In Our Opinion


By • Feb 12th, 2009 • Pages: 1 2 3 4

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BEST DVD RELEASES OF 2008 By Roy Frumkes


Despite the fact that the Laurel & Hardy routine at the beginning of SONG OF SUMMER is MIA, something that will bug me forever since SOS is Russell’s best film, this is a great collection, elegantly and discreetly packaged considering the enfant terrible it deals with, containing good recent interviews with the octogenarian filmmaker. Also included are: ELGAR (’62), THE DEBUSSY FILM (’65), ALWAYS ON SUNDAY (’65), ISADORA: THE BIGGEST DANCER IN THE WORLD (’66), and DANTE’S INFERNO (’67). Now let’s see Warner Bros put out THE DEVILS, and UA/MGM put out THE MUSIC LOVERS.



Utterly unrepresented until now, save for inferior, VHS-quality releases, the black comedic visionary is wonderfully shocking here with eight features: EL COCHECITO, THE SEED OF MAN, LA GRANDE BOUFFE, DON’T TOUCH THE WHITE WOMAN, BYE BYE MONKEY, SEEKING ASYLUM, TALES OF ORDINARY MADNESS, and THE HOUSE OF SMILES, spanning the years 1960-1988. LA GRANDE BOUFFE is one of the greats, held back by its US distributor for eons. I brought my young son to a special screening at Lincoln Center decades ago, and Ferreri was in attendance. When I went up to him with my son to say hello, he actually looked horrified that I’d brought a child to a screening of one of his films. Obviously he’d never seen STREET TRASH. My son was used to unforgiving cinema.

HOW THE WEST WAS WON (Warner Bros Home Entertainment)

This release almost had me in tears. Time, and digital technology, have enabled the computer wizards to remove the lines from the three Cinerama film strips, making one complete, mind-boggling canvas out of the 1962 epic Western. If only it could be projected this way in a theater. But the latest step forward is profound, with its great score, its depth-of-field, and its utterly compelling visual distortions. The John Ford Civil War sequences, which felt so clunky back in the day, are quite stirring all of a sudden in this resolved format. I’m really thrilled that I lived long enough to see it this way. Plus there’s a magnificent feature-length documentary included on the history of the unwieldy medium.

THE FILMS OF BUDD BOETTICHER (Sony Home Entertainment)

Not surprising that today’s two foremost American filmmakers – Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese – have agreed to appear on this compilation, extolling the gifts of Boetticher’s Western genre. It’s an important historical collection, and they’ve been gorgeously mastered. The five features are THE TALL T (1957), DECISION AT SUNDOWN (’57), BUCHANNAN RIDES ALONE (’58), RIDE LONESOME (’59), and COMMANCHE STATION (1960), plus a feature doc, A MAN CAN DO THAT, exec produced by Eastwood. These are lean, visually dominant narratives, with spectacular twists and complex characterizations. Randolph Scott, who stars in all of them, was eager to come out of retirement to appear in a film I co-produced called THE COMEBACK TRAIL. Happy as we were with Buster Crabbe as our final choice, Scott would have been wonderful.

HOUDINI THE MOVIE STAR (Kino International)

My grandfather was Houdini’s booking agent, and probably inspired me to follow the uneven path I have through the annals of cinema these past forty years. Houdini was a great magician, and perhaps even better at self-promotion. He certainly was not movie star material, but he made some interesting choices in his handful of cinematic appearances, and what still exists has been compiled onto this beautifully-designed three-disc collection. Films represented are THE MASTER MYSTERY (a serial from1919), THE GRIM GAME (a fragment from 1919), TERROR ISLAND (1920), THE MAN FROM BEYOND (1922) and HALDANE OF THE SECRET SERVICE (1923). Musical accompaniment has been supplied by several of the leading silent film composers/performers including Ben Model, Clark Wilson, Jon C. Mirsalis, and Stuart Oderman (who recently celebrated 50 years as a silent film pianist). There are fabulous supplements as well, including a 1914 audio recording of Houdini introducing his Water Torture Cell. The collection is worth it for that alone. This is a labor of love from an indie company that has brought us many gorgeous restorations over the years, particularly those of Fritz Lang and Murnau.


Glenn has written about his top ten, and picked THE LODGER as one of them.

This box set is among the first of the DVD releases to be too large for a normal shelf. Others followed, such as the MURNAU/BORZAGE COLLECTION (also from Fox), and THE BLURAY PLANET OF THE APES COLLECTION (also from Fox), both marvelous, but equally provocative in terms of storage space. This collection presents eight immaculate masterings of the master’s work, bridging the silent period up into the 40s. The films range in terms of greatness, but in this compendium, who can complain. The design of the box and its contents is complex and aesthetically impressive. The extras are exhaustive and much appreciated, including commentaries, ‘making of’ featurettes, radio plays directed by Hitch, and interviews with Bogdanovich and Truffaut. Films included: THE LODGER (’27), SABOTAGE (1940), YOUNG AND INNOCENT (1937), REBECCA (1940), LIFEBOAT (1944), SPELLBOUND (1945), NOTORIOUS 1946), and THE PARADINE CASE (1947).


