View From the Couch: Paths of Glory, Poltergeist, Rain, 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.
Heather O’Rourke in Poltergeist (Photo: Warner)
By Matt Brunson
(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.)
BRIGHT VICTORY (1951). Like Claude Rains and Thelma Ritter, Arthur Kennedy was a supporting performer par excellence, with four of his five Oscar nominations given for his secondary parts in such films as Peyton Place and Some Came Running. His fifth nod, however, was a Best Actor citation for a rare leading role in Bright Victory. (FYI: His category competition that year was comprised of Humphrey Bogart, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and Fredric March; not a bad mix of company!) Just as Bette Davis went blind in 1939’s excellent — and similarly titled — Dark Victory, Kennedy suffers the same fate here, playing a sergeant who loses his sight in the line of duty during World War II. Shipped to a military hospital stateside, he slowly learns how to cope both mentally and physically with his disability. What makes Bright Victory unique is that Kennedy’s character isn’t a nobly suffering hero but rather a racist who over the course of the film must learn to overcome his Southern (in this case, Florida) upbringing. Will Geer is excellent as Kennedy’s understanding father, Murray Hamilton appears as one of the sightless patients, and Rock Hudson lands an early role as a fellow soldier (coincidentally, all three actors would reunite 15 years later for John Frankenheimer’s cult classic Seconds).
Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary and trailers for six other Kino offerings, including Paths of Glory, reviewed below, and So Proudly We Hail, reviewed last week.
THE LOST BOYS (1987). This snappy, snazzy vampire flick looks better today than it did back in 1987, when it was overshadowed by superior mid-‘80s horror films like The Fly, Fright Night, Re-Animator, and Day of the Dead. Now, it functions not only as a decent bloodsucker outing but also as a prime example of that patented ‘80s excess — in other words, it takes only a glance at any random frame to immediately peg this as a product of that decade. Dianne Wiest (enormously appealing), Corey Haim (ditto), and Jason Patric respectively play Lucy, Sam, and Michael Emerson, the single mom and two teenage sons who move to the beachside town of Santa Carla, California. Two local kids known as the Frog Brothers (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) inform Sam that the area has a vampire problem, something Michael learns firsthand when he falls in with a group of toothy teens fronted by the charismatic David (Kiefer Sutherland). Lively dialogue, an imaginatively employed set design, and a robust climax all contribute to the fun — bonus points for making the family pooch, an Alaskan Malamute named Nanook, one of the heroes.
The only extra on the 4K UHD disc is audio commentary by director Joel Schumacher, but the accompanying Blu-ray includes a retrospective making-of featurette; deleted scenes; a look at the makeup designs by four-time Oscar winner Greg Cannom (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Vice); and the music video for Lou Gramm’s “Lost in the Shadows.”
PATHS OF GLORY (1957). Arguably the greatest antiwar film ever made, Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory feels like a mule kick to the stomach no matter how many times one has seen it (in my case, too many to recall). It’s World War I, and a French outfit led by the courageous and honorable Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) is ordered by a pair of glory-seeking generals (Adolphe Menjou and George Macready) to embark on a suicide attack against an impregnable German position. The mission naturally fails, and to cover up their own incompetence, the generals order the random selection of three survivors (Ralph Meeker, Timothy Carey, and Joe Turkel) to serve as scapegoats, charged with cowardice and marked for execution. It’s up to Dax, a lawyer in civilian life, to defend the trio against the heinous — and fraudulent — charges. Kubrick’s devastating parable, co-written with Calder Willingham and Jim Thompson (based on Humphrey Cobb’s novel), takes an unflinching look at how the common man will always emerge as the victim of the bureaucratic machinations of self-indulgent leaders. Not surprisingly, the film was banned in France for nearly two decades (although its message of course applies to all nations).
4K extras consist of film critic audio commentary; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for two earlier Kubrick films available via Kino, Killer’s Kiss and The Killing.
POLTERGEIST (1982). Has any filmmaker ever owned a summer as completely as Steven Spielberg owned the summer of 1982? E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, directed and produced by Spielberg, not only became the biggest moneymaker of the year but, until Star Wars retook the crown with its 1997 Special Edition, the top moneymaker of all time. And Poltergeist, produced and co-written by Spielberg, emerged as the eighth top grosser of ’82 and added “They’re here” to the cinematic lexicon. Spielberg and Tobe Hooper, reportedly hired as director due to his work on the previous year’s horror film The Funhouse, have refashioned the haunted-house movie as an amusement park ride, complete with plenty of jolting motion and no small measure of hair-raising turns. The story sounds slender — a suburban family contends with malevolent spirits — but what elevates the film are the central performances by JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson as the parents, the fanciful special effects, and the little touches (whether thematic or merely decorative) that are decidedly more Spielbergian than Hooperesque. This earned a trio of Oscar nominations for Best Original Score (another keeper from Jerry Goldsmith), Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound Effects Editing. Poltergeist was followed by two limp sequels (1986 and 1988) and a forgotten 2015 remake starring Sam Rockwell.
