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COLD TURKEY (blu ray OLIVE FILMS)

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COLD TURKEY – (United Artists,1971) Blu Ray & DVD from Olive Films .102 min.Color. 1:85:1 aspect ratio. PG -13 subtitles: English optional
Blu Ray $29.95 DVD $14.95
https://olivefilms.com/product/cold-turkey/

While ALL IN THE FAMILY (CBS,1971-9) was struggling in the ratings to find it’s audience (and it really didn’t catch on until summer reruns before it became one of the most important social programs in television history ),about a month after that show’s premiere a wonderful dark comedy film by it’s creator Norman Lear was released theatrically . It’s biting humor and commentary seemed to connect with a certain portion of the population ,and it brought in about  $11 million at the box office.
It was only when the film began turning up on television ,promoted as “By The Creator of ALL IN THE FAMILY” that a much audience began to truly discover this film.

A little history for the young ‘uns  –
For decades, smoking was considered an acceptable social behavior. People smoked everywhere- restaurants, theatres ,mass transit , the office, and of course at home. Even in hospitals, there was smoking allowed in certain areas.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnKLpO9qhOE
Then, on January 11, 1964, Luther L. Terry, M.D., Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service, released the first report of the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health. It concluded cigarettes were cause of lung cancer and laryngeal cancer in men, a Probable (?) cause of lung cancer in women , and the major cause of chronic bronchitis.

 

The tobacco industry poured money into their lobbying efforts, as well as millions into creating iconic characters that showed that smoking was “cool”. Of course ,there was the image of the rugged Marlboro Man, a character first created in 1954 and lasting until 1999. Mind you , at least four of the portrayers of this western figure died from smoking caused illnesses .In fact, actor Wayne McLaren after his stint as the character spent his last years in anti smoking campaigns until his death from lung cancer in 1992 at the age of 51.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Or0Kteya0ps
Still, the addictive nature had people dig in their heels and refused to allow facts get in the way of the puffs of pleasure.

Norman Lear saw this ,and his knowledge of people as well as of corporate greed helped him create this film. Based upon the unpublished novel, “I’M GIVING THEM UP FOR GOOD” by Margaret and Neil Rau ,Lear and journalist/novelist William Price Fox created a wonderful madcap satire screenplay that sends up Middle America and corporate greed.

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In the film , Merwyn Wren (Bob Newhart )is the wunderkid who thinks he will turn the tide against anti smoking by offering twenty five million dollars to any town that will go cold turkey and quit smoking for one month. The town of Eagle Rock ,Iowa, leaps at the chance at financial redemption that money will offer. Since the local military base was closed, businesses have been in a slump.

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Reverend Clayton Brooks (Dick Van Dyke ) sees this as a chance to save the town, as well as his status within his ministry. He must convince everyone to sign the one month promise, for if anyone takes a single cigarette puff, the town loses. This is not as easy as he thinks, because it seems nearly everyone in town has taken up smoking to deal with their daily lives, Clayton and his wife (Pippa Scott )included.

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The film seems rather timely when a Tea Party like group (led by Graham Jarvis , and including a foul mouth old lady (Judith Lowry)who seeks commies everywhere)) decide they will patrol the town and prevent any contraband being brought in.

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Lear presents the dark underbelly of society, where everyone seems to live in a perfect Middle America but it is only a thin veneer covering underlying desperation . but does so in a funny way with his sharp insights .
The superb cast make all the characters shine and keep our interest in the story .
The town drunk (Tom Poston) chooses to leave rather than be in a town without smokes.
A silent Edward Everett Horton as a wheel chair bound ,flatulent senior tobacco company owner Hiram C. Grayson (Horton’s last screen role, he passed away before the film was released. Supposedly, his character is the first one to ever fart on screen,a dubious honor to be sure).

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Barnard Hughes is fantastic as smoke addicted Dr Proctor, who nearly brings the whole affair down, even holding off his fellow townsfolk at one point while trying to light up in an operating room.bernard hughes

Cold Turkey (1971)
Directed by Norman Lear
Shown: Barnard Hughes (left)
Lear seemed to be picked people from this cast to be in his future tv series from this cast, as Vincent Gardenia appears as the town’s flustered mayor, Paul Benedict as a Zen Master, and Jean Stapleton as Mrs Wappler, frustrated with gaining weight due to her cessation of smoking .

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Back in the 1970s, people looked up to and trusted the news media ,with the likes of anchormen like Walter Cronkite and Huntley & Brinkley. The brilliant Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding (the comedy team of Bob and Ray) appear throughout and do superb mimicry of those well admired journalists (when Ray appears as Walter Chronic, there is actually a halo above his head ,thanks to a circular light on the ceiling).


Dick Van Dyke is great in the lead role, trying to hold the town together. Pippa Scott ,his loving if overlooked wife, finds that her husband’s libido has increased due to improved breathing without their smokes. One of my favorite moments is when she is getting dressed, sees her husband approaching and starts undressing with a sort of ‘close your eyes and think of England” resignation.                  Cold3

 
The cigarette companies all get together and basically tell Wren that if he doesn’t get the town smoking before the deadline then he will be out of work, he tries harder and harder to get someone to light up. The film at the end even gets some digs in at the unpopular Richard Nixon without naming him directly.

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The film boasts the first score by Randy Newman, including a song “He Gave Us All His Love” that Newman would redo on his 1972 album ‘Sail Away”.
Cinematographer Charles F Wheeler uses a lot of natural lighting on the Ohio locations ,and it gives us that Norman Rockwell look that the film is parodying.

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MGM had released the film on VHS and DVD previously in full frame releases but now OLIVE FILMS has cleaned it up and released a nice ,though no frills Blu Ray release of this comic satire.s-l640
The picture is presented in 1:85:1 widescreen with a much cleaner and sharper image than had been previously available. The print doesn’t seem to have been given an upgrade , as there are some shots that look a bit muddy, but that may be found in the actual print.

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The DTS-HD mono sound is fine ,and this film really doesn’t have need for any stereo remixing. The dialogue ,music and sound effects are clean and do not overpower each other.

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There are subtitles for the hearing impaired an optional English subtitle function ,that follows the action and dialogue quite well, and is easy to read.

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The disc is Region A only.
Sadly , there are no extras. One wishes that Dick Van Dyke and/or Norman Lear himself had been brought in to talk about their experiences of making this film.

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There are some wonderful clips that they could have used but perhaps the rights were too prohibitively expensive .
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmJFGnPoJBg behind the scenes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C27kVPTQk5M 30th anniversary
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ln-5i30ml9M Dick Van Dyke in some 8mm home movies, using the Newman song.

However, do not let that discourage you from picking up this wonderful comedy .

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Olive Films is to be commended for bringing us this little gem.

Recommended.

Kevin G Shinnick

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NEXT STOP, GREENWICH VILLAGE (Fox,1976,111 min.color) Blu-Ray Twilight Time $29.95

                                                                                NEXT STOP, GREENWICH VILLAGE

(Fox,1976,111 min.color) Blu-Ray Twilight Time $29.95 https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/next-stop-greenwich-village-blu-ray/ released May 22,2018 limited to 3,000 copies only.

 

While not as well known or as financially successful as AN UNMARRIED WOMAN (Fox,1978) or BOB &CAROL & TED & ALICE (Columbia ,1969), to me NEXT STOP GREENWICH VILLAGE is writer/producer/actor/director Paul Mazursky’s masterpiece that can be revisited again and again.

A semi-autobiographical work, N.S.G.V. perfectly captures the mood of a vibrant bohemian culture that defined the Village scene until the early 2000s, when the area grew too expensive and the quirky and energetic art, individualism, and yes, just plain fun crazy inhabitants were driven out, and the cozy brownstones and shops turned into expensive high-rises and expensive pretentious stores that lack any personality.

