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Classic Hollywood MOD

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Column #4 (June 18th - 22nd, 2012)

For this edition of my Classic Hollywood MOD column, the Warner Archive and Sony's Pictures Choice Collection MOD program kick into action this week. Meanwhile, the new Fox MOD program has an even more formal announcement of its upcoming plans for us to look at.


The Warner Archive MOD This Week

For the June 19th, 2012 release date, the Archive is focusing first of all on three Warner Bros. productions from director Jean Negulesco.

Beginning his career as a painter and sketch artist, Jean Negulesco learned filmcraft from the ground up. After cutting his teeth on short subjects, Negulesco graduated to full-time feature work at Warner Bros. in the early Forties. His painterly eye splashed across the celluloid canvas, starting with a pronounced chiaroscuro period that began with his 1944 debut, The Mask of Dimitrios, from the novel by Eric Ambler that gave good film impetus to Zachary Scott in the title role and featured Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet. Proving to be no film directorial fluke for Negulesco, he followed it up with a trio of atmospheric classics over the following three years - the "war noir" The Conspirators, the sublime Three Strangers, and the seminal Nobody Lives Forever - all now available on the Warner Archive.

The Conspirators (1944). Hedy Lamarr headlines a cast of Casablanca veterans (Paul Henreid, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre) as the mysterious Irene Von Mohr, whose secrets lie at the heart of wartime Lisbon's underworld and underground. Getting to the heart of this mystery is what faces exiled Dutch saboteur Vincent Van Der Lyn (Henreid) after he flees the Nazis for the alleyways and black markets of "neutral" Portugal. Making his way inside the anti-fascist resistance, Vincent is tasked by its leader (Greenstreet) with smoking out a traitor in its ranks. But the Nazis are closing in, and Vincent finds himself falling under the spell of the beguiling Irene, who may just be sizing him up for a frame.

Three Strangers (1945). Negulesco was hitting on all cylinders when he crafted this stylish thriller about three strangers (Lorre, Greenstreet, and Geraldine Fitzgerald) who find their destinies entwined with the mysterious, foreign idol of the god Kwan Yin. According to legend, if three strangers gather before Kwan Yin and make a common wish, the wish shall be granted. Spurned spouse Crystal Shackleford (Fitzgerald) has the idol and enlists a sleazy solicitor (Greenstreet) and a drunken thief (Lorre) in her plans for riches and revenge. But when the idol's powers prove to be real, the two strangers' dreams collide with hers. Lorre is a delight playing a lighter-than-usual rogue against type, while Greenstreet oozes desperation and menace but it's Geraldine Fitzgerald's performance that commands the screen even when paired up with two such consummate scene-stealers.

Nobody Lives Forever (1946). Jean Negulesco caps off his run of mid-Forties films with this tale of a con artist who falls for the mark he is trying to fleece. The great John Garfield dominates the screen as grifter Nick Blake, who returns to New York after the war only to find heartache and betrayal. Heading west, Nick hooks up with fellow con men Pop (Walter Brennan) and Doc (George Coulouris), who need a Romeo to sweep recently widowed Gladys Halvorsen (Geraldine Fitzgerald) off her feet and out of her sizable inheritance. But it's Nick who starts falling, and now that he wants out of the scam, will his fall turn into a dive? Or will Gladys pay the price for Nick's change of heart? Fitzgerald proves revelatory, with a performance strong enough to shine next to the always extraordinary Garfield, as she perfectly impersonates pure innocence next to his embattled darkness. And let's not overlook Faye Emerson, who shone effectively in many Warner films of the late 1940s.

