Movies Till Dawn: Under the Radar (Rarely Seen, Forgotten or Hard to Find)

Under the Silver Lake” (2018, Lionsgate) Grimy, idle Angeleno Andrew Garfield looks into the disappearance of his come-hither neighbor (Riley Keough) and falls headlong into a web of underground death cults, pet serial killers, and a slew of cryptic signs and portents on everything from cereal boxes to the lyrics of a band called Jesus and the Brides of Dracula, all of which preserve the (not entirely inaccurate) notion that Los Angeles is a Very Weird Place. Sophomore feature from David Robert Mitchell (“It Follows”) took some brickbats at Cannes before a peripatetic theatrical run and this home video release; the polarized response from critics and audiences is understandable, since “Silver Lake” feels cynical, willfully obtuse and self-impressed with its own catalog of hipster-weirdo cool (its disregard for its female characters is also a strike against it, and makes ill use of Keough, Riki Lindhome, Zosia Mamet and others). But Garfield is on the money as a responsibility-free, fringe-culture-minded manchild, cinematographer Mike Gioulakis makes Los Angeles looks inviting and horrifying (again, a mostly accurate depiction), David Yow is the Homeless King, which counts for something, and there’s even a visit to Bronson Canyon. Lionsgate’s DVD includes interviews with production designer Michael T. Perry and composer/co-producer Disasterpeace.

Between the Lines” (1977, Cohen Median Group) The staff of a Boston-based free press newspaper weathers changes to their lives and the paper itself as it faces a buyout from a mainstream publisher. Based on screenwriter Fred Barron‘s own experiences with the “Boston Phoenix,” this largely forgotten (but recently re-released) Altman-styled ensemble piece by Joan Micklin Silver (“Hester Street”) boasts a cast of then-stars on the rise, including John Heard, Jeff Goldblum, Lindsay Crouse, Bruno Kirby and Joe Morton (and “National Lampoon” co-founder Doug Kenney is seen commiserating with Goldblum) and a heavy dose of nostalgia for print journalism as a once-viable source of integrity and income. There’s also much bemoaning of lost ’60s ideals and innocence, which wears thin after the umpteenth mention, but the performances (especially Goldblum’s rock critic/dude on the make) pave over any wobbly moralizing. Cohen’s restored Blu-ray includes an interview with Silver and the original and 2018 re-release trailers.

The Man Who Haunted Himself” (1970, Kino Lorber) In the wake of a recent car accident, businessman Roger Moore comes to believe that his exact double is trying to replace him at his job and in his home with single-minded ruthlessness. British psychological/supernatural thriller, adapted from an episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and rendered obscure due to bad box office returns, gives the normally unflappable Moore a chance to display some grit and flaws, which he takes to with an energy rarely displayed during his tenure as James Bond; director Basil Dearden and frequent screenwriting/producing partner, Michael Relph, quietly build a sense of unease through subtle use of color and camera angle that eventually builds to a frenzied pursuit and final confrontation. Kino’s Special Edition Blu-ray includes commentary by the late Moore, who describes the film as one of his favorite projects, and uncredited writer/producer Bryan Forbes and observations by Joe Dante (“Gremlins”) and Stuart Gordon (“Re-Animator”).

Charly” (1968, Kino Lorber) A mentally disabled man (Cliff Robertson) reaps the benefits of an experimental procedure to increase his intellect, but struggles with the emotional side of his newfound understanding. This adaptation of Daniel Keys’ English lit staple “Flowers for Algernon” by director Ralph Nelson and writer Stirling Silliphant – a onetime mainstay of afternoon movie broadcasts, but now relegated to infrequent retro channel screenings – has its share of exhilarating and outdated moments; in the former is Charly finally defeating his pet mouse, Algernon, in a timed race, and in the latter, Charly’s deep dive into the counterculture, and his initial attempt to win over therapist-turned-love interest Claire Bloom, but Robertson’s Oscar-winning performance remains achingly tender. Kino’s Blu-ray includes commentary by Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson and trailers from Kino’s library.

The Prisoner” (1955, Arrow Academy) A Catholic cardinal (Alec Guinness) in an unnamed Eastern European country under communist rule is accused of treason and subjected to increasingly brutal physical, emotional and mental torture by a former military compatriot (Jack Hawkins) turned state interrogator. Stately if overly theatrical adaptation of Bridget Boland‘s play by Peter Glenville benefits from its cast, with Guinness reprising his stage role; controversial during its release due to accusations of it being both pro-Soviet AND anti-Communist, it’s worth seeing as a showcase for its leads, who are at the top of their powers. Arrow Academy’s Blu-ray includes scene-specific commentary by critic Philip Kemp and a video appreciation by historian Neil Sinyard.

The Killing of Sister George” (1968, Kino Lorber) Actress Beryl Reid – an alcoholic lesbian who abuses her child-like live-in lover (Susannah York) – unravels when her beloved character on a BBC soap opera is rumored to be killed off. Another take on larger-than-life women in their waning years from writer/producer/director Robert Aldrich, which echoes the excesses of his best-known efforts in these waters (“What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”), but also made somewhat rancid by painting Reid and Coral Browne, as a steely network producer, as predators (both actresses are featured in graphic – for the time – and unflattering scenes with York that earned an X rating and doomed the film). The three leads give their all to their deeply damaged characters (Reid’s turn earned a Golden Globe nomination), which helps to counterbalance the exploitative elements of the plot, but “Sister George” is probably best seen as a sort of high camp horror in which  age and sexuality are depicted as pathological conditions. Kino’s 4K-restored Blu-ray includes two informative commentaries – one with historian Kat Ellinger and the other with historian David De Valle and actor/director Michael Varrati – and a short interview with camera operator Brian West.

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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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