View from the Couch: Giallo Essentials, Josie and the Pussycats, Reds, etc.
View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Warren Beatty (far right) in Reds (Photo: Paramount)
(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
FREUD (1962). John Huston takes on the challenge of bringing the story of Sigmund Freud to the big screen, and he mostly succeeds with his assignment. Rather than offering a birth-to-death biopic — a daunting task given the subject — Huston and scripters Charles Kaufman and Wolfgang Reinhardt (with contributions by an uncredited Jean-Paul Sartre, who had his name removed after disagreements with Huston) wisely concentrate on only one period in the life of the Austrian neurologist. That would be the crucial early stage when Freud (Montgomery Clift) begins thinking outside the box, earning the scorn of his peers and his superiors for his theories regarding neuroses, hysteria, and sexual repression. No longer able to function under the disbelieving and disparaging eye of Dr. Meynert (fine work by Eric Portman), Freud sets off on his own, eventually teaming up with the like-minded Dr. Breuer (Larry Parks). But even Dr. Breuer balks at some of Freud’s more radical beliefs, including the concept of the Oedipal complex. Here’s a movie where the dream sequences appropriately enhance rather than injure the story, and Clift is suitably intense as the passionate if occasionally self-doubting doctor. Susannah York and David McCallum co-star as two of Freud’s patients, the former haunted by her dreams and the latter haunted by the specters of his authoritarian father and loving mother. Freud (also released as Freud: The Secret Passion) earned a pair of Academy Award nominations for Best Original Story & Screenplay and Best Original Score (the first of 18 nominations for the great Jerry Goldsmith).
Before its initial release, Freud was cut from 140 minutes down to 120 minutes; thankfully, this new Blu-ray from Kino contains the lengthier version. Extras consist of film historian audio commentary; the Trailers from Hell segment; and theatrical trailers.
GIALLO ESSENTIALS (1965-1978). They may not all be essential, but giallo fans will certainly want to check out the titles in this box set from the Arrow Video label.
The best film in the set, The Possessed (1965) was titled La donna del lago (The Lady of the Lake) in its native Italy, tagged The Possessed in other territories somewhere along the way, and renamed Love, Hate and Dishonor for its U.S. TV debut. The Italian moniker is the preferable one, since it comes closest to describing a key component of the film. Peter Baldwin plays Bernard, an author who returns to a favorite lakeside vacation spot to see the hotel maid (Virna Lisi) with whom he had become smitten. He’s shocked to learn that she’s dead — it was ruled a suicide, but Bernard knows better. Filmed in brisk black and white, The Possessed is often more noir than giallo, with a fatalistic air hanging over the proceedings and a mystery steeped in mood and misdirection. The character of Adriana is played by Ingrid Bergman’s daughter Pia Lindström, who quickly gave up film and became an Emmy Award-winning TV journalist.
The Fifth Cord (1971), aka Black Day for the Ram and Evil Fingers, stars Franco Nero as a boozy journalist who becomes the prime suspect in a series of slayings. This forces him to turn sleuth and uncover the real killer, whose m.o. is to leave a glove with a finger cut out next to each victim. Here’s an example of style over substance, as the overstuffed plot is overshadowed by the visual compositions. That the film looks so great is no surprise, since the cinematographer is three-time Oscar winner Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor and Reds, the latter reviewed below).
The Pyjama Girl Case (1978), aka The Girl in the Yellow Pajamas, takes its cue from a real-life murder that occurred in Australia in the 1930s. The movie actually offers two different stories that never connect until the end. The first involves the efforts of a retired police inspector (Ray Milland) to solve the mystery surrounding a corpse whose face was burned beyond recognition, while the second follows a young woman (Dalila Di Lazzaro) and her dalliances with various men. It’s obvious how these two stories will dovetail, and the film could have used much more Milland.
All three films offer both the Italian and English soundtracks (I opted for the Italian on the first two movies but had to go with the English for the third, since I love Milland’s voice). Extras on all three titles include film historian audio commentary; interviews with cast and crew members; and theatrical trailers. Other bonuses include a video appreciation of The Possessed, a deleted sequence for The Fifth Cord, and a piece on giallo on The Pyjama Girl Case.
