Monday, January 26, 2015

Winter Classic Movie Entertainment For The Snowed-In

With the knowledge that Northeast classic movie buff chums are dealing with brutal winter weather, here are a few goodies sure to make staying homebound during the deep freeze a more palatable proposition. So this is as a good time as any to read books about cinema history, forget all television programming other than TCM and enjoy vintage movies on Blu-ray or DVD (along with hot soup)!

February 24 will be the official release date of the book The Dawn Of Technicolor. This George Eastman House tome by James Layton and David Pierce is clearly a stunning piece of scholarship and a must for anyone fascinated by film history and technology. Included is an annotated filmography of all two-color Technicolor titles produced between 1915 and 1935.

Should a light romantic comedy, 1930's style, be the ticket on one of those Baby, It's Cold Outside evenings, this charmer, directed by Mitchell Leisen and featuring a repartee-filled screenplay by Preston Sturges, was released on Blu-ray a few weeks ago.

What this writer finds most compelling about Remember The Night, besides wonderful performances by the stars and supporting players, is both the intriguing twists in the storyline and a push-pull between sentiment and cynicism.

With Preston Sturges, often the latter wins that battle, but this time his screenplay has an uncharacteristic yet effective warm, fuzzy, evocative and even romantic quality; it's a key factor in Christmas In July, the second vehicle Sturges directed and wrote for Paramount, but very seldom seen from the writer-director afterwards. Worth the price of admission in itself: Sterling Holloway singing "The End Of A Perfect Day". Of course, Babs Stanwyck can't be topped!

February 2015 Blu-ray releases will include, for those who can never quite get enough film noir, the 1951 thriller The Prowler, directed by Joseph Losey and written by Dalton Trumbo, both blacklisted yet undaunted and true to their artistic vision. This bilious, dark and hard-hitting film stars the underrated actress (and at one point, the wife of John Huston) Evelyn Keyes with character actor supreme Van Heflin, portraying an incredibly vile, scummy character with relish in this opus.

The stellar restoration by The Film Noir Foundation has been out on DVD, but will be released on Blu-ray on February 3.

Since a feature film needs to be preceded by great short subjects, here are Blu-ray/DVD combos including rather amazing animated cartoons. The following excellent DIY cartoon compilations get this writer's braying Seal Of Approval instead of the Looney Tunes Platinum Collection, as the Warner Bros. 3 disc set, while great fun, features quite a bit of material already released on DVD.

Steve Stanchfield of Thunderbean Animation has been mining the far corners of animation history for quite some time now and is involved in the following two worthy compilations. Technicolor Dreams And Black & White Nightmares delves into, among others, the cartoons of independent producer Ted Eshbaugh, who was on the advanced front in producing cartoons in Technicolor as early as 1930.

While Walt Disney, indeed, bought out the rights to 3-strip Technicolor in 1932 and cornered the market for a few years, Ted Eshbaugh had already been producing cartoons in 2-strip Technicolor. Best known is the Eshbaugh studio's 1933 version of The Wizard Of Oz.

Indeed, Eshbaugh's surreal little corner of the cartoon universe - not much like Disney - is a fascinating place.

Archivist Tommy José Stathes and Mr. Stanchfield have collaborated on Cartoon Roots, which concentrates on the silent era, while also throwing in a few early talkies for good measure, with very entertaining results.

The lineup of imaginative animated rarities includes:
  • Lightning Sketches (Blackton, 1907)
  • Cartoons On Tour (Barré, 1915)
  • Col. Heeza Liar, Detective (J.R. Bray, 1923)
  • Bobby Bumps Starts To School (Earl Hurd, 1917)
  • Out Of The Inkwell: The Circus (Fleischer Studio, 1920)
  • The Jolly Rounders (Paul Terry Studio, 1923)
  • Mutt & Jeff: Fireman Save My Child (Dick Huemer, 1919)
  • Jerry On the Job: The Bomb Idea (J.R. Bray, 1920)
  • Felix Comes Back (Otto Messmer, 1922)
  • Farmer Al Falfa: Springtime (Paul Terry Studio, 1923)
  • Krazy Kat: Scents And Nonsense (Bill Nolan, 1926)
  • Dinky Doodle: Lost And Found (Walter Lantz, 1926)
  • Binko The Cub: Hot-Toe Millie (Romer Grey, 1930)
  • Toby The Pup: The Milkman (Dick Huemer/Charles Mintz Stuio, 1930)
  • Farmerette (Van Beuren Studio, 1932)

Also receiving its official release on February 3 will be The Marcel Perez Collection. This compilation of ten films by pioneering comedian has been covered twice on this blog, most recently in the December 29, 2014 post, Coming In 2015 On DVD: Marcel Perez, Silent Comedy Innovator. This is a most noteworthy contribution to film preservation, silent era cinema and comedy. The films are over 100 years old, but the celluloid time capsule has preserved the humor, spirit and charm of these early cinema actors beautifully.

For those who haven't seen Marcel Perez, also known as Ferdinand Perez and Marcel Fabre, he was a pioneering, irreverent and dancer-like comedian who gleefully thumbed his nose at the pomposity and conventions of the early 20th century. Between 1900 and 1923, he starred in 200+ films under a slew of different character names (Robinet, Bungles, Tweedy, Tweedledum, Twede-Dan), both in Europe and America. Perez' principal co-star was the winsome and talented comedienne Nilde Barrachi.

Those silent movie fans who did not acquire a copy of this DVD as a result of contributing to its fundraiser last year take note: the official release of The Marcel Perez Collection and its companion booklet is on February 3.

While Marcel Perez and Nilde Barrachi are perhaps best known for co-starring in the Jules Verne style futuristic fantasy serial The Extraordinary Adventures of Saturnino Farandola, this compilation features their wonderful work together in comedy short subjects. The pair are funny and charming together, especially in the Robinet comedies, some of which were exhibited as part of the Cruel and Unusual Comedy, Part 3: Selections from the EYE Film Institute, The Netherlands screenings at New York City MoMA in March 2012.

Some of the aforementioned choices have not been released just yet - and would be of no use for today's blizzard - but can be pre-ordered to make the next cold blast, or the next "not taking phone calls, texts or e-mails, period" off-day easier to deal with.

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