Monday, June 14, 2021

THE WOMAN ONE LONGS FOR On Blu-ray From Kino

 





Kino Lorber continues its exemplary series of home video releases of rare German films with this Blu-ray of the 1929 silent THE WOMAN ONE LONGS FOR. This movie is notable for being an example of Marlene Dietrich in a starring role before THE BLUE ANGEL. 

Many assume that Dietrich had a negligible screen career before her breakout role in THE BLUE ANGEL, but she had already appeared in a number of features. One may not be able to hear Marlene's voice in THE WOMAN ONE LONGS FOR, but her sultry, entrancing beauty is well in evidence here, along with her ability to dominate the scene without apparently doing much. THE WOMAN ONE LONGS FOR proves that Dietrich had full command of the attributes she would be legendary for before she ever met Josef von Sternberg. 

THE WOMAN ONE LONGS FOR is another of those German silent melodramas where a mysterious, alluring woman drives a man (or men) to madness and/or personal ruin. There were plenty of these stories at the time, starring such ladies as Brigitte Helm, Louise Brooks, and Lya de Putti. (The original German title of this film is DIE FRAU NACH DER MAN SICH SEHNT, and it was released in America as THE THREE LOVES.) 

The story is set in France. A young man named Henry (Uno Henning) agrees to marry the daughter of a businessman who will financially help the company his family is in control of. While boarding the train to take him and his new wife on their honeymoon, Henry sees a gorgeous woman (Marlene Dietrich) and is instantly smitten with her. The woman, named Stascha, encourages Henry's attentions and begs him to save her from her older "companion", an intense-looking fellow named Dr. Karoff (Fritz Kortner). Henry is so infatuated with Stascha, he abandons his bride, gets off the train, and follows the woman and Karoff to a swanky resort hotel. Stascha tells Karoff that Henry is her cousin, while Henry makes plans to take her away....but Stascha is more than just a damsel in distress, and Karoff won't let her go so easily. 

It's understandable if one thinks that THE WOMAN ONE LONGS FOR was made after THE BLUE ANGEL, or that it was directed by Josef von Sternberg. Marlene Dietrich gets several exquisite close-ups here, and there's even a couple shots of her legs, which were already famous in Germany. Dietrich's acting is not as stylized as it would be when she worked with von Sternberg. She's not exactly a vamp or a temptress, but she's someone who can't exactly be trusted. Director Kurt Bernhardt (who would later go to Hollywood and work under the name Curtis Bernhardt) makes full use of Dietrich's captivating beauty. 

Bernhardt also gives plenty of visual spice to what is a simple story by injecting many unusual shot compositions and making use of a constantly roving camera. Uno Henning is quite nervy as the besotted Henry, while Fritz Kortner is grandly mysterious as the chilling yet tragic Karoff. 

The disc cover for this Blu-ray states that the transfer used here is from a recent restoration. There's a few scant moments of print damage, but overall the picture quality is excellent. The intertitles are in German, but English subtitles are available. The running time here is 77 minutes--I had never seen this film before, so I can only assume it is the most complete version. This is a Region A release. 

Kino has provided a fine new score for THE WOMAN ONE LONGS FOR by Pascal Schumacher, and it can be listened to in either 5.1 surround or 2.0 stereo. There's also a brand new audio commentary by Gaylyn Studlar, who goes into various aspects of the production, and discusses the lives of members of the cast and crew. (Surprisingly, she spends more time talking about Fritz Kortner than Marlene Dietrich.) 

Kino has been releasing rare and obscure silent films on home video for years, and they've also gotten a lot of my money by doing so. What makes this release special is the chance to see Marlene Dietrich as a silent film actress. (As far as I know, none of the other silent films Dietrich appeared in have ever been released on disc--at least not in the U.S.) This Blu-ray will be a must for Dietrich fans. 



Sunday, June 13, 2021

NOBODY"S BABY

 





In March I wrote a blog post on a film called KELLY THE SECOND, which was a full-length feature produced by Hal Roach. NOBODY'S BABY, a 1937 movie made after KELLY THE SECOND, was also produced by Roach and released by MGM. This one has Patsy Kelly and Lyda Roberti, who were paired up for two short subjects from the Roach studio after the death of Patsy's onscreen partner Thelma Todd. 

