Category Archives: Classic

Marlene Dietrich & Josef von Sternberg at Paramount (1930-1935) | Six stunning classics from Hollywood’s Golden Age

The collaboration between filmmaker Josef von Sternberg and actress Marlene Dietrich is one of the most enduring in all Hollywood cinema.

Tasked by Paramount bosses to find ‘the next big thing’, director von Sternberg lighted upon German silent star Dietrich and brought her to Hollywood. Successfully transitioning from the silent to the sound era, together they crafted a series of remarkable features that expressed a previously hitherto unbridled ecstasy in the process of filmmaking itself – Morocco (1930), Dishonored (1931), Shanghai Express (1932), Blonde Venus (1932), The Scarlet Empress (1934), and The Devil Is a Woman (1935).

Marked by striking cinematography, beautiful design and elaborate camerawork these vibrantly sensuous films redefined cinema of the time, while Dietrich’s sexually ambiguous on-screen personas caused a sensation and turned her from actor to superstar and icon.

Lavish, lascivious and wildly eccentric, the films Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich made for Paramount Pictures in the 1930s provide a unique testimony to Hollywood’s Golden Age.

The six films that von Sternberg made with Dietrich in Hollywood are presented here in new restorations on Blu-ray for the very first time in the UK. Containing a wealth of new and archival extras – including new appreciations, interviews, audio commentaries, rare films, outtakes and deleted audio, documentaries… and more!

Indicator/Powerhouse Film’s Limited Blu-ray Edition Box Set (6,000 units), which includes a 120-page collector’s book, is out on 26 August 2019

Morocco (1930)
Marlene Dietrich’s first American film cast her as the singer and adventuress Amy Jolly, ensnaring then being ensnared by legionnaire Gary Cooper. Brilliantly shot by Lee Garmes, whose work was nominated for an Oscar, Morocco is a film of shadows and shimmering heat, painstakingly directed for maximum effect. Marlene never looked more alluring, and sings three songs, including When Love Dies, in which she plants a kiss on a female club patron while dressed in a man’s top hat, white tie and tails. A trailblazing box-office success.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 2K restoration
• Original mono audio
Morocco audio commentary with Daughters of Darkness’ Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger
• Introduction by Nicholas von Sternberg, son of Josef von Sternberg
The Art of Josef von Sternberg (2019): Nicholas von Sternbergon his father’s works in painting and sculpture
The Legionnaire and the Lady (1936): Lux Radio Theatre adaptation featuring Dietrich and Clark Gable
• Image gallery

Dishonored (1931)
This spy film, based loosely on the Mata Hari story, is probably the least distinguished of Dietrich and von Sternberg’s collaborations, but its camp plot and extravagant central performance along with the director’s impressive visual style (look out for his trademark and ever-present veils, nets, smoke and fog between actors and the camera) mark it down as an offbeat gem. Victor McLaglen is badly miscast as Dietrich’s lover (and his constant teeth gritting is really annoying), but Dietrich (as the alluring agent X-27, who breaks codes with piano music) is the whole picture, and she looks truly radiant, even in her first ever non-glamorous scenes where she plays a peasant girl with her hair scraped back and totally devoid of make-up.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 4K restoration
Original mono audio
• Introduction by Nicholas von Sternberg, son of Josef von Sternberg
Josef von Sternberg, a Retrospective (1969): feature-length television documentary by the acclaimed Belgian director Harry Kümel
I Did Why He Told Me To Do: New video essay by film historian Tag Gallagher on the Hollywood collaborations of Dietrich and von Sternberg
• Image gallery

Shanghai Express (1932)
‘It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily,’ drawls Marlene Dietrich in one of cinema’s classic lines, and so the scene is set for an atmospheric adventure that’s like Grand Hotel on rails. Lee Garmes’ amazing photography won an Oscar and Dietrich’s sultry siren is enough to make even army doctor Clive Brook’s stiff upper lip quiver and put Warner Oland’s fiendish rebel leader Henry Chang off his chow mein. My other favourite line is: ‘I wouldn’t trust you from here to the door’.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 4K restoration
Original mono audio
• Introduction by Nicholas von Sternberg
• Audio commentary with critic and film historian David Thompson
Trouble in Hollywood: Interview with Jasper Sharp, writer and filmmaker, on the life and career of Anna May Wong
• Image gallery

