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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Widmark’

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

Yellow Sky (1948) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, July 9th, 2016

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Actors – Gregory Peck, Richard Widmark, Anne Baxter, Harry Morgan
Director – William Wellman

Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

As the credits roll we see a group of men ride by single file on horseback. The look tall in the saddle and maybe like they are trouble. After the credits they stroll easily into a western bar. They’ve each got a lot of swagger. Now these guys look dangerous. A very short while later after a few of them have robbed a bank and they ride out of town. A large posse of soldiers rides after them. Dust gets kicked up and fills the screen as they ride hard. One of them gets shot and falls from his horse. The leader, Gregory Peck says they will ride across the salt flats. He believes that no one will follow them there. No one does.

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The images are reduced to a series of high contrast gray cowboys pictured against a white desert. Soon enough the men have to get off their horses. Walking in the sand is too much for them. One horse doesn’t make it. The men are almost done for. At that point director William Wellman parades these guys across the screen again. Only this time they are not the high riding desperadoes full of themselves. They straggle from one side of the screen to the other. They can hardly lift their feet from the sand. They pull their tired horses after them. Three trips and what a tremendous change has taken place in these men. With barely a word spoken that is one helluva start to a picture.

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Now this is not quite the fifties when the strains of Film Noir would alter the face of the western but change is in the air. Yellow Sky is about the bad guys, outlaws. W. R. Burnett who wrote Little Caesar (1930) and The Asphalt Jungle (1953) gives us a tale of men driven crazy by a lust for gold and the swiveling hips of a temping women who seems to appear at the end of their desert trek like an apparition. Anne Baxter who’d go on to win an Oscar for her role in All About Eve a few years after this one does indeed materialize out of nowhere. She hovers over them with a gun as they lie collapsed on the ground. Her name is Mike. She is something of a tomboy dressed in tight jeans and a shirt. She lives way out in the middle of nowhere with her grandpa. Mike reluctantly agrees to get the boys some food on water and let them rest up there till they leave. Richard Widmark and a few others suspect the old guy is a prospector and that he and his granddaughter have quite a bit of gold to be found.

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Peck searches for love with Mike but he doesn’t realize it. He even makes a move on her that borders on attempted rape but turns into a tussle in the dirt and locked eyes. The gang’s allegiance to Peck is tested when they want to take all the gold and run but Peck wants to do a split with the old guy. Then there is the menace of a tribe on Indians who seem to be friends with Grandpa. Throughout the film we are treated to some artful compositions. Many of them stand out from the screen as if they are waiting to be framed. Wellman uses his supporting cast to veer the attitude of the film from a stark sense of desperation to one that lets just a little playfulness in. He uses a few of the guys especially Walrus (Charles Kemper) and Half Pint (Harry Morgan) to knock the tension down a few notches. Even though the film starts out very tough the ending still has that neat and tidy resolution that audiences had come to expect. Had this film been made later in the fifties that may have been different. As it stands Yellow Sky is a powerful and taught film. It looks spectacular with Wellman making the most out of the locations and created sets. Peck had the kind of acting style that served him well in this and two other westerns that stretched that genre: The Gunfighter (1950) and The Stalking Moon (1967). He was believable, stoic and able to convey a lot going on under that cowboy hat.

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Video – 1.33:1
Yellow Sky is full of carefully composed compositions. Whether we are seeing the men lusting after Anne Baxter or her standing tall on a crest of rocks the shots are framed beautifully. There is also a great deal of high contrast between the black and white scale on display during the trek across the desert in the beginning of the film. This transfer looks quite good though there are a few instances when detail is lost in the extremes of those high contrast sequences. Joe MacDonald’s work here is outstanding. He’s the man who was behind the lens on Pickup on South Street (1953), House of Bamboo (1955), The Sand Pebbles (1966), McKenna’s Gold (1969) and others. His work here really elevates the entire look and feel of the film.

Audio – Mono Track in DTS
All dialogue is easily understandable. Music and effects sit well in the mix.

Extras – Commentary by William Wellman, Jr. , Trailer Gallery

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

Two Rode Together (1961) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, May 17th, 2014

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Stars: James Stewart, Richard Widmark, Shirely Jones, Linda Crystal, Andy Devine, John McIntire
Director: John Ford

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

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

John Ford directs this film like a man trying to ride a horse with two sets of reins. On the one hand he wants to steer us into a dramatic tale of the plight of the American Indian filled with hard bitten characters who value material things more than human life. And yet that horse just keeps drifting back to a feel good story of two old friends who stand by each other amidst fun fights and sight gags.

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Stewart had come off of a series of incredibly well made westerns with Anthony Mann at the helm. Something happened to the western in the fifties, not all of them but quite a few. There was a new psychological influence on the characters. It was no longer a simple tale of men with white hats and black hats. The effects of Film Noir permeated the look and feel of them too. You can almost follow the steps of director Anthony Mann as he traded a snob-nosed gat for a Winchester rifle yet still held his character’s hand to the fire demanding a more realistic portrayal of the emotions that drove them. Stewart also worked with Hitchcock in the fifties. He’d gone far beyond that aw shucks persona that worked so well for him with Frank Capra. When we first see him in Two Rode Together he is leaning back in his chair, feet propped up on the hitching post and hat pulled down over his eyes just like Henry Fonda in My Darling Clementine. He trades jovial barbs with Richard Widmark almost making us feel like we are in for a fun buddy western with the two heroes joshing each other throughout the picture.

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James Stewart is the relaxed and easy going sheriff McCabe. Richard Widmark is his long time friend Jim who happens to be a Lieutenant in the army. He’s sent into town to get McCabe to go into the dangerous Comanche Indian territory to arrange a trade for some kidnapped relatives of some vocal settlers. McCabe has bartered with them before. McCabe is a nice guy. He buys beers for the cavalry soldiers. He even treats the fellows who have just been released from his jail to a friendly round at the local tavern. Once on their way to meet with the army general McCabe and Jim sit down at the edge of the river for a long talk about women and life. They light up cigars and commence to talking. Ford holds on a two shot for a good length of time as they banter back and forth. But as soon as McCabe hears he is only being offered army pay for the job he makes a sudden turn. He shakes down the settlers for every dollar they have to bring back their loved ones. He extracts two hundred dollars from a Swedish man to look for his daughter. He takes a thousand dollars and a keg of whiskey from a man to bring back any woman around eighteen just to shut the man’s wife up. All of a sudden this character’s behavior is morally bankrupt. He drinks heavily and verbally accosts people left and right. He even pulls a pistol on his good friend, Jim. The script is never quite clear which way it wants to play McCabe.

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When Richard Widmark’s Jim has real fight with two folks who just like to cause trouble Ford plays it tough. Widmark kicks and sucker punches. He gets taken to the ground and just when they are about to put the boot in he gets rescued by Andy Devine. Devine uses his considerable girth to bounce them off of his stomach into the nearby water. We had a pretty serious fight devolve into slapstick. Every time things get too dramatic we are pulled away by some bit of business. Ford never gets that aspect that drove many of the characters that Stewart played for Anthony Mann in his westerns. In several of those he was clearly a bad man who could do good things and in effect change his character. Here in Two Rode Together McCabe flip flops back and forth with no real rhyme or reason. And Widmark just goes along with it. No one takes a stand on much of anything except for McCabe at the very end. They only bring back two of the kidnapped children, a boy and a girl. Stewart likes the girl. He dresses her up real fancy and takes her to the dance at the big barn. Once there all the women gawk at her and ask her embarrassingly cruel questions.

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Stewart’s McCabe delivers a powerful speech. He condemns the racist behavior of the civilized people there. He calls them out on their treatment of this lovely woman he has just rescued. He’s going good and right before he finishes Ford cuts to Andy Devine mugging like a clown. Then after McCabe is through and visibly drained Ford cuts to Andy Devine again so we can watch him drain a bottle, toss it in the air and make a face when it shatters on the ground behind him. For every well intended character action Ford seems to call his bet back by following it with some bit of humor or nonsense

 

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Other directors made films with a more modernist outlook about Native Americans. Delmar Daves’ Broken Arrow (1950) with James Stewart portrayed the savages in a much more favorable light. Sam Fuller’s Run of the Arrow (1957) and Hondo (1953) with John Wayne offered more substantial takes and a matured storytelling. Ford stood very tall with The Searchers (1956). John Wayne’s portrayal of Ethan Edwards will grab your heart. Right after this one Ford worked with James Stewart again. This time he made one of his best films ever, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. This is not one of Ford’s best.

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Video – 1.85:1
The color and detail are fine. This is a very nicely presented transfer. The red flannel in the Indian’s costume will leap off the screen at you. However the film does not have very much of the classic Western compositions that feature so prominently in Ford’s work. There are a few shots of Stewart with some strong backgrounds but by and large even though this looks great, the camerawork is not up to par.

Audio – 1.0 DTS in English with subtitles offered in English SDH All dialogue is perfectly clear. Music and effects are all mixed in well.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature Isolated Music Track, Trailer
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic

 
Movie – Fair /Good

Blu-Ray – Excellent