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Rancid Popcorn » 2009 » May

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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(predicting Madonna!)
…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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Rummaging Through Life #3

Ronnie In The Pool
“1940: American actor Ronald Reagan grasps a beach ball in a swimming pool as six female actors wearing swimsuits sit on the edge of the pool, on board the SS America. L-R: 3 unidentified women, Alexis Smith, Marguerite Chapman, and Maria Montez.”

Euro Stairs Of Horror! #5

Shiver of the Vampires (Jean Rollin, 1971)

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Screengrab shamelessly swiped from Destructible Man

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…

Rummaging Through Life #2

Prospero’s Face
“May 1940: British actor John Gielgud (1904 – 2000) plays Prospero in Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ at the Old Vic Theatre in London.”

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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Rummaging Through Life #1

The Life Magazine site certainly qualifies as a visual treasure trove. I think I’ll start mining it a bit.

“Dr Who (Tom Baker) meets one of the monsters from his new series.”

LouiseBrooks theme byThemocracy