Saturday, October 16, 2010

DVD Alert: No Greater Glory, Address Unknown, Other Titles From Sony


Boy is the Siren fashionably late on this one--about a month late, in fact--but it is still well worth trumpeting. Following the success of the Warner Archive Collection, Sony has inaugurated a manufacturing-on-demand service that at last turns up some devoutly hoped-for films. Lou Lumenick wrote about it here. They have started with 100 titles, and more are promised each month.

The site itself is fairly easy to navigate, and in a welcome bonus, includes clips from each film. The prices (around $20) are commensurate with Warner Archive.

What follows is a list of films the Siren recommends to her readers, and others she hasn't seen but wants to. She starts with the best.

No Greater Glory. A shimmering masterpiece from Frank Borzage's sound period, this story of the war games played by groups of boys in a warehouse lot comes with the Siren's highest possible endorsement. George Breakston plays Nemecsek, whose yearning for the friendship of a handsome leader in his gang leads him to reckless acts and, finally, martyrdom. A sequence in a lamplit park where Nemecsek tries to spy on the opposing "army" is as haunting as anything in Borzage's silents; Joseph H. August's cinematography is the equal of his work for John Ford. No Greater Glory was taken from a novel by Ferenc Molnar, The Paul Street Boys, published in 1906, and it carries all the intensity of childhood loves and griefs. It is also as wrenching a statement about war as Paths of Glory. Under Borzage's guidance the gifted young cast performs with sensitivity and restraint. In addition to Breakston, the Siren was particularly taken with Frankie Darro, as the leader of the opposition who comes to see the qualities in Nemecsek that his own friends do not. (The fate of Jimmy Butler, who plays the object of Nemecsek's adoration, adds a piercing coda: An artillery private, Butler died in action in France in 1945, aged 24.) The movie deserves a full-fledged restoration and all-out DVD packaging, but if this is the form we've got, we should still pounce. TCM has shown this at least once, to the Siren's knowledge, but it belongs in the collection of anyone with a serious interest in Borzage, black-and-white cinematography, 1930s cinema or indeed the art of film.





Address Unknown. Directed by William Cameron Menzies, a towering figure who needs a MOMA retrospective, a definitive biography and his own damn DVD box set. Until that day, MOD discs will have to do. It's a parable about the friendship between a Jewish art dealer and his German partner, who returns to the Fatherland just before World War II and is drawn, step by ominous step, into Nazism. Whether the German has adopted the full ideology, or is motivated by ambition and greed, is one of the film's central questions, as well as which ties demand loyalty, and which do not. The movie softens up Kathrine Kressman Taylor's memorably dark, bitter epistolary novel, and that's a pity. But the magnificent look of it (that screen grab is the merest taste) will give incredible pleasure. Cinematography by Rudolph Mate. Here's an excellent write-up by primo blogger David Cairns.

10 Rillington Place. Kim Morgan is a fan. That's good enough for the Siren.

Counter-Attack. Screened during the Shadows of Russia series that the Siren co-programmed with Comrade Lumenick, it includes one of Paul Muni's better performances and has wonderfully claustrophobic tension, as Muni, playing a Russian soldier, and a female resistance fighter battle a small group of Germans in a bombed building. But you don't need to know any of that. The only thing you need to know is that the cinematographer was James Wong Howe, as close to a sure thing as Hollywood can offer us in this cockamamie world.

Footsteps in the Fog. The Siren already has an under-the-counter version of this gaslight thriller, which stars her beloved Jean Simmons and Stewart Granger. She hasn't watched it yet, but the pedigree suggests it is well worth a flutter.




Hot Blood. Nicholas Ray, and the clip looks gorgeous, although even ardent auteurists often strain to say something nice about this Gypsy melodrama with Jane Russell and Cornel Wilde. The Siren isn't completely sure she wants to buy this movie, actually, even if she knows Glenn Kenny would say "Siren, it has mise en scène!" But the DVD cover is pretty goshdarned fabulous, isn't it?

