Movies Till Dawn: Dusk-to-Dawn Moviethon

71wUvZ2hLnL._SL1500_6 p.m. – Out of the PastThriller

(1947, Warner Archive Collection) Along with Double Indemnity, the quintessential noir picture, filled with the moral ambiguity, foggy landscapes and mounting sense of inescapable, cosmic doom that defined the genre. Laid out in complex and deliberately disorienting fashion by crime novelist Daniel Mainwaring (writing as Geoffrey Holmes from his novel Build My Gallows High), Out of the Past unspools, dreamlike, in flashback, recounting how private eye Robert Mitchum came into the orbit of hotwired gangster Kirk Douglas – namely, a malevolent dame (Jane Greer) who shot Douglas and made off with his money. Mitchum is dispatched to retrieve the cash, and falls in love with Greer, knowing full well that no good will come of it. Greer is phenomenal as the fatale, a one-woman wrecking crew who lays waste to everyone around her; she’s well matched in every frame by Mitchum, near the top of his game, and Douglas, who threatens to ignite the scenery through pure agitated fury. Carefully crafted by two of Val Lewton’s key collaborators at RKO: fabulist director Jacques Tourneur and cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, who steeps the picture in beautiful black shadows and gun-metal grays, all set to gleaming by Warner Archives’ gorgeous Blu-ray transfer, which also includes James Ursini’s expert commentary from the 2004 DVD release. Remade, for no good reason, in 1984 as Against All Odds, with only Richard Widmark and a still-venomous Jane Greer as its redeeming factors.

8 p.m. – The Great RaceComedy

71GVfdgPyDL._SL1500_(1965, Warner Archive Collection) Blake Edwards pays homage to silent comedy with this vastly expensive period piece about a transcontinental motorcar race. Tony Curtis is the gallant, white-clad hero, while Jack Lemmon consumes vast swathes of the backdrop as the enormously mustached heel; Natalie Wood is the reporter and suffragette between them. A slew of famous faces, including Keenan Wynn, Vivian Vance, Ross Martin and Denver Pyle, do their best to keep the tongue-in-cheek tone intact until the whole thing boils down to a colossal pie fight. You’ll either find The Great Race enormously charming or insufferably cute, though Curtis and Wood have terrific chemistry and Peter Falk steals the whole thing (as usual) as Lemmon’s hapless henchman. The WAC Blu-ray, which offers an eye-popping restored transfer, includes an EPK with behind the scenes footage and the original trailer.

10 p.m. – The Blacklist: “The Stewmaker (No. 161)” – Action/Drama

81TWLzTrrYL._SL1500_(2013, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) This exceptionally creepy episode of the popular NBC series draws a closer parallel between its central premise – the Silence of the Lambs-style relationship between master criminal James Spader and novice FBI agent Megan Boone – and the Thomas Harris/Hannibal Lecter franchise by casting Tom Noonan, who played the Tooth Fairy in Manhunter (1986), Michael Mann’s adaptation of Harris’ Red Dragon. Noonan’s titular hitman uses chemicals to dissolve his victims while also dabbling in some freelance murders on the side; Boone falls into the Stewmaker’s hands, resulting in some particularly tense and grisly moments. The five-disc set compiles the entire first season and includes commentary by the producers and a slew of viral featurettes about each episode. Season 2 begins September 22.

11 p.m. – The SacramentHorror

81roKr33T9L._SL1500_(2013, Magnet Releasing) Writer/director Ti West (House of the Devil) delivers a found footage take on the Jonestown story for this unsettling thriller about a VICE reporter’s journey to the remote jungle compound of a religious cult. West does well by merging his own sensibilities – in particular, a talent for slow-mounting dread – with the splatter spectacle favored by co-producer Eli Roth, but one wonders why he chose to give a blow-by-blow retelling of the last days at Jonestown – a event that defined death cults and mass suicide – and say nothing beyond what was already presented in the news and in the excellent CBS TV-movie Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones? As it stands, The Sacrament works best as a testament to West’s skills, and as a showcase for character actor Gene Jones, who plays the cult’s folksy and sinister patriarch.

