Friday, November 20, 2009

Ivanlandia Goes to the Movies

Going crazy apartment hunting
Got a baaaaaaaaad hangover
the pen in my shirt pocket has leaked/nice black stain on my fave green shirt:

Here are some short write-ups of some of the flicks I’ve gotten to see lately:

The Lineup (1958)
Directed by Don Siegel
Screenplay by Stirling Silliphant

An awesome and twisted police procedural from the late-1950s that all fans of noir (and fans of Don Siegel) should check out.

Sure, if you pick apart the film, you’ll find lots of flaws--but it’s technically perfect, and The Lineup’s overall energy, pace and sociopathic tendencies (which makes the movie much more contemporary than most films of that time) totally makes up for it.

And the commentary by crime novelist James Ellroy? Hoo-hah! What a profane masterpiece: funny as heck, but it’ll burn the ears of the more sensitive viewers.

Zathura (2005)
Directed by Jon Favreau
Screenplay by David Koepp and John Kamps
Based on the book by Chris Van Allburg

While the SPFX were adequate, and the production design had a nice retro-1920s look, it was not enough to save Zathura.

Not being a parent, I cannot say whether I think kids will like this flick. But as a nerd-boy and geek, let me tell you: This movie is dreadful! The protagonist children are rotten brats that needed to be thrown out the airlock, and the shrieking little monsters completely emphasize the script’s very weak points.

A train-wreck of a movie that often approximates the feeling of listening to supersonic nails on a blackboard. Horrible, horrible stuff.

Chato’s Land (1972)
Directed by Michael Winner
Screenplay by Gerald Wilson

Bronson’s almost a cameo in this flick, but he’s perfect as the Apache tricking a posse into its own destruction.

Chato’s Land is a unique western, spending more time examining the sociology and character of the people who were willing, or crazy enough, to settle the land, instead of focusing only on the action.

The flick treats the Native Americans with respect, without resorting to mythologizing or “nicing” them up.

Gosh, there was a time when Michael Winner was a really good director, and this flick shows it. (And it’s surprising how much the introductory Rambo movie, First Blood, owes to this film.)

Whisky Romeo Zulu (2004)
Directed by Enrique Piñeyro
Screenplay by Enrique Piñeyro and Emiliano Torres

Yes, the whistle-blowing and the airplane footage are fascinating, but the rest, like the “old flame” subplot, could have been ditched: That stuff is paced like molasses, and ruins any tension or momentum the film has picked up. Overall, Whisky Romeo Zulu is dull.

Trick ’r Treat (2008)
Screenplay and directed by Michael Dougherty

Like an old pre-code E.C. horror comic book structured like the improvisational comedy forms “The Harold” or “The Evente,” stories that intersect, loop around, and then go back on themselves, Trick ’r Treat is an awesome horror anthology that deserves to be seen and experienced by all fans of twisted horror movies.

But I can see why lunkheaded studio execs would try and dump it: they just couldn’t “get” the flick. 'Cause they're stupid.

BTW, the holidays and the military-industrial complex will be keeping me from the shores of Ivanlandia for a while—please go through the archives and enjoy.

And no, most of these photos have nothing to do with the movies I've reviewed/talked about. Except in my mind...

Monday, November 9, 2009

DVD MIA #2: Six Unavailable Movies That I’ve Actually Seen (including three by George Pal)

The National Film Board of Ivanlandia decided that while this latest DVD MIA list would be films that are still unavailable on DVD, it would include those we’ve actually viewed at some point, under whatever circumstances.

We figured we might as well champion flicks that we’ve at least actually seen!

I’ll admit that I will criticize some of these flicks, but they all have their good points and admirers.
Some of these flicks I have come to love—and others I used to love, but now, not so much.

One Major Factor: There are many films MUCH WORSE available on DVD; so why not these?

Lot of George Pal movies here—his flicks were definitely an influence on my tastes, especially for special visual effects.

Although, ironically, and perhaps sadly, I don’t like most of Pal’s films anymore.

Now that I’ve gotten to see most of them as an adult, their flaws are far too great to be forgiven—usually in the form of mediocre scripts, frequent examples of terrible acting, and often excruciating pacing.

And then there’s the non-specific but goody-two-shoes Christianity that’s
poured on
slowing everything down.
(I’m especially looking at you, Conquest of Space!)

