Twilight Time Zone #4
 

By Bobby Morgan, Andrew Bemis & Scott MacDonald

Audrey Rose

Director Ė Robert Wise

Cast Ė Anthony Hopkins, Marsha Mason, John Beck, Susan Swift

Country of Origin Ė U.S.

Discs - 1

 

Audrey Rose was one of a wave of post-Exorcist supernatural thrillers that aimed for the same wide audience that William Friedkinís film found, housing their scares in the context of an A-list production, often based on a novel, featuring a cast of well-respected characters playing affluent, educated characters confronted with an otherworldly threat. Some, like The Omen, were very successful, while others, like Exorcist II, were critical and commercial bombs. Audrey Rose rests directly on the spectrum between The Omen and Exorcist II; adapted from his bestselling novel by Frank de Felitta, who also wrote The Entity and directed Dark Night of the Scarecrow, itís a reincarnation-themed thriller that is never particularly scary and grows increasingly silly towards the end, but contains a few elements that make it at least worth a look.

The movie opens with Janice and Bill Templeton (Marsha Mason and John Beck), a happily married couple living in New York with their eleven-year-old daughter, Ivy (Susan Swift), who is prone to night terrors, particularly around her birthday. One day, Janice notices a mysterious man spying on her as she picks up Ivy at school; after continuing to follow Ivy and her family for a few weeks, alarming her parents, he introduces himself as Elliot Hoover (Anthony Hopkins), a respected scientist who lost his wife and daughter in a car accident eleven years earlier. The Templetons reluctantly agree to meet Hoover, who explains that, after the accident, he met a clairvoyant who insisted that his daughter Audrey Roseís soul had been reincarnated in the body of another young girl. The couple understandably tells Hoover to beat it, but after eventually describing the process of elimination that led to him finding Ivy, who was born minutes after his daughterís death, Janice begins to entertain the idea that Hoover might be right.

These opening scenes owe a great deal to Anthony Hopkinsí performance for their effectiveness, as he has to deliver a great deal of expository dialogue filling us in on his years-long journey from a skeptic to a true believer in reincarnation, determined to help his daughterís soul find peace. Hopkins is terrific here, credible enough to make it possible for skeptics in the audience to go along for the ride, while subtly allowing the characterís ever-present grief to drive the performance. Marsha Mason is also very good as a mother who, disturbed by her daughterís increasingly violent outbursts, begins to entertain the possibility of a supernatural explanation. John Beck is given a more thankless role as the kind of husband character familiar from many horror movies of the time, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that, for instance, the burns on his daughterís skin that seemingly appeared out of thin air might be a sign that something weird is going on (he blames the radiator). Itís harder to evaluate Swiftís acting in the role of Ivy, which mostly consists of screaming, crying and flailing around her bedroom like a PG version of Regan McNeil, but sheís effective, sometimes disturbingly so.

Unfortunately, the setup is much more effective than the payoff; after Hoover is arrested for abducting Ivy, Audrey Rose turns into a courtroom drama where reincarnation is effectively put on trial. Not only does this deflate much of the tension that director Robert Wise builds during the first half and sideline Hopkins and Mason for most of the climax, it also turns the movie into an extended argument in favor of belief in reincarnation. While there have been great horror movies that featured religious faith as a central theme, thereís usually at least some degree of ambiguity that preserves the mystery inherent to supernatural stories. Wise made one of the greatest examples of this, The Haunting, where weíre never fully sure if the phantoms of Hill House exist outside of the mind of Julie Harrisí character. Here, Wise tries his best to keep the story credible, but by the time Audrey Rose arrives at a dreary finale where the court orders Ivy be hypnotized to determine whether or not reincarnation is real (with disastrous results), de Felittaís screenplay seems more interested in converting us than scaring us. Audrey Rose is still worth checking out for Hopkins and Masonís performances, but they belong in a more nuanced ghost story.

 

As the last (and only) time I watched Audrey Rose was decades ago on VHS, I canít say with any confidence if Twilight Timeís Blu-ray is a faithful transfer of the movie. Certainly it hasnít been artificially cleaned up Ė thereís heavy grain throughout, particularly in more darkly lit scenes, and a tendency towards softness, particularly towards the end. On the other hand, the courtroom and hospital sets where much of the second half takes place tend to look a bit overlit, with almost monochromatic color schemes (browns and oranges in the court, stark white in the hospital), and the graininess is in line with the other movies, like The Jerk and Slap Shot, that cinematographer Victor J. Kemper shot around the same time. So itís very possible that this is a solid transfer of a movie that was never very visually dynamic. The 2.0 mono audio fares better, with dialogue, sound effects and Michael Smallís subtle, ominous score clear throughout. An isolated music track is included, as well as the theatrical trailer, an MGM 90th Anniversary trailer (both in HD), and liner notes by Julie Kirgo.

