Over half a century after its original cinema release, this surreal 1953 musical fantasy – conceived and part-written by noted children’s author Dr Seuss – remains one of the most bizarre children’s films ever committed to celluloid.
Little Bart Collins (future Lassie star Tommy Rettig) would rather play baseball than practice his piano scales. Falling asleep, he enters a nightmarish world in which a sinister piano teacher, Dr Terwilliker (Hans Conreid in splendid sinister form), has hypnotised Bart’s mum (Mary Healey) into becoming his assistant (and future bride); imprisoned non-piano-playing musicians in his dungeon; and constructed a gigantic piano to force 500 boys (including Bart) to play his latest composition for all eternity.
Bart’s only chance to free both his mother, himself and the other boys is to convince friendly plumber Mr. Zabladowski (Peter Lind Hayes) of Terwilliker’s maniacal plans…
Although a flop at the box office, director Roy Rowland and producer Stanley Kramer’s bonkers film brilliantly captures the spirit of Dr Suess’ anarchic vision, especially in the fantastic production design featuring sets and matte paintings that look like an colourful mash up of weird Frank Gehry angles, Jean Cocteau fantasia, Fritz Lang expressionism and The Jetsons cartoon futurism.
The music, however, isn’t so memorable. 24 musical numbers were filmed, but 11 ended up being scrapped from the final cut (they were later included on a 2007 CD release). But despite the not-so-great music (except maybe the screwy Hypnotic Duel), this fantasy certainly deserves revisiting – and maybe one day, in right hands, even a musical stage adaptation.
This limited edition dual format Powerhouse Films release (part of the Indicator series) presents a HD remaster of the film – for the first time in the UK – with the following special features:
• Audio commentary with film historians Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton
• Crazy Music: a 2017 interview with musician, singer and archivist Michael Feinstein on his obsession with the filme
• Father Figure: a 2017 new interview with Steve Rowland, son of director Roy Rowland
• Karen Kramer introduction (2007)
• Dr T. on Screen (2007): Cathy Lind Hayes, George Chakiris and others talk about the film
• A Little Nightmare Music (2007): an examination of the film’s music score
• Original theatrical trailer
• Joe Dante trailer commentary (2013) WATCH BELOW
• Image gallery
• New and improved English subtitles
• Booklet with a new essay by Peter Conheim, and extracts from the original press kit, advertising and promotion guide
Oh my Lordy, Sydney Pollack’s Castle Keep is a revelation. First thing is the magical Michel Legrand score; second is the gorgeous winter imagery – shot with Panavision perfection by French New Wave legend Henri Decaë; and thirdly, the sterling cast of Hollywood heavyweights, including Burt Lancaster, Peter Falk, Patrick O’Neal and a very nutty Bruce Dern.
Shot in Novi Sab, Serbia using a Disney-like castle (supposedly made out of Styrofoam) as its centrepiece, this dreamlike anti-war satire takes a brave stab at adapting William Eastlake’s offbeat 1965 novel of the same name, which drew on the author’s experiences at the Battle of Bulge.
Burt Lancaster heads the cast as the mercurial one-eyed Major Falcone billeting his remaining soldiers at the Ardennes castle of the Count and Countess of Maldorais (Jean-Pierre Aumont and Astrid Heeren).
With the castle’s position in the direct line of the German advance, Falcone prepares the castle for an assault; much to the concern of Captain Beckman (Patrick O’Neal), an art historian who is using the long waiting time to do an inventory of the castle’s art treasures which he wants saved.
While Beckman and Falcone debate the castle’s fate, the war-weary ragtag squad consisting of a ‘22-gold carat Indian’, cowboy, cook, baker, and minister occupy their free time at a local whorehouse, which is being picketed by Bruce Dern’s band of hymn-singing conscientious objectors.
Although Castle Keep preceded Robert Altman’s groundbreaking M*A*S*H* by a mere five months, it bears much the same style of black comedy, albeit with a strong dose surrealism added in. And this comes from the fact that the film is being told from the perspective of Private Benjamin (Al Freeman Jr), whose wartime experiences have been turned into a book called – yep, you guessed it! Castle Keep.
Among the visual highlights is the Red Queen brothel which, under Altman and Decaë’s visual eye, is turned into a dazzling jewel box hued in Bava-esque colours, and a comical scene in which a Volkswagen racing Beetle seems to have a mind of its own (ala Herbie The Love Bug) and refuses to sink after two soldiers try to shoot holes in it.
Altman peppers the film with imagery that really bangs home his nihilistic anti-war message – best represented in a sequence in which Dern’s fundamentalist Lieutenant leads shell-shocked soldiers Pied Piper-liked through a street under attack – and an underlying theme about class: which bubbles through a sub-plot involving the castle’s aristocratic owners wanting to continue their bloodline by getting the young Countess (symbolising old Europe) to mate with the Major (aka the New World).
Unlike M*A*S*H* however, Castle Keep was a flop on its release – probably on account of the film’s surreal, arthouse approach, and the dialogue – which comes off a little pretentious at times – penned by Daniel Taradash (From Here to Eternity) and Altman’s frequent collaborator David Rayfiel.
Thankfully, however, Powerhouse Films have dragged Castle Keep out the shadows to present a region-free Dual Format Edition as part of the Indicator series so that cult film fans can reappraise this underrated cinematic gem. Now, if only I can find that score….
• High Definition re-master
• Original mono audio
• Alternative 4.0 Surround sound track
• The John Player Lecture with Burt Lancaster (1972, 100 mins): audio recording of an interview conducted by Joan Bakewell at the National Film Theatre, London
• The Lullaby of War (2017, 18 mins): a new interview with actor Tony Bill, who played Lieutenant Amberjack, about his experiences making Castle Keep
• Eastlake at USD (1968, 29 mins): an archival, videotaped interview with author William Eastlake
• Original theatrical trailer
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Limited edition booklet with a new essay by Brad Stevens, archival interviews with Sydney Pollack and Burt Lancaster, and original pressbook material
Ray Harryhausen’s legendary Sinbad adventures restored and on Blu-ray in the UK for the very first time!
THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (Nathan Juran, 1958)
The film for which director Nathan Juran (who also did TV’s Lost in Space and Land of the Giants amongst others) will be remembered and a huge box office smash at the time of its cinema release. Kerwin Matthews takes the title role as the fearless Sinbad who sails into troubled waters to save a princess (Kathryn Grant) cursed by an evil magician (played with gleeful menace by Torin Thatcher) who wants to get his hands on a magic lamp and its genie. But the real stars of this rousing Arabian Nights adventure are, of course, Ray Harryhausen’s incredible stop motion animated monsters, most notably his glowering Cyclops and chained dragon. Believe it or not, the scene involving the sword-fighting skeleton warrior was originally cut by the British censors as being too frightening! How times have changed.
THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (Gordon Hessler, 1973)
Ray Harryhausen pulls out more Dynamation magic for this second Sinbad adventure which sees John Phillip Law’s seafarer battle a one-eyed centaur, a six-armed sword-wielding Kali idol, a gryphon, and a homunculus as he seeks out the fabled Fountain of Destiny to restore the disfigured face of the Grand Vizier of Marabia (Douglas Wilmer). Phillip Law might look the part, but he makes for a rather dull hero, while an eye-catching Caroline Munro is in desperate need of more dialogue (and where does a runaway slave get so many snazzy outfits from?). Tom Baker, however, chews the scenery in true pantomime villain style, and it was on the back of his performance that he landed the Doctor Who gig – and changed his life forever.
SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (Sam Wanamaker, 1977)
Sinbad’s escapades get a colourful (well it is the 1970s) injection in this final Arabian Nights adventure starring Patrick Wayne (son of John) who along with Jane Seymour’s Princess Farah take on an army of Ray Harryhausen’s special effects creatures in their attempt to undo the spell on the princess’ brother (Damien Thomas), who has been turned into a baboon by Margaret Whiting’s sorceress, Zenobia. Harryhausen is at the top of his game here – his three ghouls, troglodyte and robotic bronze Minoton (played by an uncredited Peter Mayhew in the close-ups) being the stand-out. And while the saber-toothed tiger might look more cuddly than fierce, its the back-projection work employed in the location scenes at Petra in Jordan and the Hyperborea-set climax that really let the team down.
These classic adventures are presented here in new restorations on Blu-ray for the very first time in the UK and they look terrific (check out my comments below). Plus, you’ve got some exclusive interviews with Tom Baker, Caroline Munro and Jane Seymour, as well as some super archival interviews with Harryhausen and producer Charles H Schneer and loads more.
INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES:
• New 4K restoration of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad from the original camera negative (absolutely loved this restoration, especially the sound which brings Bernard Herrmann’s score to the fore).
• 2K restorations of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (this one has grain problems in the low-light shots and night-time scenes) and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger from the original camera negatives (also a little grain in the night-time shots, but otherwise an excellent transfer – despite the inherent production flaws).
• Mono and 5.1 surround sound audio options
• The 7th Voyage of Sinbad audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen
• Previously unreleased audio interviews with Ray Harryhausen and producer Charles H Schneer
• New interviews with actors Tom Baker (his Catholic indoctrination story had been me in stitches), Caroline Munro (who thought John Phillip Law was a dreamboat) and Jane Seymour (who never got to any of the exotic locations used in the film hence the terrible back projection)
• New interview with SFX maestro Phil Tippett
• Original Super 8 cut-down versions (these are a real treat, despite having no sound)
• Archival documentaries (all of them fascinating), interviews and featurettes (loved the Trailers from Hell one with Brian Trenchard-Smith on The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and one on Bernard Herrmann)
• Original trailers and promotional films
• Isolated scores by Bernard Herrmann, Miklós Rózsa and Roy Budd
• Promotional and on-set photography, poster art and archive materials
• Box set exclusive 80-page book with new essays, and film credits