Mickey One. The death of Arthur Penn has brought this film back into the blogosphere conversation. The Siren found it deeply odd, but in a good way, and Warren Beatty does great work in it.

The Guilt of Janet Ames. A Rosalind Russell vehicle the Siren has long wanted to see.

Song Without End. Once more, say it with the Siren: James. Wong. Howe.




The Spiritualist. Released in the U.S. as The Amazing Mr. X. A legendary film noir/horror movie that is probably a pip for Halloween. The Siren is definitely buying this one. Cinematography by John Alton; check out DVD Beaver's screen caps.

45 comments:

DavidEhrenstein said...

I've always been particularly taken with Frankie Darro -- but let's not get filthy on a Saturday morning.

Godard reviewed Hot Blood for CdC and quite liked it. Ray wasn't crazy about the script. He would liked to have made a real film about gypsies instead of a star vehicle. But who can resist a movie whose ad campaign boasted "Jane Russell shakes her tambourine and drives Cornel wild!"

No I'm not making this up.

The Siren said...

What a great tagline! Have you seen No Greater Glory? I bet you would like it.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Haven't seen that one, alas. Sounds teriffic.


Here's the trailer for the new Gus. Looks like Harold & Maude meets Uncle Boonmee.

Ryan Kelly said...

Great that No Greater Glory is finally getting a DVD release. I probably won't get it because it's one of the few "must not delete" movies on my DVR, but I think that when the film is more widely seen it will be more of a touchstone. Certainly deserves it. The allegory is a bit of a stretch in places, sure, but that hardly matters because the whole thing is so moving, and it's one of the all time great anti-war/pacifism statements, I think.

Trish said...

I'm in! Some real goodies on that list. I haven't seen either the Borzage or Menzies films. I first saw 10 Rillington Place as a teen and it scared the you-know-what out of me. The Mysterious Mister X is excellent! I often wonder if the glut of films about the afterlife around that time was a reaction to the realities of war.

Although I enjoy Cornell Wilde in his Fox period pieces of the 1940s, I generally prefer him as an actor in black and white efforts with a modern-day setting. Road House, The Big Combo and Shockproof come to mind.

Karen said...

I'm embarrassed by how few of these I've seen! Only Address Unknown (which I absolutely loved) and Mickey One, which was...interesting. And atmospheric.

What I find irritating about films on DVD like these--and the Warner Archives titles--is that for some reason Netflix never carries them. I don't necessarily want to BUY all of these, but I do want to see them, and being able to rent them would be nice.

I did get the Shearer-Montgomery Private Lives, though, which I screened for my 12-year-old nephew last night, who loved it. I also got The Last Flight, because I love it.

Flickhead said...

Sigh. The Sony On Demand titles include Duffy (1968). The first and only time I'd ever seen it was in the late 60s/early 70s on CBS TV's Late Show. At the age of eleven or twelve, I could barely comprehend the thing. Several years later, in my twenties or thirties, I wanted to see it again, for its screenplay was written by Donald Cammell, shortly before he made Performance. Plus, Duffy co-stars Performance's James Fox, among a three-James cast (Fox, Mason and Coburn) plus a 1968-vintage Susanna York (ooh la la!). Despite my limited financial means (sorry, but twenty-five bucks just to see a movie extends beyond merely aiding the flagging economy) I ordered it. And while the image and color are terrific, I find myself in the same spot I was in forty years ago. So far, I'm unable to comprehend the thing, but for far different reasons than the ones I had as a kid. Part of the kitschy mainstream psychedelia manufactured by cigar chomping studio fatcats, Duffy is The Movement as envisioned by The Establishment. I've little patience for the film. In fact, I've had it for over a week and have only watched thirty-seven minutes of it, dreading the rest.

