Dr. Who and the Daleks

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Kino Lorber;
Sci-Fi;
$29.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Peter Cushing, Roy Castle, Jennie Linden, Roberta Tovey, Barrie Ingham, Michael Coles, Yvonne Antrobus, Geoffrey Toone.

Science-fiction fans who weren’t previously aware of this early big-screen treatment of the BBC’s popular “Doctor Who” series will likely find it a fascinating curio, not only for its place in the history of the series and the genre, but the very nature of the filmed entertainment industry.

Premiering in 1963, “Doctor Who” chronicled the adventures of an alien named The Doctor, a member of an alien race known as Time Lords. His traveling companions included his granddaughter, Susan, and a pair of schoolteachers. Their time machine the TARDIS, was bigger on the inside than on the outside, and disguised to resemble a blue police box, essentially a large wooden phone booth, commonplace in England at the time.

Episodes were grouped together to tell serialized stories, and the second serial was called “The Daleks,” introducing an iconic villainous race of irradiated aliens who transformed themselves into mechanized warriors using robotic armor (which is why they are often described as merely robots). Interestingly, the design of the creatures was originally assigned to Ridley Scott (yes, that Ridley Scott), who had to drop out over scheduling issues.

With “Doctor Who” and the Daleks in particular proving to be massive hits with British audiences, it wasn’t long before movie producers came sniffing around looking to cash in, and made a deal with the BBC and Dalek creator Terry Nation to acquire the option for three Dalek-based movies. The first would be an adaptation of the “Daleks” serial.

Now, this wasn’t like today, when the natural assumption would be that the movie would be a continuation of the series, using the same actors and storylines. In the mid-1960s, “Doctor Who” was virtually unknown in America, and the film’s producers wanted the film to have an international appeal (the show wouldn’t gain a solid cult status in the U.S. until PBS and syndication airings a decade later). So writer Milton Subotsky and director Gordon Flemyng essentially deconstructed the concept of the series. The result is this first of two standalone adventures that otherwise have no connection to the series.

The first major change was the casting. Instead of bringing on the relatively unknown William Hartnell, who was playing the Doctor on TV, the filmmakers cast Peter Cushing, who had international clout thanks to his association with the Hammer horror films. All the other roles were recast as well, most notably having 11-year-old Roberta Tovey playing Susan, an adult character on the series.

Nor did the main character keep his name — the show’s title is a bit of wordplay based on people’s confusion over being introduced to “The Doctor,” with their first response being “Doctor Who.”

In the movie, Cushing plays a man simply named Dr. Who. Instead of being an alien adventurer, this Dr. Who is an eccentric scientist who invents the TARDIS himself, rather than stealing it from the Time Lords as he does on the show.

Follow us on Instagram!

As the film begins, Dr. Who is showing off the TARDIS to his other granddaughter Barbara’s boyfriend, Ian, who accidentally activates the controls and sends them to a distant planet, where they discover the remains of a nuclear holocaust. The conflict’s two warring sides are still at odds: the Daleks, who have encased themselves in robotic suits and city-like fortresses to shield themselves from radiation, and the Thals, seemingly primitive people who live in the remnants of the planet’s forests, but who have developed a cure for the radiation that the Daleks desire. So, Dr. Who and the newcomers set about helping the Thals defeat the Daleks so they may repair the TARDIS and go home.

As a streamlined adventure, it serves as an interesting abridged version of “Doctor Who” for those who weren’t invested in following the TV show on a weekly basis. And for fans of the series it offered a couple of big incentives. First, it was the first presentation of any “Doctor Who” material in color; the series wouldn’t shoot in color until 1970. And it gave them a chance to see the iconic Daleks and TARDIS, the designs of which were consistent with their look on the TV show, on a big, wide screen.

Interestingly, the descriptive blurb on Kino’s Blu-ray packaging still takes a number of cues from the TV series, referring to Cushing’s incarnation as a Timelord (he isn’t, strictly speaking) named The Doctor, rather than his humanized name for the movie.

To those who don’t know better, though, the movie just comes across as another cheesy British sci-fi ‘B’-movie. While some of the more complicated aspects of the Doctor’s TV origins were changed, other elements, such as why the TARDIS looked like a police box, were given no explanation. Nor does the movie use the familiar console control room look of the TARDIS interior from the TV show, or the show’s famous theme music. So the appeal of the movie aside from the nostalgia of those who saw it as kids, or “Doctor Who” fans in general, might be somewhat limited.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The Blu-ray presentation takes advantage of a restoration by StudioCanal done in 2013 for a European Blu-ray release, and the results are pretty good. The film’s colors really pop on the Blu-ray presentation, from the psychedelic lighting of the alien jungles, to the color schemes of the Dalek ranks, to the bluish-purple body paint used for the Thals.