Now you might ask, why don't we also have of The Mask of Dimitrios also available to us in the Archive as part of this week's Jean Negulesco initiative? George Feltenstein, WB Senior Vice President Theatrical Catalog Marketing and Warner Bros. Digital Distribution, answered that all of WB's source material on The Mask of Dimitrios is in extremely poor condition. On television, that is quite apparent but also the bad news. The good news is that unlike most of the MGM or RKO library, the original negatives for the WB library are, by and large, still extant, and on deposit with the Library of Congress. What WB will eventually be doing is pulling on the original and making new film from which they can remaster. This can be a very time-consuming process (up to 3 or 4 years in some cases), but will ultimately be worth it.

Secondly this week, the Archive has the last two MGM films of singer Mario Lanza, newly remastered:

Seven Hills of Rome (1958, aka Arrivederci Roma). An aerial archeological tour with operatic accompaniment? Check. A sly send up of popular singing sensations by the world's leading tenor? Check. A sweet and sly storyline spacious enough to leave room for the views and time for the toe-tappers (including the beyond boffo hit "title" track "Arrivederci, Roma")? Check. Face it, bambina - you've hit the jackpot! Mario Lanza plays Marc Revere, a popular American TV singer, who travels to Rome in search of his jet-setting fiancée, Carol (Peggie Castle). He moves in with his cousin Pepe (Renato Rascel), a struggling artist with spare room in his garret. They befriend a destitute beauty, Rafaella (Marisa Allasio), and Marc starts hitting the local club circuit. It's song and dance-time until Carol returns, carrying complications with her. Directed by Roy Rowland (Meet Me in Las Vegas), written by Art Cohn and Giorgio Prosperi, and filmed entirely on location in beautiful Roma.

For the First Time (1959). Mario widens his tenor travels in this second extravaganza with an opera tour of Europe's greatest cities and music palaces. Mario Lanza plays world renowned opera singer Tonia Costa who is as brilliant as he is profligate. But when Tony falls head over vocals for the beautiful and deaf Christa (Johanna von Koczian), he sets out on a musical mission of mercy, combing the capitals for musical specialists. For only when Christa can hear Tony sing, will he in turn hear her say "I Do". Also starring Zsa-zsa Gabor.

And finally from the Warner Archive this week is:

The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan (1972). Star of page, screen, and serial, Charlie Chan, the Chinese-American super-sleuth, cracked crime for generations of avid fans. In 1972, the amazing Charlie transitioned to the world of cartoons with his customary grace and the rest of his whole clan. Maintaining Hanna-Barbera's winning formula (kids, canine, van, mysteries) the Chan Clan introduced some innovations as well (the van transforms, a double-sized team, HOW-dunnits more than whodunits). Most significant among these is the casting of the equally-amazing Keye Luke (Kato, Master Po) as the voice of Charlie Chan. Not only was this the first time that an Asian American would play Charlie Chan, it marked an apropos ‘graduation' for Mr. Luke, the original "Number One Son" Lee Chan of the classic Warner Oland Chan mysteries. Among those joining Mr. Luke on voice duties are Jodie Foster (Anne Chan), Lennie Weinrib (Stanley Chan) and Don Messick (Chu-Chu) in this complete 16-episode, 2-disc collection. The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan has been newly remastered.


Warner Archive MOD Pre-Orders

Here are the advance MOD pre-order classic titles listed on the Warner Bros. Archive site at wbshop.com. These possibilities should be treated with some suspicion until we get closer to the actual availability dates.

July 24th: The Doctor and the Girl (1949, Glenn Ford, Charles Coburn, Gloria De Haven, Janet Leigh); Brass Target (1978, Sophia Loren, John Cassavetes, George Kennedy, Robert Vaughn).


New Sony MOD Releases

Four classic releases were announced for release in Sony's Pictures Choice Collection MOD on July 3rd:

Escape in the Fog (1945, Nina Foch, directed by Budd Boetticher)
Let Us Live (1939, Henry Fonda, Maureen O'Sullivan, directed by John Brahm)
Mad Magician, The (1954, Vincent Price, directed by John Brahm)
White Sister (aka The Sin) (1972, Sophia Loren)

And in an advance heads up (thanks to Brent Seguine), Sony MOD will apparently have the release of Time Out for Rhythm (1941) on August 7th. The film is a Columbia musical-comedy starring Rudy Vallee, Ann Miller, Allen Jenkins, Rosemary Lane, and Richard Lane. - with comedy relief provided by three costars known as, let's see, Moe, Larry & Curly.


