"Fists in the Pocket"

October 2019

Lou Castel’s Memorable Portrayal of a Serial Killer in the Making

The Criterion Collection 333
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***

Dysfunctional families have always been great fodder for makers of film and television. You can scarcely watch a TV comedy show these days that doesn’t revolve around a screwed-up family. And filmmakers have found that dysfunctional families can be things of terror.

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"Magnificent Obsession" (1954)

September 2019

Douglas Sirk’s Extreme Melodrama Gets the Criterion BD Treatment

The Criterion Collection 457
Format: Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 987
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
**1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***

Magnificent Obsession was the first book written by minister Lloyd C. Douglas (1877-1951), in 1929. Douglas would go on to write many other books, including The Robe (1942), usually considered his best. Universal Pictures acquired the film rights to Magnificent Obsession, and in 1935 John M. Stahl directed a black-and-white version, starring Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor, that received good notices. A second film version, this one in Technicolor and starring Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman, was directed in 1954 by Douglas Sirk, king of the 1950s Hollywood “weepies.” Most people consider the later version to be the better of the two, but I’m not one of them. Fortunately, this two-disc set contains both versions.

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"Klute"

August 2019

A Mesmerizing Jane Fonda on Criterion Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 987
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

Jane Fonda won her first Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Klute (1971). Though she went on to win another Oscar, for Coming Home (1978), as well as many Golden Globes and other awards, we perhaps most easily remember her for the prostitute she plays here. Klute was one of the first films I remember seeing that explored the desires and vulnerabilities of a strong female character. Not long into rehearsal, Fonda wanted to quit, but director Alan J. Pakula (1928-1998) persuaded her to stay on. At the time, Fonda was heavily involved in the movement to end the war in Vietnam, but Pakula later attested that she never let that get in the way of her profession.

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"War and Peace" (1966-67)

July 2019

Sergei Bondarchuk’s Restored Masterpiece Dazzles in a New BD from Criterion

The Criterion Collection 983
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

Leo Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace is in the DNA of all Russians. I don’t know if it’s true any longer, but in the 1960s, when this film version was released, every Russian teenage girl wanted to be Natasha Rostova, here radiantly portrayed by Lyudmila Saveleva -- at least, that’s a view supported by one of the excellent extras Criterion includes in this Blu-ray Disc edition.

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"The Heiress"

June 2019

An Oscar-Winning Film Gets the Criterion Treatment

The Criterion Collection 974
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

The Heiress, released in 1949, was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four: Best Actress in a Leading Role, Oliva de Havilland; Best Art Direction/Set Direction, Black-and-White, John Meehan, Harry Horner, Emil Kuri; Best Costume Design, Black-and-White, Edith Head and Gile Steele; and Best Music, Aaron Copland. Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s screenplay was based on their play, which in turn was based on the novel Washington Square, by Henry James. In addition to de Havilland, The Heiress starred Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson, and Miriam Hopkins. William Wyler, whose The Best Years of Our Lives had won no fewer than seven Oscars only three years before, directed with a sure hand.

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“A Face in the Crowd”

May 2019

A Definitive Blu-ray Edition of Elia Kazan’s Cautionary Tale

The Criterion Collection 970
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

In the summer of 1953, Andy Griffith was in Manteo, North Carolina, playing Sir Walter Raleigh in The Lost Colony, the longest-running outdoor production in the history of American theater. That same year, as Deacon Andy Griffith, he recorded the comedy monologue “What It Was, Was Football” for Colonial Records. It was only Colonial’s third recording, and when Capitol Records took it over and put their own label on it, the record became one of the most popular comedy singles of all time, with sales of almost 800,000. I was 12 years old, and Colonial was on a street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, that made a T intersection with the tiny street on which I lived with my parents. My dad knew someone who had a connection, and took me down to meet Griffith. He was warm and friendly, pretty much like the character he later played on TV in The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968).I liked him a lot.

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"To Sleep with Anger"

April 2019

Criterion Scores with a Brilliant Blu-ray of a Neglected Masterpiece

The Criterion Collection 963
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***

Although African-American writer and film director Charles Burnett has long been active as a filmmaker and is highly regarded by his peers, his work is not well known to the general public, especially white audiences. He’s mostly been involved in making documentaries and dramatic films for television that have seemed to fly under the radar. Now, having seen To Sleep with Anger (1990), I’m inclined to think he’s one of our greatest directors.

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"The Magnificent Ambersons"

March 2019

Orson Welles's Truncated Masterpiece Looks Great on Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 952
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

RKO Radio Pictures cooked up this truncated version of Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) while the director was away in South America, filming his next (unfinished) film, It’s All True. At first Welles tried to communicate with RKO via long-distance calls, using fellow director Robert Wise as go-between, but to no avail: RKO made drastic cuts, rearranged the order of scenes, shot new scenes -- some directed by Wise -- and tacked on a sappy, happy ending.

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"Horror Express"

February 2019

A Cult Classic Done Right from Arrow Films

Arrow Films AV179-TM
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

Produced in Spain in 1972 for a measly $300,000, Horror Express has received terrible treatment since its release. It flopped in Spain but was better received in the UK, where it got excellent reviews. The US release was a disaster. The distributor had so little interest that it provided misleading poster art and, according to some reports, released a workprint to theaters.

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"Forty Guns"

January 2019

Barbara Stanwyck as The Woman in Charge

Criterion Collection 954
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

Forty Guns (1957) opens in silence. There’s an overhead long shot of the arid prairie, a small wagon crossing it like an ant. In a medium shot, the wagon is revealed as carrying three men whom we later learn are the Bonell brothers: Griff (Barry Sullivan), Wes (Gene Barry), and Chico (Robert Dix). The sound of hooves is heard, getting louder and louder. Suddenly, from around a bend in the road, Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck) appears all in black, on a galloping white horse, leading 40 horsemen in two ranks. They split up to surround the wagon, and the point of view nervously shifts between high and low shots, emphasizing the tenseness of the situation. Drummond won’t appear again onscreen for another 20 minutes, but . . . what an entrance! Stanwyck was given one of the most memorable introductions ever caught on film.

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