Hounding Fox

This week in the New York Times, I do a little rooting around in the mixed bag that is the Fox Cinema Archive Collection, the manufactured-on-demand program that Twentieth Century Fox started several months ago in response to the Warner Archive Collection. The selection includes over a hundred titles by now (perhaps the easiest way to search through them is this link to ClassixFlix, though the other major online movie retailers also carry them), and there are some marvelous things in there, including William K. Howard’s great 1933 “The Power and the Glory,” presented in the excellent restoration that UCLA did some years ago.

But much of the selection seems arbitrary — is there really more demand for minor Clifton Webb vehicles than major Raoul Walsh films? — and the quality of the releases varies quite a bit. It’s paradoxical, to say the least, that the studio that pioneered CinemaScope should also be the last to be releasing pan-and-scan transfers to DVD, as they’ve done with Walsh’s “A Private’s Affair,” George Sherman’s “Son of Robin Hood,” William Witney’s “Secret of the Purple Reef,” and several others. Gregory Ratoff’s 1937 “Lancer Spy” (not a great movie, but interesting as the American debut of Fox stalwart George Sanders) is offered in a chopped-up reissue version missing around ten minutes; Delmer Daves’s Technicolor “Treasure of the Golden Condor” looks like it came from a DeLuxe Color print left out in the sun too long — and so on and so forth. That’s a lot of compromise to accept for a list price of $19.95.

One fine discovery I’ve made among the Fox titles is William A. Seiter’s “The Daring Young Man,” a 1935 romantic comedy starring James Dunn and Mae Clarke as rival newspaper reporters, filmed with Seiter’s usual verve and affection for his actors. For the last few months, I’ve had the pleasure of corresponding with Jessica Niblo, the youngest daughter of the gifted Mr. Seiter and his wife, the radiant Marian Nixon, and now she’s published “Movietown Baby Grows Up,” a wonderfully warm account of growing up in the Hollywood of the 30s and 40s, copiously illustrated with stills and family photos. Jessica is making copies available through her Facebook page, here, and this little volume is a pure delight (at least up to the last chapter, which is a reprint of my Film Comment column on Seiter). It’s another step toward getting Seiter (“Willie” to his friends) the recognition he deserves.

49 comments to Hounding Fox

  • Blake Lucas

    I bought WAY OF A GAUCHO, very beautiful Tourneur movie (and it was the first I ever saw by him-even at a young age, its quiet payoff scene outside a church involving Calhoun, Tierney and Richard Boone profoundly affected me). Also THE RAID (Fregonese, whom Dave writes so well about in a one of his always illuminating Further Research pieces in current Film Comment), which is mysteriously missing in the linked list here though it is in the Fox series.

    By the way, the box for THE RAID says pan and scan but that’s not correct. This may or may not have a CinemaScope logo that I’ve seen slapped on to it on TV but it was not in Scope, composed Academy though I believe wider 1.85 might actually have been intended as its best presentation.

    In any event, I’m glad Dave recommended WAY OF A GAUCHO and I myself want to see SUEZ again as well as THE POWER AND THE GLORY and others he mentioned too.

    But it’s saddening, indeed deeply frustrating about this kind of carelessness in putting out scanned versions of ‘Scope movies (and as Dave indicates so ironic since this is the studio that gave us CinemaScope). A few years back I simply resolved not to watch them anymore. Does this mean that I will live on a memory of A PRIVATE’S AFFAIR seen pan and scan years ago on TV? I’ve yearned to see this properly. It doesn’t even need to be a major Walsh (not to say unequivocally that it’s not)–it’s one of his last movies and my remembered impression is of a charming movie brimming with characteristic Walshian energy.

    FROM HELL TO TEXAS (Hathaway) is apparently full screen too–that’s just ludicrous, and I don’t think I need to explain that to anyone who has seen it.

    On a more positive note, I most depart from auteurist orthodoxy in my admiration of Henry King (though note Dave did include him in a list of worthy Fox directors), so a title that jumped out I will recommend is WAIT ‘TILL THE SUN SHINES NELLIE (1952), which I consider one of his masterpieces–a memorable, highly individual piece of Americana with an unexpected dark side in all that Technicolor beauty. I passed on a pirated copy awhile back to a friend in this group to see with very good results and he told me later that the movie was a very important one to David Lynch. So just in case you never dreamed there was a King/Lynch connection…

    Meantime, why Fox is keeping King’s MARGIE in the vaults, even though people yearn for its release, is simply a mystery. For that matter, what about his beautiful 1933 STATE FAIR, which was once considered a classic?

  • Barry Putterman

    Yes, THE DARING YOUNG MAN is quite good and it would have made for an excellent compare/contrast with Santell’s earlier SOB SISTER on a doulbe disc had the Fox folks had the slightest clue of what is in their vault.

