Criterion’s January 2020 Slate Includes ‘Fail Safe’

The list of Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD releases for January 2020 includes Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother, George Cukor’s romantic comedy Holiday, Jean-Luc Godard’s Le petit soldat, Sidney Lumet’s nuclear-war thriller Fail Safe, and a Blu-ray edition of Lumet’s Tennessee Williams adaptation The Fugitive Kind.

Arriving Jan. 7 on DVD and Blu-ray is 1938’s Holiday, starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. The special edition includes a new 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include Holiday (1930), a previous adaptation of Philip Barry’s play, directed by Edward H. Griffith; a new conversation between filmmaker and distributor Michael Schlesinger and film critic Michael Sragow; audio excerpts from an American Film Institute oral history with director George Cukor, recorded in 1970 and ’71; a costume gallery; plus an essay by critic Dana Stevens.

Due Jan. 14 is 1960’s The Fugitive Kind, bringing together four Oscar-winning actors: Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani, Joanne Woodward and Maureen Stapleton. The Blu-ray includes a high-definition digital restoration, approved by Lumet, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack. Extras include an interview from 2009 with Lumet; Three Plays by Tennessee Williams, an hour-long 1958 television presentation of one-act plays, directed by Lumet and starring Ben Gazzara and Lee Grant, among others; a program from 2010 discussing Williams’s work in Hollywood and The Fugitive Kind; plus an essay by film critic David Thomson.

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Arriving Jan. 21 on DVD and Blu-ray is 1963’s Le petit soldat, Godard’s examination of the use of torture in the Algerian War. The special edition includes a high-definition digital restoration, approved by cinematographer Raoul Coutard, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray, and a new English subtitle translation. Extras include an interview with Godard from 1965; an interview with actor Michel Subor from 1963; an audio interview with Godard from 1961; plus an essay by critic Nicholas Elliott.

All About My Mother, from 1999, arrives on Blu-ray and DVD Jan. 28 with a new 2K digital restoration supervised by executive producer Agustín Almodóvar and approved by the director, with a new English subtitle translation, and 5.1 surround DTS-HD master audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include a 52-minute documentary from 2012 on the making of the film, featuring interviews with Pedro and Agustín Almodóvar; actors Penélope Cruz, Marisa Paredes, Cecilia Roth and Antonia San Juan; production manager Esther García; and author Didier Eribon. Other extras include a television program from 1999 featuring Pedro Almodóvar and his mother, Francisca Caballero, along with Cruz, San Juan, Paredes and Roth; a 48-minute post-screening Q&A in Madrid from 2019, featuring the Almodóvars and Paredes; plus an essay by film scholar Emma Wilson. The Blu-ray will include an interview with Pedro Almodóvar and a tribute he wrote to his mother, both from 1999.

Also due on Blu-ray and DVD Jan. 28 is 1964’s Fail Safe, starring Henry Fonda as the U.S. president and Walter Matthau as a trigger-happy political theorist. The special edition includes a new 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include an audio commentary from 2000 featuring director Sidney Lumet; a new interview with film critic J. Hoberman on 1960s nuclear paranoia and Cold War films; “Fail Safe Revisited”, a short documentary from 2000 including interviews with Lumet, screenwriter Walter Bernstein and actor Dan O’Herlihy; plus an essay by critic Bilge Ebiri.

Warlock

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Available via ScreenArchives.com;
Twilight Time;
Western;
$29.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn, Dorothy Malone.

Warlock has surprised me in recent years by showing up in multiple chat room discussions I’ve stumbled across that deal in particular or in passing with underrated Westerns. The surprise comes from my having actually seen the picture during its initial theatrical run in spring of 1959 at a downtown movie palace (called The Palace) and not having been particularly bowled over. (For one thing, Rio Bravo had opened just a few weeks previously.)

Looking at its new Twilight Time Blu-ray, I still think that a lot of the directorial fire went out of Edward Dmytryk’s belly after he came back from the Blacklist, but Warlock isn’t another of his later pictures that never quite deliver on their potential, such as The Caine Mutiny, Raintree County (which was an admittedly troubled production), The Young Lions and even The Mountain, which had Spencer Tracy and VistaVision photography of the French Alps. Instead, this heavily psychological reworking of the Wyatt Earp saga is about as good as anything Dmytryk did after Broken Lance, courtesy of a talky but grown-up script by Robert Alan Arthur, adapted from an Oakley Hall novel. Thanks to Julie Kirgo’s liner Twilight Time notes, I learned that Hall’s source novel was a Pulitzer finalist and that Thomas Pynchon himself was a big fan of Hall’s work.

