Movies Till Dawn: Past in Present

Giants and Toys” (1958, Arrow Video) Desperate candy manufacturing exec Hiroshi Kawagachi hitches his company’s tumbling fortunes on spokesmodel Hitomi Nozoe, an enthusiastic young girl with dreadful teeth who becomes a national sensation that quickly eclipses his control. Sharp-witted and visually striking satire from prolific Japanese filmmaker Yasuzo Masumura lands numerous hits on the relentless drive and moral abandon of postwar business (in his country and elsewhere), which steers the film into increasingly absurd waters; much of its targeted humor has been done elsewhere, but not as cleverly, or with such technical skill (the sound of a failing cigarette lighter becomes a portal into characters’ thoughts) – and the idea of big business, advertising, and manufactured icons as quicksand remains relevant after 60 years. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes detailed commentary by film scholar Irene Gonzalez-Lopez and an intro by Japanese film historian Tony Rayns, among other extras.

The Lost Weekend” (1945, Kino Lorber) Time has somewhat blunted the bite of Billy Wilder‘s Oscar-winning drama about an alcoholic writer’s descent into the depths of his addiction, as have dozens of other films that have offered darker, more grotesque, and more personal takes than Wilder and co-writer Charles Brackett‘s script. At its core, though, “The Lost Weekend” remains relevant and powerful for its fine-grain look at the mechanics of the functioning (and non-functioning) addict: the endless lies to others and to themself, the willingness to bulldoze the good will of others, the gradual, helpless steps into the ugliest of behaviors. Ray Milland puts an Everyman face on a condition that movies prior to “Weekend” had reserved for comics or the more extreme degenerate characters, and the film’s more extreme elements – the theremin-soaked score by Miklos Rosza and the infamous mouse/bat DT – are blunt but still effective tools in suggesting the idea of living in a nightmare. Kino’s Blu-ray – a 4K remaster – offers detailed commentary by historian Joseph McBride, who knew and interviewed Wilder, as well as a 1946 radio adaptation with Millland and movie co-stars Jane Wyman and Frank Faylen, the theatrical trailer, and trailers for other Milland titles in the Kino library (“Panic in Year Zero”).

Isle of the Dead” (1945, Warner Archives Collection) Top-billed Boris Karloff is a icy Greek general trapped by plague on a remote island that he believes is also home to a malevolent, vampire-like spirit. Though less cohesive than producer Val Lewton‘s other extraordinary budget horror productions for Warner (“Cat People,” “I Walked with a Zombie”), “Dead” maintains a palpable atmosphere of dread thanks largely to Jack MacKenzie’s camerawork, which glides with appropriately spectral grace through a doomstruck landscape; with director Mark Robson, Lewton also generates one of the most unnerving setpieces in a sequence where cataleptic Katherine Emery’s worst fear – burial while alive – is realized. WAC’s Blu-ray offers a stellar restoration and thorough commentary by historian Steve Haberman, who discusses the film’s connection to J. Sheridan Le Fanu vampire classic “Carmilla,” among many other topics.

So Dark the Night” (1946, Arrow Academy) While on long-overdue holiday, top Surete detective Steven Geray is confronted with a double homicide – both apparent crimes of passion – that appears to be the work of a serial killer. That rote premise is turned completely on its head with a delirious plot twist by the end of this impressive B-thriller by director Joseph E. Lewis, who employs his signature offbeat framing to underscore the fractured psychology at work in Geray’s idyllic French getaway (played in part by Canoga Park). Hungarian-born Geray, a busy character actor in films and on television for decades, does well in a rare lead, though for some, the main attraction may be the appearance of actor/performance artist/certifiable maniac Brother Theodore as the town’s voice of doom. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes commentary by critics/historians Glenn Kenny and Farran Smith Nehme and a 20-minute video essay on Lewis by historian Imogen Sara Smith.

Mr. Topaze” (1961, Film Movement Classics) I covered this British comedy, directed by Peter Sellers and long considered lost, during its theatrical reissue in 2020; it’s slight but amusing, and notable for Sellers playing against type and doing a capable job as director, and features a supporting cast of scene-stealers like Herbert Lom (Sellers’ “Pink Panther” nemesis) and Leo McKern. Film Movement Classics’ Blu-rays adds several fun extras, including the 1951 short “Let’s Go Crazy,” with Sellers and fellow Goon Show member Spike Milligan playing several characters; there’s also an interview with McKern’s daughter, Abigail, and a video essay from Kat Ellinger that largely concerns Marcel Pagnol, on whose play the film is based.

Whisky Galore! & The Maggie” (1949/1954) Film Movement Classics) Speaking of British comedies, here’s a double bill from Ealing Studios, which produced some of the country’s best postwar comic features like “The Man in the White Suit” and “The Ladykillers.” Alexander Mackendrick, who helmed both of those films (and later, the savage “Sweet Smell of Success” in the U.S.), also directed the two on Film Movement’s Blu-ray, both set in Scotland; the former concerns the wreck of a freighter carrying thousands of cases of whiskey on an island in the grip of wartime alcohol rationing, while the latter concerns a clash of culture and values between cargo ship captain Alex MacKenzie and American Paul Douglas, who has mistakenly arranged for the far too small and old boat to transport his belongings. Neither are as stellar as Mackendrick’s best Ealing comedies, but both feature iterations on the sharp writing and clever characters found in much of the studio’s work. Film Movement’s Blu-ray is rich with extras, including commentary by John Ellis, who also produced an excellent making-of documentary, and a second featurette about the real-life event that inspired “Galore.”

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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