The Party (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD) reunited Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers after a falling out during the second Pink Panther movie for a difference kind of comedy: a modern sound version of a silent movie comedy. They don’t pretend it’s a silent film, mind you, but rather build a series of visual gags on a basic premise—Peter Sellers as an accident-prone East Indian actor accidentally invited to dinner party by an A-list Hollywood producer—and then let the comedy bits sequences evolve, build on one another, and guide the story, like a feature version of a Chaplin short.
It opens with Sellers as Hrundi V. Bakshi, an imported actor wreaking havoc on the set of an American adventure picture (the phony “Son of Gunga Din”), and then watches him slowly bring chaos to a party in a magnificent modern Hollywood home. This place is complete with indoor ponds and an electronic control panel that operates retractable bars and floors throughout the home, like a modern version of Keaton’s The Electric House. Though Edwards started with a script, he largely gave the film over to improvisation, developing gags into sequences and letting them escalate and evolve with a skewed kind of logic.
This is an era when Caucasians still routinely played ethnic roles but despite the “brownface” make-up and accent, Sellers is less an ethnic caricature than a benevolent, well-meaning outsides to American culture in general and the Hollywood business world specifically. Almost upstaging Sellers is Steve Franken as a waiter who keeps knocking back drinks he’s supposed to be passing out guests and ends up stumbling through the party in a drunken daze. Claudine Longet co-stars as a sweet-natured young actress who sings a song at the party and connects with Sellers and Gavin McLeod stands out as a crude Hollywood producer. This isn’t as fall-down-funny as the best Pink Panther movies but it has a kind of purity and comic grace to it all, like an elaborately choreographed dance of physical comedy, and Edwards executes it with colorful design and sets it to superb Henri Mancini music. It’s the closest American answer to a Jacques Tati film I’ve seen.
It debuts on Blu-ray and gets a new DVD release from an excellent new HD transfer. The film has dynamic set design and a bright color scheme and the colors pop in this edition. Both discs carry over the featurettes and interviews from the earlier 2004 DVD release. The 24-minute “Inside The Party” covers the inspiration and production of the film and the 16-minute “The Party Revolution” looks as the pioneering video playback technology that Edwards used for the film and both feature interviews with Edwards, producer Walter Mirisch, associate producer and actor Ken Wales (who are also interviewed in separate profile pieces), and some of the supporting actors.
Richard Lester directs A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD), a slapstick adaptation of the stage musical farce about a Roman slave (Zero Mostel) who tries to win his freedom in an increasingly complicated scheme involving a virgin courtesan, a Roman General, and plenty of cross dressing. It’s a little overbusy, to be honest, but Zero Mostel’s energetic mugging and natty patter give it a vaudeville jolt, especially when verbally grappling with Phil Silvers, and Michael Crawford is wonderfully goofy as the lovesick kid for whom Mostel plays matchmaker. The new Blu-ray is an upgrade from the previous DVD but the master elements are faded. No supplements.
Also from Lester comes Juggernaut (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD), a kind of caper thriller about a terrorist who plants seven bombs on a luxury ocean liner. Richard Harris and David Hemmings are the disposal experts parachuted in to defuse the bombs and Omar Shariff is the captain who neglects his wife (Shirley Knight) under the pressure of the situation. It’s not a comedy by any definition—in fact, it’s a terrific thriller with as much personality as tension—but Lester weaves some terrific character humor through the picture, notably Roy Kinnear as the hapless Social Director, trying his best to keep spirits through the ordeal. Lester rewards the actor and his character with a lovely little moment of human tenderness amidst the chaos. This has never been on disc before and it is a welcome arrival as well as a good-looking disc. It’s not stellar but it’s mastered from a good source and has a strong image and color. No supplements.
Burt Lancaster released most of the films that his company, Hecht-Lancaster, produced through United Artists and Kino Lorber Studio Classics has been getting them out in good editions.
He won his only Oscar as the wide smiling, glad handing, soul saving charlatan Elmer Gantry (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD), a salesman who turns his gift for preaching into a career on the pulpit. Climbing on board the barnstorming evangelical tour of revivalist Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons), a true believer in the Aimee Semple McPherson mold, Gantry declaims, invokes, and sermonizes his way to the top until a former flame turned prostitute (Shirley Jones in an Oscar winning performance) threatens to reveal his dark past as a womanizer and a con man. Lancaster harnesses all his physical vigor and natural charisma for this role, literally throwing himself into his preaching with the vigor of an acrobat and the sing-song delivery of a gospel singer—he even brays like a hound to show the Holy Spirit within him. Gantry is a showman, pure and simple, and while he doesn’t fool Sister Sharon, he gives that true believer a few object lessons in playing the crowd. Director Richard Brooks, who also took home an Oscar for his screenplay (adapted from the Sinclair Lewis novel), creates a rousing drama both on and off the pulpit and provides fine roles for an excellent supporting cast, including Arthur Kennedy, Dean Jagger, John McIntire, and singer Patti Page.
Run Silent, Run Deep (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD) is one of the iconic submarine movies (as my friend used to say, his favorite sub-genre). Lancaster takes second billing to Clark Gable, a veteran sub commander whose command is blown up by a Japanese destroyer in the opening minutes, and he uses his influence to take Lancaster’s command to return to get the destroyer that has sunk three subsequent submarines. That doesn’t sit well with the men, who resent the old man’s interference, and there’s a moment where the film looks like it’s heading into The Caine Mutiny territory. But ultimately this is a traditional military drama about a crew forging together under a vision and a war thriller where tactics and gamesmanship are punctuated with war movie action. There’s lots of hunkering down in the submarine as depth charges go off around them and some enjoyable miniature work. Robert Wise directs in black and white. A solid looking disc from a well-preserved master.
The Young Savages (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD) is the sophomore theatrical feature from John Frankenheimer, who went on to direct Lancaster in four more films. This is a low-budget social drama starring Lancaster (who also produced) as a passionate district attorney who investigates the racially-charge murder of a blind Puerto Rican gang member by three Italian teens.
Cotton Comes to Harlem (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD), the first of the hardboiled “Coffin Ed and Grave Digger Jones” novels to reach the screen, is also the directorial debut of the great stage and screen actor and famed civil rights leader Ossie Davis. Godfrey Cambridge is the wisecracking Grave Digger and Raymond St. Jacques the more serious Coffin Ed, tough Harlem police detective partners who go after a black con man playing a revivalist preacher (Calvin Lockhart) and the white gunmen who rob the $87,000 he collected for his phony “Back to Africa” movement. Redd Foxx has a small but central role the neighborhood scrounger who finds the bale of cotton where the stolen cash was stashed.
Coffin Ed and Grave Digger Jones were the first black cop buddy team in the movies and they play the kind of tough, rule-breaking mavericks that was usually the domain of white cops at the time. Davis, who was one of the first African American filmmakers to direct a Hollywood studio film at the time, updates the story from the fifties to the era of black power and black pride of the late sixties, which gives the film a colorful backdrop, and he shoots it on the streets of Harlem, giving it a gritty sense of place. But the film slips into familiar clichés and stereotypes along the way and Davis plays it more for comedy than urban action. The confusing crime caper free-for-all is sustained largely by Cambridge and St. Jacques, who give the characters personalities and passions absent in the script. A good-looking disc with no supplements.
Also new and notable from Kino Lorber Studio Classics:
Across 110th Street (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Meteor (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Avalanche (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Taras Bulba (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Flesh + Blood (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Bloody Mama (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)