12:30 a.m. – Chase a Crooked ShadowThriller

61teDHr8zDL._SL1500_(1958, Warner Archive Collection) Swell British suspense programmer with Anne Baxter as an heiress recovering from a mental breakdown in sunny Spain following the death of her wealthy father. Enter Richard Todd, claiming to be her brother and not at all dead from a car crash, as Baxter had previously believed. It’s clear to Baxter (and the audience) that Todd is up to no good – and in pursuit of missing diamonds from her late father’s mine – but she finds it difficult to convince local police commissioner Herbert Lom that something sinister is afoot. If some of the plot elements strain credulity – Todd’s explanation for his alleged death and reappearance is the gamiest of fish stories – director Michael Anderson (Logan’s Run) turns in a tight, efficient picture with plenty of atmosphere and one truly jarring set piece, in which Todd terrifies Baxter by driving at top speed along narrow mountain roads. WAC’s DVD is widescreen.

2 a.m. Macbeth Historical Drama

(1971, Criterion) Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy took its share of 81y6k022kCL._SL1500_brickbats during its brief theatrical release; critics didn’t care for its deliberately grimy look and brief tone, took exception with its association with Playboy (Hugh Hefner’s short-lived filmmaking wing bankrolled the picture) and tsked over its exceptional violence, which some critics credited as the director’s reaction to the death of his wife, Sharon Tate, at the hands of the Manson family (especially in the grisly slaughter of Macduff’s family). Time and this stunning Blu-ray presentation has largely reversed most opinions on the film; it’s beautifully and brilliantly shot, well adapted by Polanski and playwright Kenneth Tynan and performed by a cast of British pros led by Jon Finch and Francesca Annis. Most importantly, it pulls the play, whole and kicking and bloody, out of the dust of the classroom and makes it a vital, fascinating and thrilling film experience. The Criterion Blu-ray offers a 4K transfer drawn from the original negative and includes a host of superb extras, from a 1971 promotional short to interviews with Tynan by Dick Cavett and Polanski on British TV. A new interview with Polanski, Annis and several of the producers provides fresh perspective on this rarely screened film

4 am – Performance Drama

81d7KlRpO+L._SL1500_(1970, Warner Archive Collection) Brutal London mob enforcer James Fox, on the run from his former employer, holes up in a remote mansion owned by reclusive star Turner (Mick Jagger) and his girlfriends (Anita Pallenberg, then Keith Richards’ paramour, and Michele Breton). Parlor games involving shifting realities and identities (fueled by a healthy dose of hallucinogenic mushrooms) ensue, breaking down Fox and Jagger’s personalities as the picture itself fragments into bursts of time-shifting edits and jump cuts before Jagger tears into the film’s show-stopping finale, “Memo from Turner,” a Jagger/Richards composition (with Ry Cooder and Randy Newman among the players) that fairly drips with psychosexual menace. Though Donald Cammell’s directorial debut (with Nicholas Roeg) remains as deeply baffling to audiences as it did upon its release in 1970 (due in part to recuts demanded by horrified Warner Bros. executives), it’s also a unique and frequently startling film experience, especially for cult movie fans. The WAC Blu-ray presents Roeg’s visual compositions in fine detail, while devotees should note that the line “Here’s to old England,” trimmed from the “Memo” sequence in the 2007 DVD release, has been re-instated here. In his immensely entertaining autobiography Life, Keith Richards has little good to say about Cammell and claims that Mick and Anita carried on an affair while making Performance, which prompted him to step out with Mick’s then-flame, Marianne Faithfull. For his part, James Fox suffered a nervous breakdown and left the acting business after completing Performance and spent the next decade as an evangelical Christian.

5:30 am – The Protector 2Action/Martial Arts

81O1a2xsgZL._SL1500_(2013, Magnet Releasing) The good thing about this Thai-made punchout that star Tony Jaa is still an absolute juggernaut when it comes to skull cracking, limb snapping and defiance of the rules of gravity. He may lack a lot of screen presence, but for sheer physicality and fight choreography, he continues to evoke the same jaw-dropping, room-rocking response as Jackie Chan’s best Hong Kong efforts in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. It’s too bad that this latest showcase, which revisits one of his best efforts (now nearly a decade old), is gummed up with silly scripting, an overreliance on unnecessary CGI, and another woeful acting turn by RZA, whose Black Belt Theater fan club card should be revoked. The action sequences, however, remain phenomenal, especially a wall-to-wall brawl in a room enveloped in fire. 

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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