On four discs, in two separate containers, the 30+ early TV espionage episodes (1952) starring Brian Donlevy are available at last. The iconic noir opening, of Secret agent Steve Mitchell appearing out of a thick fog, only to have a knife thrown at him, backed by the pounding score, set the mood for episodes that, today, seem almost relaxed in tone, bordering on improv. Donlevy fans who love his early work for Capra (THE GREAT MCGINTY), and as Western bad guys (UNION PACIFIC, DESTRY RIDES AGAIN), or a foreign legion bad guy (BEAU GESTE), or his later work in the Quatermass Hammer Films, Jerry Lewis’ THE ERRAND BOY, CURSE OF THE FLY, and, in failing health, GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE, will be delighted to own this collection. Did you know that his interests outside of acting were gold-mining and writing poetry, or that until his death in 1972 he was married to Bela Lugosi’s ex-wife, Lillian?

VAMPYR (Criterion)

Ever wonder what a Carl Dreyer vampire film would be like? Well he did one, in 1932, and it’s not like anything that he did before or since, or that anyone else has ever done. Unique and experimental, this early sound film, which focuses strictly on sound, not dialogue, has been labored over by the Ceneteca di Bologna, and presented by Criterion in a mega-box of treats almost too spectacular for its substance. Two discs contain the film, a ’66 doc on Dreyer’s career, a radio broadcast from ’58 of Dreyer reading an essay on filmmaking, and a book which contains Dreyer’s and Christen Jul’s original screenplay as well as Sheridan le Fanu’s 1872 story “Carmilla” which was one source for the film. Which impels me to mention another film with even closer ties to le Fanu’s story – BLOOD AND ROSES (Look for the upcoming February Camp David with more information on this fairly lost classic). Where is it! How about it, Criterion – if Paramount won’t step up to the plate, why don’t you track down the original elements, clumsily edited for the US release in 1958, and give us back roger Vadim’s lyrical lesbian vampire trendsetter.


Bereft of any supplements, Orson Welles’ long-in-production morphing of the great story finally sees the light of day, cut together – probably longer than Welles would have liked, by AD Jess Franco (?!), the most important work the exploitation filmmaker has ever contributed to celluloid. Slow and enjoyable, the film really takes off at warp speed when Welles appears as himself within the narrative.

“DEXTER” Season Two (Paramount Home Entertainment/Showtime/CBS)

Everything they got wrong in Season One has been rethought and revitalized in this superb cable series. Even the makeup and lighting on star Michael Hall, which made him seem smarmy the first time around, has been revamped for these 12 episodes. The writing is great – probably the best of the year, including its only feature film competition, APPALOOSA – with character insights, dialogue, twists, and gallows humor galore. Can’t wait for Season Three, since I don’t get SHOWTIME.

SHE (Kino International & Legend Films)

This is Ray Harryhausen’s colorization of a criminally disastrous 1935 production involving filmmakers who were mentors to his career – Merian C. Cooper and Max Steiner, two of the creators of KING KONG. This one bit the dust the minute RKO changed their mind about making it in color. Now, with Legend’s latest colorization technology, and Harryhausen’s research into what the color palette should have been, down to costumes, etc., it’s a very good film, often mesmerizing, never boring, and artistically satisfying. For die-hards who can’t abide the idea of adding color to films originally shot in B&W, this is the enduring argument in favor of the process. There are also supplements, including a Harryhausen commentary, and the original B&W version, which is utterly worthless except for comparison’s sake, illustrating how miraculous the new version is.

EL CID (Genius Products, Inc)

Finally! This is one of the best of the Epics from the late 50s/mid 60s, one of the three or four best, really, and it’s been a long time coming. We’re given a good transfer, and a fine big box packaging, in an ivory case with gold lettering. On disc one is the film – a three+hour telling of the epic Spanish poem. Charlton Heston slips easily into the Cid’s armor, and Sophia Loren looks the most beautiful of her entire career. Anthony Mann does a fine job of directing (not a Noir moment, but maybe some Western influences), Philip Yordan’s and Ben Barzman’s screenplay is sophisticated and stirring, and Robert Krasker’s framing is heavily Eisensteinian. Miklos Rozsa’s score is arguably the best of his career. Gloria Musetta’s wardrobe direction – my goodness…! I suggested to Editor Robert Lawrence that the film could have used a bit of tightening – my only problem with it – and he quickly disagreed, but later I heard that he came around on that point. And there’s a commentary track featuring Producer Samuel Bronston’s son. If I haven’t convinced you that you should own this DVD, I don’t know what else I can say (though I do think the BluRay transfer might be even more awe-inspiring). Inside are some stills, and the reduced souvenir book, which was sold in theaters where the film played roadshow on its initial release dates. A second disc contains interesting docs about the making of the film. (Later in the year, Mann’s miasma of an epic, THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, with a dreadful script, deadly pacing, lackluster music, and plagiaristic action sequences, was also given the grand DVD release by the Weinstein company. I can’t recommend the film on any level, but the transfer and packaging are certainly great.)



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