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What’s New in Old Movies: May 2024

by Don Stradley

 

Collectors of physical media might be interested in a trio of new releases. The common thread is that each of them was maligned in their day. One of them was even attacked by the US Government. Anyway, they’re all worth revisiting. They can all be in your hands very soon!

 

First up, Saigon (1947). This mixture of romance and suspense was the final pairing of the era's hottest screen couple, Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. Ladd plays a WW II pilot organizing a last bash for a dying buddy. To raise funds, he accepts a job flying for a crooked profiteer, but ends up in a smuggling caper with Lake, who plays the crook's secretary. It's slightly different from the usual Ladd and Lake scenario, with a bit less noir hokum, but it was marketed by Paramount as the ultimate Ladd and Lake vehicle. Despite the buildup, the adventure plot, the charisma of the two stars, and the casting of new heartthrob Douglas Dick as Ladd’s dying pal, the movie was poorly reviewed. Critics mauled it.  

 

This was the fourth teaming of Ladd and Lake (not counting films in which they played themselves), and reviewers were less intrigued with the tiny but glamorous film couple. "They spend most of their time scowling at each other," joked Pittsburgh film critic Henry Ward upon the movie's release. The general feeling from reviewers was that a badly written B movie script had been handed to a couple of A list actors, and that, in the end, it was a typical Ladd movie. The plot, wrote Mitch Woodbury, "was as full of holes as the proverbial Swiss cheese." Walter Winchell, king of the showbiz gossips, summed it up this way: "Alan Ladd again settles all problems with a right to the jaw..."

 

The film is probably the least remembered of the Ladd and Lake features, though contrary to legend, it performed well at the box office and was among Lake’s biggest hits.

 

"It wasn't a bad film," Lake wrote in her autobiography. As for her and Ladd, she claimed things were just fine, "smooth sailing all the way."

 

It was the last time they worked together on screen. They did, however, perform Saigon as a radio drama in July of 1949.

 

Meanwhile, Paramount didn’t renew Lake’s contract when it expired shortly after Saigon. This, along with the critical drubbing, is partly why Saigon has a bad reputation.

 

Still, anything involving Ladd and Lake deserves a look. That's why the new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber is a worthy venture. Special features include: New 2K restoration for a 35MM fine grain; new audio commentary by film historians Lee Gambin and Elissa McKechnie, a theatrical trailer (newly mastered in 2K), a limited edition O-Card slipcase, and optional English subtitles. The release hits the market on May 28.

 

 

Fans of Veronica Lake couldn't have imagined a day when she would be less famous than a risqué magazine model named Bettie Page. But thanks to her smirk, her bangs, and her statuesque physique, Page somehow outlasted Lake, and most other femme fatales of the post war period, to become a cult figure. Page's admirers will be pleased with Kino Lorber's new Blu-ray collection, Teaserama (1955), which the press release calls a "titillating triple feature of 1950s grindhouse classics, newly restored from the original negatives." But beware — despite her beauty, Page wasn't much of a dancer. Watching her stomp around gets pretty dull. She was better served in still photos.

 

The creative force behind Teaserama was Irving Klaw, the chief purveyor of 1950s mail order smut. It’s a nifty piece of history starring Page, as well as the formidable Tempest Storm (who once dated Elvis Presley back in 1956 when the king of rock 'n' roll had a yen for strippers). You'll also see such performers as Twinnie Wallen, Lolly Dorsen, and the rather frantic comic, Joe E. Ross, who played Gunther Toody on Car 54 Where Are You.  Meanwhile, disc two features another Klaw classic, Varietease (1954), which showcases the greatest strip queen of all, the immortal Lilli St. Cyr, plus Trudy Wayne, and a female impersonator named Vickie Lynn, plus more saloon comics. Klaw's Buxom Beautease (1956) rounds out the package, featuring work by Blaze Starr and Dorian Dennis.

 

Sadly for old Klaw, his heyday ended shortly after these productions. The Kefauver Senate hearings of the late 1950s branded Irving a pervert and a porn peddler, so he closed up shop. Much of his material was burned. Fortunately for future degenerates, Klaw's sister kept the best of the Bettie Page stuff handy.

 

Page also disappeared from the scene. She spent the post-Klaw years enduring some mental health issues, and eventually found religion. She died in 2008 at age 85. Her cult exploded during the 1980s and ‘90s, and even today, with everyone from Katy Perry to Madonna and a few dozen rockabilly babes borrowing from her, though none could ever match the twinkle in Bettie's eye.

 

From the Teaserama press release, since I'm too lazy to condense it: "Working in collaboration with Something Weird, the Sonney Amusement Enterprises Film Collection, and the UCLA Film & Television Archive, Kino Lorber has performed meticulous 4K restorations of these essential films, introducing them to a new generation of burlesque aficionados."

 

To this, I can only say, "Hubba hubba."

 

And of course, there are a ton of special features, including audio commentary by Jo Weldon, author of The Burlesque Handbook; audio commentary by those greatly missed Something Weird stalwarts David F. Friedman and Mike Vraney, plus film historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, and enough trailers to make you want to get up and do a little dance yourself. The double disc set is already available, having hit the market on April 23.

 

 

A mere 20 years after Saigon and 12 after Teaserama, a Spanish-Italian production showed how women were evolving (or not evolving) as movie characters. In Satanik (1967), scientists are working on a formula to regenerate skin cells. The horribly scarred Dr. Marnie Bannister (Magda Konopka) makes herself the guinea pig in order to research this new substance. The experiments help her regain her youth and beauty, but she also turns into a violent killer. Granted, this is a story we'd already seen a few times (Leech Woman, Wasp Woman, etc.), but this version from director Piero Vivarelli is such a piece of Euro-trash eye candy that it has always had a special place in my heart. Not only does Marnie kill a bunch of wealthy businessmen, she even becomes a cabaret performer. She's living la vida loca.

 

The film was based loosely on an Italian comic strip, and though Vivarelli was better known for his soft-core sex movies, he gives this one a good try. It didn’t have much impact on U.S. screens, though it occasionally landed on late night TV during the 1970s and ‘80s. If for no other reason, here's your chance to see a film described in The Encyclopedia of Horror Movies as "a routine potboiler derived from gangster clichés, science fiction and horror movies, with the odd musical number thrown in, and totally lacking in style."

 

Or as I would say, have a glass of wine and let it roll. 

 

The people at Terror Vision are giving Satanik its first legit US home video release, with a new 2k transfer of the original 35mm camera negative. According to the Terror Vision press campaign, the film comes "with a new color grade, restoration, and new and archival extras all celebrating this oddity w/ the original Italian audio along with the English dub!" The Terror Vision crew also wants you to know that Satanik has been misrepresented through releases in other countries and bootlegs, and "the colors are not very heavy like they have been in other releases." This time the star's hair isn't purple. Extra features include a plethora of video essays, newly created subtitles, audio commentaries, plus an interview with Piero Vivarelli. It's due May 28.

 

 

A NOTE TO COLLECTORS: Just a reminder to those movie buffs who love the outrageous and the obscure, our pals at Something Weird Video are in the process of streamlining their operation. Namely, they will be discontinuing downloads and DVD-Rs. In six months, you'll no longer be able to order them. So if you've been dawdling over a certain item at SWV, you'd better get on it right now. In short, technology is changing, and SWV is simply moving along with the times. SWV isn't going out of business, but they will no longer offer downloads and DVD-Rs. They will, however, be launching a new website in 2025.

 

Ciao!

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