Universal's Barbara Stanwyck

Some big surprises in the Barbara Stanwyck box set out from Universal this week, reviewed here in the New York Times.

One of them is happy: a glistening transfer of Alfred Santell’s 1937 “Internes Can’t Take Money,” an unexpected burst of visual invention from a filmmaker whose career began in silent comedy with Lloyd Hamilton and Hal Roach.

And the other is a crusher: a very poor, full-frame version of Douglas Sirk’s 1956 masterpiece “There’s Always Tomorrow” — a gaffe all the more inexplicable because excellent, widescreen versions are available in the UK (from Masters of Cinema), France (from Carlotta) and reportedly several other markets as well.

Here’s the correctly framed version of the film’s signature shot — Rex the Walkie-Talkie Robot marching toward oblivion — as lifted from the Masters of Cinema edition:

And here’s Universal’s muddy, full-frame equivalent, with enough air in the image to pump up the Hindenburg:

Still, your $49.98 suggested retail gets you four other films, including Sirk’s excellent “All I Desire” (1953), William Wellman’s kitschy “The Great Man’s Lady” (a 1942 Western with “Citizen Kane” flashbacks), a middling screwball comedy (“The Bride Wore Boots,” 1946) from the ever-middling Irving Pichel, and Michael Gordon’s earnest melodrama of addiction, “The Lady Gambles” (1949). Not such a bad deal, but jeez — can’t Universal give its customers a little more credit?

183 comments to Universal’s Barbara Stanwyck Collection

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Barry, I think CLOUDS AHOY is a wonderful title. Not as sexy as SKIRTS AHOY but equally uplifting.

    Those clouds remind me of a great title (the French translation): Kaurismaki’s “AU LOIN S’EN VONT LES NUAGES”
    (1996: not released in the US?)

  • Johan Andreasson

    Here the craze for titles in English has gone so far that the German film ”Der Baader Meinhof komplex” was called ”The Baader Meinhof complex” when it was released in Sweden.

    I think 99 % of all Swedes would have understood the German title, and it would have been very easy to translate into Swedish if there were any doubts, but a film HAS to be called something in English when released for a general audience.

    The excellent Aki Kaurismäki film “Kauas pilvet karkaavat” (original Finnish title), very much an art house release, however got a Swedish title: “Moln på drift” (“Drifting Clouds” – which is a literal translation in the tradition of English titles for Japanese classics – hey, it almost sounds like one!)

  • As to Ozu –

    Early Spring is really “early spring” and Late Spring is really “late spring”, but Late Autumn is more like “fine autumn weather” or “a lovely fall day”. Early Summer is actually “barley harvest time” (barley being the first major grain crop of the agricultural year) and Autumn Afternoon is really “the taste of mackerel pike a/k/a pacific saury” (this is a type of fish that is much prized, but is available only briefly at the beginning of autumn).

    Equinox flower is sort of a pun — as higanbana (spider lily in English) could be broken down to “equinox flower” literally (and blooms around the fall equinox) but “higan” (in a Buddhist sense) also refers to the river that separates unenlightened life from enlightenment.

    As to Kaurismaki –

    JPC — That film is called Drifting Clouds in English (I assume it was released in the US, as we saw it screened in Boston). JA — it does indeed sound like a film by Ozu or Naruse when translated. I lalso ove AK’s other recent titles — like Lights in the Dusk and Man Without a Past.

  • pat graham

    re I LOVE MELVIN: since apparently we’ve thrown “poetry” to the wind (but whose poetry?–keats’s? ashbery’s? ogden nash’s? the sno-cone jingle lady’s?), my evocative-title vote now goes to beaudine’s BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA … but GO GO SECOND TIME VIRGINS looks pretty good too

    also a correx: referred yesterday (re joseph’s SOMEWHERE IN SONORA) to “mariposa county”; obviously i meant maricopa (which seems to me almost as bad as writing “angela winkler” for angela merkel–yep, did that once too) * don’t want my conceal ‘n’ carry pals in phoenix to think i don’t know where they live: so are you packing a rod or, y’know, jes’ packin’?

  • Nathan

    It seems weird that only one of Godard’s titles has been mentioned. Deux ou Trois Choses que je sais d’elle is great, but what about all the others!?
    I once read a Libération blurb in which Pierrot le Fou was described as (apologies to non-francophones) “L’histoire d’un petit soldat qui fait bande à part en apprenant qu’une femme est une femme pour ne pas finir à bout de souffle.”
    Or something to that effect.

  • Junko, thanks for explaining about HUMANITY…

    Johan, the Dutch film DE POOLSE BRUID was released in Sweden in the late 90s with an English title, THE POLISH BRIDE. Back then it was a freak incident, now it’s becoming more frequent I think.

    But the best translation anecdote is of course the fact that THEM! in Sweden got the title SPINDLARNA (which means The Spiders). Nowadays though it’s known under the title DE KOMMER (They’re Coming).

