Warner Archive Releases #2: Camp Edition

I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) I Married a Monster from Outer Space one of the quintessential 1950s scifi B-movies, a fun and suspenseful story with a lot of potential readings to be had, everything from Communist paranoia to feminism to repressed hetero- and homosexuality. Though it came late in the 1950s scifi cycle, it was popular enough to be influential; much of the overall aesthetic was stolen by Teenagers from Outer Space, for example. But it never took itself too seriously, which is one of the reasons I Married a Monster remains so much fun even today. The promotional material alone shows the production was attempting deliberate camp, but rather than go full-on She-Creature with “the mammary monster” and sweaters three sizes too small, I Married a Monster more closely resembles the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It’s quiet, subtle, scary, and even touching at times. IMaMfOS was featured on SBBN a few years ago here, an article that goes more deeply into the film, but there are spoilers, so be warned. That was a post written after viewing copy grabbed off of TCM, but the screen grabs in this post are from the Warner Archives DVD, and you can see they’re much better quality. Thus far, all of the Warner Archive MOD DVDs have been nice prints. There are no special features, but this disc has subtitles in English. *** The Carpetbaggers (1964) My friends, if you really enjoy soap opera kitsch, The Carpetbaggers is … Continue reading

Warner Archive Grab Bag #1: Gossett, Garner and More

The White Dawn (1974) In 1971, James Huston published The White Dawn: An Eskimo Saga, the story of three sailors from Massachusetts, lost at sea and rescued by native inhabitants of the Baffin Island area in 1896. In press releases of the day, accompanied by photos of Huston looking startlingly like Stewart Granger, Huston is praised for his “expertise” in the topic, having “lived with the Eskimo” for 12 years. It would take a 1990 Sports Illustrated article to fully flesh out those 12 years: Huston, a bon vivant who had studied art in Paris, decided to travel to the Baffin Island area in the late 1940s, with the idea to sketch wildlife and the native inhabitants. Once there, he would trade his own art for their carvings, then submit them to the Canadian Handicrafts Guild who put on a show; curiously, it appears the Inuit themselves were not involved in this gallery exhibition. From Houston’s novel came the 1974 film directed by Philip Kaufman, which, given the details of the book, surprisingly treats the Inuit with respect. It’s part culture clash, part cautionary tale, part indictment of the casual colonialism our Western society is based on. In The White Dawn, white interlopers attempt to bring their own supposedly superior culture to the native inhabitants, assuming their sports, art, living arrangements and such were the product of savages. Though Kaufman provides a commentary and introduction to the film on the Warner Archive release, it’s unclear whether he realized the irony … Continue reading

Warner Archive: Phil Spector (2013)

“I’m not standoffish, I’m inaccessible. Always have been.” Al Pacino as Phil Spector in David Mamet’s Phil Spector (2013)   Just past the clumsily-worded disclaimer that opens Phil Spector is a movie that makes very little sense. Its title, its subject matter, its very existence is utterly dependent on the very real Phil Spector, his victim Lana Clarkson, and Spector’s resultant murder trial, yet right out of the gate, the film wants to have it both ways. The first act of the film almost succeeds in its attempt to be both fact and fiction, with some outstanding moments from Jeffrey Tambor, Al Pacino and Helen Mirren. When the trial begins, however, the bullshit starts. Though some attempt was made in the Phil Spector publicity to present the film as a meditation on celebrity and a different take on the facts of the trial, it is, at best, a sad American version of Rashomon for the 21st century, where one of the storytellers is a cheesy made-for-TV movie. At worst, it’s an exercise in revisionist history done for some very specious reasons. With the release of Phil Spector, we finally achieved undeniable proof that playwright and director David Mamet is a cranky get-offa-my-lawn kind of guy, someone who writes a scene that hinges on a character, surely born in the early 1980s, having no idea what a 45 RPM record was. Since 45s were sold as singles well into the late 1980s, it’s almost impossible to believe this character lived his … Continue reading

Warner Archive: The Loved One (1965)

