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Currently showing posts tagged RKO Pictures

  • A Game of Death (1945) Blu-ray Review

    A Game of Death (1945)

    Director: Robert Wise

    Starring: John Loder, Audrey Long, Edgar Barrier & Russell Wade

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Readapting Richard Connell’s thrilling tale just over a decade after its pre-Code movie makeover from the directors of King Kong, A Game of Death is a briskly paced and suspenseful jungle-based adventure where the hunter becomes the hunted.  Starring John Loder (How Green Was My Valley) as noted author and respected hunter Don Rainsford who after becoming shipwrecked, finds shelter in Erich Kreiger’s (Edgar Barrier, Macbeth) exotic island homestead.  An isolated locale hosting fellow shipwrecked siblings Ellen (Audrey Long, Born to Kill) and Bob (Russell Wade, The Body Snatcher) Trowbridge, their welcoming host proves sinister as his homicidal tendencies to hunt humans across his vast land are revealed.  Tensely orchestrated by the masterly Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Haunting) while recycling selected footage from The Most Dangerous Game, A Game of Death never wanes in its excitement with commendable performances put forth by the respectably gruff Loder and deliciously wicked Barrier as the German human hunter who prefers a bow and arrows over rifles.  Climaxing with a fog-entrenched pursuit through the island’s jungle greenery with hungry bloodhounds on Don and Ellen’s coattails, A Game of Death is a thoroughly entertaining catch, tonally reminiscent of the weekly film serials of the era with an unquestionably cinematic punch drawing viewers into its horrifying island of danger.

    Newly remastered, KL Studio Classics proudly presents A Game of Death with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  Bearing age-related traces of speckles and scratches to varying degrees, the 1945 black-and-white remake overwhelmingly impresses with its conveyed detail in Kreiger’s prize room and the dirt and blood stains found on Rainsford’s attire.  Meanwhile, black levels bear strong deepness while, recycled footage from the ship’s destruction to instances of the hounds pursuing Don and Ellen show obviously grainier levels.  Equipped with a basic-sounding DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is decently relayed with increases in volume recommended to fully capture their entirety.  Furthermore, mild instances of hiss are present but never deal-breaking on the track while, obscene cracks or pops are thankfully excused.  Special features include, a richly researched Audio Commentary with Film Historian Richard Harland Smith and Trailers for The Quatermass Xperiment (2:13), The Earth Dies Screaming (2:14), 99 River Street (2:13) and No Highway in the Sky (2:09).  An excellent second stab at Connell’s revered short story, A Game of Death keeps its suspense high and runtime swift ensuring a pulse-beating good time for all.  Bestowing a solid HD remastering on the RKO thriller with a recommended audio commentary, KL Studio Classics have claimed another keeper in their hunt for film’s treasures.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, A Game of Death 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.

  • 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.

  • Susan Slept Here (1954) Blu-ray Review

    Susan Slept Here (1954)

    Director: Frank Tashlin

    Starring: Dick Powell, Debbie Reynolds, Anne Francis, Alvy Moore & Glenda Farrell

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    When Oscar winning screenwriter Mark Christopher (Dick Powell, Murder, My Sweet) is overcome with writer’s block, unexpected inspiration arrives in the form of a 17-year-old delinquent (Debbie Reynolds, Singin’ in the Rain).  In order to save her from a Christmas behind bars, Mark does the unthinkable and marries the teen with intentions of annulling the affair when she turns of age.  Uncertain whether she wants to be the ex-Mrs. Christopher, Susan Slept Here delivers comical hijinks in a tale of possibly mismatched love.  Anne Francis (Forbidden Planet), Alvy Moore (Green Acres) and Glenda Farrell (Little Caesar) co-star.

    Based on the play by Steve Fisher and Alex Gottlieb with the latter contributing the film’s screenplay, Susan Slept Here is a romantic comedy of taboo sized proportion by today’s standards.  Starring in not only his final film performance before leading a successful television career but, also his only feature photographed in color, Dick Powell appears as acclaimed yet, stumbling screenwriter Mark Christopher whose detective pal unloads teenage hooligan Susan Landis (Reynolds) with him in order to pull Mark out of his creative rut.  Against his better judgement, Mark takes the underage beauty in only to be met with understandable confusion and rage from his dynamite fiancée and actress Isabelle Alexander (Francis).  Although Mark’s best buddy Virgil (Moore), in a role originally considered for Mickey Rooney, and his loyal secretary Maude (Farrell) try to keep a lid on the scandalous situation, the harsh reality of Susan likely spending her remaining days in juvenile detention until her 18th birthday prompts the sympathetic screenwriter to scurry to Las Vegas with Susan for a shotgun wedding.  Originally joined together to showcase Susan’s status as an upstanding citizen, true feelings develop as Mark hastily retreats to the mountains to put pen to paper on his new script, based on his own very unusual situation.  Refusing to sign annulment papers while, Mark’s own uncertainty about their age difference subsides, a chance at true love may still be imminent for the odd couple.

    Helmed by former animation director Frank Tashlin (Artists and Models) whose kinetic energy crafting toons is evident in his live-action output, Susan Slept Here’s charm lies heavily in the adorable bubbly personality of Reynolds whose alluring looks and sense of humor make indelible impressions on viewers and her elder beau.  Cheekily narrated, in quite possibly a cinema first, by an Oscar statuette while, graciously being nominated twice for Best Music, Original Song and Best Sound Recording, Susan Slept Here plays its once controversial premise with sheer heart and tastefully romantic notions.  Topped with a late musical-fantasy sequence bursting with exuberant colors, Susan Slept Here may be wired formulaically but, makes for breezy, light-hearted entertainment from simpler times.

    Warner Archive presents Susan Slept Here with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  From RKO Pictures’ hot pink opening logo to the film’s glowing skin tones, the vibrant Technicolor photography is ushered in with warm detail and exceptional, natural grain levels.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, the film’s opening song debuts with a strong, if not slightly sharp, presence before relaying crystal clear dialogue, free of cracks or other observable distortion.  Lastly, the only supplement included is the film’s Trailer (2:17).

    Released to modest success before then studio head Howard Hughes sold off RKO Pictures, Susan Slept Here is a warmly conceived rom-com for a rather head-turning love story.  Reynolds’ youthful exuberance and remarkable beauty matched with Powell’s tender performance makes his feature film finale an endearing one alongside Reynolds’ rising stardom.  Meanwhile, Warner Archive welcomes the Hollywood set charmer with an outstanding hi-def treatment, making sharing a bed with the hearty picture a pleasure.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available April 19th from Warner Archive, Susan Slept Here can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.