Pal films that have managed to survive my withering gaze include
The War of the Worlds
–Pal’s best film and it works b/c it’s full of destruction—
(the pace and tempo of this flick is brilliant! Coupled with those exquisite effects? A winner!);

The Time Machine (hardly flawless, but a sentimental favorite—and loaded with special effects, with a quick pace and a good, solid action movie actor in Rod Taylor)

Houdini (again: hardly flawless—and completely historically inaccurate, but a sentimental favorite nonetheless—Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh really bring the flick to life)

(I need to see again tom thumb (yep, it’s all lower-case—’cause he was such a little guy!) and The Naked Jungle to make a proper decision—I’m actually hesitant to view these again because what if my cherished memories of Russ Tamblyn dancing with stop-motion Puppetoons
or Chuck Heston vs. the ants—
oh heck, I’m Netflixing them right now!
Okay, now I’ve just wasted three hours incessantly rearranging my N-flix list (there are no “queues” in The United Provinces of Ivanlandia! The citizen enjoy standing in line).

However, all of Pal’s films are still generally considered beautiful to look at, essentially fun to watch, and pleasant, family fun, with legions of fans.

It's just that I’ve become a monster since I was a kid. Sigh…
[a greasy tear rolls down his cheek, its acidity carving a furrow.]

Pal is the spiritual brother to a movie-maker like Ishiro Honda, especially Honda’s non-Godzilla fantasy flicks (Matango, The Mysterians, The H-Man, Frankenstein Conquers the World, et al)

As well as the spiritual godfather to a dude like Terry Gilliam—who like Pal, has a fabulous visual style and an often incomprehensible way with scripts.

(And Honda, too, was not always the best with scripts: I think his H-Man, Mysterians and the recently released to DVD Battle in Outer Space to be as boring and poorly scripted—maybe even worse—
as Pal’s Conquest of Space—that is to say, great visually, worth renting to fast-forward to the “good bits,” but otherwise snooze-city!)

George Pal’s last film, Doc Savage: Man of Bronze (1975), is now available via the applauded Warner Archives DVD collection
(from whom I purchased Jack Webb’s incredible The D.I.—a flick Otto Mannix needs to come over and watch—and I need to lend him that copy of The Island our good buddy Toestubs laid on me).

Doc Savage had some excellently animated floating, glowing snakes (at least that’s what I remember, photo below), but the rest of the movie?
I saw this flick on NBC one night in the late-1970s, so my memory is foggy—but I seem to recall the flick going for a very “camp” feel. I think I enjoyed it,
I do want to see it again, to have an informed opinion,
but I’m not spending $20+ to do it.

But by most accounts, Doc Savage: Man of Bronze (produced and co-written by Pal, directed by generally mediocre Michael Anderson—who directed Logan’s Run the next year)—
was a flop, the studio had no faith in it, and I can’t find too many praises for it.

But enough about stuff that’s already available to purchase or rent!

Without further ado, onto the DVD MIAs! (A phrase I initially heard via the late, lamented DVD Journal—a site that is sorely missed…)

Atlantis, the Lost Continent (1961)

Produced and directed by George Pal
Screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring
From an unproduced play by Gerald Hargreaves
Cinematography: Harold E. Wellman
Editing: Ben Lewis
Music: Russell Garcia
Special Effects: A. Arnold Gillespie, Lee LeBlanc, Robert R. Hoag
Visual Effects (uncredited):
Gene Warren, Wah Chang,
With stop-motion animation by Jim Danforth
and matte paintings by Matthew Yuricich

Cast: Anthony Hall (Demetrios), Joyce Taylor (Princess Antillia), John Dall (Zaren), William Smith (listed in the credits as “Bill” Smith—look at the poster; Captain of the Guard), Edward Platt (Azor), Frank DeKova (Sonoy), Paul Frees (narrator/various voices)
Released by MGM

This used to be shown on NYC’s Channel 9 WOR-TV routinely, and I watched a bootleg DVD about five years ago.

Atlantis, the Lost Continent is another George Pal production with lots of excellent and imaginative effects, as well as creative production design, totally hampered by a mediocre script, and mediocre actors.

Pal was a visionary—who cultivated lousy scripts.
Was it a language thing? Was it a specific type of mindset?
One that was used to creating shorts like the let’s-all-just-agree-that-they’re-classics Puppetoons, but couldn’t really make the creative leap to longer features?

Take a look at Chuck Jones: accomplished creator of shorts, but his feature-length The Phantom Tollbooth? Yeah, it’s a beloved childhood fave that is still unreleased to DVD
with many still-remembered-fondly scenes—but it’s also boring.

Much in the same way some music video directors never got very far in their film careers, or stalled out—like Adrian Lyne or Russell Mulcahy.

Many of Pal’s flicks, like Destination Moon, Conquest of Space, The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao and When Worlds Collide, could be fast-forwarded through until you get to the special effects scenes.

These movies were great for non-discerning sci-fi/fantasy fans in the pre-Star Wars days.
And Pal’s movies were perfect for the butchery that TV stations would do to make a two-hour film fit a 90-minute time-slot (including about 15 to 20 minutes of commercials), so many were in heavy rotation.

And Atlantis falls into this group.
As a kid, I would sit on the floor and watch the movie with one eye, waiting for some cool special effects
(and the flick’s got some: my faves the introduction of the Atlantisian (because an “Atlantaean” is someone from Atlanta, right?) submarine, cruising nonchalantly in the background; and the death ray),
while reading the latest Jack Kirby comic with the other.

We witness the sinking of Atlantis, a cool combo of stock footage (mainly from Quo Vadis? and Pal’s previous The Naked Jungle) and new—

The new effects primarily created by long-time Pal collaborators Gene Warren and Wah Chang, who worked on all George’s films requiring stop-motion animation, and then being his “go-to” guys from 1958 to 1968,
when, after the failure of Conquest of Space, Pal left space and miniatures, and returned to the familiar territory of stop-motion animation and excellent opticals with tom thumb.

Was the financial failure of Conquest of Space deserved?
—the flick really has a rotten script which sinks it, despite some truly awesome effects—there’s about 15 to 20 minutes of “perfect” in this flick, unfortunately cluttered with a terrible, terrible script—
like the SPFX-laden sci-fi/fantasy flicks of another, more contemporary George—except Pal had nowhere near the financial success of Lucas;
maybe George Pal truly was ahead of his time?

Warren & Chang worked with Pal in the Puppetoons days, and in the early-1960s formed
Projects Unlimited
(what a cool name!) with Tim Barr, the SPFX house that supplied about 90% of the props and effects to the original 1960s The Outer Limits, and then the original 1970s Land of the Lost, as well as The Man From Atlantis.

Because of the breadth of their product, and the spectacle-on-a-budget with which they excel, Projects Unlimited is one of my favorite SPFX houses.

There’s good background info on Projects Unlimited in a bio of Wah Chang HERE

Warren and his son, Gene Jr., went on to great success, especially after hooking with James Cameron and providing effects for his The Terminator (1984).

Chang created the majority of the props and monster/aliens for the original Star Trek series, including the creepy salt vampire, and so it is because of Wah Chang that cell phones look like original Star Trek communicators. No lie.

Pal was great at disaster porn and is very much the spiritual father of Roland Emmerich (and with Emmerich’s usually execrable scripts, they share other details as well—although I swear to all that I hold holy, I fully intend to see 2012 on opening day).

At TCM, Jeff Stafford writes about Atlantis, the Lost Continent,
“[F]or its time, the scenes of the death-ray crystals zapping buildings and humans and the final destruction of Atlantis were quite impressive and most critical notices were positive.”

According to Stafford, Shatner auditioned for the lead, and couldn’t stop laughing during his screen test.

In Pal’s defense, I’ll let him speak:
"My regret is that we didn't have an extra few months to work on the story, because we really weren't ready for production. But this was during a writer's strike, and MGM had nothing ready to shoot, and the whole studio was at a standstill. So they said, 'This is good enough, let's go.' Daniel Mainwaring is a very good writer, but he needed more time."

“The MGM executives realized while we were shooting that the script wasn't good enough, and they tried to doctor it. But you can't doctor this type of film during production. They came in with suggestive pages that were worse than what we had."
—George Pal

I have some comments about Pal’s choice of screenwriter, Daniel Mainwaring, later, in The Phenix City Story review below.

Why should Atlantis, the Lost Continent be on DVD?
If you pushed this towards the nostalgia and juvenile markets, you could sell it.
And Pal, despite my criticisms is a legend.
All his flicks deserve to be available, as should all movies with effects by Gene Warren & Co.
And you know what? All flicks that begin with Paul Frees as narrator should be available, too.

Why Not?
Dunno; lack of interest? This movie may be almost forgotten.

Lili (1953)

Directed by Charles Walters
Produced by Edwin H. Knopf
Screenplay by Helen Deutsch
Based on the story "The Man Who Hated People," by Paul Gallico
Editor: Ferris Webster
Cinematography: Robert Planck
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Song "Hi Lili, Hi Lo," by Bronislau Kaper and Adolph Deutsch

Cast: Leslie Caron (Lili Daurier), Mel Ferrer (Paul Berthalet), Jean-Pierre Aumont (Marc), Zsa Zsa Gabor (Rosalie), Kurt Kasznar (Jacquot).
81 min.
Released by MGM

When I think about it, despite any criticisms I may have about the flick (and there’s a big one), I wound up loving Lili!

(Caught this on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), and this station is rapidly becoming the best friend of fans looking for movies that are DVD MIAs.)

My attitude is that any movie that genuinely moves me—
and that’s not easy; I remember seeing ET and then Titanic in theaters, looking around, and thinking, “People are crying over this?”
—that any movie that chokes me up, that melts my cold, cold heart deserves the highest recommendation.

(It turns out that Lili is also one of the few films that legendary curmudgeon H.L. Mencken—who hated movies!—genuinely liked.)

Here’s the contemporary comparison: like Pixar’s Up, Lili is one of the few movies to make me cry.

This is a film I started out disliking, and by the end was completely enthralled.

Give Lili a little time: it seems at first that Leslie Caron’s character is more brain damaged than love-struck; her blind, clueless obsessive-compulsive behavior over the roué magician really made her unsympathetic to my eyes.

The film is thankfully saved by angry puppeteer Mel Ferrer, and the heartwarming/heartbreaking “lessons” Lili is shown via his puppets (like, “I care”).

There are only a handful of dance routines, and only one song for the whole movie (the addictive “Hi-Lili, Hi-lo,” with lyrics like,
“The song of love is a song of woe”—what the?!?),
so Lili doesn’t really feel like your standard MGM musical.

If anything, with the puppets, the art direction and the strange Brian De Palma-esque psychological turn the flick takes, as well as Lili’s borderline-deranged/fever dream fantasy sequences, this is a genuinely weird flick, a perfect double-feature with The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, or El Topo. Really.

In the documentary Divine Trash, John Waters’ mom says that Lili was the director’s favorite film as a child. After viewing Lili, I can totally see why.

(Interestingly, Lili was edited by Ferris Webster, who edited most of Clint Eastwood’s films in the 1970s, like Magnum Force. He also edited Forbidden Planet.)

Although there’s a page for Lili at Netflix, it’s not available on DVD—the flick was very popular when it was released, and nominated for lots awards—and by all accounts, it’s remembered fondly by many, so why is Lili not on DVD?

Good question—I have no idea. If Lili was available, I’d own it.

BTW, Lili is based on the story "The Man Who Hated People," by Paul Gallico.
Gallico was a novelist whose work wound up being involved in many varied films: Including Lili, there was The Poseidon Adventure, The Three Lives of Thomasina and The Pride of the Yankees.

The Phenix City Story (1955)

Directed by Phil Karlson
Produced by Samuel Bischoff, David Diamond
Screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring, Crane Wilbur
Cinematography: Harry Neumann
Film Editing: George White
Music: Harry Sukman

Cast: John McIntire (Albert Patterson), Richard Kiley (John Patterson), Kathryn Grant (Ellie Rhodes), Edward Andrews (Rhett Tanner), Lenka Peterson (Mary Jo Patterson), John Larch (Clem Wilson)
Released by Allied Artists Pictures

Caught this on TCM (kiss-kiss, luv ya!):
Hard-edged, almost brutal tale of the TRUE STORY of the worst damn town in the US, and how the corruption and murders there escalated—until the Governor declared martial law and shipped in the National Guard.

I didn’t know much about the flick plot-wise before I saw it (and made sure not to read any synopsi—a policy I encourage), and when I finally saw The Phenix City Story: WOW.

Great, hard-hitting stuff—the cheapness of the budget gives it a raw feeling that keeps this film really alive, especially on the nighttime street exteriors—there’s that palatable taste of dread.

At TCM, Scott McGee sez (in an article worth reading all of):
Part semi-documentary, part social problem film, part film noir, Phil Karlson’s The Phenix City Story (1955) is a one-of-a-kind window into a sordid and fascinating period in American crime history.

Aside from such blatant crime running rampant, the most troubling aspect of the criminal enterprises, often conducted in the glaring light of day, was the permissive blind eye from the otherwise law-abiding citizens of the town. Mostly the average citizen regarded much of the notoriety as being perfectly normal.

[S]hot on location in Phenix City [Alabama] during the same time the actual trial for Patterson’s killer was taking place. Karlson and his crew received Phenix City-style threats and interruptions from the shadowy syndicate and the citizens that bristled at outside interlopers.

The film’s
screenplay was co-written by
Daniel Mainwaring who also wrote the noir classic Out of the Past (1947), and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and Baby Face Nelson (1957) for director Don Siegel.

You may have already noticed that Mainwaring was also the screenwriter for Pal’s Atlantis (see above).

While you can classify Body Snatchers as a science fiction film, it is filmed in Siegel’s unadorned, hard-nosed noirish style.

Pretty much everything Mainwaring wrote was crime-related, more or else based (or located) in the “real world,” the here-&-now, ripped from the headlines.

It’s obvious that family-friendly sword & sorcery or fantasy was absolute NOT the writer’s forte—what the hell was George Pal thinking?

(And were Richard Matheson or Charles Beaumont not available? Those guys would have been so much more appropriate!)

The fact is that the majority of George Pal’s films were generally uneven, or juvenile, with mediocre scripts—the man really should have opened up a special effects company or something, and done what Gene Warren did.

But enough Pal bashing—

The Phenix City Story is not on DVD probably because of the legal problems of distributor Allied Artists
—this is also why Attack of the Crab Monsters is unavailable, I think—
but Wiki sez Allied Artists’ catalog is now owned by Warner Bros.
Who knows, maybe these DVDs will be available through Warner Archives?

The Power (1968)

Directed by Byron Haskin
Produced by George Pal
Screenplay by John Gay
Based on the novel by Frank M. Robinson
Cinematography: Ellsworth Fredericks
Editing: Thomas J. McCarthy
Music: Miklos Rozsa
Special visual effects: J. McMillan Johnson, Gene Warren
Uncredited: Wah Chang, David Pal (George’s son)
Special makeup effects: William Tuttle

Cast: George Hamilton (Jim Tanner), Suzanne Pleshette (Margery Lansing), Richard Carlson, Yvonne De Carlo, Arthur O'Connell, Gary Merrill, Earl Holliman, Barbara Nichols, Aldo Ray, Michael Rennie, Nehemiah Persoff
Released by MGM

Saw this originally on the ABC-TV’s NYC affiliate’s daily The 4:30 Movie when I was a kid, but TCM (God bless ’em!) recently broadcast this, letterboxed!

The Power is better than The Fury, about the same as Scanners, but hardly as good as Carrie (in the telepaths sweepstakes)/

The Power is like a good episode of The Outer Limits, but needed to be cut down to 90 minutes & have more stop motion/
If the movie had been shorter, it would have had more of a hallucinatory feeling—
There’s lots of poorly written, pointless exposition, and
footage is often repeated in The Power (it truly feels like padding), and slows down the flick completely, hitting it like a bucket of molasses.

Instead of a lot of exposition, maybe The Power needed a good car chase?

The movie does have a deliciously lurid color scheme—and a good “offbeat” feeling, with a sleazy sexuality running through it. (Witness Yvonne DeCarlo—Lily Munster!—come on like Mrs. Wormer: freeeeeeee-KEE.)

And the lab where the scientists work looks like the research facility that developed all the brainwashing devices for The Village in the cult TV-show The Prisoner.

Incidentally, director Byron Haskin directed some of the best episodes of the original The Outer Limits, like “Demon With a Glass Hand,” “The Architects of Fear” and “The Invisible Enemy” (although a dopey story, that last one is one of my Outer Limits faves with its crazy Martian sand-sharks).

Haskin also directed Robinson Crusoe on Mars (which many often confuse as a Pal production—he had nothing to do with this flick—which is maybe why it’s not boring—although Robinson Crusoe on Mars does re-use the Martian death machines from The War of the Worlds), the Burt Lancaster actioner His Majesty O’Keefe and, of course, the Pal-produced The War of the Worlds.

A former special effects man, Haskin was probably the best of Pal’s collaborators, working on four films together:
including The Power and The War of the Worlds, Haskins directed The Naked Jungle and Conquest of Space (three out of four ain’t too bad).

Why The Power should be on DVD:
Why not? It’s a decent flick, with some cool weirdness: the effects, the music, and the design are all top notch.
And I think the casting really works all around (lots of familiar faces); I like George Hamilton sometimes—and he’s good here 'cause who thinks this pretty boy is going to survive?

Why not on DVD?
Perhaps the studio perceives The Power as a forgotten financial failure.
With its showing on TCM, maybe interest will grow, but a lot might say, why bother?
They would figure that the fanboys should have rearranged their schedules to catch the movie (like I did) or set their DVRs.
Why go through the trouble of pressing a bunch of discs for some forgotten flick when the economy is in the toilet?

