APES ON FILM: Frankenstein -vs- Jimmy Stewart!

Posted on: Jan 4th, 2021 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

 

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (2 Disc SE)- 1957
4.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Peter Cushing , Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart , Christopher Lee
Director: Terence Fisher
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
Region: A
BRD Release Date: December 15, 2020
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: New 2020 1080p HD Restoration Masters from 4K Scans of Preservation Separation Elements
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1, 1.67:1, 1.85:1
Run Time: 83 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

It’s the holiday season, and a great time to make a gift of your current disc copy of Hammer FilmsTHE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Not to a friend, but to an interested acquaintance or an amiable stranger – share the gift of a wonderful classic film in an adequate digital presentation and give yourself (and a friend) a gift by ordering the new, restored version of the film from the Warner Archive Collection. After viewing this presentation of the film, you’ll never be able to go back to the current disc in your collection, whether DVD or Blu-ray. For a taste of what I mean, click the title link above to see a comparison video of the restored vs. unrestored version.

Warner Archive’s new two-disc special edition lovingly gives this film the attention it deserves, including not one, not TWO… but THREE different prints in varying aspect ratios as released in theaters. It also includes a great slate of supplemental features produced by Constantine Nasr, a man who knows his mid-century British horror movies. He’s assembled a set of in-depth featurettes that include context, history, and opinions from the likes of Dick Klemensen, publisher of Hammer-centric fanzine Little Shoppe of Horrors, Sir Christopher Frayling, who provides an excellent history of gothic literature and how Hammer’s films were affected by it as well as how they affected it, David J. Miller, who contextualizes fellow director of photography Jack Asher’s work on the film and his subsequent work at Hammer, and composer Christopher Drake on the film’s score and it’s composer, James Bernard. Nasr and historian Jack Haberman also provide a new audio commentary. The film’s original trailer has also been restored and is included.

As for the film itself, it looks and sounds better than it ever has. One of the cornerstones of Hammer’s success, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was very much a gamble when the company undertook it’s production. Horror movies were at a low ebb in the mid-1950s, and the company was under scrutiny not only by the British Board of Film Classification but by Universal Studios, who wanted to make sure they weren’t appropriating any copyrighted material or designs from the 1930s films. Writer Jimmy Sangster created a totally new take on the story, focusing on the evil Baron Frankenstein rather than the monster, and injected a bit of Jane Eyre to play up the gothic aspect. Add blood, cleavage, and one-strip Eastmancolor film stock and you have a perfect storm which kicked off a decade’s worth of profitable releases for Hammer and their competitors.

If you’ve never seen it and aren’t a big fan of this type of movie, you might want to hold off on buying this set – an acquaintance or amiable stranger may be giving you an earlier disc release of it in the near future. If you are a fan, order now – this is essential viewing, and should be in any horror fan’s library.

 

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER – 1940
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Margaret Sullavan , James Stewart , Frank Morgan , Joseph Schildkraut
Directed By: Ernst Lubitsch
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
BRD Release Date: December 22, 2020
Region: A
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Run Time: 99 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

What would the holidays be without an annual viewing of that timeless Jimmy Stewart classic? You may think I mean IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, but I’m talking about THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, a deeper dive and totally worth adding to your Christmas movie viewing list. Remade in 1998 as YOU’VE GOT MAIL starring Tom Hanks  (well, who else could carry Stewart’s mantle?) and  Meg Ryan , with the original outshining the remake on all counts. The cast is perfect; Stewart, Sullavan, and Morgan essay their characters well, dodging and parrying each other with jabs and lunges of Runyun-esque dialog provided by writer Samson Raphaelson. Lubitsch’s direction brings it all in dramatically as well as comedically, making for a tender and frustrating love story between two headstrong people trying to define themselves through the eyes of others. We know in the end they’ll come together, but the journey is the satisfying part of this film, not the destination.

Warner Archive’s presentation seems sourced from a new 2K scan of the original interpositive materials and is a marked improvement from past releases. The picture is sharp and gray tones and blacks are well defined throughout. Audio is also improved, especially in regard to dialog, which is tossed about like hand grenades by the cast – fast, furious, and much more in evidence than musical cues. Supplemental materials include a vintage MGM promotional film, THE MIRACLE OF SOUND, a Screen Guild Theater radio broadcast (Sept. 29, 1940) with Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart and Frank Morgan, as well as the Lux Radio Theater broadcast (June 23, 1941) with Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche, and the remastered original theatrical trailer for the film.

