Cat Ballou (1965)
Director– Elliot Silverstein
Starring – Jane Fonda, Lee Marvin, Nat King Cole
Country of Origin- U.S.
Reviewer- David Steigman
Cat Ballou is a Western comedy starring Catherine “Cat” Ballou (Jane Fonda) who returns to her father’s ranch (Frankie Ballou, played by John Marley) in Wolf City, Wyoming wants to train to become a schoolteacher. While she is there, she learns that there is a plan for her fathers’ ranch to be taken from him by the Wolf City Development Corporation, who will stop at nothing to get the ranch. They hire Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin) to protect the farm from the corporation’s own muscle Tim Strawn (also played by Lee Marvin), a man who has an iron nose. The problem is Kid Shelleen is a lush, and a bum. He isn’t much of a hired gunman due his being drunk most of the time. Strawn kills Frankie Ballou, and her daughter seeks revenge.
While Cat Ballou on the surface sounds like a good serious story, which the novel, written by Roy Chanslor was, but the movie is a whacky comedy. Some of the story’s darker scenes are intact but overall, this is a light hearted comedy. There are plenty of humorous scenes, such as a bar fight, a train robbery going on while Sir Harry Percival (Reginald Denny), head of Wolf City is taking an old fashioned bath leading to all kinds of hysterical moments. And in-between scenes there are some Cat Ballou musical numbers sung by Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye. Lee Marvin in two roles won an Academy Award for Best Actor. While, I did find enjoyable, and while IMDB gives it a 6.9, I wouldn’t go that high due to the juvenileness of the film and characters which took away from a story which was far more serious in the novel. Still, it’s a happy movie that entertains which is what movie watchers want anyway.
Cat Ballou is presented from Twilight Time on Blu-ray with an anamorphic widescreen 1:85:1 with an MPEG-4 AVC encoded 1080p transfer provided by Sony and this looks just stunning. Flesh tones look great overall. The outdoor shots are beautiful; the colors are vivid, rich, detailed, sharper and clearer than over, fans who have wanted this movie to be on blu ray will not be disappointed with this at all.
The audio for this release, is the usual formula. Twilight Time uses DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 for the soundtrack. No issues found on either mix. Songs and dialog are loud and clear.
There are some good extras provided to us from Twilight Time: there is an audio commentary with Michael Callan and Dwayne Hickman, and another audio commentary with Film Historians Eddie Friedfeld, Lee Pfeiffer and Paul Scarbo. There are a couple of featurettes: Lee and Pamela: A Romance and The Legend of Cat Ballou. Rounding out the Cat Ballou extras are a theatrical trailer, the obligatory isolated track score and a booklet essaying the film written by Julie Kirgo.
The Film: 3/5
Garden of Evil
Director– Henry Hathaway
Starring – Gary Cooper, Susan Hayward
Country of Origin- U.S.
Reviewer- David Steigman
In this Western, three men Hooker (Gary Cooper), Fiske (Richard Widmark) and Luke Daly (Cameron Mitchell) are on their way to find gold in California, when they decide to take a short break in Mexico. While sharing a few drinks, a woman Leah Fuller (Susan Hayward) arrives on the scene needing help. She hires them along with a local Vicente Madariaga (Victor Manuel Mendoza) to save her husband John Fuller (Hugh Marlowe) who is trapped inside a gold mine. Even worse, the mine is located in a territory that is occupied by Indians. Not an easy task whatsoever, after several days in the heat without much rest or food, the male testosterone(along with their mental state) takes off and they start to battle each other because they are all lusting after Susan Hayward. There is a great fight scene between Hooker and Daly over a fire that’s pretty memorable. The four of them eventually rescue her husband in the mine, only to be chased by Apache Indians, leading to a chase scene and to the climatic shootout in the mountains.