The Blu-ray includes a seven-minute featurette about the restoration process.

Despite a lukewarm critical response, Dr. Who and the Daleks was a hit with fans when it hit screens in 1965 and spawned a sequel the next year, Daleks’ Invasion of Earth. The second film wasn’t as successful commercially, so the third film in the option was abandoned.

However, the two films on their own did develop something of a cult following apart from that of the TV series, and inspired a 57-minute documentary in 1995 called Dalekmania, which is offered as a much-welcomed extra on the Blu-ray.

Other extras include a seven-minute discussion of Dr. Who and the Daleks by author Gareth Owen.

These are all fascinating extras for “Doctor Who” fans, as is an audio commentary joined by film historians Kim Newman and Robert Shearman, with filmmaker Mark Gatiss, who wrote Dalek episodes for the 21st century iteration of the “Doctor Who” television series.

Dr. Who: Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Kino Lorber;
Sci-Fi;
$29.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Peter Cushing, Bernard Cribbins, Ray Brooks, Andrew Keir, Roberta Tovey, Jill Curzon.

The ending of Dr. Who and the Daleks hinted at a continuing adventure through time and space for Dr. Who (Peter Cushing) and his companions trying to find their way home. But, alas, in this 1966 sequel starts anew, with only Roberta Tovey joining Cushing from the previous film.

This was the second of three planned films based on the Dalek storylines from the “Doctor Who” television series, as chronicled in the review of Dr. Who and the Daleks, they were standalone adventures not related to the ongoing storylines of the TV series, and were essentially big-screen remakes of a few episodes with a new cast.

Follow us on Instagram!

As with the previous film, Invasion was written by Milton Subotsky and directed by Gordon Flemyng. Based on the TV serial “The Dalek Invasion of Earth,” the movie deals with the time travelers stumbling across a future Earth that has been conquered by the Daleks, the mechanized aliens encountered in the previous film.

It begins, however, with a street cop named Tom (Bernard Cribbins) in a confrontation with some thugs who robbed a jewelry shop. He seeks refuge in what he thinks is a common police box, but it turns out to be Dr. Who’s TARDIS parked on the street, an instant before it travels to a new time.

Tom replaces Ian from the previous film, while Barbara is swapped out for Louise, Dr. Who’s niece (in the original serial, Barbara and Ian are still involved).

Landing in 2150, the team discovers a bombed out London patrolled by robomen — dead humans converted by the Daleks into mindless soldiers. Joining with the local resistance, they formulate a plan to defeat the Daleks, who are trying to mine the resources of Earth’s core and convert the planet into their new homeworld.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

While it makes for a nice twin-bill with Dr. Who and the Daleks, Invasion has a bit more teeth than its predecessor as a standalone sci-fi film, taking advantage of great production design to depict the Dalek spaceship. However, the notion that the events take place nearly 200 years in the future leaves a lot to be desired, as humans don’t seem to have done much in the way of technological advancement or fashion sense beyond the 1960s. There are also posters for Sugar Puffs cereal plastered all over the city, the result of a product-placement deal that provided the film a significant portion of its budget.

The color palette is understandably more bleak than the previous film, but the more ambitious visual effects benefit from a restoration conducted by StudioCanal in 2013 for a European Blu-ray release. The model work is just the perfect amount of 1960s craftsmanship, in that the spaceship offers a nice sense of scope but the wires holding up the model are detectable in a few shots.

The Blu-ray includes a seven-minute featurette about the restoration process.

The film was ultimately considered a critical and commercial disappointment, leading producers to cancel plans for future adaptations.

Cribbins would return to “Doctor Who” more than 40 years later as a recurring character on the revised TV show during David Tennant’s run as the Doctor. A four-minute interview with Cribbins is included on the Blu-ray.

The cult fandom surrounding the two Dalek movies did inspire the 1995 documentary Dalekmania, which runs 57 minutes and is included here, as it is on the Dr. Who and the Daleks Blu-ray.

