Movies Till Dawn: Classics

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” (2021, Film Movement) Three stories, told plainly and with the most subtle camerawork, detail the complexities in the axis of dreams, reality, and how we exist in or pursue each as part of our daily lives. Writer-director Ryusuke Hamaguchi – a recent Oscar winner for “Drive My Car” – details this traffic jam through three stories, all anchored by female characters: a woman discovers that her best friend is dating her dog of an ex-boyfriend, a college student convinces his friend with benefits to seduce a flint college professor, and in a future world where computer networks have collapsed, a college reunion brings together two women who believe the other to be someone that they are not. Dialogue and performance drive all of the stories, which one might think would result in some dry material, but Hamaguchi understands that words can devastate and invigorate with the same impact as a Big Dramatic Scene or vigorous action; his are carefully chosen and unfold remarkable worlds within worlds, largely in the audience’s imagination. “Wheel” epitomizes great movie storytelling by stripping away much of support lent by a visual medium; you do the heavy lifting, and discover that the extra effort is worth it. Film Movement’s Blu-ray includes an interview with Hamaguchi and “The Chicken,” a 2014 short, crafted with equal care about minor moments with major impact on a young Japanese immigrant and a chicken bought for his dinner.

Beverly of Graustark” (1926, Undercrank Productions) Charming silent vehicle for star Marion Davies, whose underappreciated comic abilities get a fine showcase in this frothy switched-identities film. When a skiing accident sidelines her cousin, Graustark crown prince-to-be Oscar (Creighton Hale), Davies’ Beverly assumes his identity and becomes embroiled in intrigue with general Roy D’Arcy and romance with goatherd Antonio Moreno. Much of the humor centers on Davies stepping in and out of her princely garb, often within the same scene; decades of similar comedies may have blunted some of the humor, but Davies propels the action with abundant energy and good cheer. The 4K Blu-ray, drawn from the Davies Collection at the Library of Congress, looks pristine and includes both the finale in two-strip Technicolor and a swell original organ score by Undercrank chief/historian Ben Model.

Come Drink with Me” (1966, Arrow Video) Bandits kidnap the son of a provincial governor, prompting his sister, Golden Swallow (Cheng Pei-pei) to rescue him with the help of Drunken Cat (Yueh Hua), an addled beggar with a slew of secrets. Director/co-writer King Hu’s final effort for Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers and first pass at the wuxia genre – the highly stylized form of Chinese martial arts film that preceded the more action-oriented kung fu movies of Bruce Lee and the late, great Jimmy Wang Yu – he would help to perfect is loaded with intricate fight sequences (influenced, like the story itself, by Chinese opera) and Hu’s signature story complexities and careful camera compositions. The film’s most exceptional element is Pei-pei, then just 18 years old and using her background as a trained dancer to deliver a formidable mix of grace and power; Pei-pei would return to prominence three decades later in Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” which owed more than a few nods to Hu and this film. Arrow’s terrific Blu-ray includes commentary by Hong Kong historian Tony Rayns, lengthy archival interviews with Pei-Pei and Yueh Ha, and a documentary segment on wuxia with contributons by Pei-pei, John Woo, Gordon Liu, Sammo Hung and others. Trailer for “Drink” and its sequel, “Golden Swallow,” fill out the disc.

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm” (1962, Warner Archives Collection) Fictionalized take on the fairy tale authors (played by Laurence Harvey and Karl Boehm of “Peeping Tom”), who bring to life three of their lesser-known stories. Sprawling fantasy-musical by George Pal (“The Time Machine”), who handled the fairy tales and special effects, and Henry Levin (who oversaw the less captivating dramatic scenes) is best remembered as a showcase for the remarkable Cinerama process; the stories – “The Dancing Princess,” with Russ Tamblyn and Yvette Mimieux, “The Cobbler and the Elves” (with Pal’s stop-motion Puppetoons) and “The Singing Bone,” with Buddy Hackett and Terry-Thomas – are slight but get an exceptional degree of sweep and luster through the Cinerama lens, especially during the dancing sequences. Warner Archives’ two-disc Deluxe Edition Blu-ray offers the longer roadshow version (complete with intermission) of the film in both letterbox and Smilebox format (the latter reproduces the three-panel Cinerama look), all remastered to crystal clarity; featurettes on the restoration and tributes to Pal, Pacific Theaters/Cinerama chairman William R. Foreman, and promotional artists Reynold Brown and Joe Smith, as well as multiple trailers and behind-the-scenes images, round out this exceptional presentation.

One Potato, Two Potato” (1964, Scorpion Releasing/Kino Lorber) Barbara Barrie, who is white and has been abandoned by her husband (Richard Mulligan, later of “Soap”), and Bernie Hamilton, who is Black and has replaced Mulligan as both spouse and devoted stepfather to her daughter, find themselves in societal crosshairs when Mulligan returns to claim custody of their child on the basis of a mixed-race household as an inappropriate home situation. Well-crafted if occasionally heavy-handed indie drama from TV director Larry Peerce (whose subsequent career followed one of the most eclectic arcs in Hollywood), which took on the issue of systemic racism in America in simple yet effective terms at a time when relationships like those depicted in the film were not only illegal in certain states, but also untouched by the film industry; the script (by Orville H. Hampton and Raphael Hayes, both TV and low-budget vets) netted an Oscar, while Barrie won top honors at Cannes. Kino’s Blu-ray features a 4K restoration and interview with Peerce (who discusses the real cases that inspired the film) and commentary by historian Sergio Mims.

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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