 

Much of the credit must go to the casting geniuses of Juliet Taylor and Sylvia Fay (background). Ms. Taylor and the late Ms. Fay (if you ever saw tv’s  FRIENDS(W.B.,1994-2004), actress June Gable obviously based her character of the chain-smoking Estelle on the late Sylvia Fay) were the unsung heroes of NY casting.

Unlike many casting directors today, they would attend Off -Off Broadway shows, seeking out new interesting faces and talent.

That is how Ms. Taylor came across actor Lenny Baker. The actor was busy working in Off Broadway shows, when she brought him to the attention of director Mazursky very close to the start of actual filming. The role fit the actor to a “t”, and he went on to win a Tony Award in 1977 for his role in the musical I LOVE MY WIFE. It is a major shame that illness took him from audiences too soon, dying from AIDS in 1982 at age 37.

   Ilene Graff as Cleo and Lenny Baker as Alvin in I Love My Wife

 

The film is also filled with a lot of New York stage actors who were still unknown at the time, including leading lady Ellen Greene (later most famous for her star turn both on stage and off as a blonde tressed Audrey in the musical LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS) and a blink and you’ll miss him Bill Murray. This film and many New York lensed films of the 1970s truly did live up to the maxim, ‘They had faces then”.

 

Surrounding the talented newcomers were seasoned stars and supporting actors like Shelley Winters, Lou Jacobi, and Mike Kellin (whose last film role was as Mel in SLEEPAWAY CAMP, American Eagle, 1983).

 

• The Lapinskis are a nice if eccentric working class Jewish family living in Brooklyn ,1953 when son Lenny Lapinski (Baker) decides it’s time for him to move to Manhattan and pursue his dream of becoming an actor, much as the idea brings agita to his mother Fay (Winters) and his somewhat henpecked dad Ben (Kallin).

• Finding a flat in a Village brownstone, he is soon surrounded by loving bohemian friends who are artistically hungry, assured self-centered intellectuals, or creating lives and backgrounds for themselves that help them survive the real world. Among this idiosyncratic crew are Anita (Lois Smith), a high-strung friend who contemplates suicide, Robert (Christopher Walken) as the smug poet Robert, and Bernstein a black gay man who is full of fanciful stories of his life (Antonio Vargas, whom if you only know him as Huggy Bear from tv’s STARSKY & HUTCH, Spelling-Goldberg,1975-79, you will be astonished by his brilliant and touching turn here), hanger on Connie (Dori Bremmer).

The cast and director Mazursky

 

Lenny also a girlfriend, free spirit Sarah Roth (Greene). Their relationship is very sexual, in contrast to the normal conformity of the era. She enjoys their relationship but doesn’t want to be merely someone’s girlfriend. The problem is she isn’t sure exactly where she fits in the world.

 

That is not an issue with Lenny, who goes to acting classes, hoping like so many to be the next Brando, while working in an health food shop run by Herb (Lou Jacobi) and his wife (Helen Hanft, a fixture in Off -Off and Off-Broadway productions).

 

Along the way, we have many funny and tragic events happen along the way to Lenny’s journey to achieve stardom. Moments perfectly capture what feel honest and true of the period, including rent parties (a $1 a head, when a flat could be had for $50 a month!).

 

Among the names mentioned above, keep an eye out for Jeff Goldblum as a self-centered actor who studied at “The Studio” whose big mouth costs him from even being able to audition, Joe Spinnell as a cop who watches Lenny performing on a subway platform, and Rutanya Alda as an uncredited party guest.

 

The film was lensed by Arthur J. Ornitz (son of one of the Hollywood Ten ,Samuel Ornitz),who had been behind the camera for such films as THE BOYS IN THE BAND (National General,1970),SERPICO (Paramount,1973) and DEATH WISH (Paramount,1974) ,which all used a similar grainy look and brown palette in color, but he was also the cinematographer on HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (MGM,1970), so he was not limited in his color use or cinematic style .

 

Bill Conti was the composer, the same year that he wrote his score for ROCKY (U.A.,1976). For N.S.G.V., his score is a bluesy jazzy score that perfect evokes the era, often using pieces from the Dave Brubeck Quartet (the 1953 set film has Brubeck’s 1959 composition ‘Blue Rondo a la Turk”) or Charlie Parker.

 

 Don’t you hate when your parents walk in during sex?                                                                    

 

 

The film was mostly shot on location in NYC, though you would be hard pressed to find many of the locations nowadays. A shot looking toward the city from the subway platform clearly shows on the far-left buildings that were not there in the 1950s, but this, like the Brubeck note, are so nitpicky, that if you notice them while seeing the film then you aren’t paying attention to the brilliance of the storytelling.

 

You can still recognize the location on 7th Avenue South and Christopher Street (Village Cigar is still there) and you can still a nice meal at Café Reggio on 119 MacDougal Street, as well as Julius’s Bar at 159 W 10th Street, which is NYC’s oldest Gay Bar (it was also used in a scene for the film of THE BOYS IN THE BAND).

The commentary track by Mazursky (more on in a bit) mentions that Alan Ladd Jr, then head of 20th Century Fox, gave the director a lot of input on the film, up to and including the poster design by graphic designer Milton Glaser. Mazursky leaves it at that, but I was curious as to why he felt that was important to reference.

 

 

Though his imagery is well known even when his name is not (the original Broadway production of ANGELS IN AMERICA, for Bob Dylan, and the I LOVE NY logo, this is one of the illustrators few movie posters.

 

The more Norman Rockwell-ish design is by artist Birney Lettick, whose artwork graced movie posters for many a major American film across the genres..

 

The Blu Ray from Twilight Time is another winner from this company. An upgrade in picture quality from the previous DVD release from Fox, this is a 1080p High definition transfer in 1:85:1 ratio. The original grain and dark colors perfectly capture the look of the film when it played theatrically in 1976, to critical praise but small audiences in the U.S. It found a more appreciative audience for its European screenings, but slowly and surely it has been discovered by new audiences with each release. This stands as the one that fans will want to own.

The sound is available to listen to in DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo as well as the original mono sound. I really didn’t notice any major difference, but since this is a dialogue driven score, it really doesn’t affect the overall enjoyment.

 

There are optional English SDH subtitles.

 

Other extras include

A very warm and informative commentary track recorded for the 2005 DVD release by director Mazursky and Ellen Greene. Though recorded separately, they are very nicely edited together for a commentary track that you may wish to listen to more often than other more technical but cold commentaries heard on bigger budgeted new releases. The joy that each have on recalling the film, and how it affected each one, is engrossing.

 

Another audio track allows you to hear the music track isolated in DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo. This is a fun score to listen to while you are doing things, like perhaps writing a film review.

The Original Theatrical Trailer- this will give you an idea of how much the film elements have been cleaned, as well as idea of how the studio sold films at the time.

 

 

There is a reversible case sleeve as well as a nice booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo, ending with some more personal commentary than usual that shows the power of this film.

This is a must have addition to anyone who

-Loves Great Independent Style filmmaking (ironically, it was greenlit by Alan Ladd Jr, then head of 20th Century Fox)
-seeing famous actors in their early works
-Nostalgia
-Superlative Storytelling.

 

 

Heck, I think I am going to watch it again right now.

HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION!
Get it now- remember -only 3,000 pressing.

-Kevin G Shinnick-

If you enjoyed this film, may I also recommend MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/moscow-on-the-hudson-blu-ray/
And
BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE
https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/bob-carol-ted-alice-blu-ray/
, also directed by Paul Mazursky.