Don’t look for a plot-heavy story here–this is all holiday fantasy, and the focus is on the characters. If that appeals to you, then make sure you get this disc and keep it handy every year around this time. It’s worth the watch.

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video*WatcHDog, and more.

 *Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

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30 Days of Plaza Theatre: Day One, The Beginning

Posted on: May 7th, 2012 By:

The Plaza Theatre is Atlanta’s oldest continually operating cinema, but this art-deco treasure is in serious danger of closing. In recent years, under the stewardship of the amazing Jonny and Gayle Rej, the Plaza has been undergoing a renaissance with edgy bookings of cult and classic movies, often accompanied by stage shows. It’s home to the Silver Scream Spookshow (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON IN 3D June 30), Splatter Cinema (ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST this Tues May 8), Blast-Off Burlesque‘s Taboo-La-La (BEYOND THE VALLEY OF DOLLS on Sat. June 2), monthly screenings of THE ROOM (with star Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestaro in person, May 11, 12 & 13), THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW every Friday at midnight complete with stage show led by Lips Down on Dixie, as well as all sorts of special screenings and regular first runs of art, foreign, indie and just plain cool movies. For the next 30 days, we’ll be reminding you of what’s great about The Plaza – articles, fun facts, and more – and urging you to support this amazing Atlanta institution by seeing a show or making a tax-deductible donation. It’s really come down to use it or lose it. Atlanta has lost so many great places, and we don’t want to think of an Atlanta without The Plaza.

For our first day, we asked Gayle Rej to go back to the beginning and give us a little history lesson…

[Coca-Cola tycoon family] the Candlers built the Plaza shopping center and Plaza Theatre in December 1939. It was a big deal because it was the first place in the city with off-street parking – making it the first official shopping center in Atlanta. There were giant klieg lights from the city, and Mrs. Candler-Griffith (the builder’s daughter and the mother of the current owner) was very young and was in a hotel room across the street at The Ponce de Leon Hotel looking down at all of the excitement. The first movies shown were THE WOMEN and then Frank Capra‘s MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON starring Jimmy Stewart.

Tune in tomorrow and visit ATLRetro every day for the next 30 to find out more about The Plaza!

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Retro Review: It’s a Wonderful Life With George Bailey in It: See the Capra Holiday Classic with Family and Friends on the Big Screen at the Vintage Earl Smith Strand Theatre

Posted on: Dec 18th, 2011 By:

By Thomas Drake
Contributing Writer

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946); Dir: Frank Capra; Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers; Wed. Dec. 21 8 p.m. at Earl Strand Smith Theatre; traditional TV screening on Christmas Eve on NBC (Channel 11) at 8 p.m.; Trailer here.

Short: “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

Medium: George Bailey is a man with big dreams and a big heart. As a youth he decides to set out for the big city and become an architect and explore the world. While he loves his family, he looks down with scorn on his small hometown, BedfordFalls. But on the day he is set to go out into the world, his father becomes ill. The problem is, George learns that the film’s villain, Mr. Potter (No Relation to Harry Potter of the Same Name), plans to take over the bank and remake the town in his dark image. George is forced to take up his father’s mantle and save the town, initially only for a little while, but as he puts roots and settles down, the years slog on. Until fate gives Potter a chance to destroy Bailey. Bailey is at the end of his rope and considers his life a total failure.

Heaven itself hears the prayers of the town and sends an incompetent angel in the form of Clarence to help out. Clarence gets the brilliant idea of showing George Bailey the world without him in it. Horrified, George repents of his wish for death and rushes back to the happy ending typical of Hollywood movies of the era.

George Bailey (James Stewart) at a low moment in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. His wife Mary (Donna Reed) and children try to trim the tree and enjoy Christmas. Copyright: Paramont Pictures, 1945.

Maximum Verbosity: This is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s not every day that a movie can establish a new kind of story that is copied over and over again in many mediums. There might be a story that did this before IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, but this Frank Capra-directed holiday classic certainly turned the idea of showing someone what the world would be like them on its head if it did. I’ve seen more television episodes and cartoons that show how critical a piece someone makes in the lives of others roughly based on IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE than I can even remember. And I can remember a lot.