Extras in the 4K UHD + Blu-ray edition include a vintage making-of piece and the theatrical trailer.
RAIN (1932). W. Somerset Maugham’s short story “Miss Thompson” (aka “Rain”) has been brought to the screen on four separate occasions, although the last time was 69 years ago. The 1928 silent feature Sadie Thompson was a critical and commercial hit for Gloria Swanson (it also earned her a Best Actress nomination at the first Academy Awards), the unauthorized 1946 adaptation Dirty Gertie from Harlem, U.S.A. was exclusively shown on the “race movie” circuit, and 1953’s Miss Sadie Thompson was a neutered version that nevertheless provided Rita Hayworth with a meaty role. And then there was Joan Crawford’s interpretation in a 1932 film that was a flop with both audiences and reviewers. Rain is actually a solid (if flawed) picture in its own right, and its pre-Code standing means that it doesn’t pull many punches in its portrayal of religious hypocrisy. Crawford plays a prostitute who’s one of the many travelers trapped on a South Pacific island by a raging storm. Also among the assembled is Mr. Davidson (Walter Huston), a pitiless reverend who becomes obsessed with saving Sadie’s soul … or is that fevered glint in his eye representative of something less noble?
Rain is one of those films that, because of a lapse in copyright, has been fair game for public-domain pilferers. VCI, however, is celebrating its 90th anniversary with a restored Blu-ray edition. Extras include two film historian audio commentaries; an alternate 76-minute version (the original runs 94 minutes) that was used for a 1938 rerelease; and the 1934 Betty Boop cartoon Poor Cinderella.
THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS (1946). Not wasting his time in itty-bitty parts, Kirk Douglas made his motion picture debut in a major supporting role in this sturdy melodrama-cum-film noir. This dark tale centers on what happens when a young girl named Martha (Janis Wilson) kills her cruel aunt (Judith Anderson, Rebecca‘s Mrs. Danvers) in the presence of chums Sam (Darryl Hickman) and Walter (Mickey Kuhn). Sam, always in trouble with the law, flees town; when he returns 18 years later (now played as an adult by Van Heflin), he learns that Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) is unhappily married to Walter (Douglas) but has nevertheless engineered her meek husband’s rapid ascension in politics. Sam hooks up with an ex-con named Toni (Lizabeth Scott), but their hopes at a happy life together are marred by the efforts of Martha, who’s still attracted to Sam, and Walter, who thinks Sam has only returned to blackmail them over the long-ago murder. Blake Edwards, who spent the 1940s as an unsuccessful actor (according to IMDb, a whopping 25 of his 32 roles were uncredited!) before metamorphosing into the accomplished director of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Days of Wine and Roses, and The Pink Panther series, appears in, yes, an uncredited role as the sailor who hitches a ride with Sam early in the film. This earned John Patrick an Oscar nomination for Best Original Story.
Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary and theatrical trailers for other titles on the Kino label.
Short And Sweet:
DREAMCHILD (1985). The 80-year-old Alice Hargreaves (Coral Browne), who as a child (Amelia Shankley) was the inspiration for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, travels to New York in the 1930s; while there, she gets flooded with memories of Reverend Dodgson (Ian Holm), aka Lewis Carroll, and also imagines herself interacting with the novel’s fantastical creatures. Browne and Holm are superb, the kooky Alice characters (courtesy of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop) are marvelously frightful, and Carroll’s complicated relationship with Alice is handled with care by scripter Dennis Potter. This could have been a classic had it not wasted so much time on Alice’s simpering assistant (Nicola Cowper) and a tiresome NYC reporter (Peter Gallagher); as it stands, it’s good but not great.
Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for two 1970 family films, Pufnstuf and The Railway Children.
THE WARRIOR AND THE SORCERESS (1984). It takes less than 10 minutes after its opening to figure out that this Roger Corman quickie is a rip-off of Yojimbo, although it goes without saying — err, typing — that star David Carradine is no Toshiro Mifune, and director John C. Broderick is clearly no Akira Kurosawa. Carradine stars as a taciturn swordsman who stumbles across a village fought over by two different factions and decides to alternately offer his services to both sides. This OK fantasy flick (certainly better than many others of its ilk) takes place on a planet with twin suns, though it’s unlikely that Luke Skywalker lives on the other side of the world. And, yes, the rumor is true: Lead actress María Socas does indeed play her entire role topless.
There are no Blu-ray extras.
Review links for movies referenced in this column:
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Days of Wine and Roses
The Railway Children
Some Came Running
So Proudly We Hail
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