Remember to like and follow us here: https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/

Also like and follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SCARLETreviews/

 

 

 

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IS IT REALLY HORROR?

 

Universal, it seems ,has not, as previously reported, killed off their DARK UNIVERSE franchise idea. According to Screenrant (https://screenrant.com/dark-universe-monster-movies/ ) producer Holly Goline is still connected to the concept.

Holly Goline had begun as an assistant to actress /director/producer Angelina Jolie ,has worked on films in various capacities until becoming a producer on IN THE LAND OF MILK & HONEY (Sony,2011 ).

So, like the classic monsters of old, there seems to be a spark left in the idea of reviving the collective creatures.

The thing is-should they?? I mean ,are they actually horror films anymore?

The change began with Universal‘s THE MUMMY (1999). Director /writer Stephen Sommers had come to audiences and critical attention with his film DEEP RISING (Hollywood/Disney,1998). That film began as a high seas action adventure story ,with hijackers out to rob a luxury liner, only to end up fighting for their lives against an unleashed monster.

A well written well directed story,with a great cast led by Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, and Kevin J. O’Connor,superb set pieces as well as scares and laughs galore, the film failed to make back it’s estimated $45,000 budget (U.S. box office $11,000) but it did well on home video and cable television .

It was enough to impress Universal  so that they hired him to remake THE MUMMY for a new audience. Columbia Pictures had shown in 1992 that an A budget and all star cast could give prestige and financial rewards with their version of BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA . Though uneven in tone (along with some miscasting and overacting ),the movie was a stylish treat that had both scares and a romance that worked in combination . The film made double its production cost in the United States alone, which made Hollywood take notice.

Columbia tried to have lightening strike twice and revive another classic creature with style , and two years later unleashed MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN . Once again an all star cast was gathered to retell the famous tale, but to this day critics and fans are divided upon this production, and the movie only made back half of it’s production budget for it’s American release . It eventually made a profit overseas and with the home video market .

Universal was undeterred ,and realizing that they had their own original creations that were known and marketable, they decided it was time to make their own monster epic.

With a high budget ( $80 million) , THE MUMMY film clicked with both audiences and critics alike , and made $155,247,825 in the U.S. alone upon its original release, and was a strong seller on video .

But it was the beginning of the slide away from being a pure horror film.

The film had a few jump scares but it was more along the line of a thrill ride , Indiana Jones style. The wonderful pairing of Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz gave us a couple we could cheer on as they went through some exciting adventures set during 1925 (three years after Tutankhamen’s grave was discovered,starting the mania in Egyptian artifacts).  Add to that a wonderful supporting cast including John Hannah and Kevin J O’Connor as comic companions , Odeth Fehr as Ardeth Bay and Arnold Vosloo as the immortal Imhotep  (Bay and Imhotep are the names used by Karloff  in the Universal 1932 THE MUMMY ),and one had a real crowd pleaser.

It resulted in THE MUMMY RETURNS (2001),an animated series that ran for 26 episodes between 2001 & 2003  , THE SCORPION KING(2002) (the last two films truly launching the movie career of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson,with THE SCORPION KING  being a standalone prequel set in the distant past )  and finally THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (2008).

Each film moved further and further away from horror into more fantasy tinged adventure stories.

Looking at low budget films from the 70s,80s and 90s, I think that the original HALLOWEEN(Compass,1978) and FRIDAY THE 13TH (Paramount ,1980) were a better template for what a mummy movie could have been.   Both figured silent figures who appear invincible and once they decide that you are their target they will not stop until they have killed you, usually in some horrible fashion.  Like  the slower moving Mummy of the Universal classics , MIchael Myers and Jason both strode purposefully ,never running , to overtake their victims , What these films lacked in gloss they more than made up for in suspense and scares ,something that the Mummy series lost more and more as the series went on.

Stephen Sommers only directed the first two Mummy  films (though keeping his hand involved in all of them),prepping instead for an even bigger film . Sommers formed his own production company in 2004 with plans of making an Homeric retelling of the beloved villains.

The result was VAN HELSING (Universal,2004) ,a loud  bloated everything but the kitchen sink major misfire. With a more than generous $160 million production budget (as well as an initially big publicity push ) ,the film was critical disaster, and made only $120 million domestically, luckily for the studio making a profit thanks to overseas box office ( worldwide cume : $300,257,475 ), which was also the start of studios looking for overseas markets to make their movies get out of the red.

 

The film seemed determined to start at 11 (to reference THIS IS SPINAL TAP,Embassy 1984   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xgx4k83zzc ) and build in shrieking volume.  Almost everyone screams their lines (with poor Shuler Hensley ,who had worked with star Hugh Jackman on Broadway in OKLAHOMA!,being the one directed the most to bellow everything      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rev5Z6Dg91A ). The story is a ghoulish goulash has Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman ) as a bounty hunter of monsters for the Roman Catholic church.

He takes on a CGI Mr Hyde and then high tales it to Transylvania ,meets up with fellow monster hunter Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsdale) and goes after the Frankenstein Monster, the insane Igor (Sommers‘  talisman ,actor Kevin J. O’Connor ),a werewolf who is Anna’s brother (Will Kemp) and Dracula (Richard Roxburgh, who was more frightening in his more  semi -comic role for MOULIN ROUGE (Fox,2001))and his undead brides want to hatch a cavern-full of gigantic Alien -like eggs , which are in fact vampires awaiting to be born(Vampires lay eggs??) .

 

Universal was so sure that they had another hit series on their hands , they kept the sets built in Prague for the film up, which meant they had to keep paying for the land  rental use while they remained.  Upon the movie’s release, however, they decided that a sequel didn’t seem like a financially sound idea.  They also scrapped a planned Transylvania land for the  Universal Studios Theme Parks ,as well as a planned Transylvania tv series.

The film failed to work as either an adventure or a horror film, but became a CGI riddled massive video game that seemed to be designed by a ten year old with A.D.D .(a charge which ,to be fair , now seems to describe the majority of theatrical releases lately).

 

Ten years later, Universal wanted to re- reboot their monsters into the summer blockbuster market . DRACULA UNTOLD (Universal, 2014) was the result.  The film basically goes back to the Vlade Tepes legend ,though instead of a annointed sociopathic Prince with a fetish for driving stakes up the hindquarters of his enemies (which included practically everyone), he is transformed into a fierce warrior,loving husband,father and nobleman  (Luke Evans )who makes a deal with The Master Vampire (Charles Dance ) for his aid in getting his son back from the Turks who have abducted the boy and about a thousand other youngsters.   What he gets ,however, slowly transforms him .

The film is indeed epic in it’s look and design, and handsomely mounted .There is also some very clever sound design and editing which gives the audience a bit of a jump once and awhile.  However, as it was planned for a summer market, the film was PG-13 rated, and the scares toned down for a larger target family audience.  Done on a $70 million budget , the film only made $56,280,355 domestic , $160,843,925 internationally for a final  worldwide tally of  $217,124,280 . The film also underwent some reshoots when Universal felt that this film needed to be tied into its just announced idea of their Dark Universe plans.

The Dark Universe franchise was to be Universal‘s answer to the many superhero films whose main power was siphoning the cash out of a willing public . Not having a superhero of their own (did they forget about DARKMAN (1990)?),they looked to the properties which they did have ,and rather than reviving Francis The Talking Mule (which would literally be beating a long dead horse) they turned instead to their creature creations . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfxLdBDr1ww

There had been some talk of Dracula turning up in  a future Dark Universe film only to have executives change their mind again, wanting the Dracula in the series to be different from the one portrayed in DRACULA UNTOLD .Talk about too many mad doctors spoiling the creations!