When the film originally came out, it didn’t really do so well. In fact, it might have been doomed to an ignoble death like so many otherwise excellent Hollywood films until someone discovered that it had ‘slipped through’ the copyright trap, and thus became exceedingly cheap for small television stations to run over and over again around Christmas. So it became an American favorite and a classic. Now the American Film Institute, on one of its many arbitrary lists, calls IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE one of the 100 best films ever made—and I’d agree with them on this one. Of course, that was not to last, as eventually the zaibatsus managed to loophole the loophole and now only NBC can show it (Dec. 24 at 8 p.m.).

In a rare holiday treat, the film itself, however, is going to be shown at the Earl Smith Strand Theatre, an art-deco former movie palace in Marietta. With all of the trouble iconic Atlanta film venues have been going through recently such as the Plaza up for sale; with the zaibatsus getting rid of their 35mm film collections; and even books themselves slowly going the way of the Kindle, supporting such grand old institutions as the Earl Smith is more important than ever. An artistic experience isn’t just about the performance, it’s who and where it is being performed. [Ed. note: this screening is not in 35mm, but we still think it’s mighty special to see even a digital print at such a cool Retro venue, esp. if the kids have only seen it in TV.]

Bumbling angel Clarence (Henry Travers) startles George (Stewart) by showing up in a nightgown. Copyright Paramount Pictures 1945.

So why do I love this movie? Let me count the ways. Jimmy Stewart is the most awesome actor in all of Hollywood history, and given some of the people that have worked in film, that’s saying a lot. The man was humble and had a genuine all-American quality to him that I found fantastic. That combined with one of his [and Frank Capra’s] other great seminal works, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, to me sums up what it means to be an American. He is the true Everyman hero, the one who stands up for what is right when all others demand that you surrender to the wrong. Indeed, if every man would be as Jimmy Stewart, then the very foundations of evil would be shaken from the world forever. Not that that’s going to happen.

Let’s talk Clarence (Henry Travers). Clarence is a delightful fuck-up. When one thinks Angel, one traditionally thinks Cherubim and a Flaming Sword guarding the Garden of Eden, not a bumbling old guy in a hat who doesn’t even have his wings yet. Of course, don’t underestimate old Clarence, because the old guy can turn visible or invisible at will and rewrites the very laws of reality to weave out George Bailey. If that’s what an angel without wings does, you can imagine how many power-up’s you’d need to take on a fully developed one. But his bumbling incompetence is why I like him. I like the idea that God, or at least his minions, are well meaning but not all powerful. But maybe that’s just me. It’s easier to accept the world the way it is if you think that.
We suggest there might be some difference depending on each ones physiology, but in case it does not respond the expectations indicated by your https://www.montauk-monster.com/pharmacy/phentermine attending doctor, report him immediately.

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE also is a great romance. Donna Reed is easy to lose in the crowd among all of the things that are going on in the film, but as a subplot, George Bailey’s courtship—both before and after they are married—is a true classic. She went on later to have her own highly successful sitcom, but seeing her in this is like all of those obscure ‘80s movies that have actors in them before they became truly famous. Like Kate Mulgrew in REMO WILLIAMS (1985).

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE is a wonderful romance, too, between George (Stewart) and Mary (Reed). Copyright Paramount Pictures 1945.

But I think above all, the philosophy of the film is why I love so much. Life isn’t about wealth. You can’t take it with you, and while it can certainly help in some circumstances, you can’t eat it and it won’t love you. “Remember George, no man is a failure who has friends.” I guess somehow when I heard that, it translated in my mind as, “The true measure of the worth of a human’s life is in the quality and strength of the relations he keeps.” And I’ve lived my life that way ever since. People matter. Friends matter. Family matters. And this movie is the quintessential guide to that.

It might be hokey. It might even have a healthy dose of sappy cheddar compared to the realities of corruption, malfeasance and dereliction we have today. The world needs more George Baileys, because God knows we’ve sure as hell got enough Mr. Potters running around with their derivatives and their credit default swaps and their vast indifference to the suffering of humanity. Our world has come to more resemble the dark mirror of George’s life, where people don’t give a shit about each other. But this is the Holiday season, damn it, and whatever your affiliation (Kwanza, Hannikua, Christmas, Festivus, X-mas), they are all about love and being greater than yourself. (Well…maybe not X-mas which is largely about buying as much as you can and trompling your neighbor in the process.)

Celebrate Christmas by living a bit of it each day of your life. And the best way to do that, is to be like George Bailey. Merry Christmas.

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