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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Fleischer’

Compulsion (1959) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, March 18th, 2017

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Stars – Dean Stockwell, Bradford Dillman, Orson Welles, Diane Varsi, E.G. Marshall
Director – Richard Fleischer

Released by Kino Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

In 1924 two university students, Leopold and Loeb kidnapped and murdered a 14 year old boy. The were both from wealthy families. They did not do this for money. They were not driven by revenge or any other passion. The reason given was that they wanted to commit the perfect crime to demonstrate their intellectual superiority. This crime of the century rocked the nation. The murder was awful. The motive shocking. In 1948 Alfred Hitchcock brought the story to the screen as Rope. Ten years later Richard Fleischer made this version which is exceedingly well done and quite chilling. The two leads are fantastic. Bradford Dillman plays Artie Strauss as a coiled bundle of energy and ego. He carries himself as being the smartest guy in any room. He is always up for kicks as long as he is the center of attention. Dean Stockwell as Judd Steiner is brilliant and deeply troubled. We can feel his torment and pain from the first moment we meet him. He is obsessed with Artie and will seemingly do anything to win his approval. Artie manipulates him without mercy. The two have a very strange relationship that the film portrays in good detail. The movie starts with the two of them driving at night in a very fancy sports car.  They barely miss hitting a drunk in the deserted street. Artie taunts Judd to go back and run him over. Artie is full of bravado, confidence and liquor. Judd is scared but more frightened of disappointing his friend.

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We do not actually see the murder of the boy. We hear about it while Martin Milner (13 Ghosts) as a young reporter classmate of theirs gets the lowdown on the cause of death from the coroner. There is a sequence in the film with Judd taking Milner’s girl friend played by Diane Varsi (Wild in the Streets) out to go bird watching. Judd is a nationally recognized ornithologist. When they are alone in the woods he steals a kiss and attacks her but he can’t go through with it. Judd’s balance is very off emotionally. It’s a difficult scene to watch. Judd is ashamed for his actions. But we can’t tell if that is because it was such a terrible thing to do or because he realizes he is not attracted to the girl. There is a very uneasy feeling whenever any hint of homosexuality comes up with Judd. Clearly he is driven by an attraction to Artie but he seems so painfully uncomfortable with it. Rather than offer any explanation or understanding for this the film lets us feel the tremendous struggle that Judd experiences. He is tortured by it.

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From the moment that Orson Welles appears in the film things change. His presence dominates every scene he is in. He has such control over his performance. His presents Clarence Darrow, called Jonathan Wilk here, as immensely charming even affable. But none of that charm belies the talent churning inside his mind as he works his way into the case. It is a grand standing move when he changes his plea for the two boys to guilty with mitigating circumstance. That tactics allows him to plead the case directly to the judge. Two things are accomplished by that. First and foremost the boys have a chance at getting a lengthy sentence as opposed to being hung which the jury would very likely have selected. Secondly we get to see the great Orson Welles deliver a lengthy almost Shakespearian monologue against capital punishment. During this discourse the film takes us away from the sordid details of this murder and becomes a philosophical discussion. This is how it played out in the real life trail too. Most courtroom dramas hinge on the revelation of details or the legal talents of the attorneys as they battle the merits of the case. But here as in Inherit the Wind much larger issues are at stake. It is significant that both films are based on real events. The actual crimes begat a consideration of moral issues that loom larger than the plight of the two students or the school teacher in the Scopes Monkey Trail.

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It’s fascinating to watch Welles work. Tim Lucas in his commentary goes into some of the stories about his antics on the set. Apparently he did not want anyone to have eye contact with him while he delivered his very lengthy monologue several times for the cameras. I am continually fascinated by the way he shapes his words. He pauses in his sentences often placing a different emphasis than you’d expect. The performances of Dillman and Stockman are excellent, too. Each one is so different than the other and yet they were really the only friends they had. Diane Varsi gives a very good performance as Ruth the girl that Judd tried to force himself on. Her character testifies about him in court and seems to genuinely like him. Compulsion remains a powerful drama filled with several strong actors. The widescreen Cinemascope image as lensed by William Mellor is outstanding. It is clever the way he positions Dillman’s character almost letting him sneak into the action as his character worms his way into helping with the investigation.  He gives us a large view of the courtroom scenes so it often feels like we are in an auditorium listening to a great orator, and we are.