The “official” first release for the Universal Dark Universe turned out to be –THE MUMMY (2017)!  A re-boot of the reboot (a re-reboot?)of the character again.

                                                             The MUMMY 2017 vs THE MUMMY 1999 -sand bites!

 

With a  $125 million budget  (and an advertising budget said to be at least equal to that),THE MUMMY was slammed by critics and fans, taking in only  $80,227,895 domestically, but being saved by countries where Tom Cruise still opens strong ,taking in a final total  $409,231,607 . The film is considered to have been a failure,due to various costs attached to the project, with as much as a $95 million dollar final loss .

So, Universal decided it was time to quickly kill the DARK UNIVERSE.  Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan, who were in charge , left to pursue other projects. By November, 2017 , the idea was considered dead. Only, as I stated in the beginning,rumors of it’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.    

Is it possible to do a proper horror film on a big budget ? The answer is yes.  The thing is to convince fans to come out and see them.

A perfect example is the 2010 THE WOLFMAN . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZabAU7ySbmE . That movie was a glossy remake of the 1941 classic .  So why didn’t fans like it? A common complaint was that they had seen the story before (but if it had varied from the original ,fans would be crying it varied so much it should not be called THE WOLFMAN ). That the story wasn’t strong ( a bit of tightening perhaps could have been used, but it followed the template fairly closely ).  That it wasnt gory enough, that it used CGI,etc.  Even professional viewers seem to contradict their own opinion . The Huffington Post review said it had cardboard characters, and yet just a few lines down :  “the film spends an obscene amount of time on a twisted father/son dynamic, and not enough time with actual werewolf terror.”  So which is it?

The film certainly looked lavish ,and the make up by the great Rick Baker and Dave Elsey won a Best Make-up Oscar.

 

So where did it go wrong? Benicio de Toro, an avowed fan of the original ,was cast in the lead in 2006 . Andrew Kevin Walker,who wrote Tim Burton‘s love letter to Hammer style horror ,SLEEPY HOLLOW (Fox,1999) ,did the screenplay.

Rick Baker , of course, adhered as much as possible to the classic Jack Pierce creation.

Director Mark Romanek was attached to the film on February 8, 2007. Romanek directed powerful music videos like Johnny Cash’s “Hurt “ video in 2003 as well as the disturbing  thriller ONE HOUR PHOTO (Fox Searchlight 2002).  The budget was set at a  reasonable (for such a big production) $85 million.  After working on the project for a year, Romanek left the project ,using the “creative differences” comment.

Several directors were interviewed including Brett Ratner (no!) ,Martin Campbell (MASK OF ZORRO, Columbia,1998),James Mangold (the  stylish 3:1O TO YUMA remake, Lionsgate, 2007),Joe Johnston (the sadly neglected THE ROCKETEER ,Disney,1991),Frank Darabont (great choice ,a screenwriter of classic horror remakes,as well as directing  some of the best Stephen King cinematic adaptations) and Bill Condon ( another superlative choice . A longtime classic horror fan, he made the James Whale biopic GODS & MONSTERS (Lionsgate ,1998) .

Almost a year to the date that Romanek had first signed on, Joe Johnston took over  to direct on February 3,2008.   Work on the film continued while Johnston brought screenwriter David Self .This was not a good sign to horror fans ,as Self wrote the awful adaptation of THE HAUNTING (Dreamworks,1999) .   Still , changing directors early on and bringing in new writers is not unusual.

 

 Not the 1999 THE HAUNTING ! Gahhh!

 

A month later, filming began in England from March to June ,2008 . Having had only 3 weeks to develop the film,Johnston decided that CGI would help patch over any cracks in the project. Rick Baker expressed his disappointment to that fact, and the increasing use of CGI was the main reason the make up effects ace decided to retire in 2015.

 

The studio began to meddle around with the film ,trying to make a classic period piece and make it a more action packed movie.  Composer Danny Elfman had written his score and left to work on other projects ,and other composers were brought in to bridge the gaps due to retakes and studio demanded edits. The movie ended up losing nearly a half hour of footage ,mostly character scenes.  The Blue Ray restores some of these scenes, and it indeed improves the film.

 

The tinkering went on longer and longer, so the opening date moved from late 2008 to several dates in 2009, only to finally open in February 2010.

 

 

The original 1941  was a modest $170,000 budgeted film that ran 70 minutes.  The newer version ran 102  minutes (though the director’s cut on BLU RAY runs 119 minutes ). The 2010 version  final budget (before advertising costs , ended up totaling $150 million.  Mixed reviews and poor word of mouth had the film fail to recoup even it’s production budget ,taking in only $139 million world wide.

However, I think this film needs to be re-evaluated.  It is a much better film than it’s original reviews led one to believe. It was also a decent remake of the classic film, and it had one thing that several of the other remakes have had, some decent scares. With the idea of the DARK UNIVERSE project, this film was considered a stand alone one-off.

Look also at Del Toro’s beautiful ghost story CRIMSON PEAK (Universal, 2015),not part of the Dark Universe . A feast for the eye with lavish costumes and set designs ,and some actual scares, the film only grossed about $74 million worldwide  on a $55 million budget .  Why did this film not do better?  It was a visual feast for the eye, but it failed to find the audience it deserved. Is it horror fans really now just want more gore and less style?? INSIDIOUS 3(Blumhouse/Focus), released the same year, made over ten times it’s production cost ($11 million).

Perhaps the people now in charge of nursing Universal‘s DARK UNIVERSE concept will reconsider what  made the originals classics and will consider reducing the slam bam action and return to horror.  The original plans were that the “Universe” would be linked by Prodigium, a secret society dedicated to hunting supernatural threats, run by none other than Doctor Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe).  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCowxWN2c_Q      I am sure that concept is now deader than a vampire staked in sunlight while lying in holy water as rose thorns are floating through it atop a garlic garnish.

Projects that were cancelled due to the failure of THE MUMMY were

THE INVISIBLE MAN to star Johnny Depp.

The cancelling of Bill Condon‘s BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN project was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the announced remake.

THE WOLFMAN .

DRACULA

a VAN HELSING reboot –Tom Cruise was once announced for the role, but I guess he decided upon THE MUMMY instead).

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME

THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON – this poor creature has been bandied about for decades, with names like John Landis and Guillermo del Toro attached at different times. Guillermo del Toro got tired  of waiting and made his own version ,called THE SHAPE OF WATER ( Fox Searchlight,2017).   One should note that this wonderful film ,even with Oscar wins, only took in  $194,742,801 worldwide,with almost $64 million coming from the U.S.

Perhaps Universal should study that film,as well as on films like GET OUT (Blumhouse/Universal,2017)  and figure on moderate budget films that deliver on the scares.

I think they could also learn from the old Hammer Studio model of designing films to make use of sets ,etc ,while developing their own stock company of stars .

-Kevin G Shinnick

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THE MIMIC (2017) ( update -CONTEST NOW ENDED-6.3.2018)Enter for a chance to win a blu ray copy from Well Go USA

UPDATE- this contest is now concluded. Thank you for all the entries. The winner is being contacted and their prize is being mailed to them- Thank you to everyone who played. – Keep following us for future contests and articles.-Kevin

Well Go USA (http://www.wellgousa.com/) is offering one lucky SCARLET reader a chance to win a blu ray disc of their new release ,                                                                                                         

  THE MIMIC .

Enter for a chance to win a copy of THE MIMIC Blu Ray .Contest ends June 1,2018.

Enter for a chance to win a copy of THE MIMIC Blu Ray .Contest ends                          June 1,2018.

