Sunday, March 31, 2013



(NOTE: I have never seen the remake of this film, nor do I ever intend to. The remake has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on this post. For my intents and purposes, the remake does not exist.)

I'm often asked what my favorite baseball movie is. Most people assume that it's something like FIELD OF DREAMS, or THE NATURAL. When I answer that my pick for the greatest baseball movie of all time is THE BAD NEWS BEARS, the reaction is usually one of surprise. THE BAD NEWS BEARS is looked upon as more of a goofy comedy than a "real" baseball picture. But I think it has more truth in it about baseball, and about America, than just about any movie I've ever seen.

I first need to explain why I feel such a connection to TBNB. I played Little League in the late 70s--literally walking distance from the house I now live in--and I would have fit in pretty well with the Bears. The Bears' player I was most like was Ogilvie--I could tell you all sorts of MLB trivia, but I couldn't hit a ball to save my life. Even though TBNB was set in Southern California, and I grew up in Northern Indiana, the movie has a ton of details that reflect my extremely modest ball-playing experience. (I do have to say that I certainly didn't have any Little League coaches that were drunks.)THE BAD NEWS BEARS is probably the only film that gives me an accurate sense of my childhood.

Just about everybody knows the film's plot. Former Minor League pitcher Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) is hired by a city councilman to manage a Little League team made up of kids who the other League teams don't want. Nearly everyone expects the team to be lousy, and they are....until Buttermaker is so ticked off at all the low expectations of his players (and of himself) that he decides to actually try to get his team to win.

The genius of an actor like Walter Matthau is that he's playing a guy who is, as Buttermaker calls himself, a "bum", but still able to make him likable to the audience. Matthau also does this without making Buttermaker a hero, or making him different at the end of the story. Morris Buttermaker is the kind of guy who drives around with a cooler full of beer in his car. He may have been a pro ballplayer, but now he's just a pool cleaner, and obviously not a very successful one. The only reason Buttermaker takes the job of coaching the Bears is to pick up a little cash--but as the story progresses we see how Buttermaker slowly changes, and Matthau does this in a natural manner, without the character suddenly "reforming" in an instant. At the end of the film we just assume that Buttermaker is going to just go on cleaning pools and drinking a lot of beer. I realize that Matthau made more "important" movies, but to me Morris Buttermaker is his signature role. If any other actor had played it TBNB would not have worked.

As for the Bears themselves, they don't act like adults (a mistake made by several child actors), they act just like real kids. In other words, they're mean, cruel, obnoxious, and anti-social. I know that a big deal was made about all the cursing done by the kids in TBNB, and I have to admit that a lot of it in this movie was more than likely done for effect. But for the most part the kids are absolutely real. I KNEW kids like these. I knew kids like Tanner--the short kid with the big mouth who always wants to fight someone. I knew kids like Kelly Leak--kids who smoked cigarettes, drove around on mini-bikes, and tried to act like teenage bad-asses. I knew kids like Engelberg, Ahmad, Timmy Lupus...these aren't typical Hollywood cute model-type kids, these are kids you can imagine seeing on the nearest playground. Most child actors are too polished, too perfect in their line readings and mannerisms. You don't see that with the cast of TBNB.

Of course Tatum O'Neal was a polished professional child actor, but she's very good as Amanda, the Bears' star pitcher. Amanda is the daughter of one of Buttermaker's former girlfriends, and he basically cons her into playing for the team. Amanda is someone desperately in need of a father figure (we never see her mother, and one assumes her mother doesn't care about her too much), and she tries to make an emotional connection with Buttermaker. In a very painful scene later on in the film, Buttermaker goes out of his way to tell her he's just using her....but he's doing it not because he's mean, he's doing it because he has enough sense to know that a growing girl like her doesn't need guidance from someone like Morris Buttermaker. It's a surprising moment for a so-called goofy comedy, and it's played to perfection by both Matthau and O' Neal.

Also surprising is how the character of Kelly Leak is handled. Leak is the neighborhood bad boy who also happens to be the neighborhood's best ballplayer. At first he just seems to be nothing more than a punk--but the viewer finds out there's a lot more to him. Leak is played by Jackie Earle Haley, who in the 21st Century became an acclaimed character actor. Haley would eventually wind up being the real star of the Bad News Bears movie franchise.

