Fade Out/Fade In

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My final home video column for the New York Times is here. I get to go out on the greatest, John Ford, thanks to a five-film box set from TCM and Sony featuring Ford’s work at Columbia: “The Whole Town’s Talking,” “The Long Gray Line,” “Gideon’s Day,” “The Last Hurrah” and “Two Rode Together.” Let’s hope the last one, at least, makes it to Blu-ray.

I’ve heard from some members of our little community who are working on setting up an equivalent discussion space, and I’ll pass along the appropriate information when that becomes a reality. In the meantime, I won’t be updating this blog very often, but I have placed a toe in the turbulent waters of Twitter, where those so inclined can follow me at @dave_kehr.

The new job begins at MoMA on Dec. 2. Curating, I hope, will be an extension of criticism by other means. It’s a big change, but after a few decades of daily journalism, a welcome and reinvigorating one.

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In Transit

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Apologies to all for the Garbo act I’ve been pulling this past week. It’s been a very hectic time, as I wrap up my obligations at one job and begin the process of starting another. I see Robert Garrick has done a frighteningly good job of tracking my press clippings, but in case anyone has missed them, here’s a Variety piece by Scott Foundas that lays out the story: I’ll be leaving my column at the New York Times on November 10, and starting at the Museum of Modern Art as a curator in the Department of Film beginning December 1. (Don’t know who that crazy looking guy in the picture is, though.)

As rewarding as I’ve found my fourteen years at the Times, I’m looking forward to moving on to new challenges on a new playing field. My goal remains the same — a hope to expand the conversation into the vast areas of our beloved art form, domestic and foreign, that remain largely unexplored — but at MoMA I hope I’ll be able to work toward that end in ways other than the purely reactive, working with the wonderful staff of scholars, enthusiasts and and technicians at that unique institution to get more movies out in the world where people can actually see them. It’s a campaign that needs to be pursued on several fronts — publication, restoration, exhibition — and MoMA has long been a leader in all of them. I can’t imagine a better place to be.

There’s going to be a lot of work to do — too much, I think, to continue this blog in a responsible manner. In the last couple of years I’ve already been finding it difficult to participate in the discussion as much as I’d like to, and I’m afraid it will only become more problematic in the future. I hope there’s someone out there who knows a little bit about blogging software and is willing to take over the discussion; interested parties, if any, are welcome to contact me, and I’ll share whatever knowledge I have. But my plan for the moment is to keep this site up at least for the next few weeks, in case anyone wants to archive what’s up here, and then close it down, probably by the new year.

I’m deeply grateful for all of the kind words that have appeared here. I’ll try not to disappoint you as I move into new areas. I value all of the friends I’ve made here and I’m sure we will remain in touch, one way or another.

With fondness, regret and no small degree of excitement and anticipation, I remain

Your obedient servant

Dave Kehr

It’s Good To Be the King

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There’s a new Blu-ray release of King Vidor’s 1925 “The Big Parade” from Warner Home Video, transferred from the original camera negative rediscovered in the 90s by Kevin Brownlow. It’s an impeccable edition of a great movie, and you should have it if you don’t already.

Cronache di un amore

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The world was too shocked by the scandal of their love affair to notice that Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman had changed movies forever with the three films they made together between 1950 and 1954 — “Stromboli,” “Europe ’51,” and (supremely) “Voyage to Italy.” The roots of modern cinema are clearly visible in these three revolutionary films, now presented in superb new high-definition transfers from the Criterion Collection, and reviewed here in the New York Times.

The new edition of “Voyage,” as restored by L’Imaggine Ritrovata in Bologna, is enough by itself to justify this new Blu-ray collection, which Criterion has straightforwardly titled “3 Films by Roberto Rossellini Starring Ingrid Bergman,” but as usual there is much more, including the Italian language versions of “Stromboli” and “Europe ’51,” new interviews with Adriano Apra, Martin Scorsese, Ingrid Rossellini and Isabella Rossellini, the documentaries “Rossellini through His Own Eyes” and “Ingrid Bergman Remembered, the short films “The Chicken” (a short comedy with Bergman directed by Rossellini for the 1953 omnibus film “Siamo donne”) and “My Dad Is 100 Years Old,” directed by Guy Madden and starring Isabella Rossellini, a selection of home movies and assorted essays, both written and filmed, by assorted critics including James Quandt, Richard Brody and Fred Camper.

If that’s not enough of a Rossellini fix for you, Criterion is also offering the final Bergman-Rossellini film, “Fear” (1954) as well as “L’Amore” (1948), “The Machine that Kills Bad People” (1952) and the recent restoration of Rossellini’s 1959 documentary “India: Matri Bhumi” as streaming videos through the company’s Hulu Plus site — suggestions, perhaps, of Blu-ray releases to come.

Monomania

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This week’s New York Times column is a note of thanks to the gang at Warner Brothers for doing right by the Monogram library — a much-abused and hopelessly obscure body of work that WB most likely acquired for the sake of the studio’s late productions (by then, it had been renamed Allied Artists) including “Cabaret,” “Papillon” and “The Man Who Would Be King.” The Warner Archive Collection has been diligent about getting out Monogram’s apparently endless “Bowery Boys” series — deeply implanted in the minds of many baby boomers because of after-school television broadcasts in the 60s — and in digging up decent copies of the Monogram Charlie Chan films. More recently, they’ve been getting around to some of Monogram’s more adult-oriented fare, including some compellingly sordid work from Monogram’s house directors William Nigh (“Where Are Your Children?”), Phil Karlson (“Wife Wanted”) and the insanely prolific William Beaudine, who went off auto-pilot at least long enough to produce one strikingly cynical noir, “Don’t Gamble with Strangers.” TCM recently ran Alfred Zeisler’s remarkable “Fear,” an unacknowledged remake of “Crime and Punishment” with the robotic Peter Cookson as a medical student who murders a professor who moonlights as a loan shark; it’s one of those fascinating, Ulmeresque exercises in low-budgets expressivity in which it is ultimately impossible to discern between the film’s strengths and its weaknesses. The TCM copy of “Fear” appeared to have been sourced from a beaten-up 16-millimeter television print, which suggests that the Monogram library may be even less well preserved than Republic. Here’s hoping that Warners turns up a watchable version of Nigh’s late career wonderment “I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes” (1948), the one adaptation of a Cornell Woolrich story I know of that truly captures the sweaty claustrophobia of Woolrich’s unhappy world.

Make Way for Tomorrow

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A victim of his own versatility, Gordon Douglas seemed never to encounter a genre he couldn’t feel comfortable in. His huge body of work embraces slapstick (“Saps at Sea,” 1940, situation comedy (the “Glidersleeve” series, 1942-44), musical comedy (“If You Knew Susie,” 1948),swashbucklers (“Fortunes of Captain Blood,” 1950), science-fiction (“Them!,” 1954), melodrama (“Sincerely Yours,” 1955) and spy spoofs (“In Like Flint,” 1967), with results that are always professional if not personal. But crime films and westerns seemed to bring out the best in him, with their potential for depicting the violent tension between radical individualists and conformist cultures. Douglas is in some ways the anti-Hawks, fascinated by the networks of distrust and betrayal that bind groups together. That theme is particularly evident in “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” (1950) and “Only the Valiant” (1951), two films independently produced by James Cagney and his brother William originally released through Warner Brothers, but now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Olive Films. A review here, in the New York Times.

The Silence Under the Sea

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Rene Clement start out as the Roberto Rossellini of France — his first feature, the heroic resistance tale, “La bataille du rail,” released in 1946, blends realism and artifice in a way quite close to “Rome Open City,” with which it shared the program at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival — but he ended up closer to George Stevens, as his films became more academic and bloated, and his vivid experience of the war was transformed into the self-consciously poetic “Forbidden Games” and the tedious spectacle of “Paris Is Burning.”

“Les Maudits,” which has been rechristened “The Damned” by the Cohen Film Collection for its first American home video release, comes after the collectivist heroics of “La bataille” (in which the railways workers union, a sponsor of the film, is celebrated as the savoir of France) and the deeply conservative “Le pere tranquille,” which imagined a resistance movement led by a cuddly paterfamilias (Noel-Noel)from a provincial town. Set aboard a U-Boat transporting a cadre of Nazi officers and high-ranking collaborations from Europe to South America, “Les Maudits” forgoes the reassuring heroics of Clement’s first two features as it wrestles with the notion that not every Frenchman fought back with courage against the occupying forces. The film, reviewed here in the New York Times, is a fascinating failure, riven with contradictions and evasions, and for that reason highly expressive of its historical moment. It would make a richly suggestive double bill with Raymond Bernard’s “Un ami viendra ce soir” (“A Friend Will Come Tonight,” also released in 1946), in which the operative metaphor is a madhouse, and the experience of the Occupation is likened to a schizophrenic episode. Doubtless there are countless other films from this fascinating period that readers can propose.

Too Much Is Never Enough

Thanks to George Eastman House, the Cineteca del Friuli and the National Film Preservation Foundation, here are a few more frame enlargements from “Too Much Johnson,” the recently rediscovered Orson Welles project of 1938. Among the performers are Joseph Cotten, Edgar Barrier, Arlene Francis, Virginia Nic(h)olson and Ruth Ford — and is that John Houseman in the Keystone Kop get-up?

Welles’s signature seems quite visible on many of these images, most conspicuously on that down angle of the crowded dock, which strongly suggests a certain climactic moment in “Citizen Kane.” Kind of makes you want to see the movie, which will have its premiere at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in October.

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Running Wild

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There are times when it’s hard to tell the difference between Lewis R. Foster and Lewis D. Collins, but “Crashout,” Foster’s powerful, independently produced film noir from 1955, isn’t one of them. The film unites practically every great supporting player in the genre — William Bendix, Arthur Kennedy, Luther Adler, William Talman, Gene Evans and Marshall Thompson, with no-extra-charge appearances by Beverly Michaels, Percy Helton, Tom Dugan and Morris Ankrum — for a jailbreak story that might have been written by Jean-Paul Sartre, but is actually credited to Foster (an Oscar winner for the dubiously “original” story of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”)and the producer Hal E. Chester. One suspects that other, invisible hands may have been involved. Suspect number one is Cy Endfield, a longtime associate of Chester (from his debut with the “Joe Palooka” films to the major “Underworld Story” of 1950), who at the time of “Crashout” was living in London to escape the blacklist; number two is Ida Lupino, whose production company, The Filmmakers, originally distributed “Crashout,” and whose influence can certainly be felt in the casting of Talman (so brilliant as the psychopathic killer in Lupino’s 1953 “The Hitch-Hiker”) and the stoic resignation of “Crashout”‘s two primary female characters, a failed singer played by Gloria Talbott and a single mom played by Michaels (usually cast as a floozy, but quite affecting here as a woman who’s seen it all). The film has just been released in a good Blu-ray edition from Olive; my New York Times review is here.

I’ve also slipped in a couple of paragraphs on “In Old Arizona,” the 1928 western that was among the first features to take sound technology on location, and also happened to cost Raoul Walsh his right eye. Walsh was set to direct and to star as the Cisco Kid (his long dormant acting career having been revived by the success of “Sadie Thompson” earlier that year), but left the film after a few days when a jackrabbit jumped through the windshield of his car and forced him off the road. In a development as unexpected as it is encouraging, Fox Home Entertainment has released a beautifully restored Blu-ray of the film (though one suspects that the studio’s interest was driven less by appreciation of Walsh than the fact that the film won a best actor Oscar for his replacement, Warner Baxter). I’d be willing to bet that the openings sequences, which establish the small western town where much of the action is set with the kind of brilliant foreground-background tension Walsh would go on to exploit in “The Big Trail”) are Walsh’s work, and the better definition of the Blu-ray reveals what sure looks to me like Walsh himself, demonstrating some fancy horsemanship in some long shots during a round-up scene.

Speaking of Walsh, I’ll be at the Pacific Film Archive this Thursday to introduce his magnificent 1932 western romance “Wild Girl,” and participate in a conversation with the critic Michael Fox. Please do stop by if you’re in the area — I can’t vouch for the chat but I can promise that the movie is good. I’ll be back on Saturday for screenings of “The Lawless Breed” and “Pursued.”

Knuckling Down

Hard-Times

In 1975, Walter Hill’s austere “Hard Times” bucked the zoom-happy excesses of that chaotic decade with a combination of rock-solid mise-en-scene and a brilliantly laconic performance by Charles Bronson — one of the few times this major star appeared in a major film. Reissued in a fine new Blu-ray edition by Twilight Time, it’s the subject of my review this week in the New York Times.

I’m back from Bologna and “Il Cinema Ritrovato,” a bit late thanks to a bad transfer on Lufthansa that gave me the bonus experience of spending the night in a barracks-like hotel in a suburb of Frankfurt.

I’d like to express my deep appreciation to Antti Alanen for keeping me posted on what was happening on the blog when it proved to be impossible to get a sustained internet connection in my hotel in Bologna (Italy is a wonderful country but you don’t go there for the WiFi), and I was gratified to find that it took at least a week for the conversation to lumber back around to John Ford, as opposed to the usual 24 hours. The audiences in Bologna — a mixture of professionals, visiting cinephiles and students from the area’s many universities — are truly amazing; the Allan Dwan series I helped to organize attracted audiences of two to three hundred for even the most esoteric films on the program, and the atmosphere was one of respect and open-mindedness.

Even the difficult “Most Dangerous Man Alive” — Dwan’s last film (released in 1961) and saddled with its share of awkward lines and amateurish performances — played without a single bad laugh, something that would never happen in the United States. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there was the pleasure of seeing “Up in Mabel’s Room” unleash its impeccably timed waves of hilarity in a full house — the sort of experience seldom available in this age of isolated video viewings. Kevin Brownlow offered a program of clips and personal reminiscences of Dwan, as well as screenings of his personal prints of “Manhandled” (a new digitalization of Kevin’s unique 16-millimeter print), “The Iron Mask” and the one-reeler “The Mormons” from 1912. My profound thanks to Peter von Bagh and Guy Borlee for making it all possible.