I’ve told you about Bill Thrash. He was a television executive here in Oklahoma City who left us way too early. Everybody in town here misses him.
And I have another friend, a very cultured man of medicine, who loves movies more than anyone I know. He’s pure renaissance – he’s a magician in the kitchen, he restores classic cars and he treats everyone he knows with kindness and loyalty.
Dr. Joe Fallin.
Joe wants to see it all – he’s open to anything. Can you imagine the weird cinematic experiences I’ve brought to his door? Oh, and yeah, he has a majestic home theater.
Also, Joe is somewhat of a pioneer around here – there were very few states back in the 80s who figured out the economic benefit of local filmmaking, and Joe led the charge to get production into Oklahoma – a position I inherited from him but, by then, because of Joe, the groundwork had been laid.
I hear from a lot of my readers and I love it, whether or not they agree with my crap. But here’s the deal. We love movies. Or we wouldn’t be here.
King of Jazz
We’ll talk about a lot of new releases of old movies here, but there are some that are essential, obligatory. I guess The Criterion Collection was the first company to realize the value of beautifully restored classic films, with extra features that enhance the movie experience. And, while I’ve talked about them for years, Criterion has absolutely outdone themselves by releasing a one of a kind gem. A film that represents both the burgeoning of the movies as well as a time capsule of 20th century culture.
King of Jazz is its name and the movie is a full color spectacle made in 1930! Don’t expect much plot here, as King of Jazz plays like a review one might see in one of those glamourous New York nightclubs depicted in movies like The Thin Man.
King of Jazz revolves around the original big band leader Paul Whiteman, who is an almost double of Oliver Hardy. Whiteman is mostly remembered today as the orchestra leader who introduced Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and, don’t fret, every note is played here underneath some of the most striking scenic design I’ve ever seen. And, remember, this is a full color spectacle from 1930, when movies were barely with sound.
In a way, the movie reminded me of Fantasia except it utilizes jazz and popular melodies instead of classical favorites.
There are folks in the film who went on to universal acclaim – such an extremely thin Walter Brennan, playing in a comedy sketch. And, of one looks closely at the musical interlude performed by the Rhythm Boys, on the right is perhaps the most influential singer in American history – a jug eared, movement challenged Bing Crosby.
Here’s what Criterion says about this priceless gem:
“Made during the early years of the movie musical, this exuberant revue was one of the most extravagant, eclectic, and technically ambitious Hollywood productions of its day. Starring the bandleader Paul Whiteman, then widely celebrated as the King of Jazz, the film drew from Broadway variety shows to present a spectacular array of sketches, performances by such acts as the Rhythm Boys (featuring a young Bing Crosby), and orchestral numbers—all lavishly staged by veteran theater director John Murray Anderson. Presented here in the most complete form possible and restored to its original early-Technicolor glory, King of Jazz offers a fascinating snapshot of the way mainstream American popular culture viewed itself at the dawn of the 1930s.”
As is the case with Criterion, the extras on the disc are extraordinary – my favorite is by our current cultural magistrate Michael Feinstein.
Own. This. Disc.
No Orchids for Miss Blandish
Leonard Maltin is a hero of mine, and it’s been my honor to have told him so both in person and over the phone. Every year I have to trade my worn out copy of Maltin’s Movie Guide for a new one, as the previous year’s is demolished after constant use. However, sometimes he’s wrong. And he is dead wrong about No Orchids for Miss Blandish, about which he gives an unapologetic pan.
Based on a shocking novel by James Hadley Chase (The Night of the Generals), the film’s mixture of sex, violence and low morals made it one of the most controversial films of the late 1940s.
The story tells of a pampered heiress, Miss Blandish of the title, who is abducted on her wedding night by a gang of small time hoods.
Despite her terrifying ordeal, Miss Blandish finds herself falling in love with the gang leader, Slim Grisson and the couple plans to run off together, but the rest of the gang can't see parting with a potential million dollar ransom, or leaving a witness alive – even if it means killing Slim to get to her.
The book was ferociously condemned, but was allegedly the most popular book amongst serving British troops during WWII.
I loved every frame.
Here are another couple of curios from Kino Lorber. In Mastermind, Zero Mostel, terribly underused in movies, playing a Charlie Chan character. This movie was barely released in the day and of course I saw it and loved. The other is Jackie Gleason, another broad personality who Hollywood could never figure out in How Do I Love Thee?
I’ve always said that when Sinatra sang a song, it was the penultimate and I feel that way about Twilight Time – once they have restored a film and given it their personal loving touch, you can watch it no other way. And Underworld U.S.A., even though it’s shown on TV, will never look like it does through Twilight Time.
The great American auteur Samuel Fuller wrote, directed and produced Underworld U.S.A. – a terrifyingly prescient look at a nation, on the surface serene and at peace – in which organized crime and big business have somehow merged. All this is seen through the eyes of a young man (Cliff Robertson) bent on avenging the death of his father at the hands of “punks” who turn out to be ubiquitous and working on both sides of the law. Also starring Dolores Dorn, Beatrice Kay, and Richard Rust, and memorably shot by the great Hal Mohr.
Remember, this is one of 3,000 and it will for sure sell out.
Other newly released Twilight Time Blu-rays include The New Centurions, a classic L.A. cop movie based on the Joseph Wambaugh with George C. Scott; Auto Focus, a sadly forgotten movie about Hogan’s Heroes star/big time pervert Bob Crane and, while it isn’t in the last two or three batches, I highly recommend The L-Shaped Room, a harshly shot, early 60s British drama, starring Leslie Caron.
Warner Archive keeps playing the hits. And they seem to understand the importance of the classic crime film as they release their catalog of forgotten films.
For instance, you can now get Blu-ray copy of the classic black and white film noir, Gun Crazy. What could have been a sort of Bonnie and Clyde story is one of the most stylish American films ever made, thanks to legendary director Joseph H. Lewis. Star Peggy Cummins just recently died, which makes owning this disc timely.
Also available in Blu-ray are both Paul Newman/Lew Harper mysteries – Harper and The Drowning Pool, both based on the Lew Archer character created by the essential Ross Macdonald. Both are terrific fun and, by the way, the character was changed from Archer to Harper after Newman’s unprecedented run of movies starting with the letter “H” – The Hustler, Hud, Hombre, etc.
By the way, what happened to great private detective movies?
Here’s another absolute gem which can only be found at Warner Archive. The Sea Wolf, the 1941 classic of oceanic drama starred Edward G. Robinson, John Garfield and Ida Lupino, along with a cast of Warner Brothers stock players, would be precious in any Blu-ray version – every scene is like a work of art. But here’s where the plot, literally thickens. The only available version of The Sea Wolf, the print we know from television, was 14 minutes shorter than the original release. Warner Archive has restored the film to its original length and created a grand, sweeping, stunning movie experience.
Man, have these guys unearthed a small classic. Tell me this shouldn’t be remade.
“Cold Turkey” is about an entire town who is challenged to give up smoking for a month for a $25 million prize.
And the movie is funny, but check out its creators and cast. The movie was directed by Norman Lear and stars, for real, Dick Van Dyke, Bob Newhart, the legendary comedy team of Bob and Ray as well as Tom Poston, Jean Stapleton, Vincent Gardenia, Barnard Hughes, Barbara Cason, M. Emmet Walsh and Paul Benedict. And, oh yes, Edward Everett Horton.
ClassicFlix has released two restorations of film noir at its best, with two of the greatest leading men of the genre – Broadrick Crawford in Down Three Dark Streets and Sterling Hayden in Five Steps to Danger
One more thing – and I’ll start with a story. Several years ago I found a box set that contained every episode from one of my favorite series. I’d seen them all, but I thought I’d get the discs for my son. I then noticed after several months that the box set remained unopened, and I asked him why he hadn’t started watching. And he said:
“Dad, it’s just too much to get out of my chair and change the discs.”
Yep, that’s where we are with those young rascals today.
It has been a recent initiative here at The Digital Bits to remind readers the importance of owning physical media. My friend and site founder Bill Hunt writes about that subject with passion and pride. And he’s 100% right. You can read it here:
Here’s our quote this month:
“The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.” – Alfred Hitchcock.
See you at the flix!
- Bud Elder