to claim a preference for Ulmer’s 69-minute ode to fatalism in one of its familiar dilapidated presentations. After all. I once had a friend who maintained that the only way to listen to those early Rolling Stones albums for London Records was on a beat-to-hell old vinyl with about 3,000 plays under its belt and with all the requisite nicks and divots to prove it.

Yet when you see this PRC quickie finally looking like other well-preserved 1945 Hollywood features, you’re hit with an essential truth: Detour was initially, albeit briefly, a real 35mm movie that played real theaters in the immediate postwar era and for real impressionable people. With this particular story. And it’s a near-uniquely sordid example from a movie year when, OK, The Lost Weekend and its liquor bottle empties did win the Oscar — but also one where Betty Grable and June Haver were doing isn’t-that-cute? Technicolor blackface in The Dolly Sisters for so-called mass escapism. Meanwhile, Detour (which would have always played the bottom half of a double bill) deals with the trouble that keeps following around a bum-luck piano player (Neal) — though there are also indications that he wills his problems onto himself. Whatever the explanation, he’s just trying to hitch a ride from New York to L.A. in pursuit of a honey (Claudia Drake) who has fled their nightclub to pursue a movie career (good luck on that one).

This is a movie where one can mess up a synopsis by indulging in spoilers, so let’s just give a single example of what cruel fate has in store for Neal. Out in the desert where the Gila monsters probably have orgies, there’s one driver who finally stops to give him a ride. The former then ups-and-dies on the road under mysterious and compromising circumstances — though we have seen this guy popping a lot of pills, which is good for a viewer screech-halt right there. When’s the last time you saw a 1945 movie where someone in a speeding desert convertible was popping pills in the first place?

As anyone who’s seen Detour knows, a fairly absorbing movie becomes a terrific one once Neal assumes the other driver’s identity, gets behind the wheel and eventually picks up a hitchhiker himself. Only this one (Ann Savage), and from a time when hitching wasn’t something women did, turns out to be Cruella de Vil with a few extra boils up you-know-where. In the entire annals of female screen adversaries, Savage rates, and indeed, has, a full chapter to herself — taking the male fantasy of picking up, say, Joi Lansing on the road and twisting it beyond recognition. The character is devoid of almost any redeeming quality, yet there’s something about Savage’s great performance (and today, it’s generally recognized as such) that subtly suggests that something dreadful must have happened in her upbringing to make her the relentlessly shrieking shrew she is. Unfortunately, she knows too much about Neal, so he has to stick with her. Atop all this, a warehouse of real-life subtext — Neal went to prison in 1965 for killing his third wife, though on a charge of involuntarily manslaughter — doesn’t exactly hurt the film. Nor does knowledge of his preceding involvement in one of Hollywood’s messiest scandals: When Neal put Franchot Tone in the hospital by brutally beating him amid a love triangle with party girl/actress Barbara Payton, who then wed Tone for 53 days.

Meanwhile, poor Ulmer was just trying to scrape out a living supporting a wife and daughter he loved — a talented filmmaker who could make something out of nothing but one who got blindly and permanently typed by an unforgiving industry as a director of B’s (and sometimes Z’s). A major part of this Criterion package is the 2004 documentary Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen, which now (I previously saw it many years ago) welcomely utilizes the restored Detour in its selection of film clips. In what sounds something like the massive time-and-financial labors Edie Adams undertook to rescue Ernie Kovacs’ own archival history, daughter Arianne Ulmer also worked for years to track down prints and preservation elements in an attempt to salvage the career legacy that a dispirited Edgar thought lost forever at the end of his life.

From the documentary — as well as an enjoyably accessible interview with film scholar Noah Isenberg plus a long essay by critic Robert Polito that goes a lot into Detour’s far more complicated source novel — you get a sense of how his compromised industry standing affected Ulmer. He said he didn’t want a life of big-studio glory, but made up whoppers (half-truths or outright fabrications) about accomplishments or lofty personal associations during the great heyday of German cinema (though, yes, he did co-direct the 1930 landmark People on Sunday). He was perpetually frustrated at lack of funds and shooting time when he was making Hollywood B’s, Yiddish films and even Moon Over Harlem on an alleged $8,000 budget, but he also seemed to relish being the “Capra of PRC” — which was Producers Releasing Corporation, lowest of the low when it came to Hollywood Poverty Row studios.