Fox Cinema Archives

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment today, June 20th, 2012, debuted Fox Cinema Archives, a new manufactured-on-demand (MOD) series for film aficionados and collectors that goes deep into the studio's vault to bring some of its most classic films featuring some of the biggest stars of the twentieth century to DVD for the first time.

Starting today (June 20th), movie lovers can purchase a wide variety of films from the Fox Cinema Archives series at major top-tier retailers (including Amazon.com) with more titles to become available in the coming months. The first wave of titles includes most of the titles that were mentioned among the first news that leaked out when the new program started to be first alluded to about 4 weeks ago.

Claudia (1943, Dorothy McGuire), 92 min. A fairly frank depiction of the day-to-day troubles of a child-like bride in the 1940s.

Dangerous Years (1948, Donald Curtis), 63 min. After a botched robbery, a district attorney prosecutes a teenage boy he doesn't realize is his own son.

Diplomatic Courier (1952, Tyrone Power), 98 min. Diplomatic Courier is a Cold War spy tale about an agent who must hunt down vital information about Russia's plans to invade Yugoslavia.

Foxes of Harrow, The (1947, Rex Harrison), 118 min. In 1820, a New Orleans adventurer woos his way to the top of Louisiana society.

Fraulein (1958, Dana Wynter), 97 min. A shy German girl helps the Allies during WWII and is helped in return by a kindly American officer at the war's end.

Frontier Marshal (1939, Randolph Scott), 71 min. When Wyatt Earp becomes the Marshal of Tombstone, Arizona, he attempts to quiet the rowdy town. He's successful with the exception of Curly Bell and his gang, who kill Doc Holliday, forcing the Marshal to settle the score.

Kidnapped (1938, Freddie Bartholomew), 90 min. A young heir falls into the hands of kidnappers on his travels to Scotland to take over the family fortune and is saved by a dubious renegade.

Life Begins at Eight-Thirty (1942, Monty Woolley), 84 min. A young disabled girl and her composer boyfriend try to revive the stage career of her alcoholic father.

Love is News (1937, Tyrone Power), 77 min. A beautiful heiress has a scheme to embarrass a handsome gossip columnist played by Hollywood idol Tyrone Power.

Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell (1951, Clifton Webb), 88 min. A 50 year-old claiming to be 77 checks into a dreary senior citizen's home and infects the residents with his youthful energy making them realize that you're never too old to have fun.

My Wife's Best Friend (1952, Anne Baxter), 87 min. When a man confesses to his wife that he has been unfaithful, she imagines all the different ways that historical figures such as Cleopatra and Joan of Arc might handle the situation.

Rings on Her Fingers (1942, Henry Fonda), 86 min. In this romantic comedy, a pair of swindlers convince a young girl to pretend to fall in love with a man they believe is a millionaire, but the plan backfires.

Suez (1938, Tyrone Power), 98 min. This epic adventure of the building of the Suez Canal tells the story of the engineer who attempts to create the canal that will connect the Mediterranean and Red Seas.

They Came to Blow Up America (1943, George Sanders), 73 min. An American FBI agent of German heritage infiltrates a Nazi bund and foils acts of sabotage.

Way of a Gaucho (1952, Gene Tierney), 90 min. After inadvertently killing a man, an Argentinian gaucho signs on with the army in order to avoid a jail sentence, then soon after forms a band of outlaws.


Final Word

Well, once again, that's our latest edition of the Classic Hollywood MOD column for the week here on The Digital Bits. I'll be back again next Friday.

Barrie Maxwell
barriemaxwell@thedigitalbits.com

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