Likewise, the Invasion Blu-ray also includes a discussion of the film by author Gareth Owen, though this one runs just four minutes. And like with the previous film there’s a good audio commentary joined by film historians Kim Newman and Robert Shearman, with filmmaker Mark Gatiss, who wrote Dalek episodes for the 21st century iteration of the “Doctor Who” television series (the commentaries for both films were likely recorded at the same session).

Hollywoodland

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 8/25/20;
Kino Lorber;
Drama;
$24.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for language, some violence and sexual content.
Stars Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney, Kathleen Robertson, Lois Smith, Caroline Dhavernas, Molly Parker, Zach Mills, Jeffrey DeMunn, Joe Spano.

Given how much the current entertainment landscape is dominated by superhero movies and TV shows, it’s easy to forget the genre only came into prominence in the last 20 years or so. Even when Hollywoodland first hit theaters in 2006, the era of the superhero movie was just in its infancy, and still two years away from the dawn of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

So, looking at Hollywoodland now, it’s hard not to see the film as a fascinating time capsule of a time when comic book fare was considered kids’ stuff, and actors decried being too closely associated with a single character.

Hollywoodland delves into the story of George Reeves, the actor best known for playing Superman on TV in the 1950s who died under mysterious circumstances from a gunshot wound to the head in 1959. Officials ruled it a suicide, but there were enough shenanigans surrounding his life that the specifics of his death have sparked numerous conspiracy theories that linger on to this day.

Rather than adopt a strict biopic or docudrama approach, Hollywoodland frames Reeves’ story as a case taken on by a hotheaded (and completely fictional) private investigator named Louis Simo, played with smarmy aplomb by Adrien Brody. Simo is hired on by Reeves’ mother (Lois Smith), who doesn’t buy the official reports. So Simo dips his toes into the waters of 1950s Hollywood to uncover the seedier aspects of show business, with Reeves’ story told in flashback.

Follow us on Instagram

Reeves (Ben Affleck) dreaded the prospect of playing Superman on a show for kids, but he needed the money. Like most actors, he dreamed of a career in pursuit of serious art, but after a bit role in Gone With the Wind he mostly struggled to get noticed on the big screen. Superman made him a star, and he seemed to hate every minute of it, particularly during a disastrous screening of From Here to Eternity in which the audience can’t help but yell Superman catch-phrases at the screen every time Reeves appears.

To top it off, Reeves finds himself wilting as the kept boy-toy of Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), wife of notorious MGM honcho Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins). He doesn’t seem to mind her tryst, however, seeing as how he accompanies them on a double-date with his own mistress. But Toni also doesn’t use her connections to help Reeves advance his career, furthering some resentment.

So the questions arise over how Reeves was shot. Did Eddie order it, to protect his wife? Was in an accident during an argument between Reeves and his fiancée (Robin Tunney)? Or did Reeves, in pain from years of nagging injuries and emotionally drained from the stress of his career, simply put a gun to his head?

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The screenplay bounced around in the early 2000s until landing at Focus Features (indie arm of Universal). During production, it was known as Truth, Justice, and the American Way, a phrase so connected to Superman that it’s hardly surprising Warner Bros., which controls the film rights to the DC characters, would make Focus change it to something more generic, which likely dampened the film’s box office fortunes. Further, with Warner releasing Superman Returns in 2006, Hollywoodland was forbidden from even using the Superman logo in marketing the film — leading to the shot in the trailer (also included on the Blu-ray) of Affleck looking at himself in costume in the mirror with a chest noticeably missing the iconic ‘S.’ Superman imagery was allowed in the final film however, though the filmmakers had to re-create the famous opening sequence to the TV show as Warner wouldn’t license it to them.

Another scene depicts the likely apocryphal story of a child approaching an in-costume Reeves at a promotional event and asking if he can shoot him with a gun to watch the bullets bounce off. Played as a tense moment in the film, the screenplay ingeniously manages to connect it to the larger plot. But the scene is also memorable for its sense of whimsy in how it adopts the anything-goes imagination mashup that was classic Hollywood — Reeves is performing for kids as Superman at a Wild West stunt show, stopping a pair of bank robbers of the type he would never find himself fighting in the comics.

The use of the film noir structure, another homage to classic Hollywood, sets Simo up as a mirror to Reeves, reflecting on his own career as he untangles the fate of his case subject. As noted in a newly recorded commentary track by entertainment journalist Bryan Reesman, What emerges is the parallel story of two men striving to become more than what anyone around them is willing for them to be, and struggling to take stock of the things in their lives actually worth living for.

