Archive for November, 2008


by Sam Juliano

Few documentary features (or even feature films) have managed to achieve the kind of definitive emotional resonance one feels after leaving the cinema showing an unabbreviated tearfest called Dear Zachary: A Letter From A Son About His Father.  Made on a miniscule budget by Kurt Kuenne, who traveled across the country to conduct interviews and speak with people who knew his childhood friend Andrew Bagby, who was murdered at the age of 32.  There was little doubt that Bagby’s killer was Shirley Turner, his jilted ex-lover, but by an incredible series of bizarre twists, she was allowed to set up camp in Newfoundland, after she fled from rural Pennsylvania, where Bagby (who was a doctor doing his residency) Turner’s lawyers successfully fought her extradition.  Turner announced that she was pregnant, and she had her baby in July after the November murder of Bagby.       (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1928 100m) not on DVD

Bring on the tonnes of water

p  Darryl F.Zanuck  d  Michael Curtiz  w  Anthony Coldeway, Darryl F.Zanuck, De Leon Anthony  ph  Hal Mohr, Barney McGill  ed  Harold McCord  m  Louis Silvers  art  Anton Grot  spc  Ned Mann

Dolores Costello (Mary/Miriam), George O’Brien (Travis/Japheth), Noah Beery (Nickoloff/King Nephilim), Louise Fazenda (Hilda/Tavern maid), Guinn Williams (Al/Ham), Paul McAllister (Minister/Noah), Nigel de Brulier, Myrna Loy,

Here’s one for the justification category, the greatest Cecil B.de Mille production which Cecil didn’t actually have anything to do with.  Even now, writing on a cold Monday night, I’m thinking to myself “how do I justify including this here?”  I know, deep down in my heart of hearts, that’s it’s terribly melodramatic, terribly pompous and terribly verbose.  And yet each time I come back to it I enjoy it all the more.  There are some who raise de Mille’s most laughable epic, Samson and Delilah, into the pantheon, so this is my Samson.

            As if to further emphasise the debt to de Mille, Noah’s Ark follows a structure used at least twice before (in his silent The Ten Commandments and Manslaughter) of paralleling a modern story with an ancient one.  On one hand a group of passengers on board a European train are caught in a train crash and the horror of World War I.  In the ancient story, a young virgin is chosen as a human sacrifice to the Gods of Akkad at the behest of King Nephilim and Noah prepares for the coming flood.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1964 81m) DVD1/2

Nor lie in death forever

p  Roger Corman  d  Roger Corman  w  Robert Towne  novel  Edgar Allan Poe  ph  Arthur Grant  ed  Alfred Cox  m  Kenneth V.Jones  art  Colin Southcott

Vincent Price (Verdon Fell), Elizabeth Shepherd (Lady Rowena/Ligeia), John Westbrook (Christopher Gough), Oliver Johnston (Kenrick), Richard Vernon (Dr Vivian), Derek Francis (Lord Trevanion), Ronald Adam (minister), Frank Thornton (Peperel),

The choice of best Roger Corman Poe film is pretty much a toss up between the final two entries made in Britain and released in 1964, The Masque of the Red Death and The Tomb of Ligeia.  Though I would probably just edge it in favour of Masque, Ligeia is an unquestioned classic in its own right, and very different from its predecessor.  Masque is undoubtedly aesthetically superior, with its visuals, colour and décor truly out of this world.  Yet the splendour is entirely faked, the entire action being shot in a studio.  Ligeia, on the other hand, was largely shot outdoors, with the central action shot at Castle Acre Priory in Norfolk.  It was a radical change of style for Corman, and it most certainly paid off, his final Poe film one of the very best. 

            In the late 19th century, Verdon Fell, a man with a fascination for ancient history, buries his wife Ligeia on consecrated ground which the local minister says she was not entitled to.  Fell is dubious of the fact that his wife is dead at all, as she always said she would cheat death.  He draws deeper into his loneliness and memories while living at his old abbey home, until one day, on a detour from a fox hunt, Lady Rowena Trevanion, daughter of a nobleman, happens upon the graveyard in which Ligeia is buried and meets Fell, who at first frightens her with his funereal demeanour.  She grows fascinated by him, however, and endeavours to see him at the earliest opportunity.  Eventually Fell marries the headstrong Rowena, but Ligeia’s shadow casts ever darker shadows over them and their home. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1999 103m) DVD1/2

The weak are always trying to sabotage the strong

p  Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa, David Gale, Keith Samples  d  Alexander Payne  w  Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor  novel  Torn Perrotta  ph  James Glennon  ed  Kevin Tent  m  Rolfe Kent  art  Jane Ann Stewart  cos  Wendy Chuck

Matthew Broderick (Jim McAllister), Reese Witherspoon (Tracy Flick), Chris Klein (Paul Metzler), Phil Reeves (Walt Hendricks), Jessica Campbell (Tammy Metzler), Delaney Driscoll (Linda Novotny), Mark Harelik (Dave Novotny),

How did Election ever get mistaken as a teen movie?  Yes, it’s set in high school and there are teens in it, three in particular, but calling Election a teen movie is like calling Larry Clark’s Kids and Ken Park teen movies.  Teen movies are, by their very derivative essence, flim-flam.  Some, like Clueless, can rise above that to be knowing satires, but in general they are disposable affairs.  Election is anything but disposable.  It’s one of the most wickedly accurate studies of American politics in existence. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1955 89m) DVD1/2 (Spain only)

First is first and second is nobody

p  Sidney Harrison  d  Joseph H.Lewis  w  Dalton Trumbo  ph  John Alton  ed  Robert S.Eisen  m  David Raksin  art  Rudi Feld

Cornel Wilde (Lt.Leonard Diamond), Richard Conte (Mr Brown), Brian Donlevy (Joe McClure), Jean Wallace (Susan Lowell), Robert Middleton (Capt.Peterson), Helen Walker (Alicia Brown), Ted de Corsia (Ralph Bettini), Lee Van Cleef (Fanty), Earl Holliman (Mingo), John Hoyt (Nils Dreyer), Jay Adler (Det.Sam Hill),

One of the last great hurrahs of American noir and one of the pivotal films of the 1950s in the depiction of screen violence, The Big Combo is a film that gets more and more enjoyable with each passing year.  Six years after his masterpiece Gun Crazy, Combo probably doesn’t quite match its predecessor, but there’s so much to enjoy, so much to revel in, that it comes pretty darn close to matching it.

            Lieutenant Diamond is a thirty-something detective who’s spending too much money for his sympathetic captain’s liking trying to achieve the impossible.  His target is the enigmatically named Mr Brown, the head of an organised crime racket in New York known as ‘The Combination’.  With the help of his former boss, Joe McClure, now affected with hearing problems and forced to pay lip service to Brown, and two favourite hoodlums, Fanty and Mingo, he runs things in New York.  Diamond tails his girl, Susan, in an attempt to get some information, but when she attempts suicide, Brown starts to get annoyed by the Lieutenant’s harassment and steps up the heat himself.  Diamond comes to realise that there’s a dark secret in Brown’s past, which may revolve around his missing wife, Alicia, an anchor, and his equally conspicuous by his absence partner Grazzi, who had led the Combination back in the old Prohibition days. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

     Ballots for the month-long 1930’s film poll will be accepted up to 11:00 P. M. EST tomorrow night.  The voting has attracted to this point an impressive 22 ballots from film enthusiasts and serious lovers of cinema.  The poll asks each voter to name (in numerical order) his or her top 25 choices (domestic, foreign, feature, shorts, all included) of films realeased from 1930 to 1939.

     Angelo A. D’Arminio, a member of a northern New Jersey e mail network, proctored by yours truly will again be volunteering his talents by talbulating the ballots using our traditional “weighted” method.  The polling will allow for public unveiling of an official Top 25 Films of the 30’s later this week, and the results will permanently be placed on a page on the sidebar.  We are already planning to move forward with the 1940’s poll within one week after the 30’s results are announced.

     Anyone still planning to participate is urged to enter their ballot under the 30’s thread.  To those who have already voted, WithD thanks you for your considerable effort in compliling a list.

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1933 115m) DVD1/2

Christopher Columbus!

p  David O.Selznick, Merian C.Cooper, Kenneth MacGowan  d  George Cukor  w  Sarah Y.Mason, Victor Heerman  novel  Louisa May Alcott  ph  Henry Gerrard  ed  Jack Kitchin  m  Max Steiner  art  Van Nest Polglase  cos  Walter Plunkett

Katharine Hepburn (Jo March), Paul Lukas (Prof.Bhaer), Joan Bennett (Amy March), Frances Dee (Meg), Jean Parker (Beth), Spring Byington (Marmee), Douglass Montgomery (Laurie), Henry Stephenson (Mr Laurence), Edna May Oliver (Aunt March), John Lodge (Brooke), Samuel S.Hinds (Mr March), Olin Howland (Mr Davis),

Christopher Plummer once remarked, tongue-in-cheek, that working with Julie Andrews on The Sound of Music was like being hit on the head with a Valentine’s Card.  Watching George Cukor’s film of Alcott’s essential piece of Civil War Americana is rather like being hammered over the head with a tapestry bearing the timeless epithet “there’s no place like home.”  That it still manages to be as essential as it is, and thus requires my putting digits to keyboard, is a testament to two great talents in one of their formative collaborations; Cukor, naturally, and his star, Katharine Hepburn. 

            Alcott’s story, for those few select members of the Hermit Society unaware of the details who may be reading, follows the blossoming into adulthood of four young girls, the March sisters, during the Civil War.  Meg, Beth, Amy and tomboy Jo do their best to while away the harsh winters and idyllic summers with their saintly Marmee, waiting for news from the front from Daddy who’s gone off to fight those Southerners.              (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Filled with visceral audacity, narrative daring and operatic intensity, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire takes its rightful bows as the most deliriously entertaining film of the year.  It’s a saga of adversity and danger and soaring passions, all transcribed in a steaming tapestry of a culture affected by the excitement and competition of Westernized mores turned upside-down and inside-out.  Indeed, some of the most abhorrent criminal traditions in the West are given a  distinctly Indian slant, but the motivations are distinctly the same.  But Slumdog Millionaire’s nonpareil appeal lies with it’s overriding feel-good story that would move people in any culture, in any context, at any time.  It’s the story of the little guy making good, and of the forces of adversity losing a battle of a single shining moment that makes everyone want to get out of their seats and cheer.      (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1937 101m) DVD1

The finest Elphberg of them all

p  David O.Selznick  d  John Cromwell, George Cukor, W.S.Van Dyke II  w  Donald Ogden Stewart, Wills Root, John L.Balderston  novel  Anthony Hope  ph  James Wong Howe  ed  Hal C.Kern, James E.Newcom  m  Alfred Newman  art  Lyle Wheeler  cos  Ernest Dryden  spc  Jack Cosgrove  ch  Fred Cavens

Ronald Colman (Rudolf Rassendyll/Rudolf V), Madeleine Carroll (Princess Flavia), Douglas Fairbanks Jnr (Rupert of Hentzau), Raymond Massey (Black Michael of Strelsau), C.Aubrey Smith (Col.Sapt), David Niven (Capt.Fritz von Tarlenheim), Mary Astor (Antoinette de Mauban), Alexander d’Arcy (Cardinal), Montagu Love (Detchard), Byron Foulger (Johann),

If ever there was a film that summed up the old phrase “they don’t make ’em like that anymore“, this is it.  Anthony Hope’s ‘Boys Own’ tale had been filmed before memorably by Rex Ingram in 1922 (only spoiled by Ramon Novarro’s fey Rupert) and was remade little more than passably in 1952.  Selznick’s original remains the greatest adaptation, in spite of MGM’s buying up the rights and trying to make people forget it in favour of their own remake (a favourite pastime of theirs, as witness their suppression of earlier better versions of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Gaslight).  Zenda is the most enjoyable of Selznick’s films and one of the greatest swashbucklers ever made.  As for those fools who complain at it being made in monochrome or demand colourisation, I believe a good healthy flogging is in order.  It doesn’t get much better than this. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Caden Cotard directs theatrical productions, and while staging Miller’s Death of a Salesman, he is stricken with signs of illness, both physical and mental.  While shaving, a plumbing fixture snaps off and smashes into his forehead unleashing a geyser of blood and the subsequent belief he has brain damage.  This further manifests itself in a seeming onset of senility as he misconstrues a television broadcast that announces that Harold Pinter has won the Nobel Prize, as a promulgation of his death.  A hypochondriac and theatre director, Caden lives in Schenectady, New York with his wife Adele, a painter and their daughter Olive.  Their life together is wretched, and eventually Adele takes off to Berlin with Olive (“This whole romantic love thing, it’s just a projection, right?”) and Caden stays home to forge ahead with flirtations with an aspiring actress named Claire and his own theatre’s box office manager, Hazel. (more…)

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