The Mystery of the Wax Museum

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Available via Warner Archive;
Warner;
Horror;
$21.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Glenda Farrell, Frank McHugh.

Forced to choose, I’d say this above-and-beyond restoration by combined heavyweights UCLA Film and Television Archive, the Film Foundation, Warner Entertainment and the George Lucas Family Foundation (pant pant) is even more impressive for licking the salvage job that had to be done as opposed to the movie’s visual content.

Let me qualify this. There’s nothing wrong with the last here; on the contrary, it fully captures the lighting subtleties of Ray Rennahan’s cinematography working in the pioneer but primitive two-color Technicolor process, which, when done right as here, can be surprisingly pleasing to the eye, much as some of the really good Blu-rays of Republic’s oft-derided Trucolor have been. It’s just that The Mystery of the Wax Museum is by nature on the dark side (morgue scenes abound), which puts it at a distinct disadvantage, demonstration-wise to, say, the bright sprightly colors of Universal’s two-color King of Jazz, which Criterion previously released.

All of this is academic nitpicking on my part because the two films could hardly be more different in their content and intentions. What we have here is the first version of director Andre de Toth’s 1953 remake House of Wax with Vincent Price, which means there will be no Charles (pre-Bronson) Buchinsky as “Igor,” nor that paddle-attached ball shooting out into the audience in 3-D and threatening guys where they live. But Lionel Atwill is spot on as a wronged and disfigured wax museum proprietor bent on exacting revenge, which carries at least double the normal intimidating factor because he’s certifiable.

Well, you would be, too, if your former business partner burned down your London establishment, started a fire and so badly burned you that you have to encase your face in wax just like your exhibits (I don’t think I’m giving too much away here). We then cut to a dozen years later in 1933 New York, where Atwill’s Ivan Igor (there’s that name again) is about to relaunch, aided by a beyond motley crew of deviants, imbeciles, druggies and grave robbers whose fortune is not their faces.

At this point, Warner Bros., which never missed many bets in that era, solders one of its ’30s newspaper melodramas onto the proceedings. Fay Wray (same year as King Kong) is kind of the selling point, but the main femme focus is really on the then ubiquitous Glenda Farrell as her reporter roomie who has a hunch that something really off-kilter is happening at Mr. Igor’s. Though Farrell’s fledgling scoops are consistently shot down by her know-it-all editor (Frank McHugh), she doesn’t know the half of it. Atwill/Igor is abducting real live human beings on which to slather wax to become the base of his sculpture exhibits, and he thinks that Wray could serve as his ideal Marie Antoinette. Oblivious to it all is Wray’s fiancé (Allen Vincent), who even works for Atwill but is beyond ineffectual.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The restoration here is so impressive that I need to get to it, though not before noting that the final scene, back in the newsroom, is so ridiculous in relation to what has proceeded it that it doesn’t even work on fanciful movie terms. Be that as it may, the before-and-after restoration featurette, narrated by UCLA’s head of restoration Scott MacQueen, is considerably longer than what we usually see and is something of a whopper.

Warner Bros. did have a reference nitrate studio print, but it was full of splices and scratches and divots — in other words, a difficult bet even for hardened film pros used to seeing all sorts of atrocious copies but absolutely out of the question for mass consumption or something that any professional archivist would dare put his or her name on. To the rescue came a French work print from which UCLA was able to fill in the blanks before the scanners worked their magic.

Follow us on Instagram!

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. To my surprise, MacQueen’s separate commentary doesn’t talk about the restoration but offers its own take on the movie’s content and history. You won’t often hear me concede that Hollywood really did feel a need to toughen up the Production Code into a one-size-fits-all cookie cutter, but it’s mid-boggling and even fascinating to learn what individual states found objectionable about Museum and demanded be cut by their local censors. It’s all over the place, with an occasional state not finding anything objectionable at all.

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 that I hope to read and, far as I’ve seen, has reaped unanimous praise. So as you can see, Warner Archives has pulled out all the stops on this release, and it displays their total commitment, which is only fitting. after UCLA did the same.

Warner Archive Releasing ‘Legion of Super Heroes’ Animated Series on Blu-ray

Warner Archive Collection on July 14 will release Legion of Super Heroes: The Complete Series on Blu-ray Disc.