One super feature of the documentary is a tour of L.A.s low-rent district (or one of them) where these long-evaporated studios were located. The tour guides are Joe Dante (casually dressed) and John Landis (coat and tie), and they play off each other as amusingly as one might predict. Also here, and a couple of these participants are now gone, are daughter Arianne, actress Savage, Roger Corman, Peter Bogdanovich, Wim Wenders, William Schallert, James Lydon, John Saxon and (well, you never know) Hollywood Squares host Peter Marshall, who starred with Saxon in Ulmer’s last film.

A standout bonus feature of this essential release is a primer on how the restoration was done with the cooperation of sundry institutions and materials, starting with a nitrate 35 from the Cinematheque Royale de Belgique. It was beautiful but had extensive subtitles, which thanks to recent technology can now be removed; only a very short while ago, this wouldn’t have been possible. Seeing Detour now is an entirely fresh experience, though “fresh” is not necessarily how you feel after spending a blistering hour-and-a-quarter with its cast of mostly misfits.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Detour’ and ‘Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?’

Criterion Collection Sets April 8 Launch Date for SVOD Service

The Criterion Channel, a new classic movie streaming service, has set an official launch date of April 8 in the United States and Canada and will be available on desktop, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, iOS, and Android devices.

The streaming service will feature more than 1,000 classic and contemporary art-house films, at a subscription price of $10.99 per month or $99.99 for an annual subscription. Those who sign up before the launch date can do so at a discounted rate of $9.99 per month or $89.99 per year.

Further sweetening the charter subscription offer is a 30-day free trial as well as access to a members-only Movie of the Week between now and launch.

Criterion says the new streaming service (criterionchannel.com) will give subscribers access to “constantly refreshed selections of Hollywood, international, art-house, and independent movies, plus access to Criterion’s entire streaming library of more than 1,000 important classic and contemporary films from around the world.”

Movies in Criterion Collection’s library include Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.

The company said the service will offer “constantly refreshed selections” of Hollywood, international, art-house, and independent movies. Criterion Channel also will include a Sunday Spotlight feature, focusing on a different director, star, genre, or theme as well as exclusive content like guest programmer series Adventures in Moviegoing, Tuesday’s Short + Feature, the Friday Night Double Feature, Meet the Filmmakers, Art-House America, and Observations on Film Art (billed as a 15-minute-per-month film school).

As reported last November by Media Play News, subscriber pushback over the shuttering of the Turner Classic Movies SVOD service FilmStruck led The Criterion Collection to announced plans to launch its own freestanding service in spring 2019 through a special arrangement with WarnerMedia.

Wholly owned and controlled by the Criterion Collection, the independent Criterion Channel will pick up where it left off as an add-on to the FilmStruck service, with thematic programming, regular filmmaker spotlights, and actor retrospectives, featuring major classics and hard-to-find titles from Hollywood and around the world, complete with special features, including  commentaries, behind-the-scenes footage and original documentaries.

The library of films will also be part of WarnerMedia’s recently announced direct-to-consumer platform slated to launch in the fourth quarter of 2019. WarnerMedia shut down FilmStruck Nov. 29.

Forty Guns

Director Samuel Fuller’s action-packed Western features Barbara Stanwyck doing her own stunts as a ruthless landowner seeking to keep her drunken brother out of trouble when lawmen ride into town in search of a gunman under her employ.

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Criterion;
Western;
$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Dean Jagger, Gene Barry.

