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Currently showing posts tagged 1940s

  • The Scar (1948) Blu-ray Review

    The Scar (1948)

    Director: Steve Sekely

    Starring: Paul Henreid, Joan Bennett, Eduard Franz, Leslie Brooks, John Qualen, Mabel Paige & Herbert Rudely

    Released by: KL Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After a casino hit gone wrong, The Scar finds on-the-run gambler John Muller (Paul Henreid, Casablanca) evading mobsters that want him dead.  Bearing a striking resemblance to psychiatrist Dr. Batrok, Muller decides to take control of the good doctor’s life in the perfect scheme to stay alive.  While Bartok’s secretary (Joan Bennett, Dark Shadows) grows suspicious of her employer, Muller slowly begins to inherit Bartok’s own personal troubles.  Steve Sekely (The Day of the Triffids) directs.

    Soaked in juicy thrills and the threat of danger constantly looming, The Scar, initially released as Hollow Triumph, may be the spawn of respected Poverty Row distributor Eagle-Lion Films but, rises above its inherent B-picture DNA to deliver a tense noir unafraid of remaining in the gloomy shadows.  Based on Murray Forbes’ novel, recently released prisoner John Muller seeks to get rich quick and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty in the process.  A brilliant mind who ditched out on medical school, Muller gathers his old cronies together for a hit on feared mob boss Rocky Stansyck’s casino only for the plot to crumble, leaving some dead and Muller wanted the same way by the mobsters.  Relocating, Muller is mistaken for a local psychologist who, with the exception of a glaring scar upon his cheek, could pass as the doctor’s twin.  Running low on options and using his education to his advantage, Muller, simultaneously wooing Bartok’s beautiful secretary Evelyn Hahn as himself, sets out to impersonate the psychoanalyst.  Fudging up which cheek to scar after disposing of the actual Bartok, Muller’s act surprisingly fools patients and friends alike only to have Evelyn, Bartok’s former mistress, not fully convinced.  Paranoid after several close calls with Stansyck’s henchmen and emotionally conflicted with Evelyn, Muller’s new life may not be quite as innocent as he once assumed.  A crafty potboiler that invites viewers into the mind of a calculated crook, The Scar may not be a game changer but, greatly impresses with its gorgeous monochrome photography and a surprisingly bleak conclusion that outshines any of its more contrived, albeit still entertaining, moments.

    Newly remastered, KL Studio Classics welcomes The Scar to Blu-ray with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  While bouts of scratches and reel change pronunciations are spotted, overall clarity is strong while, black levels, seen in the film’s many suits and coat jackets, are deeply inky.  In addition, facial details are best observed in medium shots with tighter angles, although still pleasing, appear noticeably softer.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is relayed audibly with gunshots and suspenseful music cues registering as defiantly as expected for a film of its age.  A mild layer of static is also present but thankfully never overly intrusive.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian Imogen Sara and Trailers for 99 River Street (2:13), Cry of the City (2:33), Shield for Murder (1:45), Boomerang (2:30) and He Ran All the Way (2:13).

    A well-oiled noir that engages and never bores, The Scar arrives with clichés to spare but, the combined performances of Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett mixed with the film’s striking appearance and daringly somber finale make it a solid getaway car for noir enthusiasts.  Meanwhile, KL Studio Classics’ new remastering of the picture is a welcome upgrade that preserves the thriller for years to come.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, The Scar can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Cat People (1942) Blu-ray Review

    Cat People (1942)

    Director: Jacques Tourneur

    Starring: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph & Jack Holt

    Released by: The Criterion Collection

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Produced by famed auteur Val Lewton (I Walked with a Zombie), Cat People centers on Serbian immigrant Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon, Johnny Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) whose marriage to American architect Oliver Reed (Kent Smith, The Spiral Staircase) is put in peril when her homeland fears of transforming into a savage feline during intimacy are suggested.  Tom Conway (101 Dalmatians), Jane Randolph (Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein) and Jack Holt (They Were Expendable) co-star.

