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Archive for the ‘DVD reviews, releases, TV, etc.’ Category

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Directed by John Ford
Starring John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brien, Andy Devine, Woody Strode

One of the greatest Westerns of them all — and in my opinion, one of the finest American films ever made — is coming to Blu-ray in October. From the performances to the stunning black-and-white cinematography to the direction, John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) comes as close to perfection as any film I can think of. Every time I see it, I find something new to marvel at, from the huge steaks hanging of the sides of giant plates to a particular shot (like the one below) to John Wayne kicking Strother Martin in the face. The last time, it was the grace Woody Strode brought to his part as Pompey, Wayne’s ranch hand.

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I can’t think of a film I’d rather see make the move to Blu-ray.

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Directed by Edwin L. Marin
Produced by Jules Levey
Screen play by Harold Shumate
From the novel “Trail Town” by Ernest Haycox
Director Of Photography: Archie J. Stout, ASC
Film Editor: Richard Heermance

Cast: Randolph Scott (Marshal Dan Mitchell), Ann Dvorak (Rita), Edgar Buchanan (Bravo Trimble), Rhonda Fleming (Sherry Balder), Lloyd Bridges (Henry Dreiser), Helen Boice (Big Annie), Howard Freeman (Ed Balder), Richard Hale (Charlie Fair), Jack Lambert (Jet Younger), Dick Curtis (Ryker), Earl Schenck (Hazelhurst), Eddie Waller (Hannaberry), Hank Patterson (Doug Neil)

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After World War II, Randolph Scott would create a persona that would carry him through the rest of his career (he played his last non-Western role in 1947) and make him one of the Western’s true icons. He wore his age very, very well, and it gave him the kind of authority you find in Wayne or Cooper or Stewart.

At the same time Scott was maturing, so was the Western itself — and that maturity marks the 50s Westerns we’re so enamored of around here. Abilene Town (1946) shows both of these shifts, Scott’s and the Western’s, toward something more complex and a little darker.

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Just a few years after the Civil War, Abilene, Kansas, is a town divided, literally. On one side of the street are the merchants and homesteaders, and on the other side, the saloonkeepers, gamblers and dance hall girls. In the middle stands Marshal Dan Mitchell (Randolph Scott). There’s a range war brewing, with the homesteaders laying down stakes to build a real community and the ranchers wanting to keep the range, and the saloons, open.

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Of course, the rancher-settler conflict forms the backbone of many, many Westerns. This time around, there’s a lot of human nature woven into that familiar plot-line — the townspeople are reluctant to actually do anything about their situation, in a way that would become more common in the 50s. It’s certainly lighter here than what would come later, which provides a good role for Edgar Buchanan as an ineffective sheriff. Ann Dvorak gets plenty of screen time, and a number of songs, as Scott’s saloon-singer girlfriend. Lloyd Bridges and Rhonda Fleming get early roles. And Jack Lambert is at his creepy best.

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Edwin L. Marin’s direction is very assured, and the action scenes are very well done.

Abilene Town is in the public domain, and when it turns up on TV or on DVD at the dollar store, it invariably looks terrible. Soft, washed-out, spliced-up — just plain lousy. For that reason, I’d never seen it all the way through. The new region-free Blu-ray from Panamint Cinema, mastered from a 35mm fine grain print courtesy of the BFI National Archive, is a revelation. There’s a sound glitch or two, and changeover cues are visible, but those are welcome reminders that you’re watching a movie. I miss such things. Archie Stout’s cinematography is just incredible — it’s hard to believe this is the same movie I’ve given up on so many times over the years. We all owe a big thanks to Russell Cowe at Panamint Cinema for seeing this one through — a movie that has been almost unwatchable for decades now shines like a diamond. Abilene Town is ripe for reappraisal and this Blu-ray should make it happen. Essential.

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Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Starring Spender Tracy, Robert Wagner, Jean Peters, Richard Widmark, Katy Jurado, Hugh O’Brien

Broken Lance (1954) a CinemaScope remake of House Of Strangers (1949), with Edward G. Robinson’s Italian-American banker replaced by rancher Spender Tracy. Director Edward Dmytryk and director of photography Joe MacDonald’s use of early CinemaScope and the picture’s full stereophonic sound should make it a terrific release from Twilight Time on November 10. Its merits as a movie you’re probably well aware of.

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Directed by Roy (Ward) Baker
Produced by William Bloom
Written by Francis M. Cockrell
Director Of Photography: Lucian Ballard
Music by Paul Sawtell

Cast:Robert Ryan (Donald Whitley Carson III), Rhonda Fleming (Geraldine Carson), William Lundigan (Joseph Duncan), Henry Hull (Sam Elby), Larry Keating (Dave Emory), Carl Betz (Lt. Mike Platt), Robert Burton (Sheriff), Barbara Pepper

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Inferno (1953) isn’t a Western. But it’s got enough of our usual stuff in it — cast, crew, locations, etc. — to seem like a pretty good fit. Truthfully, I just wanted to write about it, celebrate director Roy Ward Baker and lift up Panamint Cinema’s fine work in bringing it to DVD and Blu-ray.

