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Posts Tagged ‘Henry Hathaway’

Kiss Of Death (1947) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

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Stars – Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, Karl Malden, Richard Widmark, Coleen Gray
Director – Henry Hathaway

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com and Twilighttimemovies.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Kiss of Death is a good Film Noir that gets catapulted into greatness by way of Richard Widmark’s stand out performance as sadistic hit man Tommy Udo. The nature of the lead character played by Victor Mature also represents a departure for the kind of heroes that would be acceptable. The film starts off with the robbery of a jewelry store. Mature is one of the guys knocking the place over. One of the robbers kills someone. So he is a crook, right? No doubt about it. Now he did not kill the guy but he was part of the crew that did. Later on when he is forced to choose between being sent off on a lengthy prison term or become a snitch and rat out his friends he sings like a canary. There are extenuating circumstances. His wife became involved in a tawdry affair while he was away. Things got so tough for her that she stuck her head in an over and committed suicide. Mature’s little boy is left all alone. However the kid’s old babysitter has eyes for his dad. Forget that he is too old for her, and that he is in jail. So this is the hero of the picture. This is the guy we are rooting for. When he has to testify in court against one of his old crew word gets around and Tommy Udo is called in to take care of him. Now Mature is still definitely a bad guy but when you compare him to Udo, maybe he’s not so bad.

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That kind of character is one of the things that is so compelling about a good Noir. People can have shades to them. The gray scale of human morality gets as much attention as the fascinating photography by Nobert Brodine. Brodine shot over 100 films starting in the silent era. In this one we frequently see a reflection of Mature in a nearby window or on a highly polished piece of furniture or door. That gleam in the reflections is so strong that you suspect they had a guy in the crew whose sole job was to take a shammy cloth to any shiny surface the camera pointed at. But it works. There are two sides to this guy and maybe he’s leaning more toward the good side of life now. Meanwhile Richard Widmark makes a film debut that just rocks the house. He has a maniacal high pitched laugh. You can trace that laugh from the Batman comics by way of Widmark being a fan to Frank Gorshin’s laugh as The Riddler in the Batman TV show. Widmark also sports a world class smirk throughout most of the picture. His dialogue is full of these hipster put downs. He calls squealers and people not up to his liking, squirts. He says it like squints at times, too. He oozes evil and looks ready to pop at any moment. The costumer did a great job with his look. He dresses like a stylish gangster with just a touch of a comic book villain.

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The intense scene that starts with Udo asking an old lady in a wheelchair where her son is has become legendary. Everything about it just builds beautifully. The old lady lies about her son not being there. Udo sees an open window that the squirt had make his escape through. Who would tie an elderly mother into her wheelchair with an electric cord he just rips off of a lamp. Udo takes her out on the landing and heaves her down the stairway. His laughter over the scene seals the deal. You could line up the people offended by that scene several times around the city of Philadelphia. After seeing this guy at work rooting for Mature’s bad guy who now may be more of a good guy just got a whole lot easier.

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Coleen Gray, the baby sitter who marries Victor Mature has a voice over that opens and closes the picture. With so many hardnosed guys doing voice overs in Noirs this has a very different and gentle quality to it. Much of the film was shot on the streets of the city which lends it an air of toughness . There is a bordello hidden in a town house in a nice neighborhood that Udo takes Mature to. The incongruity of the house of ill repute carrying on in such a nice part of town fits with Mature’s duality nicely. Kiss of Death has some melodrama to it that gets balanced well with the brutality of Widmark‘s role of Tommy Udo. The darkness of the location shoot also levels the scales. The shots inside the Chrysler building are terrific. Kiss Of Death is a stand out Film Noir that gets a great looking treatment here.

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Video – 1.33:1
This is a very satisfying presentation. Black levels are strong. There is no distortion at all. There is plenty of detail to be found in clothing, faces and backgrounds. The gleam in the frequent reflections is easily seen.

Audio – DTS HD MA 2.0 and 1.0 in English with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is easily understandable. Music and effects fit well in the track.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Commentary by film historians  Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, Commentary with film historians James Ursini and Alain Silver, Original theatrical trailer, Essay by Julie Kirgo

Ursini and Silver are well know for their books on Film Noir. They bring in a great deal of information in their commentary. The other new commentary is more fun and gives another take on the film.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Garden Of Evil (1954) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

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Stars – Gary Cooper, Richard Widmark, Susan Hayward, Cameron Mitchell, Hugh Marlowe
Director – Henry Hathaway

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com and Twilighttimemovies.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

In order to compete with the growing threat to the box office from Television Twentieth Century Fox put a lot into the development of the new Cinemascope process. Bausch & Lomb even won a special award at the Oscars in 1954 for their work with the process.  While Garden of Evil was not the first one out of the gate it was one of the early ones. Big stars like Gary Cooper, Susan Hayward and Richard Widmark saddled up for the major ride. The whole thing was also shot in the popular colorful Technicolor. Alfred Hitchcock favorite Barnard Herrmann did the score. The whole production led by Henry Hathaway went off to shoot on location in exotic locales in Mexico. From the opening shots to the end the film looks like a million bucks. We gets vistas and landscapes that stretch from one side of the screen to the other. And in movie theaters the new Cinemascope look gave audiences a real wide screen. Wide enough that you could actually turn your head from side to side to enjoy the view. Back in the day theaters would make a big deal out of pulling back the curtains on the left and right of the screen after the trailers. It was indeed very special.

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The story that drives Garden of Evil and the principal actors out to a desolate gold mine though is not that big a deal. Three tough guys are relaxing at a canteena. They are enjoying Rita Moreno’s flirtatious singing and dancing. Susan Hayward comes in and offers a large sum of money to any man that will come out to the mines and help save her husband who has been trapped during a mine shaft collapse. Four men make the ride with her. As life insurance on the treacherous ride out she keeps a map hidden knowing the men will need her to guide them back. She is also careful to disturb the trail markings one of them tries to leave. Along the way Cameron Mitchell makes several clumsy plays for Susan Hayward. Gary Cooper knocks him into the campfire for his behavior.

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Director Hathaway makes the most out of the location shooting. The backgrounds look spectacular. However there is still some obvious matte work done to add in a few more treacherous looking cliffs to our heroes’ journey. There is a jump they have to make with their horses along a narrow trail right that looks much better with the threat of a dangerous fall lurking at any moment. Just to make sure we get it someone drops a cooking pot which clangs and bangs all the way down. The film basically boils this group along the way with very little action. The Indian attack at the end is kind of a let down. The warriors are kept way in the distance. Though we are told they are Apache they sport Mohawk haircuts with a lone feather standing up straight. There is some good macho posturing between Cooper and Wdimark and a bit of that old tough guy camaraderie at the end. Cooper is dependable, stoic and righteous. Widmark is saddled with some of the most ridiculous dialogue he’s ever had. He spouts a constant stream of psycho babble philosophy before the term was even coined. Susan Hayward catches the eye of every guy in the party as intended but gets a chance to show her tough side, too. Science fiction film fans may not be able to tell from the sight of Hayward’s scruffy looking husband but as soon as he speaks you‘ll recognize the voice of Hugh Marlowe (The Day The Earth Stood Still, World Without End, Earth vs. The Flying Saucers).

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The story is pretty tame and predictable without a lot of action or good strong character interplay. The true stars of the film are the location and Bernard Herrmann’s score. He’s got such a recognizable style. You can hear elements of North By Northwest or even stretches that have the excitement of some of the Sinbad or Jason and the Argonauts movies. Whenever the crew needs to ride out somewhere Herrmann gives them the accompanying rousing score to battle beasts and tear down mountains. They never do but the music makes us yearn for it. It’s a wonderful soundtrack that serves to elevate the story at every possible turn.

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The fifties marked a new beginning for the western. Film Noir had an influence. Gone were the white and black hats of the good and bad guys.. Characters now could be shades of both or going from one to the other. There was also a brutality and realism present. Costumes went from that rodeo show fringe to a more dusty worn in look. The shoot outs and brawls had a new visceral impact. Instead of acting in front of a screen projecting a background more and more films were going out on location thanks to the newer more lightweight cameras. Directors like Budd Boetticher and Anthony Mann ushered in a more adult kind of storytelling. These changes did not happen over night but over the decade. Garden of Evil brings a lot of old school Hollywood filmmaking style out on location. The characters and story feel, at least to me a bit behind the times. The film has a lot going for it but no matter how well it looks or how good the music is supporting it the basic script and characters are decidedly old hat.

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Video – 2.55:1
The Cinemascope wide screen images are stellar throughout. The Technicolor skin tones are a bit boosted giving everyone a nice tan but the slightly accentuated coloring is normal . While the new HD transfer makes it a bit easier to spot some of the process shots (added in mattes) there are many compositions filled with breathtaking scenery.

Audio – 5.1 DTS HD, 4.0 DTS HD, 2.0 DTS-HD with subtitles offered in English SDH
The 5.1 DTS mix does justice to Bernard Herrmann’s wonderful score. We can appreciate how he matches up the different instruments to achieve a specific blend of music. He has some great rousing themes as well as some trademark bass sounds to embellish the images with. He’s a master at this. Are some of the orchestrations a bit loud? Yes and that’s great.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Commentary with film and music Historians John Morgan, Nick Redman, Steven C. Smith and William T. Stromberg, Travels of a Gunslinger: The Making of Garden of Evil, Susan Hayward: Hollywood’s Straight Shooter, Henry Hathaway: When the Going Gets Tough…, TV spot, Original theatrical trailers

The commentary and fearurettes were carried over from the Fox Classics Westerns DVD set that collected Rawhide, The Gunfighter and Garden of Evil.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good