Private Property (Cinelicious, Blu-ray+DVD) – Put this 1960 film in the “Lost and Found” category. The directorial debut by Leslie Stevens, a playwright and screenwriter and protégé of Orson Welles, it’s a neat little sexually-charged psychological thriller set in the sunny California culture of affluence and trophy wives and drifting hitchhikers crossing the stratified social borders.
Corey Allen and Warren Oates are Duke and Boots, the George and Lenny of angry drifters, and Kate Manx is the beautiful trophy wife that Duke spots on the Pacific Coast Highway in a white Corvette. They coerce a travelling salesman to follow that car and trail her to her Hollywood Hills home, taking up residence in a vacant home next door. They ogle her through the second floor window as Anne sunbathes and skinny dips, and then they insinuate themselves into her home. A student of the Method school, Allen plays Duke as an angry young con man who has perfected the sensitive soul act, while Manx, who was Stevens’ wife at the time, is a limited actress who Stevens directs to an effective performance. Oates is the revelation, walking that tightrope between loyalty and suspicion, slowly figuring out Duke’s games but slow to act until practically pushed into action.
Long considered lost until it was restored by UCLA Film and Television Archive and rereleased in 2016, Private Property is not a lost masterpiece but it is a terrific little independently-produced thriller. Constructed around a few locations (including Stevens’ own home for Anne’s gilded prison) and a cast of four central characters and shot in an economical ten days, it is both a handsome production (shot by veteran, Oscar-nominated DP Ted McCord sometime between Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Sound of Music, and camera operator Conrad Hall) and a visually evocative world taut with palpable tension and he orchestrates the quartet nicely. The simmering resentments of class and money and the confusion of sex, desire, and power point this 1960 film forward to the socio-political concerns of late-sixties and early-seventies cinema.
Released on a Blu-ray+DVD combo pack from a 4K restoration with a new interview with still photographer and technical consultant Alexander Singer and a fold-out insert with notes and observations by Don Malcolm.
Macbeth (1948) (Olive Signature, Blu-ray, DVD), a low-budget, highly stylized production of the Shakespeare play made for Republic Pictures in 1948, was the last film Orson Welles directed in Hollywood for ten years. He cast himself in the lead, playing Macbeth as a brutish, brooding medieval soldier, and created in a primitive Scotland entirely in the studio on minimal sets as a barbarian culture of tribal kings in a harsh, barren world.
While such unconventional approaches to classical works is common today, it was unheard of in the Hollywood of the forties, and Welles directed the film in a stylized, expressionist fashion with a cast of theater veterans (including Jeanette Nolan as Lady Macbeth and Dan O’Herlihy as Macduff) performing in heavy costumes of animal pelts and dark robes. The result is an almost primordial reading of the play, with the witches as pagan forces of a pre-Christian world, with a post-World War II recognition of tyranny arising from the ambition of loyal soldiers and ambitious leaders. The film was poorly received in the U.S. but embraced in Europe for its boldness and its invention and its reputation has grown in the years since. Welles edits the text to fit his interpretation, but it remains one of the most dynamic screen versions of the film.
The film was cut down and dubbed (Republic feared rural audiences wouldn’t be able to understand the heavy Scottish accents) for a second release in 1950. Olive presents both the restored 107-minute version with the original soundtrack, as restored in the 1990s by UCLA, and the shorter 89-minute cut originally released to theaters with overdubbed voices. Both have been remastered from new high-definition digital restorations and presented on separate discs of the two-disc set.
Welles biographer Joseph McBride provides commentary on the original 107-minte cut and there are a number of new interview featurettes: “Welles and Shakespeare” with Welles scholar Micheal Anderegg, “Adapting Shakespeare on Film” with directors Carlo Carlei (Romeo and Juliet, 2013) and Billy Morrissette (Scotland, PA, 2001), “That Was Orson Welles” with Welles friend and historian Peter Bogdanovich, and “Restoring Macbeth” with UCLA Film & Television Archive Preservation Officer Robert Gitt. Also includes the featurette “Free Republic: Herbert J. Yates and the Story of Republic Pictures” with archivist Marc Wanamaker (6 minutes) and archival footage of Welles’ 1937 stage production of “Macbeth” for the WPA with an all-black cast (excerpted from the 1937 documentary “We Work Again.”
The Quiet Man: Olive Signature (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD) – John Ford transformed favorite leading man John Wayne into a rough-and-tumble romantic hero for his earthy and nostalgic The Quiet Man (1952), a powerhouse pairing of Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. Wayne is the strapping American ex-boxer who tries to rebuild a life in Ireland, the land of his ancestors, while holding back the temper that still haunts him and O’Hara the fiery Irish redhead who proves his obstinate onscreen in a battle of wills. Ford turns Wayne into a romantic hero and populates the shamrock green Irish village with figures full of blarney and charm, among them Barry Fitzgerald, Ward Bond, Mildred Natwick, and Victor McLaglen as O’Hara’s snarl of a brother.
Olive gives the film the special edition treatment, with a new encoding of the 4K restoration used in Olive’s previous release and a new batch of supplements: commentary by John Ford biographer Joseph McBride, a visual essay by Tag Gallagher, and the interview featurettes “A Tribute to Maureen O’Hara” with Hayley Mills, Juliet Mills, and Ally Sheedy and “The Old Man: Peter Bogdanovich Remembers John Ford,” plus the featurette “Free Republic: Herbert J. Yates and the Story of Republic Pictures” and the archival featurette “The Making of The Quiet Man” hosted by Leonard Maltin and previously included on earlier editions and a booklet with notes and artwork.