Garden of Evil gets its title from the mine site itself, as the Indians call it a “domain of evil spirits”. The film was originally going to cast John Wayne with Gary Cooper, but never happened. The movie has a great adventures feel to it, capturing the spirit of the Old West (it takes place in the 19th Century). It’s a little slow in some parts but overall, it’s a really good Western. Director Hathaway is able to get plenty of mileage from the cast, with an excellent finale. There are plenty of wonderful shots of the scenery with the usual great performances with the classic actors (Cooper, Widmark, Hayward) and a soon to be cult movie icon, Cameron Mitchell who went on to do “B* movies, Italian classics and other sleazy films including Blood and Black Lace, Island of the Doomed, and Without Warning. Bernard Hermann provides the excellent musical score
Garden of Evil is presented from Twilight Time on blu-ray with a letterboxed 2:55:1 with an MPEG-4 AVC encoded 1080p transfer provided by 20th Century Fox and the results look really good. The colors are sharp, vibrant, although not perfect as some scenes lack density and detail, but overall it’s visually stunning.
The audio for this release, is the usual formula. Twilight Time uses DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 for the soundtrack
Twilight Time has provided several extras for this release: An audio Commentary with John Morgan, Steven C. Smith, William T. Stromberg and Nick Redman, plus a few featurettes: Travels of a Gunslinger - the making of Garden of Evil, Henry Hathaway - When the Going Gets Tough, and Susan Hayward, Hollywood’s Straight Shooter. Rounding off the extras are two theatrical trailers, plus the obligatory isolated track score and a booklet essaying Garden of Evil written by Julie Kirgo
The Film: 3.5/5
Lillies of the Field
Cast- Sidney Poitier, Lilia Skala, Stanley Adams
Country of Origin- U.S.
Reviewer- Tyler Miller
Sidney Poitier stars as Homer Smith, a handyman drifter who lives in his car. While driving thru the desert, his car starts to overheat. When stopping for some water, he discovers an old farm house with five German nuns. They believe Homer was sent by God to build them a chapel. While Homer starts to work for pure greed, he soon discovers the difference he is making for the local community.
Lillies of the Field is best remembered for its history making best actor Oscar award for Sidney Poitier, the first African American to receive such an award. So going into this movie for the first time I was expecting a tragic drama. Lilies of the Field is refreshing for its light hearted and comic tone. Poitier is simply brilliant as Homer Smith. Whenever he is on screen you can’t help but be transfixed to him. Lilia Skala gives a good spin on the Mother superior. She quickly learns how to keep Homer around, and the little moments where she lets her guard down are simply delightful.
Ralph Nelson’s (Soldier Blue, Father Goose) direction is light and simple, while the sharp cinematography by Ernest Haller gives the movie a French new wave look. The movie is also very subtle with any civil rights message that may be there. Skin color is only mentioned in a friendly English lesson scene. This attitude is very refreshing and ahead of it’s time for a little early 60’s movie. Jerry Goldsmith also adds heart to the picture with his catchy score It’s sure to stick in one’s head for many hours after the movie is over. For a movie that deals with faith and one’s fate, it never feels preachy and left me in a great cheery mood.
Lilies of the Field is presented in a crisp 1080p HD transfer. The beautiful cinematography is clear with no damage and life like detail. The black levels are well balanced and the sharp focus is simply gorgeous. The movie has some lite film grain, but it isn’t too noticeable. The Audio is in 1.0 DTS-HD with optional English subtitles. There is no hiss and the audio is perfectly balanced.
On the extras front, there’s an informative audio commentary with film historians Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo, and Nick Redman. An Isolated score track, original theatrical trailer, MGM’s 90th anniversary trailer, and a 6-page booklet of liner notes. Highly Recommended.
The Film: 4/5
Director- Ivan Passer
Cast- Jeff Bridges, John Heard
Country of Origin- U.S.
Reviewer- Andrew Bemis
If Heaven’s Gate is the movie that has (unfairly) become synonymous with the death of the 1970s and the most adventurous era in American film, then Cutter’s Way is one of a handful of movies released in the early 1980s that feel like New Hollywood’s raging against the dying of the light. Released just a few months after Heaven’s Gate by the same studio, United Artists, Cutter’s Way (originally titled Cutter and Bone) was quickly pulled from theaters after a slow opening and negative early reviews. Those were followed by raves in Time and Newsweek after the movie was already gone; United Artists rereleased it later that year under its new title, but a downbeat, unconventional thriller already felt like a relic from another time, and it failed to connect with audiences. The movie has gained fans over the years thanks to home video and cable; hopefully, Twilight Time’s new release will bring the film some of the attention it’s overdue for.
Jeff Bridges stars as Richard Bone, ostensibly a boat salesman but also something of a gigolo, though not a very successful one – we meet him after a tryst with a socialite (Nina van Pallandt) who leaves him with little more than gas money. When his car breaks down on the way home, Bone sees a man dumping something in an alley garbage can; the next day, he learns that something was the body of a woman who had been brutally murdered. Later, he recognizes the man he saw in the alley as J.J. Cord (Stephen Elliot), a local millionaire who he happens to spot in Santa Barbara’s Old Spanish Days parade. Bone is there with his friend Alex Cutter (John Heard), a Vietnam veteran left permanently disabled by the war who is prone to boozing, picking fights and entertaining conspiracy theories. When Bone exclaims “That’s him!” at the sight of the wealthy, respected community leader who may also be a murderer, it gets the wheels in Cutter’s head turning. Before long, Cutter and the victim’s sister (Ann Dusenberry) are working on a plan to blackmail and expose Cord, with Bone torn between the consequences of action and the guilt of ignoring what he knows.
One of the most unusual things about Cutter’s Way is that it’s a murder mystery where the likely culprit stays mostly offscreen. We only hear briefly from Cord in the movie; he’s not a character as much as a representative about everything that’s corrupt and sinister about the wealthy elite. That’s what Cutter believes, at least, and the movie is less about solving the case than it is about the conflict between our two would-be detectives, one an embittered Vietnam vet with a clear purpose, the other a well-meaning but directionless guy who would rather not get involved (come to think of it, it would make a pretty good double bill with The Big Lebowski). Screenwriter Jeffrey Alan Fiskin, adapting the novel by Newton Thornburg, complicates our sympathies by making the indecisive character the audience’s surrogate and making Cutter downright unlikable at points. In his first scene, he’s at a bar, antagonizing a group of black guys for no particular reason; throughout the film, he antagonizes everyone around him, particularly his depressed, alcoholic wife Mo (Lisa Eichhorn), who Bone is in love with. He’s the kind of character that’s entertaining onscreen but would make the average person flee in real life, though Heard deserves a lot of credit for making the character darkly funny and empathetic without apologizing for his rough edges.
Like his contemporary Milos Forman (for whom he co-wrote the screenplays for Loves of a Blonde and The Fireman’s Ball), Czech filmmaker Ivan Passer is less interested in plot than in telling his story through his performers and their characters’ interior lives. Bridges has the greater challenge, in many ways, as indecision is a particularly tough state for an actor to convey, but he does so subtly and effectively. Eichhorn is also excellent in a challenging role; even the love scenes here have an undercurrent of despair, and we feel the emotional toll of the previous years most acutely in her weary, often bleakly funny scenes.
The first time I saw Cutter’s Way, I appreciated it, but I was thrown by waiting for its thriller plotline to kick into high gear. It never does, but that’s by design, and knowing where it was headed this time, I was more easily able to appreciate what it’s actually doing. The movie’s opening images of the parade serve a similar purpose to the idyllic shots of small town Americana that open Blue Velvet; in both cases, an idealized vision of the good old days that never work hides the corruption just below the surface. The movie’s ending, which I won’t spoil, reframes everything that happened before. In the worldview of Cutter’s Way the game is rigged and the establishment is designed to let its members get away with murder, and taking a stand in the name of truth and justice, ill-conceived and self-destructive though it may be, is better than looking the other way. With our population more angry and distrustful of the corporate and political elite than any time since before the Regan-era forced optimism that Cutter’s Way anticipates, it’s a movie that is more ripe than ever for rediscovery.
Cutter’s Way is presented by Twilight Time in a 1080p transfer in the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. As the film’s DP, Jordan Cronenweth (Blade Runner), tends towards soft and practical lighting, sharpness varies throughout the movie, but in a way that looks consistent with the original look of the movie. Colors and detail are both very strong, and the movie’s sun-drenched exteriors and brown-hued interiors are quite striking. The DTS-HD 1.0 mono soundtrack is clear throughout, and Jack Nietszche’s haunting score, which is given its own track (and which is reminiscent of his score for Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), sounds especially good. Aside from the isolated score track, the extras include a commentary by Twilight Time’s Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo (a big fan of the movie whose enthusiasm is infectious) and the original theatrical trailer (in standard definition). A booklet featuring an essay by Kirgo is included.
The Film: 4.5/5
Support Your Local Sheriff!/Support Your Local Gunfighter
Director: Burt Kennedy
Cast: James Garner, Harry Morgan, Jack Elam
Country of Origin- U.S.
Reviewer- Andrew Bemis
Support Your Local Sheriff! and its follow-up, Support Your Local Gunfighter, are comedies from a distinctly pre-Blazing Saddles era. While Mel Brooks would use the archetypes of Hollywood westerns as a foundation for vulgar, racially charged satire, director Burt Kennedy’s pair of comedies starring James Garner (who was also a producer on both films) are affectionate parodies of a genre that was already well on its way out of style at the time (as is noted on the audio commentary for Sheriff!, the movie has some plot similarities with the same year’s big budget bomb Paint Your Wagon). A couple of cheeky jokes about the local brothel are about as risque as either of these movies get; they feel less like parodies of the genre than modest, serviceable genre exercises with a few jokes thrown in.
In Sheriff!, Garner plays Jason McCullough, a guy passing through the newly founded frontier town of Calendar, Colorado on his way to Australia. After McCullough successfully outwits a trigger-happy Joe Danby (Bruce Dern), he’s quickly appointed sheriff by the town’s mayor (Harry Morgan). With an outsider sheriff who has to protect the town from an impending threat - in this case, Danby’s family - Sheriff! draws from the same much-used plot devices as Blazing Saddles, but with little interest in subverting them. The movie’s content to coast on Garner’s charisma and the great supporting cast (though Dern is underused), which also includes Jack Elam and Joan Hackett, and that’s enough to make for a pleasant ninety minutes. Not hilarious - honestly, I can’t quote a single joke and I watched this a few days ago - but pleasant.
Support Your Local Gunfighter is actually not a sequel but, rather, a reprise of the original with a new plot and characters played by Garner and many of the original’s supporting cast. I didn’t realize this, and at the start, I was genuinely confused to see Sheriff McCullough carousing with loose women on a train. But this time, Garner plays Latigo Smith, a con man who, like The Man with No Name or Toshiro Mifune’s nameless ronin before him, tries to play two competing sides against each other before getting himself caught in the middle. Jack Elam, always a delight, has a bigger role here as Latigo’s partner in a con, and The Rifleman’s Chuck Connors shows up in a villainous role. Like its predecessor, it’s mildly amusing, Garner and the supporting cast are a pleasure, and it’s immediately forgettable.
Why didn’t these movies stick with me? At first, I assumed it’s simply that they’re products of their time - even the titles are a riff on the Nixon-era “Support Your Local Police” slogan. Actually, Roger Ebert criticised the then-new original film for being a feature-length sitcom. Kennedy’s workmanlike direction doesn’t do anything to contradict that idea, and the constant Mickey Mousing in the films’ scores to remind us we’re having a hilarious time also doesn’t help. These aren’t bad movies - their casts are strong enough to keep them entertaining - but they’re very much products a bygone era. And that’s fine; I suspect that, if my grandfather hasn’t seen these already, he’d love them.
Twilight Time presents both Support Your Local Sheriff! and its follow up in their original 1.85:1 aspect ratios. Both movies look pretty good but are somewhat inconsistent from scene to scene, with clean, detailed scenes being followed by others that look noisy and washed out. Overall, though, both movies likely look better than they have since their original releases. The DTS-HD 1.0 audio tracks are considerably stronger - dialogue is clear throughout, and both films’ oppressively whimsical scores (which get their own tracks on the disc) have a surprising amount of range for mono tracks. In addition to the isolated scores, the theatrical trailers for both films are included, as is an audio commentary on Sheriff! by film historians Lee Pfeiffer and Paul Scrabo, who do a fine job of placing the movies in context. A booklet with an essay by Twilight Time’s Julie Kirgo about both films is also included.
The Film: 2.5/5
Hound of the Baskervilles
Director- Terence Fisher
Cast- Peter Cushing, Andre Morrell, Christoper Lee
Country of Origin- U.K.
Reviewer- Scott MacDonald
The U.K’s Hammer Films had been making films for 20 years when in the mid-1950’s they started to achieve some success with science fiction and horror titles starting with the Quatermass Xperiment, and later their versions of Dracula and Frankenstein. Throughout the late 50’s, 60’s and 70’s horror could very well be considered Hammer’s bread and butter, considering it was their most popular genre. However, the studio continued to work in a variety of other genres from swordplay films to pirate fare and beyond.
In 1959 just as their fortunes as a studio were beginning to take off, and their variations on more horror-centric literary adaptations appeared to be doing well in theaters. They decided to take their 2 biggest stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and attempt to adapt a Sherlock Holmes novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Specifically, they had decided to adapt what is arguably his most well known, and also the most horror leaning of his Holmes stories, the Hound of the Baskervilles.
The film stars Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes and Andre Morell as Dr. Watson. In this story Holmes and Watson are tasked by a Dr. Mortimer to observe the comings and goings of Sir Henry Baskerville (Christopher Lee), as he is returning from South Africa to take over the family estate after the death of Sir Charles Baskerville. It is believed due to some nefarious occult activity by Sir Henry’s centuries dead ancestor Hugo Baskerville, that the family is cursed to meet their ends by a spectral hound on the moors near the Baskerville estate. Mortimer wants to make sure the curse does not take Henry, who is the last of his family lineage.
Though not totally accurate to the novel itself, Terrence Fisher’s version of Hound of the Baskervilles is one of the finest versions of the story. Fisher’s version utilizes a striking visual style common to his films of this era, with excellent atmospherics, and a gorgeous use of color throughout the feature. The performances are across the board brilliant. Cushing turns in a defining performance as Holmes, a role he would return to in the late 60’s as part of a 16 episode TV series (coincidentally he would end up doing Hound... again for this series). Andre Morell plays a very serious, intelligent, and heroic take on Watson, which is more in keeping with his literary persona, and is a delight to watch. There is a good portion of the film, where Holmes is off investigating the mystery, and Watson is left front and center, and Morell does an excellent job carrying the film during these times. Christopher Lee brings his usual quality to his role as Henry Baskerville, showing a great amount of confidence, but the requisite amount of fear that the role requires.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray which comes from the MGM provided master looks quite decent. It is presented in a 1:66:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer with solid colors, nice detail, and solid blacks. There are some soft moments throughout, and some minor instances of damage from the source, but overall the transfer on the Blu-ray is pleasing to the eye. The audio is presented with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track in English. The track is quite solid with dialogue and score coming through nicely. I did not detect any issues on my listen. The extras include 2 commentary tracks, an interview with the FX artist behind the hound mask, 2 trailers for the film, excerpts from the novel read by Sir Christopher Lee (fantastic), an archival interview with the late Christopher Lee an isolated score track, and in depth liner notes from Twilight Time’s Julie Kirgo.
The Film - 5/5
Audio/Video - 3.5/5
Extras - 4/5