20th Century-Fox chief Darryl Zanuck understandably wouldn’t let Samuel Fuller employ Woman With a Whip as a title for his sometimes gonzo 1957 Western (pause here to absorb this). And then there’s Fuller’s later assertion that queen-of-the-lot Marilyn Monroe herself was interested in the movie’s lead role. One can envision such a mind-expanding combo adding a couple million to the grosses via resourceful counter-programming against a year that also gave us Universal-International’s Tammy and the Bachelor — but wait. Fuller ended up doing more than well enough with what came to be known as Forty Guns, with Barbara Stanwyck establishing quite the physically active on-screen presence once she signed on — and at age 50 at that. Now, a half-century later, here it is getting Criterion treatment.

Per usual when it comes to Fuller, the result can be a matter of taste even for those favorably disposed to this producer-writer-director-auteur. And this was so from the very beginning of an entire career of movies that forewent standard editing rhythms to become a succession of high points (which can be exhilarating for some and numbing for others). There was also the filmmaker’s predilection toward the risible, as in Guns’ roving troubadour who strums his guitar down dusty streets to sing about both the story-central woman and her whip. Well, it was ’57, and guitars were everywhere this side of Eisenhower’s Cabinet.

Fortunately, Fuller opens with a gorgeously shot caravan of lickety-split horses racing across a plain — photographed by Joseph Biroc in black-and-white CinemaScope (if you long for color here, you are not a movie person). In other words, we’re off — and, beyond that, are soon made to realize that all this land serving as the horses’ racetrack is owned by Stanwyck, who built her spread from nothing by a lot of ruthless chicanery that made it tough for her to find a lover who could compete. An added distraction has been her apparently futile attempts to maintain the hide of her drunken, shoot-em-up younger brother played by John Ericson — casting that almost makes you wonder if Cameron Mitchell was on vacation, though the role isn’t totally unlike Ericson’s in Bad Day at Black Rock except for his boozily malevolent streak. As for Stanwyck, her vengeful Western toughness here harkens back to her star turn in Anthony Mann’s even better The Furies (1950), which Criterion released as well in a deluxe DVD set but has not upgraded to Blu-ray.

Into all this rides Barry Sullivan and two brothers, including one played by Gene Barry, who only rates fifth billing here despite having just had the lead in Fuller’s China Gate. They more or less become the surrounding town’s reluctant “Law” — especially given that a going-blind marshal (The Searchers’ Hank Worden) is dispatched for good early on and the compromised sheriff (Dean Jagger) isn’t much help, either. Jagger does try taking Ericson to the woodshed on occasion, but he’s hamstrung due to his yen for Stanwyck, who has apparently given him a tumble somewhere going the way. It’s a relationship that almost anyone can see just wasn’t going to take. What’s more, Jagger knows where too many of Stanwyck’s bodies are buried; think Michael Cohen with less hair.

A long tornado sequence in the middle of the picture is Fuller at his best, and even with effects wizard Linwood Dunn’s usual magic, we can see that real-life horsewoman Stanwyck is doing her own stunts, which do not look un-strenuous by a long shot (or in close-up, for that matter). Given Fuller, the action never lets up, and the casualty rate threatens to reach Hamlet extremes — or, to keep it more in the gonzo feminist Western vernacular, maybe Johnny Guitar’s. The climax here is pretty wild-ass even in this final-release version, which Zanuck forced Fuller to water down because the sales department wouldn’t have been able to market the picture were it as brutal as intended (I can just see the stampede of ’49 Plymouths huffing their way out of drive-ins).

The movie runs only 80 minutes (about right), but that’s less than half of what Criterion has to offer. Also included is the slightly longer 2013 documentary (A Fuller Life) that daughter Samantha Fuller put together, in which former friends and associates (Constance Towers to Wim Wenders to Mark Hamill) read from the filmmaker’s memoirs. It’s a surprisingly effective way to go, but, then again, maybe not all that much so — given that the words are punctuated by dramatic home movies that the senior Fuller shot over his life, in particular the ones from his extraordinary wartime service. Few or no one had seen these because they were tucked away in the shed of archives that survived him, which is either disorganized or substantially organized disarray, depending on when we see it. This is also the setting of an additional bonus interview with Samantha and widow Christa Lang Fuller, who are good at re-enforcing each other’s memories.