BTW, it’s not telepath Adam Hart who's spinning the paper—it’s the other telepath, the new one, doing it unconsciously--
The new telepath doesn’t know they are a telepath—
(I just had to mention that as I’ve noticed confusion on some message boards and websites)

The Twonky (1953)

Written, directed and produced by Arch Oboler
Based on a story by Lewis Padgett (penname for Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore)
Cinematography: Joseph F. Biroc
Film Editing: Betty Steinberg
Music: Jack Meakin
Special Effects: Robert Bonnig

Cast: Hans Conried (Kerry West), Janet Warren (Carolyn West), Billy Lynn (Coach Trout), Ed Max (TV repairman), Gloria Blondell (Lady Bill Collector), Evelyn Beresford (Old Lady Motorist), Norman Field (doctor)
84 min.
Released by United Artists

“I believe
that the world in the future
where this Twonky comes from,
every house,
every family,
has a Twonky of their own–
to carry out the dictates
of the super state…

Yes, the super state…
There’s one placed in every home to serve,
to regulate
every thought
according to the
dictates of the
super state…
He is now carrying out that function with you."

This is a pretty sharp satire hidden inside a quirky and absurdist comedy.
Hell, YES!

Another flick seen because of TCM, my new best friend—
which is ironic since The Twonky is all about the super-state controlling us via TVs/

This flick is a genius piece of genius: it’s just that it was a movie PERFECT for 2009 but unfortunately released in 1953—
there are few flicks that could be called ahead of their time, but The Twonky is one of them.

Filmed like a sitcom (or about one step up from a George Kuchar film), full of cornball sitcom gags, which work mainly because of rubber-faced Hans Conried

(In 1953, Conried was in another fabulous cult movie that was too damn brilliant for its time: The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.)

There’s a
Fantastic cartoon synopsis by Rick Trembles
(who calls The Twonky
“Pie-in-the-face McCarthyism meets Videodrome!”)

At Shock Cinema, the fab Steven Puchalski writes,
“Though The Twonky is no masterwork, it features a brilliant story idea, a wonderful lead actor, and tons of adolescent-level stupidity. B-movie fluff starring everyone's favorite weasely character actor, Hans Conried, and an evil new mind-controlling abomination called a Television!”

Why should The Twonky be on DVD:
Because it’s awesome!

Why won’t it:
Too many people are incapable of suspension of disbelief—they look at this movie and only see cheap sets and ridiculous effects, and cannot see the brilliant warning we’ve been given, Cassandra-like, by Arch Oboler.

Some great screen-snapz can be found HERE

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)

Directed by Henry Levin and George Pal
Produced by George Pal
Screenplay by David P. Harmon, Charles Beaumont, William Roberts
Story by David P. Harmon
Based on "Die Bruder Grimm" by Dr. Hermann Gerstner
and the stories of Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm (uncredited)
Cinematography by Paul C. Vogel
Film Editing by Walter Thompson
Special Visual Effects by Tim Baar, Wah Chang, Robert R. Hoag, Gene Warren
With stop-motion by Jim Danforth, David Pal, Don Sahlin, Peter Van Elk
Music by Leigh Harline

Laurence Harvey (Wilhelm Grimm/ The Cobbler), Karl Boehm (Jacob Grimm),
with Claire Bloom, Barbara Eden, Oskar Homolka, Arnold Stang, Yvette Mimieux, Russ Tamblyn, Jim Backus, Terry-Thomas, Buddy Hackett, Billy Barty, Angelo Rossitto
135 min.

Released by MGM

Letterbox print scheduled for December 12 on TCM at 6am (EST) – I’m SO there!

Which is good, because
unfortunately, I have only vague memories of what this movie is about or what’s in it.
I saw this movie, but a LONG time ago on one of the local NYC television stations, in full-screen pan-&-scan, which, since The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm was a Cinerama movie, meant that about 75% of the screen was lost—
even as a kid I thought something was amiss/
I can’t wait to see some good Jim Danforth special effects (that’s him at left, animating the dragon).

I love stop-motion animation, but I actually prefer the animation that Warren, Danforth & Co. have created over the work of Ray Harryhausen.

Harryhausen’s critters always seemed to be to balletic, like Ray was trying too hard, imbuing his creations with excessive action—like all the little bits an annoying method actor pulls, like twitches or hand jive.
Harryhausen, I feel, is an extremely self-conscious animator.

For me, the creations animated by Danforth, like in Seven Faces of Dr. Lao or Jack, the Giant Killer (1962) or When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1971) are livelier, more punk rock, more exciting, more fun to watch.

So we’re just going to have to wait and see if the animation of The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm delivers.

There are those who certainly praise it:
“The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm is a classic film if ever there was one.”

And there are some wild collectors items that must be worth a pretty penny…

So how’d this flick get made?
"Then [Cinerama president Nicholas Reisini and Sol] Seigel called me and said, 'How about doing Brothers Grimm in Cinerama?' I practically fainted!"
George Pal

TCM sez:
“Pal realized the picture was too big to handle himself and hired Henry Levin to direct the biography sequences while Pal oversaw the fantasy segments. Levin was no stranger to this kind of project; he had directed the Jules Verne fantasy Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) and an Italian film, The Wonders of Aladdin (1961). Pal wanted to cast Peter Sellers and Alec Guinness as the brothers, but the studio opted for contract players Laurence Harvey and Karl Bohm, the German actor who had appeared in the British shocker Peeping Tom (1960) and later made several films with Rainer Werner Fassbinder.”

About Cinerama and Brothers Grimm:
Wiki sez:
The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm was produced and exhibited in the original 3-strip Cinerama widescreen process.

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm has never been released onto DVD. A previous laserdisc of the film was issued, but the quality of the print used for the laserdisc issue was very poor, and was missing the prologue, overture, entr’acte and walk-out music from the Cinerama roadshow version.

The film was also transferred in the incorrect aspect ratio, cutting off the far left and right portions of the image.
The original 35mm 3-panel Cinerama camera negatives were heavily water damaged in a warehouse fire.

The film was never transferred to a 70mm version after it was made, so the only surviving prints are edited 35mm composite prints.
Until recently, the only prints thought to survive were not copies of the original roadshow version, and did not contain all three panels of information. The left area of the A panel and the right area of the C panel were missing from the composite prints. In addition, the color was badly faded. Because of the cost, most doubted that there would ever be a restored version of this film.
However, the current version shown on Turner Classic Movies is the full-length version, with all three panels in view—a version not seen since the film's 1962 roadshow release, not even on television.

(Jeez, will ya listen to that? Holy smokes, I’m setting two alarm clocks so I can catch this broadcast! December 12, 6am, TCM—count me in!)

Why not on DVD?
See Wiki quote above about Cinerama problems

Why should it?
George Pal, animation, MGM musicals, the usual suspects

And that’s it for this round of DVD MIA—
Let me know what flicks you’d like to see finally released on DVD (or whatever), I’m curious.

And now I must plan the return of The 47th Minute Project!
(cue spooky yet bombastic music)

(and welcome to all the new readers and followers of Ivanlandia--I love you all!)

The cool cats at Heart in a Jar have, in a sign that there is a zeitgeist--maybe a polterzeitgeist?--going on, created their own DVD MIA list: "DVD or Die" with many, many clips from various unavailable flicks. Check it out!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

New on DVD: Sam Fuller’s UNDERWORLD U.S.A., and Sandy Harbutt’s STONE—Watch them NOW!

Underworld U.S.A. (1961)
Written, produced and directed by Samuel Fuller
Cinematography: Hal Mohr
Editing: Jerome Thoms
Music: Harry Sukman

Cast: Cliff Robertson (Tolly Devlin), Dolores Dorn (Cuddles), Beatrice Kay (Sandy), Paul Dubov (Gela), Robert Emhardt (Earl Connors), Larry Gates (Driscoll), Richard Rust (Gus Cottahee), Gerald Milton (Gunther), Allan Gruener (Smith).
B&W, 99min.
DVD letterboxed

Here’s my quickie N-flix-style review:

Samuel Fuller’s incredible hard-boiled tale of revenge is finally available on DVD, and it’s a must-see. Try not to read too much about the movie beforehand (and don’t watch Scorsese’s intro until after seeing the movie—he reveals too much info), just rent it and be exhilarated by Underworld U.S.A.’s intensity.

It’s a rotten world for juvenile delinquent Tolly Devlin, made worse when he sees his dad brutally beaten to death by four shadowy figures in the first minutes of the film.

Rather than use his remarkable talent to lift himself out of the cesspool, Tolly dives further in, seeking to exact revenge on the killers—
and thereby seals his own doom.

Tolly’s got no use for anything that isn’t related to killing these guys—
Because his life is nothing without revenge.

(Of course, it’s never asked or mentioned about Tolly’s dad maybe deserving to get iced? Like, what does someone have to do to get beaten to death? Something big, you’d think.)