 

The Film: 2.5/5

Audio/Video: 3/5

Extras: 2/5

Birdman of Alcatraz

Director Ė John Frankenheimer

Cast Ė Burt Reynolds, Karl Malden

Country of Origin Ė U.S.

Discs - 1

 

While Iím not a stickler for strict factual accuracy in biopics, it should be noted that the character of Robert Stroud in Birdman of Alcatraz is apparently very far from the real-life Stroud. Itís true that Stroud was a convicted murderer who, after rescuing a nest of injured sparrows he found in the prison yard at Leavenworth, nursed them back to health and quickly developed a passion for ornithology, writing two books that made significant contributions to avian pathology. But while Stroud may have had the same compassion for birds that Lancasterís character shows in the film, he was also a psychopath who was described by fellow inmates as cold, manipulative and threatening. As played by Lancaster, Stroud is easier to like than his real-life counterpart; on the other hand, director John Frankenheimer and screenwriter Guy Trosper (adapting the book by Thomas E. Gaddis) donít turn Stroud into an idealized martyr of an unjust penal system. The movie and Lancasterís terrific performance are as moving as they are because Stroud remains something of an island throughout; he gets in touch with his humanity because of his empathy with birds, but with a few exceptions, he remains distant from other humans. Itís not a redemption story filled with feel-good platitudes about the triumph of the human spirit but, rather, a genuinely moving story about a tough guy living a punishing existence who, after finding something he truly cares about, grows and achieves real reform through the force of his intellectual curiosity.

The movie opens as Stroud is arriving at Leavenworth; already serving a sentence for murder, heís sentenced to death after killing a guard. His sentence is eventually commuted to life in prison, spent in solitary confinement. So from the beginning, director John Frankenheimer has the challenge of creating a decades-long character study that mostly unfolds in and around Stroudís cells at Leavenworth and Alcatraz (where he is transferred later in life). Frankenheimer would go on to brilliantly externalize his charactersí paranoid psychological states in films like The Manchurian Candidate (released the same year as Birdman of Alcatraz) and Seconds, here, he and production designer Fernando Carrere initially emphasize the claustrophobia and lifelessness of an environment designed to wear down the inmateís sense of individuality. But as Stroudís interest in birds grows into a vocation and his cell becomes a makeshift aviary, cinematographer Burnett Guffy, by altering the lighting and placing the camera in spots that would be impossible in a real cell, subtly makes Stroudís cell feel like a larger space.

Ultimately, though, the movie works as well as it does because of Burt Lancaster, who was one of our greatest physical actors. In the early scenes where Stroud is trying to figure out why his birds are getting sick, Lancaster does an incredible job of wordlessly communicating that Stroud is thinking through the problem and gradually working towards a breakthrough. As the story stretches across decades, Lancaster uses his whole body not only to convincingly play a much older man but to subtly show us how Stroudís near-lifelong study of birds has changed him. The movie doesnít try to transform him into a teddy bear - Stroud is still capable, as an older man, of coldly threatening a guard - but his evolution from a violent loner to a guy who plays a friendly game of handball with a prison chaplain is quite moving.

The movie admittedly loses its focus in the last hour, after Stroud has been transferred to Alcatraz and forced to leave his birds behind (making the title rather ironic). There are scenes that overexplain the movieís themes, and a late-in-the-movie sequence devoted to a real-life riot at Alcatraz that feels like an awkward attempt to shoehorn some action into the film. It remains compelling, though, thanks to Lancaster and the great supporting cast, including Neville Brand as a sympathetic guard, Telly Savalasí alternately funny and heartbreaking fellow inmate, Thelma Ritter as Stroudís narcissistic mother and, especially, Karl Malden as the warden who crosses paths with Stroud over the course of decades. Maldenís warden, Harvey Shoemaker, is far removed from the cartoonish sadists we see in most other prison movies; heís a decent man who is sadly limited by his own narrow point of view. My favorite moment is late in the film, after Shoemaker has found Stroudís manuscript about the history of penology and the two both deliver long, unnecessary monologues that spell out everything we already understand about these characters and what they represent. But immediately after that, thereís a quick, perfectly played moment between the two actors where Stroud inquires about the wardenís health, he admits that heís had pain in his left arm, and thereís real concern in Stroudís voice when he tells his near-lifelong adversary that he should see a doctor. In that moment, the distinction between the prisoner and the free man is irrelevant; these are just two old guys, each driven by their vocation, commiserating over the indignities of aging.