Essays are bountiful, including a print essay by film historian Lisa Dombrowski, author of The Films of Samuel Fuller: If You Die, I’ll Kill You.” Also included — and I’ve noticed the Criterion discs that Susan Arosteguy produces really storm the barricades in terms of production values — is a roughly half-hour sit-down with one of my faves (Imogen Sara Smith), who makes it all look natural and easy in an organized and well-crafted riff on Fuller and Western genre conventions in general. And synched up to the feature on an alternate soundtrack is a 1969 appearance at London’s National Film Theatre by Fuller himself, who seems to love giving 15-minute answers to questions. You just know that he had to have been an interviewer’s dream.

Forty Guns

Mike’s Picks: ‘Forty Guns’ and ‘The Blue Dahlia’

Mike’s Picks: ‘Panique’ and ‘The Last Command’

Panique

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Viviane Romance, Michel Simon, Paul Bernard, Max Dalban.
1946. Director Julien Duvivier’s Panique, a French-language adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel just after the end of World War II, features Michel Simon playing an anti-social man of mystery residing in a Paris suburb and rendered a target of mob-rule suspicions after a woman’s body is discovered following her outdoor murder. Dialogue and performances are top-rung, but this is one exciting movie to watch as well.
Extras: Bruce Goldstein of Rialto and New York’s rep-house cathedral The Film Forum appears in a wonderful primer he personally put together on the do’s and don’ts of subtitling. Lenny Borger did the new translation here, and we can see how superior it is to pitiful attempts that shortchanged audiences at the time). Son Pierre Simenon, also an author, is personable with blood-engendered insights both personal and professional, and there are separate print essays by Borger and James Quandt, each well versed in French cinema and in Duvivier explicitly.
Read the Full Review

The Last Command

Kino Lorber, Western, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Sterling Hayden, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Richard Carlson, Ernest Borgnine, Arthur Hunnicutt.
1955.
The Last Command, filmed and distributed by Republic in close to its final high-profile shot at industry survival, is a low-key affair by Alamo-movie standards that sets its table by delving more into the preliminary relationship between the Texans and Mexicans than most in its specific genre do, while J. Carrol Naish as Santa Ana delivers the film’s most colorful performance. This was the final film from veteran director Frank Lloyd, though the well-staged final battle here was actually directed by William Witney.
Extras: Includes a commentary by Alamo historian Frank Thompson.
Read the Full Review

 

Panique

Director Julien Duvivier’s Panique, a French-language adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel just after the end of World War II, features Michel Simon playing an anti-social man of mystery residing in a Paris suburb and rendered a target of mob-rule suspicions after a woman’s body is discovered following her outdoor murder. Dialogue and performances are top-rung, but this is one exciting movie to watch as well.

 

 

 

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Criterion;
Drama;
$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
In French with English subtitles.
Stars Viviane Romance, Michel Simon, Paul Bernard, Max Dalban.

Every time I’m jolted by a personal movie “discovery” these days, it’s usually via some Criterion release of a foreign-language film I hadn’t previously seen. Relatively recently, we’re talking Il SorpassoI Knew Her Well and El Sur — and now it’s Julien Duvivier’s Panique, which Rialto Pictures (pause here for a bow and curtsy to them, and I’m not kidding) previously re-issued for theatrical re-release. Of course, maybe this one shouldn’t have been as much of a surprise to me.

Panique was Charles Spaak and Duvivier adapting a Georges Simenon novel just after the end of World War II in 1946 — and not just any Simenon (whose book-to-screen incarnations were endless) but one subsequently made into a second movie that I also like a lot. This would be 1989’s different-in-particulars Monsieur Hire, which made my annual USA Today runner-up 10 following its U.S. release a year later and still holds up. Even so, and despite Hire lead Sandrine Bonnaire’s familiar Dimples-to-Die-For, I think Panique is the better film — and this despite the fact (per critics Guillemette Odicino and Eric Libiot on the Criterion bonus interview) that it’s less faithful to the source novel. To no small extent, male lead Michel Simon gives Panique an added edge, and so does its more kinetic stylization.