One actor that never gets any credit for his work in TBNB is Vic Morrow. That's hardly surprising, considering that Morrow had to compete with cussing kids and a drunken Walter Matthau. But the next time you watch TBNB pay attention to Morrow. He plays Roy Turner, coach of the league powerhouse Yankees, the team destined to play the Bears in the League Championship game. I don't know if Morrow did any research for the role, but he is absolutely spot on. His body language, the way he dresses, the way he reacts to things--if you go to any Little League complex, you'll find guys exactly like Morrow's character. I knew coaches exactly like that when I played ball. Morrow was a fine actor who unfortunately is now remembered for his tragic death. His Roy Turner may be considered the "bad guy".....but is he? You may not like his methods, but Turner is not a cliche comic villain. In the 21st Century movie world, Turner would be portrayed as a fool, or an over-the-top jerk, but Morrow makes him a real human being.

That's another thing that makes TBNB great: the movie is believable. Everything in the movie could very well happen in real life. Most of today's "comedies" have more fantastic elements than LORD OF THE RINGS. TBNB is truly funny, without being farfetched. As I've said before, there are so many details the movie gets right about Little League baseball (and America) in the late 1970s: the Little League "den mother" (played by Joyce Van Patten) who actually runs the show; the League meeting at the local Pizza Hut; the excitement the kids have over getting their uniforms; all the pomp & circumstance involving the League's Opening Day; and several other little things that may not seem important, but give TBNB an authentic atmosphere. If you want to know what America was like in the late 1970s, forget about Robert THE BAD NEWS BEARS instead.

The most believable thing about TBNB is the climax, where the Bears (SPOILER ALERT) actually lose. No, this isn't one of those "uplifting" sports movies where the hero clinches victory in slow-motion. The Bears don't win the championship, but Buttermaker and his team of misfits gain some self-respect. I've laid out a number of personal reasons why I love TBNB, but it needs to be said that this is a great film, period. Michael Ritchie's direction is so assured you don't even notice it, and Bill Lancaster's script is perfect. THE BAD NEWS BEARS is more than just a movie about foul-mouthed runts and a drunken coach--it's a honest look at baseball, the game that defines America more than any other. When one watches TBNB again today, it's amazing how understated it really is, especially compared to the ridiculous Will Ferrell-HANGOVER style comedies filling modern theaters. THE BAD NEWS BEARS is one of the best American films of the 1970s.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


The latest issue of Scary Monsters magazine is out. It's a whopping 162 page special tribute to none other than the great Svengoolie. Most of the tributes were written and sent in by Sven fans from all over, and....remember my November post about Sven? (

Well...when I found out that Scary Monsters was doing a Sven tribute, and they were asking fans to submit their personal comments on him, I forwarded my post to them. And the whole thing got printed...on page 89!

But it gets even better. My post is right after a Sven tribute from Mark Hamill.

Yes, THAT Mark Hamill.

The Force is indeed with me.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Eric McNaughton recently let me have a sneak peek at Issue #9 of his fanzine WE BELONG DEAD. The volume has an eclectic lineup of interesting articles concerning classic horror films. Among the highlights are: A cover story on Hammer Films' TWINS OF EVIL, an article listing the top Jack the Ripper movies, an extremely informative history of the famed Aurora Monsters model kits, and a "alternative" look at the Hammer Dracula series. The Hammer Dracula article may tick off some monster movie fans (but I have a feeling that was the author's intention).

There's also interviews with French cult director Jean Rollin (made before his death, of course) and a talk with legendary British Scream Queen Barbara Shelley, which features a stunning picture of her on page 64. And there's a very fine look at Peter Cushing's career at Amicus....which never gets enough attention, or respect, compared to his more famous work for Hammer.

WE BELONG DEAD is certainly worthy of interest to monster movie fanboys (and girls). For more information go to the We Belong Dead website:

Friday, March 22, 2013

GORGO On Blu-ray

GORGO (made in 1959, released in 1961) is one of the most famous, and unique, of the classic giant monster movies. It's unique because the title monster is a guy in a suit--but it wasn't made in Japan. VCI Entertainment has just released GORGO on an impressive Blu-ray jammed packed with features.

