Movies Till Dawn: Out of the Past

“Jaws” (1975, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment) The unlikely trio of police chief Roy Scheider, shaggy oceanographer Richard Dreyfuss and grizzled shark hunter Robert Shaw are tasked with dispatching the 25-foot Great White preying on summer crowds on an East Coast island. Adventure-thriller from Steven Spielberg changed the motion picture business by establishing the colossal moneymaking potential of summer releases and saturation booking (releasing a film to thousands of theaters at once, rather than a gradual release); unlike most films that fall under the blockbuster rubric, “Jaws” manages to be at once dramatic, inventive, funny, suspenseful, and compulsively and consistently watchable. UPHE’s 45th anniversary release bundles 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and digital versions of the film with two feature-length documentaries, including the excellent “The Shark is Still Working,” about the film’s production challenges, deleted scenes, production art and a 48-page booklet.

“The Deer Hunter” (1978, Shout! Select) Pennsylvania steel workers Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and John Savage, raised in a culture of bravado and prowess, are forever transformed by their nightmarish experiences in Vietnam. Michael Cimino‘s epic, Oscar-winning drama remains a high water mark in terms of performance by its high-wattage cast, which includes John Cazale in his final screen appearance and Meryl Streep, and for tackling the issue of Vietnam at a time when the conflict was still too raw a nerve for Hollywood; the sequences in Vietnam, and in particular, the harrowing Russian roulette scenes, are harrowing but also play like scenes from a more exploitative effort. Its ultimate impact, beyond the success enjoyed by most of its cast (but not Cimino), was to open the door for greater discussion of the Vietnam War and its impact on American soldiers, both on screen and off. Shout’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray packages “The Deer Hunter” in both 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray formats and includes commentary by cinematographer Vilmos Zsignmond (with journalist Bob Fisher), new interviews with Savage, co-star Rutanya Alda, producer Michael Deeley and critic David Thomson, as well as deleted and extended scenes.

“Mr. Topaze” (1961, Film Movement) Fired for failing the spoiled son of a baroness, the unfailingly honest teacher Auguste Topaze (Peter Sellers) is tapped by crooked city official Herbert Lom to lend an air of respectability to his under-the-table businesses, but soon finds disreputability to his liking. Sellers’s sole effort as director was considered lost after its brief theatrical run (it played as “I Like Money” in the States) until the recent discovery of its sole surviving 35mm print; the film, and Sellers’s performance, may play too bittersweet for Clouseau fans, but the actor appears to enjoy playing against type and opposite such inveterate scene-stealers as his future “Pink Panther” nemesis Lom, Leo McKern, Billie Whitelaw and Martita Hunt. The restored “Mr. Topaze” will make its virtual debut at the American Cinematheque on June 12 and run through June 18; visit their website for tickets and details.

Inside Daisy Clover” (1965, Warner Archives Collection) As tomboy Natalie Wood discovers, Hollywood fame comes with a side of mental and emotional anguish, courtesy of malevolent mogul Christopher Plummer and closeted husband Robert Redford. Movieland horror story from director Robert Mulligan and producer Alan J. Pakula (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) is as ambitious as its heroine, adopting, at various times, the guise of a musical (with songs by Andre and Dory Previn), show biz satire, cautionary tale and camp exercise. Screenwriter Gavin Lambert (who adapted his own novel) was either unable to or prevented from making all its parts work cohesively (two reels were trimmed prior to release), but really, who could? A flop upon release, and for Wood, another nail in her contract with Warner, but “Daisy” remains watchable thanks to its overripe elements, an Oscar-nominated turn by Ruth Gordon as Daisy’s eccentric mom and Roddy McDowall as Plummer’s icy valet; Warner’s Blu-ray includes the trailer and “War and Pieces,” a 1964 Looney Tunes short featuring Wile E. Coyote.

Thanks to Warner Archives Collection for providing a free Blu-ray for review.

Distant Journey” (1949, Second Run DVD) The horror of life under Nazi rule, as seen from the perspective of a Jewish doctor in Czechoslovakia, her Gentile husband, and her extended family. One of the first feature films to depict the Holocaust, “Distant Journey” uses Expressionistic direction and lighting (director Alfred Radok was a major figure in Czech theater) and newsreel/propaganda clips to suggest his protagonists’ fate; though hampered by a seemingly rushed, upbeat ending, “Distant Journey” has greater emotional resonance than more explicit Holocaust films. Second Run’s all-region Blu-ray features a new HD transfer, commentary by the Projection Booth group, two shorts – one featuring Radok’s 1960 production of the cantata “Opening of the Wells” which, like “Distant Journey,” was banned by the Communist Czech government – and liner notes by Jonathan Owen.

AND: CBS/Paramount was kind enough to deliver (unprompted) all 20 seasons of the TV Western “Gunsmoke,” which aired on CBS between 1955 and 1975. The set, which compiles the entire 635-episode run and countless extras on 143 DVDs (!), is approximately the size and weight of my daughter as an infant, and while most likely not your first choice for your next TV binge, will probably take until Thanksgiving to complete with a leisurely-paced viewing schedule, which may be an appealing distraction from the current state of things. The sheer number of familiar faces on display also might make the ride worthwhile – you’ll see everyone from Burt Reynolds (a regular for several seasons) to Bette Davis, Dennis Hopper and Leif Garrett – and who knows? It might even inspire you to create something like “Bonanas for Bonanaza,” a very funny new podcast in which Andy Daly, Maria Bamford and Matt Gourley play superfans who discuss – in the most surreal terms – each episode of the titular and equally long-running TV Western.

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 Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, 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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