Sam Fuller’s incredible Underworld U.S.A. is finally available on DVD,
as part of the
Samuel Fuller Collection
and it’s even better than I remembered it!

A perfectly constructed machine of nihilism, filmed in fantastic B&W, Underworld U.S.A. is like
White Heat
The Phenix City Story
Kiss Me Deadly:

It’s one of those Noir Bridges between the Old School (“social problem”) Crime Films (Little Caesar, Scarface) and the 1970s Neo-Noir Madness (Dirty Harry, The French Connection, The Outfit, Scarface) that essentially ignores Film Noir’s “Fallen Noble Hero” subset, like most of Bogie’s movies.

At DVD Talk, Glenn Erickson writes:
Cinematographer Hal Mohr may be the key factor in Underworld U.S.A.'s enhanced impact; the modestly budgeted film can boast superior imagery. The mob's glass and steel offices equate organized crime with big business, while some of Dolores Dorn's close-ups are breathtakingly beautiful. Fuller blocks his compositions the way an editor blocks out a page of newsprint.

And what about this: Fuller describes a crime syndicate hiding behind a legitimate business façade, but what if he’s alluding to crime in the US being supported by big business? Not just “equating,” but pointing-the-finger: Big Business has its fingers in the dope & whores racket!(or am I looking too hard for subtext? Heck, that’s what Samuel Fuller movies do to you!)
Underworld U.S.A. has a feral energy that’s infectious/
the darn thing never stops moving—
all credit to the late, great Sam Fuller, an Ivanlandia favorite!

Co-star Dolores Dorn (who plays the prostitute who falls for Tolly; in the photos up top, gazing into Cliff Robertson’s soulless, revenge-hungry eyes; and at right)
went on to be in the awesome The Candy Snatchers (1973)
(good band, too!—not that Ms. Dorn was in the band…),
then later became a noted acting teacher for the American Film Institute in 1977, and with the Lee Strasberg Institute in 1983, according to IMDB.

Click here for a good essay on
Underworld USA
By Richard Harland Smith (but one that gives away some surprises, as well)

By the way, Sam Fuller’s Underworld U.S.A. is not specifically related to James Ellroy’s Underworld U.S.A. trilogy, now concluded with the recent publication of Blood’s a Rover, an excellent novel, worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence with Samuel Fuller.
(I think I remember reading that Ellroy got the title for his trilogy from, and is said to have liked Fuller’s movie, but I couldn’t find any links… Sorry.)

There’s MORE!

Stone (1974)
Directed, produced and production designed by Sandy Harbutt
Screenplay by Sandy Harbutt and Michael Robinson
Cinematography: Graham Lind
Editing: Ian Barry
Music: Billy Green

Cast: Ken Shorter (Stone), Sandy Harbutt (Undertaker), Helen Morse (Amanda), Hugh Keays-Byrne (Toad),
with Rebecca Gilling, Vincent Gil, Bindi Williams, James H. Bowles, Bill Hunter, Garry McDonald
99 min.
DVD Letterboxed

As you well know, The United Provinces of Ivanlandia loves it some biker movies, and this week we were lucky enough to get hold of the recently-made-available-on-DVD-in-the-US Australian biker classic Stone (1974).

It’s an absolute must-see for fans of biker movies!
Inspired by the biker exploitation flicks Hollywood was churning out in the late-60s/early-70s,
Stone is an Australian biker (or “bikie”) movie that really rings true
primarily because the film was a labor of love made by and for bikies.

Because of that, Stone is one of the best motorcycle gang B-movies made,
much better than 99% of its American counterparts,
with a semi-documentary feeling that keeps things raw and authentic.

Forget about the plot—
it’s the flimsiest of excuses to allow the viewer to groove on the exclusive world of the Gravediggers Motorcycle Club—
and unlike US biker films, Stone is very sympathetic to the gang, without emasculating them or turning them into clowns and harmless goofs.

(In fact, I’d say Stone has more in common with its fellow Aussie B-movie masterpiece Mad Max and the English biker/ horror movie Psychomania, than with any of its Yankee equivalents.)

While Stone is very docu-like, the movie also has a very strong stoner aesthetic (or “trippy vibe”) that really passes on the feeling that you’re smoking as much dope as the bikers are on-screen (which makes sense since the flick is called “Stone” and the tagline from the poster was

And it’s true: Stone has a great ending.

Lots of credit should be heaped on writer-director-actor-designer Sandy Harbutt—
if anyone deserves to be called an auteur, it’s him.