 Burnett Guffyís black-and-white cinematography looks fantastic on Twilight Timeís new Blu-ray. Black levels and contrast are solid throughout, as the movie alternates between more realistic and expressionistic lighting, aside from a few instances of stock footage being used to connect scenes. Detail is also strong, and the movie looks sharp while still retaining a satisfyingly filmic look. The DTS-HD 1.0 soundtrack is clear throughout, especially Elmer Bernsteinís beautiful, sparingly utilized score, which is given its own isolated track as well.

 The audio commentary with film historians Julie Kirgo, Paul Seydor and Nick Redman is informative and often lively, especially when the participants debate the importance of historical accuracy in films. Along with the isolated score track, the disc also includes the original theatrical trailer, the MGM 90th Anniversary trailer and an essay on the film by Kirgo.

 One of three movies John Frankenheimer released in 1962, Birdman of Alcatraz represents the beginning of a hot streak for one of the best directors working at the tail end of the studio system. The movie is a great example of what mainstream Hollywood entertainment used to represent - itís uplifting but never saccharine, and clearly aimed at adult audiences. For fans of the movie, Frankenheimer or Lancaster, the Twilight Time disc is well worth picking up while itís still available.

 

The Film (4/5)

Audio/Video (4.5/5)

Extras (3.5/5)

 

Violent Saturday

Director-Richard Fleischer

Cast-Victor Mature, Richard Egan, Lee Marvin

Country of Origin-U.S.

Discs-1

 

A stark, surprisingly deep noir filmed in gloriously colorful CinemaScope, Richard Fleischer's Violent Saturday - an adaptation of the William L. Heath novel - is one of the most underrated movies of the 1950's. Shot on location in Bisbee, Arizona, Fleischer and screenwriter Sydney Boehm (When Worlds Collide) fashioned Heath's lurid thriller into a magnificent piece of character-driven pulp fiction that eschews the traditional archetypes of the genre in favor of creating three-dimensional characters whose perceptions of good and evil might possibly conflict with yours. A small group of criminals led by Harper (Stephen McNally) has arrived in a desert mining town to knock over the local bank. Lee Marvin, in one of his earliest roles, plays one of Harper's partners whose Benzedrine addiction makes him more unreliable than the group leader would prefer, while Ernest Borgnine also puts in an appearance as the patriarch of an Amish family that becomes embroiled in the robbers' plot once things start to go awry.

 

Provocative for its time, Violent Saturday has more in common with one of Douglas Sirk's polarizing deconstructions of post-war American life than with your average two-fisted action pot-boiler, though there's plenty of action in the third act once the characters are established and Harper's plan is in play. Victor Mature, at the time a fading matinee idol who rarely received his proper due as a real actor, gives one of his finest performances as a ranking mine employee who desires to be seen as a hero in the eyes of his son. The cast also features impressive smaller turns from J. Carroll Naish (Rio Grande) as another of Harper's associates, Sylvia Sidney (Beetlejuice) as a local librarian with a bit of a dark side, and Tommy Noonan (I Shot Jesse James) as a perverted bank manager. Fleischer's direction is assured and energizes the material with the help of Boehm's crackerjack script and the sumptuous widescreen cinematography of Charles G. Clarke (Miracle on 34th Street).

 

The vibrant colors and uncluttered framing of Clarke's CinemaScope photography look positively amazing on Twilight Time's Blu-ray release, a marvelous upgrade from their previous DVD edition (one of the first titles released by the company). The high-definition picture is framed in the original 2.55:1 aspect ratio and is bound to look spectacular on widescreen HD televisions. Backing up the eye-popping visual bump is a clean and pleasing English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Violent Saturday was originally mixed in both mono and four-track stereo for its general release and this audio track perfectly replicates the theatrical experience with audible dialogue and strong volume levels for the music score and sound effects. Extra features include an isolated audio track featuring the complete score composed by Hugo Friedhofer (One-Eyed Jacks), a commentary by Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, and another booklet of liner notes written by Kirgo.

 

The Film: 4/5

Audio/Video: 5/5

Extras: 2/5

Overall: 4/5

 

Judgment at Nuremberg

Director-Stanley Kramer

Cast-Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark

Country of Origin-U.S.

Discs-1

 

Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg, a long-time staple of Turner Classic Movies, has been deserving of a fine Blu-ray release for years. Thanks to Twilight Time it finally receives one and with top-quality picture and sound and a few interesting bonus features held over from a previous DVD edition. This masterful epic drama assembled one of the greatest casts ever for a film to document in bold emotional and intellectual strokes the war crimes tribunals convened by Allied forces in November 1945 to indict and convict several high-ranking officers in Adolf Hitler's Third Reich, including a few crucial members of his inner circle. Spencer Tracy plays the presiding judge Chief Justice Dan Haywood, while Richard Widmark serves as the prosecuting attorney and Maximilian Schell plays defense for the Germans. Kramer and screenwriter/future Kojak creator Abby Mann take their share of liberties with the facts in the process of molding them into a compelling courtroom drama. In the name of dramatic license they craft a powerhouse morality play where the soul of a embittered nation loathed by the world for serving as an unwitting accomplice in the greatest crime ever perpetuated against humanity must stand trial.