Dead Ringers: Collector’s Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray) – From the beginning David Cronenberg has pushed the boundaries of horror, conceptually as well as viscerally, but he left the realm of horror and science for mesmerizing psychological drama with Dead Ringers (1988). Inspired by the true story of drug-abusing identical twin brother gynecologists (played by Jeremy Irons in the performance that should have won him his first Oscar), Cronenberg created a startling film where the horror lies in the psyche: the conjoined relationship between two brothers, who share everything as if they were two parts of a whole, which pulls them both down in a spiral of madness. Geneviève Bujold co-stars as a woman seduced by both. Where his previous films bracketed the drama in a ‘high concept’ framework, the all too real world the Mantle brothers inhabit doesn’t give much distance to the viewer, and Cronenberg’s cool, clinical style magnifies the discomfort.
The film makes its Blu-ray debut in a two-disc special edition that presents the film in both full-screen (1:77:1) aspect ratio and Cronenberg’s preferred aspect ratio of 1.66:1, the latter from a new 2K scan of the interpositive. New to this release are a commentary track by Cronenberg scholar William Beard and interviews with actors Heidi Von Palleske and Stephen Lack, make-up effects artist Gordon Smith, and director of photography Peter Suschitski. Carried over from the previous DVD releases are commentary by Jeremy Irons, vintage interviews with Jeremy Irons, David Cronenberg, producer Marc Bowman, and co-writer Norman Snyder, a short vintage behind-the-scenes featurette.
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town: 80th Anniversary Blu-ray (Sony, Blu-ray) – Frank Capra won his second Best Director Academy Award for this screwball comedy starring Gary Cooper as an eccentric small town poet and tuba player from Vermont who inherits $20 million and goes to New York City to take over his uncle’s business and manage his fortune. Jean Arthur is the jaded reporter Babe Bennett who poses as a damsel in distress to gain his trust while exploiting his eccentricities in articles for her paper portraying him as a country bumpkin. It’s another of Capra’s populist comedies of rural values colliding with urban sophistication. Laconic Cooper plays the role with warmth and uncorrupted innocence, a trusting, virtuous man whose values and good intentions are manipulated by cynical urbanites, while Arthur brings a mix of hard-earned experience and suppressed idealism delivered with a spunky energy and snappy delivery. Capra’s sentimental brand of homespun values, and his manner of satirizing his rural heroes before taking their side in a triumphant finale, has been branded Capracorn. This is one of his cornier films, but the charismatic performances of Cooper and Arthur sustain it.
It makes its Blu-ray debut in an 80th Anniversary edition, restored and remastered in 4K and presented in a book edition with essays, stills, and notes. Commentary by Frank Capra Jr., the documentary featurette “Frank Capra Jr. Remembers,” and vintage advertising are carried over from the DVD edition.
The Return of Dracula (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD), a low-budget vampire movie from 1958 starring one-time continental leading man Frances Lederer as Count Dracula, is a rather pedestrian film with a curious twist. This Dracula has fled Europe for America and he takes the identity of one of his victims, Bellac Gordal, a long-lost European relative of an American family. Yes, Dracula hides out in the heart of 1950s suburban California with a middle class family that indulgences his eccentricities (such as sleeping by day and disappearing without a word at night). Rachel (Norma Eberhardt), the teenage daughter of the family, finds him interesting and mysterious (much to the frustration of her jealous All-American boyfriend) and the plot has echoes of Shadow of a Doubt, with this beloved uncle turning out to be a Merry Widow killer of sorts, preying on lonely suburban women. Meanwhile a modern team of vampire hunters works with the American immigration service to track the bloodsucking alien.
The direction by journeyman Paul Landres is largely flat and functional with a couple of effective touches. The skip frame slow motion effect of Dracula waking from the crypt is just weird and evocative enough to be effective. Was is simply a bargain attempt to use previously-shot footage for a retro-special effect, or was it planned all along? There is also a single burst red when a vampire is staked, a neat (if graceless) flourish in a black-and-white film.
A fine transfer, no supplements.
In this 1970 counterculture satire Gas-s-s-s (Olive, Blu-ray), the end of the world comes from a military mishap: the accidental release of a nerve gas instantly ages everyone over 25 into senior citizens. As they die of old age, the teenagers and young adults are left and the film follows the odyssey of flower children Coel (Robert Corff) and Cilla (Elaine Giftos) from Dallas to a commune in New Mexico. Along the way they collect traveling companions (Bud Cort, Talia Shire, Ben Vereen, and Cindy Williams) and face cowboy car rustlers on motorbikes, a football-themed militia in a league of looting and pillaging, and a biker gang that has taken over a golf course and trade in their motorcycles for golf clubs. Country Joe McDonald has a bit part as AM Radio and a dark rider named Edgar on a motorcycle with a raven on his shoulder passes poetic pronouncements on their odyssey and converses with God, who sounds like an old Jewish Catskills comedian.
Alternatively titled “Gas! or, It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It,” this counterculture apocalypse was one of the last film directed by B-movie legend Roger Corman, who continued to produce hundreds of low budget films for theaters, home video, and cable TV, and was written by George Armitage, who went on to direct Miami Blues and Grosse Pointe Blank. (Armitage also does his best impression of Bo Hopkins as car rustler known as Billy the Kid.) The portrait of hippie culture is silly and clichéd, the cultural satire is broad and clumsy, and the film is more oddball than funny, a curiosity of a time capsule that has not dated well.