As for Nick Ray's Hot Blood: an acquired taste, and one I do not possess. Godard once said something to the effect that, if no other film existed, Hot Blood shows that Ray would be able to invent the cinema. I've little patience for Godard as well.

Peter Nellhaus said...

But . . . but . . . but I still have a small stack of unseen DVDs of Asian movies plus a couple of giallo, and the yet to be opened Criterion Collection version of Spartacus. Some intriguing titles to be sure. Not that I expect anything, but I emailed Sony in the hopes that future releases would include Screaming Mimi and It's Trad, Dad!. I also wish Sony would give DVD love to the early Frank Capra films.

D Cairns said...

Thanks for the kind words!

Donald Cammell was disappointed by how Duffy turned out ("a swinging sixties farrago"), and he and James Fox resolved to do something better together: and so we got Performance.

Why haven't I watched No Greater Glory yet? Maybe because I keep upgrading my copy, going from a VHS rip with fuzzy sound, to a smoother, but still low-res off-air recording, and now I need to get the pristine version before I look...

The Siren said...

Ryan, I don't think anyone could call the allegory subtle, but I found it very lyrical and not a stretch at all. Goatdog, whom I love and respect and who watches all kinds of 1930s movies, found No Greater Glory way too sentimental but it floored me. And I think that absolutely anyone who has a feel for old movies will find it incredibly beautiful, don't you?

Trish, I am 100% with you on where Cornel's at his best, but I can't deny the kick I get out of his costume outings.

Karen, I agree, why can't Netflix carry these? Annoying. NGG is a must, the others I am mostly curious about, although The Spiritualist I suspect will be a treasure. I can lend you Footsteps at some point.

MrsHenryWindleVail said...

I remember thumbing through Jane Russell's autobiography and reading about "Hot Blood," with which she was not happy. The gist was that Russell was exhausted when it came time to film "Hot Blood"; that she asked for and was denied time off; and that, unfortunately, they had to live with the performance that such circumstances produced.

When I saw "Hot Blood" on television, I was mostly impressed by the vivid color. I also remember thinking that the material would've been better served had it been filmed in the '40s with Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth.

The Siren said...

Flickhead, I am so sorry. At $20 a pop, plus S&H, it is a major drag when one of these turns out to be not worth it. As for Ray, there are things I always love about him--his framing!--but I can't claim to enjoy all his movies equally, for sure.

Peter, I also have a large stack of unwatched DVDs. What's your point? :D

David, I don't know if these will be pristine but the clips sure look good, for the most part. The print that TCM showed of NGG looked great to me.

The Siren said...

Mrs. HWV, I had you in mind with one line I wrote up above, let's see if you can spot it! I should read Russell's memoirs, bet they're good. Okay, so maybe I will get Hot Blood. Party Girl was a majorly mixed bag too and I still kind of loved it. Next month Sony releases a Rita Hayworth boxed set and Salome is on it, which should underline your point nicely. I will be interested to see that one again after so many years. It made a huge impression on me as a girl; I thought she was one of the most dazzling creatures the goddess ever put on this earth. I still do.

MrsHenryWindleVail said...

I give up, dearest Siren. Which line did you have in mind?

DavidEhrenstein said...

A "mixed bag"? Siren you MUST Fereydoun Hoveyda's infamous CdC review of Party Girl translated in the anthology Cahiers du Cinema: The 1960's New Wave, New Cinema, Reevaluating Hollywood edited by Jim Hillier (Harvard University Press, 1986)

(Brace yourself)

"Party Girl has an idiotic story. So what? If the substratum of cinematic work was made up simply of plot convolutions unravelling on the screen, then we could just anex the Seventh Art to literature, be content with illustrated novels and short stories (which is precisely what happens in a great many films we do not admire), and hand over Cahiers to literary critics."