Roach hoped he could continue the Kelly-Roberti team in features, but NOBODY'S BABY, while amusing at times, isn't nearly as funny or entertaining as any one of the Thelma Todd-Zasu Pitts-Patsy Kelly shorts. Patsy and Lyda Roberti play two mismatched ladies who wind up living and then working together as nurses in training. The duo encounter a bit of romance with a reporter (Robert Armstrong) and a detective (Lynne Overman). They also get involved with the problems of a professional dancing couple who are secretly married. The husband (Don Alvarado) does not want the public to know about their personal situation, while the wife (Rosina Lawrence) leaves her partner before she has a chance to tell him she's pregnant. The lady winds up having her baby in secret, at the hospital where Patsy and Lyda happen to work at. The girls volunteer to take care of the baby, and of course all sorts of misunderstandings and complications ensue. 

In the two-reelers she appeared in with Thelma Todd, Patsy Kelly was usually the cause of all the comic troubles in the plot. Here she's the leader of the duo, with much of the humor (such as it is) deriving from the Polish-born Roberti's mangling and confusion of the English language. When she's not yelling at somebody, Patsy spends most of her time being exasperated over Roberti's actions--the two have an almost Moe Howard-Curly Howard relationship. Like Thelma Todd, Lyda Roberti was an attractive blonde--but here she's a very dopey one, which Thelma was decidedly not. Roberti does her best with what is a one-note role, but her character winds up being a bit annoying. 

Three writers are credited on NOBODY'S BABY, but that certainly didn't help out the gags here--there's nothing in this film that winds up being remotely memorable. The idea of having Patsy and Lyda training as nurses sounds promising, but the script doesn't take full advantage of this. There's a few songs (including one that uses the title of the film) and a sequence that shows the dance team in action, but these numbers feel like padding. The movie was directed by Roach veteran Gus Meins. 

Sadly, Lyda Roberti had something else in common with Thelma Todd--an early death. Roberti died in 1938 of a massive heart attack. Patsy Kelly and Roberti might have been able to make it as a comedy team in features if they had better material than they were given in NOBODY'S BABY. The major "what if" is what would have happened if Thelma Todd had lived, and gotten to be in full-length features with Patsy. Having Lyda Roberti be a dumb blonde was very limiting--Thelma had far more comic versatility. 


Saturday, June 12, 2021

CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD On Blu-ray From Severin

 




Severin's THE EUROCRYPT OF CHRISTOPHER LEE Blu-ray box set features the first authorized home video release of the 1964 film CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD. The movie was filmed in Italy, but the main creative forces behind it, producer Paul Maslansky and writer/director Warren Kiefer, were Americans. 

Somewhere in Napoleonic Europe, a traveling theatrical troupe is asked to preform for a strange man named Count Drago (Christopher Lee). The troupe arrives at Drago's remote castle and finds that the Count is something of a scientist. He's perfected a way to preserve animals--and now he's attempting to do the same thing to human beings, and he's determined to have the members of the troupe "assist" in this endeavor. 

Despite its late-night spook show reputation, CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD has a definite art-house feel to it, mainly due to the atmospheric black & white cinematography by Aldo Tonti. There's almost no gore or sudden shocks, and the story has an almost languid pace to it. The soundtrack music by Angelo Lavagnino (which is on a CD included with the Blu-ray) adds to the eclectic mood. 

The role of Count Drago is one of the best that Christopher Lee played during what is called his mid-1960s European period. The Count is not a vampire, or a supernatural creature...he's a rather eccentric scientist who is a genial if austere host. Lee makes a major impression as Drago without going overboard. Thankfully the actor was able to dub in his own voice for this production. 

CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD is also notable for being the film debut of Donald Sutherland, who actually plays two roles. His main character is a gendarme who comes off like a 19th Century Barney Fife, and he's also an old witch. Even in the early part of his career Sutherland (whose own voice is used for the gendarme role) is able to always draw the viewer's attention. Euro Gothic veteran actor Luciano Pigozzi (the Italian Peter Lorre) has a small but important role. Future cult director Michael Reeves was also involved in this film as an assistant (but he didn't have as much influence on it as some film geeks think). 

The disc case for this Blu-ray states that this is the original uncut version of CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD, and that it has been scanned in 4K. The picture quality is excellent, as is the sound. The original soundtrack CD has excellent audio quality as well. The disc case also shows that the disc is coded A,B, and C. 

Severin has provided plenty of worthy extras for this movie. There's an interview with producer Paul Maslansky that lasts about an hour long, and covers his entire career in this film industry. It's a very rambling talk--Maslansky has plenty of intriguing stories to tell, but it takes him a while to get to the point. Another program has Italian film historian Roberto Curti discussing the life and work of Warren Kiefer. Curti dispels the various rumors that have cropped up about Keifer over the years. Kiefer did exist, he was an American, and yes, Donald Sutherland named one of his sons after him. 

There's also two new audio commentaries. Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth provide a lively discussion in which they examine the various urban legends that have sprung up about the film, and they cover numerous aspects of Christopher Lee's film career. The other commentary, which I have not listened to yet, is by Kat Ellinger. 

CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD is a film that has long deserved a proper official home video release. It has a far different vibe than most low-budget fantastic films made during this period, and it's a treat for Christopher Lee fans. If Severin had just released this as a standalone disc, it would be a big deal--but it's part of a set that contains several goodies relating to Christopher Lee. 

Saturday, June 5, 2021

THE EUROCRYPT OF CHRISTOPHER LEE COLLECTION On Blu-ray From Severin

 





Christopher Lee is a legend of English Gothic cinema--but he's also a legend of Euro Gothic cinema, which is made abundantly clear in this new fantastic Blu-ray set from Severin. 

THE EUROCRYPT OF CHRISTOPHER LEE COLLECTION collects five rare and somewhat obscure films that were made in continental Europe and featured Lee. The set also includes a 24-episode TV series produced in Poland called THEATER MACABRE, in which Lee did the hosting duties for each story. And...there's a 100-page booklet on Lee's European film adventures by genre expert Jonathan Rigby. 

The five films are SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE DEADLY NECKLACE, CRYPT OF THE VAMPIRE, CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD, CHALLENGE THE DEVIL, and THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM. Each movie gets its own disc case, with special cover artwork specifically for this release. Each movie also gets plenty of extra features, ranging from new audio commentaries, trailers, featurettes, etc. CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD comes with a CD containing the original music soundtrack composed by Angelo F. Lavagnino. 

CHALLENGE THE DEVIL contains an extras disc called RELICS FROM THE CRYPT, which contains a number of interviews of Lee throughout his life. RELICS FROM THE CRYPT also contains a 1964 Swiss documentary short called HORROR that has jaw-dropping behind the scenes footage from THE GORGON and THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, along with interviews of Lee, Boris Karloff, and makeup man Roy Ashton. 



The 100-page booklet is NOT just a cut-down version of Jonathan Rigby's earlier volume on Lee's screen career. The booklet thoroughly examines the films Lee made in Europe, while placing them in context with the rest of the actor's work. There's also plenty of great stills here, most of which I've never seen. 

I've only had this set for a few days, so needless to say, I've barely scratched the surface of it. Eventually I will be doing blog posts on each individual film, and the extras accompanying it....but it's going to take me plenty of time to get to everything here. But I'm certainly going to have fun delving into this set. 

Any one who reads this blog knows how much of a fan I am of Christopher Lee. I ordered this set as soon as I found out about it, and I'm sure it will make my Top Five releases of 2021 list. Some may quibble with the titles included here--but for my sake that's what makes this set so enticing. These movies have basically never gotten the true high end treatment on home video, especially for the North American market. These are not a bunch of Hammer films being put out on Blu-ray for the third or fourth time--these are productions that even the most hardcore of Lee fans (such as myself) have very little experience with, if any. Home video is at its best when it showcases this type of product, and Severin has knocked it out of the park with this set. 


Monday, May 31, 2021

TIMESLIP (AKA THE ATOMIC MAN)

 




TIMESLIP is a 1955 British science-fiction film known as THE ATOMIC MAN in the U.S. There's not much sci-fi here--the movie is more a tale of Cold War industrial espionage. 

A man is dragged out of the Thames, with a bullet in his back. Doctors save the man, but for seven and a half seconds he is clinically dead on the operating table. The police have no idea who the man is, but a noisy magazine reporter named Delaney (Gene Nelson) recognizes him as esteemed scientist Steven Rayner (Peter Arne). However, another man claiming to be Steven Rayner is working at a nearby research facility--and he looks exactly like the man pulled from the Thames. The mysterious man from the river gives strange answers to the questions the authorities put to him, and it is soon discovered that the man is seven and a half seconds in the future--exactly the same amount of time he was "dead" while being operated on. Delaney and his photographer girlfriend (Faith Domergue) continue to investigate, and find that the real Rayner is a pawn in a scheme to protect the finances of a large corporation. 

