Matrimony, Madness and Murder: HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON (1970)

hhpModern weddings often bring out the worst in people. The attempt to meet family and social expectations while exchanging vows that occasionally read like a prison sentence can be a dangerous cocktail made worse by a deep focus on money matters. Instead of enjoying their “special day” couples and their accommodating families often end up obsessing over the high cost of gourmet cakes and designer dresses. And as the manufactured pressure mounts, the passion and purpose that brought two people together can get lost in the frantic shuffle down the aisle. Thankfully matrimony rarely leads to madness and murder unless your name happens to be John Harrington and you run one of the most fashionable bridal salons in Paris. Harrington is the main protagonist in Mario Bava’s incredibly stylish thriller HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON aka IL ROSSO SEGNO DELLA FOLLIA (1970), which airs on TCM underground this coming Saturday (11PM PST/2AM EST). The grisly title tends to conjure up all kinds of terrible images in the mind’s eye but the film, which details Harrington’s murderous exploits, is surprisingly free of gore. Corpses do pile up in HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON but they’re drenched in more bridal lace than blood. The film’s dreamlike atmosphere and Hitchcockian plot twists leave a lot to the imagination and viewers who tune in to TCM Underground on Saturday night should appreciate Bava’s bold color palette, inventive directing choices as well as his bleak sense of humor and willingness to scrutinize the myth of marital bliss as well as the fickle world of fashion with a critical eye.

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Upon 20 Years, Rethinking the Classics

Turner Classic Movies just recently celebrated 20 years in business and I owe it a debt of gratitude for all the movies it’s given me.  Not just the big ones, like The Maltese Falcon or Singin’ in the Rain, which I’d seen many times long before TCM came around, but the small ones, the unknown ones, the shorts, the outtakes, the newsreels, the documentaries, all of them.  I’d never seen so much that I hadn’t seen before until TCM came along.  It’s now been 20 years and they still surprise me with shorts and B-movies that I’ve never even heard of.  But in the 20 years since its inception, a few thousand more movies have been made and the definition of a classic movie has begun to move out of a specific era and into a more generalized time frame.  Tonight, for instance, the 8:00 (EST) movie is The Remains of the Day, from 1993.   When TCM first began, tonight’s feature was but a few months old, from the tail end of the previous year.  Now, it’s a classic.  Or is it?

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Diamond in the Rough: The Squeaker (1937)

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The Criterion Collection built its luxury brand on an expectation of quality, and its formidable library is stacked with international classics presented in exacting restorations. This is a model without room for beat-up prints of forgotten programmers, though they’ve found a way to smuggle some in through their streaming channel on Hulu Plus (it was just announced that Criterion has renewed their contract with Hulu, so their 800+ films will available on the VOD site for years to come). There are endless independent productions that have been poorly preserved, and are not famous enough to justify extensive restoration work. Hulu has allowed Criterion a place to distribute these orphan titles, those from directors too obscure to even put out in their more budget-conscious Eclipse line of DVD box sets.  As I was idly searching for Criterion titles only available on Hulu Plus’ subscription service, I scrolled upon William K. Howard’s The Squeaker (aka Murder on Diamond Row), a low-budget British mystery produced by Alexander Korda in 1937. Howard raises auteurist alarm bells because he was a favorite of legendary film historian William K. Everson, and was the subject of one of Dave Kehr’s “Further Research” column in Film Comment. A fleet, funny and noir-tinged detective yarn adapted from an Edgar Wallace play, The Squeaker is an unpolished little gem.

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Of Hurricanes, Hamburgers, and Huston: Revisiting Key Largo

largohustonOne of my courses this semester includes a section on an auteur—that fancy French word for master director. I let my students choose which director to study from a list that included a variety of filmmakers from different eras. To my great surprise and delight, they selected John Huston over more recent and more famous directors.

I began the section on Huston with Key Largo, a crime drama released in 1948. The film stars Huston favorite Humphrey Bogart as WWII veteran Frank McCloud, who visits the Key Largo home of one of the men from his unit. The young man had been killed in combat, and McCloud feels compelled to call on the man’s father and widow, Nora. Nora is played by Lauren Bacall, and the father is portrayed by Lionel Barrymore, who, by this point in his career, was forced to play his roles in a wheelchair because of the crippling effects of arthritis and two hip fractures. Barrymore’s character owns the Hotel Largo, which has been taken over by gangster Johnny Rocco, played with great flair by Edward G. Robinson. While Rocco and his gang wait for an associate, a hurricane hits the Florida Keys and confines all of them inside the Hotel Largo.