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Video – 2.35:1
Nice strong detail is abundant in this new release from Kino Studio Classics. Black levels are good. Everything is nice and sharp. You can really appreciate everything that is going on with the William Mellor’s Cinemascope photography.

Audio – DTS-HD mast 2.0 with subtitles offered in English
All dialogue is easy to follow.  Music cues support the film nicely without being over played in the mix.

Extras – Commentary with by Film Historian Tim Lucas, Trailers for Compulsion and a few related other titles.

The Tim Lucas commentary covers the background of the true case the film was based on and a good deal about the actors involved. He reads some excerpts from director Fleischer’s book that concern his experiences with the making of the film. Despite all the grandstanding that has been attributed to Welles Fleischer was able to control the shoot.  Lucas has a nice relaxed delivery. He’ll take short breaks once in awhile.

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

The Vikings (1958) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, February 21st, 2016

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Stars – Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, Ernest Borgnine
Director – Richard Fleischer

Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

As the Viking ships return back to the village people run down the hills. They are excited to welcome them back. It is a wide shot and the ships look terrific sailing into shore with the sails billowing in the bright sky. A man high atop a cliff blows out a series of notes in celebration. The ships slow as the sails come down. Then the oars go out alongside the ship in a perfectly straight line above the water. Some of the Vikings leap off the ship onto the oars and run along them in celebration. This must take some made skills and not a little bit of courage. The townspeople on the shore go nuts for this. Then Kirk Douglas leaps off the side of the ship onto the oars. He is running. The camera is close enough in to see it’s really him.  He’s got a big grin on his face as he leaps and skips from one oar to the other. Then the guy does it again.  And again. He falls the third time but gets hoisted up on board by his comrades. This is the level of enthusiasm that director Richard Fleischer maintains throughout this film. The main actors also have this larger than life exuberance that leaps off the screen. There is lots of big bold action and plenty of raucous laughter. It is amazing how much of the detail in this film is accurate.  The Vikings is a big swaggering film full of adventure.

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The sides are drawn clearly right from the beginning. During a Viking raid on the English Northumbria Viking chiefton Einer (Ernest Borgnine) leaves behind an offspring who grows up years later to become the slave Tony Curtis plays. Douglas is the good looking son of Einer. Douglas always greets his father with shouts that fill the whole countryside. Early on there is a confrontation between the two sons. We know they are brothers but they do not. In a brutal encounter with Curtis’ hunting falcon Douglas looses an eye. Curtis is tied to a stake in the waters of an inlet to slowly drown as punishment. It is nighttime and the tide is coming in. His friend and a witchy woman sit by him. She summons Odin the Viking god to turn back the tidewaters and save him. It is a very spooky sequence. Curtis lives. Meanwhile Douglas sets out to kidnap the bride to be of the King of Northumbria. There is no doubt that we are on the side of the Vikings here.  Janet Leigh plays the kidnapped queen to be. She looks stunning in every shot.

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Curtis is clearly smitten with Janet Leigh, as are most people watching this film. He rescues her and sets out to return her and then to ask for her hand in marriage. We know this won’t quite work out the way he planned it. Just as he sets off for Northumbria several Viking ships try to intercept him. They are all lost in the fog. The reason the Vikings attacked Northumbria in the first place is that they could navigate to it by following the coast lines, keeping land in sight. Curtis has this medallion around his neck that is magnetic. The witchy woman uses it to guide them through the treacherous seas in the fog. She is always there when a little sorcery or science is needed to save Tony. During the scuffle Einer falls overboard and is rescued by Curtis. His intention is to offer up the leader of the Vikings figuring the king will give him Leigh’s hand in return. Once there the request to marry Leigh is denied and Curtis is given a sword and the privilege of ushering Einer into a pit of howling and starved wolves. Curtis does the right thing by giving the sword to Einer so he can die with a sword in his hand and enter Valhalla, the Viking’s paradise after death. Borgnine laughs in the face of death and leaps into the pit.  Then Curtis gets his hand chopped off for his insolence and is set out to sea.

