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What's New in Old Movies: July 2023

by Don Stradley

Silent film buffs will be interested in a 2-movie package from Undercrank Productions celebrating one of the forgotten performers of the era. Raymond Griffith: The Silk Hat Comedian, arrived on June 13, just in time for the summer. According to Walter Kerr's seminal book on the period, The Silent Clowns (1979), the best of Griffith's films are "...masterfully delicate, the work of an inventive, unaggressive, amiably iconoclastic intelligence." Kerr ended his section on Griffith by writing, "It is to be hoped that the balance of his work, good or bad, will be recovered." Griffith’s work is still scarce, but this set includes two of his efforts - Paths to Paradise (1925, 67 mins) and You’d Be Surprised (1926, 65 mins). There's also a short documentary included, Raymond Griffith: Silent Comedy’s Silk-Hatted Secret. He may not have transcended his time like Chaplin or Keaton, but Griffith was a unique talent. And though Kerr didn't care for You'd Be Surprised, he'd probably approve of this set, which only falls short by not offering a souvenir silk hat.

Summer always reminds me of the days of double features, but with so many great films being reissued on Blu-ray, you can easily create your own twin bills. For instance, if you need a companion purchase for the Raymond Griffith set, the fine folks at Flicker Alley and Blackhawk Films have collected the first year of Laurel and Hardy's work for a set called Laurel and Hardy: Year One: The Newly Restored 1927 Classics. According to the press release, these new restorations were sourced from the “best available materials contributed by archives and collectors around the world.” This set includes 13 films from 1927, plus two from before Stan and Ollie were a team. You’ll also get plenty of extras, including a souvenir booklet and, of course, the omnipresent documentary about film restoration. (Available July 25).

Want another double-header suggestion? From Kino Lorber comes Force of Evil (1948), a tough suspense film about a crooked lawyer protecting his brother from a crime boss. John Garfield stars in this brass-knuckled gem from co-writer/director Abraham Polonski, whose resume includes such dark-minded features as Body and Soul, Odds Against Tomorrow, and Madigan. This single Blu-ray release is scheduled to hit us between the eyes on August 1. (B&W, 78 mins) Buy it together with another upcoming Kino Lorber release, Ida Lupino's Outrage (1950), a film about a young woman dealing with life after a sexual assault. Outrage is intense and ahead of its time, as were most of the films helmed by Lupino’s film company. (B&W, 78 mins, available August 8).

For those who want to spend the summer enjoying movies about tough gals in dire situations, you’d do well by dipping into the new releases from Warner Bros Archives. Two stellar films from 1950 arrived on June 27. Caged!, from director John Cromwell, tells the story of a naive 19-year-old surviving among the sadistic guards and heartless inmates of a women's prison. The great cast includes Eleanor Parker, Agnes Moorehead, and Ellen Corby. (B&W, 96 mins)

A perfect companion for Caged! would be The Damned Don't Cry. This one stars the invincible Joan Crawford as an unhappily married woman from the poor side of town who claws her way to becoming the girlfriend of a wealthy gangster. When she avoids a murder rap, she winds up back in the squalor she'd tried to escape. Trying to match Joan's fiery performance are David Brian and that great forgotten Hollywood stud, Steve Cochran. Crawford wasn’t fond of the film, and critics of the day were indifferent, yet time has been kind to it. As Crawford biographer Donald Spoto noted, the film combines “realistic characters, with crackling dialog in a disturbing story,” while Crawford’s angry housewife who leaves her dreary marriage was “quietly revolutionary.” (B&W, 103 mins)

A couple of classics from the golden era of cinema sci-fi are here for the summer. William Cameron Menzies' Invaders from Mars (1953) has been issued on disc a few times in recent years, but on July 11 the world welcomes a 4K Blu ray edition from Ignite Films. If you didn't catch this one in the past, or missed Tobe Hooper's 1983 remake, it involved a young boy who sees an alien craft landing near his rural home. In a short time he's convinced aliens are taking over the minds and bodies of his loved ones. It's a gorgeous looking film with cinematography by seven-time Oscar nominee John F. Seitz. (Color, 78 mins.) Extras include a short documentary called William Cameron Menzies: Architect of Dreams, and an interview with Jimmy Hunt, the star of the film.

You might try pairing Invaders From Mars with the 70th anniversary 4K Ultra Blu ray edition of George Pal's The War of the Worlds (1953) coming July 25 from Paramount Pictures. Though Pal moved the action of H.G. Wells’ novel from 1890s London to 1953 California, and slapped in a romantic subplot, the film manages to capture the menace of Wells‘ original story. When the seemingly indestructible flying machines emerge and level the countryside with their death rays, the effect is still spellbinding. As with Invaders from Mars, this is merely the latest Blu-ray release of TWOTW, competing with two or three others that were made available in the recent past. (Color, 85 mins)

For the reading room: Writer/producer/journalist Nat Segaloff has written numerous books about Hollywood. His latest is Breaking the Code: Otto Preminger versus Hollywood's Censors. Segaloff takes us back to Preminger's brawls with the industry over censoring his productions, including The Man With the Golden Arm and Anatomy of a Murder. The book also provides a brief look at how the "Code" emerged as a result of "Hollywood's inability to keep its fly zipped." In an era where anyone with a laptop calls him or herself a film historian, Segaloff may actually deserve the handle. He's written about subjects ranging from John Milius, to The Exorcist, to Shari Lewis and Lambchop. He’s also worked in nearly every facet of the industry. (288 pages, Applause Books, available August 25)

Keeping with the double feature theme, you might pair the Preminger book with William J. Mann’s Bogie & Bacall: The Surprising True Story of Hollywood's Greatest Love Affair, a mammoth 654-page dual bio from Harper books. Having written biographies of Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, and Barbra Streisand, Mann may be just the right author to tackle the saga of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Granted, the story has been told before, but some stories are worth retelling. (Available July 11)


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