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The Onion Field, 35 Years Later

There was a time in the seventies when Joseph Wambaugh was just about the top crime writer in the nation.  In the years before John Grisham and James Patterson came to prominence, Wambaugh novels got multiple adaptations into film but, unlike Grisham and Patterson, they weren’t very successful at the box office although they were very good on the whole and one of them, The Onion Field, scored big both with audiences and critics and launched the career of James Woods.  I hadn’t seen it since 1979 and was surprised upon a second viewing how much better it was than I remembered.

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April 12, 2014
David Kalat
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These Boots Weren’t Made For Walking

Last week I unleashed a rant about how much better the 21st century media environment is to any previous era, and I mentioned in passing the world of gray market bootleg VHS. I figured I’d circle back to that idea to flesh it out: partly a history lesson, partly a critique, and partly an explanation of how it influenced my own approach to DVD production.

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Turnerbirds Are Go! The TCM Classic Film Fest @ 5

TCM 2014

 

The fifth TCM Classic Movie Festival got started last night with a gala opening party at Club TCM in the Roosevelt Hotel and screenings of such immortal cinematic works as Robert Aldrich’s “WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?” (1962), Fred Zinnemann’s OKLAHOMA! (1953), Gregory LaCava’s 5th AVENUE GIRL (1965). Walter Lang’s CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (1950), George Lucas’ AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973), William Wyler’s THE HEIRESS (1947), Nicholas Ray’s JOHNNY GUITAR (1953), and Garson Kanin’s BACHELOR MOTHER (1939). Seats are full, excitement is high, and classic Hollywood movie-making is in its glory. I’ll be on duty all weekend, live blogging along with TCM’s able army of cinema scribes. You can follow the action on the official TCMFF blog, whether you’re here at the fest or watching from the wings. I’ll be back to my regular Morlock duties next week but for now… I’ll see you at the movies!

When Insects Attack: GENOCIDE (1968)

genocideposter2Springtime has arrived in California and do you know what that means? BUGS! During the past week I’ve battled a couple of spiders in my kitchen, wrangled with a beetle that invaded my bathroom and took up arms against a small army of moths determined to raid my closet. These creepy critters seem to be everywhere so it seemed like a good time to revisit one of my favorite bug invasion movies, Kazui Nihonmatsu’s GENOCIDE (aka WAR OF THE INSECTS; 1969). GENOCIDE chronicles an attack on a small island community by a large mass of aggressive flying insects. It’s been made the butt of bad jokes by the folks behind Cinematic Titanic and Mystery Science Theater 3000 but this creative low-budget film is no B-movie bomb. Along with its strong antiwar message, GENOCIDE boasts some impressive visual touches and packs an emotional wallop during its explosive final moments that compassionate viewers won’t soon forget.
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Update the Classics? Sure, Why Not?

As I was scrolling through TCM’s schedule this week, I noticed the 1946 Sherlock Holmes movie, Dressed to Kill, which aired yesterday morning.  Years ago, when I first saw the Basil Rathbone series, I was dismayed by the later films in the series that updated the story to the present day.  There was something about seeing modern vehicles and appliances in a Sherlock Holmes story.  Now, of course, the story has been done in the time period it was written, in the present day of the 21st century and with both genders in the lead role.  And it no longer bothers me one bit.

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Feeling Blu: Joseph Losey’s Stranger On the Prowl (1952)

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With each successive generation of home video, the Hollywood studios have paid less and less attention to their archival titles. The profits generated by new releases dwarf that of their classics, so they have become an afterthought. For the thinner profit margins of independent labels, however, these films, including The Quiet Man (Olive Films) and  Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Twilight Time), can provide a significant economic boost. So in the Blu-Ray era, it has  fallen to these indie video labels to license and release studio restorations. The notable exception has been Warner Brothers, who still invest in Blu-Rays of silents like The Big Parade, while their invaluable Warner Archive line continues to churn out the hidden gems of their library. One of the foremost independent rescuers of film history has been Olive Films.

This month they will release ten new-to-Blu-Ray titles, including the daylight noir Cry Danger, the Douglas Sirk-does-Gaslight thriller Sleep My Love and Anthony Mann’s existential Korean War bummer Men in War. The rarest item this month however, might be Joseph Losey’s Stranger on the Prowl (1952), a neorealist moral fable about a drifter on the run from the cops (Paul Muni) who befriends a small boy in an Italian port city. Never released in any home video format (that I’m aware of), it was made while Losey was under investigation by the House Un-American Activities committee, so his name was removed from the credits and replaced with that of the Italian investors. It was made during the process of his blacklisting, and though hamstrung by budget shortfalls and technical limitations, it is a haunting, self-lacerating portrait of a persecuted exile.

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