In season one, Legionnaires Bouncing Boy (Michael Cornacchia), Brainiac 5 (Adam Wylie), Saturn Girl (Kari Wahlgren) and Lightning Lad (Andy Milder) travel back in time to convince an awkward teen named Clark Kent (Yuri Lowenthal) to join the Legion and battle their archnemeses, the Fatal Five. Season two presents Superman and the Legion with an even greater challenge: Kell-El, the Superman of the 41st century.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The Blu-ray will include all 26 episodes from the 2006-08 animated series, plus the featurette “We Are Legion” and an exclusive audio commentary on the series’ two-part finale, “Dark Victory,” with producer James Tucker, director Brandon Vietti and Wahlgren.

Follow us on Instagram!

The first season was previously released in three DVD volumes. Warner Archive will also be releasing a DVD of the second season.

Mike’s Picks: ‘A Little Romance’ and ‘Salesman’

A Little Romance

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 Blu-ray, ‘PG.’
Stars Laurence Olivier, Diane Lane, Thelonious Bernard, Sally Kellerman, Arthur Hill.
1979.
It was spring of 1979 when 12-year-old Diane Lane made the cover of Time magazine back when that really meant something — ostensibly as part of a cover story on “Hollywood’s Whiz Kids” but spurred primarily by her utterly beguiling screen debut opposite Laurence Olivier in A Little Romance, the first film released, albeit through Warner Bros., by the then brand new Orion Pictures.
Read the Full Review

Salesman

Criterion, Documentary, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
1969.
Salesman was the documentary feature debut that put the Maysles Brothers (David and Albert) on the map along with Charlotte Zwerin, whose subtle editing choices here are, with good reason, the kind often termed as “invisible,” though we subliminally sense that they’re there. We end up following four Irish-Catholic door-to-door salesmen of middle age and pet nicknames — charged with unloading deluxe doorstop Bibles full of elaborate illustrative paintings to customers who haven’t the money to make the monthly payments.
Essay: The accompanying essay by critic Michael Chaiken and a 1969 Maysles TV interview by onetime Newsweek film critic Jack Kroll are up to Criterion standards and the original DVD’s commentary by Albert Mayles and Zwerin has been carried over. But the high point is unquestionably the full-length inclusion of a spoof from the “Documentary Now!” cable series, in which Bill Hader and Fred Armisen expertly have their way in Globesman, a precisely detailed replication about guys trudging through the same snow and the like to peddle globes. Hader also provides a separate appreciation for the original film.
Read the Full Review

 

Great Day in the Morning

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Available via Warner Archive
Warner;
Western;
$21.99 Blu-ray;
Not Rated.
Stars Virginia Mayo, Robert Stack, Ruth Roman, Raymond Burr, Alex Nicol.

By the year Great Day in the Morning was released, owner Howard Hughes had finished ruining RKO Pictures to the point where he now could sell it — thus enabling him to pursue worthier pursuits like, say, seeking out the right size of Kleenex-Box loafers that folklore says that he would sport in his lair from time to time. The new 1955 purchasers had been the General Tire and Rubber Company, which wasn’t quite the final word in Dream Factory glamour, so I suppose it was something of a miracle that a movie as respectable as 1956’s Great Day in the Morning made it into theaters during this final period before almost immediate studio extinction.

As its year’s Westerns go, this pre-Civil War love triangle is hardly The Searchers (which opened 10 days later) or 7 Men from Now; it’s not even an impressive second-tier achievement like Delmer Daves’s Jubal, which still remains formidable enough to have rated Criterion treatment. But as an assignment for director Jacques Tourneur, who rarely was given break-the-bank budgets, it merits the “mid sleeper” accolade if you can get over the once de rigueur Indian shoot-out that opens the action and then a Confederate point of view. We’re basically talking something the Tourneur level of, say, Anne of the Indies, Circle of Danger and Wichita — all of them movies I like to a relaxing degree yet ones that wouldn’t get anyone to say, “Let’s go the mat defending them.”