    Stylish and mysteriously evocative, Producer Val Lewton’s debut effort and his first for RKO Pictures accentuates what haunts viewers in the shadows and rises above its genre label to deliver a gem of psychological madness and tragic love.  Gorgeously shot by Nicholas Musuraca (Out of the Past) and under the refined direction of Jacques Tourneur (Curse of the Demon), Cat People, unlike the prominently displayed Universal Monsters from the same era, uses calculated suspense and an increasingly dreadful tone to suggest more onscreen horror than what is showcased.  After a chance encounter at the city zoo prompts a love at first sight romance, gorgeous Serbian artist Irena is overwhelmed with her feelings for the handsome Oliver only to have childhood myths cloud her happiness.  Terrified that a mere kiss from her new husband will transform her into a cat-like person with wicked intentions, Irena’s mental state comes into question, forcing Oliver to second-guess his own feelings for the foreign beauty.  Coupled with a scandalous love triangle that surges Irena’s jealously while maintaining the very real possibility that her darkest fears of an ancient curse are true, Cat People, realized on a shoestring budget and utilizing recycled sets, delivers a frightening tale of marital woes and forbidden sexual desires under the subtext of witchcraft that strikingly stands out from other horror-billed efforts of the 1940s.  Strongly performed and leaving audiences to imaginatively paint their own dark pictures where the fog resides, Cat People purrs with consummate atmosphere, leaving an indelible impact on those looking into its poetic cage of horror.

    The Criterion Collection presents Cat People with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.37:1 aspect ratio.  Exceptionally restored in 2K, the monochrome photography arrives with gorgeous detail and a remarkable emphasis on black levels giving the film’s shadowy presence new dimensionality.  In addition, age-related scratches and scuffs are all but vanished making the viewing experience all the greater.  Bearing black bars on either sides of the frame to preserve its intended format, Cat People has never looked more splendid.  Equipped with an LPCM 1.0 mix, dialogue is strongly carried with even Simon’s thick accent never falling on strained ears while, Composer Roy Webb’s (Notorious) classy score is effectively laid.  Special features include, a 2005 recorded Audio Commentary with Film Historian Gregory Mank, Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows (1:16:40), the accomplished 2008 documentary by Kent Jones (Hitchcock/Truffaut) that delves into Lewton’s short-lived yet, revered career with narration from Director Martin Scorsese.  Furthermore, Ciné Regards (26:37) presents a vintage 1977 interview with Director Jacques Tourneur on his career, the newly-crafted John Bailey (16:36) catches up with the director of photography of 1982’s Cat People and As Good As It Gets to discuss Musuraca’s mesmerizing approaches to the original feature while, the film’s Trailer (1:04) and an Essay entitled Darkness Betrayed by Critic Geoffrey O’Brien featuring a reversible poster rounds out the impressive supplemental offerings that could have only been made perfect by the inclusion of the 1944 sequel The Curse of the Cat People.

    Far more restrained than most genre efforts of the decade but arguably more effective, Cat People uses subtlety and psychological intrigue to lure audiences into its shadowy realm of a troubled marriage and catastrophic curses.  Just in time for the Halloween season, The Criterion Collection celebrates one of Lewton’s finest efforts and a towering achievement of elegant frights with its definitive presentation and a wonderful assortment of extras to claw into.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available September 20th from The Criterion Collection, Cat People can be purchased via Criterion.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • My Summer Story (1994) Blu-ray Review

    My Summer Story (1994)

    Director: Bob Clark

    Starring: Charles Grodin, Kieran Culkin & Mary Steenburgen

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In the followup to the seminal Christmas classic, My Summer Story centers once again on the Parker family and their many seasonally festive adventures in the Midwest.  Determined to best his schoolyard bully, Ralphie Parker (Kieran Culkin, Scott Pilgrim VS. The World) seeks out the perfect spinning top while, The Old Man (Charles Grodin, Beethoven) and Mrs. Parker (Mary Steenburgen, Back to the Future Part III) combat hilariously noisy neighbors among other suburban hijinks.  

