Blu-ray Theater Vol. II

Yes, it’s time for another recap of some choice Blu-ray releases. I wish I had a more clever name for these posts. But I don’t. Perhaps you can help. On with the show:

THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974) – Also known by its original title of LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE and the American drive-in version, DON’T OPEN THE WINDOW, I recall reading a blurb about this in CINEFANTASTIQUE where the only praise given was to the brief very-70’s moment where a nude woman rushes through a crowded city as people ignore her. What does that have to do with the film? I’m not sure except that society is so jaded that the two leads are unable to convince anybody that the Living Dead have become re-animated due to an agricultural sonic radiation device. This missing link zombie film between George Romero’s 1968 classic and his 1978 follow-up DAWN OF THE DEAD is one of the best of the decade, stylishly directed by Jorge Grau and beautifully shot with atmosphere galore and a surprising level of violence. It doesn’t belong in the category of cheap Spaghetti Zombie rip-offs that dominated the post-DOTD era, but I would be surprised if Romero hadn’t seen this before filming his regarded sequel. The two leads are unlikable in that 70’s way, but they’re pishers next to Arthur Kennedy, who might be the worst detective in film history with an Irish temper to boot — no doubt at playing second-fiddle to zombies tearing a woman’s breast open. TLDATMM is paced more languid than the recent Italian undead films, and that works to its genuinely creepy ambiance and unsettling soundtrack. The Blu-ray is loaded with goodies, including a funny intro by director Grau and a panopoly of awesome grindhouse ads and posters. The transfer is stunning and the lush primordial green of the countryside adds to the gothic vibe. This unique horror effort belongs in the Zombie pantheon.

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009) – My favorite film of the year was this Men On A Mission suspense comedy about the nature of linguistics and propaganda wrapped up in Quentin Tarantino’s audacious cinematic revisionist storytelling. The two dramatic set pieces in the farmhouse and the cellar bar are masterpieces of acting, tension and direction. We all know how fantastic Christoph Waltz is as Hans Landa (even the character can’t even contain his own glee at this role of a lifetime) but there are wonderful ensemble moments, particularly Daniel Bruhl as Frederick Zoller, who is almost the most empathetic character in the film (his attempts to reach out to Shosanna are a serio-tragic glimpse at the gulf of war); and August Diehl as Major Hellstrom, the slinky SS man who tries to deduce the identity of the German officers in the bar — I love Diehl’s quiet whistle as he waits for drinks after realizing they are no Nazis. I even dig Mike Myers here, especially since Rod Taylor puts in a welcome appearance as Churchill. The Blu-ray looks terrific, befitting Robert Richardson’s crisp 2.35:1 cinematography, and there are plenty extras, including the complete NATION’S PRIDE film, but sadly, no excised footage of Cloris Leachman and Maggie Chueng. In the end, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS is a paen to the flickering power of cinema to change the world.

THE SEARCHERS (1956) – Like I said, I have gaps in my film skoolin’ — still never seen an Ophuls or De Sica (but I have sat through SKIDOO well over 30 times) — and I remain a virtual John Ford virgin, with only STAGECOACH and finally, THE SEARCHERS, to my resume. I’m down with that ignorance as it can be corrected and there’s few more satisfying esthetic pleasures than finally watching a “classic” that turns out to actually be a classic. I’ve actually avoided reading everything about THE SEARCHERS my whole movie-lovin’ life, just so I could watch it with virgin eyes. Amazingly, I even thought it was in black & white! Imagine my joyous surprise to sit down and viddy this panoramic epic in startling VistaVision Technicolor. This is one of the most beautiful Blu-ray transfers yet, with a depth of field that feels almost three-dimensional. And what a film. John Wayne has never been better in his favorite role as Ethan Edwards, the hardened vet who spends years tracking down the Indian-kidnapped daughter (Natalie Wood) of his relatives. Regardless of his limited thespic range, he’s utterly believable as an obsessed half-bigot whose only goal is to “mercifully” end the life of the defiled young woman. There are many terrific, unforgettable moments, particularly the ominous pregnant pause before the Indian raid on a homestead, the sunset painting the entire frame in a lurid golden hue. While John Ford would be the first to laugh at any sub-textual read of his films, the fact is that the psychology is there, whether Ford was aware or not — and I don’t believe for a second he didn’t know what he was doing. The greatness of THE SEARCHERS is no accident.

DR. NO (1962) – Speaking of John Wayne, I hold firm to the opine that the two most iconic actor introduction scenes in film history are the Duke’s hero-making dolly shot in STAGECOACH (1939) and Sean Connery’s reveal as “Bond, James Bond” from the first 007 adventure, DR. NO. While the cinematic template for Ian Fleming’s debonair secret agent didn’t become firm until GOLDFINGER (1964), this first — and one of the best — outing sets up the pattern for the future series. Stylishly directed by Terence Young, featuring the great artisians who would contribute to the archetypal look of the films such as production designer Ken Adams, editor Peter Hunt and of course, John Barry launching a new wave of music cool with his explosive theme, DR. NO is probably the most “realistic” of the series and quite faithful to the novel. Connery’s performance as Bond is something else, his charming, aggressive demeanor pitched in a different key (“I’m feeling Italian and musical”) before he found his groove in GOLDFINGER. Joseph Wiseman is terrific as the titular character, and his cat-and-mouse dinner scene with Bond is one of my favorite scenes in the series. But of course the Blu-ray looks astonishing in its color and clarity, and there is the usual carnival of extras, although the menus are still overlong and overtly complicated. Can’t wait for the next Bond Blu-ray go round, including ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969).


22 Responses to “Blu-ray Theater Vol. II”

  1. CORPSE/MANCHESTER is great, a fantastic little-known film that every zombie fan should see. Bet it looks fantastic on Blu-ray. That NOISE the zombies make. It’s chilling, and I’m amazed no one has ripped it off. As I recall, the director said he based it on the sound his father made as he expired! That’s either very cold or total dedication. (And you know, that tractor that sends out the corpse-reviving signal reminds me of something, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it is. Fishy.)

    I first saw THE SEARCHERS on videotape. It was washed out and transfered ineptly — I could see past the top of the “sky” in one shot, and either God or a crew member was walking around up there, ’cause I could see his shoes. Ruined the movie for me, and for years afterward I thought it was overrated. But I caught it on DVD just this year and loved it.

    Never seen THE BICYCLE THIEF or THE EARRING OF MADAME DE…? Well, what are you waiting for? Can’t believe they never made you watch the former in a film class.

    • I think I cut class the morning of THE BICYCLE THIEF. It was Berkeley so I got credit for rebelling.

      I’ll have them ready for the nxt Blu-ray Theater…

  2. i don’t get all this silly stuff about the bond dvd / blue ray menus. i wish i could have been a tiny fly on the shoulder of the design session. a real turn off (they don’t even get the tech right – they could, at least, had the decency to use period gadgetry for each film).

    • They’re bizarrely complicated. I pretty much hate most of the Blu-ray menus now as they feature key scenes from the movie you’re about to watch.

  3. De Sica’s “Umberto D.” is amazing. “Flike! Flike!” Just amazing.

  4. Must see.

    More importantly, Los Angeles billboard sexpot Angelyne’s pink Cadillac is parked across the street…a crowd gathers….

  5. […] Ford epic Western movie. Chris Curtis and Mike Pender had been schoolmates of his and Pender had prThe Searchers (1956) – The Searchers formed in Liverpool in 1960. Founding member John McNally took their name from a […]

  6. Yeah, UMBERTO D is a real tear-jerker. Not a “spinach” movie at all.

  7. Since we’re being honest…never seen a Bela Tarr. Only seen a couple of Ophulses. (What the hell is the plural of Ophuls?) Don’t think I’ve seen any Rossellini. Just a smattering of Ozu and Mizoguchi…been playing catch-up on Powell and Pressburger.

    And I’ve only seen excerpts from Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM on Youtube.

  8. Seen one Ozu. One Mizoguchi. Pressberger, nay. I always feel like the ultimate “need to see fringe canon” is his I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING. Okay, I have another goal for the year…

  9. Check out BLACK NARCISSUS. You’ll love the feverish tone and trippy colors, particularly if you indulge in a bit of greenery beforehand. Like a nice spinach salad.

    Just imagine this on Blu:

  10. Wait, wait — does that include PEEPING TOM?!! Forget what I said before and watch that one immediately. It’s a sick, sick little film, and it came out the same year as PSYCHO.

  11. PS: I’ve never seen SKIDOO.

    Am I banned?

  12. Christian, I figured your brilliance with cult films I’ve barely heard of meant some sacrifices were made somewhere. I second the UMBERTO D love, and you MUST see MADAME D and FIRES ON THE PLAIN.

  13. Fine Post. I searched the entire net for informations like u shared it on this post “Blu-ray Theater Vol. II Technicolor Dreams”. Thanks very much, it assisted me out.

  14. Nice post! Dr. No is one of the best film in the serious of “James Bond”
    I still watched :)

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