He goes on (it's quite lengthy)--

"Every sequence is a cascade of ideas ( in the mise en scene, of course!) which advance the action or suddenly imprint on a shot a particular emotive quality. In the dressing rooma girl (played by Ray's wife) casually steals some make-up remover; the money given to the dance-girls in powder compacts piled up on the little table in the bedroom; the shadow of the policeman turning his head indicates the arrival of Farrell, out of frame; the fur coat which Vicki traiils along and finally lets drop; the mans ketching during the courtroom scene; the drops of waterfrom the bouquet of roses that cling to Vicki's face; the flashlight picking out the gangsters as they run down Cookie La Motte's boys; the little flame in the grate reflected in the corner of the mirror as Vicki and Farrell kiss, etc."

As you can see this is cinematic fetishism at it most delerious." So much so that Richard Roud penned a would-be "J'Accuse" called "The French Line" in Sight and Sound in which he singled out Hoyveda's review as the last straw in auteurist insanity. Raymond Durgnat made great sport of Roud's piece and the S&S aesthetic as a whole in his seminal essay "Standing Up For Jesus" in Motion.

Hiyveda was quite a character. He collaborated with Rossellini on the script of India (yes it was a documentary, but it had a script) and was Iranian Ambassador to the U.S. under the Shah -- whcih brought him into contact with Warhol and the gang in New York. As you can imagine after the revolution he was persona non grata in his home country.

Last year I met the daughter of Betty Utey, the Ray wife mentioned in the review. She's working on a documentary about him. More recently I chatted with Ray's widow, Susan, who is in the process of assembling his last work We Can't Go Home Again, and the Chicago 7 trial material he shot, but was unable to assemble in final form.

Cyd Charisse was never more luscious than she was in Party Girl. 'Nuff said.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's the Wiki.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's another profile with pics of Hoyveda with Andy (who's quoted at the opening) Robert DeNiro, and Claude Chabrol.

Dan Callahan said...

"No Greater Glory" is definitely the biggie on this list, and I'm also obsessed with "The Pumpkin Eater," one of my very favorites. Am very fond of "Hot Blood," too, just for the color and the scene where Cornel Wilde literally WHIPS Jane Russell's clothes off!

I also remember that the Altman "Caine Mutiny" is definitely "of interest." And there's two great, trashy Dyan Cannon movies here, "The Love Machine" and "Doctor's Wives." I seem to remember Dyan smashing a man over the head with an Oscar in the first picture.

Flickhead said...

Two notes:

1) I find it interesting that a $20 + shipping The Amazing Mr. X DVD-R might be finding an audience through Sony, while no one could give that film away fifteen or twenty years ago on VHS, when it listed for five bucks (or less).

2) Gaumont has started DVD on demand in Europe. Here’s their lineup.

The Siren said...

Flickhead, the question the world needs answered: are the Gaumont films subtitled? *awaits with bated breath*

Noel Vera said...

Apropos of anything: Bust Magazine has this article describing how Hedy Lamarr developed the frequency hopping technique, and what happened after. May not be anything new to anyone familiar with the story, but I think it's a nice summation.

gmoke said...

There's are 1927 and 1969 Hungarian versions of "The Paul Street Boys" ("A Pál -utcai fúk"). I saw the 1969 version on the International Channel when there was an International Channel and they had a late night Hungarian movie every Sunday. (Generally, in Hungarian movies everybody dies.)

The movie was quite good. Looking up the source material, I was surprised that it was written in 1906 as it was an almost exact allegory of WWI. Presumably, the film makers played up that aspect. Would be interesting to read the original novel.

The Siren said...

Noel, thanks so much. I was discussing Hedy with someone fabulous just a couple of weeks ago.

Gmoke, Lou has seen the 60s version too. The Borzage though is really something special. The clip gives you a pretty good feel for it. And Frankie Darro, as David E points out...

Dan, I should check out The Pumpkin Eater. The Love Machine sounds suspiciously like "The Oscar" territory...

DavidEhrenstein said...