    Released as It Runs in the Family before reverting back to its original title for home video, My Summer Story is a sweet, coming of age tale about family values and the boundless adventures had by children.  Based on Jean Shepard’s semi-autobiographical stories, Director Bob Clark (A Christmas Story) returns behind the camera with the sights and sounds of 1940s Indiana seamlessly recreated from the Parkers’ wintertime predecessor produced a whopping 11 years prior.  With Shepard providing his eternally charming narration, the recasting of the Parker clan may be jarring at first glance yet all parties make the roles their own, delivering worthwhile performances in the process.  With the changing of the seasons, new adventures await the Parker's as Ralphie (Culkin) seeks to overthrow his arch rival Lug Ditka (Whit Hertford, Jurassic Park) at the competitive game of spinning tops after obtaining an exotic one from the World’s Expedition.  Meanwhile, The Old Man’s (Grodin) never-ending battles with hillbilly neighbors the Bumpus’ heats up after a rickety outhouse is constructed sending the foul-mouthed Parker up in arms.  In addition, Mrs. Parker’s (Steenburgen) own comical exploits to failingly obtain a free weekly piece of dishware from the local theater converges with the housewife arrested for instigating a hilarious revolt against the swindling theater owner (Glenn Shadix, Beetlejuice).  With Tedde Moore briefly returning as Ralphie’s teacher Miss Shields, My Summer Story develops a stronger bond between The Old Man and his oldest son as their early morning fishing trips become a delightful focal point of the film.  Overcoming the hurdle that this is not the same Parkers we last saw in A Christmas Story, accepting My Summer Story on its own merits allows viewers to bask in its many charms and appreciative attention to detail in whisking audiences back to familiar surroundings.

    Olive Films presents My Summer Story with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Retaining its soft focus to recapture its antiquated time period, skin tones are lively and detailed while, colors in costume choices pop most nicely.  Meanwhile, nighttime sequences during The Old Man and Ralphie's fishing excursions offer pleasant black levels with no crushing detected.  Possessing scant instances of scratches, My Summer Story makes a commendable leap to high-def.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is easily relayed with Composer Paul Zaza’s (Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine) familiar music queues from the original film making quaint appearances.  Unfortunately, no special features are included on this release.

    Largely forgotten with many unaware of its connection to Clark’s original holiday classic, My Summer Story may never attain the cultural appeal as its predecessor nor should it be unfairly compared to.  Recast from the ground up, the belated sequel has its heart in the proper place with sufficient fun to be had for those willing to give it an unbiased spin.  Although arriving featureless, Olive Films upgrades the film with a satisfying high-definition makeover.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Olive Films, My Summer Story can be purchased via OliveFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Suspicion (1941) Blu-ray Review

    Suspicion (1941)

    Director: Alfred Hitchcock

    Starring: Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Nigel Bruce & Dame May Whitty

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock (The Man Who Knew Too Much, Strangers on a Train), Suspicion stars Joan Fontaine (Rebecca) as bookish Lina McLaidlaw who’s swept off her feet by the dashing Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant, North by Northwest).  Overwhelmed with affection and married hastily, Lina slowly learns the truths of her new husband’s dishonesty and potentially murderous agenda with the newlywed fearing she may be his next victim.  Sir Cedric Hardwicke (The Ten Commandments), Nigel Bruce (Limelight) and Dame May Whitty (Mrs. Miniver) co-star.

    Adapted from Anthony Berkeley’s (under the pseudonym Francis Illes) novel Before the Fact, Suspicion presents a romantically conceived tale, tensely elevated to soaring heights as a girl in love suspects her one and only is out for blood.  Playing against type, the charismatic Cary Grant slides his way into frame as the worry-free and financially irresponsible Johnnie Aysgarth whose good looks and fast talk only take him so far when shards of his true self are slowly revealed to his hopelessly in love new bride Lina (Fontaine).  Moving into a mammoth estate, Lina learns that not only is Johnnie jobless but gets by routinely borrowing large sums of money in order to gamble his way into actual fortunes that never last.  In order to put his wife’s worries at bay, Johnnie takes employment with his cousin as his loveably buffoonish buddy Beaky (Bruce) visits the couple and innocently informs Lina of Johnnie’s untruthful way with words.  Before long and without Johnnie’s knowledge, Lina learns of his job loss due to embezzlement of funds shortly before a family tragedy strikes.  While Lina grieves over the loss of her father, Johnnie grows frustrated at their dismal inheritance leading a real estate opportunity to bloom with Beaky.  As lies and deceit mount in the wake of yet another questionable death, Lina begins to suspect her husband will do anything to stay financially stable… even murder.

    Rightly earning Joan Fontaine an Academy Award for the only Hitchcock lensed performance to earn such an honor, Suspicion is gracefully directed with Grant and Fontaine’s irresistible love story warming viewers’ hearts.  While Johnnie consistently lies and increasing disappoints Lina, Grant’s wit and obvious infatuation with his onscreen wife make his wrongs forgivable.  Shifting its tone to a tensely orchestrated thriller, Johnnie’s obsession with mystery novels and untraceable poisons convinces Lina that her next glass of milk may be her last.  Rattled by nerves and a heart-pounding, high speed car sequence in its waning moments, Suspicion throws itself through the windshield with a wholly underwhelming conclusion that preaches the cons of wrongly suspecting others instead of delivering a gutsier conclusion found in its original source material.  While its ending may be uneventful, Suspicion captures a cocktail of effective atmosphere, sound performances from its leads and remains as technically polished as anything helmed by Hitchcock during this era.

    Presented in 1080p, screened in its 1.37:1 aspect ratio, Suspicion looks sumptuous with deep blacks and natural grain permeating its runtime.  While the lavish settings and intricacies of set pieces including, Lina’s heirloom chairs, appear nicely detailed, textures in costume choices and the film’s monochrome photography are beautifully communicated.  Accompanied with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is wonderfully handled with any signs of crackling distortion absent.  With the exception of Franz Waxman’s (Stalag 17) evocatively simple score, the track is rather simple in its range but, handsomely treated.  Furthermore, special features include, Before the Fact: Suspicious Hitchcock (21:36) which offers a valuable critical analysis of the feature with insight from Author Bill Krohn, Film Historian Robert Osbourne, Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich and others while, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (1:41) rounds out the supplements.

    In a particularly marvelous decade for the auteur, Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion, although suffering from a rather dull finale, ranks highly for its genre blending prowess and award winning turn by Fontaine.  Masterfully restored, Warner Archive treats another of cinema’s greats with the expected quality and care film enthusiasts have come to expect.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Warner Archive, Suspicion can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Home of the Brave (1949) Blu-ray Review

    Home of the Brave (1949)
    Director: Mark Robson
    Starring: Frank Lovejoy, Lloyd Bridges, James Edwards, Steve Brodie & Jeff Corey
    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on a play by Arthur Laurents (Rope), Director Mark Robson (The Harder They Fall, Earthquake) brings to life one of Hollywood’s first true statements on the issue of racism.  Starring a talented cast of actors including Lloyd Bridges (Airplane!) and introducing James Edwards (Patton) as the discriminated Pvt. Peter Moss, Olive Films proudly presents this wartime tale of struggle and degradation for the first time on DVD and Blu-ray.

    Home of the Brave captures the story of a young black soldier, Pvt. Peter Moss (James Edwards), who suffers a nervous breakdown and psychosomatic paralysis.  Troubled by rage after experiences during a reconnaissance mission and a lifetime of discrimination, Moss may walk again if he can overcome his anger and trauma.  Produced by Stanley Kramer (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World), Home of the Brave also stars Frank Lovejoy (House of Wax), Lloyd Bridges (High Noon), Steve Brodie (Out of the Past) and Jeff Corey (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid).

    MOVIE:
    Racism has always been the purple elephant in the room no one wants to acknowledge.  Hollywood in the 1940s was no exception as studio heads would normally turn a blind eye to the issue.  Hailed as the first motion picture dealing with anti-Negro prejudice, Home of the Brave faces the uncomfortable topic head-on set against the backdrop of war.  Interestingly enough, this 1949 effort was the first film since 1933’s The Emperor Jones issued permission to use the derogatory slur, “nigger”.  Game changing practices aside, Home of the Brave walks the fine line of war film and character driven drama quite well.  The intimate group of soldiers asked to take part in a risky reconnaissance mission handle their roles accordingly.  Upon learning of their latest recruit, Pvt. Pete Moss (Jones), some members of the group have their reservations about the young soldier.  Major Robinson (Douglas Dick) is immediately taken back as he calls his superior to merely inform him of Pvt. Moss’s skin color.  Luckily, Moss is reunited with his high school pal, Finch (Lloyd Bridges), which helps yield tension for the time being.  As the soldiers being their mission to chart a map, the film becomes a character driven exploration of how we view our fellow man.  Hostility rises as T.J. Everett (Steve Brodie) constantly insults African-Americans in Moss’s presence until a brawl with Finch emerges.  The camaraderie between Edwards and Bridges is the glue that holds the film together, flashing back to their high school days to showcase the genuine care Finch has for Moss regardless of his skin color.  

    Eventually, the deadly presence of enemy soldiers hurls the men into a chase for their lives.  Finch and Moss’s relationship becomes tested when Finch reacts hastily by racially insulting his friend.  With his patience and emotions wearing thin, Moss and the soldiers are faced with escaping from their enemies as one of them are killed.  As Moss holds the dying body of his fellow solider, his legs become paralyzed resulting in the other men carrying him to the boat’s safety.  Edwards‘ performance is emotionally charged and commands the camera with his intense stare.  Safe and recuperating, Moss is tended to by a doctor (Jeff Corey) that is committed to helping him come to terms with his experiences and lifelong discrimination.  Moss’s medical rehabilitation feels slightly rushed as he regains feeling in his legs after the good doctor’s unique methods.  In addition, Moss and fellow solider, Sgt. Mingo (Frank Lovejoy) who lost his arm in battle, reconnect and plan to go into business together as they return to a normal existence.  Lovejoy’s character is levelheaded and always kind to Moss which makes their stronger formed friendship a little too safe.  The arrogant and constantly insensitive T.J. would have made a much more interesting choice to experience a drastic change in character.  While, the conclusion of the film nearly jeopardizes its emotional impact by solving the characters’ problems too simply, Home of the Brave still possesses a strong message with solid performances that hold up well, 65 years later.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    VIDEO:
    Home of the Brave is presented with a 1080p transfer in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio.  Kicking off with typically scratchy war stock footage, the film improves nicely as the narrative begins.  Reasonably clean with a fair amount of flakes, scratches and the occasional vertical lines popping up, the film looks decent with a healthy filmic layer of grain intact.  Black levels, while mainly attributed to underlit sequences, are slightly underwhelming but far from deal-breaking.  Detail is well received in close-ups with perspiration and aging wrinkles clearly seen.  Marking its Blu-ray debut, Home of the Brave looks more than acceptable for a film of its age.
    RATING: 3.5/5  

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, Home of the Brave, while never having a wide sounding range, provides a suitable mix that relays dialogue well.  A slight hiss is heard early throughout the mix which thankfully never intrudes on character interaction.  In addition, the film possesses an occasional pop in its audio, but no other noticeable issues were found.  That said, the mix is a little low for my liking and is recommended to be cranked up in order to catch all dialogue.
    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:

    None.

    RATING: -/5

    OVERALL:
    Quite groundbreaking at the time of its release, Home of the Brave is still a noteworthy statement on the issue of race and discrimination.  Nicely shot and wonderfully acted by the small cast, most notably Edwards, Home of the Brave sells itself short by skimping out on its full emotional potential in the final act.  Olive Films have done a fine service preserving this war drama to the best of their abilities for audiences to enjoy once again.  Home of the Brave still retains an important meaning and serves as one of the earliest WWII films to feature an African-American soldier, breaking the mold of African-Americans regulated to servant and slave roles.
    RATING: 3/5