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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Widmark’

HELL AND HIGH WATER (1954) BLU-RAY REVIEW

Saturday, June 24th, 2017

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Stars -  Richard Widmark, Cameron Mitchell, Gene Evans

* Director -  Samuel Fuller *  Released by Twilight Time

Limited edition of  3,000 Units * Available at Screenarchives.com and Twilighttimemovies.com

 

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Sam Fuller is the guy who is usually found directing films in gritty locations where everyone has dirt under their fingernails. His unlikely heroes include a bald headed hooker trying to go straight and a racist dog that attacks people of color on sight. So what is this guy doing make a colorful widescreen Cinemascope film on a damn submarine? Sam is doing his usual thing. Bucking authority and plumbing the souls of his characters to see where their real morality and sense of right and wrong lives. He seems to relish putting his characters in tough spots that show what they are really made of. Richard Widmark’s code of honor gets severely tested in this cold war nuclear thriller. Richard Widmark starred in what is arguably Fuller’s best work, Pick Up On South Street right before this picture in 1953.  Here he plays a former Navy submarine captain. The war is over but he is invited by this hidden cabal of scientists who discover that someone lit off an atomic bomb somewhere in the Artic.  He is give a large amount of cash to take one of the scientists out there to find out as much as he can.  The man brings along a very pretty assistant.  When she comes on board there is the usual wolf whistling and complaining about have a woman on board.  One guys says she is a Jonah, bad luck.   Cameron Mitchell smirks as he says, that’s no lady, that’s a scientist. No one believes this cad for a moment.

This is part of the sub genre of war films ; ok forgive the pun. But this one has more in common with later sub efforts like Ice Station Zebra and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea than it does with the old ones like Run Silent Run Deep. Fuller gets knee deep in sticky politics amidst the action. Widmark’s commander is as well known for his refusal to take orders as he is for his remarkable skills at fighting on the open seas.  Fuller stages a remarkably tense battle sequence between two subs. As they sit silently on the bottom of the ocean trying to avoid detection they go to red.  All the electricity gets turned off and the entire inside of the sub is cast in an eerie red glow. The submerged bull fight that we see is not like any other submarine battle. There are more action scenes staged in the artic. Fuller does not skimp on the pyrotechniques either. These gun fights and explosions set against the ice and artic seas look good.  Yes, there’s been some clever editing here and there.  And yes there are miniatures to be found but I am willing to suspend my disbelief and get caught up in it.

What a great rogues gallery of guys he‘s got on board.  Every shot in this cramped sub is loaded with these mugs strung out from left to right at various angles to fill up the wide screen. While this succeeds as an effective thriller much is made of the tough decisions that must be made once the nature of that atomic bomb explosion is revealed. There are conflicts between patriotism, following orders on one’s own inner code of honor.  That is Fuller’s sweet spot. The lead scientist has this weighty line that sounds like if came from a classic Dickens novel. “Each man has his own reasons for living, Mr. Jones, and his own price for dying..”  I had never seen this one and must admit I liked it a helluva lot more that I thought I would.  It can be riveting in places and  I can feel Sam blowing his beloved cigar smoke in my face as he make his points.

Video -   2.55:1

Colors and detail are very strong here.  The material used looks to be in nice shape.

Very impressive.

Audio  – DTS-HD 5.1 and  DTS-HD 2.0 with subtitles offered in English SDH

Dialogue sounds fine and is easy enough to follow.  The music swell with emotion when its called to.  The 5.1 mix makes the stereo effects a but more pronounced with dialogue jumping from the left to right speaker as characters cross the screen talking .

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated music track,  Richard Widmark: Strength of Characters, Original theatrical trailers (2)

There is a good A & E Biography on Richard Widmark included.  We find out that he went to a pre World War II Germany to see for himself what was going on.  He shot amateur footage that is included here. He’s a terrific actor. Grab a pen and write down all the great pictures he was in that you may have not seen.

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

Blu-Ray -  Excellent

Movie  -   Excellent

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