The Loved One (1965), a biting satire on American commercialism and the business of death, was billed on its release as “The Motion Picture with Something to Offend Everyone!”, and even today, this still holds true. Based on the 1948 Evelyn Waugh novel, it was written after his “humiliating success,” as he referred to it, when Hollywood showed interest in adapting Brideshead Revisited. Waugh, certain that the people of the United States were both dim and classless — per Wikipedia, he was devastated to learn that lower service classes spoke casually to the rich, for example — set out to skewer an America he clearly loathed, but after publication, Waugh nearly panicked at the possible backlash in the States. It did well, however, and one will always wonder how Waugh felt about the unwashed American masses actually appreciating his biting satire of their own culture. Two decades after the book’s release, the material was still considered too rough for cinematic treatment. Director Tony Richardson filmed it anyway, because in the mid 1960s, that’s what Tony Richardson did. He used the framework of the book for a raucous and not very faithful adaptation featuring tons of in-jokes, tacky ideas, and a cast list to drool over. And for those who think The Loved One would surely be considered quaint and inoffensive today, I direct you to the Rotten Tomatoes page, where plenty of modern-day reviewers wring their hands over the film’s ghastly lack of taste. Liberace, last seen on SBBN in … Continue reading

Warner Archive: Gummo (1997)

Gummo (1997) is a difficult film that too often feels outrageous for the sake of outrageousness, though fans of the film seem to love it for just that reason. Personally, I’ve never been able to fully accept artistic expression that exploits people in order to show that sometimes our society exploits people. It’s impossible for me to reconcile the hypocrisy in that specific kind of artistic statement, though at the same time I don’t question those who have no moral qualms about it. At the end of the day, Gummo is the quintessential “your mileage may vary” film. Gummo is a series of loosely-connected episodes in the lives of poor families in a Xenia, Ohio that never recovered from the devastating tornadoes of 1974; this is a film that cannot be accused of having a plot. The film was shot entirely in Nashville, and features only a few professional actors, the rest of the cast mostly Nashville locals and friends of director Harmony Korine. Tummler (Nick Sutton) and Solomon (Jacob Reynolds) are the two young stars, such as they are, with supporting stories featuring three sisters (Chloe Sevigny, Clarissa Glucksman, and Ellen Smith), plus arguably the film’s most famous character, Bunny Boy (Jacob Sewell), who undeniably influenced 2001’s Donnie Darko. There is a recurring theme in Gummo, something that is admittedly fascinating on paper, but in practice is pretty disgusting, thanks to centering on the murder, torture and consumption of cats. Despite claims to the contrary, actual dead cats are … Continue reading

Kansas City Bomber (1972)

History is messy. The winds of cultural change seldom align neatly with our calendars; the things we think of as quintessentially 1950s, for example, like teenyboppers and nuclear testing and television, properly date to the 1940s. The same holds true for the 1970s, a decade which began in the midst of a sort of cultural bridge, a short period starting in the months after the Summer of Love and lasting to about 1973 and the early days of disco. Take the career of Neil Diamond, who I bring up not entirely because of my personal obsessions, but because his commercial image so accurately marks this rapid-fire change in popular culture. In 1966, he was a pompadoured kid singing country-rock pop tunes; by 1970, he was a moody, long-haired troubadour in flower power shirts; by 1974, he was sporting feathered disco hair and singing overwrought television duets while poured into spangly Lurex pantsuits. We can be as logical as we want to be, but when we see 1966 side by side with 1974, it’s difficult to comprehend the enormous transformations in American popular culture in those eight short years. That’s why it’s so exciting to come across a cultural touchstone that helps fill in what feels like gaps in our collective memory, and that is exactly what Kansas City Bomber (1972) does. The kind of B-movie actioner that played on local television stations in the mid 1970s during slow afternoons when the baseball game got rained out, Kansas City Bomber is … Continue reading

Riding High (1950) from Warner Archive

Dan Brooks (Bing Crosby) is a disenchanted junior executive, the kind of guy expected to marry the boss’ eldest daughter and lead a staid, white collar life. But his true passion is racing, so he runs off with his horse Broadway Bill and his good friend, horse trainer Whitey (Clarence Muse), with plans to enter Bill into a national derby. They get into musical hijinks along they way as they try to raise the entrance fee, while the boss’ youngest daughter Alice (Colleen Gray), who has a crush on Dan, joins in on the scheme. Frank Capra’s Riding High (1950) is a musical remake of his own Broadway Bill, the 1934 romantic comedy starring Warner Baxter and Myrna Loy. Beyond the old stories about Riding High being an inside joke about Bing’s oft-rumored love of the leafy stuff, the film is best known for using significant footage from the original film in the 1950 version. Eleven of the supporting players in Broadway Bill return for brief scenes in Riding High. Those who were still alive did a few re-shoots, those who had passed on appear in archive footage, and they even put William Demarest in a 15-year-old suit so he would match shots of the late Lynne Overman from the 1934 footage. It’s all somewhat jarring, especially in the beginning when the film opens with 1934 scenes in what should have been a modern-day bank. Just look at that phone, that typewriter, those fashions. Even the film grain is obviously … Continue reading