To get a little cute here on the Pynchon front, let’s just say that Warlock (the town) has its share of inherent vice. It originates with a local thug who’s shacked up just beyond town limits and played to general surprise by that literal boy-next-door Tom Drake; he’s good enough here to have had a better post-MGM career than he had. Displaying a slightly cooler demeanor than the band of hothead hoods under his wing, Drake is still a part of their regular ride-ins to wreak mayhem and dispatch local lawmen to their graves. The more moneyed citizens have finally had it and agree to pay a professional town tamer $400 a month, which embarrassingly outpaces the salary of the official sheriff. The deal is that this uncommonly polished usurper will basically set up himself up as a dictator, his approach to keeping these and other lawbreaking creeps on the straight and narrow on penalty of instant death. Expect town egos to be ruffled here and there — and to be sure, this gunman has a history of past employers eventually turning against him.

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Henry Fonda has this role, and it’s an interesting characterization. In his frequent urbane moments, Fonda recalls his own performance and visage as Wyatt Earp in John Ford’s all-timer My Darling Clementine. But other times, his manner of dress at times anticipates his dark garb in Sergio Leone’s Once Up a Time in the West, which wouldn’t be filmed for nearly another decade after some full-gonzo casting made possible Fonda’s bravura turn as one of the bedrock villains in Western-movie history. It’s as if Dmytryk and the costumers acted upon the dichotomy of the character’s personality without knowing it.

And now for the central wrinkle: Fonda has a traveling companion (his Doc Holliday, so to speak) who’s cozy enough in their uncommon buddy arrangement — say, what’s going on here? — to reduce the film’s two lead actresses (Dorothy Malone and Dolores Michaels) to not much more than marquee bait. Rarely are they credible romantic forces, even granting that Michaels is involved with a third party in what is essentially a serious bromance. As Fonda’s tag-along buddy with, I’m guessing here, a great cologne collection — Anthony Quinn is a snappy-looking silver-hair who’s faster with a gun than Fonda but with a huge inferiority complex from being afflicted by a clubfoot. Because Quinn is as restrained here as I’ve ever seen him, he’s also as good as I’ve ever seen him, and both he and Fonda tend to relegate top-billed Richard Widmark to “dependable” status when it comes to dominating scenes.

Widmark’s character, however, fits in with the movie’s sub-theme of redemption: He’s an increasingly reluctant and disillusioned member of Drake’s gang who maintains threadbare allegiance so that he can watch the back of a  younger brother (a minor but mouthy Drake subordinate) from getting killed. I did not remember that Frank Gorshin has this kid brother role, which would indicate that the mannerisms for Gorshin’s hysterical Widmark impression of later years — one of the comic’s many — came halfway from the source. (And yes, they two did look a little alike.) Eventually, Widmark has a complete change of heart and becomes officially designated town lawman, which puts him into not always unfriendly conflict with Fonda.

For a movie shot by the great and underrated Joe MacDonald (a Dmytryk regular who also photographed Clementine), Warlock has a lot of those static compositions we see in too many Fox widescreen pictures from the era, and it was around this time that my 12-year-old self started to notice that the color values of, say, even minor Paramount releases blew concurrently released Fox titles out of the water. The presentation here can’t do much to alleviate these built-in limitation, but again, this is a picture that makes it on the strength of some not infrequently pointed writing, two key performances and a posed moral dilemma that remains intriguing.

There is also, for Western fans, a remarkable roster of bedrock supporting players, with familiar faces like L.Q. Jones, Richard Arlen, Ann Doran and Gary Lockwood entering and leaving before they can barely make an impression. Also around are a bearded Wallace Ford as a judge and borderline crackpot; Don Beddoe, who to my recollection must have played enough pioneer town docs to rate a career citation from the Dropsy Foundation; High Noon heavy Ian MacDonald (he was Frank Miller, in fact) as a guy named … MacDonald; Walter Coy, who was John Wayne’s massacred older brother in The Searchers; plus DeForest Kelley in a fairly important role as a gang member with a conscience.

