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Excellent DVD featurette
Created for the June, 2007 Fox "Cinema Classics Collection" 2-disc DVD, "The Making of The Sand Pebbles" features video clips of surviving cast and crew, including the former Mrs. Steve McQueen, Neile Adams, during the program's 65 min. running time, which is divided into six 'featurettes' of various lengths and covers in fine detail nearly every aspect of the film's production, release and lasting legacy. Since liberal use of the late Jerry Goldsmith's emotional score is made throughout, parts of it can be quite emotionally affecting and I can't imagine fans of the film having anything but praise for this effort. It has been included on the Blu-ray DVD too.
The Jerry Goldsmith score
This is a good film to watch if you like British films from the era and especially ones with Dirk Bogarde. It's made with some style but the script is a problem. Though it starts out intriguingly, in the end this espionage film is rather much ado about nothing. The main point of interest in this rarely seen movie now is the equally rarely heard Jerry Goldsmith score, which I rather like. I believe it got an LP release back in 1968, but has never been issued on CD. Perhaps one of the reasons for that, as I've recently read, is that Goldsmith didn't have a good experience doing the score and never had much to say about it or simply didn't want to discuss it at all. Unfortunate, because the score, though minor Goldsmith, does have merit. I hope someday to read just what Goldsmith's problems were with it.
Kiss Her Goodbye (1959)
Watchable, but mostly for its '50s atmosphere
Turner Classic Movies channel just showed this (10/10/06). I'd never heard of it before. I suspect it was barely released in 1959. It's a very low-budget film that's supposed to take place in Florida, but I'm not sure it was entirely shot there. Some of it looks like Southern Cal. Steven Hill, Elaine Stritch, Andrew Prine and a nineteen-year-old Sharon Farrell are professional and do the best they can with a weak script and in what looks like an amateur production. I see it's the director's only credit. The film is not bad, somewhat interesting, but never rises above its limits. A minor curio. It certainly kept me watching, but in the end it didn't amount to much.
Swiss Family Robinson (1975)
Not very good
I barely remember this show. It wasn't on very long and was the last of the type of TV shows that Irwin Allen produced at 20th Century-Fox Television, starting with "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea." I don't know why Allen did this show, but it seems from the result that his heart wasn't it it anymore. Maybe it was because concept shows like this had just become to expensive to make. One thing I do remember well was that although the music was credited to Richard La Salle, much of it was lifted from Jerry Goldsmith's score to the original "Planet of the Apes" movie. Allen's "Lost in Space" TV show did the same thing with its music, much of it actually coming from Bernard Herrmann's scores to "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and "Journey to the Center of the Earth." Since all these shows and movies were produced at Fox I guess they could do these things in those days.
Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941)
Fun old movies, but....
I love the old Johnny Weissmuller/MGM "Tarzan" movies of the 1930s and 40s. I have them all six of them on laserdisc from the 1990s, but I have to wonder in what form they will arrive on DVD -- if ever? Watching "Tarzan's Secret Treasure" (1941) today I was amazed to hear for the first time, after many viewings, Barry Fitzgerald's O'Doul character refer to a little black native boy as a "pickaninny." In the earlier Tarzan movies the blacks are constantly called "boy" and other derogatory terms and often casually shot by white men for disobeying orders. I'm not sure, but I think there may be a problem with this being released on DVD today, but my point is that I DON'T want to see these films edited in any way. They're time capsules of entertainment from an earlier era, and they should be preserved.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Classic SF film coming to DVD again!
On February 3, 2004, just five days shy of this classic's 36th anniversary, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment will release on DVD the 35th Anniversary Edition of "Planet of the Apes" (1968). This edition will FINALLY present the film in 16x9 anamorphic widescreen, and hopefully with an improved stereo mix. It will also include a lot of extras, though many have been available on DVD elsewhere for some time, but what is really pleasing is that a Jerry Goldsmith commentary on his score will also be included. Goldsmith's score is a motion picture landmark and has never been out of print on LP, cassette, and CD. It's a dream come true to finally get some Goldsmith commentary on it. The DVD will also feature some twenty minutes of behind-the-scenes footage that the late actor Roddy McDowall, also an avid photographer, shot with a 16mm movie camera during production. All too brief snippets of it were used in the 1998 AMC documentary "Behind the Planet of the Apes." This should be fascinating to APES fans, but of course the enduring elements of a movie that has proved to be a timeless motion picture SF masterpiece will be the main attraction.
A Classic comes to DVD
OK "Journey to the Center of the Earth" fans, 20th Century Fox has just announced the the movie will be released on DVD in March of 2003. The transfer will be letterboxed and should feature a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. I have a 1999 laserdisc version that is just fantastic, so this DVD should be better than that. Fox has said there will be no extras, which is a damn shame since I'd very much like to hear what Pat Boone remembers of the making of this movie.
The Omega Man (1971)
O'my God, this is awful!
"The Omega Man" is really a bad movie. I saw it when it originally came out and I don't think I've ever really liked it. Done on a low budget, it has the feel of a made-for-TV movie, with direction that seems phoned in and a script that should have been thrown out! Charlton Heston pretty much just plays...well...Charlton Heston, only he's often not very good at it. This must have only been an easy pay check for him. The one redeeming factor about this movie is the Ron Grainer score. It at least has energy, everything else seems tired and cliched. The movie tries to present a nightmare world where only a handful of "normal" human beings battle scarred, photophobic and insane survivors of a biochemical world war. But looking back at it over thirty years later the only thing that's frightening about it is the vision it gives of having to spend the rest of your life listening to 8-track tapes and jive-talking angry black people call you honkey! At least Heston gets to mercifully die at the end.
A fun 1940s horror gem, flawed, but don't blame Bela
It's true that this is more a sequel to "The Wolf Man" (in fact I like the first twenty-five minutes of this movie more that "The Wolf Man.") than "Ghost of Frankenstein," but it's a better Frankenstein film than "House of Frankenstein" or "House of Dracula" because the Monster has more to do here, and it's better than "Ghost of Frankenstein" just because it's more fun. Poor Bela Lugosi gets ripped all the time for what a terrible job he did as the Monster in this one, but in fairness his role was severely edited. The monster originally could talk and was blind, but the producers felt Lugosi's voice coming from the Monster was more funny than frightening, and his dialogue wasn't all that great anyway, so out it all went. It's for this reason that the monster acts so strangely in the final cut, and the Monster was supposed to be sick anyway. It was a mistake to cast the too old Lugosi as the Monster, but don't blame Bela -- he probably did the best he could, but we'll never know. I also think it was a mistake to cast Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Monster in "Ghost." Both he and Lugosi were too round-faced to take over from Karloff. And the ending of "Ghost" was one of the biggest blunders in the entire series. But this film manages to survive all the mistakes and still be very entertaining. I've probably seen it fifty times in my life, and I can always watch it again. It has good direction, by Roy William Neil, quick pacing and great atmosphere (especially in the first half). Sure, it's just a '40s Universal B-movie, but it's stood the test of time. This movie should have had a special edition DVD all its own, with a digitally restored print and extras that included stills of the cut scenes with the monster and script excerpts. Oh well! It's still good to have it on DVD.
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
A Landmark Horror film
"Rosemary's Baby" is one of the best horror films ever made. This isn't because it's going to scare the pants off you with a series of sensational jolts. This isn't the shallow, gimmicky kind of horror movie we mostly get these days, and it isn't the traditional old-fashioned horror film of an earlier era. This is a movie that came out during a period of transition in Hollywood. The old production codes were breaking down and films could suddenly be more true to life in the way they showed how people really lived, acted and talked. 1968s "Rosemary's Baby" is a more sophisticated, less elegant thriller of the kind that Alfred Hitchcock patented, but it displays much more class and intelligence than the horror movies that would come out in its wake. Popular '70s films such as "The Exorcist" and "The Omen" are the prodigy of "Rosemary's Baby," but offer far less nuance and much greater vulgarity. What we get here is a more naturalistic depiction of modern life, but without the crassness that would soon explode into American cinema.
Most of the credit for what makes "Rosemary's Baby" such a successful film goes to Roman Polanski. Polanski is a master at conveying to an audience not just a sense of the uncanny but a vivid depiction of it. His earlier films like "Knife in the Water," "Repulsion" and "Dance of the Vampires," display the talents that would come to such a controlled mastery in "Rosemary's Baby."
Polanski very faithfully adapts Ira Levin's novel to the screen so that the viewer is, just as the reader was, free to interpret the eerie events of the story as either reality or a depiction of an isolated woman's decent into madness. At the same time the picture can be taken as a black joke on the human male's fears of the changes a woman goes through during pregnancy, both physically and emotionally. But Polanski seems most interested in presenting a normal world, in this case Manhattan in the mid 1960s, and then through subtle cinematic techniques get an audience to actually believe that the hysterical, fantastic ravings of the heroine could be true. It is this tour de force exercise in suspension of disbelief that makes the film a classic. The horror films that have come since have had to ratchet up the shock effects in order to thrill more desensitized audiences, but this deliberately paced film reminds us of how much better it is to leave things to the imagination of the viewer. That is where films really come alive and remain so.
The Paramount DVD presents an excellent print of the movie that looks as if it were shot yesterday, along with extras that include new interviews with Polanski, executive producer Bob Evans and production designer Richard Sylbert, and a featurette from the time of the film's original release that really works as a good time capsule.