CONTEST NOW OVER-

Screenanarchy.com posted : “…Huh Jung directs what is is probably the best commercial Korean horror film in years.”

To Enter , send an email to

SCARLETTHEFILMMAG@yahoo.com

with the heading ” MIMIC CONTEST”

and in the body of the letter, tell us what you think the scariest movie involving a child was and why.
Also include your name and an address .

ONE winner will be drawn at random from all entries on June 2,2018 . The winner will be emailed a notification of their win. Contest ends June 1,2018.

THE MIMIC (Well Go USA),releasing on DVD as well as BLU RAY ON  June 12,2018  is a South Korean horror film directed by Huh Jung (HIDE & SEEK).

 

Based upon the legend of the ‘Tiger Of Mt. Jang”,in the film
a family gets involved with a mysterious creature known as “Jangsanbum.” This creature can imitate a human’s voice and entices children to eat them.

 

The Mimic stars Yum Jung-Ah (Tell Me Something), Park Hyuk-Kwon (A Taxi Driver), Shin Rin-Ah (Ode To My Father), Heo Jin (The Wailing), Kil Hae-Yeon (Missing) and Lee Yool (Hello Murderer).

100 mins. Color . Korean with optional English subtitles. REGION A.

TRAILER
https://youtu.be/d6p-XXamvAU

If you want to order your copy now for purchase (either Blu Ray or DVD )instead of playing the contest  , please go to https://www.amazon.com/Mimic-Blu-ray-Park-Hyeok-kwon/dp/B07CBH6GQT/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1527085404&sr=8-2&keywords=the+mimic+blu+ray&dpID=51CtvJK1VgL&preST=_SY300_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

Big thank you to WELLGOUSA.

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Looking for reviewers , writers, contributors (all sadly unpaid ,but a chance to get your work seen).  Contact Kevin at scarletthefilmmag@yahoo.com

CONTEST IS NOW OVER. Thank you to all who entered. The winner is being contacted and the prize is being sent to them shortly. Keep following us for future contests and articles. -Kevin 6.3.2018

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THE BLOODTHIRSTY TRILOGY (Arrow Blu Ray) THE VAMPIRE DOLL; LAKE OF DRACULA; EVIL OF DRACULA

BLOODTHIRSTY TRILOGY (THE VAMPIRE DOLL; LAKE OF DRACULA; and EVIL OF DRACULA; Toho, 1970-4)

Arrow Blu Ray set release .2 disc set. Color. Japanese with subtitles.

U.S. Release $49.99 s.r.p. https://www.amazon.com/Bloodthirsty-Trilogy-Vampire-Dracula-Special/dp/B07B12HN97

U.K. Release £ 29.99 s.r.p. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bloodthirsty-Trilogy-Blu-ray-Kayo-Matsuo/dp/B079VCZJC3/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1525722582&sr=1-1&keywords=bloodthirsty+trilogy

In the 1960s and early 1970s, vampire films were quite popular, Thanks to Hammer Films, Dracula and his many off-shoots invaded movie theatres and television sets internationally. Many countries made their own variations and even rip offs of the British horror studio’s output.

One country where fantasy films and horror were enjoyed by a wide audience was Japan.
Japanese theatre had a long history of popular ghost stories. Oddly, Japan seems to lack any legends of vampire folklore, the closest being the Yōkai, a malevolent spirit.

Yotsuya Kaidan (四谷怪談 Ghost Story of Yotsuya), written in 1825, was a kabuki ghost story revenge play. So far it has  been adapted for films at least 30 times.

One year after the cinema camera was introduced in the country, local filmmakers made Bake Jizo (Jizo the Spook / 化け地蔵) and Shinin no sosei (Resurrection of a Corpse),1898 ,both films currently presumed lost.

The first film adaptation of Yotsuya Kaidan was made in 1912, and it was filmed some 18 times between 1913 and 1937. All but the 1936 and 1937 films were silent adaptations.

In 1933, a three-reel silent comedy Wasei Kingu Kongu (和製キング・コング, literally  Japanese King Kong) was made, also now sadly missing for modern viewers. Japan made silent films well into the mid-1930s. In 1938, Kong returned for another silent Japanese film, this time released in two parts, King Kong Appears in Edo (江戸に現れたキングコング Edo ni Arawareta Kingu Kongu) .This film ,like so many Japanese films made before the 1950s, is also lost.

From the early to mid-1940s, most of Japanese cinema was turned to the propaganda for the war effort. Still, future great artists like Akira Kurasawa began their careers during this period.

In the 1950s, Japanese films began to get a wider release worldwide. Kurasawa’s brilliant RASHOMON (Toho,1950) won international praise and awards. Ugetsu, Tales of Ugetsu or Ugetsu Monogatari (雨月物語) was a 1953 ghost story from Daiei Studios that won great acclaim.

1954 ,The same year that people were introduced to Seven Samurai (七人の侍 Shichinin no Samurai,Toho), the same studio released a film that would spawn sequels, remakes ,rip-offs ,and introduced the world to Kaiju (giant monster )cinema, Godzilla (ゴジラ Gojira). Both films nearly bankrupted the studio but luckily the international box office rewarded the daring producers . Another supernatural film, The Invisible Avenger (透明人間 Tōmei ningen, literally Invisible Man), loosely based upon the H.G. Wells classic, was released by Toho that same year, but never was given international release.

Between all the monsters stomping all of Tokyo, supernatural tales continued to be popular. Nobuo Nakagawa directed a series of horror films, including The Ghosts of Kasane Swamp (Shintoho Films. 1957), The Mansion of the Ghost Cat (亡霊怪猫屋敷Bōrei kaibyō yashiki, Shintoho, 1958) and The Ghost of Yotsuya (Tokaido Yotsuya kaidan (東海道四谷怪談), another telling of the famous ghost story, Shintoho 1959), and Jigoku (Jigoku (地獄, “Hell”, Shintoho ,1960).

The 1960s continued to have more supernatural tales ,alternating between the giant monsters, and supernatural thrillers, including an interesting hybrid ,GOKE BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (吸血鬼ゴケミドロ Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro ,which translates to Vampire Gokemidoro, Shochiku,1968).This hybrid vampire /ufo film has an alien invasion using bloodsuckers ,and has a rather bleak ending.

Finally, Toho, one of the oldest of the big four Japanese Film companies, saw the profits Hammer was making on their relatively modest budget horror films, and decided to take a chance on their own three vampire films.

All these films were directed by Michio Yamamoto ( 1933- 2004 ) . Yamamoto began as an assistant director to the great Kurasawa on THRONE OF BLOOD (Kumonosu-jô), the director’s take on the tragedy of Macbeth. He continued as an A.D. until 1969, when Toho let him direct Yaju no fukkatsu , a gangster crime drama.

He was given directorial control on the Hammer influenced but modern setting vampire films that the studio produced between 1970-4. Between films, he directed for Nippon tv some dramas, ending his career in 1976 directing episodes of a tv action drama.

First was The Vampire Doll (幽霊屋敷の恐怖 血を吸う人形 Chi o suu ningyo, Toho,1970, color ,71minutes). THE VAMPIRE DOLL was released in a subtitled form in NY and LA as THE NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRE. THE VAMPIRE DOLL as also been known as BLOODSUCKING DOLL, THE GHOST MANSION’S HORROR: A BLOODSUCKING DOLL, FEAR OF THE GHOST HOUSE: BLOODSUCKING DOLL, and when released on VHS by Paramount, THE LEGACY OF DRACULA.