TIMESLIP tries to have a Quatermass-like feel, with black & white shadowy compositions, and a reality based look at a fantastic situation. The lead character, however, isn't a crusading scientist, but the annoying reporter played by Gene Nelson. With his Leo Gorcey-style hat, trench coat, and brash personality, Nelson here resembles a character from a 1930s or 1940s Poverty Row feature. In the climax Nelson's Delaney turns into an action hero, taking on all the bad guys by himself--a sequence that is hard to buy into. Science-fiction stalwarts such as Richard Carlson or Richard Denning would have been a much better choice for the role of Delaney. 

Faith Domergue has very little to do in this film, other than be constantly exasperated by Delaney (an attitude no doubt shared by the audience). One wonders what her character even sees in the guy. None of the supporting cast get much of a chance to shine, but Vic Perry as the main bad guy does have a resemblance to Laird Cregar. "Carry On" veteran Charles Hawtrey and Paul Hardtmuth, who played Professor Bernstein in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, have small roles. 

The premise of a man existing seven seconds ahead in the future is an intriguing one, but the script for TIMESLIP doesn't make effective use of it. The explanation for why Rayner has this condition actually comes off pretty well (hint--it has to do with radiation). The film should have spent much more time on Rayner's status instead of Delaney's antics. TIMESLIP is unique in that the bad guys are working for a major corporation, instead of being aliens or spies from a foreign power. 

TIMESLIP was directed by Ken Hughes, who would go on the make a few notable big-budget pictures in the 1960s, such as CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. He didn't have much of a budget here--there's no major special effects sequences, and the sets are very standard for the 1950s. The story would have served better as the basis for an episode of a TV anthology series. 



Sunday, May 23, 2021

NIGHT OF THE EAGLES

 





A Jess Franco movie starring Christopher Lee is one thing. But....a Jess Franco movie starring Christopher Lee--and Mark Hamill?? And one where Hamill plays a Wehrmacht officer during WWII?? The movie is NIGHT OF THE EAGLES, an extremely obscure (and extremely low budget) European production from 1989. 

Top-billed Christopher Lee plays Walter Strauss, a proud, successful German businessman. The year is 1939, and Strauss believes the coming war will make his country rich and powerful. Strauss' young attractive daughter Lillian (Alexandra Erlich) is torn between two men who are in love with her--Peter (Mark Hamill), who is already in the military, and Karl (Ramon Estevez, billed as Ramon Sheen), a composer who has no love for war. Peter and Karl are both sent off to fight on the Eastern front, while Lillian, after a brief stint as a cabaret performer, joins the military to contribute to the war effort. Lillian experiences a number of horrible events while near the front lines, while also becoming estranged from her father. Peter and Karl both come to tragic ends, as does the Strauss family and the Third Reich. 

Jess Franco directed and co-wrote this film, so one would naturally expect a lurid Naziplotation flick--but this isn't. The movie is one of the more "normal" stories Franco ever made (this film could play uncut on prime time American TV). The more rabid among the director's fans would no doubt say that it's too normal. The movie revolves around Alexandra Erlich as Lillian, and what happens to her is standard melodramatic stuff. Even the scenes of her as a cabaret performer are rather generic (especially for a director like Franco). Erlich isn't terrible--she's better than the script--but she's no Marlene Dietrich, and she doesn't have the screen presence of legendary Franco leading ladies such as Maria Rohm and Soledad Miranda. 

Christopher Lee gives a serious, committed performance as a distinguished German patriarch who sadly sees his entire world slowly crumble around him. One wishes Lee had more screen time--his character is far more interesting than anyone else in the story. Mark Hamill comes off better than expected, although seeing him decked out in a German military uniform is disconcerting. The major weak link in this film is Ramon Estevez (Martin Sheen's other other son), who is totally unconvincing as a WWII era German. 

One would assume that Jess Franco wanted NIGHT OF THE EAGLES to be a serious WWII drama, but he didn't have the budget to pull it off. The war scenes in this picture appear to come from other films, and they are haphazardly edited into the main story. A number of extras and background characters have 1980s hairstyles and wear 1980s fashions, while accents are all over the place (I'm sure most of the dialogue was dubbed in). Franco does have to be given credit for not portraying any of the main characters as goose-stepping over-the-top maniacs--for the most part they are believable human beings (of course in today's political climate some might say that's a detriment). NIGHT OF THE EAGLES is also known as LA CHUTE DES AIGLES and FALL OF THE EAGLES (the latter is a much more fitting title). 

A company called Full Moon Features has released NIGHT OF THE EAGLES on both DVD and Blu-ray. I purchased the DVD version from Edward R. Hamilton Booksellers at a discount price. The disc case claims that the transfer is totally uncut, and remastered from the original 35mm camera negative. The movie looks very inconsistent here--some sequences are better than others, and the stock footage stands out like a sore thumb. The film is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and some of the shot compositions seem a bit off (insert your own "Well, Jess Franco was the director" joke here). The running time is 85 minutes--as with any Franco film, your guess is as good as mine on whether it is the "uncut" version. 

Two sound mixes are offered--5.1 and 2.0 stereo. I watched the film with the 5.1 mix, and if anything it exposed the weakness of the material--there's an audible hiss that runs throughout the entire film. The DVD had no extras pertaining to the title. This is a feature that cries out for an informed audio commentary, as I'm sure it had a complicated production history. 

I knew absolutely nothing about NIGHT OF THE EAGLES before I watched it for the first time. In his book on Christopher Lee's film career, Jonathan Rigby only gives it a brief mention. I also own a couple books on WWII movies that make no mention of it at all. It will get some attention due to the presence of Lee and Mark Hamill, but the two men are only together in a brief scene, and I don't think they even exchanged dialogue. One assumes that since this is a Jess Franco movie, it will be either outlandish or ridiculous--but this is merely mediocre. 


Saturday, May 22, 2021

WILD GEESE II On Blu-ray From Kino

 





Made in a decade known for outlandish, cheesy action flicks, WILD GEESE II (1985) is a rather straightforward adventure/espionage tale that might have been more entertaining if it had been cheesier. 

In 1982, a large news network hires mercenary John Haddad (Scott Glenn) to spring Rudolf Hess (Laurence Olivier) out of Spandau Prison in Berlin. The network executives believe the elderly Nazi Hess has plenty of secrets to reveal. Haddad reluctantly takes the job, accompanied by a network producer (Barbara Carrera). Haddad gathers a team together, including his close friend (Edward Fox). But there's plenty of others who want to use Hess for their own ends, and Haddad also has old enemies gunning for him. 

The original 1978 THE WILD GEESE was a financial hit for producer Euan Lloyd, and he had long wanted to do a sequel. Lloyd had even signed up Richard Burton to reprise his role from THE WILD GEESE, but the actor died right before production was to begin. Edward Fox was brought on, but instead of playing Burton's role, he plays Burton's brother (honestly the character could have been anybody). 

WILD GEESE II is competently made, but there's nothing in it that particularly stands out, other than the plot and the cast. Robert Webber plays a network executive, Patrick Stewart has a small role as a Russian general, and Ingrid Pitt is one of Haddad's enemies (her character is billed as "The Hooker"). Laurence Olivier doesn't show up until the very end, portraying a feeble and confused Hess. Scott Glenn overdoes the "inscrutable taciturn action hero" bit, so much so that it's hard to get all that worked up over what happens to him. 

It's also hard for a viewer to get all that worked up over the main characters' goal of breaking a notorious Nazi out of prison. There's plenty of complications put in Haddad's way (the author of the book the original THE WILD GEESE was based on, Daniel Carney, and that film's screenwriter, Reginald Rose, provided the story here as well). Seemingly everyone in Berlin knows what Haddad is up to, and wants to either help or hinder him. There's even a unlikely romance between Glenn and Barbara Carrera (they even get a bedroom scene together). All of these things just slow the movie down--it clocks in at a little over two hours. 

WILD GEESE II was directed by Peter Hunt, with cinematography by Michael Reed. The duo had done the same chores for ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, a movie much better than this one. WILD GEESE II isn't bad, but it's a very standard outing for an era dominated by Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Cannon Films. The movie does make extensive use of various Berlin locations--this is a great time capsule of what the city was like in the 1980s before the Wall came down. 

Kino claims that the transfer used for this Blu-ray comes from a brand new 2K master, but from my point of view the picture quality looks a bit flat. The movie is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. 

The main extra is a new audio commentary featuring Steve Mitchell and Howard S. Berger. The duo are fans of the film, and they point out how different it is from most action thrillers of the era. A trailer for the film is included as well, narrated by Patrick Allen. 

WILD GEESE II is really just a sequel in name only--it has very little in common with THE WILD GEESE. Film buffs will be more interested in the cast and crew, while fans of Cold War era-adventure tales should note that there's not much high-powered action in it.