Blonde Venus (1932)
Shimmeringly photographed by Bert Glennon, Dietrich plays a German café singer whose search for money to pay for her husband’s medical bills leads her into adultery in this this soapy and rather camp melodrama. One particularly memorable scene has Dietrich attired in a gorilla suit to sing Hot Voodoo, while another sees her drag up in a white tuxedo to sing I Couldn’t Be Annoyed. Herbert Marshall (The Fly) plays her estranged chemist husband, while Cary Grant is the millionaire third man who turns out to have a real heart of gold, and little Dickie Moore (Our Gang) plays her naive, but adorable son.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 4K restoration
Original mono audio
• Introduction by Nicholas von Sternberg
• Audio commentary with film and arts critic Adrian Martin
Dietrich, A Queer Icon: Interview with So Mayer, author of Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema, on the queer iconography and legacy of Dietrich and von Sternberg’s films
• Image gallery

The Scarlet Empress (1934)
Dietrich scorches the screen as the 18th-century Empress of Russia, Catherine the Great in this dazzling display of style. Costume, spectacle and camerawork is the order of the day here, with Bert Glennon excelling in this last department. Watch out for Sam Jaffe, who is quite amazing as the ‘mad’ Grand Duke Peter.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 4K restoration
Original mono audio
• Introduction by Nicholas von Sternberg
• Audio commentary with writer and film programmer Tony Rayns
The Twilight of an Angel (2012): Dominique Leeb’s acclaimed French TV documentary on Dietrich’s final years
• Image gallery

The Devil Is a Woman (1935)
This is von Sternberg’s ultimate tribute to the Marlene Dietrich mystique that he himself helped to create. Dietrich’s personal favourite, the sumptuous, steamy melodrama, set in 1890s Spain, sees her playing a seductive femme fatale bewitching a string of men, including Lionel Atwill and Cesar Romero (who replaced Joel McCrea after one day’s filming). The same story was the basis for Luis Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 4K restoration
Original mono audio
• Introduction by Nicholas von Sternberg
The Fashion Side of Hollywood (1935): a short compilation film of lighting and costume tests from Paramount productions, and featuring costume designer Travis Banton
Styling the Stars: New interview with Nathalie Morris, film historian and senior curator of the BFI National Archive’s Special Collections, on the costume designs of Travis Banton
If It Isn’t Pain (1935, 3 mins): excised audio of the deleted musical number from The Devil Is a Woman

Advertisements

Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker | Clive Donner’s spellbinding film adaptation gets a newly restored BFI release

The Caretaker

The Caretaker remains one of Harold Pinter’s most famous works. This study of shared illusion, tragic dispossession and the fraternal bond of unspoken love, combines the magic of Pinter’s dialogue with some mesmerising performances from Alan Bates, Donald Pleasence and Robert Shaw into a spellbinding film, sensitively directed by Clive Donner and shot by Nicolas Roeg, which is now out in a dual format release from the BFI, presented in a newly-restored print and with a host of extras (check them out at the end of this post).

Here, guest reviewer Ali Pye gives her low down on Pinter, the play, the film and the BFI release…

Harold Pinter was in the right place at the wrong time. A schoolboy witness to the World War II carpet-bombing of London’s East End, his response to such violence placed him as one of the angrier young men on the writing spectrum. By the late 1950’s he was well on the way to blowing the bloody doors off.

The Caretaker was his first commercial theatrical success. Burrowing upwards through inner city post-war debris like a weed, spare, sparse, resilient, it debuted in April 1960 and was feted first off the Charing Cross Road later transferring to Broadway. Regardless however of such glittering cosmopolitan acclaim, the blunt 3 hander set in a single cluttered room remained very much grounded among the bricks and bric-a-brac of down-at-heel Hackney. It was in this borough, where Pinter was born and schooled, that Clive Donner assembled an artist/actor collective and camera crew in late 1962, filming during the coldest winter on record.

Underwritten with donations from British stars of stage and screen, the project was an early GoFundMe fifty years before the concept existed. Each benefactor supplied £1000. Twice that could get you a fourth floor bedsit in Islington within thieving distance of the library. There is little imagination required to explain the empathy behind Peter Sellers’ backing, solitary child of a nomadic theatre family whose shallow roots had dug into the similarly bleak soil of East Finchley. Noel Coward and Elizabeth Taylor’s subscriptions suggest some less personal forces at work.

Shot entirely on location around Clapton, the outer parameters of The Caretaker are the distance a man could trudge from Mare Street in ill-fitting shoes. And no further. Despite the freedoms allowed by film at a time when it was not possible to get a van on stage at the Arts Club, even if had Pinter written one in, the piece remains chillingly claustrophobic. Three men, most usually in dual combinations and head-on, shuffle about the confined space of the upstairs bolt hole arguing status, standing, sheds, Sidcup and seagrass, never more than a few feet apart.

It is a tale full of sound and fury. And in part seemingly told by a madman.

One bitter winter evening, the homeless and dispossessed Davis is saved from a good kicking by a taciturn stranger, Aston and taken into his home. Initially disconcerted by the kindness, the tramp sets about negotiating residency in the rambling, ramshackle property in which, if care is taken, he may find permanent refuge. The garrulous and distracting Mick, Aston’s brother appears to offer alternative terms, although it’s a word game with much the same end.

Amid the chaotic and haphazardly piled junk hoarded by Aston, an ice-cold stove dominates the room. Even if the window were not open, at times with the snow flurrying down outside, diffusing the stench from the unwashed vagrant, there is no possibility of warmth or comfort.

“It’s not connected.” Explains Aston when pressed for a cup of tea.

A lack of connection pervades. Very much more than the cooker appears isolated and without purpose. Aston has entirely withdrawn following a non-specific institutionalisation. The blistering details of his shock therapy are recalled in an uncomfortably invasive single shot. Actor Robert Shaw’s eyelids twitch as he stumbles over the violation at the hospital somewhere “outside London”. For a film in which site-specific references come along more regularly than the #30 bus (via Highbury Corner), with journeys “down the Essex Road to Dalston Junction” taking on a mythic quality and Micks’ knowledge of hump backed bridges on the A2 almost encyclopaedic, there is no safe travelling outside the room resulting in terminus nor arrival nor completion. An offer to drive to Sidcup and collect finally ”the papers” that underpin Davis’ inconstant grasp of identity sees Mick’s van swerving pointlessly around a circular layby, depositing the old man back at the bench from which he started out some half a minute earlier.

Where the film can free itself from the immediate physical confines of the attic, Donner does so with a delicate poignancy. On the page the brothers share only two brief scenes together tight amid clutter under the steeple eaves. On the screen they are granted a soundless and affecting moment of reflection above a frozen pond in a winter garden, seen from a distance, indistinct, and tellingly through glass, the sacking-draped top storey window serving to emphasise we look through a camera lens and not straight at a stage.

The music too suggests an inhospitable landscape. Ron Grainer’s disconcerting soundtrack is high pitched scratching, screeching and oddly resonant metallic drips into a tin bucket tied to the ceiling. An echo of the bitter cold outside and in, there is barely a scene not underscored by grating electronic slides as if thin ice were cracking underfoot.

Davis’ obsession with bags and boots, the detritus of a wandering street life calls to mind, inevitably, other tramps from drama of the period. But the nifty pace of Donner’s film, despite long low shots across bedsteads and pipes and years’ worth of newspapers bound in carefully knotted string, ensures we never focus merely on the hiatus. This is much more than a wait between pauses. Donner’s low angles, the splintered lighting and unflinching close-ups are suggestive of a thriller.

Of the three actors, Pleasence, Bates and Shaw, the two former had developed their characters in The Arts Theatre in 1960 and taken them right across the Atlantic. The film-set off Lower Clapton Road must have felt like a homecoming. Pleasence, at forty-four some thirty years younger than the vagrant he portrays, is bundled in patchwork layers of castoffs and coats. Davis resembles nothing more than a tatterdemalion onion, the peeling of which may lead to a concrete identity thus saving the bother of schlepping to Sidcup.

Fear of the foreign, fear of the other and fear of each other all collide in The Caretaker. The film is an unsettling watch catching an unsettled time. The 60’s were not yet swinging but the oddly visionary consortium backing the production, Peter Hall and Richard Burton by no means the least likely pairing, suggest a pendulum movement starting to oscillate. Grainer, the composer of the shard-shattering and unsettling falls was already tinkering with the theme for a forthcoming BBC series. The pilot show in autumn 1963 would feature another ungrounded senior gentleman of dubious provenance and a box smaller on the outside.

Shuffling through freezing early dusk, passing the time that would have passed anyway, Davis is illuminated in the doorway of the Hackney Empire theatre, a welcome blaze of light in a feature lit for the best part by a single bulb on a wire. The back bar where some years earlier an out of work writer named Milligan had encountered a barely in work radio actor named Sellers and comedy history began a gestation.

