Category: MIA on DVD

MIA On R1 DVD #9

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (Herbert Ross, 1976)

An ugly fullscreen version of this, no doubt recycled from the similarly ugly laserdisc transer, was released about a decade ago by Image. It fairly quickly went out of print and has remained there these many years since. Used copies routinely go for at or near $100 (I think I got $80-something for mine). The British market came to the rescue about a year ago with a proper 1.85×1 ratio, much-improved transfer. Yet another reason to be multi-standard. It’s available now at Amazon UK, or any number of other international-shipping UK-based reatailers, and can be had for something like ten bucks.

The film itself is lots of fun for even a passing Sherlock fan, and rather star-studded once you get past Nicol Williamson in the lead. Laurence Olivier is his typical hammy self in the smallish part of Moriarty, Vanessa Redgrave is the distressed damsel whose red hair turns even Holmes’ head, and Alan Arkin makes an estimable showing as Sigmund Freud. Robert Duvall’s Watson is the memory most folks seem to walk away with – his strange accent is both annoying and unforgettable, sounding like a 45 RPM recording of someone with a head cold played at 33 1/3. Williamson’s drug-addled Holmes is convincing enough, but his post-withdrawal characterization isn’t as alarmingly sedate as in Nicholas Meyer’s original novel.

It’s also unique as a big-budget Holmes film that mostly eschews London and indeed England – most of the action takes place in Vienna. It makes a nice change seen at three decades removed, but I can’t help but wonder if the studio (Universal) fretted over that at the time. Several nice set-pieces – I’m especially fond of Freud’s tennis duel with the nasty anti-Semitic Baron. Recommended, Meyer’s novel even moreso.

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MIA On R1 DVD #8 Looking For Mr. Goodbar

Looking For Mr. Goodbar (Richard Brooks, 1977)

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 It was both popular and controversial in its day, culturally significant even, but is perplexingly hard to see now. Why the disappearing act? Popular DVD-enthusiast rumor mongering says it’s because the soundtrack is a pain to relicense.

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Maybe, but haven’t a lot of these songs been licensed dozens of times for dozens of uses? Hasn’t the TimeLife Library worked over Boz Scaggs’ Lowdown or Bill Withers’ Use Me to the point where licensing ought to more or less come free with Happy Meals?

MIA On R1 DVD #7: Johnny Guitar

Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)

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Johnny Guitar is ostensibly a western, starring Miss Joan Crawford as Vienna, owner of a remote bar/casino who is about to see patience pay off when the railroad comes through. The mean local businessmen want to run her off and control all the railroad windfalls for themselves. They run a succession of guns and plots against her.

A western sure, but one stood on it’s head. This is a fight to the death between the two toughest SOBs in town, who both happen to be women. Joan’s mortal enemy is Emma Small, played by Mercedes McCambridge, who for all her foam at the mouth hatred for Vienna also looks to be more than a little in love with her.

Contrast this with the menfolk – Sterling Hayden as a gunslinger who’d rather play guitar in saloons for money is Vienna’s best hope for some backup. Her second-best hope is an outlaw called The Dancing Kid. If the film were any less subtle, these boys would also be big needlepoint enthusiasts.

So, transgressive to be sure, frequently jaw-dropping, and lovingly crafted by Nicholas Ray. And Joan is…well, some sort of elemental being. You could go further down her resume – she ends up much more firmly in the grasp of Gorgonism and parody in things like Queen Bee and Strait Jacket – but I think this is far enough to take a step back and gape at her career. How did this creature…

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…become this creature?
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I don’t know if Joan’s a great actress or not, but she’s a great something, and Johnny Guitar needs to be readily available on DVD. There’s at least a couple R2 european editions, but my British one is a little sucky, and I don’t think the others are much better. The ball’s in Lionsgate’s court, and they don’t seem remotely interested in hitting it back.
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MIA On R1 DVD #6: Batwoman

La Mujer Murcielago, aka Batwoman (Rene Cardona, 1968)

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Because I’d like to see it.

MIA On R1 DVD #5: Reuben, Reuben

Reuben, Reuben (Robert Ellis Miller, 1983)

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I took one acting class in college (I was terrible, I couldn’t quite bring myself to take it seriously). I recall working on a monologue from this for the class, but chickened out and went with Paul Newman’s courtroom summation from The Verdict. I loved the language of the Reuben, Reuben lines, but that was part of the problem – I loved them with Tom Conti’s Scots accent, and I loved them when said by an actor who had a hope in hell of pulling off the rather broad reversal in that film-ending monologue. I was definitely not that actor.

Tom Conti got a Best Actor Oscar nomination for this. He lost to Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies. Julius J. Epstein, writer on freaking Casablanca of all things, got a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. He lost to James L. Brooks for Terms of Endearment. Which is to say that this film played with some fairly heady critical company 25 years ago, but is pretty thoroughly forgotten today.

Too bad. It’s a rather continuously entertaining account of one of those hard-drinking dead-broke Celtic poets that, at least in literature, were fond of romanticizing their self-destruction. Conti’s poet, Gowan McGland (don’t ask “who’s Reueben?”) is one of the more useless of his type – he’s lost whatever talent he might have had and finds himself in exurban America, wheedling free meals out of the local literary clubs and scamming on the middle-aged disaffected housewives, presenting himself as a foreign exotic.

This was Kelly McGillis’ film debut, as a local girl who might be Gowan’s last chance at getting out of his death spiral. This film, more than anything, probably earned her the chance to be Amish in Witness a couple years later.

As I said, it’s definitely entertaining – funny and wry – I well remember, at a dinner party scene, McGland rebuking the socialites gabbing about speed reading – how he instead would like to pay someone to teach him to read slower, so he could better savor his favorite books. This stuff works, but it does tend to undercut the attempts at seriousness and outright tragedy that await. Quibbles aside, I’ve been waiting a quarter-century for a decent home video version of this and consider it worth waiting for.

MIA On R1 DVD #4: The Spy In Black

The Spy In Black (Michael Powell, 1939)

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 U-Boat 29 was the US release title.

This is where the Powell/Pressburger collaborations begin, in this adaptation of a Roland (uncle of Jon) Pertwee novel. It’s often thought of as a twin with Contraband which followed a year or two later: both were Powell/Pressburger jobs, both starred Conrad Veidt as the captain of a vessel, both costarred Valerie Hobson, both were espionage/suspense propaganda pieces. I gather it’s somewhat common to prefer Contraband, but I like The Spy in Black.

Powell shows great gifts for suspense – this is very much playing in the Lang/Hitchcock ballyard and he is their equal. With it’s Orkney/North Sea locations it reminds one of other double agent stories like 39 Steps and Eye of the Needle. Had circumstance found Powell making Noirs in the forties, I suspect he would have made some swell ones.

Veidt’s German U-Boat Captain performs an espionage mission, putting ashore near the British WWI North Fleet at Orkney, where he secretly works with Valerie Hobson’s undercover agent, who is posing as a schoolteacher for the local brit tots. This film has the audacity to put us in the position of spending much of the time rooting for the Germans. Not just watch them as protagonists like 49th Parallel, but actually root for them. Ooh, will that brave Captain Hardt sink the allied fleet and get the girl? Let’s hope so!

Just to put a cherry on top, there’s a Miklos Rosza score.

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In my early days of consuming 30s-50s Brit flicks, I would get Valerie Hobson and June Duprez confused (yes, yes, I know – if you only had a nickel for every time you’ve heard that one). I trace that confusion to this film, which they are both in and which trades on a superficial resemblance between the two. This one is June Duprez.

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Marius Goring as a German naval officer, some years from The Red Shoes.

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Conrad Veidt, tremendous.

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The fellow on the right is Sebastian Shaw, 44 years away from being unmasked as Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi.

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This one is Valerie Hobson.

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Criterion acquired a bunch of Korda/London Films titles a year or so ago. I’m hoping this was one of them, even though it’s production pedigree isn’t so straightforward as most of them. If there’s to be a R1 DVD release, that’s where I’d look first.

MIA On R1 DVD #3: Ishtar

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Because tellin’ the truth can be dangerous business…

MIA On R1 DVD #2: Prospero’s Books

Prospero’s Books (Peter Greenaway, 1991)

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Another of Greenaway’s attempts to merge literature and cinema, perhaps his most well-known. I really enjoyed it in ’91. It’s an adaption of “The Tempest”, of course, and an unconventional one to say the least. John Gielgud gets one last big go-round as Prospero, exiled Duke of Milan. It’s ravishing to look at, which is probably reason enough for a proper DVD. You can actually buy something on Amazon claiming to be this, but aside from being 4:3 cropped, it also (according to reviews) appears to be a DVD-R, possibly ripped from a VHS source. Sounds like a boot, and a poor one. Still needed on DVD. I think there was one released in the Netherlands or some such as part of a box set, but good luck finding it and the disposable income necessary.
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MIA On R1 DVD #1: The Uninvited

A couple months ago, Moon In The Gutter had a Blogathon month devoted to films that did not have a Region One DVD release that really deserve one. Jeremy Richey kindly let me contribute an entry on Judex as part of that. Someone, I think it was Jeremy, mentioned the notion that a whole blog could be done about nothing but this subject, which is probably true. I certainly don’t propose to do that, but I think a month’s worth wouldn’t do any harm.

Therefore, May will be “MIA on R1 DVD” month here at Rancid Popcorn. 31 films (if I can manage every day) that I’d like to see on R1 DVD (and in many cases, any region at all).

First up:

The Uninvited (Lewis Allen, 1944)

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Universal has been consistently the most clueless about what to do with their classic catalog. They release in fits and starts, they start up promotional lines and quickly abandon them. They’ve been the boldest about trying to cram things on less reliable DVD-18s. If they can’t hang it around a major Golden Age star, they seem quite at sea as to what to do with it.

The Uninvited doesn’t really have a star to hang a DVD release on (Ray Milland was pretty big in the day, not so much now), but it really should be a no-brainer. Milland, Gail Russell in her first starring role, Stella By Starlight, popular, and probably wasn’t surpassed as a filmed ghost story until the 60s roll around. Horror sells on DVD, any horror, even vintage horror. Universal should know at least that much better than any studio.

I’m puzzled at some of their odd catalog dips that have come out instead of this – Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves is coming out soon, meaning they’ll have released two Maria Montez freakouts before this classic. I’m not complaining about the Montez pictures, far from it, but they aren’t quite as obvious titles as The Uninvited. Release it, forthwith!

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