The Pumpkin Eater is teriffic. Jack Clayton directing a Pinter script with Anne Bancroft at her most elegant -- falling to pieces with panache. And he gets great support from Peter Finch and James Mason (the latter at his most sinister.)

Vanwall said...

I've always been fascinated by movie treatments of anti-war topics, usually containing some if the best and most realistic combat scenes, or conflict - obviously to impress upon the pacifist sentiments in us. Or some of us. "No Greater Glory" does very well at posing the artificial war, but it also reminded me of one of the curious, and depressing, aspects to anti-war films - they only work if you don't leave your intelect at the door when you see them. Way too many gung-ho watch them specifically for the esploding parts, and the rest of the film passes right by, and if they do get the pacifist angles, they dimiss them out of hand; everyone really only sees what one wants. I bet every Marine recruit can repeat most of the signature lines of Gunny Hartman or the chopper Door Gunner in "Full Metal Jacket", or see nothing but the quasi-military heroics if they ever saw "No Greater Glory", and the people who need it most, don't really even register it in their heads.

Vanwall said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karen said...

Siren, I will take you up on that loan of Footsteps, thank you.

We still have to set a date for a screening of My Son John, don't we?

The Siren said...

Karen, Yes we do! Email me!

Trish said...

Siren, when I was a small child my favorite film was Centennial Summer, so I remember a time when I really loved Wilde in his costume films. Even now his Sebastian is my only reason to watch The Greatest Show on Earth.

The Siren said...

Trish, thanks so much for the reminder about Centennial Summer, directed by my old sometime nemesis Otto Preminger. That is a movie I *adored* as a girl, I have not seen it since I was in my teens, and it languishes wherever Fox is keeping so many of its wonderful old movies (under Rupert's nightstand, mayhap?). I remember Jeanne Crain as being adorable in it, as she was in Margie, another film I await in pious patience. Lou Lumenick popped over on Facebook to tell me that Fox plans something along these MOD lines, but not until 2012 (get a move on, guys). The Fox Movie Channel has shown it but I have not been monitoring that channel as I should; Ima gonna check for it now.

The Siren said...

And I second the love for Wilde in Greatest Show on Earth, although I confess that Charlton Heston's youthful beauty is a huge draw for me too. That's a movie that maybe I should re-evaluate at some point. On the one hand, it's bad in a lot of ways, and Betty Hutton grates on me something terrible. On the other hand, I get a lot of pleasure out of it. Maybe someone will show it on a big screen, that might really clear my head. There is a documentary by Brownlow about De Mille that is coming out soon and I wonder if GSOE will be a part of it?

MrsHenryWindleVail said...

I've yet to see "Centennial Summer," but I've a lot of fondness for one of its songs: "In Love In Vain."

Trish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trish said...

Centennial Summer --in my childish naivite I thought 20th Century Fox was the greatest studio of all. I can remember singing along to State Fair whenever it was on, and my mom telling me I couldn't watch Forever Amber until I was older...

Siren, I'm with you on the subject of Betty Hutton. She comes on far too strong...

rudyfan1926 said...

Siren, just to clear the muddy waters, while Photoplay Productions produced the documentary on Cecil B. DeMille, the force behind it was Patrick Stanbury, not Kevin Brownlow. Let me throw in a big plug for Scott Eyman's bio of DeMille, it's an engaging read and excellent piece of work.

gmoke said...

Betty Hutton was often too strong for the screen but that very characteristic made her perfect for "Miracle of Morgan's Creek." Her animation next to Eddie Bracken's relative passivity worked like a charm.

Cornell Wilde (another Hungarian Jew) was certainly a handsome man but he was also a serious film maker. "The Naked Prey" was based upon John Colter's escape from the Blackfeet in and around what is now Yellowstone National Park (once called Colter's Hell) although it was transferred to Africa in order to be made affordably. "Beach Red" was based upon a memoir about WWII and, reportedly, includes a beach landing that may have been an inspiration for Speilberg's work in "Saving Private Ryan."