 

The supporting cast also includes stellar turns from Marlene Dietrich, Montgomery Clift, Judy Garland, and William Shatner in a wonderful pre-Trek performance as a U.S. Army captain. The crisp B&W cinematography of Ernest Laszlo (Stalag 17) is full of terrific close-ups that capture the legendary faces of Kramer's ensemble conveying emotions without the need for excessive expository dialogue. In those faces we are allowed to see entire lives playing out before us, people consumed by regret or evil fighting for their very future. This is a amazing film that remains relevant today as a haunting dramatization of how war crimes need to be prosecuted regardless of who believes those crimes were carried out in the name of right and wrong. Laszlo's beautiful photography receives a rich high-definition upgrade framed in the 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio. Few traces of permanent print damage remain in the transfer and the visuals look absolutely gorgeous with increased clarity and well-defined details. The film's original mono mix is represented well on this Blu-ray by an English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track, but Twilight Time has also seen fit to include an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Both audio channels serve their purpose depending on your home theater viewing needs, with clear dialogue and a music score by Ernest Gold (Cross of Iron) that rewards close attention.

 

Gold's soundtrack also receives its own isolated track in 5.1 audio that includes the sound effects mix as well. Twilight Time's resident film historians didn't record a commentary track this time but the company did include the extra features from MGM's 2004 DVD release. The late screenwriter and supporting player interview each other for "In Conversation with Abby Mann and Maximilian Schell" (20 minutes), a fine featurette that includes much background info regarding the production of Judgment and their own careers in cinema. Mann and his potent screenplay are the focus of "The Value of a Single Human Being" (6 minutes), and the self-explanatory "A Tribute to Stanley Kramer" (14 minutes) pays homage to the great filmmaker and his celebrated body of work through interviews with his widow Karen Sharpe. Closing out the disc-based extras is the original theatrical trailer. A photo gallery included on the MGM DVD was not included, but in its place is another well-written booklet of liner notes by Julie Kirgo.

 

The Film: 4/5

Audio/Video: 4/5

Extras: 3/5

Overall: 4/5

 

Bunny Lake is Missing

Director- Otto Preminger

Cast- Keir Dullea, Carol Lynley, Laurence Olivier

Country of Origin-U.S.

Discs-1

 

For years Bunny Lake is Missing was one of those great missing films on DVD until Sony finally got around to putting it out in 2007.  We are now nearly a decade into the Blu-ray format, and we finally get a Blu-ray of the film courtesy of those wonderful folks at Twilight Time. The film is directed by Otto Preminger whose films I've always had a sort of hit and miss relationship with, when he's on such as with films in Anatomy of a Murder, Laura, the Frank Sinatra vehicle Man with the Golden Arm his films are endlessly enjoyable and compelling, other times they feel a bit gimmicky and overwrought.

Bunny Lake is Missing a film that could have easily fallen into the latter category, but could easily be considered one of Preminger's finest films. The film tells the story of Ann, a young single Mother who has just moved to London from the U.S. to live near her brother Steven with her daughter Bunny.  As the film opens Bunny is dropped off at school, but no one is there to greet her, so a frustrated cafeteria worker takes Bunny on, and assures Ann that she will get to her classes.

When Ann returns the cafeteria worker has quit, and the entire staff and student body of the school claim to have never even seen Bunny. After a few moments of interrogating the staff herself, she calls in her brother, and then the police lead by Superintendent Newhouse (Laurence Olivier). The film then becomes an investigation into Bunny's disappearance loaded up with twist and turns each more bizarre than the next.

Bunny Lake is Missing is a film that truly burns it's way into your memory with those strange twists and turns and a cast made up of strong, deep, and bizarre characters.  The film never seems to drag, and is endlessly compelling keeping the viewer on the edge of their seat throughout it's running time. The film is presented in a 2:39:1 AVC encoded 1080p transfer, and is truly a stunning work from Twilight Time. There is excellent fine detail and clarity throughout the transfer. Fantastic contrast, and a healthy level of film grain present throughout.  The audio is presented in a DTS-HD MA 1.0 track, and complements the restored video perfectly. Extras include an audio commentary by Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo from Twilight Time with screenwriter Lem Dobbs, we also get the typical isolated musical score from Twilight Time, the films theatrical trailers, and a booklet of liner notes also from Julie Kirgo.

The Film (5/5)

Audio/Video (4/5)

Extras (2.5/5)