The Possessed: ★★★
The Fifth Cord: ★★½
The Pyjama Girl Case: ★★
HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1978). To be clear, Warren Beatty’s baby is not a remake of the delightful 1943 fantasy-comedy Heaven Can Wait. It is a remake of the delightful 1941 fantasy-comedy Here Comes Mr. Jordan (itself based on a play titled, wait for it, Heaven Can Wait). Co-directing with Buck Henry and co-scripting with Elaine May, Beatty cast himself in the lead role, changed the character from boxer to Los Angeles Rams quarterback Joe Pendleton, and proceeded to create a wonderful piece of entertainment that’s as funny as it is fanciful. The afterlife’s Mr. Jordan (James Mason) must take control after an overeager escort (Henry) pulls Joe’s soul away from an accident in which he would not have died after all. With Joe’s body cremated in the interim, Mr. Jordan places him in the frame of Leo Farnsworth, a millionaire whose wife (Dyan Cannon) and assistant (Charles Grodin) are plotting to murder him. Joe/Leo falls for activist Betty Logan (Julie Christie) while also trying to get his new body in shape for the Super Bowl, a feat that will require the aid of Rams trainer Max Corkle (Jack Warden). Aside from a curiously ineffectual Christie, the cast is phenomenal, with Warden taking MVP honors. The climatic Super Bowl is between the Rams and the Pittsburgh Steelers — in an example of Life Imitating Art, the teams met the very next season in the real Super Bowl (albeit with a different outcome). A massive moneymaker — at the 1978 box office, only Superman, Grease, National Lampoon’s Animal House, and Every Which Way But Loose grossed more — Heaven Can Wait earned nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Actor (Beatty), Supporting Actor (Warden), Supporting Actress (Cannon), Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography (William A. Fraker), and Original Score (terrific work by Dave Grusin, maybe his best). Its sole victory was for Best Art Direction & Set Decoration.
Surprisingly (and disappointingly), there are no Blu-ray extras.
JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS (2001). The Archie Comics series hits the big screen in an adaptation that allows some interesting ideas and amusing moments to get misplaced in a garish presentation dominated by monumentally moronic diversions. Rachael Leigh Cook, an actress whose limited emoting skills and eerily picture-perfect features make it seem as if her entire face was airbrushed, plays Riverdale rocker Josie, who heads to the big city with fellow Pussycats Melody (Tara Reid) and Val (Rosario Dawson), armed with the unified dream of scoring a record contract. They succeed sooner than expected, thanks to a pair of unscrupulous record label executives (Alan Cumming and Parker Posey) who seek to control America’s youth via subliminal messaging in the music. The picture’s satire is hardly revelatory, although the running gag involving blatant product placement scores a few hits. As the dastardly villains, Cumming and Posey fearlessly follow the less-than-flattering game plan the movie has mapped out for their characters. The three lead actresses can’t ever make the Pussycats very interesting, although there’s a priceless moment when the bubble-headed Melody exclaims, “If I could go back in time, I’d want to meet Snoopy!”
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by directors Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont and producer Marc Platt; a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; the music video for Josie and the Pussycats’ “3 Small Words”; and music videos for two songs from the movie’s fictional boy band Dujour, “Backdoor Lover” and “Dujour Dujour Around the World.”
REDS (1981). Warren Beatty’s magnum opus is the sort of sweeping epic that Hollywood doesn’t even attempt to make anymore, as it masterfully maneuvers between personal love story and large-scale historical saga. Beatty, also serving as director, producer and co-scripter (with Trevor Griffiths), delivers an impassioned performance as John Reed, the early-20th-century journalist and activist. Covering the final years of his short life (he died at 32), the film centers on his relationship with writer Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) and his eyewitness account of the Russian Revolution, detailed in his book Ten Days That Shook the World. Yet Reds is a movie so rich in purpose and incident that it packs additional issues into its 195-minute running time: the period’s feminist movement, the discussions and dalliances of leftist intellectuals, the constant turmoil involving various political factions, and the disillusionment of those who had embraced Communism only to watch its principles get corrupted by the machinations of zealots. Despite a number of note-perfect turns (Annie Hall, for starters), this remains my favorite Diane Keaton performance: Her Louise Bryant is intelligent, opinionated, sexy, strong, and courageous. Jack Nicholson, meanwhile, contributes beautifully understated work as a brooding Eugene O’Neill — it’s arguably the most restrained performance he’s ever given. The Academy initially got it right by nominating this for 12 Oscars (including nods in all four acting categories), then blew it by only handing it three for Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Maureen Stapleton as feminist Emma Goldman), and Best Cinematography (Vittorio Storaro); it absurdly lost Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay to underdog Chariots of Fire (a fine film, but no Reds).