Sticking strictly to Blu-ray over standard DVD, the advanced format allows one to trace the arc of this bear-like actor’s career trajectory, from the all-region import of Jean Renoir’s 1932 Boudu Saved From Drowning through Cohen Media’s issue of 1967’s The Two of Us, which was such a popular arthouse hit when I was in college that even the so-called one on my Midwest campus took a break from its substantial diet of Radley Metzger and Isabel Sarli features to show it. “Underplaying” wasn’t exactly Simon’s middle name, but in Panique’s case, he’s remarkably subdued playing an anti-social man of mystery residing in a Paris suburb and rendered a target of mob-rule suspicions after a woman’s body is discovered following her outdoor murder. The guy is kind of weird — just for starters, he snaps photos of just about everything that happens in he neighborhood — but he’s kind to children (though this adds to suspicions), and the automatic leap to suspected murderer isn’t any forgone conclusion. Particularly since …

… the new kids in town (Viviane Romance and Paul Bernard — who, actually, are both past the spring-chicken stage in appearance) are not the types to whom you’d entrust your last franc. Nor probably even, if you’re the town’s bigoted butcher (Max Dalban) — though this admittedly colorful supporting character is all too willing to dump hastily-reasoned vitriol on Simon when push finally comes to shove. Romance (has any actress who exuded carnality ever had a greater name?) is newly sprung from prison after having taken a rap and resulting incarceration for guilty squeeze Bernard, who responds by faking insolvency when she requests a little stipend to bankroll some needed (i.e. non-luxurious) clothes. By contrast, Simon is far more sincere in his mostly unrewarded affection (Romance puts on a good act of bogus sincerity) and comes out of his shell to such a degree in revealing a soul of some depth that even she’s a tad moved in the later going. It doesn’t hurt that Simon has seen her only half-dressed and languishing in her room in her apartment across the courtyard — though, as in the book (I’m told), Patrice Leconte’s 1989 version plays up the voyeuristic angle far more prominently. What’s more, Michel Blanc, who has the Simon role, may even be less ingratiating than he is as conceived on paper. Which doesn’t make him a murderer.

Panique

ialogue and performances are top-rung, but this is one exciting movie to watch as well. Duvivier, who had just returned to France from a Hollywood he didn’t like, employs tight closeups with the shady lovers early on, but goes fully panoramic when he wants to put the business district’s hustle-bustle on full display or to show in a long shot how isolated Simon is from the rest of the town. And though “Hitchcockian” long ago exhausted its tenure as an overused adjective, critic Libiot makes a good case for the degree to which Panique almost had to have been an influence on three of Sir Alfred’s subsequent features. (Of course, a Vertigo lookalike here hits like a full-barreled shot between the eyes.)

As usual, Criterion is imaginative in its choice of bonus extras — though I didn’t expect the great Bruce Goldstein of Rialto and New York’s rep-house cathedral The Film Forum to appear in a wonderful primer he personally put together on the do’s and don’ts of subtitling, a total delight that’s all but amazing in its explanation of issues that wouldn’t occur to most people. (Lenny Borger did the new translation here, and we can see how superior it is to pitiful attempts that shortchanged audiences at the time). Son Pierre Simenon, also an author, is personable with blood-engendered insights both personal and professional, and there are separate print essays by Borger and James Quandt, each well versed in French cinema and in Duvivier explicitly. Both make the point that the film wasn’t well received at the time, though many now think it’s the high point of Duvivier’s career. And though there few or no specific head-on references to World War II, they both note the degree to which a fallout undercurrent (French guilt, mob rule) runs through much of what we see.

Panique

Mike’s Picks: ‘Panique’ and ‘The Last Command’

Merchandising: Criterion Titles 50% Off at Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble is currently running its annual sale on Criterion Collection DVDs and Blu-rays through Dec. 3. Fans can get Criterion titles for 50% off from the bookseller’s movie and music section.

Target also offered an interesting deal for the week of Nov. 27, offering a free $5 gift card with the purchase of both the DVD/Blu-ray and original book for either Warner’s Crazy Rich Asians or HBO’s Sharp Objects.