Movies Till Dawn: Crime and Punishment USA 2022

The Long Goodbye” (1973, Kino Lorber) A slovenly, muttering Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould) navigates two disappearances – a close friend and a Hemingway-style author –but finds his efforts thwarted at every turn by something worse than organized crime: an incestuous, moral-free web of the Malibu scene, cure-all doctors, and hamfisted cops on both sides of the border. Robert Altman’s jaundiced take on Raymond Chandler’s 1953 detective novel won’t please its fans, but offers an honest and at times uncomfortably real look at the schizophrenia induced by living in an allegedly free-thinking and liberal city like Los Angeles (much of which remains accurate today). Gould’s sotto voce performance is among its chief appeals, as is John Williams’ clever score, which is echoed in nearly every diegetic sound; the eccentric cast, which includes baseball pitcher/scribe Jim Bouton, a (genuinely added) Sterling Hayden, Nina van Pallandt, director Mark Rydell, and a cameo by Arnold Schwarzenegger, adds to the electric circus vibe, while LA Plays Itself in glimpses of Gerald Ford-era Malibu (especially the Colony), Wilshire/Westwood, and the Hollywood Hills (Marlowe’s incredible digs in the High Tower Apartments). Kino’s Blu-ray balances a new 4K master and vintage material – interviews with Altman, Gould, and DP Vilmos Zsigmond, testimony on Altman, Chandler, and hard-boiled fiction – with a new commentary by Tim Lucas, among other extras.

The Amazing Mr. X” (1948, The Film Detective) Widowed socialite Lynn Bari (who lives in the incredible Villa de Leon in Pacific Palisades) still mourns the loss of her husband (Donald Curtis) two years after his death, which makes her an ideal mark for mentalist Turhan Bey (whom she meets on Pirates Cove Beach). Though sold as a horror film, director Bernard Vorhaus’ “Mr. X”  (also known as “The Spiritualist”) is more thriller-romance, with Bari torn between Bey’s exotica mojo and lawyer Richard Carlson’s more vanilla charms, and DP John Alcott lending top-dollar atmosphere and shivery VFX to a budget-conscious picture. TFD’s Blu-ray ties together a 4K transfer from a 35mm source, which is far superior to the numerous PD versions of this title; commentary by Jason Ney, a solid featurette on spiritualism in the movies, and liner notes focusing on Bey’s offbeat career close out the set.

Golden Needles” (1974, Kino Lorber) Ursine adventurer Joe Don Baker travels to Hong Kong to retrieve a statue outfitted with the titular needles, which provide the owner with either heroic sexual potency or instant death. That logline should illustrate the degree of loopiness present in this Stateside martial arts adventure from American International Pictures and “Enter the Dragon” director Robert Clouse. Eccentricity is its chief appeal, since Baker is a folksy but blunt presence and “Dragon” co-star Jim Kelly is reduced to a single scene; a flamethrower attack and a lascivious Burgess Meredith are among its outré selling points (though sturdy King Hu star Roy Chiao is also plus). Kino’s 2K Special Edition Blu-ray offers excellent commentary by grindhouse expert Chris Poggiali and historian Howard S. Berger, as well as trailers and TV spots.

Delirium” (1979, Severin Films) A gaggle of ex-soldiers form a vigilante group targeting criminals that have escaped prosecution, only to find that the fellow vet (Nick Panouzis) they’ve hired to carry out the executions is also a serial killer. Low-budget thriller lensed in St. Louis, MO, and constructed in part from an unfinished film, project benefits from its alarmingly prescient vision of a MAGA-style militia of angry white men taking law and order to an extreme and scrappy, energetic direction, which overcomes the limitations of a regional production (acting, photography). Severin’s Blu-ray, which makes use of what is apparently the only 35mm print in existence, includes informal and enjoyable interviews with director Peter Maris and special effects artist Bob Shelley.

Each Dawn I Die” (1939, Warner Film Archives) Reporter James Cagney’s investigation into crooked DA Thurston Hall’s campaign for governing New York gets him tossed into Rocky Point Prison (played in part by Sing Sing); there, he bonds with tough-but-tender gangster George Raft, whose connection to the DA proves useful to their respective causes. Getting past the totally crackers elements of the plot – not the false imprisonment, which remains sadly all too true, but Cagney and Raft’s plan to squeeze a confession out of a fellow con, which strains even the elastic credulity of most WB melodramas – is key to enjoying “Dawn,” though Cagney and Raft’s charisma carries the film, and if the script takes some fanciful detours, it also doesn’t hold back on calling out the prison industry for its systematic brutality. Warner Archive’s Blu-ray, which features a stellar 4K scan of the 80-plus-years-old original film elements, includes detailed commentary by historian Haden Guest and numerous supplements; the most enjoyable of these is “Stool Pigeons and Pine Overcoats,” a 2006 documentary on gangster slang with (among others) Martin Scorsese, Nicholas Pileggi, and Frank Miller, and “A Day at Santa Anita,” a shamelessly melodramatic short (written by “Mr. X” scribe Crane Wilbur) about an orphan girl and her horse .with cameos by WB stars like Bette Davis and Edward G. Robinson (and Stymie!), and Santa Anita playing itself. There are also two Merrie Melodies cartoons, a newsreel, and a 1943 radio version of “Dawn” with Raft reprising his role.

Thank you to Warner Film Archives for providing a free Blu-ray for this review.

Superhost” (2021, RLJE Films) Chirpy travel vloggers Teddy (producer Osric Chau) and Claire (Sara Canning) agree to report on a remote vacation home in an effort to stave off dwindling viewership, but discover something far worse in the property’s too-perky-by-degrees owner (Gracie Gilliam). Director Brandon Christensen makes the most of territory made familiar by a generation of “(occupation)-from-hell” horror/thriller titles; the plot beats leading up to the eventual revelation that Gilliam is insane (a point already made obvious by the cover art) are well-worn, but the trio of leads (and Barbara Crampton as a home owner irked by the duo’s deceptive review) invest themselves the material, with Gilliam in particular throwing off sparks in the final third, which offers an amusingly nasty spin on the perils of online duplicity. RLJE’s DVD is loaded with extras, including commentary by Christensen, several making-of featurettes (including one devoted to filming under COVID restrictions), and a gag reel.

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.
This entry was posted in Movies and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply