Bound for Glory
Director - Hal Ashby
Cast- David Carradine, Ronny Cox
Country of Origin- U.S.
During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, Woody Guthrie (David Carradine) struggles to make ends meet as a sign painter, but his true passion lies in the folk music he loves and plays around his small Texas town. He decides to leave behind his wife Mary (Melinda Dillon) and children to hit the road in search of paying work. Woody spends time riding the rails, getting to know his fellow vagrants, and has his eyes opened at how the impoverished people of the U.S. are exploited as cheap labor by the wealthy and their hired enforcers. Anyone who speaks of standing up for workers’ rights and starting unions are accused of being Communists and physically assaulted. One of these individuals met by Woody in his travels is the popular folk musician Ozark Bule (Ronny Cox), a fervent supporter of unions who befriends Woody and gets him a well-paying job playing music on the radio in California. Woody enjoys the decent wages, which are enough for him to bring Mary out to California to live with him, but the radio station management doesn’t want him playing his proletariat folk anthems. Faced with a choice between selling out to live the good life and using his musical talents to speak out for the nation’s downtrodden, Guthrie takes the stance that will cement his legacy as a champion of the working class and a legend of American music.
The Great Depression was one of the most turbulent eras in the history of the United States; millions of people lost their jobs, homes, and savings, and were forced to live in shantytowns, stand in long lines for a bowl of soup and a chunk of bread, and in some cases, leave everything they knew behind to hopefully find prosperity somewhere else in the country. Earning enough money to barely make ends meet often came with a high moral cost. Attempts to unionize and petition for fair and equal wages and treatment for the country’s workers were met with savage violence sanctioned by an indifferent government under the guise of restoring order. Resistance was met in kind, and though Republican politicians continue to wage war against organized labor to this day at the behest of their corporate benefactors, unions will never get up the fight.
Woody Guthrie’s partly fictionalized 1943 autobiography Bound for Glory was adapted into the 1976 film of the same name by screenwriter Robert Getchell (who previously wrote Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore for Martin Scorsese) and director Hal Ashby. Never one to turn down a chance to make the well-funded status quo in the film industry perspire nervously with challenging features such as Harold & Maude and Being There, Ashby was one of the most fascinating directorial talents to emerge from the New Hollywood of the 1970’s and the ideal candidate to turn Guthrie’s amazing transition from struggling musician to folk firebrand into a cinematic treasure. Rather than attempt to bring his entire life story to the screen, Getchell and Ashby wisely decided instead to focus on those crucial years during the Depression when Guthrie realized his music could have a transformative effect on the social and political climate in the U.S. This was the era that helped to solidify his mythic stature, so naturally it seemed the best part of the Guthrie legend to transform into celluloid drama.
Ashby’s film is very naturalistic in its portrayal of Guthrie’s early days in Texas and his restless quest to find creative and spiritual satisfaction. The cinematography by the recently deceased Haskell Wexler (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) – which features the first Steadicam tracking shot in film history - captures the dirty and desolate landscapes of a Dust Bowl America in the stranglehold of devastating poverty with startling authenticity, aided by the austere production design of regular Ashby collaborator Michael Haller and William Theiss’ (Star Trek) careworn costumes. David Carradine gave what is possibly the best performance of his acting career as Guthrie, full of vigor and soul with a gaunt fa√ßade ideal to play a transient troubadour. Like co-star Ronny Cox (Deliverance), delivering a performance of fire and conviction as Guthrie’s colleague Ozark Bule (a character loosely based on Cisco Houston), Carradine made wonderful use of his own musical talent to perform Guthrie’s songs onscreen.
The supporting cast is packed with smaller winning performances from Melinda Dillon (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) as Guthrie’s supportive wife, Gail Strickland (Who’ll Stop the Rain) as a wealthy soup kitchen volunteer Guthrie initiates a romantic relationship with, and Randy Quaid (National Lampoon’s Vacation) as a friendly migrant worker who gives Guthrie a ride and a guitar. You can also spot brief appearances from Mary Kay Place (Being John Malkovich), Brion James (Blade Runner), M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple), David Clennon (The Thing), Wendy Schaal (The ‘Burbs), James Hong (Big Trouble in Little China), and Robert Ginty (The Exterminator).
Bound for Glory makes its debut on Blu-ray from Twilight Time with an AVC encoded 1080p high-definition transfer presented in the 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The transfer appears to have been culled from an older video master supplied by MGM, perhaps the same one used for the earlier DVD edition, and though it ably preserves the soft, hazy look of Wexler’s cinematography it doesn’t contain any noticeable upgrades in the overall presentation. Minor print damage is present from time to time, usually in the form of the occasional scratch or trace of dirt, but it is hardly overpowering. Standing strong on the sound end of things is a lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track that does well by the muted dialogue (which might require some manual volume adjustment) but gives the wall-to-wall folk soundtrack and Leonard Rosenman’s (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) original orchestral score a hale and hearty spotlight in the sound mix that never threatens to overwhelm everything else. English subtitles have also been provided.
Bonus features include the original theatrical trailer, a trailer for MGM’s 90th anniversary, an isolated score track, and another booklet of Julie Kirgo liner notes.
The Film: 4/5
Harlock: Space Pirate
Director - Shinji Arakami
Cast-Shun Oguri, Haruma Miura, Miyuki Sawashiro
Country of Origin- Japan
The future has arrived, and with it humanity’s capacity for exploring the universe and establishing colonies on distant planets. Then one day, about half-a-trillion people decided to return to Earth, but the planet couldn’t sustain that many wayward deadbeats. Thus the Homecoming War ensued, and when the smoke cleared, a new planetary government called the Gaia Communion had arisen to restore order by declaring Earth a protected sanctuary and outlawing all human presence on its sacred soil. The intergalactic fugitive Captain Harlock has made it his solitary mission in life to defeat the Communion and allow humanity to return to Earth where what is left of the race can live out their remaining years on their home world. The Communion dispatches Yama, the estranged younger brother of the government’s paralyzed military commander Admiral Isola, to infiltrate Harlock’s ship Arcadia as a spy and join his crew in order to help finally bring this fearless criminal, who is rumored to be an immortal, to justice. Once Yama is accepted by Harlock and his crew as one of their own, he uncovers their plan to use devices known as dimensional oscillators to remake the past so they can guarantee the people of Earth’s future. The 100th and final oscillator has to be placed on the surface of Earth for the intended effect to work, leading to a massive confrontation between the Arcadia and the combined might of the Communion and placing Yama in a position where he will have to decide if his loyalty belongs to a government supposedly devoted to the cause of peace or a band of space pirates fighting for the freedom of all.
One of the most expensive productions in the history of Japan’s famed Toei Animation, the CGI-animated galactic opera, Harlock: Space Pirate was based upon Leiji Matsumoto’s popular late 1970’s manga adventure and the animated television series it inspired. Realized through state-of-the-art computer animation, the film version uses digitally-created performers (as opposed live ones) in order to be more convincingly integrated with the visual effects, all rendered with stunning attention to the smallest detail and a wealth of imagination from the production’s devoted team of highly-skilled technicians and artists. But while Harlock is a lot of fun to watch, it’s clear by now that photorealistic animation has reached its limitations, and a little of the time and energy spent on the visuals could have been deployed in the service of creating a film memorable for reasons other than its look and action.
Harlock suffers from an absence of soul. It has some decent writing and fleshy relationships, but it lacks heart and wit. The dialogue is often bogged down with exposition, and the people speak in passionless monotones. It’s difficult for the audience to become immersed in the story and marvel at the wonders of the unknown universe the filmmakers spared no expense to bring us when the character can’t bring themselves to break from their emotional funks to have a bit of fun. By the time the film ends, you might feel like you just spent the past two hours watching someone else play the coolest video game ever designed.
At least we’re entertained, but there’s so much attention paid to the story – which takes an interesting left turn midway through – and world-building that we never become fully acquainted with the majority of Harlock’s team. The best parts of the narrative are relegated to the title character’s backstory and the unquestionably mystical nature of the “dark matter” engine that allows the Arcadia to sustain heavy damage in battle and repair itself in little time and never have to worry about being refueled. The design work here is outstanding; Harlock himself is worthy of icon stature in his black leather jumpsuit and flowing cape as he hurtles forth into battle with his trusty sword by his side. The complications in the relationship between Yuma and his brother Isola is given room to develop throughout the story, but it carries little emotional weight. What we’re left with is an entertaining animated feature with the swagger and scope of the biggest summer blockbusters, with the high-dollar visual effects to match, but one that is also just as forgettable as those big ticket Hollywood thrill rides. It could have been a triumph of cinema, rather than a handsome and moderately compelling mediocrity.
Harlock: Space Pirate makes its U.S. home video debut courtesy of Twilight Time in a rare two-disc Blu-ray set for the company that features the 115-minute Japanese cut on the first disc and the 111-minute international cut on the second. Both versions are presented in 2D and 3D (but you will need a 3D-capable television to view the film that way) and in their original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio and the 1080p high-definition transfers are absolute stunners, boasting tremendous clarity and a staggering level of detail. Colors are warm and vibrant, with black levels looking impressive for the most part. The first disc contains a Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that will rock your home theater with a wide array of sonic assaults and clear dialogue, but you can also find an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track for the shortened international cut that features the same virtues as the Japanese language mix. English subtitles are available for the Japanese cut.
Extra features are mostly superfluous and include the documentary “The Making of Harlock: Space Pirate” (26 minutes), interviews with the director and screenwriter (6 minutes), Harlock creator Matsumoto (14 minutes), the director flying solo (4 minutes), and then the writer solo (4 minutes), highlights from the Venice Film Festival world premiere (13 minutes), six television spots, four theatrical trailers, and an isolated score track presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 sound. You can find the same selection of supplements on both discs. Twilight Time’s usual booklet of liner notes written by Julie Kirgo is illustrated with some eye-popping still photos from the film.
The Film: 3/5
The Last Detail
Director - Hal Ashby
Cast- Jack Nicholson, Otis Young
Country of Origin- U.S.
Two U.S. Navy petty officers – anti-authoritarian hellraiser “Bad Ass” Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and cranky lifer “Mule” Mulhall (Otis Young) – stationed in Norfolk, VA are assigned by their master-at-arms (Clifton James) to escort Seaman Meadows (Randy Quaid) to the naval prison in Maine where he will serve an eight-year sentence for attempting to steal $40 from a charity’s collection box, a sentence that might not have been so severe had that not been the favorite charity of his commanding officer’s wife. A shy but well-meaning kid barely out of high school and regretful for his crime, Meadows bonds with the two officers during the early leg of their journey. Buddusky is prompted to use the five days Mulhall and him have to get the kid to the prison to show Meadows the time of his life before he has to kiss the first years of his adulthood goodbye. Mulhall is understandably reluctant to do anything that might jeopardize his career in the Navy, but the begrudging respect he has developed for Meadows compels him to go along with Buddusky’s scheme. The trio’s episodic escapades take them to a brothel, a meeting of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhists, and a public restroom where they get into a fistfight with some angry Marines. Many beers are consumed, much sex is had, and the experience leaves young Meadows questioning whether or not he can handle a life in prison now that he has truly tasted the freedom of being an adult.
Beer, brawls, and booty – the U.S. military might not have considered it their idea of a full-motion recruitment ad, but Columbia Pictures had to be pleased with the tidy little profit and awards attention The Last Detail brought them in late 1973/early 1974. An adaptation of Darryl Ponsican’s 1970 novel of the same name had been in the works at the studio almost since it was published, but it wasn’t until Hal Ashby, the innovative film editor (In the Heat of the Night) turned iconoclastic filmmaker (Harold and Maude), signed on to direct that the project started to gain traction. Studio execs were understandably nervous about the biblical flood of vulgarity and rowdy behavior pouring out of every page of the book and the screenplay treatment by Robert Towne (Chinatown) since the MPAA’s ratings system had only been in existence for a few years at the time and no one was quite sure how many uses of the word “fuck” could be crammed into one R-rated feature. It took a few years for those attitudes to loosen up, and with Jack Nicholson (then a promising actor and a star on the rise) taking on the lead role of gleefully irresponsible naval officer “Bad Ass” Buddusky, Ashby’s film could finally move forward.
As the country’s armed forces were still embroiled in the bloody and senseless Vietnam War and civil rights for women, minorities, and anyone who dared oppose the war were being trampled on by the government, films like Easy Rider and Two-Lane Blacktop emerged to tell existential stories about lost souls looking for truth and a meaning to it all on the open road. The Last Detail chronicles a similar journey but with a larger supply of humor and heart, and it is told through characters we’re not used to seeing searching for their purpose in life – military men. My mother was in the Navy for a decade and I was born in a naval hospital and spent the first years of my life living on a variety of bases in Canada and Virginia, so I was pretty familiar with Navy life by the time I first caught The Last Detail on VHS in the late 1990’s. Ashby, along with cinematographer Michael Chapman (Taxi Driver) and production designer Michael D. Haller (The Indian Runner), achieves a documentary feel for his film in the way he encapsulates the characters’ dull, dutiful everyday life and the unexceptional world where they have to burrow deep to find any signs of actual human interactions. The film was shot on location throughout Virginia (including my hometown of Richmond and towns like Norfolk and Newport News where I spent part of my childhood) and Massachusetts, and Ashby seems the most comfortable filming in the dingy naval offices, bars, and basements where the bulk of the movie is set.
Towne’s script is full of delightfully quotable dialogue (though most of it might get you a discomforting glare if you recite it in public) that the actors have a field day chewing on, but each line is crucial in giving us an insight into who these people are how emotionally guarded they tend to be. Though he gives the showiest and most fearless performance of anyone in the cast, Jack Nicholson only gets to steal the show because his character Buddusky is the one who is most fascinating to watch come unraveled as the story progresses. What starts out as a simple assignment to deliver a prisoner into the waiting arms of a Marine-operated prison becomes a critical mission to help a kid who never got the chance to really live enjoy the pleasures of being an adult for a few short days, something that Buddusky feels is almost necessary not just for Meadows but for himself. The life of a naval officer bores him to tears and has left him rudderless; when Buddusky gets to know the shy kid he has to escort to an unjust incarceration, he discovers a purpose to his existence that actually makes sense to him. Nicholson’s best scenes are the ones where he grows increasingly furious at his inability to figure Meadows out and why he seems so content at first at the prospect of spending the better part of a decade behind bars. His performance as Buddusky is one of the most searing and often difficult to watch of his career, and this is one of the rare occasions where we get to see the aching sadness hiding behind the devil-may-care grin of our wild man Jack.
Otis Young, an actor who worked mostly in television and never really got his due, is note-perfect as Buddusky’s level-headed and responsible partner for this assignment, Mulhall. Mule – as Bad Ass dubs him in the beginning – is grateful for the life the Navy has provided him, and the defensive attitude he takes towards Buddusky and his initial plans to show Meadows a week to remember speaks volumes about Mulhall’s past that the script refuses to go into detail about and instead leaves to our imagination. Young is terrific here and it’s a shame he never got the chance to win bigger and better film roles that would established him as one of the best actors of his generation. Currently on the run from the law and sliding every day into indescribable lunacy, Randy Quaid shines brightly in the role that got his acting career going full blast as the bashful Meadows, his own melancholy melting away as he begins to appreciate what life and the world have to offer for the first time. He has great chemistry with Nicholson and Young and his childlike wonder at getting into impromptu fights and experiencing the company of a woman is infectious and downright profound. Meadows is the heart and soul of The Last Detail and Quaid’s performance captures that beautifully.
The cast is rounded out by fine performances from Carol Kane (Dog Day Afternoon) as a prostitute, Clifton James (Superman II) as Buddusky and Mulhall’s superior officer, Michael Moriarty (Q, the Winged Serpent) as a witheringly officious Marine, Nancy Allen (Blow Out) as a woman Buddusky unsuccessfully hits on at a party, and Gilda Radner (Saturday Night Live) and Derek McGrath (Freaked) as Buddhists whose chanting gets to Meadows and allows him to begin making peace with his legal predicament.
One of my favorite longtime Blu-ray holdouts, The Last Detail looks rock solid (for a film made on a modest budget in the early 70’s) thanks to the 1080p high-definition presentation from Twilight Time, which licensed the title from Sony for this release. Don’t expect a reference-quality transfer, but for what it’s worth, the picture displays enriched texture and strengthened colors. Black levels waiver, but are otherwise fine. To quote another Nicholson film, this is going to be as good as it gets. The film was mixed and exhibited theatrically in mono sound so the English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track doesn’t have a lot to work with outside of making sure the ample dialogue is presented with clarity and free of distortion and the jauntily militaristic score by Johnny Mandel (Point Blank) gets enough space to play without becoming an overwhelming distraction. I’m happy to report that the audio track accomplishes these things and then some. English subtitles have also been provided.
The only extras are the original theatrical trailer (3 minutes), an isolated track featuring the Mandel score in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, and another booklet of Julie Kirgo liner notes.
The Film: 4/5
From the Terrace
Director - Mark Robson
Cast- Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward
Country of Origin- U.S.
Reviewer- David Steigman
Paul Newman stars as David Alfred Eaton, whose father, Samuel Eaton (Leon Ames) owns an iron and steel mill and mother, Martha Eaton (Myrna Loy) who has become both an unfaithful wife and an alcoholic due to being neglected at home. Samuel Eaton wants his son to run the mill, but declines because he wants to go be successful on his own, which his father doesn’t think he can do. He has a business partnership planned with his best friend. The business is called Nassau, and would sell aircrafts. The partnership doesn’t work out the way he wanted it to; and he winds up with a career on Wall Street.
He is offered a position at an investment firm from James Duncan MacHardie, the grandfather of a child whose life was saved by Alfred. Talk about a stroke of luck! While his career plans were moving forward, Alfred had met a previously engaged woman, the beautiful, Mary St. John (Joanne Woodward), and fell madly in love, which actually is nothing more than a physical attraction, still they get married. The marriage starts to crumble because Alfred starts to neglect his wife, because he is working long hours and traveling for business. Mary resenting being left alone all the time, and in a sexless marriage, has an affair with her former fianc√©, Jim Roper (Patrick O’Neal). Alfred, who is becoming successful working for the investment firm, is in a terrible situation having to choose between his wife and his career.
On a business trip in Pennsylvania, Alfred gets invited to a dinner invitation where he meets Natallie Benzinger (Ina Balin), the daughter of a business partner. They begin to see each other, and fall in love. Knowing it was doomed from the start, Alfred did find true love with Natalie, but he cannot go forward with the affair because he is married and has his career to think about. When Alfred returns from his long business trip in Pennsylvania, he learns that his wife is having a now public affair with Jim Roper, which the firm can accept, but they will not tolerate a divorce. His career hangs in the balance if he gets a divorce or not. Alfred gets caught in bed with Natalie by two photographers; the photos of which will be used as blackmail. If he files a report on his former company Nassau on unlawful business practices, which includes an employee of the firm named Duffy who has been involved scandal at Nassau, the photos will be printed all over the tabloids, ruining both Alfred’s and Duffy’s career. Finally, on the day he is to become a partner of the firm, Alfred decides to throw his own career away, submitting the report to the entire board of directors, and also his wife who happens to be present. He goes to be with Natalie where he can live freely away from Wall St. and his cynical soon to be former wife.
From the Terrace is an outstanding romantic drama with wonderful performances given by Paul Newman and the rest of the cast. You can actually feel the turmoil that Newman’s character is in. All of that anguish, it’s not too uncommon in our society for people to be going through what Alfred did. A horrible cheating selfish wife, a corporation that doesn’t really care about personal lives, only business, and the urge for him to just leave his wife for the other woman, who he is truly in love with. I can even say that the movie is filled with a bit of sexual tension between the characters; a lot of the romantic scenes in From the Terrace would be far more exploited in a contemporary remake of it.
Twilight Time’s blu ray release of From the Terrace is presented in 1080p, 2:35:1 with an encode of MPEG4 – AVC; and it’s not too shabby at all! The picture quality of this film is very good. I will say that Ive seen better looking releases of films from the same era, but this of course depends on the film elements. Colors are solid, good contrast. It’s not out of this world dynamite but it is very satisfactory.
The audio is the usual DTS-HD Master Audio Mono 2.0, with no sound issues with the music or dialog.
There are also a few extras on this release, the obligatory isolated track score, a trailer, a Fox movietone newsreel and a seven page booklet written by Julie Kirgo, essaying the film
Twilight Time has once again taken a film that wouldn’t see the light of day from a studio and has given it a superb release. From the Terrace is excellent and worth the price alone. The picture quality, audio, extras and booklet make this another solid release. Recommended!
The Film (4.5/5)
The Happy Ending
Director - Richard Brooks
Cast- Jean Simmons, John Forsythe
Country of Origin- U.S.
Reviewer- David Steigman
Jean Simmons stars as an unhappily married housewife, Mary Wilson, who seeks her freedom from her husband (Fred Wilson, played by John Forsythe), and her daughter. She has become disenchanted with how her married life has ended up. She wants her life to be endlessly romantic as it appears on TV when she watches Casablanca every time it airs. Mary isn’t just happy with the lack of love making; it’s the daily life of being married to a businessman who has meetings frequently and isn’t home all the time. It’s the monotony of it all. She gets drunk on their sixteenth wedding anniversary party and the couple gets in a very bad argument. She leaves for Nassau to get away from everything and to find herself. On the plane she runs into an old friend, Flo (Shirley Jones) and they have a good talk about marriage, having affairs and life. Flo is meeting her lover (the fourth according to her), Sam, played by Lloyd Bridges. They both look after Mary. Despite the enjoyment of being free from her life, Mary goes into the deep end, getting into all kinds of mischief. She spends time in jail for drunk driving; she spends time in the hospital as she tried to kill herself by taking a bottle of sleeping pills, and she also spends money (via charge card) that she doesn’t have on ridiculous wardrobes that she doesn’t need. Fred Wilson still lovers her, despite all the problems she is causing. They do go their separate ways, but on a random evening Fred runs into Mary and they talk. He’s wondering what went wrong as all of their friends are happily married. Mary’s comeback line is if they were free and never married, would he marry her again. It probably isn’t likely.
This is a terrific thoughtful gem that longtime married couples should probably watch, or maybe not. I found this movie to be ahead of its time which really makes for an interesting viewing. Director Richard Brooks’ tackles subject matter in this film that the Wilsons face long before divorce became commonplace. It’s very easy to see why this was nominated for two Oscars.
The Happy Ending is presented from Twilight Time on Blu-ray with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1, and generally speaking it looks good. The best looking parts are during the scenes in Nassau, where the film looks like it was made yesterday. Grain is visible; overall its not spectacular but it is definitely more than serviceable. The audio options are DTS-HD Master Audio Mono 2.0 , and had no issues with drop offs or any other audio issues. The soundtracks are booming during the film.
Extras for this release are minimal. We get an isolated track score, an original theatrical trailer and an MGM 90th anniversary trailer. There is also a seven booklet written by Julie Kirgo about The Happy Ending.
Another really good film in MGM’s vaults gets a very good release from Twilight Time. It is one of the more thoughtful movies Ive seen in recent memories. Recommended!
The Film (3.5/5)