New DVDs 7-29-2008

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment keeps coming up with beautifully produced box sets drawn from their extensive library, and today’s release of “The Tyrone Power Matinee Idol Collection” is no exception. There aren’t any major discoveries among the ten (!) impeccably transferred titles, although there is a minor one: “I’ll Never Forget You,” Roy Ward Baker’s oddball, 1951 remake of “Berkeley Square” with an injection of atom age anxiety (and its long unavailable Technicolor sequences restored). Most of the set concentrates on the kind of bread-and-butter star vehicles that constituted the greater part of any studio’s production during the classical era, and it is fascinating to see the evidence for a Fox “house style” that emerges from minor efforts like Edward H. Griffith’s “Cafe Metropole” (failed Lubitsch) and Tay Garnett’s “Love Is News” (failed Hawks). But constant throughout are the huge, carefully detailed sets and the distinctively wide tonal range of the cinematography, which ranges from inky blacks (the sort carefully avoided by MGM and Paramount) to celestial whites (every time Power uncorks that smile).

320 comments to New DVDs 7-29-2008

  • dm494

    Junko, I’d assume soldiers feel exhilaration in combat. Some of them, anyway–different people will have different responses. (The author of the Vietnam memoir, THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, has written that the firefights he was in were often thrillingly beautiful–an aspect of war APOCALYPSE NOW captures pretty well, I guess.) But I don’t feel that Fuller is sincerely attempting a comment about war in THE BIG RED ONE’s madhouse sequence; he’s just indulging his penchant for outrageousness, thinking it would be great to do a scene in which a mental patient gets hold of a Tommy gun, with predictably devastating results. Maybe I’m not being fair to this film. Maybe a viewing of the longer cut would force me to revise my opinion. I don’t know. But I do know that I have problems with Fuller’s sensibility generally.

    Jonathan, I agree with Michael Dempsey’s response to Fuller’s remark. More importantly, shouldn’t Fuller have described his own film in the same terms? It seems just as liable–if not more so–to that kind of misreading as Kubrick’s.

    THE BIG RED ONE seems to belong to the same category of war movie as PLAY DIRTY. I prefer the de Toth film, even though it seems a rather smug, QED demonstration of the amorality of war, somewhat offensively rubbing our noses in “hard truths” about survival.

  • Alex Hicks

    “The Naked and the Dead” is a complex work, part social documentary (a la Dos Pasos), part political allegory (beloved early by Orwell), and dramatically sretched across complex relations among Lieut. Hearn, Gen. Cumming and Srgt. Croft and merely cumulating in the patrol to cross Mt. Ananka that Walsh films so superbly to the negect of most of the rest of the novel. Judged as a realization of the novel –which may involve both an unfair and irrelevant standard– its a failure marked by a great extended sequence and the good luok to end with this.

    If a literary comparison is to be made, I don’t see how Walsh can fare very well against Mailer unless the scales set off the greatest of Walsh fans against rather severe Mailer detractors.

    On the other hand, I can say with considerable confidence that Mailer would find any such comparison odious, love Thief of Baghdad and Strawberry Blond, as well Dead Heat, High Sierra, and regenerattion and very likely take energetic sides with Blake in this debate.

    BTW, Blake, congratulations on hit 300!

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    I wonder if it makes much sense to compare the “greatness” of two artists working in different mediums (media?) — as in the case of Mailer and Walsh, even (or particularly) if one is “adapting” the other’s work. One thinks of possible absurd questions such as: “Is Picasso greater than Proust?” “Shakespeare greater than Michelangelo” etc…

    Also, Blake, when you asked the question about Mailer — is he one of the ten or twenty top writers? — did you mean American writers or writers in general? 20th century writers only or writers of all periods? That could make quite a difference.Because if we’re talking about novelists in the history of literature, Mailer has considerably more competition than Walsh in the short history of cinema.

    I haven’t read “The Naked and the Dead,” neither have I read “The Thin Red Line” –come to think of it, I have read very few war novels (had I read more I would be able to say that “Catch-22″ is the greatest of them all.) So I can’t compare their novels with the film adaptations, even less the greatness or lack thereof of the authors. Fortunately, maybe…

    Speaking of Walsh and war films: no one has mentionned “Objective, Burma!” — one of the greatest war movies in my opinion.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    “What major talent is going to get fixated on Marilyn Monroe?” quoth Blake.

    I have been mulling this statement over and wondering whether it doesn’t deserve a whole debate. I’m not being sarcastic or ironic, I swear.