Revisit: Front Page Woman (1935) from Warner Archive

Several years ago, when The SBBN Bette Davis Project was still in its infancy, I reviewed the early Bette programmer Front Page Woman (1935). In short, I didn’t like it. Filmed immediately after Bette’s The Girl From 10th Avenue, Warner Bros. saw fit to use six of the same cast members and at least two of the same sets, as well as a plot that was a slightly madcap version of the films Kay Francis was assigned that same year, up to and including the same male co-star. Bette is Ellen Garfield, reporter assigned to the execution of a singer convicted of murdering her lover. Ellen’s boyfriend Curt (George Brent), also a reporter, tries to talk her out of attending the execution. In fact, he wants her to stop working altogether and get married like a good woman should. She refuses, but faints dead away after the execution, so he writes her story for her as she recovers. A mix-up causes both his paper and hers to run the same story, nearly getting them both fired. Instead, it spurs an intense rivalry where Ellen promises to uncover the murderer in a high-society crime case, and Curt bets her that she can’t, and if he wins, she must quit her career and marry him. It’s all supposed to be a romantic comedy, but Michael Curtiz can’t help but inject some hard-boiled journalistic action into the film while at the same time allowing the most outrageous, unbelievable courtroom antics, and ultimately it … Continue reading

Winter Meeting (1948)

The later films from Bette Davis’ studio years are always interesting, because her real life had intruded so heavily into her working life and Hollywood image that she was forced into a sort of typecasting, being suited — at least according to studios and audiences — only for characters with a hard edge to them, women who had lived expansive and interesting lives. Hollywood has always been about physical appearance, and around 1941, Bette began to age quickly, as has been noted more times than anyone cares to count. Her voice deepened, her eyelids grew heavier, and her every movement conveyed a bitter East Coast weariness. And it all happened within just a few short years; a hairstyle that in 1941’s The Great Lie looked terrific on her was completely age inappropriate less than five years later. This was never more evident than in Mr. Skeffington (1944). Bette was a hard drinker and heavy smoker, and it showed to the extent that her earlier scenes as Fannie Skeffington were more than a little strained. Beyond that, her husband Arthur Farnsworth had died suddenly just prior to filming, which understandably aged her. His strange death after falling on a sidewalk on Hollywood Blvd. at such a young age caused a sensation. Rumors were rife that Bette and Arthur had a terrific public row which ended with her pushing him down a flight of stairs at their home. Those rumors turned into an inquest, and though Bette was cleared, to this day, … Continue reading

Elsewhere: The Adorable Dogs and Hollywood Butts Edition

Things I’ve written elsewhere, and other stuff around the interwebs lately: My piece on The Human Factor (1979) as an underrated gem is up at Spectrum Culture. This is now available on MOD DVD at Warner Archives, in a print that I absolutely adored, because the grain was kept — all that delicious, nutritious 1970s grain — and it looks gorgeous. I don’t have Warner Archives Instant, but many of you do, so I thought I’d do a little browsing around and found a few things you might be interested in: Night Flight (1933) – Insane John Barrymore pre-Code that I’m not sure has even been on TCM before. An all-star cast and apparently a plot based on The Little Prince. Madam Satan (1930) – This one’s a no-brainer. If you haven’t seen it, and you have Warner Instant, go watch this now. Just… seriously, just stop everything you’re doing and go. Previous SBBN posts on Madam Satan can be found here and here. Simon (1980) – Available in high definition from Warner Instant. Just a few years ago you couldn’t even get a copy of this, now it’s on MOD DVD and Warner Instant. My Criminally Underrated post for Simon is here at Spectrum Culture. And, finally, my Oeuvre post for Vincente Minnelli’s The Pirate. Warning: I talk about Gene Kelly’s butt. *** Around the web: From February, a terrific post at Movie Morlocks by Susan Doll on one of my favorite actors, Sam Rockwell. Joan Crawford in a … Continue reading