The Caretaker formed in this crucible, penned by the master of the theatre of menace, part financed by a Goon, scored by the genius who could hear the sound of a TARDIS barrelling through time. Director Donner’s brief was to run with it. He didn’t go far. Balls Pond Road was the outer limit.

This glorious restoration reminds us that expansion need not be dilution. In the hands of an inventive creative (and there were enough involved as a stills photo of Noel Coward hemmed between lighting gaffers on the set sofa bed during production reminds us) a piece so static and rooted and constrained can soar with effortless flight well beyond the derelict geography. An early and brilliant example of thinking outside the box (room).

THE BFI DUAL FORMAT RELEASE
• Newly restored from the original camera negative by the BFI, and presented here in High Definition and Standard Definition
• Audio commentary by actor Alan Bates, director Clive Donner and producer Michael Birkett (2002)
• Introduction by critic and author Michael Billington (2002, 6 mins)
On Location with The Caretaker (1962, 4 mins): an extract from the TV series This Week in Britain
The Caretaker: From Play Into Film (2002, 17 mins):a video essay by Michael Billington, using materials donated by Clive Donner to the BFI National Archive
• US opening titles (1963, 2 mins): the opening title sequence from the US where the film was released as The Guest
• Last To Go (1969, 6 mins): the last of five animated shorts directed by Gerald Potterton for Pinter People, voiced by Harold Pinter and Donald Pleasence
Harold Pinter’s Play Discussed by Clive Donner (1973, 47 mins): the BAFTA-winning director discusses his adaptation of The Caretaker
Stills Gallery
• Ilustrated booklet with new essay by critic and author Amy Simmons, writing by Michael Billington and Clive Donner and full film credits (first pressing only)

Laura (1944) | Eureka Entertainment presents the essential film noir on Blu-ray

Director Otto Preminger’s Laura is one of the greatest and most essential film noirs of all time, and now the deliciously well-crafted murder mystery is heading to Blu-ray as part of Eureka Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series from 14 January 2019.

Police detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is drawn into Manhattan high society as he investigates the death of career girl Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), apparently gunned down in her own apartment. The suspects are numerous, led by effete, snobbish columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), and Laura’s philandering fiancé Shelby (Vincent Price), who’s also been cavorting with Laura’s wealthy aunt (Judith Anderson). McPherson begins to fall in love with Laura through a portrait in her home and the memories relayed by those who knew her… just as it becomes apparent that even the basic facts of the case might not be what they seemed.

This 1944 murder mystery classic from director Otto Preminger (replacing Rouben Mamoulian) has grown in stature over the years, with its hypnotic mixture of doomed romantic obsession, dizzying intrigue, and fatalistic cynicism marking it as essential noir.

Peppered with eternally quotable dialogue (“I should be sincerely sorry to see my neighbours’ children devoured by wolves.”), sumptuous, Oscar-winning cinematography by Joseph LaShelle and David Raksin’s haunting theme music, Laura is an undeniable American masterpiece.

Available to order from: Amazon and Zavvi

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray of both the extended and original theatrical versions of the film
  • LPCM mono Audio
  • Optional English SDH subtitles
  • Audio commentary by composer David Raksin and film professor Jeanine Basinger
  • Audio commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer
  • Laura: The Lux Radio Theater broadcasts Two radio adaptations of Laura from 1945 [59 mins] and 1954 [57 mins], starring Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and Vincent Price in the 1945 version, and Gene Tierney and Victor Mature in the 1954 version
  • Laura: The Screen Guild Theater broadcast Adaptation of Laura from radio anthology series, The Screen Guild Theater, originally aired in 1945 [30 mins], starring Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb
  • Laura: The Ford Theater broadcast A further radio adaptation of Laura from 1948, starring Virginia Gilmore and John Larkin
  • A Tune for Laura: David Raksin Remembers an archival interview with the renowned composer
  • The Obsession an archival featurette on Laura
  • Deleted Scene
  • PLUS: A collector s booklet featuring a new essay by Phil Hoad, alongside a selection of rare archival imagery

Black Sunday (1960) | Revisiting Mario Bava’s Italian gothic horror in haunting HD

La maschera del demonio

As today (10 August) marks the 58th anniversary of the Italian release of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (aka La maschera del demonio) back in 1960, what better way to celebrate than by re-visiting the 2013 Arrow Video Blu-ray.

Black Sunday (1960)

In 17th-century Moldavia, princess Asa (Barbara Steele) is sentenced to a cruel death for sorcery and adultery – a spiked mask is driven into her face. Two centuries later, Asa and her devil-worshipping lover Igor rise from their crypts to destroy the descendants of Asa’s cursed family…

1960’s Black Sunday (aka The Mask of Satan) is one of the most significant films in the annals of horror cinema. It was Mario Bava’s directorial debut and launched Barbara Steele‘s career as the decade’s queen of horror. Evoking the Universal horrors of the 1930s and 1940s, while still offering the modern shocks found in Hammer films like The Curse of Frankenstein, Black Sunday gave Bava the chance to hone the romantic style that he had fashioned co-directing Riccardo Freda’s 1957 horror, I Vampiri.

The result is a hauntingly-beautiful gothic chiller, with a host of classic sequences – from Asa’s grisly execution (which resulted in the film being banned in the UK for eight years) to Igor’s frightening resurrection – that have become staples of the horror genre, influencing a host of film-makers, from Roger Corman to Tim Burton. And behind the fake cobwebs and fog-shrouded sets, the gothic horror also contained a key theme that would recur in later Bava films: the eradication of desire by men fearful of female sexuality. But that’s another story…

THE ARROW RELEASE
Vintage horror completists will certainly want to add Arrow Video’s dual format (Blu-ray/DVD) 2013 release to their collection as it greatly improves on the 1999 DVD version.

While that did contain the director’s cut (aka The Mask of Satan), Arrow’s release allows you the choice of either the English or Italian soundtrack. And, in a must-have first, it also includes the US theatrical cut of Black Sunday, featuring a score by exotica maestro Les Baxter, and dubbing that is marginally better than the director’s cut.

First up is the European (Mask of Satan) Director’s Cut with the option of either Italian with subtitles or English audio, next is the big-one (and unique to this release): the US AIP theatrical cut (under the title Black Sunday) with the option of either Italian with English subtitles or the English dub (which is different – and marginally better – to the European cut). It also features the US score by exotica maestro Les Baxter.

The extras maybe the same as the 1999 release (an 8-minute interview with Barbara Steele, and the excellent Tim Lucas audio commentary), but also included is the rarely-seen 1957 Italian horror, I Vampiri (in Standard Definition, but looks great), which was directed by Riccardo Freda but completed Bava. Topping it all is the suitably atmospheric artwork from British illustrator extraordinaire Graham Humphreys.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

The Old Dark House (1932) | James Whale’s macabre masterpiece restored and released at long last!

The Old Dark House (1932)

1932’s The Old Dark House is arguably director James Whale’s greatest cinematic feat, a macabre queer comedy disguised as a horror, delightfully acted (by lots of Brits abroad), and fused together with Whale’s stylistic, sardonic humour, well-knit scenario witty and insightful screenplay, and moody camerawork, lighting and production design. It is, quite possibly, the best British horror ever made – in Hollywood.

The Old Dark House (1932)

Taking its queues from JB Priestley’s 1927 novel, Benighted, and the ‘Old House’ chillers of stage and screen, Whale’s storm-driven adaptation finds five weary travellers becoming stranded at the ominous Welsh mansion of the reclusive and very strange Femm family, who are all quite possibly all insane. What follows is a wicked parody of the British class system, and one that features a performance from Ernest Thesiger that outshines even his iconic turn as Dr Pretorius in Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein a couple of years later.

The Old Dark House (1932)

Thesiger plays Horace Femm, a sniffy little man, who is probably wanted by the police (for crimes we can only imagine) and has seething contempt for everything and everyone. He owns the house along with his pious half-deaf sister Eva (beautifully played by Eva Moore), and their scenes together provide the film with its most memorable moments and best lines: like ‘Have a potato’ and ‘How reassuring’.

Gloria Stuart and Raymond Massey play married socialite couple Margaret and Philip, while Melvyn Douglas is their playboy friend Roger. When a landslide forces them off the road, they seek shelter with the Femms; and are soon joined by Charles Laughton (making his screen debut and speaking his in native Yorkshire tongue) and Lilian Bond, who play the self-made businessman Sir William Porterhouse and chorus girl Gladys. But with no beds on offer, they are all forced to spend the evening huddle together around a fireplace after a frugal meal of roast, gravy and – yes- potatoes…

The Old Dark House (1932)

But it’s not long before the Femms skeletons starting coming out of the closet as the lights go out and the group are soon menaced by Boris Karloff’s mute butler Morgan, who hits the bottle and goes on a drunken rampage, which results in the release of Femm’s pyromaniac brother Saul (Brember Wills) from his locked attic room…

Whale’s shows off his perverse sense of humour through the stylistic, expressionistic camerawork (by Arthur Edeson, who also shot Frankenstein) in some very memorable scenes: like when Horace announces, ‘My sister was on the point of arranging these flowers’, then summarily throws them into the fireplace. Another is when Morgan makes his menacing entrance, and a particularly surreal funhouse mirror shot of Margaret and Rebecca, their features distorted in a vanity mirror. Then there’s the terrific trick shot of Morgan coming down the stairs only to reveal the hand on the banister is not his…

The Old Dark House (1932)

Packed to the rafters with morbid mirth and a sly wink at class and society, this is one of the most entertaining horror films of the 1930’s. The Masters of Cinema Series special dual format edition of James’s Whales’ queer comedy horror features a stunning 1080p presentation from the Cohen Media Group 4K restoration (with a progressive encode on the DVD), uncompressed LPCM audio (on the Blu-ray) and optional English subtitles; and includes a collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Philip Kemp, archival material and previously unseen imagery and ephemera; and Limited Edition O-Card (first run only) featuring artwork by Graham Humphreys, created especially for the 2018 UK theatrical release. The special extras (below), however, are the icing on the cake, making this a must-have for any classic film collection…

The Old Dark House (1932)

Meet the Femms This video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns is exceptionally executed, with loads of informative back stories on the production, cast and crew, super behind the scenes photos, incuding Whales’ own set designs, and I really enjoyed hearing actors Steven McNicoll and Angela Hardie voicing the various characters in Priestley’s novel, Benighted, as well as the author himself and Laughton’s wife Elsa Lanchester.

Daughter of Frankenstein Sara Karloff talks candidly about her father and his work on this production, and has a great story about how Boris and Charles Laughton did not see eye-to-eye.

Curtis Harrington Saves The Old Dark House This archival interview has the late-director (who became a close friend of Whale’s) recalling his efforts in rescing the film from oblivion back in 1968. Please, someone, give this man a posthumous medal for doing this!

Commentary by Kim Newman and Stephen Jones This is a great listen, with some interesting bits of trivia  like that fact that Karloff was dubbed, and Kim makes a very interesting link between the film’s structure (and its class-based ensemble) to disaster movies. This was made prior to Gloria Stuart’s death (aged 100) in 2010, as the duo talk about her in the present tense, and their comments are all based on viewing an inter-negative print.

Commentary by Gloria Stuart This is absolutely riveting. Stuart is a joy to listen to and she provides huge amounts of personal insight (the film was a real high point in her acting career): admiring Whales’ sardonic humour, the uncomfortable shooting for the actors, her regrets at being a young 22 upstart making her second film who was unaware of Eva Moore’s pedigree (a suffragette, one of Edward VI’s favourites and the mother of Laurence Olivier’s first wife, Jill Esmond), and shedding light on some truths about why Karloff and Whale weren’t on friendly terms during the shoot.

Commentary by James Whale biographer James Curtis This has lots of great insight into the film’s production, and I certainly learnt a few things. Did you know that Karloff’s mute butler Morgan became the model for the butler Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons? These were subsequently published as Drawn and Quartered, with a Foreward by Karloff and thus effectively the character became Lurch in The Addams Family. Curtis also examines the similarities and differences between Priestley’s novel and Whale’s screenplay – which makes for an interesting analysis.

Save

Save

Save

James Whale’s The Old Dark House gets a 4k restoration cinema release in the UK and Ireland

The Old Dark House

Here’s the specially commissioned poster artwork by Graham Humphreys, aka Britain’s Quadfather, to accompany the new 4k restoration release of James Whale’s chilling 1932 classic The Old Dark House, which will get a nationwide cinema release in the UK & Ireland.

This atmospheric thriller, which adapts novel Benighted into a nerve-jangling tale that became the template for all spooky-house chillers to come, features an unforgettable post-Frankenstein horror role for Boris Karloff, as the hulking, disfigured butler Morgan. Also starring in early-career roles are Melvin Douglas, Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey and Gloria Stuart.

The Old Dark House lands in selected cinemas in the UK & Ireland on 27 April ahead of its dual format release on 21 May as part of Eureka!’s Masters of Cinema Series.

In the meantime, enjoy the brand-new trailer.