The film shows that the director and writer Hiroshi Nagano (who doesn’t seem to have any other fantasy credits and worked mostly on television) and Ei Ogawa (who wrote all three vampire films, as well as SPACE AMOEBA (Gezora, Ganime, Kamēba: Kessen! Nankai no Daikaijū  (ゲゾラ・ガニメ・カメーバ 決戦! 南海の大怪獣ba: , , translated as “Gezora, Ganimes, and Kamoebas: Decisive Battle! Giant Monsters of the South Seas ”, Toho, 1970) seemed have studied THE OLD DARK HOUSE (Universal,1932), PSYCHO (Paramount ,1960), and CITY OF THE DEAD(Vulcan,1960), as well as Hammer’s vampire films.

Kazuhiko goes to an isolated house during a rainstorm to reunite with his fiancé, Yuko. Interestingly, the house and cab are depicted via model work.

Upon arriving, the young man is greeted by Genzo, the silent servant, as well as Yuko’s mother, Shido. Kazuhiko is told by Yuko’s mother that the young woman died during a landslide just a few weeks prior. Due to the storm, he must spend the evening, wherein he is awakened by the cry of a woman. It does not end well for him.

We cut to Kazuhiko’s sister Keiko and her boyfriend Hiroshi ,who are concerned that he hasn’t returned or even contacted
them to let them know how he is. They go to the same remote home and are greeted by Shido and Genzo. What they uncover leads to more deaths as the family curse is uncovered.

The film is a mix of Gothic horror (old dark house, stormy night) and Japanese Ghost Story. While the killer is called a vampire, they never spout fangs, instead using a very deadly blade to dispatch their victims. Still, the film is full of atmosphere, and at a brisk 71 minutes, it really moves.

Composer Ricchiro Manabe wrote the scores for all three Toho vampire films. Besides composing for the vampire trilogy, Manabe also wrote the scores for GODZILLA VS HEDORAH (ゴジラ対ヘドラ Gojira tai Hedora, Toho,1971) better known as GODZILLA VS THE SMOG MONSTER; and GODZILLA VS MEGALON ( ゴジラ対メガロ Gojira tai Megaro, Toho,1973).

His scores for this first film is harpsicord, piano, and organ, mixed in with discordant sounds to create a feeling of unease. It also includes some traditional Kokiriko (basically a pair of sticks struck together rhythmically) electric keyboard and flute. At one point it goes a little muzak, but overall, it is quite spare but effective. At times, it reminded me of some of the music from tv’s DARK SHADOWS (ABC TV 1966-1971) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5Kh9z-mExk .

The cinematography by Kazutami Hara is effective, with nicely composed shots that help the mood of the piece. He would skip the next film in the series, only to return for the final entry.

The film must have done well, as the studio made another vampire film the following year with the same director, screenwriter (Ei Ogawa) and composer.

Lake of Dracula (呪いの館 血を吸う眼 Noroi no yakata-Chi o su me, Toho, 1971, also known as also known as Japula, Dracula’s Lust for Blood, The Bloodthirsty Eyes and Lake of Death). After it’s Japanese release, it was given a limited subtitled release in the U.S., followed up by a television dubbed version from UPA under the title LAKE OF DRACULA.

A young girl, Akiko, looking for her lost dog, wanders into a house, where she finds a dead woman and a vampire. We jump ahead years later, where Akiko is now a young woman. She thinks what happened to her was only a dream, until the vampire turns up again, and her dog once again goes missing, only now her sister Natsuko also disappears.

She is attacked by a friend who has been vampirized and brought to the original vampire. Just before he can bite her, two men interrupt the monsters, and they run away.

More near fatal events happen, wherein they discover that the original vampire chasing them is a descendent of Dracula himself!

This film is a more traditional vampire film, with an ancestor of the King of all Vampires playing heavily into the story. The vampire here has a ghastly pale complexion and yellow eyes. The final staking is effective (I understand that this was cut from some tv prints, making a very frustrating viewing for late night tv addicts). Certain points in the film made me think of BRIDES OF DRACULA (Hammer/Universal,1960).


The Hammer influence is strong in the design of the vampire’s mansion , which has a very European look, or at least strong Bernard Robinson construction (kudos to production designer Shigekazu Ikuno, who had worked on the horror film MATANGO, Toho ,1963). The film overall has a feel of a larger budget than its predecessor.

The camerawork by Rokurô Nishigaki is quite good, and it is a shame he didn’t do more genre work.

Three years later, the final film of the series was EVIL OF DRACULA ( 血を吸う薔薇 , literally The Bloodthirsty Rose, Toho,1974). The original cameraman returned to join the other original director, writer and composer.

 

Once again, BRIDES OF DRACULA seem to have had some influence on the plot, along with LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (Hammer, 1971).

Shiraki, a new teacher at the Seimei School for Girls, finds out that he is to become the new Director. The principal has just suffered the death of his wife. That night, Shiraki, who is staying in the principal’s home, is attacked. He wakes up in his own bed, and at first assumes it was all a dream.

However, he goes down into the cellar and finds that the ghastly woman who attacked him the night prior is the occupant of a coffin, namely the principal’s late wife.


Later, one of the female students is attacked and left with two bite marks upon one of her breasts. The school Doctor Shimimura, who also collects local legends, feels that the violence and strange things going on are the result of a vampire.

The origin of this Dracula is quite original, to say the least. If you have seen Martin Scorsese’s SILENCE(Paramount,2016), you will be aware of the 17th Century attempt at bringing Christianity from Europe to Japan. Well, here, Dracula comes into being as a pious man who renounces his faith due to the tortures of the missionaries, and thus is cursed with vampirism! 

This film is a bit more violent and some semi nudity to spice up the proceedings. Once again, the team has done a great job of mixing Western culture with a Japanese spin.

These films were released sparsely in the U.S. in subtitled prints in limited release, as well as dubbed versions, somewhat edited for television by UPA.

Paramount Home Video released the films in the edited dubbed versions on VHS, but they have long been out of print. The prints were rather flat and the copies suffered from pan and scan .

Finally, ARROW FILMS has once again graced us with an amazing presentation of an unjustly obscure film, or in this case, three.  

First off, they have gone to the original film elements for a   1080p High Definition Blu Ray release. The color and image quality are amazingly sharp and clear, with no noticeable speckling or blemishes. Though supposedly low budget, the artisans and artists at Toho bring a professionalism and pride to their work.

The Mono sound is now in a clean uncompressed 1.0 PCM Audio.  The previous VHS release was on certain videos released in the LP (long play) speed, rather than the SP (Standard Play). This softened the picture image as well as flattened the sound.

Though not mixed in any fake stereo, the music and sound effects mix are clear.

The prints used are in the original Japanese, so you can hear the performances of the actors, with very easy to read new English language subtitles.

 

Kim Newman (film historian, as well as author of the delightful ANNO DRACULA book series) provides a nice little video appraisal of the trilogy on disc one.

• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matt Griffin (which also graces the discs), while on the flip side are some of the original Japanese theatrical posters.

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Japanese film expert Jasper Sharp (Historical Dictionary of Japanese Cinema; Scarecrow Press ,2011), illustrated with some beautiful photos from the movies.

Disc One consists THE VAMPIRE DOLL and Kim Newman’s video comments.
Disc Two consists of LAKE OF DRACULA and EVIL OF DRACULA.

The only thing that I could have suggested was perhaps adding alternate audio track of the English dubs from UPA , but perhaps they were too prohibitively expensive to license .