    What I find puzzling is when US films get a different title when released in Britain, and vice versa. The whole YOUNG AND INNOCENT/THE GIRL WAS YOUNG, SABOTAGE/A WOMAN ALONE debacle still keeps my awake at nights.

    One of my favourite Sarris’ quotes is title related. “Anyone who loves cinema must be moved by The Daughter of Dr Jekyll, a film with a scenario so atrocious that it takes forty minutes to establish that the daughter of Dr Jekyll is indeed the daughter of Dr Jekyll.”

    A really lovely title is THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER, and mentioning that will be my tribute to Alan Sillitoe who passed away last week.

  • If I was in France a few years ago, I would have been alarmed to learn that LA RUPTURE had been remade as a comedy starring Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston.

  • Joseph McBride

    Speaking of the worst titles ever, I included a list (“The Marquee de Sade: 12 Movies Hurt by Bad Titles”) in THE BOOK OF MOVIE LISTS.
    My “hands-down winner for the all-time worst movie title” is CLOSED MONDAYS. That 1974 Claymation
    short won an Oscar, but when theaters played it and put the title in advertisements and on the lower half of their
    marquees, no ticketbuyers at all showed up on Mondays. So they stopped playing,
    or at least promoting, the picture. THAT’S a bad title!

  • Barry Putterman

    Fredrik, of course that Hitchcock situation gets even more convoluted when you factor in SABOTAGE being an adaptation of Conrad’s “Secret Agent, which was a title used by Hitchcock the previous year. And then he went on to make a film called SABOTEUR over here.

    There are some logical reasons why films get title changes after crossing the Atlantic, phrases that are familiar in one culture but not the other, a film with the same or very similar title already in existence, etc. But I often get the feeling that it is just some Wile E. Coyote type in the publicity department having another brainstorm.

    I have no idea why one Chabrol film comes over here as LA FEMME INFIDELE and the next as THIS MAN MUST DIE. I’m just hoping that now that everything is multiplexes and you actually have to announce which movie you want to see before they will give you a ticket, that they don’t come up with too many which cause me embarrassment with my garbled syntax. Not that the kids behind the counter really care one way or the other. As often as not, they sell me “senior” tickets these days. And I’m still in my 50s.

  • Barry, the 30s was one big mess for Hitch, title-wise. I believe that was the one true reason why he moved to Hollywood.

  • dan

    UNFAITHFULLY YOURS, HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO.
    FIRE WALK WITH ME, LOVE STREAMS.
    TODAY, WE LIVE, YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE.
    BY THE BLUEST OF SEAS

  • My favourite film titles are all in German (my literal translations in brackets, they loose quite a bit of course):

    Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter
    (Wenders, but actually the title of Peter Handke’s book)
    [The anxiety of the goalkeeper during the penalty kick]

    Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum oder: Wie Gewalt entstehen und wohin sie führen kann
    (von Trotta/Schloendorff, but the first part from the book by Heinrich Boell)
    [The lost honour of Katharina Blum or: How violence can arise and where it can lead]

    Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (Herzog)
    [Everybody for himself and god against all]

    Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen (Herzog)
    [Even dwarfs started small]

    Die Artisten in der Zirkuskuppel: Ratlos (Kluge)
    [The artists in the circus dome: perplexed]

    Anders als die Andern (Oswald)
    [Different from the Others]

  • Oops, actually the whole second title is by Boell.

  • I thought the titles of the Believer magazine’s Karpo Godina films are pretty good, they really compliment the dry humor and the surreal nature of his work. The titles include PICNIC ON SUNDAY, THE GRATINATED BRAINS OF PUPILIJA FERKEVERK, LITANY OF HAPPY PEOPLE, ABOUT THE ART OF LOVE OR A FILM WITH 14441 FRAMES, and I MISS SONJA HENIE.

  • Joseph McBride

    The French film NIKITA was released here as LA FEMME NIKITA, and
    the distributor encouraged people to pronounce “femme” incorrectly.
    This is a not-atypical but particularly ludicrous example of using untranslated foreign (especially French)
    titles with the goal of luring snobs into arthouses. Maybe the distributor
    of LA FEMME INFIDELE thought it sounded more sexy to American
    ears than the soapy THE UNFAITHFUL WOMAN.

  • Joseph McBride

    . . . and the American distributor of NIKITA probably didn’t
    want people to think it was a Nikita Khrushchev biopic. THAT
    I’d go to see!

  • Johan Andreasson

    No lack of material for a Nikita Khrushchev biopic with a Hollywood angle. There’s more to it than the famous episode when he was denied a visit to Disneyland:
    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Nikita-in-Hollywood.html

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    How does one pronounce “femme” incorrectly? How did the distributor “encourage” people to pronounce it so? This sounds so weird!I’d love some explanation. Please everybody post your own pronunciation of that awsome word.

    I just don’t understand how a title like LA FEMME NIKITA would lure any snob (or anybody else) into a theater.

    Of course it’s meaningless in French, but I won’t get into that. I guess it’s one of those “cherchez la femme” kind of things.

  • Adam H.

    Two of my favorite titles:

    A HERO AIN’T NOTHIN’ BUT A SANDWICH (1978)

    THE RATS ARE COMING! THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE! (Andy Milligan of course, 1972)

    (I wonder, why care about rats coming when you’re already up against werewolves?!)

    And a double bill it’d be fun to see:

    THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (Billy Wilder, 1970)
    THE PRIVATE PLEASURES OF JOHN C. HOLMES (1983, John Holmes’s only gay feature)

  • Tom Brueggemann

    There is a subgroup of French films released in the US with titles in French different than the original – La Mome became Ma vie en rose; Diane Kurys’ La Baule les pins became C’est la vie; Yves Robert’s Un elephant ca trompe enornement changed to Pardon Mon Affaire, to cite three more.

  • david hare

    J-P will “Fumm” do? Last time we were in Paris we had dinner with friends at a little place by the Cirque d’Hiver, which I mispronounced as Hee-Vay” . Then I completed my humiliation by saying to the waiter “j’ai femme” (Meaning “faim”.)

    As one grows older one becomes a source of complete mirth.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    David, maybe the waiter thought you were hungry for a woman. Just imagine!

    Tom, I remember participating in a discussion at the French Film Office in New York where the distributor of “La Baule les pins” tried to come up with an English title. I can’t remember what I suggested but it wasn’t the rather bland “C’est la vie.”

    La Baule les pins is a popular summer beach resort: to a French person the title already says a lot about what kind of film it’s going to be about, while to most foreigners it means nothing. In 1983 another Kurys film, “Coup de foudre” was retitled “Entre Nous” for USA release, although the obvious translation would have been “Love at First Sight” — a title which, strangely enough, doesn’t seem to have been used at all (I can only find an obscure 1929 movie by that name).

    The title of Yves Robert’s film quotes a children song and involves an untranslatable pun on “trompe” which both means “trump” and the verb “tromper”: to deceive. “An elephant is enormously deceitful” does lose in translation!

    By the way children songs often crop up as titles for French movies, e.g.: “La Meilleure facon de marcher,” “Le petit prince a dit” (can’t remember the US title of that one).

  • Griff

    Joseph, Allied Artists did also distribute a dubbed version of Chabrol’s LA FEMME INFIDELE under the title UNFAITHFUL WIFE. Not the same tone at all, I’d say. Similarly, Cinerama Releasing later distributed its subtitled version of Chabrol’s LE BOUCHER under the French title, and also released a dubbed version as… THE BUTCHER.

  • Alex Hicks

    The titles of some of the best films noirs have the virtue telegraphing some essentials about basic plot and/or thematic aspects of the films they name: Double Indemnity, The Lady from Shanghai, Criss-Cross, Detour, Out of the the Past, A Touch of Evil, Chinatown.

  • thank you for the glowing review of my father’s (Alfred Santell) movie which I have never seen and now will be able to!….I am not sure what notice he received at the time tho he was a very fine film maker and in at the onset of moviemaking in hollywood. He directed many of the actors who went on to be big stars. We (the family) are sending memorabilia to Howard Prouty at AFI and still have some interesting photos, etc.

    thanks again

    Barbara

  • Barry Putterman

    Barbara, I believe that I’m speaking for everybody who contributes here in saying that we are delighted to hear from you on this site. It may be of interest to you that another one of your father’s films, SOB SISTER, will be showing at Film Forum today as part of their Newspaper Films series. I’m off to see it in a few hours.

  • Barbara – I haven’t yet contributed to this particular thread but Barry can certainly speak for me as well – I watched INTERNES CAN’T TAKE MONEY just the other night and it’s just great!

    Barry – do report back on SOB SISTER.

  • Barry Putterman

    Skelly, we haven’t heard much from you on this site for quite a while, and I for one have missed you.

    SOB SISTER turned out to be quite nice. Like many post “Front Page” films (FIVE STAR FINAL, THE FAMOUS FERGUSON CASE etc.) it is concerned with journalistic sensationalism vs. privacy rights but does so with characters who are torn between their own moral ambivalence and the need to hang onto their jobs. The film is a bit stiff (forgivable for 1931), but Santell handles the atmospherics both in the news reporters hangouts and the apartment building where the protagonists live quite well. And the film is surprisingly slanted towards the title character, no doubt an attitude retained from the source novel by one Mildred Gilman.

    The film suffered a bit in comparison by being on the same bill with a genuinely major work, Tay Garnett’s OKAY AMERICA. However, seeing the two films together works as a reminder of just how much the Lindbergh baby kidnapping affected American films of those years.

    By the way, our esteemed host Mr. Kehr was at the same screening and might want to weigh in with his thoughts as well.

  • Barry, I actually found the Santell film more impressive than the Garnett, which may have something to do with expectations: With “Okay, America,” I was hoping to discover another of Garnett’s sustained, astonishing experiments in long takes and elaborate camera movement, on the order of “Prestige” (the film he made right before “Okay”) or “One-Way Passage” (the film he made right after). Stylistically, it’s much more conventional, but it’s a thematically interesting film, treating the Winchell character with far more respect than similar figures were accorded in films like “Blessed Event” or “Broadway through a Keyhole,” and building to a curious, quasi-religious evocation of Herbert Hoover (!) that suggested early 30s oddities like “Gabriel over the White House” or “The Phantom President” more than your typical newspaper picture. Barry, if you have a minute, I would love to hear your further thoughts.

    “Sob Sister,” on other hand, seemed stylistically very rich, full of the bold, fluid camera movements that characterize “Internes Can’t Take Money,” along with an usually complex investigation of the work/love relationship between the tabloid reporter played by Linda Watkins (a sultry/chilly blonde in the Madeleine Carroll tradition) and the broadsheet reporter played by James Dunn (coming off Borzage’s “Bad Girl,” in a similar relaxed, wisecracking performance). Interestingly, Watkins is a reporter for “The News” and Dunn for “The Times” – a rare case of a film using the names of real newspapers, or almost. Santell gets a nice internal contradiction going between Watkins’s “feminine” yearning for domesticity (she cooks breakfast for Dunn every morning, wearing a little wifely apron) and her “masculine” professional competitiveness (she has no hesitation lying to him and running out to cover a hot story, on the day she expects him to propose to her), which he wisely never tries to explain or rectify. As in “Internes,” there’s a fine, “robust” feeling to the sets, which include an apartment courtyard with four dramatically active rear windows, and a Long Island speakeasy designed in the stylized, Germanic manner much in vogue at Fox at the period (not to mention a last reel chase through a dark forest with distinct Murnau overtones). Santell thinks like a true filmmaker throughout, using, for example, tiny shifts in camera placement to suggest the characters’ changing sense of their surroundings (the camera shifts up just a little to look down at Watkins when she realizes she’s in danger). The print, a new 35-millimeter from the Fox archives, was gorgeous, with a full rendering of the distinctive, deep blacks and crisp shadows that were a product of Fox’s attachment to carbon-arc lighting in the early 30s. A real treat – so thanks to Bruce Goldstein (Film Forum) and Schawn Belston and Caitlin Robertson (Fox) for making this one available.

  • Barry Putterman

    Dave, I know the “expectations” disappointment all too well. My guess (hope?) is that you will see more in OKAY AMERICA on the second go-round when you know that it actually ISN’T going to be bravura tour de force of camera movements and it actually IS going to be Lew Ayres in the Winchell role.

    I am most impressed in the way that the film plays off Winchell’s well known factual role as intermediary between the police and the underworld and unexpectedly allows his ego to lead him deeper and deeper into a noir hero trap that leaves him no escape. I very much like that, given Ayres as the lead, they set up Maureen O’Sullivan as his romantically longing girl Friday and leave her hanging frustratingly unfulfilled. And, although I agree that the shadow presence of The President is most bizarre, his ultimate role in the film is to emphasize the nation’s helplessness in defending itself against the forces of evil at this moment in history. Unlike AFRAID TO TALK, it does see a way to prevent being engulfed and devoured. However, like BEAST OF THE CITY, WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND and possibly others, it is only through vigilantism, most often, as in this case, suicidal.

    I really don’t disagree with anything you say about SOB SISTER, and if I feel that the climax reminded me more of leftovers from BORN RECKLESS than Murnau, I don’t mean that as a pejorative. It was all quite good. I also like the placing of Linda Watkins’ romantic yearnings between the rock of Dunn’s cynicism and the hard place of her girlfriend Minna Gombell’s much married amoralism. It just seemed a bit lacking in narrative drive for me. But that’s the kind of a hairpin I am.

  • Thanks for the report Dave and Barry.

    An early heads up – Santell’s POLLY OF THE CIRCUS is scheduled on TCM for July 21.

  • Barry Putterman

    Maybe we should wait for a column by Dave Barry before closing the book on this.

    Would that TCM could program the full parlay of Santell in 1932; POLLY OF THE CIRCUS, REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM and TESS OF THE STORM COUNTRY. Really. You could look it up.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Rebecca and Tess were Fox films, so not in TCM’s catalogue unless they make a special purchase.

    According to the AFI catalogue, they screened Tess but not Rebecca, so at least one seems to exist, although most likely only at UCLA which houses the Fox archives.