Save

Save

Save

Mildred Pierce (1945) | The mother of all melodramas starring Joan Crawford joins The Criterion Collection

Mildred Pierce (1945)

When it comes to high camp melodrama, director Michael Curtiz’s Mildred Pierce must be the mother of them all! Giving her best-ever performance, Joan Crawford plays the eponymous single mum who walks out on her husband Bert (Bruce Bennett aka cinema’s original Tarzan) so she can build a new life for her two daughters and ends up creating a restaurant chain empire that gives her fame and fortune but leaves her personal life in tatters – and murder…

Mildred Pierce (1945)

Nominated for six Academy Awards and scoring Crawford her only Best Actress Oscar, 1945’s Mildred Pierce transformed James M Cain’s 1941 psychological novel into a film noir murder mystery fused with a 1940s women’s picture. Maternal sacrifice never looked so melodramatic as played by Crawford, who is genuinely convincing as the unflappable Mildred who will do anything to achieve the American dream for the sake of her children – especially Veda, who causes her no end of grief.

Ann Blyth scored an Oscar nomination playing the deliciously mean-spirited spoiled brat, and became one of cinema’s all-time great villains as a result. And playing Mildred’s second husband Monte, Zachary Scott is the epitome of the worthless playboy who reminded me of Clifton Webb’s Waldo Lydecker in 1944’s Laura. Then there’s Eve Arden in the supporting role as Mildred’s loveable sidekick Ida, who provides the film with some truly quotable lines like: ‘Personally, Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young’.

Mildred Pierce (1945)

But this film belongs to Crawford, who looks fantastic bathed in Ernest Haller’s expressionistic camerawork (he’d done wonders with Crawford’s nemesis Bette Davis in Jezebel and would lens them both in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?). And if you watch the feature-length documentary that accompanies the Criterion release, you’ll see that’s there’s quite a lot of Joan in her character – though probably not the mothering side.

Famously, Crawford didn’t attend the Oscars when she won the Best Actress award – instead, feigning sickness, the press were summoned to her home to see her accept the statuette. That’s our Joanie!

THE CRITERION COLLECTION RELEASE
• New 4K digital restoration
• New conversation about Mildred Pierce with critics Molly Haskell and Robert Polito (watch a clip above)
• Excerpt from a 1970 episode of The David Frost Show, featuring Joan Crawford
• Q&A with Ann Blyth from 2002
• Segment from a 1969 episode of The Today Show, featuring novelist James M Cain
• Trailer
• An essay by critic Imogen Sara Smith
• Also included is Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star: a fascinating Turner Classic documentary from 2002, narrated by Angelica Huston, that’s longer than the movie, but just as gripping and melodramatic. It traces Crawford’s entire life and career, beginning as a dancer from a impoverished background who learned her craft from an unlikely source (the legendary Lon Chaney) to the creation of the Crawford image as the reigning Queen of the Movies in the 1930s, before a drop in popularity forced her to reinvent herself. Her marriages, affairs and catfights with the likes of Bette Davis and Mercedes McCambridge are legend, as is her association with Pepsi-Cola and her struggles in later life taking on roles in B-movie shockers like Berserk and Trog that were well beneath her. Of course, since the publication of her adopted daughter Christina’s 1978 memoir Mommie Dearest, Crawford’s reputation has been forever tarnished. But this documentary sets out to reminds us that, despite all of her failings, Crawford was one of a kind – and someone who was the creation of her own indomitable will. Catch a clip here…

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) | Myth and melodrama collide in the dreamy Technicolor drama

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

American director Albert Lewin (The Picture of Dorian Gray) and legendary British cinematographer Jack Cardiff made a real oddity when they lensed 1951’s Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, which is being screened at the BFI Southbank on 3 and 13 January 2017 as part of the Martin Scorsese curates season.

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

The old legend of a loner doomed to sail the seas forever unless he’s redeemed by a woman’s love is transposed here to 1930s Spain, centering on Ava Gardner’s man-eating, destructive Pandora who becomes intrigued by the arrival of James Mason’s mysterious yachtsman, Hendrik.

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

Told through flashback after the bodies of Pandora and Hendrik are found washed ashore (that’s not a spoiler by the way), the melodrama soon unfolds to reveal that Hendrik is in fact the real Flying Dutchman, who has suffered centuries of anguish over killing his wife. The manipulative, yet irresistible Pandora, meanwhile, has enjoyed playing with her suitors but must now choose between the man she promised to marry or Mason’s tortured soul…

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

Highly reminiscent of those gloriously lush Powell-Pressburger films of the 1940s, Lewin’s stylish romance boasts Cardiff’s stunning Technicolor camerawork.

From Gardner’s gowns to the gorgeous Spanish coastline (shot in the Costa Brava resort of Tossa de Mar), this hallucinatory fable of love and death is well deserving of its  2010 restoration by George Eastman House.

It’s also a chance for classic film fans to see the alluring Gardner strut her stuff as the dreamy vixen, while a moody Mason chews the scenery in his distinctively clipped burgundy baritone.

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman screens at NFT3 on 3 January at 18:10 and 13 January at 20:40. Tickets go on sale from 13 December, click here.

The restored classic is also available in a 2010 dual format edition from Park Circus containing both DVD and Blu-ray versions, plus a range of extras – the highlight being a 1947 short on the death of famed Spanish bullfighter, Manolete (the inspiration behind Mario Cabré’s matador in the film).

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Here Comes Mr Jordan (1941) | The supernatural Hollywood classic is comic perfection and a must-see on Blu-ray

Here Comes Mr Jordan (1941)

Nominated for seven Oscars (and winning two for its story and screenplay) and the inspiration for a slew of guardian angel pictures, including a 1947 sequel, Down to Earth with Rita Hayworth, and two remakes, as Heaven Can Wait, director Alexander Hall’s delightfully droll 1941 fantasy, Here Comes Mr Jordan, is comic perfection.

Here Comes Mr Jordan (1941)


When working-class boxer Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery) dies in a plane crash, he finds himself arriving in heaven 50 years too early owing to a clerical error by an over-zealous chief dispatcher’s messenger (Edward Everett Horton).

On discovering his body has been cremated, his angelic minder, Mr Jordan (Claude Rains) fixes it that so that he can return to Earth using the body of crooked banker Bruce Farnsworth, who’s just been murdered by his adulterous wife (Rita Johnson) and secretary (John Emery).

Falling in love with the daughter of one of his duped investors (Evelyn Keyes), Joe tries to remake Farnsworth’s unworthy life, while also trying to stop a world championship prizefight from being thrown by gamblers…


Here Comes Mr Jordan (1941)

Robert Montgomery makess for a believable and solid everyman hero as the boxer given a second chance, while Claude Rains gives great support, as do James Gleason as Joe’s boxer manager and Evelyn Keyes as the breezy love interest. But it’s Edward Everett Horton who steals the show as the dithering Messenger 7013. Sweet, sophisticated and super smooth – they certainly don’t make them like this any more – and its prime a slice of Hollywood’s golden age that deserves pride of place in any classic film fan’s collection.

Here Comes Mr Jordan (1941)

The Criterion Collection Blu-ray release features a new 2K digital restoration, which really makes Joseph Walker’s diffused cinematography zing, and includes the following extras…

• Critic Michael Sragow and filmmaker Michael Schlesinger discuss the film and its influence.
• Audio interview from 1991 in which Elizabeth Montgomery (who died in 1995) looks back at her relationship with her staunch Republican actor father Robert Montgomery (1:19min).
• 1942 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation starring Cary Grant, Claude Rains, Evelyn Keyes and James Gleason.
• Trailer.
• Essay by critic Farran Smith Nehme.
• New artwork by Caitlin Kuhwald.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Catch Abel Gance’s revolutionary silent masterpiece Napoleon on the big screen and on Blu-ray

Abel Gance's Napoleon (1927)

Painstakingly restored by the BFI National Archive and Photoplay’s Kevin Brownlow as part of a 50-year project, Abel Gance’s 1927 five-and-a-half-hour masterpiece, Napoleon, is now screening again accompanied by the longest score ever written for a silent film from composer Carl Davis before heading to Blu-ray, DVD and BFI Player on 21 November.

Originally conceived by Gance as the first of six films about the French military leader, this five-and-a-half-hour epic features full scale historical recreations of episodes from Bonaparte’s personal and political life, that see him overcome fierce rivals and political machinations to seal his imperial destiny. The film is also famed for its groundbreaking technical innovations – including its triptych finale.

The BFI Blu-ray will include the following special features…
• New 2K restoration
The Charm of Dynamite (1968, 51 mins): BBC documentary on Gance’s silent films, narrated by Lindsay Anderson.
Composing Napoleon: An Interview with Carl Davis (2016, 45 mins)
• Feature-length commentary by Paul Cuff
• Digital restoration featurette (2016, 5 mins)
• Gallery
• Alternative single-screen ending
• Individual triptych panel presentations
• Illustrated collector’s booklet

Save

Save

Save

Save

%d bloggers like this: