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
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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.
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‘Selena’ Now on Blu-ray Via Warner Archive

The Warner Archive Collection recently released the 1997 biopic Selena on Blu-ray for the first time. The film stars Jennifer Lopez as the Grammy-winning Tejano singer who was murdered at age 23 by the former manager of her fan club.

The cast also includes Edward James Olmos and Jon Seda.

The Blu-ray includes both the theatrical and extended cuts of the film, and extras such as the documentary “Selena, Queen of Tejano”; the featurette “Making of Selena: 10 Years Later”; outtakes; and the theatrical trailer.

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Warner Archive also just released a Blu-ray edition of 1958’s The Reluctant Debutante, starring Sandra Dee as Jane, an American girl sent to live with her father (Rex Harrison) in England. She soon finds herself thrust into the society spotlight thanks to the prodding of a busy-body society matron (Angela Lansbury). Despite her stepmother’s desire for her to pair off with a suitor of appropriate social standing, Jane only has eyes for a lowly drummer (John Saxon).

The film was directed by Vincente Minnelli.

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.
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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.
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Tin Cup

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Available via Warner Archive;
Warner;
Comedy;
$21.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for language and brief nudity.
Stars Kevin Costner, Rene Russo, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson.

A kind of shaggy dog or shaggy bogey or shaggy something golf backdropped romantic comedy directed and co-written by Ron Shelton, 1996’s 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. It’s long and a little lumpy, but it’s my favorite golf film out of a limited pool, despite my decades of boundless affection for Martin & Lewis in The Caddy, which is the picture from which I caught the movie bug in 1953.

For one thing, it has one of the greatest premises for a romantic comedy that I’ve ever seen, as a practitioner of the No. 1 head game in sports (Kevin Costner) falls for a clinical psychologist (Rene Russo). I see that one of those cretins you sometimes see posting on IMDb.com said he didn’t like the picture because Russo didn’t act anything like real people in the profession do, but one of the key points here is that the latter has knocked around in sales and other professions before getting her certification and is hardly to the profession born. What’s more, if she weren’t in her own way as flakey as Costner, their relationship could never get past the opening tee shot, which it barely does, anyway.

The setting is a West Texas driving rage that Costner operates and lives in sub-meagerly. I won’t say it’s out in the middle of nowhere, but you somehow know it isn’t a good sign when the logo on his establishment’s sign is an armadillo. Once a promising college golfer at the University of Houston, Costner has gone to professional seed over his habit of playing recklessly and his congenital refusal to follow the advice even of his caddy and all but live-in friend (Cheech Marin, in the best screen role he’s ever had aside from maybe parts in the earliest Cheech & Chong vehicles). Meanwhile, Costner’s chief college rival (a never-better Don Johnson) has become a name pro on the circuit. Those two are not dissimilar physical types, but I can’t tell if Shelton is trying to construct an alter ego thing or not.

Russo, who has a history of “following boyfriends” to wherever they are geographically, shows up at the range for golf lessons — and though this isn’t divulged right away, her current squeeze is a golfer who happens to be … well, guess. She can barely hit the ball when teeing off, so Costner has a lot of work to do, including polishing his faltering romantic patter. His familiar formulas aren’t working, partly because Russo sees right through him. She’s also too slow in picking up on the fact, which Costner fully knows from their long history, that super-slick Johnson is about as sincere as, say, Jim Bakker.

This is all an entertaining setup for what happens when Costner elects to attempt entry to the U.S. Open, which literally is “open” to any golfer who can qualify for entry — which, among other things, means not playing like a highly talented madman. This would encompass not intentionally snapping clubs like wishbones, using a 7-iron when it’s an eccentric choice for the shot and insulting your longtime caddy to the point where he walks off the course. Still, aside from the caddy part, Costner makes it work for him up to a point, though his behavior keeps adding strokes to a score and blowing what ought to be a cushion after he’s hit a hot streak.

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The wide open settings of the movie’s second half are a photogenic contrast to the first, which spends a lot of time in and around the mold culture where Costner lives, works and has even had surprising success with women in the past, though none of them with Russo’s at least relative polish. There are at least a couple standout set pieces, the first being an incredible bet that Costner sets up in a bar on the tour, which involves a long drive through a narrow doorway and over a body of water to attempt an odds-defying feat.

The other one is simply terrific — a scene I’ve never forgotten and one I was highly anxious to see again. It involves Costner’s death-wish attempt to reach the green over (again) a body of water, and it isn’t pretty, yet ultimately, it’s jammed with grandeur — the kind sports fans will talk about for decades when the actual winner of the tournament will be a fuzzy memory except for those who qualify as the hard core.

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All four leads really deliver in form-fitting roles, and though he wasn’t awarded top spot, Costner was one of three more to win a citation as best actor for 1996 from the New York Film Critics circle. He apparently had to be coached heavily to look like a competitive golfer, but he is such a good athlete in general (and a heavily skilled baseball player) that to my eye, at least, he looks convincing.

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

Mike’s Picks: ‘Beau Brummell’ and ‘Canyon Passage’

Beau Brummell

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Stewart Granger, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Ustinov, Robert Morley.
1954.
A flop at the time, this superbly cast costume drama has picked up a cult following who should be pleased by the Blu-ray’s 4K scan off the original negative that pays off with such vivid reds and dark blues on its British military uniforms.
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Canyon Passage

Kino Lorber, Western, $24.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Dana Andrews, Brian Donlevy, Susan Hayward, Ward Bond, Hoagy Carmichael, Patricia Roc, Lloyd Bridges.
1946.
Set in pre-Civil War Oregon amid a settlement that’s pretty isolated even by Northwest standards of the day, Technicolor Canyon Passage on Blu-ray makes for a fairly stunning visual experience, though you can’t tell at first because the opening shot is set of muddy streets during a monsoon.
Extras: Includes a commentary by Toby Roan, who knows Westerns as well as anyone.
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Beau Brummell

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Available via Warner Archive;
Warner;
Drama;
$21.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Stewart Granger, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Ustinov, Robert Morley.

To my very pleasant surprise, Warner Archive has given 1954’s Beau Brummell the full treatment with a 4K scan off the original negative for a payoff of such vivid reds and dark blues on its British military uniforms and more that you’d swear the same costumer designed Roy Rogers’ shirts. Because this Eastman Color release has always carried a “print by Technicolor” credit as well, I suspect that the film was always inherently superior to pure Eastman Color MGM titles from the same era (one of my favorite movies of all time — It’s Always Fair Weather — will forever be an eyesore in spots because of cost-cutting Eastman). But even the Brummell print I once recorded off MGM-friendly Turner Classic Movies was, to be generous, no great shakes.

A flop at the time (apparently lead Stewart Granger didn’t even like it), this superbly cast costumer, I’m told, has picked up a cult, which pleases me because I’ve always liked the picture despite its substantial liberties taken with history (don’t they all, or at least most of them?). Granger’s title protagonist, previously played in the silent era by John Barrymore, was and is here a 19th-century army captain of humble background despite his advanced education; he dresses like a fop but is, in fact, so direct and uncompromising in his opinions on virtually every subject that he accrues a lifetime of enemies who further regard him as an opportunist. BB opens the picture by publicly knocking his regimen’s new uniforms — a cheeky move, given that they were designed by a power figure (sort of) who incidentally, really is a fop: Peter Ustinov as George IV, aka the Prince of Wales and frustrated heir to the throne held by his bonkers father George III (Robert Morley). Think of the play or movie of The Madness of King George — and George III’s real-life importance to our own Revolution’s history. In this telling, Brummell’s insubordination nearly gets him busted by IV, but the two then develop an odd and unlikely friendship that’s on-and-off testy, but when all is said and done, lastingly affectionate.

The selling point here for the masses is probably the second-billed participation of Elizabeth Taylor as a “Lady Patricia” — supposedly betrothed to George III’s top political advisor (James Donald as Lord Edwin Mercer) in another one of those instances in which a highly eligible woman opts for dull security over a life of creditors that a reckless spendthrift like Beau will guarantee. This is an issue because although Patricia tries to fight it, the attraction is also there on her part. This is an uncommon Taylor screen experience because she spends the first half of the picture in a silver wig before eventually reverting to the brunette state with which we’re familiar.

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Liz notwithstanding, Beau Brummell is foremost a love story between two men, and Ustinov, who’s just spectacularly good here, has notably more screen time than Taylor, even though he’s billed third in a large in-name-only supporting role. Adding to his narrative importance is the fact that he and Beau Granger share something of an empathetic link, in that No. IV longs to wed the widowed Roman Catholic he loves (Rosemary Harris). It’s a union No. III expressly forbids, even though his son openly flaunts the relationship at banquets that seem to be an everyday occurrence (these people know how to live). In real life, IV did get to marry her, but the union wasn’t recognized by the Church. I probably won’t make any friends by saying this, but in A Man for All Seasons (though I love the movie), I always root for Henry VIII over Sir Thomas More because consenting adults of age who want to wed should be allowed to. In other words, butt out.

Of course, in this telling, there’s still III to deal with, and he’s so deranged that he claims his son is an imposter. Morley is as great here as Ustinov even if he does just have a single scene — which he totally nails. Everyone knows III is mad, but his vested-interest colleagues have successfully hushed it up (kind of like Woodrow Wilson times-12). The male acting principals are all memorable here, including the very underrated Granger (when I asked Martin Scorsese in an interview which old-school actors he most regretted not having been able to work with, I believe he listed Granger No. 2 after James Mason and mentioned that he and Granger had had dinner the previous night). BB’s box office underachievement didn’t do his career any good after his rich decade of outdoor adventures and costume dramas (these were falling out of favor). Scaramouche, for one, is a marvelous romp and possibly director George Sidney’s best film, even though I’m also exceptionally fond of The Harvey Girls. I have to think it would be a major Warner Archive candidate.

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Beau Brummell ultimately turns morose, which is perhaps inevitable given the army of creditors who show up daily at the door to demand payment for one or another ornate purchase. This probably didn’t help the box office, either, but even here, there are a couple powerful climactic scenes of reconciliation that reveal the men’s true feelings. And it’s really a revelation to see the movie looking this vital and pristine — I guess for the first time since 1954, when MGM couldn’t buy a hit outside of the surprise smash-dom of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Beau Brummell’ and ‘Canyon Passage’

 

A Little Romance

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Available via Warner Archive;
Warner;
Drama;
$21.99 Blu-ray
;
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars Laurence Olivier, Diane Lane, Thelonious Bernard, Sally Kellerman, Arthur Hill.

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. I can’t believe the pans the picture originally got, though I did just notice that Frank Rich provided a very enthusiastic blurb at the time, and Rich’s film criticism was always as dead-on as his political writing (his current Intelligencer column in New York magazine is never to be missed). But the movie has aged well despite all of its potential minefields, due in huge part to Lane, who was worthy of making the cover of almost any magazine that comes to mind, including Civil War Times, Just Jazz Guitar and that White Castle’s monthly house organ (I actually have a friend who collected a consecutive run of the last for years).

Almost by definition, the picture sounds all but inevitably as if it’ll be plagued by a rampant “case of the cutes” — while Sir Larry’s performance is rather, uh, broad here (I won’t say hammy, though, because it’s too funny and besides, it’s in the spirit of the movie). Then and now, I always looked at Romance as a keen move by director George Roy Hill to develop some filmography “rhythm” after having just done Paul Newman’s Slap Shot, a hockey comedy that comes pretty close to being an all-timer but which also had what was probably the most profane script of any Hollywood film released up to that time. Of course, with 1964’s The World of Henry Orient, Hill had already done one of the best of all adolescent-centered comedies.

Per its title, the focus here is adolescent romance, as unaffected Lane’s child of privilege falls for the scruffy, street-smart 13-year-old son of an uncouth French taxi driver — a pleasing turn by another screen newcomer, Thelonious Bernard, who almost immediately gave up acting in real life and eventually became a dentist. His character is also a film buff (they, of course, know how to grow them in France), and the movie gets off to a rough start when we see a montage of his screen favorites that somehow finds room for True Grit and Hill’s own Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which doesn’t exactly suggest Bertolucci’s The Dreamers when it comes to that film’s more accurate portrayal of what a French student of film might be watching. The Bernard character (Daniel) is, however, enough of an auteurist to love Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not with Bogie and Bacall and knows an omen when he finds one upon discovering that the Lane character’s name is Lauren.

Sally Kellerman plays Lane’s toxically flighty thrice-wed mother at a time when Kellerman did “impossible” better than anyone. Her good-guy husband No. 3 and Lane stepfather (Arthur Hill) is work-stationed as an American executive in Paris, which is how the movie’s storyline comes to be. This, in turn, gives mom the opportunity to pursue a currently shooting film director (David Dukes), and one of the funniest gags here is that fact that while commercially popular, he’s a total hack. Bernard’s Daniel is, of course, movie-savvy enough to know this, compounding his total disdain for someone he’d dislike on sight for a number of other reasons. Another good gag is that Broderick Crawford, who looks as if he entered the wrong door on his way to the Highway Patrol set, plays himself in all ways but full literal moniker (here, he is “Brod”) as one who ends up cast in Dukes’s movie. Brod only has two or three scenes, but he gets some laughs, even though he probably agreed to do the picture for a couple pops.

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Lane’s Lauren is caught in the middle of all this (Dukes is as much of an aggressive pain as Kellerman), which makes credible what might have been a too-appealing-to-be-true characterization: an absolute seventh-grade dreamboat with all seventh-grader vulnerabilities but also a bookish one with literate-adult interests and reading taste at least half-a-decade beyond her years, at least for the era in which the movie is set. But she’s still a Romantic with a thing for Elizabeth Barrett, so it makes a certain kind of sense that she’d fall for a boy who loves handicapping and playing the horses and also sneaking out and into movies like one the young rascals in Francois Truffaut films.

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Every young couple needs a Cupid, which is where Olivier fits in — a role that, top billing notwithstanding, initially looks like a small one (nearly an hour in before his second show-up but expands substantially in the second half). It all comes to be after the kids meet this courtly old-school French charmer of somewhat vague background after he is felled by a flying soccer ball. Inspired by romantic memories of his late wife, Olivier agrees to aid and abet the youngsters on their daring journey to Venice’s Bridge of Sighs, where the two plan to kiss at sunlight (though Lane lies about the reason for the trip). Their challenges have to do coming up with the money, the fact that as minors they’re way too young to travel legally without an adult, pursuing authorities who assume they’re looking at a kidnapping case, and missed train connections.

This is a movie that probably shouldn’t work, but it does for me, and it isn’t all Lane, though she’s the nucleus of this pure confection’s sleeper uccess. Adapting a Claude Klotz novel, Allan Burns’s Oscar-nominated script brandishes a TV series brand of humor, but it’s good TV (Burns worked on “The Bullwinkle Show,” “Mary Tyler Moore Show” and plus a lot of “Lou Grant” and “Rhoda”). The young actors who play the respective best friends of Lane and Bernard could have been throwaways, but their roles are not only well written but exceptionally well directed by Hill. Georges Delerue’s score took the Oscar, and cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn had previously shot Truffaut’s Day for Night for automatic street cred (DFN’s score came from Delerue as well). I used to think Arthur Hill was on the bland side, but the more I watch, I’m impressed by his malleability in playing sympathetic characters but also occasionally sinister types. His scenes with Lane are genuinely warm, and he keeps it under control when the kids get looped on champagne during what is otherwise not much of a birthday bash for her, which Kellerman has insisted be combined with a wrap party for Dukes.

This Warner Archive release has no real extras, but I didn’t really care because it was so much fun watching Olivier approaching the end of his career as Lane was just beginning hers. It’s been fun watching her grow up on the screen into a perfect woman, an assertion I base not just on her multi-level attractiveness but the fact that in Jay Roach’s Dalton Trumbo biopic, we see her having a normal backyard conversation while juggling.

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

Cimarron (1960)

 BLU-RAY REVIEW:

 Available via Warner Archive;

Warner;
Western;
$21.99 Blu-ray; Not rated.
Stars Glenn Ford, Maria Schell, Anne Baxter, Arthur O’Connell, Russ Tamblyn.

MGM’s large-scale remake of screen history’s deadliest Best Picture Oscar winner looks so impressive on a big screen TV that I pleasurably breezed through its 2 hour, 38 minutes in one interrupted sitting, though without being truly stimulated. This basically replicates my original theatrical-run reaction to this Oklahoma-set soaper/epic, whose old-school cinematography by the perpetual class-act Robert Surtees washed over me at my favorite local downtown movie palace as the studio’s more-or-less pre-Christmas attraction (the national opening date was Dec. 5, 1960). But capital city didn’t get it — in a situation I’ll bet was replicated in many other markets — until mid-March of 1961 when The Absent-Minded Professor was just opening one block over (my 12-year-old self did a double-header that day).

So to some extent, MGM dumped what was obviously an expensive undertaking — and this was when no one knew or could have dreamed that the two “little” movies the studio served up was well that previous December  (Village of the Damned and Where the Boys Are) would end up seeing their stock rise so substantially with the passing years. Yet at the same time, remaking Cimarron may have seemed like a good bet, at least to the front-office hard arteries who didn’t realize that audience taste changed a lot in the later 1950s. Edna Ferber adaptions had enjoyed a remarkably successful run dating back to the Richard Dix-Irene Dunne original’s 1931 Oscar win. And just four years before the remake, Giant had become the most financially successful picture Warner Bros. had ever had up to that time. In fact, 1960 had begun with the release of the Ferber-originated Ice Palace, which my faint memories tell me isn’t even as good as Cimarron despite Richard Burton and Robert Ryan headlining its cast and the underrated Vincent Sherman directing.

This is the context. The story, or at least its basic structure, will be familiar to most or all Ferber followers: a decades-spanning chronicle involving young principals who wed, and not always happily, in an out-of-the-way but economically developing geographical setting — eventually living to see their children grow up and occasionally rebel as the family fortunes (and those of paupers mom and dad knew in their youth) improve. Other instant identifiers sometimes include unrequited love on someone’s part; a tendency on the part of at least one decent guy from the early part of the movie turning pompously ostentatious when he starts to smell the green; and fun times for the studio make-up artists who finally get to “age” principals who’ve remained youthful-looking on screen over the previous three or four decades.

My generalization here is an over-simplification — I don’t recall any of the above happening the last time I saw Ferber-stable standouts Dinner at Eight or Stage Door — but it’s true enough. What we have here is a young wife from a pampered upbringing (Maria Schell, whose high-profile Hollywood tenure was brief) wedding a well-traveled lawyer (Glenn Ford) — a “dreamer” as well who wants to take part in the 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush and, though it’s against his character, allegedly settle down. Instead, and despite his near-overnight transformation into the ensuing local newspaper’s editor/publisher, Ford spends the entire picture running off for five years or more at a time on one or another of his witness-to-history sprees. This means, of course, that the long-suffering Mrs. is left holding some bags, namely the newspaper’s daily production grind and motherhood (the latter just once, possibly because Ford is rarely home). She suffers, but because bubbly Schell is playing her, she smiles a lot through it all until finally getting fed up. Schell even laughs in the scene where she’s delivering their son, but this is possibly because the neighbor acting as mid-wife gives her several snorts (one woman’s medically questionable approach to natural childbirth).

There are two ways to interpret Ford’s character, who is named, in colorful Ferber fashion, “Yancy Cravat.” One is that Yance is a bigger-than-life visionary of uncommon gravitas, kind of like what Rock Hudson’s towering version of Bick Benedict in Giant might have been had he had incurable wanderlust and not preferred to do what most guys would: stay home on that isolated Reata spread and make it with Liz Taylor. The other way to go look at Yancy is as an irresponsible flake — and though Ford’s performance got some critical drubs at the time, I think you can at least make the argument that the actor’s familiar fidgets and tics in his dialogue deliveries make him a credible choice for that take on the character. The picture definitely loses something when he’s not on screen.

In any event, Ford/Yancy is a crusader always on the side of right, especially when it comes to racist treatment of Native Americans (Charles McGraw plays the key heavy here, and who better?). This fairly extensive side issue conjures up more narrative interest than some of the other subplots, but truth to tell, the movie peaks early with a re-creation of the Land Rush that’s really something to see, as it must have been in real life. Wagons topple, axels break, a senior citizen gets trampled, and I especially liked the shot of one lone guy on a big-wheeled unicycle, trying to compete with galloping horses in the race to lay claim to the most choice land because the losers have to make do with barren dirt where crops won’t grow.

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As noted, the film was shot by the great senior Surtees (fellow cinematographer Bruce was his son), who was the go-to guy for a full Leo the Lion share of MGM biggies from a spectacle-heavy extended era: King Solomon’s Mines, Quo Vadis, Mogambo, Ben-Hur, Brando’s Mutiny on the Bounty and (on loan-out, wouldn’t you know) Oklahoma! Later, as proof he couldn’t be typed, he then tried around and photographed The Graduate, The Last Picture Show and the studio-shot scenes (Britain’s Robert Krasker did the rest) for William Wyler’s The Collector. And do you want even more class when it comes to Cimarron? Franz Waxman did the score.

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This is a movie where the techno credits are more exciting than the casting, and I could never figure out, even when I was a kid, why an actress with almost no sex appeal (Anne Baxter) ended up playing the town’s most glamorous prostitute — though, of course, her place of work is presented as some kind of social club for local males to purge their urges as the biddie demographic walks by the building and goes, “Tsk, tsk.” Still, and as noted, it’s all pretty watchable if you have a big screen, and certainly preferable to the ’31 Oscar version (a year when City Lights wasn’t even nominated), which is basically Richard Dix sporting 10 pounds of pancake makeup on a dusty street.

On paper, Cimarron-’60’s large budget would seem to make it a transitional film for director Anthony Mann. It was situated between the director’s series of five celebrated James Stewart Westerns plus Man of the West with Gary Cooper — and his very pricey entry into the Charlton Heston loincloth arena (though if you press me, I’ll concede doubts that anyone ever even claimed that Chuck wore one in Mann’s El Cid. We’re speaking symbolically here, folks.) Instead, I recently learned that despite receiving solo screen credit for Cimarron, Mann left the project early, leaving MGM mainstay and former outstanding dance director Charles Walters to complete a huge chunk of the film’s second half. Walters’ top directorial achievements included Good News, Lili, The Tender Trap, High Society and Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, which also came out in 1960. All are crowd pleasers, but Walters was never much of a stylist, which suggests to me that producer Edmund Grainger kind of bailed on the project even during production. Mann, interestingly enough, then went into Spartacus before taking on El Cid, but left that project even more quickly. No wonder the guy ended up dying on the set of a heart attack mid-picture in 1967.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Cimarron’ and ‘Jungle Fever’

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Bad and the Beautiful’ and ‘The Story of Temple Drake’

The Bad and the Beautiful

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Dick Powell, Gloria Grahame, Walter Pidgeon.
1952.
The Bad and the Beautiful, a critical/commercial hit in its day, is tops of its kind if you’re into Vincente Minnelli’s specialized approach to sometimes gasket-blowing melodrama. A dissection of Hollywood’s underbelly all dressed up in MGM slickness, the relativelycalm-side B&B is both savvy and the next thing to over-the-top, without much attention paid to what was really going on in the industry at the time.
Read the Full Review

The Story of Temple Drake

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Miriam Hopkins, William Garage, Jack La Rue, Florence Eldredge.
1933.
Paramount’s The Story of Temple Drake remains one of the more obscure Hollywood releases to the masses when it comes to making a list of the ones that caused a scandal in their day.
Extras: The always persuasive Imogen Smith makes a thoughtful feminist case about Miriam Hopkins’ title character, while acknowledging certain ambiguities. Film critic Mick LaSalle also is a bonus interviewee. Rounding out the bonuses are cinematographer/Motion Picture Academy president John Bailey — who joins Matt Severson (head of that organization’s Margaret Herrick Library) to look at the original storyboards, which (again) suggest a horror movie.
Read the Full Review

 

The Bad and the Beautiful

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Available via Warner Archive;
Warner;
Drama;
$21.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Dick Powell, Gloria Grahame, Walter Pidgeon.

For an actor who immortalized Spartacus not just for the movie masses but Billy Crystal’s joke bank as well, Kirk Douglas took his initial steps toward superstardom playing the lowest kind of heels — and did so as early as his memorable third screen role in Out of the Past. Then, over the subsequent five years, he earned his first two (of career three) Oscar nominations for Champion and The Bad and the Beautiful, which means that, all too typically, Academy voters ignored his all-transcendent sociopathic achievement: Playing ruthless reporter Charles Tatum in Billy Wilder’s commercial disaster turned masterpiece Ace in the Hole. But 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful, a critical/commercial hit in its day, is nonetheless tops of its kind if you’re into Vincente Minnelli’s specialized approach to sometimes gasket-blowing melodrama.

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A dissection of Hollywood’s underbelly all dressed up in MGM slickness, the relatively calm-side B&B is both savvy and the next thing to over-the-top, without much attention paid to what was really going on in the industry at the time: continuing fears of hugely competitive TV; the flood of new independent productions shot frequently out of the studio and on outdoor California locations; and at very least rumblings about imminent widescreen pictures. The type of movies it portrays as being major hits belong to previous eras, and barely even to the postwar ’40s — productions more like Louis B. Mayer sanctioned concoctions than Dore Schary’s, even if Schary, more seriously minded stiff, was in charge of Metro when B&B got made. Though come to think, you can make a case that Minnelli’s treatment represents a hybrid of the two regimes’ approach to screen entertainment, given that Mayer likely wouldn’t have been that crazy about the boozing and adultery that makes up a lot of Charles Schnee’s Oscar-winning script.

Though Douglas is the story’s motivating force, the movie is effectively broken into thirds, giving each segment’s new central character an absorbing story of his/her own. Their unifying thread is the degree to which the producer and eventual studio head Douglas plays so thoroughly shafted them — personally and professionally — that they’ve vowed never to work with him again. As a producer in the middle (Walter Pidgeon) makes the case that it might be to their advantage to do so despite even Douglas’s de facto current banishment from the biz due to the loss of his box office touch. We see their stories in flashback, with the lineup breaking down into a director who began his career with Douglas (Barry Sullivan) and eventually came to wonder where his half of the so-called partnership went; an alcoholic bit player (on a good day) that Douglas molded into a major star (Lana Turner); and a pipe-smoking Pulitzer winner (Dick Powell) who was unwillingly enticed to out of Virginia and into the Hollywood jungle to adapt his novel. Meanwhile, the Southern piece of work he’s married to is played by Gloria Grahame, who took the supporting Oscar here for one of the shortest awarded screen roles ever.

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That’s quite a cast, and we haven’t even gotten to Gilbert Roland as “Gaucho” — a Latin lover who has as many women in his stable as a ’60s secret agent as the other male characters here are shown to be toiling hard at their craft. (Though in a nice touch, we see Roland turn deadly serious and all business when asked to read a script for consideration.) Despite this treatment’s built-in struggle between a fanciful and realistic portrayal of industry machinations, Minnelli hit the directorial bullseye when it came to mining this contradiction into a lump-less vision, which is one mark of an auteur. He and the great Robert Surtees (another Oscar winner from the movie’s awarded five) also go to town with the latter’s camera, which is almost as peripatetic with boom shots as anything in the director’s career-dominant musicals.

In some ways, this is an insiders’ movie, though one in which paying customers went with the flow the way they don’t always with Hollywood sagas. Turner’s character is the daughter of a deceased acting great with spellbinding vocal deliveries, a set-up that suggests Diana Barrymore (who’d rate her own tawdry screen biopic, based on her best-selling autobiography) only a few years later. Earlier, Douglas and Sullivan get handed a no-budget quickie about cat men complete with tired actors wearing cat suits with zippers — until they come up with the brainstorm never to show the cat (Val Lewton, anyone?). Maybe Tom Hooper should have gone this route with Cats, though I suspect this might have been deemed audience-unfriendly.

All this plays out against David Raksin’s score, which for years has graced many best lists devoted to movie scoring; Rhino gave it a CD release many years ago, and much of it once graced a Raskin-conducted RCA Victor LP that also featured his classics for Laura and Forever Amber. In terms of performances, there are some jewels here: I had forgotten how amusingly prickly Powell’s characterization is here, while Grahame, for all her role’s brevity (though this should have been Jean Hagen’s Oscar year for Singin’ in the Rain), suggests a character who isn’t totally the dizzy mate I had read her as being in long-ago previous viewings.

In some ways, the big surprise is Lana Turner (though I always thought her underrated, anyway) — at a time when her career was in a rough spot following a couple years of inactivity followed by three box office flops in a row, notwithstanding that A Life of Her Own (1950) looks pretty good today. For B&B, Turner ended up getting outstanding reviews for only the second time in her career as a star (The Postman Always Rings Twice was the other instance), and the Minnelli film was the only really decent one she did until being cut loose by MGM in the mid-1950s before going freelance with more success (at least for a while) than a lot of her peers.

A lot of this material is covered in 2001’s Lana Turner … A Daughter’s Memoir, a bonus TCM documentary that centers on the star’s daughter Cheryl. She, as every attentive Boomer will recall, became a center of attention herself when she stabbed her mother’s mobbed-up lover Johnny Stompanato to death — a case of justifiable homicide, it was ultimately ruled, because he was threatening Turner during a knockdown/drag-out in the latter’s home. I’m not kidding about how big this story was; my oldest friend Jim Foreman and I used to reenact our vision of the Stompanato killing during lunch breaks in fifth grade, using a ruler as the weapon.

The doc has some historical re-creations that I mostly could have done without, though it does portray enough of the house’s physical layout to give us a better idea of events that culminated in Stompanato walking right into a kitchen knife. In addition to taking time to deal with Turner big-screen bombs like Mr. Imperium and the color remake of The Merry Widow (way to green-light, Dore), Story also provides welcome annotation of a loving but woefully inattentive seven marriages plus her long relationship with Tyrone Power. One of these marriages was to Lex (RKO Tarzan) Barker, a grown-up conservative rich-kid whose personal taboo on drinking a) failed to sync with the Lana lifestyle; b) added to the shock value when the word came out that he repeatedly sexually abused Cheryl as a teen. As presented on camera here, Cheryl seems unpredictably well-and and certainly well-composed, though (again) the pic is almost 20 years old.

The Blu-ray’s main event is another visual winner from Warner Archive, though it doesn’t hurt to have won the black-and-white cinematography Oscar for starters. A decade later, much of the same creative team would reunite for Two Weeks in Another Town, another movie industry melodrama from Minnelli that’s as delirious as Kirk Douglas’s driving in its most unforgettable scene — a censor-compromised box office flop that really did go over the top. I blow hot and cold on Minnelli melodramas, but the later ones in his career are usually more than I can take, for all of their perverse entertainment value (reassessments may be in order).   

Town, though, has already gotten its own Warner Archive Blu-ray treatment, making it undeniably ideal double-feature material with B&B for anyone so inclined. It even includes a scene where Douglas views a clip from the earlier picture in a projection room and lauding it as great filmmaking, which isn’t that easy to top when it comes to self-referential cinema. This didn’t exactly hurt it in Europe (which was Weeks’s backdrop), where they take this kind of “movie universe” thing very seriously. In America, it’s more like, “Turner really looked hot in those pajamas.”

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Bad and the Beautiful’ and ‘The Story of Temple Drake’