Reesman also finds a lot of interesting contrasts between Reeves and Affleck, who unlike the man he’s playing had no problem stepping into the realm of comic book heroics. Affleck had played the title character in Daredevil in 2003, but the film was too poorly received to blossom into the franchise that perhaps the actor expected it too when he signed on.

But Hollywoodland also came at the tail end of the first phase of Affleck’s career, with audiences tuning out as he appeared in a string of brainless actioners and tepid comedies (including the infamous Gigli). Hollywoodland represented something of the first step of a reinvention, as he wanted to demonstrate he could handle more serious fare, and, indeed, he earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor, in addition to wins at the Saturn Awards and Venice Film Festival, among a slew of accolades.

The next year, Affleck would make his feature directorial debut with 2007’s acclaimed Gone Baby Gone, following up with 2010’s The Town and 2012’s Best Picture Oscar winner Argo (for which Affleck was snubbed for an Academy directing nomination after winning the DGA trophy). The career boost would culminate in his casting as Batman for 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and a couple subsequent DC films. Given his scenes as Reeves making and promoting the “Adventures of Superman” TV series, Affleck would probably be the only person to wear both the Superman and Batman costumes on the big screen. He’d also reunite with Diane Lane in BvS, where she would play, of all people, Superman’s mother.

While Hollywoodland wasn’t much of a financial performer upon its release, it’s still fondly remembered for its cast and subject matter, particularly among fans of superhero movies.

In addition to the interesting Reesman voiceover, the Blu-ray also carries over all the extras from Universal’s old DVD release of the film, including an informative commentary by director Allen Coulter, three featurettes and a handful of mostly unremarkable deleted scenes.

A Thousand Clowns

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Kino Lorber;
Comedy;
$19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Jason Robards, Barbara Harris, Barry Gordon, Martin Balsam, William Daniels.

 If there can be such a thing as a pro-hippie dropout movie geared for white guys, it has to be 1965’s A Thousand Clowns, which in its own ragged way, almost by accident, also nearly comes off as “European” in its approach to 1960s cinema.

In the movie that sealed my lifelong fandom, Jason Robards re-creates his stage role as a purposely unemployed writer for Chuckles the Chipmunk, a nutcase upset that he’s getting blank stares instead of the “62% outright prolonged laughter” that the agency has predicted. He lives in a New York studio apartment so cluttered with bizarre knickknacks from second-hand stores that have stroked his fancy over the years that his 12-year-old nephew (Barry Gordon) generally enters by fire-escape window. The son of Robards’ long vanished sister, they have been together seven years. One day, the kid writes an essay celebrating unemployment insurance, which becomes enough of a red flag to attract a hopelessly starchy rep of the child welfare board (William Daniels) and his far more empathetic subordinate (Barbara Harris).

Unless Robards (as Murray Burns) can go back to Chuckles, or anywhere else gainfully employing pronto, he will lose his nephew — limited time he uses to instead romance Harris in a series of around-the-city set pieces on two-seater bikes and the like that recall the time a friend of mine once asked: “Was this movie directed (Fred Coe is credited) or patched?” It may well have been because I see the editor was Ralph Rosenblum, though I can’t recall if this is one of his salvation jobs chronicled in a book that’s became an instant film-editing staple: When the Shooting Stopped. In its own weird way, the film is both structurally haphazard but also, somehow, unexpectedly offbeat-fresh in then conventional ways.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Working its way into all this is Martin Balsam’s supporting Oscar-winning performance as Robards’ more responsible, nose-to-the-grindstone brother — one of those turns based on relatively few scenes and is thus a debatable choice, though certainly he is fine, no question. Much more eye-opening to me at the time were my first screen exposures to both Daniels and Harris, who at the time was knocking them dead on Broadway with On a Clear Day You Can See Forever — still, imo, the greatest score ever attached to a lousy book. (It was still true of the 1970 Streisand-Minnelli film version, too.) In its own way, Harris’s character is as eccentric as Robards’; they are not your everyday matchup.

Gordon, who’d already enjoyed a varied childhood career — for just one thing, he’d scored a huge December 1955 hit with the novelty tune “I’m Gettin Nuttin for Christmas” — is also more than memorable as a) one who tries to be a disciplinary figure; and b) yet also idolizes his uncle and wants to stay with him. Unrecognizable, Gordon is on the main bonus extra here covering the basics of his career and offering opinions on how the movie evolved into an offbeat mess, though in nothing like such brutal terminology.

