You’ll Never Get Rich
Director– Sidney Lanfield
Starring – Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth, Robert Benchley
Country of Origin- U.S.
Writer - David Steigman
After Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers split up, Astaire’s career started to flounder somewhat. However with this film, You’ll Never Get Rich, alongside soon to be Columbia pictures’ leading lady and one of their major stars, Rita Hayworth, Astaire’s career was given new life.
In this wartime musical comedy, Astaire stars as Robert Curtis who is a Broadway dancer and choreographer that works for producer Martin Cortland (Robert Benchley, I Married a Witch). Cortland , a married man who wants some extracurricular (romantic) activities with other women, while staying married because his wife is wealthy, has some romantic interest dancer Sheila Winthrop(Rita Hayworth, Gilda). He is planning to give her a diamond bracelet until his wife Julia (Frieda Inescort, The Letter) mistakes the gift for her at a dinner date. He pretends the bracelet is from Curtis and not himself. The plan backfires, making everything much more complicated for all parties involved, and to make matters worse Curtis is drafted to the Army. What follows next are more comedic military shenanigans (not on the level as Buck Privates, but I doubt this film was meant to be on that level of comedy) , musical numbers, and womanizer Cortland trying to woo yet another dancer, Sonya (Osa Massen, Rocketship X-M)
This is a fun, light-hearted, amusing feel good film with great performances by the cast. Astaire and Hayworth work very well together as a team during their entertaining song and dance numbers as well as their acting scenes together.
You’ll Never Get Rich is presented by Twilight Time, in the aspect ratio of 1:33:1 in 1080p with an MPEG-4 AVC encode and it looks great. The image has excellent greyscale, perfectly fine and sound black levels. The details and textures look sharp and clear; grain is present and no DNR has been applied. Sony has done an excellent job in giving this release the ‘HD treatment’. This is a marvelous black and white release
The audio for this release is English DTS-HD Master audio 2.0 and the dialog, musical numbers, and tap dancing all sound fine
As with all Twilight Time releases, it is limited to 3000 copies and is Region Free. Optional English subtitles are provided
The extras are pretty miniscule here, there is the isolated music and effects track, plus the original theatrical trailer. In many cases films of this age or older tend to have fewer extras. Julie Kirgo does another one of her delightful eight page liner notes/booklet.
You'll Never Get Rich will not be everyone’s cup of tea but fans of Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth, and classic musicals should find this to be a very enjoyable release.
The Film (3.5/5)
How to Succeed in Business without Even Trying
Director: David Swift
Cast: Robert Morse, Michelle Lee
Country of Origin- U.S.
Writer- Andrew Bemis
While How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a product of its time, it was released in 1967, at the moment when movies of its type were starting to look behind the times. The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde were also released in ‘67, and 2001, Rosemary’s Baby and Night of the Living Dead would follow a year later. Compared to those films, the film’s take on sexual politics in the workplace - which must’ve been quite biting satire in 1961, when the show premiered on Broadway - seems relatively quaint. This isn’t a knock against the film, which is a pleasantly old-fashioned, large-scale entertainment even as it deals with themes that are still relevant today.
Inspired by the tongue-in-cheek self-help book of the same title, How to Succeed in Business stars Robert Morse as Finch, a window washer who uses the book’s lessons to rapidly climb the corporate ladder at the World Wide Wicket Company. In no time, Finch manages to ingratiate himself with company president J.B. Biggley (Rudy Vallee) and charm and manipulate his way from the mailroom to a junior executive position. It helps that seemingly nobody at the company quite knows what anyone else’s job is and almost everyone is easily distracted by the secretarial pool. Morse, reprising his role from the show, is perfect for the role of the quick-witted Finch, making the character far more likable than he has any right to be. Vallee is also reprising his stage role, with Michelle Lee taking the role of Rosemary Pilkington, a secretary who becomes smitten with Finch. The tone is as broad as one would expect from a ‘60s musical comedy, and the entire ensemble acts accordingly; while you sometimes want to remind him that there’s no need to play to the back of the theater, it’s charming nonetheless.
Much of How to Succeed’s satire of the period is focused on its male-dominated workplace culture, where a secretary’s grandest ambition is to marry an executive and the men are reminded, in song form, that “a secretary is not a toy.” Fans of Mad Men (which acknowledged How to Succeed’s influence by casting Morse as company chairman Bert Cooper) will find a lot to enjoy here, though the show’s take on the subject is obviously much sharper with the benefit of four decades of hindsight. Here, the company’s gropers and serial philanderers are depicted as clumsy but essentially harmless slaves to their libidos. The main target of their leering is Hedy LaRue (Arthur), a bimbo with a high-pitched voice; it’s to the show’s credit, however, that LaRue proves to have more character than expected. One of the strengths of the show in movie is that it pays more than lip service to life as a woman in a male-dominated industry (even if the movie cuts two of Rosemary’s numbers that get to the heart of the matter).
The greatest pleasure of How to Succeed is its eye-popping production and costume design, with its almost psychedelic color schemes. While the film’s staging isn’t as dyamic as West Side Story or the era’s other landmark musicals - director David Swift mostly worked in television - the show’s witty numbers by Frank Loesser are effectively translated to the widescreen frame. How to Succeed is the product of its time and, in many ways, represented the end of an era, but it’s one of the strongest musicals of the genre’s waning days and remains very entertaining today.
Twilight Time presents How to Succed in Business Without Really Trying with a 1080p transfer of the film’s original 2.34:1 aspect ratio. As MGM’s previous DVD of the film was non-anamorphic, this is a huge step up. Detail and contrast are strong throughout; the image can be a bit soft, but this is probably organic to the film’s scope cinematography. Skin tones tend to be a bit brown and the movie’s color palette sometimes looks a bit faded, but most of the time, it pops. DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 audio tracks aren’t included; both sound strong throughout, with only intermittent ambient effects really differentiating the surround mix from the stereo. Extras include an isolated score track, new interviews with Morse and Lee, and the film’s theatrical trailer. A booklet featuring an essay by Julie Kirgo is included.
The Film (5/5)
Kiss of Death
Cast-Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, Richard Widmark
Country of Origin- U.S.
Writer- Bobby Morgan
I’m going to go out on a limb here and risk a righteous tar-and-feathering for being a “cinephilistine”, but I was a little disappointed by Kiss of Death, Henry Hathaway’s much-adored crime drama from 1947. Regarded for decades as one of the best in the genre of film noir, Kiss entertained me but left me feeling like I had just been conned. Ever since I was a kid I knew of its reputation as a classic post-war underworld thriller, and the title alone conjures up characters who constantly reek of gin and gun oil and a world where having a soul makes you weak and a target for pimps, perverts, and psychos.
I was surprised when I sat down to watch it for the first time recently that the Hathaway film (crudely remade in 1995 by Barbet Schroeder) was more of a measured suspense thriller that went easy on the violence and instead chose to ratchet up the tension through dialogue scenes. Yes, the characters in Kiss of Death talk and talk and talk and after pausing for a meal and a trip to the bathroom they talk a whole lot more. The film moves along at a healthy clip and rarely lags and the direction and performances are all solid, but I won’t be wanting to revisit this film any time soon.
Victor Mature (My Darling Clementine) takes the lead as Nick Bianco, a lifelong hoodlum looking to make a fresh start for his family and himself when his latest arrest carries with it a possible 15-year prison sentence and crusading assistant district attorney D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy) wants him to inform on his accomplices in exchange for less time behind bars. Reluctant to become a stool pigeon, Bianco relents when his family is put in jeopardy and he soon finds himself trying to help D’Angelo’s office bust Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark), a remorseless, cackling psychopath who is feared in the New York underworld for killing anyone – man, woman, or child – who gets in his way. Caught between protecting his wife Nettie (Coleen Gray, who also offers somber narration) and children and matching wits with the dangerous Udo, Bianco must put his life on the line to bring a killer to justice and get free of the criminal world once and for all.