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Now we have the two brothers united in a quest. Each one has been physically damaged, losing an eye and a hand. Each one wants  Janet Leigh for himself and they both want to smack down Northumbria with a vengeance to get her back. What follows is a rousing attack. The Viking lay siege to the English castle. They have a huge battering ram made out of a mighty tree. Arrows fill the sky. At one point Douglas and others hurl axes into the castle door that he scales up in order to open it for the Viking onslaught. The fighting is savage and full of brutality. These guys are big and they fight like hellions. People are tossed over castle walls. Sword play is decidedly fierce with none of those graceful Robin Hood or Three Musketeers moves. The ending pits brother again brother in a fight for Janet Leigh.

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From the opening narration by Orson Welles we know this is a class picture. The film looks bold and robust. It is full of breathtaking photography by Jack Cardiff. So many of the characters just exude a bravado. The scenes with Borgnine and Douglas drinking and playing in the large Viking banquet hall are full of genuine laughter. We get a real sense of the Viking village. Fleischer absolutely puts us on their side right from the beginning. This is colorful Hollywood adventure at the top of its game. Heartily and highly recommended!

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Video – 2.35:1
Colors are bold and robust. Black levels are fine. There are no instances of crush or undue distortion in any of the darker scenes. Grain is present and film like. Skin tones look as they should. There is good detail on display. Jack Cardiff’s lensing looks terrific in many of the shots with the ships on the water with the spectacular scenery behind them. This was a location shoot in Norway and he takes full advantage to show off the surroundings. Interiors always looks full of detail and colorful. This is a nicely shot film that shows off the Viking world in ways that often look like portraits. Some of the studio shots looks a little soft but that is intentional. The widescreen aspect ratio is used to great effect anytime those ships get out on the water.

Audio – DTS-HD 2.0 Mono with subtitles offered in English
All dialogue is easy to follow and understand including Tony Curtis‘ New York accent. . You can hear that booming Viking theme with clarity throughout the film.

Extras – A Tale of Norway: Featurette with director Richard Fleischer, Trailers

The half hour short that was also featured on the previous DVD edition of this film gives generous background to the production. We learn how schematics of actual Viking ships were used to build the ones seen in the film. University professors were hired to authenticate the set and costume design. They even rented smaller horses for the cast to use like the ones that the real Vikings rode. That running of the oars was an actual Viking celebration that had not been done in many long years yet there it was recreated for this film. Fleischer has a great memory for the details and has fun sharing the background on what has to have been one of his best films (20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Soylent Green,10 Rillington Place)

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Che! (1969) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

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Stars – Omar Sharif, Jack Palance, Cesare Danova, Robert Loggia, Woody
Strode, Sid Haig
Director – Richard Fleischer

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 units
Available at screen archives.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

“And if there’s any hope for America, it lies in a revolution, and if there’s any hope for a revolution in America, it lies in getting Elvis Presley to become Che Guevara. ”
- Phil Ochs.

Phil Ochs was a folk singer. He was very politically active and became a visible part of the protest movement in the late sixties. He seemed to have his finger right on the pulse of the nation. He also had a very wicked sense of humor. There were posters for sale in bookstores and head shops then based on the iconic and striking 1960 photograph of Che Guevara taken Alberto Korda. Revolution was in the air and Che had a very romantic image in America at the time. The idea of making a movie based on his life had some real electricity about it. However when it was clear that Omar Sharif would play him and that Jack Palance would take on the role of Fidel Castro there were some misgivings. It turns out that all of those misgivings were valid. Still if you are attracted to the persona of Che Guvera, it calls to you. This was made long before the excellent film adaptation of his autobiographical Motorcycle Diaries in 2013. This was 1969 and we had every reason to believe that this film would be very cool. Cool was an attitude and a style. To 20th Century Fox it must have been an irresistible marketing concept, especially in the same year that saw the runaway success of Easy Rider.

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The film begins with a viewing of the revolutionary’s dead body. We then get a series of actors portraying various experts and people who knew Che. They seemingly take a break from their day and talk directly to us. One man says Che taught him to read and now he is a school teacher. Then we join a rag tag band of soldiers slogging through the jungle. A younger Che is amongst them as a doctor. When a comrade is pinned down and out of ammo Che literally puts down his medical bag and picks up a case of ammo. Once Che starts leading the troops the overthrow of Batista is seemingly within easy reach. When Fidel Castro also makes Che a fellow Comandante it is clear that he takes all of his military strategy from him. After the revolution is won Che is off to Bolivia to start another one. There he tries to rally the people but winds up strong arming the peasants and degenerating into a cranky guy whose troops no longer love him. It is not long before most of his loyal men desert him. He gets easily overpowered and then shot.

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The real man, his beliefs, his passions and his charisma have been put through a strainer.  We never see what drove him to become who he was. It’s not like they did not have exceptional source material available. Che’s own book The Motorcycle Diaries chronicles the trip that opened his eyes and changed him. We even see a man in the film holding a battered and cherished copy of Che’s book, Guerrilla Warfare. Apparently he would not lend his copy to the screenwriters. There are smatterings and snatches of Che’s story here and there but nothing that really makes any sense. We hear convoluted bits of his poetic musings on revolution that are doled out to the troops like self help advice from a bad motivational speaker. There is nothing that tracks the changes in this man.

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What stands out most about this film is the unusual, even bizarre casting. Omar Sharif an Egyptian actor best known for his Oscar nominated work in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) was cast to play Che. Jack Palance who is from Pennsylvania and forever known as the vicious gunslinger in Shane (1952) was tapped to play Fidel Castro. In the vintage short made at the time of the film that is included with this release director Richard Fleischer tells us that he casts them both because they look so much like Che and Fidel. Well after the make up and stuff, yes they do. But really, Richard, is that why? Granted for many long years Hollywood would cast its box office draw actors in whatever role was required regardless of ethnicity. This was the late sixties and that just stood out as a dumb move. But what really tanks this project is the terrible script and convoluted story it attempts to tell. Why have these two legendary characters in a film if you don’t tell us anything meaningful about them. The only thing we learn is that they like cigars. All the revolutionaries wear a kind of dark olive green uniform. The militia they are after always wears light khaki.

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And what in the hell is Woody Strode doing there? If you were attacking Rome with Spartacus or attacking a well armed villa and needed someone to shoot arrow with sticks of dynamite tied to them in a western he’s your man. I just can’t picture Che saying before we attack Batista get me that guy from The Professionals (1966) that worked with Burt Lancaster and Lee Marvin. Richard Fleischer is not a bad director at all. He’s done at lot of good work including some tough noirs like Narrow Margin (1952) and the powerful Compulsion (1959) based on the real life Leopold-Loeb case. Back in 1969 one would have thought that someone, somebody would have pulled this plug on this one. This is the first time that Che! has surfaced in any kind of home video release. Well Omar and Jack sure do look good in the stills, don’t they?

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Video – 2.35:1
The picture is strong throughout with nice bright colors and decent definition.

Audio – 2.0 DTS -HD with subtitles offered in English SDH
All the dialogue is clear.

Extras – Twilight Time’s Signature Isolated Score Track, Vintage Featurette Why Che?, TV Spot, Trailer

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Poor

Violent Saturday (1955) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

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Stars – Victor Mature, Richard Egan, Stephen McNally, Virginia Leith, Tommy Noonan, Lee Marvin, Margaret Hayes, J. Carrol Naish, Sylvia Sidney, Ernest Borgnine
Director – Richard Fleischer.

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 units
Available at screen archives.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Film Noir has combined with other genres, most notably westerns to produce some terrific pictures. When you watch a lot of Noirs you have to be careful that you don’t unwittingly get led down a dark alley to be left with some sappy melodrama masquerading as a noir. Normally too much melodrama in the mix can be the kiss of death. The fact that this is a color movie and a tremendous looking one done in Cinemascope may be enough to put classic Noir fans off the scent. But please don’t let that dissuade you; this one gets it right.

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This film is set in a bucolic Arizona mining town that exudes the kind of Americana charm found in Normal Rockwell magazine covers. The landscaping with mountain ranges in the distance behind the stately homes is gorgeous. When we first see Victor Mature (After The Fox) he looks like his tan was painted on. He wears it well and with him running a cooper mine forged of the rugged mountains it works. The colors are bright and painterly with a slightly bolder than life quality. A trio of hardened bank robbers come into town pretending to be traveling salesmen. As they case the local bank with its poorly guarded vaults and plot their heist we get a peek behind the town’s veneer.

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Victor Mature’s son gets into a fight with a school mate. He thinks his father is a coward because he did not fight in the war. No matter what dad says it doesn’t wash. The man who manages the mines is an alcoholic with a philandering wife. The bank manager delights in sending a foreclosure notice to the librarian. But not as much as he delights in following the beautiful nurse in town. He even takes his dog for late night walks so he can peep at her window as she undresses for bed. The librarian steels a pocket book at the library and pockets the cash. When she sneaks out at night to dispose of the empty pocketbook in the trash she sees the perverted manager spying on the nurse. He sees her but before he can make good on his threat of turning her in she blackmails him with exposure. During this tour of small town dirty laundry the three robbers are getting ready to make their move on a Saturday afternoon. Their plan is to come in when the vault opens for the last time before the bank, and the vault close up for the weekend.

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There are some great actors in this one. Ernest Borgnine (The Wild Bunch) sports a beard to play an Amish farmer. He is very polite and says “I thank thee” a lot. Syliva Sydney (Dead End) brings a sense of pathos to her role as the librarian driven to blackmail. Of the three robbers one stands out. He is mostly quiet pacing around and fiddling with his Benzedrine inhaler until his first revealing scene on a sunny street. Lee Marvin drops his nose inhaler and when this kid who looks like Opie from The Andy Griffith Show bends down to pick it up for him, Marvin pins the kid’s hand to the pavement with his shoe. He lets go after a moment, wipes the inhaler off with his handkerchief and then takes a quick snort. Later he worries that one of the other guys in the crew is mean. Marvin could play impending doom so well. He’s often referred to as a force of nature and that description fits well here.

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Is this a tough crime film supported by a very tawdry look at the people in the town that will be robbed? Or is this a melodrama centered around neurotic people whose lives get thrown from the frying pan into the fire by the brazen act of robbery on that one day There is a moment when the Film Noir elements run head on into the melodrama and it smacks like a fist. The librarian is at the bank teller’s window to deposit the money she stole. This is right when the bank robbery starts. Lee Marvin goes to grab it and she resists. She is indignant. She clamps her hand tight around the dollar bills. Her whole face screams, this is my money! Not only did she steal it but she had to blackmail the snide little bank manager that caught her ditching the pocketbook. This sordid tale of events put that cold hard cash in her hand and she is not letting go. Marvin slams her hard and grabs the money. He doesn’t give a rat’s ass about her troubles. He is working and that is his. Done. The professional crook meets the sneaky librarian pocketbook thief and the librarian is down for the count.

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The film starts with Victor Mature as the dad looking too small in his son‘s eyes and then finishes with him earning his respect by becoming the hero, although a reluctant one. One of the most iconic images from the film is of the non violent Amish farmer Borgnine rising to action with a pitchfork his hand. Director Richard Fleisher had done many different kinds of films from Noirs like Armored Car Robbery (1950) and Narrow Margin (1952) to the Disney adventure 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) when he came to this one. He handles the hybrid mix very well giving each genre its due. The last half hour when the robbery gets going is full of solid action and thrills. When I first saw this picture as a kid I had to wade through the melodrama to get to the action, now years later I can fully appreciate how well the combination of the two works. Plus the rich colorful Cinemascope landscape looks tremendous.

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Video – 2.55:1
This is the first double dip for Twilight Time. One of their first releases was a DVD of this title made from materials that were lacking. Many were not pleased with the non-anamorphic formatting. At the time a statement was issued saying that was better than not releasing it at all. Now it gets the full-on Blu-Ray treatment delivered in the original 2.55:1 and it looks fabulous. The colors have that stand out quality that is at once impressive and later feels more like a painter’s work than any kind of realistic photography. This redresses that initial release and goes more than the extra mile in terms of presentation. The Cinemascope compositions and color palate are gorgeous here. If there are any moments that get a bit too bogged down with the townspeople you can just enjoy the photography till Lee Marvin comes back.

Audio – 5.1 DTS HD
The 5.1 sound has some unexpected stereo imaging. There is a scene with Lee Marvin paces back and forth from left to right during a hotel room conversation. The sound follows him from stage left to stage right. The music and dialogue all sound fine here.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated music track, Commentary with Film Historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, Trailer, Liner notes by Julie Kirgo

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent