New DVDs 9-2-2008

This week in the New York Times, a look at the latest distinguished batch of titles in the “Fox Film Noir” collection — none of which fit my personal, highly subjective definition of noir, but all of which I’m glad to have in print.

And if you haven’t seen this incredible fan-made tribute to Joe Dante’s classic “Gremlins 2,” have a look.  Somebody made this in a basement!

31 comments to New DVDs 9-2-2008

  • nicolas saada

    It’s a terrific film, that I discovered as a teenager in 1984. I’ve watched regularly since and its coming on dvd is a blessing. Dave I’m afraid that after the “auteur or not” thread on Curtiz, Vidor, Newman and friends, we are about to start a new one with Jean Negulesco, an excellent director whose works include the beautiful “Mask of Dimitrios” and the rarely seen “Three Strangers”, perhaps one of the best Lorre/Greenstreet films with Don Siegel’s 1946 The Verdict.

  • “Auteur or Not” sounds like a game show from the 70s! Your guest panelists: Manny Farber, Pauline Kael, Raymond Durgnat and Dwight Macdonald. Will the true auteur of “Wind Across the Everglades” please stand up?

  • David Boxwell

    Widmark is just as crazed in ROAD HOUSE as he was in KISS OF DEATH, but his giggling mania builds throughout the film as he gets more and more pathologically controlling of Lupino. Exciting shoot-out beside a fake lake on the Fox sound stage! I can’t make a case for Negulesco as an autueur, but the acting is all perfectly stylized. My mother tells me ROAD HOUSE was considered “hot stuff” in 1948, what with multiple face-slappings, violent kissing, and hard-boiled love-talk.

  • David Boxwell

    If memory serves me right, the “neighborhood creep” whodunnit it BOOMERANG! seemed to be coded “gay,” as “gay” was conceived in 1947 to evade Breen’s radar.

  • Dave K

    The creep is being coded as something the authors find unpleasantly sexual, though whether it’s homosexuality or pederasty is not easy to say. If Kazan is suggesting that he murdered the priest because the priest knew he was gay — well, the years have added a certain irony to that motivation.

    Auteur or not, Negulesco was a brilliant craftsman, and even his scope films are not as flatly composed and uninspired as some critics (well, Andrew Sarris) have suggested. “How to Marry a Millionaire” and “Three Coins in the Fountain” becomes very interesting once you realize that JN is composing for a gigantic screen, one meant to surround and immerse the audience, and he’s grappling with problems of scale and transition between shots that no one had really confronted before. As a filmmaker, I’ll take Ida Lupino, but she clearly liked working with JN enough on “Deep Valley” to ask for him when they both moved to Fox.

    Speaking of Lupino, I think “The Hitchhiker” kicks “Jeopardy”‘s butt (this aside is entirely for the benefit of Jean-Pierre).

  • Helen

    I look forward to seeing Road House, made near in time to my favorites of Negulesco’s films, Mask of Dimitrios, Three Strangers, and Nobody Lives Forever.

  • Alex Hicks

    This fan of 40s B&W JN capitulates to the celebrants of the visually interesting “gigantic screen” one (devolved from at least “expressive esoterica” autuer into into an objet d’art director, though he may be). But did the 1:04PM satirist of “Auteur or Not?” make a guest appearance on the show at 4:22?

    (An interesting aspect of “Dimitrios” is that — true to the Eric Ambler source– it’s a spy film about intelligence craft, not thriller conventions.)

  • Don’t forget Jean Negulesco, Joan Crawford and Mondrian (or at least his production design equivalent) in The Best of Everything.

    Gremlins 2 IS a modern classic. Dante’s best work, arguably, and one of the better effects films of recent years.

  • Jeff Fries

    Sacha Feiner, the creator of the Gremlins video (and apparently a gremlin collector) has a making-of here.

    Scott Tobias of The Onion had just inducted Gremlins 2 into his “New Cult Canon” not too long before the tribute became a big hit (though it’s apparently been online since July).

  • Larry Kart

    This is highly subjective, but Ida Lupino had more of a “person one might actually know” quality than any actress who comes to mind. In part that’s due to her ability to convey the workings of a not always reveled to the other characters (but always to the camera and to us) independence of personality — an independence that calls for some fending off and defensive staking off in the context of the film (and in life outside the film as well?) in order to be maintained and that thus is defined in part through a dialogue of fraught negotiation and “negative” gestures (e.g. This is me, this is not me; I will do this, I will not do that). These gestures (often realized in physical details of considerable naturalistic subtlety) then reveal her to us all the more deeply and poignantly — detecting her defenses within a byplay of vulnerability and strength (or at least of will), we sense their necessity and in effect virtually participate in them on her behalf. She takes us behind the scenes of her threatened sensibility; what could be more intimate than that?

  • nicolas saada

    Negulesco’s “phone call from a stranger” has also been released on DVD. I did not see it. Negulesco has definitely style, and “Three Strangers”, a Warner Bros film, is really interesting. As for Lupino, I guess she was “camera conscious” because sh also was a director. I love “The Bigamist” and “The Hitchhiker”; and she directed a wonderful tv film with Peter Lorre which I showed to Serge Daney. It became one of Serge’s favorite film. I rememeber him sending a postcard ending with “Lupinienement”. (Lupinially yours”).

  • I consider Jean Negulesco very underated. His films are at the least well-constructed and always entertaining, not a thing to be regarded lightly. The notion that his output deteriorated with Fox Cinemascope is understandable to the extent that all of these films were unavailable in their proper ratios for decades after their general release. “The Best Of Everything” and others like it are revelations once viewed in a presentation worthy of them. That’s only recently possible thanks to outstanding quality DVD’s made available by Fox. I await “Woman’s World”, “The Rains Of Ranchipur” and “Boy On A Dolphin”, which I suspect will further confirm Negulesco’s precision with wide-screen vistas. How about a large box set of unreleased Cinemascope titles, Fox?

  • In regard to “auteur or not”, what ever happened to
    the idea of a metteur-en-scene?

  • Alex Hicks

    Speaking of Lupino’s “The Hitchhiker ” Orson Welles’s 1941 radio Hitchhiker for The Orson Welles Show is both an interesting variant and a precedent of sorts (among many others in various media). Does anyone know the perhaps pedigrees (clear-cut or marginal of Lupino’s “Hitchhiker?

    Three cheers for the excellent Negulesco-Huston-Koch “Three Strangers.”

  • stephen bartz

    How could you mention ROADHOUSE and not mention Celeste Holm? Her warmth and humanity grounds the whole film and provides the only voice of reason for the audience to side with. Invaluable, I think.

  • David Boxwell

    Youbtecha; she’s the character embodying Upper Midwestern good sense. Only problem is: she’s not very compelling a figure compared to the Lupino-Widmark-Wilde triad. “Normal” characters were there to keep the Breen Office from shutting down “perverse” projects like this one…

  • Tony Williams

    This is such a fascinating site! Although I do not often have much time to read all the comments, it does seem to have taken over from “A Film By..” and I note the presence of many familiar names.

  • Alex Hicks

    On just a little extra recollection, there’s not enough similarity between Lupino’s “The Hitchhiker” and Orson Welles’s 1941 radio “Hitchhiker” to draw a sensible parrallel. Still, there is a whole set of what might be interrelated hitchhicer narrative out there from radio, TV and film that might have an interesting interrelation or three.

  • Axel K.

    Yeah, I remember “Three Strangers”, about the title characters sharing a winning lottery ticket. But Don Siegel´s “The Veredict” was even better, darker and cynical. Every Don Siegel movie should be available on DVD!!! Specially underrated masterpieces like “The Lineup” (1958) and “Riot in Cell Block 11″ (1954).

  • Alex Hicks

    Fans of early Resnais, Ruiz’s Proust, etc., might enjoy “For the Brain, Remembering Is Like Reliving’ ().

  • Blake Lucas

    It’s enjoyable to read about what is for me one of Negulesco’s very best films–”Road House” beginning with Dave’s piece.

    This may be subjective, but for me “One for My Baby…” is not the movie’s signature song, partly because it predated the film. Yes, it is the first song Lupino sings in it, and establishes her highly individual singing/playing style. But I think the signature song is “Again” (Lionel Newman and one Dorcas Cochran, per IMDb)–this was written for the film, a beautiful song and Fox so loved it that (much like Alfred Newman’s “Street Scene” theme) they used it again a number of times, most effectively in “Pickup on South Street” during that film’s offbeat love scenes between Richard Widmark and Jean Peters.

    Celeste Holm’s character is anything but marginal–she is in plainly in love with Cornel Wilde, and Holm effectively registers this without a word of dialogue to that effect. She is there to show how a balanced person reacts when the person they love falls in love with someone else instead (Wilde and Lupino), not happily but accepting it with a fair amount of grace, and so contrasts to Widmark, who doesn’t take it so well.

    Beginning with Dave and also Larry Kart’s comments, it’s nice to read some senstive words about the acting/persona of the wonderful Ida Lupino. My favorite of her films as an actress is “The Man I Love” (Walsh) but “Road House” is certainly one of the best, along with her other two Walsh movies–”They Drive by Night” and “High Sierra”–and of course there is “The Hard Way” and some others too. By the way, my little check on “Again” credits in IMDb notes that Lupino sang all her own songs in “Road House” but had been dubbed in “The Man I Love.” I’m certain this is not entirely true–one can hear the dubbed voice in some songs in “The Man I Love” but the opening sequence in which she sings the title song seems clearly to be her own, very different voice and the same voice as in “Road House.” And that performance of the title song in “The Man I Love” is easily the one to remember. Someone please tell me if I am wrong about this.

    As much as she is one of my favorite actresses, I value her even more as a director. Those half-dozen films she made in the early 1950s are all exceptional (I say this as author of an entry on “Not Wanted” in DEFINING MOMENTS IN MOVIES). “The Bigamist” especially is a masterpiece that would give her a place all by itself, but they are all precious works and I wish some enterprising DVD outfit could clear any rights and put them out together as a set because they deserve to be seen that way. I don’t doubt we could expect a good column from Dave if it ever happened.

    Dave, liking “Jeopardy” and considering it a good film doesn’t mean “The Hitch-Hiker” is not easily the better of these two films (I’m not sure how much they really have in common–something obviously). I can’t swear to it but I’m guessing Jean-Pierre would agree, as I know he is an ardent fan of Lupino as director too.

  • Alex Hicks

    Distracted in this electoral season into thinking “Jeopardy” was a quizz show, I offer a little Cinema in History for any other seasonal cinephilic wastrels who might be lurking about.

    What are John McCain’s favorite Wyatt Earp films, and how much did they influence him?

    To Step back, John McCain’s claimed affinities to Republican reformism via Teddy Roosevelt have always broken down because of their inconsistency with Roosevelt’s extreme Progressive Liberalism (see Martin Sklar’s 1988 “Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism 1890-1916”). However, John surely is best in the tradition not of fabled Arizona, rather than New York, Progressives (see. ). Not only is the central event of the Earp story the fabled gunfight near Tombstone’s O.K. Corral; this conflict was the violent eruption of a simmering feud between frontier Progressive Republican Marshall Wyatt Earp, brother and reformist townspeople against the clientelistic, machine-mode Clancy Democrats (e.g., the inheritance tax; and see Allen Barra, “Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends,” 2005). If life imitates art, the legend become “fact,” and Arizona Earp is a Republican icon, then the question becomes: What are John McCain’s favorite Wyatt Earp films, and how much did they influence him? (And would a Mccain Presidency over us “Oliver Stone’s Wyatt Earp?”)

    Coming next: which Frank Capra film is most evoked by Sarah Palin’s acceptance speech?

  • David Boxwell

    Lupino’s pioneering OUTCAST (50) still holds up. Scorsese honored it in his doco “My Journey Through American Movies.” The rape scene is staged as purest, blackest noir. There’s no doubt that Lupino did her own singing in ROAD HOUSE (about which the Holm comments memorably), whereas everybody’s film noir musical/musical film noir THE MAN I LOVE dubs her singing voice with a conventional smooth-toned 40s “thrush” (as they used to be called).

  • David Boxwell

    Not the film per se, but the title works for the improbable Palin elevation: “An American Madness.”

  • David Boxwell

    Corrections necessary to previous post on Lupino for coherence: “everybody’s favorite film noir musical” and “the Holm character.”

  • David Boxwell

    Corrections necessary to previous post on Lupino for coherence: “everybody’s favorite film noir musical” and “the Holm character.” And OUTRAGE, not OUTCAST. Post in haste, repent at leisure…

  • Larry Kart

    I agree with Blake Lucas about the quality of “Again” (a pretty big hit at the time, recorded by many artists) and its centrality to the film. There’s a superb version of the song on Chicago singer-pianist Audrey Morris’s album “Film Noir”:

    http://www.audreymorris.com/discog.htm

    Morris herself is a figure of that era (as the early ’50s Maurice of Chicago glamour shot of her on the album cover of “Film Noir” makes clear), not one of those latter-day colonizers of the past like Diana Krall or Jane Monheit.

  • Larry Kart

    On Audrey Morris’ album, in addition to “Again,” songs written specifically for films noir include “Slowly” (“Fallen Angel”), “I’d Rather Have the Blues Than What I’ve Got” (“Kiss Me Deadly”), “Mad About You” (“Gun Crazy”), “Blue Gardenia” (“Blue Gardenia”), “Don’t Call It Love” (“I Walk Alone”), and “Reach For Tomorrow” (“Let No Man Write My Epitaph”). Other songs on the album were performed in films noir but were not written for those specific films — e.g. “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me” (“Detour”), “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You” (“In a Lonely Place”).

  • Blake Lucas

    Hey, Larry, that Audrey Morris album sounds great. Thanks for the good word.

    What David Boxwell says about Lupino’s singing is consistent with IMDb and what I’ve heard before. But I still ask is this entirely correct? Because to my ears there are two voices in “The Man I Love”–the dubbed voiced of Peg La Centra in some songs (more trained than Lupino, but with
    less personality) and the one in “The Man I Love” itself and perhaps one other song (though it has been awhile now). At least this is the impression I have had of it, and would be glad to be corrected if someone could offer something definitive. Walsh liked Lupino, had directed her twice before, and if he knew she could put over a song might have insisted she have a chance.

    Lupino is not the only one caught in this insidious kind of bind. Ever listen to Ava Gardner sing those two “Show Boat” songs (on the album). Heartbreaking. But she’s dubbed in the movie.

    Yet, John Ford remedied this in “Mogambo” where she memorably performs “Comin’ Through the Rye”
    –a high point of that movie, as musical numbers so often are in Ford.

  • I adore the sheer affectlessness of Lupino’s singing—as i’ve said elsewhere, she makes Nico sound like Macy Gray. Her style is practically radical for the era, which is why I’m kind of surprised (but very glad) she WASN”T dubbed.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    I somehow missed this thread and am sorry I did, as I love ROAD HOUSE and look forward to the DVD (my cassette tape of the film is missing 4 or 5 minutes at the beginning).”Again” is also one of my (many) favorite songs (I can’t wait to hear that Audrey Morris album with all those luscious torch songs — thanks, Larry Kart; by the way the title of the movie is “The Blue Gardenia,” while the song has no article. “Blue gardenia, tossed to a passing breeze, but pressed in my book of memories.” — They sure don’t make songs like that any more!)

    I agree completely with Blake Re: Lupino (my favorite film of hers is also THE MAN I LOVE, followed by THE HARD WAY, HIGH SIERRA, ON DANGEROUS GROUND…) And the films she directed are indeed outstanding, and very personal.

    As for comparing JEOPARDY and THE HITCH-HIKER, they are both very tense and suspensful films (both take place outdoors with only a very few characters, among other similarities) and I have no quarrel with saying that the latter is the better of the two although I can’t say I like one more (or less) than the other.

    PS I first heard “Again” as a kid, in a French version. I knew the words in French but have totally forgotten them now, including the title, which annoys me. No, it just came back: “Sais-tu?” — just the title though.