    That they don’t is evidenced by the pan and scan of FROM HELL TO TEXAS. And what I expect that Blake is referring to is that we both saw the 35 scope print that Cinecon ran of it a few years ago with Don Murray doing a q & a after the screening. This past year Cinecon ran 15 MAIDEN LANE which Dave mentioned in The Times, and it is magnificent. A perfect example of the American studio system “economy of expression.” Sixty two minutes long and not a wasted foot of film as Dwan tells a somewhat complicated story with deeply felt inter personal character relationships in the guise of a “crime programmer.” What are the odds that it is now anywhere in the future release pipeline?

    But, echoing Blake’s notion of a more positive note, I would point to a film that I know he and I both admire, MY PAL GUS, which is on the list. And also CLAUDIA, a deeply felt, moving camera/long take stage adaptation by Edmund Goulding which is worthy of inclusion with Cukor’s finest.

  • Robert Garrick

    Dave mentions “The Rookie” (1959) in his NYT piece.

    For years I wanted to see that film because I was obsessed with Julie Newmar. “The Rookie” was one of her first films and supposedly one of her “best.” I finally caught it on TV in the late 1970s. It was wide-screen black-and-white, probably my favorite format, and was the only film directed by minor actor (and even more minor director) George O’Hanlon. It’s been a while since I saw “The Rookie” but to the best of my recollection the film was utterly undistinguished except for Newmar, who dominated the frame whenever she was in it.

    The film was an attempt to capitalize on the Noonan and Marshall comedy team, which had been around since the late 1940s. A friend of mine observed that Tommy Noonan looked like a cross between Joe Flynn and Cary Grant. Peter Marshall is best known as the long-time host of “Hollywood Squares.” Marshall and Noonan were both neighbors of mine growing up, and I went to high school in Los Angeles with Marshall’s son, Pete LaCock, who later played for the Chicago Cubs. (Peter Marshall’s real name is Ralph LaCock and his sister, Joanne Dru, was born Letitia LaCock. It’s said that Joanne Dru’s chumminess with John Ireland caused Howard Hawks to change the edit of “Red River” (1949), and I notice that Dru and Ireland were married from 1949 until 1957. The plot thickens when you realize that Noonan was John Ireland’s half-brother.)

  • Alex

    William K. Howard’s “The Power and the Glory” is, of course, a film granted some a fame by its mention as precusror to “Citizen Kane” in Kael’s “Raising Kane” and in Borges’s review of “Kane” (with the interesting characterization of Welle’s film as “a labyrinth without a center.”) Moreover, “consumer guide” sorts of reviews in print and web are almost universally quick to praise Tracy’s performance or Moore’s, if not both. And they are quick to note similarities of Sturges’ screen play to that for “Kane” (a comparison that lends itself to intrerpretations as praise but seld steps clealry forward as such.)

    However, Dave K. refers above to “William K. Howard’s great 1933 ‘The Power and the Glory,'”; and, in the NYT piece itself, to “The Power and the Glory” as a “masterpiece.”

    Having recently failed, despite (or because!) of great initial enthusiasm to watch the film through to its end because it directions seemed to me debilitatingly slack in every respect — the dramatic visualization of scenes, the dramatic force and sharpness of performances, the engagingness of the narrative — I’d be very interested in any cases folks might want to make for the film as more than a mediocre –or plain bad– film of some narratonal innovativeness and, thus, historcal importance.

    Further, I currently am also inclined to regard “The Power and the Glory” as Sturges seems to have regarded Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith when he quoted Shakesapeare’s adage that “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them” (i.e., imposed in this instance by Welles and, perhaps also, Kael.)

  • skelly

    Blake – yes the Fox DVD of The Raid does have that Cinemascope logo which certainly confused this first time viewer of a month or so ago. Great movie (a little disappointed our host didn’t give it the same Fregonese “masterpiece” label in his terrific Film Comment article that he gave to APACHE DRUMS and BLACK TUESDAY!) Way of a Gaucho I will be seeing as well but it (being under the X-mas tree) will be temporarily out of reach.

    Also bought and watched CLAUDIA recently but was a little disapointed in the sound and picture quality. Enjoyed it though (but it’s no MARGIE).

  • David Cohen

    Alex, I believe I think a little more highly of THE POWER AND THE GLORY than you do, but certainly didn’t find it extraordinary. I would also appreciate if there are folks out there willing to argue for it as a genuinely great film.

  • Fred Blosser

    Fox Movie Channel is similarly frustrating. Some ’50s and ’60s CinemaScope titles are shown in proper letterbox format, while others letterbox the opening credits and then go full screen in terrible prints. The average viewer probably doesn’t care whether THE LITTLE SHEPHERD OF KINGDOM COME or BERNARDINE is aired in its intended form, but I do. As far as I can tell, FMC doesn’t even bother to letterbox the newer movies that now compose (with ads) most of its prime-time schedule.

  • Barry Lane

    Re Clifton Webb and Raoul Walsh. A clear demand for both with Webb a sentimental favorite for lots of folk, me included, and Walsh, more lasting and diverse, again, me included. Webb, of course, is only at Fox, while Walsh all over the palce for an extended period.

  • Dave’s remarks about access to archival collections are top important. A few years ago many said that soon everything is going to be available on dvd or otherwise. The turn has been sharp.

    To Jessica Niblo best regards from Finland! Her mother Marian Nixon was born in Wisconsin with the Finnish name Maria Nissinen.

  • Alex, I despair of changing your mind about anything, but I can’t imagine anyone experiencing the direction of “The Power and the Glory” as “debiliatingly slack.” It’s a beautifully composed, daringly experimental film that covers the complex emotional trajectory of its protagonist’s life in 76 minutes — less than half the time it takes Christopher Nolan to recap a single episode of a Republic serial in “The Dark Knight Rises.” I wrote about Howard a few months back in Film Comment, with attention to Kael’s misattribution of the film’s authorship to Sturges (flashbacks are a characteristic of Howard’s work from the mid-20s on). There isn’t much else out there about him, but he is a brilliant filmmaker, whose work richly deserves renewed attention. Fox, of course, is sitting on several major films by him: “Scotland Yard,” “All Women Are Bad,” “Transatlantic,” “Surrender,” “The Trial of Vivienne Ware” and his 1932 “Sherlock Holmes” with Clive Brook — my personal favorite of all the Holmes films I’ve seen (with Ernest Torrence as Moriarty). The one I’m most eager to see is “The First Year,” a 1932 Gaynor and Farrell film that, according to a contemporary New York Times report, features the largest set built to that date in Hollywood — which is saying something from the studio of “Sunrise.” Fox has pre-print material but no prints and apparently no plans to make any.

    Barry, has it been confirmed that the Fox disc of “From Hell to Texas” is pan and scan? I didn’t bother to request a screener because I already have the French edition, from the “Western de Legende” series on Sidonis edited by Bertrand Tavernier and Patrick Brion. That one is definitely in ‘scope.

  • Barry Putterman

    Dave, according to the “comments” posted on the listing site you linked us to, FROM HELL TO TEXAS is pan and scan. This is brought to our attention by Fred. But Mark prefers pan and scan because he doesn’t have a flat screen TV. That Fox couldn’t care less about the whole matter is indicated by their allowing Fred’s well deserved blast to sit up there right near their twenty dollar asking price.

    But what of THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE? It was supposed to play at Cinecon last year, but mysteriously turned up missing on the finalized schedule. If Fox couldn’t be bothered to use the scope print Cinecon showed for their FROM HELL TO TEXAS disc, it is hard to hold out hope for a film that Cinecon wound up not showing.

  • After almost four years of the superior Warner Archive you’d think the other studios would learn by good example, but, no. Sony/Columbia offers good transfers but mediocre titles, which may be a case of going with one’s got (not much from what they’re selecting, as higher-profile films like the Capra/Stanwycks go to TCM for DVD release); Universal, barely marketed, is intermittent and hard to find on Amazon (but is leasing some of its titles to Shout Factory and its horror film subsidiary, Scream Factory, for Blu-ray release); and MGM/UA, which was adminstered by Fox, is now moribund as Fox concentrates on this new line. A shame, as after a slow start the MGM offerings were of more consistent quality regarding aspect ratios and, here and there, a trailer as an extra. Fox seems to have retreated to that unpromising beginning with a slew of titles that are a little above VHS quality.

    THE RAID was withdrawn from the market, then reissued. It should be a 1.85:1 release but is full-frame with weak colors. Like a number of titles I’ve seen it’s looked better on FMC–which I no longer watch, given the increased commercials and decreased emphasis of proper aspect ratios and transfer quality.

  • (THE RAID was reissued without the Scope logo, which was nice but more clearly needed to be done with the title.)

  • Alex

    Dave K, I probably should watch more than the first half hour of Howard’s film.
    Maybe I’d have found the acting better as a higher proportion of it became adult acting. (Heck I think the kid acting in the very great Once Upon a Time in America quite wretched,and I might have given up on a chronological Once Upon a Time –though the kid’s years of “Once” boast marvels of mise-en-scene and music and a Jennifer Connaly to qualify any annoyance at “Once”‘s kid performers).

    Maybe I’d have found the film sharper if I hadn’t (most likely) had Kane in the back of my mind as a benchmark.

    Have to catch your piece on Howard in Film Comment!

  • Johan Andreasson

    I notice three movies directed by John M. Stahl in the link provided by Dave K: FATHER WAS A FULLBACK, THE FOXES OF HARROW and HOLY MATRIMONY.

    Sarris seems to like HOLY MATRIMONY, and I’ll watch any movie with Una O’Connor in it, but has anyone seen the other two and has an opinion?

  • alex r

    I’m guessing the major difference from what Warner Archive and the Sony MOD programs from the Fox one is that Warners has george feltenstein and Sony Grover Crisp working for them. Back when Fox had a DVD program they must have had that type of person running it-after all they did the Ford at fox and Murnau , Borzage set as well as the Film Noir series, The big Trail special edition, great looking Alice Faye and Betty Grable Technicolor musicals. Whoever that person was I wish Fox would rehire him or her. In the meantime I will not buy any post 1953 Fox MOD’s. Also hoping that Fox works out a deal with TCM (or criterion) to release sets thru them. How about a Fox Before the Code set ? Or Bogart at fox (where he started his film career) or Warner Baxter Matinee idol collection and Walsh at Fox. I still remember that that great William K. Everson Films In review article about the treasures found in the Fox vaults. Many of those movies are still hard to see.

    Thanks for the lead on the Seiter book- Bought it and read it last night. Worth the price for the photos. Also i recommend Margaret Talbots’ The Entertainer – her bio of her dad Lyle Talbot which covers in more detail growing up in Hollywood and the Golden age.

  • Rick K.

    Good to see Fox joining the manufacture-on-demand dvd market even though, like Warner in the beginning, they seem rather arbitrary in their choice of titles and the materials they use for manufacture. One gets the feeling that they are guided mostly by ease of access, titles which may need fewer clearances or lack problems which may simplify their release in this market. Warner had one advantage of being the FIRST to launch this service, which was during a dry spell of classic dvds and a worrisome period for many movie buffs/dvd collectors, so their efforts were like a beacon of light on the horizon. I recall jumping on their bandwagon with enthusiasm, despite the mixed bag initially offered, the cost factor and the variance of quality on some of those early titles … it was definitely something I wanted to support. And in doing so (along with so many others), Warner has been able to raise the bar on their service.

    These days, I’m somewhat more selective and a bit harder to please, so its easy to be more critical when Fox enters the field without the polish that Warner has now achieved. But I hope that whoever is in charge at Fox is listening to consumer voices via columns such as this, and will endeavor to sift out more buried treasures and work a little harder to get the right versions (aspect ratios) and best prints available, without necessarily spending a lot of time and money for “cosmetic enhancements” (digital removal of specks and minor wear) and the often superfluous bonus features, costly factors that probably contributed to the demise of the classic dvd division at Fox in the first place. It was Fox who once put out those $triple digit$ box sets for Ford and Borzage, which were certainly majestic in their own way, but one suspects more of an albatross for retailers and profit-seekers at Fox. The made-on-demand service seems to be an ideal way to streamline those costs and enable them to dig into their holdings for the benefit of all concerned.

    That said, each new “wave” of dvd-r releases from Fox seems to hold some gems, and its really great when Dave and columns like this can sift through, pointing out pluses and minuses in their lineup. One hopes that items like INTENT TO KILL and A HATFUL OF RAIN will eventually see release in anamorphic-scope versions (THE ROOKIE too), but even more hopeful would be adding the many pre-’35 titles, rescued back in the late 60’s when Fox hired Alex Gordon to perform a salvage mission in the Fox vaults. Much of the great work he accomplished was never really exploited by the studio, and has remained virtually hidden since. There was, I believe a “Golden Century” TV package created by Gordon which never got much exposure, that material likewise overlooked by non-theatrical markets (Films Inc.). THE POWER AND THE GLORY was a part of that package, along with oddities like Rowland Brown’s BLOOD MONEY, Walsh’s SAILOR’S LUCK and YELLOW TICKET, Dieterle’s SIX HOURS TO LIVE and THE DEVIL’S IN LOVE, and so many others. How great it would be for Fox to tap some of this material, which shouldn’t be TOO hard for them to locate in their celluloid catacombs ..?

    Incidentally, Fox has apparently launched their own order website, foxconnect.com, although the Fox Cinema Archive titles are not listed there. Nor could I find many of the classic Fox titles which are generally available elsewhere, so I’m not quite sure what function or direction this website will be taking … guess we’ll have to wait and see. Via another website which highlights celebrity birthdays, I was surprised to learn that Dec. 5 is a birth date shared by Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger and Walt Disney … astrological signs apparently lean towards influential artistry and autocratic tendencies!

  • Rob Leith

    Johan, I saw quite a few John Stahl films back when they circulated on one of the UHF channels in Boston and one had to put up with not only abrupt commercial interruptions but fuzzy reception as well. Holy Matrimony is very worthwhile; The Foxes of Harrow is part of the Gone With the Wind mini-genre and quite entertaining; Father Was a Fullback, as I recall, is a rather conventional comedy. Stahl’s best work was in contemporary melodrama, of which he did quite a bit of work, some of it strongly foreshadowing Sirk’s films (obviously so in his earlier versions of Magnificent Obsession and Imitation of Life, both excellent films). His best period fell between 1931 and 1945.

  • Robert Garrick

    Abraham Polonsky was also born on December 5. As was George Armstrong Custer, who fits the “autocratic tendencies” profile.

  • Alex

    I agree that FOXES OF HARROW is pretty entertaining, though it’s rather more lurid than one expects from Stahl — more like a Le Roy potbioler.

  • IA

    Incidentally, the script for THE POWER AND THE GLORY is reprinted in the book THREE MORE SCREENPLAYS BY PRESTON STURGES. Both versions are quite similar, except for their endings. The original ending is printed in the book and it’s much nastier and blacker than the film’s. But the “happier” movie version (scare marks intentional) seems to have also been written by Sturges, who was closely involved with the production, though I need to re-consult the three Sturges biographies for further confirmation. Howard’s direction is fine, but I’ve always wondered how Sturges himself would have filmed it. Sturges remained proud of the film up to the end of his life; when he relocated to France he bragged about how French critics admired it.

    THREE MORE SCREENPLAYS also contains the scripts of EASY LIVING and REMEMBER THE NIGHT, both filmed by Mitchell Leisen, who was faithful to both screenplays. For the latter film Leisen cut more from the script, with mostly but not always successful results–Stanwyck’s line about paying for mistakes has less impact in the film. NIGHT to me seems more emotional on the page, but EASY LIVING is a complete success on Leisen’s part.

  • Nice to know, that at last WAY OF A GAUCHO is available in the US.

    Long before the first Spaghetti Western, Tourneur made a Pampas Western in Argentina! I congratulate Blake as WAY OF A GAUCHO was his introduction to Tourneur. What a beautiful beginning! (Mine was the perhaps more common experience of CAT PEOPLE, a great film that, too. I’m also in love with THE LEOPARD MAN, with the added pleasure of the Finn actress Tuulikki Paananen (as Tula Parma) in the fascinating role of Consuelo in the cemetery scenes.)

    The look of the US on demand –dvd cover of WAY OF A GAUCHO on Amazon is not very attractive, is it? I hope the picture quality of the dvd is good. It must be the same version Fox released in Spain on dvd already in 2009 by the name of MARTÍN EL GAUCHO. I hold the beautiful, shiny cardboard box cover in my hand right now (it’s difficult to write at the same time, you know). The cover picture is from the original film poster. It’s a bit odd and sad too, I suppose, that in Spain the people at Fox believe more in the attraction of a American Tourneur film on dvd than they do in the Fox home office in the US.

    I’ve loved this film ever since the Spain release, and being a Tourneur fan, I think this is one of his masterpieces (to add to the continuing topic: masterpiece or not?) and also one of the most beautiful colour westerns. The script is by Philip Dunne, a left wing writer who strongly opposed the McCarthy committee in the 50s. Dunne also wrote ANNE OF THE INDIES for Tourneur (and for others: LAST OF THE MOHICANS, HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, also the unfortunate THE EGYPTIAN based on the Finnish writer Mika Waltari’s successful novel Sinuhe, the Egyptian).

    The rousing, delightful film music is by Sol Kaplan. The music is handled as part of the story, really: telling the story – like in the different arrangements for the guitar melody first played by Falcon (Everett Sloane) and later transformed into a funeral march, when Falcon’s smashed instrument is found.

    The colour red is also subliminally carrying the story: the red wool poncho of the rebel Valverde is reflected (upside down) in the skirt of the waitress Tia Maria (Lidia Campos), who is helping Valverde. We also “see red” in the scene, where Teresa (Gene Tierney) is praying in front of a candle burning inside a red glass.

    The fantastic attempted escape scene in the cathedral with its funeral procession and capes reminds one of THE LEOPARD MAN, and the chanting of the monks increases on the soundtrack as the excitement thickens. It’s also fascinating, how exciting and arousing a tale with so much religious imagery can be. Teresa gives his lover Martin (Rory Calhoun) a pendant depicting St. Teresa (!) – a saint, whose visions have been described as erotic by both Julia Kristeva and Dan Brown, I’m told.

    The erotic play can be seen also in the powerful image of Martin which Teresa sees first thing in the morning, when his lover is standing upright on his horse (in the supposedly customary gaucho style!). And again outside at night, when the shadow of the on-looking, standing Martin’s body “touches” her as she momentarily wakes up and then, satisfied, goes to sleep again.

    The Argentina of the film does not struck one as an exotic prop, but a believable, vibrating presence – even with a few studio shots added (the cougar). The cattle shots are magnificent. The mise-en-scene is a constant joy, and the camera choreography priceless, like the wondering camera following the little boy doing a little dance at the end of the long pan. I was also quite impressed by Rory Calhoun, whose other films I do not remember seeing at all.

    I’ve probably mentioned this before (but that has never stopped me). At the time I was struck by the similarities in the film’s story and in the Argentine legend immortalised in the long form, two part poem named Martín Fierro. I had just googled about and then put two and two together, not having read the original José Hernández poem, which is the Argentine national epic.

    Being curious by this, I e-mailed the great Tourneur authority Chris Fujiwara about the connection. Mr. Fujiwara thought that the author Herbert Childs very probably had drawn on Fierro for his book. Mr. Fujiwara also said that “it would be interesting to know more about how Child’s novel and the Tourneur film were received in Argentina, where the indebtedness to Fierro would have been instantly recognized”.

    Thus encouraged, I put a little mention of the Tourneur connection in the English Wikipedia entry for Martín Fierro. And then, to my astonishment, read there that in Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow some Argentine terrorists are planning to make a film about Martín Fierro – with the help of some German film director!

    Has anybody read Herbert Childs’s novel on which the film is based? Is there a clearer connection in the book to Hernández’s Martín Fierro would be interesting to know.

  • bill sorochan

    Hannu thank you for sharing your extraordinary appreciation for Way of the Gaucho. Having had the magnificent pleasure of viewing this film for the first time this past year, you beautifully articulated the mysterious magic that surrounds the movie. It’s a masterpiece that deserves much greater attention than it has received.

  • Barry Putterman

    Consumer alert! The Deep Discount web site is haveing a sale on the Fox Archive Collection, which includes these Fox films plus the MGM and UA titles. Prices vary a bit. But you are paying somewhere between 12 and 14 dollars on each title.

    They also have sales on the Warner Archive and Sony collections, as well as a Criterion Collection sale which ends at the end of the month.

    Again, prices vary a bit. The deals are good but a bit deceptive since they are usually starting from a list price well above what you pay on these company’s sites. So, when they tell you you are getting 40 or 50 per cent off, it is usually from the Deep Discount list price which, for these archive titles mostly runs to about 25 dollars.

  • David Boxwell

    The JD/noir cheapie DANGEROUS YEARS (47): the transfer is immaculate, not a scratch on it. Marilyn Monroe actually has a few lines in it as a roadhouse waitress. Now that’s it available, we can ponder the importance of Scotty Beckett as one of the prototypes of the “crazy, mixed-up” teen.

  • David Boxwell

    On order (thanks BP!) for upcoming 18 Dec release: Roy Baker’s INFERNO (53), in which Robert Ryan appears, rivetingly, alone on screen for at least half of the film. And the very last 40s Marlowe adaptations to appear: John Brahm’s THE BRASHER DOUBLOON (47), with Florence Bates’s second greatest performance (after REBECCA).

  • Stephen Bowie

    Amazon also has the MGM and Fox MODs on sale for $14 at the moment, although not Sony, it looks like.

  • Thank you, Bill, your kind words mean a lot to me. It is always a pleasure for me to be able to join in with other people’s enjoyment of a special film, and also, when other people can join in on my own enjoyment.

    It must be the Christmas spirit! A real treat is waiting for our friend Skelly under the X-mas tree. Hold on in there, buddy, try not to peek!

    ~(;^)~Hannu

  • Alex

    Aren’t Sturges’ original, non-comedy screenplays, such as those for a “The Great Moment,” “If I Were King” and “Diamond Jim,” relatively inferior Sturges creations that led to relatively inferior –even plainly mediocre– Sturges films. In this light aren’t there two Sturges, one a satirists and ironists whose satirical and ironic filters not only lighten and sharpen the work but also save the work from gushy sentiment and overt didacticism, the other an earnest, sappy Sturges? In this light, don’t invocations of Sturges’ name and self assessments in support of any particular non-comedic, original Sturges’ venture – “otigina” as opposed to often excellent adopted ones like “Invisible Man” and “Imitation of Life”– offer scant support for the effort?

  • Alex

    Ooopps!
    That “otigina” should have been “original.”

  • Alex, as I recall Sturges’ screenplays for INVISIBLE MAN and IMITATION OF LIFE were rejected. What’s on the screen isn’t his (I’m quite sure about the former. I’ve been reading thru old Varietys and they made a point of highlighting his failure back in 1931 or so, part of a continuing campaign to point up the failings of eastern imports). You have a point about the “two Sturges” as he felt his dramatic scenarios were as good as his comedies; if you read his biography he put a lot of effort into trying to get a serious play of his, “Recapture,” filmed. His “earnest, sappy” side also comes out, if you please, in the finale of SULLIV

  • jbryant

    I have no direct knowledge of how Sturges’ non-comedy screenplays made their way to the screen, but isn’t it just as likely that the studios, who often had multiple writers on a project (credited or not), excised some of his lightness and wit in favor of “prestige”?

  • patrick henry

    I thought I’d pass on this interesting bit of trivia about Sturges: When I was in college in Ohio in the summer of 1959, there was a story in the Cincinnati paper about Dody Goodman playing the lead in DULCY (a 1920s comedy by Marc Connelly and George Kaufman) in a summer tent production. Preston Sturges attended at least one performance of this production. The paper ran a photo of Sturges in their local entertainment column and quoted him as saying that he came to check out Dody Goodman, as he intended to use her in the lead in his play ZOTZ (I think that was the title). Of course he died later that summer, so this is a fascinating might-have-been.

  • Barry Putterman

    It would appear that some of us do not remember the night.

  • I just received a new batch of screeners from Fox, and I can confirm that “A Private’s Affair” is indeed letterboxed — which in itself suggests how old the transfer is — as is “From Hell to Texas” and, for the record, Gene Kelly’s not-quite-immortal “Gigot.” Among the pan and scan titles are Henry Ephron’s “Sing Boy Sing” (1958), Fred Zinnemann’s “A Hatful of Rain” (1957), Andrew Marton’s “It Happened in Athens” (1961), Bruce Humberstone’s “Madison Avenue” (1962), Michael Curtiz’s “The Best Things in Life Are Free” (1956), and James B. Clark’s “The Big Show.” James Ivory’s “The Guru” (1968) and Harry Horner’s “A Life in the Balance” (1955) seem to be full frame renditions of 1.85 films.

    On the plus side, there are a few new titles of auteur interest: John Brahm’s “The Brasher Doubloon” (1947), Roy Baker’s 1953 “Inferno” (also full frame and obviously not in 3-D — should this be 1.85?), Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s “The Late George Apley” (1947), the Ernst Lubitsch/Otto Preminger “That Lady in Ermine” (1948), Claude Binyon’s “Dreamboat” (1952, a Barry Putterman special), William A. Seiter’s “This Is My Affair” (1937), John Stahl’s “Father Was a Fullback” (1949), Robert Parrish’s “My Pal Gus” (1952), Jean Negulesco’s “Three Came Home” (1950), Henry Hathaway’s “Down to the Sea in Ships” (1949), Mitchell Leisen’s “Tonight We Sing” (1953), and three by Henry King: “Stanley and Livingstone” (1939), “Little Old New York” (1940), and “Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie” (1952).

  • Barry Putterman

    And while we’re on the subject Dave, thanks for MOTHER DIDN’T TELL ME.

    If FROM HELL TO TEXAS is indeed letterboxed, then mother ought to tell Fred about it. In a world now bereft of Hostess Twinkees, it is certainly good to have that film available in its proper ratio. And A PRIVATE’S AFFAIR too. At least all of the scenes that don’t have Gary Crosby in them.

    But who can make any real sense out of this? I saw both A HARFUL OF RAIN and MADISON AVENUE letterboxed on TV. Fox couldn’t find those prints? This is truly the original amateur hour; “The wheel of fortune spins. Round and round it goes. And where it stops, nobody knows.”

  • Blake Lucas

    Thanks for the info on those titles, Dave, especially as I had earlier despaired of ever seeing A PRIVATE’S AFFAIR in scope. Of other titles cited, I’ve already given a push to King’s WAIT TILL THE SUN SHINES, NELLIE and will add DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS is a very beautiful Hathaway and I don’t think it’s been much seen (I only caught it myself a few years ago). I believe Richard Widmark was given his first good guy role in this.

    Hannu, let me add praise for your wonderful WAY OF A GAUCHO post. Since that first viewing it has remained one of my favorite Tourneurs as well, and I much appreciated the things about it which you evoked.

  • Joe

    Dave, just to clarify, by “letterboxed” do you also mean anamorphic or non-anamorphic widescreen?

  • alex

    Gregg Rickman

    Interesting point about INVISIBLE MAN and IMITATION OF LIFE.

    Interesting one too about “earnest sappy” aspects of
    SULLIVAN — to me the least excellent entry in Sturges’ great 1941-44 run up through CONQUERING HERO.

    Not that TGMcG XMAS IN JULY H. DIDDLBOCK UNFAITHFULLY EASY LIVING and — in the sappy buy not indigestible– RTN aren’t superior comedies.

  • Stephen Bowie

    Yeah, that’s ridiculous — I have a letterboxed recording of A HATFUL OF RAIN from FMC made within the lifespan of my DVD recorder, so, since 2005-ish. I’m pretty sure that THE BIG SHOW also ran on either FMC or TCM in the correct aspect ratio, sometime earlier than that.

  • Hmm, I see I managed to post my Preston Sturges comment but left the ending chopped off. I meant to conclude, “His ‘earnest, sappy’ side also comes out, if you please, in the finale of SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS and in HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO, although that’s not what I could call his emotional sincerity.” I’d add, pace Barry, that scripts of his such as REMEMBER THE NIGHT also have that quality. Indeed, sincerity is never at issue in Sturges’ work, even his broadest.

    Gene Kelly’s GIGOT was an attempt to make a silent comedy with sound, as I recall, and I liked it more than Andrew Sarris, at least. Later Kelly, sans Donen, is all over the map directorially.

  • “Interesting point about INVISIBLE MAN and IMITATION OF LIFE.”

    Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” or H.G. Wells’ “THE Invisible Man”?

    If the former, where is this screenplay published and what were the circumstances of the presumably abandoned project? And how did Sturgis treat the race theme in “Imitation of Life”?

    Is the DVD of “The Power and the Glory” from the print restored by UCLA Film and Television Archives? I saw this several years ago followed by a q & a with Sandy Sturgis and a talk by Robert Gitt about the restoration. Up until then the standard print was in poor shape and missing some footage. I certainly had a finer appreciation of the movie after seeing the UCLA version, and I found it quite good with Howard’s direction much more than merely serviceable.

  • Stephen Bowie

    “Gene Kelly’s GIGOT” is really a vanity project for Jackie Gleason at his most narcissistic, unfortunately.

  • Robert Garrick

    Just for the record, I saw a perfect theatrical scope print of “A Hatful of Rain” in Palm Springs a few years ago. Foster Hirsch, who introduced the film, said that it had become extremely rare and hard to see, especially correctly, but the print we saw that night was flawless.

    Hirsch is a big fan of the film, and it does look great in widescreen black-and-white, with some nice noirish exteriors by Joe MacDonald. There’s also a fine score by Bernard Herrmann.

    That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s a Fred Zinnemann film about an “important” issue (in this case, heroin addiction). It’s based on a play, so it’s full of chatter and angst and pain. The addict is Don Murray, and the brother who loves him and tries to help him (Anthony Franciosa) does so by bankrupting the family to get Murray one more fix.

    There’s also a clueless and obnoxious father, played by Lloyd Nolan.

    The writers at SCTV would have known what to do with this material.

  • Barry Putterman

    Actually, you could pull together many of these observations under the general rubric that quite a number of the major comic sensibilities have their “earnest, sappy” side to them. Preston Sturges and Jackie Gleason, but also Charlie Chaplin, Jerry Lewis, etc. etc. etc. Dare I say that what our genial host sees as the phony baloney core of Billy Wilder can also be discussed in these terms. It’s one of those ying-yang kinds of things.

    But then, just like everything else, it becomes a question of “tain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.” That’s what separates what we call “sappy” from what we call “heartfelt.”

    In any event, SCTV knew that to do with all of this stuff.

  • Alex

    Gregg Rickman,

    I think you take the view that there’s a conflict between sincerity and irony, a very conventional U.S. view–especially since the 1970s. I’m more sympathetic to the view of irony as esentially a by product of the uninhibited play of intelligence over a complex world. Perhaps I just read too much Swift and Thackery, Mann and Musil, in my impressionable years.

    (Sturges is a rarity as an American ironist, though we also have Twain. In film, nice sustained irony in Bunuel especially teaditional Hispanics, with whom for him hit fine ironic notes may be hit though simple observational realism.)

    When I wrote “satirical and ironic filters not only lighten and sharpen the work but also save the work from gushy sentiment” I should have clarified that I viewed the irony as allowing for a deeper sympathy and compassion than would be possible without it.

    On CONQUERING HERO, I’d suggest that Sturges’s closing “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them ”shows him true to his ironic voice till the end, and I wouldn’t suggest that the final sentiments that break through HERO toward its end are sappy.

  • jbryant

    Alex, that Shakespeare quote closes THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK, not HERO.

    Fregonese’s THE RAID is superb. Even though I just saw it earlier this year, I can’t recall if it aired full frame or not. I think it was on Encore Westerns, and therefore probably full frame. But I didn’t notice any framing infelicities.

    I also loved APACHE DRUMS and SADDLE TRAMP (which I believe has been discussed a bit here before), and I’ve got MY SIX CONVICTS and SEVEN THUNDERS (aka THE BEASTS OF MARSEILLES) in my DVR queue. Hope I can find the new Film Comment around here somewhere so I can read Dave’s article.

  • alex

    Ooops – got my heroes mixed up!

  • X, of course it was Wells’ THE INVISIBLE MAN that Sturges was hired, in 1931, to adapt for a film. I would have loved to have seen what he would have done with Ellison’s material, though.

    Alex, Sturges’ irony is very sincere, which is my point. There’s a fundament of assumed (for want of a better word) morality underlying his work. His parables can be very astringent (THE LADY EVE, UNFAITHFULLY YOURS), or broad, or bawdy, but there are certain decencies he assumes in his dissections of human nature that have nothing to do with the demands of the Hays Code. This is hardly the case of many of today’s comedians, calling them “ironic” being too easy a compliment to their presumed comic intelligence. To take a contemporary example: a victim in FARGO, wrapped in a shower curtain, stumbles around for our amusement. Sturges would never conceive or execute such a scene. An “the uninhibited play of intelligence over a complex world” will allow that such a thing could happen, but not in Sturges’ work; Bunuel’s work by contrast could conceivably include such “simple observational realism” but the cruelties in his work (the blind yet malign beggars, et al) are generally there to make a political point in the broadest sense, not for an easy laugh at the expense of a victim.