  • Alex Hicks

    No, jean-pierre, this evening you are being Solomonic.

  • For me, Monroe is one of the great actresses–and auteurs, for that matter–in cinema. Her Lorelei Lee is for me comparable only to Chaplin’s Verdoux. And, much as I love some Walsh films, if I had to choose between his filmography and hers (to risk playing apples and oranges again), for me there wouldn’t be any contest. If this is autuerist heresy, so be it.

  • P.S. Anyway, maybe it’s time to start a new thread.

  • Blake Lucas

    Jonathan, for me Monroe is not one of the greatest actesses and auteurs in cinema, nor anywhere near it. With a limited talent, she is good enough in a couple of films, mostly early ones in supporting roles (CLASH BY NIGHT, MONKEY BUSINESS, ALL ABOUT EVE, ASPHALT JUNGLE). I’m not an admirer of GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES–for me, one of Hawks’ few truly unpleasant works.

    My preference is strongly for Kim Novak, who a friend of mine insightfully (even if lightly) dubbed “the thinking man’s sex symbol.” And as a comedienne (and in fact a dramatic actress as well) I also prefer Jayne Mansfield, who was perfection in the two Tashlin movies.

    But you might find my own preferences with many actors to be heretical and I’ll acknowledge they are idiosyncratic. It’s well-known with some here that I consider Marlon Brando perhaps the worst actor in cinema.

    Jean-Pierre, I did mean one of the ten or twenty of all writers–but let’s say twentieth century writers to make it an even contest. Do you think Mailer would make it? And that’s just a question.
    I don’t think he’s negligible and certainly didn’t say that I do.

    But you make a good point about comparing artists in different mediums, even if one has “adapted” a work of the other. I’m kind of sorry I said that now, for several reasons. The provocation was Mailer’s longtime contemptuous dismissals of THE NAKED AND THE DEAD. I’ll admit that it’s not uncommon for authors of novels to feel that way about films made from their works. That doesn’t change the fact that his well-known opinion has been much taken to heart and has kept the film from being considered on its own merits, not as an adaptation but a film with its own artistic character, and so it has never gained any reputation outside of Walsh aficionados and I think it deserves it. Alex, of course you are right that Walsh and the film would lose to Mailer in a literary comparison, but it isn’t courting that comparison is it?

    I agree with Jean-Pierre that OBJECTIVE BURMA is a beautiful film. Walsh made more than his share of war films and they are mostly very good to great. In the case of OBJECTIVE BURMA (from original script) or BATTLE CRY (from a novel considered trashy in comparison to Mailer), no one is going to make an unfair comparison with the source material, so people either like these films or they don’t. But although I do, my favorite of his war films is THE NAKED AND THE DEAD.

  • Alex Hicks

    Blake, Googling indicates that Brando and Monroe got pretty friendly, suggesting that you are sociolmetrically consistent in your tastes but up against a powerful, if now strictly legendary, Brando/JFK/Arthur-Miller/Joe-DiMaggio/Mailer nexus where Monroe is concerned.

    In her memoirs Shelly Winter’s records Brando asking Mailer at a Hollywood party c. 1950 what he’s doing there and telling him he should skip town, he’s too good for the place and wasting his time there. (Back before Mailer got listed in Harold Bloom’s “The Western Canon” and “Novelists.”)

  • dm494

    Jean-Pierre, I think it makes perfect sense to compare artists working in different media. Do you think it makes no sense to compare, say, a biologist and a physicist as scientists? For what it’s worth, although Shakespeare and Michelangelo are about equal, and likewise Proust and Picasso, the answer to the questions, “Is Mailer greater than Rembrandt?” and “Is Walsh greater than Brahms?” are both definitely “No”.

    Jonathan’s right that Monroe is a great movie star and a considerable auteur. I’m not so sure she’s a greatly talented actress though, and I wish one of her admirers would go into details about what makes her acting special.

  • Alex Hicks

    I’ve no opinion on Monroe’s acting beides many impressions that she was a magical comedienne. Here are some slections from her “official” site (

    “I did “Niagara” with her. I found her marvelous to work with and terrifically ambitious to do better. And bright. She may not have had an education, but she was just naturally bright.”
    – Henry Hathaway, director of the 1952 film

    “She had a great natural dignity and was extremely intelligent. She was also exceedingly sensitive.”
    – Edith Sitwell, poet

    “I saw that what she looked like was not what she really was, and what was going on inside her was not what was going on outside, and that always means there may be something to work with. In Marilyn’s case, the reactions were phenomenal. She can call up emotionally what is required for a scene. Her range is infinite.”
    – Lee Strasberg, creator-director of the Actors Studio

    “She is a brilliant comedienne, which to me means she also is an extremely skilled actress.”
    – Sir Laurence Olivier, co-star of The Prince and the Showgirl

    “She was wonderful. We were taught never to clap at the Actors Studio-it was like we were in church-and it was the first time I’d ever heard applause there.”
    – Kim Stanley, the actress who originated Marilyn’s Bus Stop role on stage

    “Marilyn is as near a genius as any actress I ever knew. She is an artist beyond artistry. She is the most completely realized and authentic film actress since Garbo. She has that same unfathomable mysteriousness. She is pure cinema.”
    – Joshua Logan, director of Bus Stop

    “I’ve learned about living from her. I took her as a serious actress even before I met her. I think she’s an adroit comedienne, but I also think she might turn into the greatest tragic actress that can be imagined.”
    – Arthur Miller, writer and husband

    “She was an absolute genius as a comedic actress, with an extraordinary sense for comedic dialogue. It was a God-given gift. Believe me, in the last fifteen years there were ten projects that came to me, and I’d start working on them and I’d think, ‘It’s not going to work, it needs Marilyn Monroe.’ Nobody else is in that orbit; everyone else is earthbound by comparison.”
    – Billy Wilder, director of Some Like it Hot and The Seven Year Itch

    “Marilyn Monroe is the greatest farceuse in the business, a female Chaplin.”
    – Jerry Wald, producer

    “She listens, wants, cares. I catch her laughing across a room and I bust up. Every pore of that lovely translucent skin is alive, open every moment-even though this world could make her vulnerable to being hurt. I would rather work with her than any other actress. I adore her.”
    – Montgomery Clift, Marilyn’s co-star in The Misfits

    “She went right down into her own personal experience for everything, reached down and pulled something out of herself that was unique and extraordinary. She had no techniques. It was all the truth, it was only Marilyn. But it was Marilyn, plus. She found things, found things about womankind in herself.”
    – John Huston, director of The Asphalt Jungle and The Misfits

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    I am all with Blake against Jonathan Re: Monroe (and “Gentlemen prefer Blondes”) — I’d really be curious to read what Jonathan has to say to support his view of Monroe-as-auteur. It’s amazing how few good films she actually starred in –I agree that her best parts are early supporting roles. (She was very interesting in “Don’t Bother to Knock,” though….)

    I would concede that she is largely the auteur of herself, which is quite something, but not quite enough to make her an “auteur de film.”

    Blake, if Kim Novak is “the thinking man’s sex symbol,” then I must confess I’m no thinking man.

    She has a zombie-like quality that works well in movies in which she plays zombie-like characters. Is that what appeals to “thinking men”? Novak is another one who made remarkably few really good movies.

    Now give me Janet Leigh… but I’m drifting away from topic.

  • Herman Scobie

    Though I am a huge Monroe admirer, especially for NIAGARA, I join Blake in preferring Novak, and not just for VERTIGO. She displays an appealing vulnerability in several other films, especially BELL, BOOK, AND CANDLE and MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT and even portions of THE NOTORIOUS LANDLADY.

    Today is Novak day on TCM, with three of her Quine collaborations on display. Because of my fondness for DOUBLE INDEMNITY, I have a weakness for the quite similar PUSHOVER and the way it explores the good cop/bad cop, good girl/bad girl dichotomy.

    Getting back to Walsh, has anyone seen the trailer for A DISTANT TRUMPET in which the great patched one takes one for the team by trumpeting the opportunity his film gives Troy D. to show off some new talents?

  • We’re now using Marilyn Monroe as a stick to beat Raoul Walsh? It IS time for a new thread.

  • Blake Lucas

    Yeah, it’s time for a new thread, but just want to note that I saw that A DISTANT TRUMPET trailer with Walsh back when the movie came out–but that was before Walsh had come to mean something to me (not much before) and I don’t remember it well.

    If A DISTANT TRUMPET ever comes out on DVD I’m sure Dave will write about it and I hope we can have a thread about that film (Walsh’s last). It’s another movie where people said a great novel was betrayed by a film made by Walsh (which is not to say they put Paul Horgan up with Mailer but the book was well-regarded). It got me curious so finally I read it. It’s a wonderful novel, and so much of it did go by the wayside in the movie. It kind of had to–t would have taken a movie the length of Fassbinder’s BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ to really do the whole novel justice. It starts with Matthew Hazard as a boy and a meeting with Lincoln, a scene more like one out of a Ford movie, and as it goes on there are multiple subplots, with a rich gallery of supporting characters and disgressions to their back stories, all of it absorbing. The ending is moving; part of it was kept for the movie–Hazard throwing down the Medal of Honor–but what follows is different and reveals why the book actually has this very Walshian title, and I wish Walsh had kept it, integrating it with some good changes that he and John Twist did make with the two women played by Suzanne Pleshette and Diane McBain.

    But with every “literary” disadvantage against this adaptation, Walsh’s magnificent command of cinema, his magisterial exteriors that we know from his Westerns since THE BIG TRAIL, carries the day, and more than that, the journey into Mexico to meet with the Geronimo-like figure in the climax, though necessarily abbreviated from 100 pages in the novel, actually far surpasses Horgan in its feeling for the Apaches and the tragedy of their situation. Not to say Horgan is not fairly balanced in his understanding of history, but Walsh’s empathy for Indians is plainly greater (he talks about this in his autobiography, movingly so).

    At one point this thread was about which movies from great novels were also great, and enough people before me said that the movies did not have to be the same as the novels to be great–and shouldn’t be judged that way–that my suggestion that just maybe THE NAKED AND THE DEAD as a Walsh movie could stand on its own as a work of art shouldn’t have been taken as heretical.

    I really have a strong impression Walsh could appreciate a good novel and did (and in fact he wrote one himself). But a movie is different–whether THE NAKED AND THE DEAD or A DISTANT TRUMPET–and it’s right to make it you own.

    ***

    May as well chime in that like Jean-Pierre I thought DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK was pretty good, and Monroe effective in arguably her best lead (opposite Widmark no less, which didn’t hurt) under direction of Roy Ward Baker, who was also discussed here earlier. And NIAGARA is pretty good too, and Monroe well directed by Hathaway. But surely Monroe is just a given in SOME LIKE IT HOT and it’s Lemmon and Curtis who carry it, despite Wilder’s effusive praise, and Monroe’s leading performance in THE MISFITS has to be one of the most embarrassingly awful ever. All those quotes above kind of sound like a “round up the usual suspects” of Monroe mystique.

    I’d like to add that with actors or actresses I respond to, I have no interest at all in any off-screen tragedies, personal mystique, affairs, Actors Studio adventures or whatever. I’m only interested in how effective and convincing they are in their roles. I did partly mention Novak because it’s her day on TCM, and contrary to Jean-Pierre, I think the list of films there (pretty much all of her good ones as I recall) shows that her filmography is fetching, with a fair share of memorable movies. And though VERTIGO is surely the film that can’t be beat, and her contribution to it is a brilliant one, I actually might choose STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET as my favorite for Novak herself–and I know that one too has many admirers here.

  • Ronald Lewis

    Hi!
    I know this isn’t the right place to post this, but i couldn’t find any e-mail of you guys,
    so i decided to post here. I was on the internet the other day when i found a list with the
    most surprising Hitchcock appearances in his movies, and i think you guys should take a look and…i don’t know…
    maybe post it on your blog for discussion! :)
    Here’s the link: http://www.weshow.com/top10/en/movies/top-10-funniest-and-most-surprising-hitchcock-cameos-in-his-movies
    Anyway…congrats for the blog!

  • robert chatain

    Jean-Pierre: “But I’m drifting away from topic.” Tyrone Power?

  • Alex Hicks

    Blake,

    Talking about Walsh and novels, just stumbled across his filming of Eric Ambler’s “Background to Danger “yesterday afternoon on TCM and liked it a lot
    (as I do even more, bracketing away the source, his film “The Naked and the Dead”).

  • Christoph Huber

    Blake -

    actually, A Distant Trumpet is out, on a fine French DVD (by Warner), under the title La charge de la 8ème brigade. Regrettably it does not include the trailer.

    Also a belated thanks for mentioning The Long Gray Line, probably my favourite Ford, and certainly one of his most tragic films.

  • nicolas saada

    Actually, I didn’t like mailk’s THE THIN RED LINE, which makes of me a sort of black sheep amongts my fellow film admirers here and abroad. I guess one of the reasons is my absolute passion for NAKED AND THE DEAD, a film of such complexity and beauty which, strangely enough, is always subdued and understated. Reason being, I guess, Walsh straightforwardness towards the complex material, leaving much of it in the shadow. I haven’t read the book by Mailer Kent.