Blu-ray extras consist of a multipart making-of featurette and the theatrical trailer.
SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021). How forgettable is the latest MCU offering? I watched it a few weeks ago and, when trying to remember it, eventually realized I was recalling scenes from Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins instead. Only when I remembered the presence of Awkwafina did it fall into place. The actress provides the strained comic relief in a superhero saga that, despite several exciting interludes, feels more mechanical and less spontaneous than nearly every MCU title that preceded it. Simu Liu is borderline bland as Shang-Chi, who must wage war against his ruthless father Xu Wenwu (a typically strong turn from Tony Leung), an immortal who long ago created a powerful group of warriors known as the Ten Rings. Colorful characters brought to life by good performances — Fala Chen and Meng’er Zhang are effective as, respectively, Shang-Chi’s mother and sister, Florian Munteanu is menacing as Razor Fist, and it’s nice to see Ben Kingsley back as Trevor Slattery / the faux Mandarin — and interesting developments in the story get sidelined once the movie reaches its third act, which is even more endless and exhausting than the usual CGI-suffocated battles climaxing superhero sagas. As always, there’s a mid-credits sequence (this one featuring two Avengers), but even that fails to provide the requisite charge, coming off as an expected obligation rather than anything particularly fresh.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton and co-scripter Dave Callaham; two making-of featurettes; deleted scenes; and a gag reel.
TO HELL AND BACK (1955). Audie Murphy, the most decorated American soldier in World War II (over two dozen awards, including the Medal of Honor), had already appeared in 15 movies (mostly “B” Westerns but also John Huston’s The Red Badge of Courage) when someone at Universal had the bright idea of turning his bestselling autobiography To Hell and Back into a major motion picture, with the heroic soldier starring as himself. Although Murphy was 17 through 19 when he served his country during the conflict and 30 during the film’s production, the casting works thanks not only to Murphy’s baby face but also the sincerity and humility he brings to the role. Unfortunately, remove Murphy from the equation and what’s left is an average war movie. The picture starts with Murphy (played as a boy by Gordon Gebert) struggling through a difficult childhood as part of an impoverished Texas farm family (with Dad gone, just Mom and 12 kids). Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Murphy attempts to enlist in various branches (including the Navy) but is repeatedly told he’s too small. He’s finally accepted by the Army, and thus begins his courageous exploits in North Africa, Italy, and France. Murphy is fine playing himself, although the manner in which he purses his lips and stares steely-eyed at the enemy following each death of a friend reminds me of Bill Bixby’s David Banner intoning, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” The supporting characters are strictly stock, and the direction by Jesse Hobbs renders the battle sequences competent rather than exhilarating.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historian Steve Mitchell and author Steven Jay Rubin (Combat Films: American Realism) and theatrical trailers.
Short And Sweet:
THE ACCUSED (1949). Not to be confused with the 1988 Jodie Foster film, this one centers on a woman who, unlike Foster’s character, is almost raped. The woman is college professor Wilma Tuttle (Loretta Young), the would-be assailant is smarmy student Bill Perry (Douglas Dick), and the outcome is that she kills him in self-defense. Panicking, she makes his death look like an accident, which becomes a problem once a tenacious detective (Wendell Corey) starts putting together the pieces. Corey’s copper is both a heinous and a ridiculous character, but everything else clicks in this satisfying drama co-starring Robert Cummings as Bill’s former guardian and Wilma’s new love interest.
Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other films on the Kino label.
A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983). Christmas is around the corner, which means it’s time for home entertainment outfits to re-release holiday favorites on Blu-ray for the umpteenth time. One of the repeat offerings (alongside A Charlie Brown Christmas, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and the Jim Carrey Grinch) is this uproarious adaptation of Jean Shepherd’s book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. Peter Billingsley, in a delightful, wide-eyed performance that never grows stale, holds center stage as 9-year-old Ralphie, who wants nothing so much as a Red Ryder BB gun come Christmas day — but who’s told by practically every adult he encounters that “You’ll shoot your eye out!” Rich anecdotes involving his friends and family members (“Frageeleh! It must be Italian!”) fill out the remainder of this charming audience favorite.
There are no Blu-ray extras.
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