Once again, Arrow Films has given us another must have Blu Ray Collection.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Kevin G Shinnick

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BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (U.A.1962) Olive Films Blu Ray

BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (U.A.,1962) b&w 149 minutes new release by OLIVE FILMS DVD. $18.99 BLU RAY $21.99
https://olivefilms.com/product/birdman-of-alcatraz/

John Frankenheimer (February 19, 1930 – July 6, 2002) is one of my favorite directors of the 1960s. The New York born Frankenheimer first began filmmaking while he was in the Air Force. In 1948, he began as an assistant director at CBS, working his way up to director on the popular YOU ARE THERE series in 1954. He showed himself a fast worker who never sacrificed quality, and soon directed his first theatrical feature in 1957 (THE YOUNG STRANGER, RKO) when he was 26. He had directed the episode “Deal A Blow” for CLIMAX on which it was based two years earlier.

It was a modest success so Frankenheimer returned to television, where he excelled in live dramas. His production of “Turn Of The Screw” (STARTIME, NBC) starred Ingrid Bergman, so he was used to working with star powerhouses.

In 1961, he directed THE YOUNG SAVAGES (U.A.), starring Burt Lancaster and Telly Savalas. Producer /star Lancaster must have liked what he saw, so when he fired British director Charles Crichton from his next pet project, he brought in Frankenheimer to take over BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ.

 

Lancaster was a huge star, and one of the first to create his own production company (Norma Productions, for whom he had begun making films in 1948 with KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS, Universal). A perfectionist, he was a hard person to work for, as the slightest weakness he would tear into you (thus the departure of Crichton).Luckily, Frankenheimer would prove his mettle with this film, and go on to make classics like THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE(U.A. 1962 ,starring Frank Sinatra in one of the best political thrillers ever made),SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (U.A.1964 with Lancaster again), THE TRAIN (U.A.1964 again with Lancaster) and SECONDS (1966 Rock Hudson’s best performance).

 


All these films were shot in stunning black and white, with Frankenheimer wisely moving his camera as little as possible, letting the performances play out.

Back to BIRDMAN:


The real Robert Franklin Stroud (January 28,1890 -November 21,1963) was a murderer who in 1909 killed a bartender and took his wallet when the victim refused to pay services to a woman Stroud was pimping. Due to his violence (he stabbed an orderly), he was transferred to Leavenworth, Kansas. In 1916, when he was refused a visit by his brother, Stroud stabbed a guard to death. He was sentenced to death and put in solitary confinement while awaiting his punishment to be meted out.

 


His mother succeeded in convincing President Woodrow Wilson to commute the sentence to life, though remaining in solitary confinement. Over the course of 30 years in Leavenworth, he saved sick birds, and wrote books upon their treatment and care, as well as developing medicines for sale.

He married a woman though more to help him keep his birds and business than any real love on his part, as Stroud was a homosexual, and indeed was considered a violently predatory one.

 


When it was discovered that his medical equipment had also been used as a still, he was transferred in 1942 to Alcatraz, ironically without his birds or equipment (I guess BIRDMAN OF LEAVENWORTH has less of a ring to it). He spent 6 years in solitary and 11 in the prison hospital, then in 1959 until his death from natural causes in 1963 he remained in The Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield Missouri. He was never allowed to see the film based upon his life.

Besides the publicity generated over the years by Stroud, his wife, and mother, author Thomas Eugene Gaddis wrote a biography of Stroud, BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (Random House, NY 1955). Gaddis later wrote KILLER: A JOURNAL OF MURDER (1970) about serial killer Carl Panzram. This story too was adapted for the screen, starring James Wood (Legacy/ Republic ,1995). BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ was a nationwide best seller, which of course brought it to the attention of Hollywood.

The story of Stroud and his birds intrigued Lancaster and screenwriter Guy Trosper (JAILHOUSE ROCK, MGM,1957), who turned the violent Stroud tale into a terrible man redeemed by his love of birds, as well as a story of a little guy who took on the system and, while if he didn’t win, came out better than expected.

 


Lancaster was a lifelong liberal, having grown up poor, and always wanting to make the world better. In this tale, he saw a story of redemption, and indeed Lancaster campaigned unsuccessfully for years to get Stroud released, and for the rest of his life Lancaster was an advocate for prison reform.

Like many cinematic biographies, though following the central story, certain elements were altered to make the main character more likeable (i.e.-General Custer in THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON (WB,1941). In this case, Stroud is whitewashed from the sociopath who inspired the tale. The film works on its own strengths, though knowing the facts makes it harder to enjoy. It also does show the dehumanizing treatment in some prison systems, which is also an important issue.

 

 

The plot
Robert Stroud (Burt Lancaster) is a troublemaker prisoner. On the train to prison for a murder that he committed in Alaska (the film dialogue makes it appear he came to the rescue of a woman’s honor, but in real life he was a pimp who killed the man who refused to pay his working girl), he breaks the window in their car, so the other prisoners can get some air.

Warden Harvey Shoemaker (Karl Malden) notes that he will be keeping a special eye upon his newest prisoner during his stay in Leavenworth Prison. He has several points against him when he is told that his mother was turned away for a visit and told to return another time (in real life it was his brother who was turned away. The brother is eliminated from the screenplay, but in real life Stroud’s mother was a major force ).

After trying to convince a guard not to revoke his visitation privileges, the guard berates him in front of everyone in the dining room and tells him to sit down. Angered, Stroud knives the guard ,who slumps to the floor, dead.

 

Now charged with the additional murder, he is sentenced now to be executed. While awaiting the sentence being carried out, he is placed in solitary confinement. His mother (the wonderful Thelma Ritter, who in real life was the real-life mom of John Ritter) pleads with President Wilson’s wife for mercy for her son. Amazingly, her campaign works, and his sentence is transmuted to life in solitary.

 


Prisoners in solitary were allowed one hour into the courtyard alone, and one day, Stroud finds a wounded bird. He takes the injured creature to his cell and begins to care for it. Soon, he has turned his cell into an aviary, and even gets a prisoner in the next cell Feto Gomez (Telly Savalas, who made his film debut in THE YOUNG SAVAGES) to also begin caring for some. He also receives some aid from his guard, Bull Ransom (Neville Brand, on the other side of the bars, after his wonderful performance in RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11,A.A.,1954)

However, they become ill, and begin dying. Frantic, Stroud scours the library of the prison, and creates a makeshift medicine that seems to cure the birds. The prison doctor (the great Whit Bissell) offers help and suggestions. He publishes a book on his findings and gains some notoriety.

 

One of his fans, Stella Johnson (Betty Field) goes to meet him and Stroud decides that they should go into business. Stella falls in love with Stroud, and they are married. This proves a breaking point for Stroud’s mother, who decides that he has put another woman before her. They never speak again.

 

Stroud gets upset and uses his lab to make some makeshift alcohol. This is what prison officials have been waiting for, and he is sent to the new maximum-security prison, Alcatraz (a federal prison from 1934-1963). Most heartbreaking, he is sent immediately with only the clothes on his back, his equipment and birds they make him leave behind.

At Alcatraz, he finds that his old warden Shoemaker is in charge there. The prison is more modern and the food better, but it is also restrictive of what is allowed. Stroud finds that Feto is also there, now as a trustee. Stroud is visited by Stella, who offers to move nearer so she can still see him, but he tells her that she should find someone else.

Years pass, and Stroud, still rebellious, even manages to help stop a 1946 prison rebellion that became known as The Battle of Alcatraz. The event began when Bernard Paul Coy and five accomplices attempted to escape. Scaling the cages that formed the gallery (known as Times Square and Michigan Ave by the prisoners), Coy also bent some bars with a crude device that he had fashioned. He was able to then get a guard’s Billy club and over power a guard (in the film he uses a gun). Soon he was distributing weapons to other prisoners and the guards were held prisoner.

 

Unable to escape, as one of the guards had hidden the key they most needed, Joseph Cretzer began shooting into the cell where the captured guards were held. The Coast Guard and the marines were called in.