According to his biography, he graduated from high school at 14 and was an Olympic caliber fencer. I wonder if he ever fenced with Basil Rathbone, who was also accomplished with the foil. That would have been something to see. They both worked with fight choreographer Fred Cavens, an unsung hero of film.

The Siren said...

Rudyfan, Brownlow is coming to present the De Mille film at the IFC center next month so there's my confusion for you; also my inapt "coming out soon" as I think it's been around for a while, I just haven't seen it yet. But everywhere I see him listed as the director? *scratches head*

Mrs HWV, I can't remember the songs but since they're Kern I assume they ain't hay. I neglected to tell you my obscure little reference: "Dora, I suspect you're a treasure." One of the many lines I throw into conversation like shark bait that attracts no sharks...

Gmoke, Morgan's Creek is the movie that finally sold me on Hutton in SOME context and I even wrote a post about it at the time. Yes, she's hilarious, although the ones I truly adore are Demarest and Diana Lynn.

(The great thing about a list post like this is, nothing is truly off-topic.)

rudyfan1926 said...

Ah Siren, forgive me, the credits do list Brownlow as director. Silly moi! In any case, I can confirm that this was Patrick's baby from start to finish. So no wonder you are now confused thanks to me.

Mea Culpa!

DavidEhrenstein said...

"Do you see it as a Betty Hutton? We could always use a Betty Hutton. It Happened in The Bull Pen: The Story of a Woman"

DavidEhrenstein said...

In his review of Funny Girl Andrew Sarris reminded me most of Betty Hutton in Incendiary Blonde, with a year to live while her gangster boyfriend is going up the river for two years, and Betty Hutton just accepting the horrible irony with a brave smile and no huge star treatment, and I don't think I'll ever forget it."

She is likewise phenomenal in Anne Get Your Gun

Arthur S. said...

One title I am interested in the Sony On-Demand DVD Catalogue, is Andre Techine's Les Voleurs which I hear nothing but good things about.

I am not as big a fan of NO GREATER GLORY as other Borzageans, I find the allegory pretty trite but visually it's gorgeous and the child actors are quite good.

To Flickhead,
-------------------
Godard once said something to the effect that, if no other film existed, Hot Blood shows that Ray would be able to invent the cinema.
-------------------

Actually, he didn't say that at all. He said that Nicholas Ray was a complete film-maker and after that justly famous opening, he says, "This explains the fact that in spite of his innate talent and obvious sincerity, a script which he does not take seriously will remain superficial." He considers HOT BLOOD to be of limited interest and examines that limited interest, chiefly "the deliberate and systematic use of the gaudiest colors to be seen in the cinema" and Godard in his 60s films often used shrill colors derived from 50s films by Ray and Minnelli. Ray of course took that aesthetic to the hilt in PARTY GIRL which while flawed is still a great film. It's the closest Ray comes to a genre film(he is one of the rare American film-makers of that time who doesn't like and is not suited to genres at all). But for all the lurid atmosphere the emotions are as overheated as Ray at his best.

Trish said...

I've attempted to watch "Party Girl" twice in the last six months, and nodded off both times. Robert Taylor's stiffness doesn't travel well in the 1950s, and even the glamorous Cyd Charisse can't compensate. The credit sequence is FABULOUS, however, and led me to "Showgirls" recently...

Dave said...

As someone who suffered through "Janet Ames" yesterday, I say "save your money." A riper piece of post-war hogwash is hard to fathom.

The Siren said...

Dave, thanks muchly, although you realize "post-war hogwash" doesn't necessarily strike the Siren as a bad thing. Still, I will save my money for now!

Dave said...

"Post-war hogwash" can indeed be fun, but this one was full of that 40s Freudian psychobabble that makes no sense in retrospect (and probably didn't then) -- though Roz does chew the scenery nicely, and Melvyn Douglas is welcome in anything.