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What’s New in Old Movies: October 2023

by Don Stradley

Holiday time isn’t quite upon us, so you can splurge on yourself this month.

Start out with a 50th anniversary 4k Blu-ray of The Wicker Man (1973) from Lionsgate Films. This is one of those impressive “Steel book” editions, with lots of fancy artwork and extras, including an interview with director Robin Hardy from 2013, plus much older interviews with Hardy and Christopher Lee, and a more recent chat with Britt Ekland. There is also a selection of trailers, plus a half dozen or so mini-documentaries, covering everything from the music of The Wicker Man, to the general cult following of the film, and something called “Robin Hardy’s Script: The Lost Ending.” It all sounds quite enticing, especially for those who love this odd little mystery about an uptight policeman who comes to a pagan island village to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. I’ve always loved this movie, though I once showed it to a woman I was trying to impress and she thought it was stupid. So there you go. Maybe she’d like this steel book better. (Domestic, U.S. release, 100 min, available Oct. 17.)


It is hard to believe Cujo (1983) is 40 years old, but that qualifies as an old movie. If you had a pair of socks that were 40 years old, you’d throw them out. Fortunately, Cujo is being polished up by Kino Lorber and presented as a special anniversary edition 4K Blu ray release. Based on Stephen King’s novel about a rabid St. Bernard, Lewis Teague’s film has always been a bit underrated, largely because big dogs are not as scary as King’s other villains (ie. killer clowns, vampires, world ending plagues). But there’s something genuinely upsetting about this movie, and it’s not just because St. Bernard’s slobber a lot. By the time Cujo has Dee Wallace and her little son trapped inside their car and he’s head-butting the thing into scrap metal, you start thinking there’s no hope for any of us in this sad, sick world. We’ll all end up in that car someday, half-suffocating because we can’t roll down the windows, while some big, drooling thing hammers away at what little protection we have. Teague made some other films – Jewel of the Nile (1985), Alligator (1980), Navy Seals (1990) – but Cujo is probably his best. (91 Mins. Avail. Oct. 24)


For those who miss the days of neighborhood arthouses, a trio of new Criterion releases should take you back to the glorious era when American cineastes would sit in an unheated theater at 4:00 in the afternoon to watch a scratchy print of some old favorite. Mice would be scuttling between the seats, but you didn’t care because you were watching something special. The undisputed king of the revival house flicks was Terrence Mallick’s Days of Heaven (1978). Programmers were eager to spread the word about this film that had flopped when it was originally released, and it seemed to be playing on an almost monthly basis somewhere. In fact, it nearly died from overexposure at these revival showings, though Days of Heaven remains an exceptional film.

This moody piece concerns a couple of drifters (Richard Gere, Brooke Adams) posing as brother and sister. They move in with a sickly farmer (Sam Shepard), who has designs on the young woman. There’s something sinister about the setup, and we sense something bad is going to happen. And it does. Cinematographer Nestor Almendros won an Oscar for his work on this film, deservedly so. He makes the Alberta, Canada exteriors (doubling for the Texas panhandle) look like an Andrew Wyeth painting come to life. (4K restoration Blu-ray, 94 min, available Nov 14.)


Not quite the revival theater powerhouse as Days of Heaven but no less artsy and possibly a better movie, was The Last Picture Show (1971). You can almost feel the dust in your eyes as you watch this tale of a dying West Texas town in the days before the Korean War. Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Bridges play a couple of recent high school graduates who shuffle aimlessly into adulthood. Bridges gets entangled with a preternaturally beautiful Cybil Shepherd, while Bottoms ends up in a May-December romance with the high school football coach’s neglected wife (Cloris Leachman, in a touching, Oscar-winning performance). Unlike Days of Heaven, The Last Picture Show was a success, garnering well-deserved kudos. It may have been its success that kept it out of the revival houses, along with director Peter Bogdanovich never attaining Mallick’s aura of mysterious genius. It occasionally popped up on film schedules, usually during celebrations of black and white films, or films about the 1950s, or films about small towns, but never threatened Days of Heaven, which played just about every month. Regardless, The Last Picture Show is a great movie. I envy anyone who has never seen it and will someday stumble across it. Criterion is releasing it with a bonus attraction, Bogdanovich’s not so great sequel, Texasville (1990). You’ll also get a black and white version of Texasville – a director’s cut, no less – and a ton of extras, including three documentaries about the making of The Last Picture Show. (Available Nov. 14)


Of course, no afternoon at the revival house was complete without a bleached out print of Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973), usually on a double bill with another Scorsese flick. The new 4K restoration from Criterion has been given the stamp of approval by Scorsese and his longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, so this will apparently be an improvement over the muddy version I used to see at the Brattle Cinema in Cambridge. It will also come with a battery of extras, including some “selected scene audio commentary” from Scorsese and actor Amy Robinson, video essays by the usual talking heads who do that sort of thing, and a promotional video from ’73 called “Martin Scorsese: Back on the Block,” where Marty visits New York’s Little Italy neighborhood. There’s also a section from a 2008 documentary about Scorsese’s old collaborator, Mardik Martin, and an interview with the DP, Kent Wakeford. Hopefully, some attention will be paid to Robert De Niro’s great line, “Mook? What’s a mook?” (Available November 21).


For the Reading Room: If you loved movie comedies of the 1980s, you probably loved Airplane (1980). Surely You Can’t Be Serious: The True Story of Airplane! is a full-blown oral history of the movie, from inception to finished product, written by the trio that made the movie, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker. “This is a must-read for anyone who loves the film.” ―Publishers Weekly. (352 pages, St. Martin’s Press, Available Oct. 3, in hardcover, kindle, and audio)


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