Mature acquits himself decently as the conflicted hero of Kiss of Death, and both Gray and Donlevy offer solid support in the dramatic scenes they individually share with the star, but it’s the great Richard Widmark who steals the show and leaves the audience wanting more in a fiendish feature film debut performance that made him an overnight name in Hollywood and set him up to become one of the biggest stars at 20th Century Fox. As Tommy Udo, Widmark is the real draw in Kiss of Death, and the film suffers whenever he isn’t around to command the screen, which says more about the rest of Hathaway’s picture than it does for his scene-stealing supporting player. Whether he’s quietly menacing Mature’s character with veiled threats hissed out through a vicious smile or pushing a wheelchair-bound old woman to her death down a flight of stairs in what is arguably the film’s most famous scene, Widmark dominates in a performance that has become iconic in the annals of silver screen villainy.
The script by journalist-turned-screenwriter Ben Hecht (Notorious) and his friend and frequent writing partner Charles Lederer (The Front Page) chugs along without a slow spot and accomplishes a book’s worth of character and plot development in a short series of conversations composed of terse, pointed dialogue exchanges that get the job with welcome efficiency. Kiss of Death was shot on location in several places around New York City, each scene captured with inky black atmosphere by cinematographer Norbert Brodine (Of Mice and Men), one of the many in-house technical talents at Fox who made the film possible, including art directors Leland Fuller (Laura) and Lyle Wheeler (All About Eve), editor J. Watson Webb Jr. (Cheaper by the Dozen), and makeup artist Ben Nye (Planet of the Apes). Keep a look out for Karl Malden (On the Waterfront) in an early film role as a police sergeant working with D’Angelo’s office.
Kiss of Death makes its Region A Blu-ray debut from Twilight Time in an edition limited to 3,000 copies that contains an impressive 1080p high-definition framed correctly in the film’s original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. Comparing screenshots, I can safely say that the transfer is identical to the one prepared for Signal One’s 2016 Region B release and features a fine and consistent layer of grain to preserve the film-like appearance and beautiful black levels. Texture has doubtlessly never looked sharper and more defined than it does here. The original mono soundtrack is replicated with strong effect through the 24-bit English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track included here, with dialogue and music sounding their absolute best and not a trace of damage or distortion to be found. English subtitles have also been provided.
Twilight Time has added a new audio commentary track with their in-house film historians Julie Kirgo (who also contributed another excellent booklet of liner notes) and Nick Redman in addition to another historian chat track with James Ursini and Alain Silver held over from Fox’s 2005 Region 1 DVD. Both commentaries cover a considerable amount of information pertaining to the film and the creative talent in front of and behind the camera who made it possible and are fairly entertaining. The music score composed by David Buttolph gets its own isolated DTS-HD Master Audio track to be enjoyed by lovers of fine film soundtracks. Closing out the extras are the original theatrical trailer (2 minutes) hosted by the infamous Walter Winchell and a catalog of other releases from Twilight Time. Classic film noir fans will love this Blu-ray, but first-time viewers might feel a little underwhelmed, though still entertained, as I did.
The Film (3.5/5)
Our Man in Havana
Director: Carol Reed
Cast: Alec Guinness, Noel Coward, Maureen O’Hara
Country of Origin- U.S.
Writer- Andrew Bemis
The Third Man director Carol Reed and screenwriter Graham Greene reteamed in 1959 for another story of international espionage set against the backdrop of an exotic foreign locale. Adapted by Greene from his novel, Our Man in Havana takes place in Cuba during the Batista regime, though, as a preface before the movie explains, it was actually filmed after the revolution. Castro’s government allowed filming to proceed as planned, even visiting the set at one point. It certainly helped that, as with The Third Man’s Vienna, the Cuba depicted in Our Man in Havana is a city plagued by corruption, though it’s considerably more droll than the earlier film.
Alec Guinness plays Wormold, a vacuum cleaner salesman who is recruited by Hawthorne (Noel Coward), a British secret agent, to work as an operative in Havana. Greene, who was an agent for MI6 as a young man, grounds the story in a sense of realism before things soon grow increasingly absurd. Wormald invents his own agents (actually strangers he sees on the street) and concocts a story involving rocket launch plans (which are really vacuum cleaner parts). His scheme works at first, but soon he’s under increased scrutiny from his new secretary (Maureen O’Hara) and a local police captain (Ernie Kovacs), and things take a darker turn when his stories prove to have a body count.
Tonally, Our Man in Havana is all over the map, its humor varying from almost imperceptibly dry to slapstick-y to surprisingly grim. Reed directs with the same sense of verisimilitude (and eye for expressionistic shadows) that he brought to straight thrillers, which makes for a sometimes ill-fitting but fascinating approach to the material. Guinness is a large part of the reason why the movie works as well as it does; playing a restrained, passive character, he’s still able to draw us into Wormold’s peculiar logic and steer us through its tonal shifts. And it was a particularly inspired choice to populate the supporting cast with comedians and performers normally associated with lighter fare (Burl Ives also shows up as a German doctor) who play their roles mostly straight. Our Man in Havana isn’t always knee-slappingly hilarious, but it has a slyly disorienting quality that lingers after it’s over (and that is heightened by the historical significance provided by its setting).
Twilight Time presents Our Man in Havana in a 1080p transfer at the movie’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The movie’s black-and-white cinematography by veteran British DP Oswald Morris looks terrific on Blu-ray, with strong contrast and shadow detail throughout. The DTS-HD 1.0 audio is solid throughout, with a separate music and effects track. The only other extra is the film’s theatrical trailer, and an essay by Julie Kirgo is included with the disc.
The Film (3.5/5)
Comes a Horseman
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Cast: Jane Fonda, James Caan, Jason Robards
Country of Origin- U.S.
Writer - Andrew Bemis
While Alan J. Pakula’s name isn’t brought up in discussions of iconic ‘70s filmmakers as frequently as Scorsese or Coppola, he’s as important a part of that era as any director. In particular, the three thrillers he made during the decade - Klute, The Parallax View and All the President’s Men - are perfect time capsules of Watergate-era paranoia and cynicism. Pakula was a journeyman who dabbled in other genres, including romantic comedy with 1979’s Starting Over and westerns with the previous year’s Comes a Horseman.
The film, which takes place in post-WWII Montana, is about the simmering conflict between cattle rancher Ella Winters (Jane Fonda) and land baron J.W. Ewing (Jason Robards Jr.), who wants to buy her out. Following her father’s death, Ella was forced to sell a portion of her land to veteran Frank Athearn (James Caan). Ella gradually, reluctantly accepts Frank as an ally against Ewing, who is fighting his own battle against an oil company exec (George Grizzard). Ella and Frank’s partnership eventually turns romantic as the movie works its way towards an inevitable confrontation.
While I wouldn’t quite call Comes a Horseman a revisionist western, the postwar setting, coupled with Gordon Willis’ trademark underlit cinematography, give the movie a distinctly (then-)modern flavor. Similarly, it’d be a stretch to call the movie “feminist” - as with Klute, Fonda plays a strong independent woman who gradually learns to accept the love and support of a man, and Klute’s Bree Daniels was a more fully developed character - but Fonda is believable as a strong-willed rancher, and he male co-leads offer strong support. The movie’s most memorable performance is by Richard Farnsworth - who, at that point, had primarily worked as a stuntman - as Dodger, a ranch hand who serves as a father figure for Ella. He’s totally believable in the role and lends the movie a sense of authenticity and spirit whenever he’s in it; the role would be bookended years later by his similarly authentic (and Oscar-nominated) final performance in The Straight Story.
While Comes a Horseman is engaging throughout thanks to its performances and Willis’s work, the movie is too remote to fully work. Pakula stays committed to a low-key, deliberate pace reflecting the relative quiet of life on the range, which is admirable, but “deliberate” often threatens to cross into “sleep-inducing.” There’s too much talent involved for the movie to ever be boring, but I’ll admit that, when the movie reaches a more traditionally action-heavy western climax, it’s jarring considering the deliberate character study that preceded it. It’s probably best to watch Comes a Horseman in a patient frame of mind, but the performances and atmosphere that Pakula and Willis create are enough to make it worthwhile.
Twilight Time’s announcement of Comes a Horseman came with a caveat about the less-than-pristine elements that were available, citing “an unusual level of speckling (minus density) and general debris,” but the company explained that they decided to go ahead with the release at a reduced price. Their upfront candor is appreciated, and indeed, Comes a Horseman looks considerably more aged than their usual releases, with dirt and debris visible throughout. That said, it’s not enough to distract from the film, and the 2.35:1, 1080p transfer itself does justice to Gordon Willis’ grainy, brown-hued palette, and shadow detail (important with any Willis-shot film) is strong throughout. The DTS-HD 1.0 soundtrack is clear throughout. The only extras included are the film’s trailer and an isolated track for Michael Small’s excellent score. A booklet featuring notes on the film by Julie Kirgo is included with the disc.
The Film (3/5)
Director: John Frankenheimer
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield
Country of Origin- U.S./France
Writer - Andrew Bemis
The Train was directed by John Frankenheimer while the filmmaker was on an artistic hot streak following Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May. Frankenheimer took over the American/French co-production after Burt Lancaster had original director Arthur Penn fired; while that and the rest of the film’s production history, which included delays and reshoots, sound like a recipe for disaster, it’s a testament to Frankenheimer’s intelligence and sense of economical storytelling that the final film is one of the best and most exciting thrillers of its decade.
Inspired by actual events, The Train stars Lancaster as Resistance leader and railway inspector Paul Labiche, who is recruited into a plan to save a collection of priceless art that Colonel Waldheim (Paul Scofield) is determined to transport via train to Germany. Set in 1944, the liberation of Paris is imminent, and the plan is to reroute, derail and disrupt the train’s progress for a few more days until Allied forces arrive. Initially reluctant to sacrifice lives for the sake of art, Labiche is spurred to action after witnessing an elderly engineer (Michel Simon) sacrifice itself for the cause, and the film becomes a battle of wits between the inspector and the Colonel.
The action setpieces Frankenheimer and his crew pulled off remain impressive five decades later, even more so because we’re aware that there’s no CG trickery involved and few optical effects. A scene depicting an Allied air raid on a marshalling yard is especially remarkable - as we witness its explosive destruction in wide shots (the location was scheduled to be demolished), our eyes register that what we’re seeing is real. The entire movie has a similar sense of verisimilitude, aided by its lead actor - when Burt Lancaster is operating heavy machinery, you believe that he can do it in a way that you simply couldn’t with 99% of today’s leading men.
And while the film is largely action-driven, the underlying question of whether the preservation of culture is worth sacrificing human lives is one that it takes seriously. That the movie’s thoughts on the subject are expressed through action and behavior, rather than long expository monologues, sets it apart from most high-minded contemporary approaches to WWII drama. It’s also far more entertaining and, over 50 years later, remains riveting for its entire runtime.
Twilight Time has re-released The Train as an “Encore Edition” after a previous limited edition sold out. The film’s black-and-white cinematography looks gorgeous in this 1080p, 1.66:1 transfer. Contrast and detail are strong throughout, and the transfer retains a filmic layer of grain while still remaining remarkably sharp. The DTS-HD MA 1.0 audio is surprisingly robust for a mono track, especially during the film’s action sequences. Extras include an isolated track highlighting Maurice Jarre’s score, the film’s theatrical trailer, an audio commentary featuring a lively discussion between Twilight Time’s Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo and film editor Paul Seydor, and an archival commentary by Frankenheimer that was recorded in the 1990s. The director’s track is prone to long pauses but also features fascinating nuts-and-bolts details about the film’s production. A booklet featuring an essay by Kirgo is included with the disc.
The Film (5/5)