And yes, you probably asked for it, so you’re going to get it: There’s also good old ubiquitous Whit Bissell, the actor who told Melvyn Douglas to shoot the sick cattle in Hud; tried to make sense of Kevin McCarthy’s pod rantings in Invasion of the Body Snatchers; and  “invented” Michael Landon’s hairier self in I Was a Teenage Werewolf. Back in its heyday, I read once that if the porn industry were ever to be outlawed, the entire Southern California economy would go with it. This must have been what it was like in the ’50s and ’60s when Bissell’s incessant employment presumably facilitated studio cash flows. There’s no way you could have this kind of movie without Bissell showing up somewhere — though in this case, Beddoe had already cornered the market (again) regarding Warlock’s doctor role, relegating Bissell into playing yet another “town father” — one of his specialties.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Between the Lines’ and ‘Warlock’

The Return of Frank James

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Available via ScreenArchives.com;
Twilight Time;
Drama;
$29.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Henry Fonda, Gene Tierney, Jackie Cooper, John Carradine.

As difficult as this can be to parse, there was a brief period in the early 1940s where the director of M and Metropolis almost could have considered going “Two-Gun Fritz,” given the two Technicolor Westerns he filmed consecutively at 20th Century-Fox. There they are, right on Fritz Lang’s resumé: Western Union preceded by The Return of Frank James — both of them a little more than a decade before Lang’s 1952 direction of Rancho Notorious for RKO release, also a Western-of-sorts that is so damned weird that I’ve never been quite able to figure out what, exactly, it   is.

By printed accounts I’ve read, Lang apparently enjoyed the experience of seeing a little sagebrush tumble across his resumé — though few would dispute that the standout picture of his Fox tenure was more in his wheelhouse: 1941’s Man Hunt, which preceded Frank James as a Twilight Time Blu-ray release. But looking at the latter’s new Blu-ray, many will opine that Lang easily picked up where Henry King left off with 1939’s also-Technicolor Jesse James — it a huge hit that wears some notoriety even to this day due to its alleged treatment of horses and subsequent American Humane Society policing (though the studio disputed the charge). Neither director brought to this saga what fellow Fox director John Ford might have, especially amid some courtroom burlesque that dominates FJ’s climax. Though Ford was enough of an American History buff to make you wonder you wonder if he could have swallowed either movie in terms of textbook accuracy.

Even so, this 1940 sequel — which picks up after Tyrone Power’s Jesse concludes the first film by getting shot in the back by Bob Ford — is attractively slicked-up escapism that has the added historical benefit of featuring Gene Tierney’s screen debut in a fairly sizable role following her belated initial appearance. This is even one of those occasional Fox productions where studio chief Darryl Zanuck took an on-screen producer’s credit he usually reserved for prestige projects, though I’ve always wondered if he also tried to get Tierney on his famed casting couch.

We open here with Henry Fonda’s Frank behind a plow and living with a former outlaw associate’s teen son (Jackie Cooper, who looks a little old for the role) and a black farmhand (Ernest Whitman). The latter goes by the name of Pinky but is mostly treated with dignity — though in one scene, he has to endure the green and fairly dopey Cooper referring to him as a “darkie” before a hacked-off Frank sets the kid straight about loyalty and respect. Frank is loyal as well to Jesse’s memory, so when he hears that brothers Bob and Charlie Ford were his own brother’s killers and are now even claiming that the fatal shooting was some kind of brave act, Frank takes off to plot revenge after hatching a scheme to make everyone (the law and railroad execs, of course, included) think he’s dead.

This sets up a major subplot involving a Denver newspaper publisher’s daughter (Tierney) who, in a somewhat unexpected twist for a 1940 Western, is insistently vocal about wanting to be a reporter in lieu of settling down with marriage and babies (and probably growing old 40 years before her time while her husband is out working the plow). This is refreshing to see, but unfortunately, her first big scoop turns out to be a factual catastrophe that would sink any career for good before it got out of the gate — a little item that’s conveniently ignored for the rest of the picture after her father’s initial blow-up (maybe her nickname is Ivanka).

To be more specific, inexperienced Tierney swallows an intentional whopper from young Cooper’s character (posing as just some kid) about having seen Frank gunned down a couple weeks earlier on some faraway street. Worse, Fonda’s Frank, who has caught her eye while also being in new disguise, is sitting right there when Cooper spins this bogus yarn. So naturally, the bogus killing gets splashed across papa’s front page as Tierney wonders when she’ll see this nice gentleman again.

It’s around this time that one is forced to quit taking the movie too seriously and simply glean the pleasures to be had, one of which is John Carradine’s performance as Bob Ford from a time right after he and Fonda worked in synch together for John Ford in Drums Along the Mohawk and The Grapes of Wrath. It isn’t easy to reconcile the visage of Carradine’s Ford with John Ireland’s in Sam Fuller’s I Shot Jesse James or Casey Affleck’s in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but in terms of appearance and flamboyant manner, he does come off as the ideal heavy to combust the ire of the far more reserved Fonda at this point of their careers.

There’s also the quality of the overall production, which again cements respect for at least the professional Zanuck, who managed to make Fox proficient at turning out pro-job ‘A’s’ and ‘B’s’ throughout the entire 1940s. But the Blu-ray is a little disappointing — did the original negative get destroyed in one of the studio’s periodic nitrate fires? — and only gets some of what one would hope we’d see from cinematographer George Barnes, who later shot a lot several Technicolor stunners at Paramount. Only the brighter outdoor shots offer hints of what opening night in 1940 might have been like.

Though Fox Home Entertainment released Jesse James on Blu-ray, Twilight Time has covered the other Fox bases with not just this release but also with its recent issuing of 1957’s The True Story of Jesse James, which has always come off as one of those relatively rare pictures (like Flying Leathernecks) where Nicholas Ray directed what almost inevitably came off as a pure assignment, with him trying just to do the best he could. Story’s a nice-looking disc, though, in color and Scope — even if the blown-up footage it cheekily recycled from the 1.37:1 Jesse original wasn’t going to match very well under any circumstances. Meanwhile, you have to wonder if the forefathers intended there to be a zillion more movies about Jesse James than George Washington.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Year of the Dragon’ and ‘The Return of Frank James’

Madigan

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Japanese Region A Import;
King Records;
Drama;
$48 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Inger Stevens, James Whitmore.

As a rare Universal Pictures standout from a roughly five-year era when the studio was primarily palming off glorified TV movies as theatrical features, Madigan is precisely the kind of cult classic (a stupidly overhyped term, but this is the real deal) that may or may not ever get a domestic Blu-ray release. As we wait perhaps futilely, here’s a fairly handsome but not-cheap Japanese alternative I just discovered (without extras, but this is a satisfying presentation) for a Techniscope cop-drama once revered by so many Don Siegel cultists. Among these, for a little personal nostalgia, were the band of about eight NYU graduate Cinemas Studies colleagues that I once joined on a dream 42nd Street grindhouse trek to see Madigan double-billed with Rio Bravo as a vendor occasionally came down the aisle hawing Eskimo pies (ambience, ambience but also nirvana, nirvana).

By this time, I had seen the picture in Ohio upon its first-run release two or so years previously — not expecting much, though I was already a huge Siegel fan by virtue of having already experienced The Big Steal, Riot in Cell Block 11, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the now very tough-to-see Baby Face Nelson, The Lineup, Hell Is for Heroes and The Killers — though with (just naming preferred ones here) The Duel at Silver River, Flaming Star, then imminent Coogan’s Bluff, Two Mules for Sister Sara, The Beguiled, Dirty Harry, Charley Varrick, The Shootist and Escape from Alcatraz yet to go. Given that many or of these genre specialties were made just above or even below the radar over three decades, I always feel like having a cosmetic surgeon supply me with 50 new eyebrows so that I can raise them every time some young turk with two movies under his belt is touted as the latest Second Coming.

In any event, Madigan — which traces the botch of a routine Brooklyn police pickup into a tragic and unexpectedly moving finale — does have an unmistakable ’60s TV-movie feel — down to its sometimes risibly over-orchestrated Don Costa score that has you half-waiting for the next Right Guard commercial. On one level, the music arguably puts a ceiling on how much one can go to the mat praising the rest — and yet the pace is blistering (Andrew Sarris’s original review gave a huge huzzah to the editing), and there’s a lot of sharp dialogue in a script co-credited to Andrew Polonsky, who was finally returned from nearly two decades of political Blacklisting. As Sarris noted as well, there’s also Russell Meaty widescreen photography that expertly matches New York locations with studio shots, which leads to a side-issue question. Leaving aside the Hitchcocks and To Kill a Mockingbird, was there any Universal release of ambition in this era — not that there were many — that Metty didn’t shoot? I mean, we’re talking nine Douglas Sirks, Touch of Evil, Spartacus, The War Lord and Thoroughly Modern Millie just off the top of my head (though I did have to look up the number of Sirks, which spanned Magnificent Obsession to Imitation of Life).

Ultimately, the overriding boost here comes courtesy of the cast, led by Richard Widmark (as street detective Dan Madigan) and prickly police commissioner Henry Fonda — who, in De Niro-Pacino Heat fashion, don’t share any scenes until a payoff late in the narrative. Set during a Fri-Sat-Sun that coincides with a major policeman’s ball, Widmark/Madigan’s exhausting angst and certainly personal humiliation get launched when he and partner Harry Guardino attempt to arrest a lowlife (Steve Ihnat) in a fleabag apartment outside their jurisdiction. The first awful thing is that they let him get away with Widmark’s police gun after being distracted by this creep’s naked bedmate. The second is that Ihnat, turns out, is no presumed routine punk but a psychopath wanted for murder and almost as malevolent as the hood Widmark played (in a much lower key) in his Kiss of Death debut. Ihnat, by the way, is the actor-turned-director who died a few years later at 37 of a heart attack — probably best known for this movie and as the guy whose internal organs get turned into lasagna by Marlon Brando’s fists during the climactic scene of Arthur Penn’s The Chase.

Cold cookie Fonda (aping what his kids say he was like in real life) hasn’t any use of for department mavericks, nor for anything that doesn’t go by the book — aside from an adulterous affair he’s conducting that complicates his moderately pious pronouncements a bit. An usual feature here is the amount of time devoted to the politicking and PR finessing that’s inevitably part of any commissioner’s job, and the story classically cuts back and forth between Fonda calming civic waters and Widmark/Guardino interacting with a slew of comically shady characters while looking for leads.

The casting here is what reviewers used to call “reliable” — with supporting roles of cops, constituents, snitches and the like going to James Whitmore, Susan Clark, Michael Dunn, Forbidden Planet’s Warren Stevens, Don Stroud (someone I later saw, to my amazement, on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”); Sheree North (used memorably again by Siegel in Charley Varrick), Raymond St. Jacques, Invaders From Mars’s Bert Freed, Harry Bellaver, Frank Marth, Lloyd Gough (another onetime Blacklistee), Dragnet regular Virginia Gregg and Ramar of the Jungle’s Ray Montgomery — who, as a kid, always looked right to me in a pith helmet. What a treasure trove.

What makes the movie something special for a genre picture is its rather raw-for-the-day portrayal of Widmark’s domestic life with a physically attractive but tightly wired spouse (Inger Stevens) who has clearly had it with her husband’s chosen career and hates being stuck without many friends in the neighborhood where they live. With Stevens’ knockout blondeness, you can almost imagine her as a precursor to January Jones’s testy spouse Betty from “Mad Men” — except that Stevens is blue-collar-ish in what is clearly a them-versus-us movie, is more sympathetic (though her complaining may even be more incessant) and loves her husband without any non-job qualifications, which isn’t initially evident until the movie takes some very interesting byways in its final quarter. They’re also very grown-up byways treated with unusual honesty for the day.

Her overriding love is convincing because you always get the sense that Madigan is at heart a really good guy by the way other people (the commissioner excepted) regard him and by the way he treats his street contacts, which includes acts of charity (though he isn’t above accepting a free meal at a restaurant or a complimentary Christmas turkey). We’d probably get a stronger sense of his virtues were the character not under such heavy professional/domestic pressure and functioning with almost no sleep — but to me, this is still Widmark’s most likable performance and my favorite of his career. Which is heartening because at this point, the actor’s box office standing had, like Fonda’s to a lesser case, started to fade a bit — though never due to anything we saw on the screen given decent material. Nobody much beyond cop-pic junkies and the cultist hard core actually saw this picture at the time, but at least one network brainstormer at NBC must have been watching. The movie later led to a “Madigan” TV series with its star returning — very short-lived, though its ratings weren’t all that bad. I wish the episodes would make their way to DVD, at least.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Ruby Gentry’ and ‘Madigan’