Still, if you like electric color schemes photographed for the wide screen — here the process was the initially short-lived Superscope, which much later evolved into todays’ Super 35 — prepare to indulge. This opportunity doesn’t arrive, though, until after some exposition that finds a Confederate loner (Robert Stack) smelling the aroma of elusive gold in 1861 Colorado. Until some angry Native Americans interrupt the journey, he’s working his way toward what turns out to be Denver, though a Denver strikingly humble in appearance. One cannot conceivably imagine the John Elway of merely a century-plus later lobbing forward-pass bombs — and in a stadium where beers probably cost even more than what Morning’s shifty saloon owner (Raymond Burr, once again corpulent  enough to earn his character’s name: “Jumbo”) is charging to thirsty prospectors.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Stack is rescued unexpectedly by a blonde looker (Virginia Mayo) traveling with protective males, his life saved thanks to a shot fired by Leo Gordon (in glorified cretin mode) who immediately regrets his act upon learning that the apolitical Stack nonetheless harkens from North Carolina. Gordon is a “former” sergeant in the Union army, and one can only imagine just how transgression turned him into the past tense, though the other bodyguard (Alex Nicol, smitten with Mayo) is more agreeable. Her goal in Denver, by the way, is to open a women’s store full of intimate wear to service the two women in town who wouldn’t be mistaken for Marjorie Main or Minerva Urecal.

Actually, the only other obvious town looker besides Mayo herself is saloon associate Ruth Roman — she of an amazing turquoise dress that is so dramatic a visage that some fan of this Warner Archive Blu-ray posted a representative still (and in the correct aspect ratio) on my Facebook newsfeed page. Roman takes one look at Bob’s bare chest, determines that boss Burr isn’t the way to go and rigs a poker game to enable Stack to take over the joint. Burr was at the tail end of a villainous tenure that served him (and the movies) so well from about 1947-56 — about a year-and-a-half away from premiering in somewhat slimmed-down fashion as TV’s “Perry Mason.” You can effortlessly envision the CBS purchase order to whatever the Costco of the day was, ordering him 800,000 water pills.

Colorado, thus far noncommittal, is full of both Yankees and Rebels, but the situation won’t last long, and Stack needs to get what he can get from a ton of now-dead claims before more Northern military arrives and makes away with all territorial spoils this side of Mayo’s lingerie. The last situation plays out in ways that result in perhaps predictable fatalities, especially when Stack finds life in one of the deceased mines; as a result, the original burned-out prospector, working side-by-side, balks at paying Stack an agreed-to 50% share for having received a grubstake for a second try. This all makes it tough on the local priest (Regis Toomey), who has to maintain peace between factions — kind of like the way that that clergyman did between invading aliens and earthlings in George Pal’s version of The War of the Worlds. Of course, you may recall that he ends up being melted by death rays.

Follow us on Instagram

Adapted from a Robert Hardy Andrews novel that had been kicking around a few years, the screenplay by Lesser Samuels (hey, I thought he was blacklisted in the ’50s) has some pretty fair dialogue (occasional zingers included) for a borderline A-picture from the era. Morning is a type of picture that has always interested me: One where the parties involved tried to go an extra half-mile when one cared or was looking (certainly not General Tire and Rubber). Of course, this one had more resources than others in its situation had: Tourneur, who had cult favorites Nightfall and Curse of the Demon coming up next; Colorado locations around Silverton; 2:1 framing for theaters that wished to show it that way; Technicolor (not the discontinued three-strip kind but at least with stable IB printing, which was more than Warner Bros. could boast at the time, The Searchers aside); and that Ruth Roman dress, of which I can’t say enough or more, other than to add that Roman is pretty good in the role.

To use his oft-employed highly expressive Trump adjective, I wasn’t “nice” to Roman recently by taking a mild swipe. I still think she leaned toward the overwrought, and Hitchcock himself is said to have been perturbed that Warner forced her on him for Strangers on a Train. Here, though, she’s less icy than usual while co-offering an undeniable workable contrast in personality against the more outgoing Mayo. The movie’s key problem is that a key character gets killed off a little too early (no spoilers), and we’re forced to root when Stack locates his inner Confederate for the big action conclusion. The last probably plays better with regions where even fast-food joints serve juleps than it does with a lot of 2019-ers, myself included.

Still, it’s gratifying that Warner Archive has elected to give a picture this relatively obscure the full treatment, including four much earlier Tourneur MGM short subjects as well. However, it’s worth mentioning that at the time, Morning was popular enough to get held over for a second week at one of my hometown’s downtown theaters (co-feature was Bill Williams in Wire Tapper, which couldn’t have done much for the gate). This wasn’t all that common at the time unless the picture was a commercial blockbuster — which leads me to note that two of the other competing theaters weren’t running Bowery Boys movies but the Burt-Tony-Gina Trapeze and some minor piece of change called The King and I. This all correctly indicates that audiences really used to love their Westerns once they veered away from the coasts.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Glorifying the American Girl’ and ‘Great Day in the Morning’

Warner Unveils Huge Home Entertainment Presence for Comic-Con 2019

The Warner Bros. studio home entertainment divisions are planning a major presence at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con International, with premieres of new animated and horror movies, celebrations of iconic character anniversaries, and immersive fan experiences for major theatrical releases heading to home video.