GORGO was the brainchild of the King Brothers, independent movie producers who wanted to get on the big monster/sci-fi band wagon of the 1950s. As director they hired Eugene Lourie, who had already helmed two other big creature stories: THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS and THE GIANT BEHEMOTH. Lourie's real career was as a art director & production designer, which served him well in preparing films like GORGO. The decision to use a man in a suit instead of stop-motion animation was probably due to the cost and the time such animation required. Some people can't accept the whole guy-in-a-suit concept....but those people shouldn't be watching these types of movies anyway.

Of course it was the Japanese that developed the whole guy-in-a-suit-genre, and it was rare that any other production, especially an English-made one, would attempt it. But GORGO shares much more with the Japanese Kaiju style than just the FX presentation of the monster.

The story of GORGO concerns Joe Ryan (Bill Travers), captain of a salvage vessel, and his partner Sam Slade (William Sylvester). The pair are really fortune hunters, and while looking for treasure off the Irish coast experience a volcanic eruption, which apparently unleashes a prehistoric monster. Joe and Sam are able to capture the beast, and they transport it to London, where they plan to exhibit it with the help of a circus owner at Battersea Park.

Scientists who have examined the creature make the discovery that it is actually an infant--and soon Mommy Gorgo shows up.

The storyline of GORGO has a number of kaiju-like elements. First there's two leading men instead of one--something very common in the Godzilla series. Then there's the presence of an annoying "cute" kid (Vincent Winter), who somehow is able to be present at just about every major plot development. One thing that GORGO does not share with it's Japanese counterparts is a female lead; the kid doesn't have a hot-looking sister, and there's no attractive spunky reporter. On second thought, there is a huge female role...that of Mommy Gorgo.

What really makes GORGO special compared to others in this genre is the fact that Gorgo WINS. Despite taking on the combined might of Her Majesty's Armed Forces, Mommy Gorgo rescues her offspring, then both creatures walk into the Thames and go home. Since the Gorgos actually come from this revenge against the Crown?

The FX on GORGO may look silly to some, but if you have some imagination, it's very impressive for it's time, especially the miniatures. The climax features Mommy Gorgo laying waste to London, and it's the main reason anyone would want to see this film. (The destruction of Tower Bridge is a major highlight.) Another sequence of note is the real-life Gorgo prop creature being driven around Piccadilly Circus after it's "capture" (using the prop in an actual setting was an inventive idea). If you look in the background as the Gorgo prop is being transported, you can see a huge theater display for Hammer Films' THE MUMMY (I'm sure the Hammer front office got a kick out of that).

VCI Entertainment had released GORGO on DVD before, but the picture quality was substandard. The new Blu-ray is a vast improvement. Because of the many matte paintings and glass shots, the visual aspect of GORGO will never look perfect, but the new Blu-ray is most likely going to be the best we can expect to have. GORGO's cinematographer, by the way, was the legendary Freddie Young, best known for his work with David Lean.

What really makes the GORGO Blu-ray a must have is the extras. There's a nice documentary by Daniel Griffith's Ballyhood Productions on the making of the film, an extensive photo & stills gallery, a lobby card & poster gallery, a look at various Gorgo toys & collectibles, an optical music & effects track, production notes, a panel-by-panel viewing of the original Gorgo comic book, a pressbook gallery, and a look at a Gorgo "Fumetto"--a French comic book. Even if the picture quality was not significantly improved, the extras alone would be worthy of a purchase.

VCI Entertainment has done an amazing job with this GORGO Blu-ray. If you are a classic monster movie fan, you really need to pick this up.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


If you have a large movie collection like me, chances are you have a couple DVDs from Alpha Home Entertainment. Alpha is a company which specializes in rare & low-budget films. Most of Alpha's product is public domain--that is, movies that are not under copyright to anyone. Because of this, you can buy stuff from Alpha pretty cheap. But you are not going to get the same quality you would from a major studio DVD release. Alpha carries a large number of black & white films made by independent companies that have long gone out of business. Most of these movies would probably never see the light of day on home video if it wasn't for Alpha.

When you buy a DVD from Alpha, you're taking somewhat of a chance. I have some Alpha DVDs that are very good, and some that are barely watchable. There are certain movies which only exist on Alpha if you want one of these rare titles, you'll have to put up with Alpha's brand of quality.

One of Alpha's latest issues is a double feature consisting of CHEATING BLONDES (1933) and CHEERS OF THE CROWD (1935). CHEATING BLONDES stars Thelma Todd, one of the best-looking women to appear in motion pictures. Todd has a huge cult following, due in part to her mysterious death, and the fact that in the 20s and 30s she co-starred with nearly every famous comedian in Hollywood (including Harry Langdon, Charley Chase, Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers, and Wheeler & Woolsey). It was rare for Todd to get a non-comedic leading role, so CHEATING BLONDES is certainly of interest to her fans. Unfortunately the movie isn't very good (the most exciting thing about it is Thelma's picture on the DVD case) and the presentation of it is worse.

There's not much information on CHEATING BLONDES anywhere. My search on the internet revealed two running times: 61 and 66 minutes. Alpha's version runs about 49 minutes. It's obviously edited--some of the scene transitions are very jarring, and the story's hard to make sense of. Thelma plays Ann Merrick, who goes into hiding after her drunken neighbor is shot dead while trying to molest her. Ann takes the place of her twin sister, Elaine, who is a nightclub singer. Ann and Elaine--in this version, anyway--are never seen together, and the viewer is never told directly that Ann is posing as her sister. One figures it out through dialogue--the part setting up the deception must have been cut. The picture and sound quality is below average. It's hard to really tell how good CHEATING BLONDES is (or was supposed to be). One has to see the full version to make an accurate assessment. Thelma Todd is okay (she does get one musical number), but her performance can't be judged without knowing what all of her scenes consisted of. Fans of Thelma Todd will want to see this but they will probably be a bit disappointed.

The co-feature, CHEERS OF THE CROWD, isn't much to speak of, either. The running time on this, 61 minutes, matches what has been stated on various internet sites. The story concerns a publicity man getting attention for a stage show by faking the show's payroll being lost, and then found by a "honest" man. The movie moves at a snail's pace, and the only member of the cast worthy of attention is Irene Ware, who co-starred with Bela Lugosi in CHANDU THE MAGICIAN and THE RAVEN.

These two films are certainly rare, but that doesn't mean they are good. Alpha should get some credit for putting this type of product out there--nobody else would--but other than Thelma Todd fans, I doubt no one else would pick this DVD up.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Since this is St. Patrick's Day, it's time to look at a John Ford-directed film which is set in Ireland, features Victor McLaglen, has a story involving a woman's marital problems and a horse race--but isn't THE QUIET MAN.

HANGMAN'S HOUSE was made in 1928, when the great director John Ford was working for Fox Studios. The house of the title belongs to Irish Chief Justice James O'Brien (Hobart Bosworth), known to the locals as "Hanging Jimmy". The dying Judge is haunted by the many men he has sent to the gallows. He hopes to find peace by marrying his daughter Connaught (June Collyer) off to the caddish John D'Arcy (Earle Foxe). Connaught agrees to this to make her father happy, even though she is in love with Dermot McDermot (Larry Kent). D'Arcy has a mortal enemy in "Citizen" Hogan (Victor McLaglen). Hogan is an Irish rebel who returns from exile with the French Foreign Legion to settle a personal score with D'Arcy.

HANGMAN'S HOUSE was made at the same time that acclaimed German film director F. W. Murnau was also working for Fox. Ford biographers Scott Eyman and Joseph McBride have suggested that Murnau's style was a huge influence on HANGMAN'S HOUSE. Of course being 1928 the film is silent and in black & white, but it's also very different from most of John Ford's other work. The movie is filled with foggy settings and chiaroscuro lighting--a number of scenes bear a striking resemblance to Murnau's SUNRISE. The actual Hangman's House is more of a Gothic-style castle which is surrounded by a moat and looms over the countryside. The Ireland in this story is presented far differently than it is in THE QUIET MAN. Here it's a dark, brooding place, with an oppressive atmosphere. Ford also throws in some expressionistic touches, such as Judge O'Brien seeing horrid images of hanging men in his fireplace. These scenes look like they come from a Fritz Lang production for UFA.

What stops HANGMAN'S HOUSE from being considered one of Ford's best works is the too-obvious villainy of the D'Arcy character. He's such a bad guy that in his very first scene, the O'Brien's dog gives him a dirty look. D'Arcy is, among other things, an animal abuser, a drunk, an informer, and a coward. It is suggested that Judge O'Brien hopes to secure his daughter's future by having her marry D'Arcy, but it defies belief that the Judge cannot know this guy is lousy. The story also hints that the "sins of the father" are being passed on to the daughter, thus her suffering from her husband. D'Arcy does get his comeuppance in the end, but one wonders why it takes so long.

HANGMAN'S HOUSE, as stated, features a very exciting, and very well-staged, horse race. During the race one can catch a glimpse of a very young John Wayne as an excited spectator. (Wayne was working on the Fox lot as a prop man and gofer, where he caught John Ford's attention.) The race's happy ending is blasted away by a violent act of cruelty that will shock even 21st Century viewers.

If THE QUIET MAN is a dream version of Ireland, then HANGMAN'S HOUSE is a far darker dream of the country. It's one of John Ford's lesser known works, and one of his most atypical. It certainly isn't shown every March 17 like THE QUIET MAN is. But it is worth seeking out. HANGMAN'S HOUSE is on DVD as part of "The Ford at Fox Collection: John Ford's Silent Epics" box set.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

More Of My Favorite Movie Quotes

"He no nuts! He's CRAZY!!!"
Spoken by Ke Huy Quan as Short Round

"Pass the marmalade....will you, Elizabeth?"
Spoken by Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein

"You gonna do something or just stand there and bleed?"
Spoken by Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp

Spoken by Ricardo Montalban as Khan

From DRACULA A. D. 1972
Spoken by Christopher Neame as Johnny Alucard

"This never happened to the other fellow."
Spoken by George Lazenby as James Bond

Spoken by George C. Scott as George S. Patton

"It's not impossible. I used to bull's-eye womp rats in my T-16 back home. They're not much bigger than two meters."
Spoken by Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker

"Well, hello Mr. Fancy Pants! I've got some news for you pal, you ain't leadin' but two things right now--jack and shit, and jack left town."
Spoken by Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams

Saturday, March 9, 2013


Tonight I went to the Vickers Theatre to see a presentation of the 1925 silent version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, starring The Man of a Thousand Faces, Lon Chaney. The Vickers Theatre is a historic venue located in Three Oaks, Michigan, a small town situated in the southwestern part of the state. The Vickers specializes in showing independent & critically acclaimed films that usually don't get screened in the local multi-plexes. They used to have a silent film festival every year--hopefully they'll renew that tradition someday. As a matter of fact, the Vickers Theatre was where I saw the silent classic PANDORA'S BOX for the very first time.

What was special about this showing of PHANTOM was the live musical accompaniment by the Andrew Alden Ensemble. The Ensemble is a four-man group consisting of Andrew Alden (composer/keyboard), Andy Cantu (drums/percussion), Beltran Del Campo (Violin/Viola), and Nat Saralamba (electric guitar). These musicians are on a American tour providing live music to silent film classics. Andrew Alden composes original music for each film, and besides the keyboards, he also uses various instruments such as what he calls a "PVC clarinet" (a long piece of PVC pipe with a clarinet mouthpiece). Their music for PHANTOM was somewhat unorthodox, but they did a very fine job. It is kind of refreshing to hear music for a silent film that is non-traditional.

I've watched the silent PHANTOM dozens of times. I consider it Lon Chaney's greatest performance. In the opinion of a goofy looking fanboy like me, Chaney's Phantom is the ultimate romantic hero. There have been a number of versions of Gaston Leroux's story but I still say the Chaney PHANTOM is the best.

For more information on the Vickers Theatre:

For more information on the Andrew Alden Ensemble:

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

You're Braver Than I Thought

The big movie news on the internet today is that Carrie Fisher has said she will reprise her role as Princess Leia in the next Star Wars film being made by Disney.

