by Don Stradley
If you haven’t spent all of your money on Back to School sales, here are some items that might interest you.
From Arrow Video comes The Desperate Hours (1955), starring Humphrey Bogart as the leader of a criminal gang that takes over a suburban house as a hideout. Frederick March stars as the homeowner who engages the crooks in a tense battle of wills and wits. This was one of Bogart’s final movie roles, and he’s returning to the villainous image of his very early films. William Wyler directed The Desperate Hours, and though it is generally not listed among Wyler’s top films, it still packs a pretty good punch. Extras include commentary from the usual bookworms and film scholars, plus an audio interview with Wyler’s daughter, Catherine. (B&W, Blu-ray, 113 min, available Oct. 17)
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is given yet another shot at life in a new 4K Ultra Blu-ray from Universal. It’s part of a new set of classic horror titles, but if you’re only in the mood to buy one, this is the baby right here. The audio and extras remain the same as the previous Blu-ray release of 2013, but according to early reviews, this UHD version has been praised for its visual upgrade. The backgrounds are more menacing, the black and white cinematography is more vibrant, and the monsters are creepier. The film stars Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester as the not so happy couple. (B&W, 75 min, available Oct. 3)
For the curious, the new Universal set also includes The Mummy (1932), with Karloff as the title character, Phantom of the Opera (1943) with Claude Rains as the fiend stalking the Paris opera house, and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Those are fine old flicks, and the Universal horror legacy is always worth remembering. And for those who like to discuss such things as “grain management,” these new versions are apparently top notch. As one reviewer of the new disc said of The Mummy, “There is a renewed sense of grandeur within the grayscale elements compared to the relatively dull, stale, and creamy look on the Blu-ray. Overall, this is a terrific presentation. It is difficult to imagine even the most demanding videophile being disappointed in this work.” And since the Phantom of the Opera remake won Oscars for cinematography and art direction – the only Universal horror film to get a nod from the Academy –the refurbished version might be worth a look, too.
Still, The Bride of Frankenstein is the one to get.
Criterion is releasing an intriguing three-disc set called Tod Browning’s Sideshow Shockers, a veritable blitzkrieg of films from one of the most eccentric artists to ever step behind a camera. Naturally, it includes Freaks (1932), the controversial film that started the downhill side of Browning’s career. It’s all about a twisted love affair that takes place in the strange world of carny sideshows. It holds up surprisingly well, and is still worth seeing, if only to hear where The Ramones got their “Gabba Gabba hey!” chorus for “Pinhead.” If you don’t know who the Ramones are, google ‘em. It’ll do you some good.
The Criterion set also includes a pair of Browning’s lesser-known carnival-themed features, The Mystic (1925), and The Unknown (1927), the latter starring Lon Chaney as a carnival star who throws knives with his feet. A very young Joan Crawford stars as his assistant. When people say, “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore,” they’re probably talking about The Unknown. It is a weird one. Granted, Criterion has been selling these Browning films as singles for a few a few years, and packaging them in a set probably seems like a cheap gimmick in time for Halloween. So what? Any chance to remember Tod Browning is fine by me. (B&W, 3 discs, 204 min, available Oct 17)
And don’t forget Film Masters’ own restored classic, The Giant Gila Monster (1959), on a double bill with The Killer Shrews. You’ll get two movies at a nice price. This one comes at you on Sept 26.
For the reading room: As an unabashed Henry Winkler fan, I’ll recommend his upcoming memoir, Being Henry: The Fonz…and Beyond.
Though he’s best known for his long run on Happy Days, and more recently on HBO’s cult hit, Barry, he was in a trio of movies from the 1970s – The Lords of Flatbush, Heroes, and The One and Only – that make him well worth a mention here. (Celadon Books, hardcover, 256 pages, available Oct 31. Also available in Kindle and audio CD formats.)
If you’re wondering what to get me for Christmas, I’ll suggest Scott Eyman’s new book, Chaplin Vs. America: When Art, Sex, and Politics Collided. Eyman, whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and other high-falutin’ publications, takes on a heavy topic here. In one of the first instances of cancel-culture, the U.S.A. took exception to Charles Chaplin’s anti-American sentiments, not to mention his taste for teen girls, and decided the little tramp was no longer funny. (Simon and Schuster, 426 pages, hardcover, available Oct. 31. Also available in Kindle and audio CD formats.)
Those are my picks for this month. May the rest of your autumn be nothing but blue skies and Blu-rays!