This year’s Comic-Con takes place July 18-21 at the San Diego Convention Center and other locations throughout downtown San Diego.

Popeye’s 90th Birthday Party will take place at 10:15 a.m. Thursday, July 18, in room 6DE, featuring a panel discussion and a look at footage from Warner Archive’s new and upcoming Popeye the Sailor: The 1940s Blu-rays.

A Birthday Bash for the 50th anniversary of “Scooby-Doo” is slated for 12:30 p.m. Saturday, July 20 in Room 6A. A panel including Grey Griffin and Kate Micucci will preview the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! — The Complete Series Limited Edition 50th Anniversary Mystery Mansion boxed set due in stores Sept. 3 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

The new movie Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island, a sequel to Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, will have its world premiere at 10:15 a.m. Sunday, July 21, in room 6BCF. The film will arrive on home video this fall from WBHE.

A “Batman Beyond” 20th anniversary panel is set for 12:15 p.m. Thursday, July 18 in Hall H. The retrospective of the futuristic animated series will include producers Bruce Timm and Glen Murakami, casting director Andrea Romano, director James Tucker, writers Bob Goodman and Stan Berkowitz, and voice actors Kevin Conroy and Will Friedle.

The Warner Bros./DC Booth will hold an autograph signing for both Critters Attack! and The Banana Splits Movie at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, July 18, followed by a panel discussion for both films at 4:30 p.m. in room 6DE.

Critters Attack! will debut on Blu-ray, DVD and digitally July 23 from WBHE.

The world premiere of The Banana Splits Movie will take place at 10 p.m. Thursday, July 18, at the Horton Grand Theatre. A horror-movie version of the classic kids show, The Banana Splits Movie will be available digitally Aug. 13, and on Blu-ray and DVD Aug. 27 from WBHE.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Warner Archive will hold a panel to promote the upcoming Blu-ray of V: The Original Mini-Series, at 10 a.m. Friday, July 19, in room 6DE. On hand to celebrate the landmark 1983 sci-fi miniseries will be creator Kenneth Johnson and star Marc Singer, along with the Warner Archive Podcast team of D.W. Ferranti and Matthew Patterson, and moderator Gary Miereanu.

The world premiere of the DC animated movie Batman: Hush will take place at 7:15 p.m. on Friday, July 19, in Ballroom 20, followed by a panel discussion with the filmmakers and cast. An encore screening will follow at 9:30 p.m. WBHE’s Batman: Hush arrives digitally July 20; on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Aug. 6; and on the DC Universe streaming service Aug. 13.

Batman: Hush

Saturday, July 20 at 10 a.m. in room 6A will be a panel celebrating Hanna-Barbera in honor of the recent “Jonny Quest” complete-series Blu-ray and Warner Archive’s upcoming Blu-ray of The Jetsons: The Complete Original Series. The panel will preview the new releases with a look at the remastering process.

The new animated movie Teen Titans Go! vs. Teen Titans will have its world premiere at noon on Sunday, July 21, in room 6BCF, followed by a panel discussion with the film’s stars and creators. The movie will be available on home video this fall from WBHE.

The world premiere of Lego DC: Batman — Family Matters will take place at 2:15 p.m. Sunday, July 21, in room 6BCF, followed by a panel discussion with the filmmakers and cast. The animated movie will be available Aug. 6 on Blu-ray, DVD and digitally from WBHE.

In addition, Warner will offer fan experiences for the films Shazam! and Pokémon Detective Pikachu adjacent to the Omni Hotel across the railroad tracks from the convention center.

The Pikachu activation will offer guests a chance to explore an immersive walkthrough pop-up of the film’s Ryme City, including photo opps featuring a neon cityscape, the marketplace, film prop displays, an infinity room and characters from the film. WBHE releases the film digitally July 23, and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Aug. 6.

Fans can also visit the Chilladelphia Winter Carnival from the superhero film Shazam!, which will be available digitally and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray from WBHE before the convention begins.

The world premiere of DC Spotlight: Shazam! will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 18, at the Horton Grand Theatre. The documentary, which chronicles the history of the character, will be introduced by Asher Angel, one of the stars of the recent Shazam! live-action film. The documentary will stream later this summer on the DC Universe service.