Now...does this "legitimize" the upcoming Episode VII?

I wouldn't say that. J. J. Abrams, who is going to direct Episode VII, gave the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy, a role in the rebooting of Star Trek. In my humble opinion, Abrams' STAR TREK wasn't all that great, even with Nimoy--in fact Nimoy's extended cameo just underscored how lacking the new version of Star Trek was.

But...if not just Carrie Fisher, but Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford also show up, it's a fantastic PR coup for Disney. No matter how crappy the next Star Wars may be, or how little screen time Luke, Han, and Leia have, millions of fans will go see the movie just to see them. Luke, Han and Leia are three of the most iconic characters in cinema history. It certainly won't hurt the picture to have them in it.

I've already read a number of "Old Leia" jokes on the internet already. It's obvious that Carrie Fisher isn't in her twenties anymore, and nearly everyone knows about the issues she's dealt with over the years. But when I read these things it makes me wonder--are we saying that once a woman reaches a certain age (especially a woman in the entertainment industry), is that woman to be considered useless?

I've always had a soft spot for Carrie Fisher--she was the first female I ever had a real crush on. So I'm glad to see her back in the Star Wars Universe--but I'm biding my time before I start to get excited over this future Star Wars film. Let's not forget that we are dealing with modern-day Hollywood. There's still plenty of ways Disney can screw this up.

As of right now, I consider myself cautiously optimistic.

Kim Novak

Tonight Turner Classic Movies will be airing an interview filmed last year with TCM host Robert Osbourne and Kim Novak. TCM will also be showing a selection of Novak's movies after the interview.

I've always been a fan of Novak's, mostly because she was the leading lady in one of my favorite films of all time, VERTIGO. The fact that she was pretty hot back in the day certainly has something to do with it as well. Novak's biggest fame was in the 1950s, and she's usually lumped in with the blonde bombshells of the period. But she really shouldn't be, because her image is so different from that group. Stars like Monroe, Mansfield, Dors, etc., were about as obvious as a wart on a nose. Kim Novak had a mysterious, elusive quality about her. It's hard to believe now, but Novak was not Alfred Hitchcock's first choice for VERTIGO--it was supposed to be Vera Miles. Novak was so perfect for VERTIGO, that one cannot imagine anyone else being in her place.

I know some film historians say that Novak as an actress is to cold and distant. What some call coldness I call a depth and intelligence that a lot of other glamorous actresses just didn't have. Novak was drop dead gorgeous but in her movies she never seemed to act like it. To this day I think she's very underrated, especially compared with some of her contemporaries.

Of course VERTIGO will forever be Novak's signature film, but she did very good work in PICNIC, and a great job in a movie no one talks about (or has probably even heard of) MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. Novak had the thankless task of playing one of Bette Davis' most famous roles in a OF HUMAN BONDAGE remake, and she did fine.

Another reason for Novak being somewhat overlooked is the fact that she lived a very quiet private life, and continues to do so to this day. She had a fairly short screen career, and she didn't die young or become tied to any major scandals. If you are a movie buff, you know how many movie stars had personal lives that were basically train wrecks. It's nice to know that someone like Kim Novak, who had been through the old Hollywood star system, not only survived but went on to a normal and happy life.

Monday, March 4, 2013

THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1924) On Blu-ray

One of the most famous silent films of all time, THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, has been restored and released on Blu-ray by the Cohen Media Group. This version was restored from two 35mm negatives and it incorporates all the color tints and tones of the original release prints. The result is simply outstanding--it's more than likely going to make my Best DVD/Blu-ray list of 2013.

THE THIEF OF BAGDAD was originated, written, and produced by the film's star, Douglas Fairbanks. At the time of THIEF's making Fairbanks was one of the most famous people in the world, along with his actress wife Mary Pickford. Unlike today's "stars", Fairbanks spent most of his personal time keeping physically fit (if you watch THIEF you won't believe that Fairbanks was 40 when he starred in it) and working on various film projects. Even though Raoul Walsh is credited as director, THIEF was Fairbanks' show all the way. He was involved in every aspect of production, and it's obvious that with THIEF Fairbanks wanted to top all his past successes. He was also influenced by the several German Expressionist fantasy films that had been released in the early 1920s.

The story of THE THIEF OF BAGDAD is pretty simple--in the ancient Middle East, thief Ahmed falls in love with a beautiful Princess, and goes through various trials and adventures to win her. The best way to describe THIEF is to compare it to all the 21st Century CGI-filled spectaculars that have flooded the screens recently. THIEF doesn't have the music video-style editing or the junior high school humor of today's movies, but it's loaded with just about every special effect of the period and all sorts of bizarre situations and dangers for Fairbanks to deal with. At 2 and a half hours the movie does have some dull spots, but there is so much to see in every scene, you'll probably won't be bored. THIEF is a pure visual feast--the incredible sets and props, the costumes, the thousands of extras--you have to see this a couple of times just to take everything in.

THIEF's look is due to legendary production designer William Cameron Menzies (who would later work on GONE WITH THE WIND). The settings are astounding--even more so because of the picture quality of the Blu-ray. One can now see (and fully appreciate) the fine detail on all the elaborate costumes. Douglas Fairbanks certainly put his money into the story. Fairbanks wanted to put on a show, and he did that and more.

As for Fairbanks the actor, if you are not used to silent film acting technique, you'll might come away thinking he's way over the top. In a sense he is--but this is an over the top fantasy adventure, and Fairbanks is doing a very stylized performance to match the tone of the film. Julanne Johnston, as the Princess, is maybe the whitest Middle Eastern heroine of all time. Anna May Wong, who portrays the Princess' traitorous handmaiden, would have been a lot better in the role.

Anna May Wong
Special mention must be made of Anna May Wong. Because of her Chinese heritage, Wong was denied leading-lady roles during her Hollywood career. (Her best showcase is the British film PICCADILLY). Wong wound up supporting several Caucasian actresses who were not as attractive, or as talented, as she was. If you watch THIEF OF BAGDAD, you'll take notice every time Wong appears on screen.

Japanese actor Sojin plays the main villain, the Mongol Prince. I'm sure some will not be happy to know that the villains are played by Orientals, and the heroes are played by white Americans.....but that's the way things were back then. (Have things really changed all that much in movies now?)

I saw THE THIEF OF BAGDAD a while ago, and I've seen bits and pieces of it since. Like most silent movies, even the famous ones, the versions I watched were either missing scenes or the picture quality was not good. This new Blu-ray of THIEF is without doubt the definitive version. It will most likely give THIEF a new life, and hopefully a brand new audience.

The extras include a commentary by Fairbanks biographer Jeffrey Vance. It is very informative, but during the last half of the film Vance begins to lose some steam. There is also a 17 minute video essay written by Vance, featuring several behind-the-scenes stills taken during the production of THIEF.

The Cohen Media Group is new to the home video game, but this fantastic version of THE THIEF OF BAGDAD puts them on a par with Criterion or Kino. It will be interesting to see what Cohen has in store for the future.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

My Ten Favorite Film Directors Of All Time

Yes, it's another list. On this one I've also listed what I think is each director's greatest, and most underrated, movie.

1. John Ford
Greatest Film: THE SEARCHERS

2. Sergio Leone

3. Frank Capra
Most Underrated: THE MIRACLE WOMAN

4. Alfred Hitchcock
Greatest Film: VERTIGO
Most Underrated: MARNIE

5. Steven Spielberg
Most Underrated: ALWAYS

6. Sam Peckinpah
Greatest Film: THE WILD BUNCH
Most Underrated: THE GETAWAY

7. Stanley Kubrick
Greatest Film: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
Most Underrated: BARRY LYNDON

8. James Whale

9. Akira Kurosawa
Greatest Film: SEVEN SAMURAI
Most Underrated: Is there a Kurosawa movie that's underrated?

10. Fritz Lang
Greatest Film: METROPOLIS
Most Underrated: SPIES

Honorable Mention: Tim Burton, Mario Bava, Sam Raimi, Terence Fisher, F. W. Murnau, Josef von Sternberg, William Wellman, David Lean, Michael Curtiz.