Stroud tried to end the shootout. At 56 years old, he climbed railings and then lowered himself to the second tier, dropping to the floor of D Block. He closed doors to safeguard the wounded, and that there were no weapons now in D block but that if they kept firing the would be killing unarmed guards and wounded prisoners. In the film, he is shown tossing out the remaining weapons, but the battle raged on in another area, with the leader found dead in a guard’s uniform. In real life, two correction officers and three prisoners died, with two others executed together for the murder of a guard, while a third was given an additional 99 years to his life sentence.

It did not seem to do anything to help Stroud, however, and he stayed in Alcatraz until, due to petitions and his failing help, he was transferred to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield , Missouri in 1959 .Arriving on the mainland after decades , the handcuffed older Stroud is met by reporters who asks him how it feels to be entering a world so changed. He makes a joke after someone asks him about television (“From what I hear I m not missing much”) then shows how much he has learned, as he looks up to the sky and sees a plane, describes its make and its working specs. He even meets Thomas E Gaddis (played by Edmond O’Brien) who had written his biography. He is going to a facility which will be less restrictive, and he feels free and at peace.

The film received several Oscar nominations :
Lancaster(losing to Gregory Peck in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, Universal ), Thelma Ritter(who lost to Patty Duke in THE MIRACLE WORKER,U.A.) , Telly Savalas (losing to Ed Begley in SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH,MGM) ,Burnett Guffey for cinematography (losing to Jean Bourgoin, Walter Wottiz and Henry Persin for THE LONGEST DAY, Fox) and failing to win a Best Picture or Best Director nod . The film was also not a financial success, though a critical one, which is being appreciated more as time goes on.

BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ had been released in 2014 by Twilight Time, but its 3,000-print run quickly sold out. Olive Films picked up the release to make it available to fans who missed the prior release. It is not quite the same, however, as it has some different extras.

Not having the prior version,  I must say that the Olive Film releases is stunning.


The sound in 1.0 DTS-HD MA is clear and sharp and the dialog and Elmer Bernstein’s score is never overpowering but emotionally effective. 1962 was a great year for the composer, as he also wrote the understated but powerful music for TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (Universal,1962). The prison riot scene I had to lower the sound a bit, but it was not overwhelming, and no fake stereo was added.

The picture quality (1080p/AVC MPEG-4) is sharp and clear, and I found it one of the best presentations of the title which I have ever seen. Some reviewers found the transfer dark, but I had no such quibble.

The optional subtitles (English only) are easy to read and follow the action and dialog precisely.

Where the Olive Film differs from Twilight Time’s release is the different extras.

There is no isolated score track, and the audio commentary is different.

The running audio commentary here is by Lancaster biographer Kate Buford (BURT LANCASTER: AN AMERICAN LIFE, Knopf,2000). Ms. Buford has a radio program on NPR, but here, she seems a bit ill at ease in front of a microphone. Studied pacing and a continuous monotone show the importance of a commentator to not only be knowledgeable but also able to transfer their excitement about the subject. This should not dissuade you from listening, as Ms. Buford delivers a wealth of information about the film as well as the real-life subjects upon whom the film is based. I also liked her opinion that BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ could have worked very well as a silent film, since the acting and direction tells us much without dialog.

The original Theatrical trailer also appears on this disc (as well as the o.o.p Twilight Time).

Extras aside, the main thing is, is this BLU RAY worth adding to my collection. I would wholeheartedly say YES, due to the quality of the film itself, as well as the audio and image quality of the disc.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for fans of prison pictures, true story adaptations, Burt Lancaster, Telly Savalas, and the superb supporting cast, as well as the work of John Frankenheimer.

-Kevin G Shinnick

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THE STRANGERS:PREY AT NIGHT (March ,2018, theatrical Aviron) Review by Sean Fallon

For what I, Sean Fallon, consider to be the absolute all-time greatest acting performance by a teenage actress in a horror movie, I highly recommend THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT.

On March 9th, this sequel to 2008’s THE STRANGERS (Rogue), hit the big screen. Director Johannes Roberts does an amazing job with this horror movie that is written by Bryan Bertino and Ben Ketai, and is based on true events.

Bailee Madison who was only seventeen at the time of the filming excels in the leading role of Kinsey, by convincingly selling every line, expression, emotion, and reaction. From sarcastic teenage rebelliousness to extreme panic that borders on hyperventilating, Bailee Madison delivers it all as if she was personally experiencing everything that Kinsey was enduring, whether physically, intellectually, or emotionally. Her acting was so strong that it never looked like acting, but like live footage of a terrified teenage girl fleeing for her life.

The premise behind the movie is that a family of four goes to an aunt and uncle’s trailer park, during the off-season, which leaves it vacant, to spend the night, on the way to bringing the daughter, Kinsey, to a boarding school, after Kinsey got in serious trouble for a behavior (minor spoiler alert) that remains undisclosed in the movie. When they arrive in the trailer park, the aunt and uncle are not there to greet them, but the keys are left for them to get into their trailer. Three masked homicidal maniacs, however, are lurking about.

Martin Henderson and Christina Hendricks portray Kinsey’s parents who are good with her, despite their frustrations. Their love for their children and love for each other is clearly demonstrated, making them both likeable and believable.

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Actor Lewis Pullman plays Luke, Kinsey’s older brother. Luke and Kinsey have a typical sibling relationship, with the bickering in the car, the name calling and fighting, but with ultimately the love for one another that is above all their conflict. Luke is the central male character in this movie, and the one with whom a male audience will most likely identify with the most. Lewis Pullman’s strong acting performance makes Luke a very believable and relatable character.

The dynamic of a brother/sister relationship at the heart of the movie, rather than a romantic relationship enhances the genuine concern that a male audience has for the well-being of Kinsey, as well. There are no obnoxious teen fornication scenes, and Kinsey is always modestly dressed, never objectified the way teen actresses, or older actresses who portray teenagers typically are in movies and television.

It is much more cinematically effective to watch a fellow human being, an equal journeyer through life, fleeing for hers, than to watch an objectified bimbo making stereotypically stupid decisions. Identifying with Luke and how he wants to protect his younger sister out of genuine pure love furthermore, from a Christian perspective, makes it very easy to obey 1 Timothy 5:2 towards Kinsey. You end up truly caring about Kinsey as a person, irrelevant to whatever misbehavior she may have shown in the past. It no longer matters.

Music from the 1980s, mostly with female lead singers is heard throughout the movie. This is another dynamic shift that works quite well, as the backdrop for emotionally intense scenes.

 

This movie avoids those obnoxious quick cuts that in other horror movies often create viewer frustration by preventing the viewers from mentally processing what is happening on the screen. Instead, the action is clear and present, with intensity that draws the moviegoers right into the world of Luke and Kinsey, keeping us constantly on edge, in a good way, of wanting to see Luke and Kinsey overcome their three biggest obstacles, the three masked homicidal maniacs.

The writing, directing, acting, score, and editing all work together to create a truly great horror movie that contains all the positive elements of horror, while avoiding the stereotypical pitfalls. While there are some cuss words and scenes with blood, the quality of this movie is unmistakable. I highly recommend THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT.

Sean Fallon

The original THE STRANGERS (Rogue,2008)cost about $ 9 million and made over $52 million during it’s theatrical run .

The new film’s budget has not been released, but in it’s first four days, STRANGERS:PREY AT NIGHT has made $11,270,512 . This is Aviron‘s second release, the first being the Halle Berry thriller KIDNAP (2017) .That film broke even, considering it cost $21 million to produce ,and an estimated $9 million advertising. KIDNAP brought in $30,718,107

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