3-D never saved a crappy movie, and how much it enhances a film comes down to personal taste (to me, if it’s not perfectly presented, it’s a huge distraction). None of that is an issue with Inferno, because it’s a terrific “desert noir” picture — and director Roy Baker and cinematographer Lucian Ballard use the 3-D very, very well. (Have you noticed that watching a 3-D movie flat tends to show off how gimmick-y it is? Fort Ti, for instance.)

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Robert Ryan is a tough, drunken business tycoon no one seems all that fond of. When he breaks his leg horseback riding in the Mojave, his wife (Rhonda Fleming) and her new lover (William Lundigan) decide to leave him there to die — they’re not killing him, they’re just not saving him. Sounds like a perfect plan. Only they didn’t figure Ryan would sober up, patch up his leg and start making his way back to civilization.

The picture goes back and forth between Ryan’s trek through the desert and Fleming and Lundigan’s attempts to fake their way through the rescue efforts. Ryan plays his part largely without dialogue — we hear his thoughts as narration — and he’s very, very good. (As if I had to tell you that.)

Roy Baker: “I had always had an ambition to make a picture in which the leading character spends long periods alone on the screen, where the interest would be in what he does, rather than what he says.”*

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Fleming and Lundigan are good, too. As the movie progresses, their paranoia and stress levels escalate. You just know it’s going to fall apart. It’s to the credit of everyone involved that our sympathy shifts from scene to scene — and in how satisfying it is when Fate takes over in the last reel.

Director Roy (Ward) Baker was a master, and today, nobody seems to know who he is. He enjoyed a widely-varied career, bouncing from features to TV, from genre to genre, and from the US to the UK with ease. He got a great performance out of Marilyn Monroe in Don’t Bother To Knock (1952), directed some great episodes of The Avengers, made one of the best Hammer films, Five Million Miles To Earth (1968, known in the UK as Quatermass And The Pit), and gave us one of the most impossibly-great, damned-near perfect movies I’ve ever seen, A Night To Remember (1958).

His use of depth in Inferno is subtle but very effective, and he was proud of his work on the picture. A falling rock or two, a chair thrown toward the camera — that’s about it as far as the showy stuff goes. The rocks and cactus provide plenty of opportunities to play around with depth in a more natural way. He and Lucian Ballard work wonders with light and color to create the intensity of the desert. The movie looks really hot — though it was shot in the winter. (Budd Boetticher and Sam Peckinpah also lured Ballard and his cameras into the desert for pictures like Buchanan Rides Alone and The Wild Bunch.)

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The supporting cast is a good one. Henry Hull is great as the old prospector who comes to Ryan’s aid. Larry Keating, who’s wonderful on The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show, is Ryan’s business associate, and he doesn’t seem all that upset, or surprised, that his partner’s gone missing. And Barbarba Pepper, Mrs. Ziffel on Green Acres, turns up as a waitress.

They say that back in the 90s, a British retrospective on Baker was reduced to running a 16mm TV print of Inferno. Luckily, Bob Furmanek of The 3-D Film Archive tracked down 35mm Technicolor prints of both the left and right sides — which this incredible region-free Blu-ray comes from (transferred by Dan Symmes). The picture is stunning at times, sharp as a tack with vivid color and just the right amount of grain. It looks exactly like what it is — a nice 35mm dye-transfer Technicolor print. This was an early stereo picture, but there’s only mono here. Bet the stereo masters are long gone. I wasn’t able to watch the 3-D version, which would have to be impressive since it comes from the same material. There’s a healthy batch of extras, from trailers to an interview with the great Rhonda Fleming.

Inferno comes highly, highly recommended — both the movie and this beautiful Blu-ray. And I’d like to thank Bob Furmanek of The 3-D Film Archive and Russell Cowe of Panamint Cinema for getting it out there.

Sources: *Director’s Cut: A Memoir of 60 Years in Film by Roy Ward Baker; Blu-ray liner notes

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54166_3lEssential
stuff at a terrific price.

With this two-disc set from Mill Creek, you get the five Columbia titles from Randolph Scott and Budd Boetticher’s Ranown cycle — The Tall T (1957), Decision At Sundown (1957), Buchanan Rides Alone (1958), Ride Lonesome (1959) and Comanche Station (1960, above). And if all that isn’t enough, they’ve thrown in Joseph H. Lewis’ A Lawless Street (1955) to sweeten the deal.

Available September 15. Buy a whole case of ’em, folks, and your holiday shopping’s done. Now, what do we have to do to get a Blu-ray version of this?

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Gunmans Walk HS

Directed by Phil Karlson
Starring Van Heflin, Tab Hunter, Kathryn Grant, James Darren, Mickey Shaughnessy

Explosive Media out of Germany has announced an upcoming Blu-ray of Phil’s Karlson’s Gunman’s Walk (1958). This is a terrific Western and one of Karlson’s best movies. It’s far more obscure than it needs to be.

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Directed by Felix Feist
Starring Kirk Douglas, Eve Miller, Patrice Wymore, Edgar Buchanan, John Archer, Alan Hale, Jr., Ellen Corby

The Big Trees (1952) is a fun Kirk Douglas picture about loggers after the redwoods of northern California. Douglas did it for free to get out of his Warner Bros. contract. To me, the real stars of the film are Director Of Photography Bert Glennon and Patrice Wymore, who looks incredible thanks to Glennon’s masterful use of Technicolor.

It’s airing on INSP TV as part of their Saddle Up Weekends all through July — part of a solid lineup of classic films and TV.

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