Some of Robards’ cruel barbs toward Daniels (Dustin Hoffman’s future screen father in The Graduate) are puerile or juvenile. But others to this open target — as well as all the Chuckles material and his routines with Gordon — are on-the-floor funny, which is why the picture struck a nerve with college arthouse audiences at the time for whom The Maltese Bippie just didn’t cut it. I know a lot of people who get a panoramic grin on their faces over Clown’s mere mention and know of one person (former boyfriend of a favorite editor) who rates it as his favorite movie of all time.

Follow us on Instagram!

Here’s another Kino Classics release in which that ever-resourceful company has chosen to pluck another cult item that never even got a VHS release and (pretty sure) was only issued on an on-demand DVD. It should also be noted that Coe, Herb Gardner’s script (adapted from his own stage version) and the score all got nominations as well. But not Robards when I was certain he had.

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Mystery of the Wax Museum’ and ‘A Thousand Clowns’

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Mystery of the Wax Museum’ and ‘A Thousand Clowns’

The Mystery of the Wax Museum

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Horror, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Glenda Farrell, Frank McHugh.
1933.
This above-and-beyond is even more impressive for licking the salvage job that had to be done as opposed to the movie’s visual content, which is by nature on the dark side for the film that was later remade in 1953 as House of Wax with Vincent Price.
Extras: Museum wouldn’t be a vintage Michael Curtiz picture on a recent Blu-ray if it didn’t serve up Curtiz biographer Alan Rode to offer a backgrounder, and he really has to fight the clock to fit his standard pro job into the tight 78-minute running time. This would all be enough for most discs, but there’s also a sweet tribute to Fay Wray, which includes not only Wray in archival interviews but Victoria Raskin, her daughter with screenwriter Robert Riskin and author of a recent book on her parents
Read the Full Review

A Thousand Clowns

Kino Lorber, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Jason Robards, Barbara Harris, Barry Gordon, Martin Balsam, William Daniels.
1965.
If there can be such a thing as a pro-hippie dropout movie geared for white guys, it has to be A Thousand Clowns, which in its own ragged way, almost by accident, also nearly comes off as “European” in its approach to 1960s cinema.
Extras: Former child actor Barry Gordon is on the main bonus extra here covering the basics of his career and offering opinions on how the movie evolved into an offbeat mess.
Read the Full Review

Kino Lorber Announces August DVD, Blu-ray Disc Releases

Kino Lorber has set home release dates for its August 2020 slate of home video releases.  All titles are available on DVD and Blu-ray Disc except where noted. The 15-movie slate begins rolling out Aug.  4 with the following releases:

  • Code of the Freaks (DVD only) is a documentary from director Salome Chasnoff that presents the radical reframing and the use of disabled characters in film over the last 100 years. The documentary investigates the use of movie imagery to shape the beliefs and behaviors of the general public toward disabled people.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

  • Capital In the Twenty-First Century is a documentary based on the international bestseller by economist Thomas Piketty. An eye-opening journey through wealth and power, the film attempts to break the assumption that the accumulation of capital runs hand in hand with social progress and shines a new light on today’s growing inequalities.

Coming August 11 are the following releases:

  • Sonja: The White Swan is a biopic about Sonja Henie, one of the world’s greatest athletes and the inventor of modern-day figure skating. She decided to go to Hollywood in 1936 to become a movie star and the rest is history. She becomes the richest woman of her time, and lives a life surrounded by fans, lovers, and family.
  • Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint is a German documentary on Hilma af Klint, an abstract artist long before the term existed who was a trailblazing figure in her field, inspiring spiritualism, modern science, and the riches of the natural world around her. She began in 1906, when she reeled out a series of huge, colorful, sensual, and strange works. Bonus features include additional interviews, deleted scenes, and a painting gallery.
  • Lucky Grandma is the story of an ornery, chain-smoking and newly widowed 80-year-old grandma (Tsai Chin, The Joy Luck Club) who is eager to live life as an independent woman, despite the worry of her family. When a local fortuneteller depicts an auspicious day in her future, she heads to the local casino and goes all in, only to find she was not as lucky as she hoped. Bonus features include some behind-the-scenes featurettes and the theatrical trailer.
  • A Different Story is a 1978 critically acclaimed film following the story of a handsome, charming, and intelligent gay man named Albert and an attractive, delightful, and quick-witted lesbian named Stella. After celebrating Albert’s birthday with a fun-filled night in town, the two friends end up in bed and wake up surprisingly with newfound feelings for each other. Bonus features include a new 2018 HD master of the uncut R rated version as well as trailers and optional English subtitles.

Follow us on Twitter!

Coming August 18 are the following releases:

  • Forbidden Fruit, Volume 6: She Should’a Said No and The Devil’s Sleep (Blu-ray Disc only), two 1949 exploitation films that follow in the spirit of morality tales such as the 1936 Reefer Madness and Marijuana. She Should’a Said No stars Lila Leeds, as an orphan trying to pay for her brother’s college education who tries marijuana for the first time and begins to lose her inhibition and memory. The Devil’s Sleep looks at juvenile delinquency, phony women’s health gyms, and the pushing of narcotics to teenagers.
  • Guest of Honour is a film from Academy Award nominee Atom Egoyan. It features a high school music teacher named Veronica and her father as they attempt to unravel their complicated histories and intertwined secrets. When a hoax instigated by an aggressive school bus driver goes very wrong, and Veronica finds herself accused of abusing her position of authority with a 17-year-old.
  • Conquest (Blu-ray Disc only) stars Mexican screen legend Jorge Rivero and is directed by Lucio Fulci. When a cruel and evil shadow has fallen over the peaceful land of Cronos, the only hope the people have lies with two warriors who are willing to take on Ocron, the demon sorceress who controls the sun which threatens the lives of everyone. Bonus features include the new 2019 HD master, a conversation with star Rivero, and the theatrical trailer.
  • Emma 2! Dance Spectacular (DVD only) is a children’s preschool film starring Anthony Field and Emma Watkins. There are 12 different episodes featuring 16 songs, all hosted by the girl who loves to dance and share her dancing glee.

Coming August 25 are the following releases:

  • The Reginald Denny Collection consists of three silent features from the career of the debonair British star: The Reckless Age, Skinner’s Dress Suit, and What Happened to Jones? In The Reckless Age, Denny plays an insurance agent who insinuates himself into the case of a wealthy heiress. In Skinner’s Dress Suit, he is a shy clerk who asks his boss for a raise at the urging of his wife. When his request is rejected, he lies to his wife who immediately goes out and buys an expensive suit. In What Happened to Jones? he plays a wealthy young bachelor who, on the night before his wedding, is convinced to attend a poker party which is promptly raided.
  • Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind (DVD only) explores the career, music, and influence of legendary Canadian musical icon Gordon Lightfoot. With unprecedented access to the artist, the documentary follows Lightfoot’s evolution from Christian choirboy to an international star and beloved Canadian icon.
  • Benjamin (DVD only) is a charmingly offbeat gay romantic comedy about a mess-of-a-filmmaker juggling the anxieties and excitement of his upcoming film premiere. The film is written and directed by British comedian Simon Amstell, and stars Gabe Gilmour, Jack Rowan, and Colin Morgan.
  • The Tobacconist is a film from director Nicholas Leytner about a 17-year-old named Franz who journeys to Vienna to apprentice at a tobacco shop. There, he meets Sigmund Freud (Bruno Ganz), who is one of the regulars at the shop, and the two quickly form a bond. When Franz falls desperately in love with the music-hall dancer Anezka, he seeks advice from the renowned psychoanalyst, who admits that the female sex is as big a mystery to him as it is to Franz.
  • Trick Baby (Blu-ray Disc only) is the gritty story of the relationship between two Philly conmen, Johnny “White Folks” O’Brien (Kiel Martin), a biracial man posing as a white man, and “Blue” Howard (Mel Stewart), a black man. From an early age, Blue raised Folks as his own son — but he passed on more than his heritage when he taught him the ways of the street and the art of the con. They wind up getting in over their heads and things begin to unravel between a crooked cop and some shady investors. Bonus features include a new interview with director Larry Yust, a radio spot, and the theatrical trailer

Mike’s Picks: ‘Tin Cup’ and ‘The General Died at Dawn’

Tin Cup

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $21.99 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for language and brief nudity.
Stars Kevin Costner, Rene Russo, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson.
1996. A golf-backdropped romantic comedy directed and co-written by Ron Shelton, Tin Cup was about as popular at the box office as the filmmaker’s breakthrough Bull Durham, yet it isn’t talked about as much these days — perhaps due to Durham’s extraordinarily sustained shelf life as a movie that really caught on in the home market.
Read the Full Review

The General Died at Dawn

Kino Lorber, Thriller, $24.95 Blu-ray, Not rated.
Stars Gary Cooper, Madeleine Carroll, Akim Tamiroff, Porter Hall, William Frawley.
1936.
As a standout film or close in the borderline screen career of Lewis Milestone that additionally features the first screenplay of playwright Clifford Odets’ career, The General Died at Dawn has more going for it than the cosmetic magnitude of its two impossible-looking lead actors captured here in a new 4K mastering that shows how great ’30s Paramounts used to look.
Extras: Historians Lee Gambin and Rutanya Alda share the Blu-ray commentary.
Read the Full Review

 

 

Kino Lorber Sets Home Release Date for ‘The Woman Who Loves Giraffes’

Kino Lorber has set an April 7 release date for The Woman Who Loves Giraffes, the critically acclaimed documentary by Allison Reid that explores the life and work of pioneering biologist Anne Innis Dagg.

The documentary will be available on Blu-Ray Disc and DVD at suggested retail prices of $34.95 and $29.95, and also for digital download on Amazon, iTunes, InDemand, FandangoNow, Google Play and Kino Now.

In 1956, the then 23-year-old biologist Anne Innis Dagg made an unprecedented solo journey to South Africa to study giraffes in the wild. When she returned home a year later, the insurmountable barriers she faced as a female scientist proved difficult to overcome. In The Woman Who Loves Giraffes, Anne (now 86) retraces her steps, offering a window into her life as a young woman who got a first-hand look at the devastating realities that giraffes are facing.

Bonus features will include deleted scenes, Doc Soup Q&A, and trailers.

Mike’s Picks: “Murder, He Says” and “Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project”

Murder, He Says

Street Date 4/7/20
Kino Lorber, Comedy, $24.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Fred MacMurray, Helen Walker, Marjorie Main, Jean Heather, Porter Hall.
1945.
Fred MacMurray gives what may be the top comic performance of his long and still underrated career in Murder, He Says, a twisted Hollywood comedy that gets a 4K spiff-up for Blu-ray.
Extras: Includes a voiceover commentary by producer/writer Michael Schlesinger and film archivist Stan Taffel.
Read the Full Review

Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project

Kino/Zeitgeist, Documentary, B.O. $0.06 million, $29.95 DVD, $34.95 Blu-ray, NR.
2019. There’s almost certainly a link between a certain kind of genius and a certain kind of madness, which is one of the themes of Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project — director Matt Wolf’s graphically sophisticated documentary about a most unusual woman who was on a mission.
Extras: The Blu-ray includes a commentary by Wolf, interviews, and episodes of a public access talk show hosted by Marion Stokes.
Read the Full Review

Murder, He Says

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 4/7/20;
Kino Lorber;
Comedy;
$24.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Fred MacMurray, Helen Walker, Marjorie Main, Jean Heather, Porter Hall.

Other than 1948’s Miss Tatlock’s Millions, which falls just short of being a brother-sister incest farce while getting all jocular about mental illness, Murder, He Says is the most twisted Hollywood comedy I know from the 1940s. This raises an interesting question of why almost all the funniest ’40s comedies I know — both of the above, the Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder libraries, the “Roads” to Morocco, Utopia and Rio — were all from Paramount, but that’s a question for another day. (The Lubitsch’s at other studios would be an exception, though they’re less gut-busting than charming on historical levels.)

Very little about 1945’s Murder, or at least its characters, has been to charm school — starting with the murder of an innocent party that’s played for laughs when it’s not being simply shoved under the narrative rug. There’s also a near-psychopath matriarch who frequently and brutally takes a whip to her imbecilic twin sons; the promiscuous use of firearms in an indoor setting by half the cast; and the played-for-laughs radioactive poisoning that makes as many of them glow, developed by the latest husband of the whip-wielding mom. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t all take place on an Ivy League campus but in backwoods Arkansas, where a rep from a national poll studying rural living makes the mistake of riding his bike onto the property of this inbred-acting array.

Fred MacMurray plays this poor sap in what I’d rate as the top comic performance of his long and still underrated career (The Apartment is, of course, a masterpiece, but he’s mostly a no-joke total heel in that one). His timing is flawless when he has to react about once a second to the mayhem going on around him. The supporting cast, which includes Marjorie Main as “Ma,” is in the same class, including one major acting surprise. And voiceover bonus commentary by producer/writer Michael Schlesinger and film archivist Stan Taffel speculate that Main’s work here might have encouraged MacMurray to get her cast a couple years later in The Egg and I, a huge hit for Universal-International and the movie that launched the Ma & Pa Kettle series (I remember when it was theatrically issued in the summer of 1954, which only the biggest box office wave-makers were in those days).

Follow us on Instagram!

Getting back to Murder, which gets a 4K spiff-up here, MacMurray shows up at the sub-ramshackle house as part of his job — and to see if he can figure out what happened to the work colleague who preceded him and was not heard from again (good luck on that one). Instead, he’s accosted on the way by one of the twins; they’re Mert and Bert, and Peter Whitney nails both roles, abetted by some of the best matte work of the era. All the blood relations here seem to be products of Ma Barker’s gene pool, and the source of constant conflict here is the whereabouts of 70 grand from some long-ago family crime spree that’s supposedly hidden somewhere in the house. Grandma (Mabel Paige) knows the elusive location, but she’s on her death bed — and even in her better days was always “tetched.” The only hint is a few musical notes that result in nothing when they’re hummed and a few accompanying lyrics of gibberish that make about as much sense.

Nobody in the family trusts any other member, and this extends to poor MacMurray, who would have been better off lobbying his superiors to handle the Death Valley polling territory. Matters get more complicated when the family member who pulled off the robbery escapes from jail and shows up to mount her own money search. The tragic Helen Walker has this role, and it’s obvious before very long that she’s an imposter with her own agenda, and like very few other people here, is “normal.

Two Hollywood hopefuls in the cast all but had their careers ended by auto mishaps. Jean Heather, who, despite noteworthy appearances in both Going My Way and Double Indemnity, basically came out of career nowhere here to go all the way thoroughly “nailing” the family’s one likable character, who, alas, may be even more tetched than grandma. In real life, beautiful Heather got thrown from a car and disfigured, and made her final screen appearance in a 1949 ‘B’ Western.

The decline of Walker, who’d scored in a high-profile co-lead in her first picture, was more protracted but possibly more of a nightmare. She picked up three soldier hitchhikers on New Year’s Eve of 1946, and when she flipped the car, one of them was killed and the other two badly injured. The survivors charged drunkenness, and the messy trial that resulted cleared her criminally but resulted in career-wrecking publicity. She worked intermittently after that, but after good supporting roles in a couple well-regarded 20th Century-Fox noirs, it was a steep toboggan ride for her. Commentators Schlesinger and Taffel may be too gentlemanly to mention it, but at least at some point, alcohol was indeed a debilitating problem with her. In her final big-screen appearance (The Big Combo), it clearly shows on her face.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The director here was George Marshall, who spent a 56-year career mixing bombs, god-awfuls, nonentities and several indisputably enjoyable “entertainments” without ever making a really great movie or major factor in any title’s applicable movie year, other than Destry Rides Again (coming soon from Criterion). Schlesinger and Taffel are quite enamored of him in their appropriately breezy mix of the jocular and informative, though one of them claims that Marshall directed three of the five episodes in “How the West Was Won” when it was Henry Hathaway who did (Marshall only directed “The Railroads,” which is the weakest of the quintet). The actors’ dexterity here is so keen throughout that one has to assume that Marshall definitely deserves his share of the praise, especially with the younger players. But even at 94 minutes, the action gets a little labored in the final going before it’s yanked with vigor back into the plus side by a terrifically clever barn-set finale. The script, but the way, is co-written by Lou Breslow, who also penned a comedy that I’ve  coincidentally been watching as we speak, It was 1950’s Never a Dull Moment, in which MacMurray weds and drags the incomparable Irene Dunne to his struggling farm, and this city-dweller begins living a kind of Green Acres existence,

Ultimately, the standout takeaway is that I can’t immediately think of another comedy that’s anything like it — and certainly not from the 1940s — though the commentary notes its warped link with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I suspect Paramount is the only studio that would have attempted it at the time because they really had a flair for off-center farces. I can just see a horrified Louis B. Mayer seeing it at an industry screening and immediately putting out a directive for MGM to speed up development on Love Laughs at Andy Hardy.

Mike’s Picks: “Murder, He Says” and “Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project”