Movies Till Dawn: B/W

The Night of the Iguana” (1964, Warner Archives Collection) Sin and redemption (but mostly sin) in Puerto Vallarta, with Richard Burton as a defrocked priest leading American tours in Mexico and Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr, and Sue Lyon as various women with carnal designs on him. John Huston’s adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play is perhaps best remembered for its high profile cast (though the major award noms went to Gardner, Grayson Hall as Lyon’s closeted lesbian aunt and Cyril Delvanti as Kerr’s aging father); Huston swings for the fences and reworks Williams’ ending, but any shortcomings are negated by the leads’ fine, full-bore work. Warner Archives’ Blu-ray restores the luster of Gabriel Figueroa’s Oscar-nominated cinematography and bundles two vintage featurettes – a 2006 overview with Huston biographer Donald Spoto, among others, detailing the director, playwright, and film, and a 1964 promo short with lots of location footage and scenes of Elizabeth Taylor visiting Burton on the set, which drew considerable media attention.

The Lady from Shanghai” (1947, Kino Lorber) Arthouse noir by way of Orson Welles, who stars as an Irish sailor lured into a bizarre fake murder plot by alluring platinum blonde Rita Hayworth (then Welles’ wife), her disabled lawyer husband (Everett Sloane) and fist-faced Glenn Anders. Doomstruck and hopelessly confusing drama, due in part to Welles’ disregard for his own script (co-penned sans credit by co-producer William Castle, Charles Lederer and Fletcher Markle, and based on a novel by Sherwood Foster which Welles never read) in favor of a master class in his remarkable understanding of and ability to transform the visual language of the movies; the approach spelled “Shanghai’s” doom upon release, but Welles’ trick bag culminates in the film’s calling card, a reckoning in a hall of mirrors that has been quoted in other media for over a half-century (see: “Enter the Dragon,” “John Wick: Chapter 2,” et al). With Ted de Corsia and an uncredited Errol Flynn, who provided his own yacht in the Acapulco sequences. Kino’s remastered Special Edition Blu-ray edition includes two new commentaries (by Imogen Sara Smith and Tim Lucas), both brimming with superior research and observation; a third track by the late Peter Bogdanovich provides his own perspective through his interviews with Welles. Bogdanovich is also featured in a 20-minute featurette, while noir historian Eddie Muller offers short comments on the film’s noir heritage. The original trailer rounds out the set, and is paired with spots for Welles’s “Touch of Evil” and “The Stranger,” among others.

The Witch” (1966, Arrow Video) Author and world-class cad Richard Johnson meets his match in the mother-daughter team of Sarah Ferrati and Rosanna Schiffino, who ostensibly hire him to translate the erotic texts in their vast library but seem more focused on dominating him, body and soul, through sex and (possibly) magic. Little-seen Italian supernatural fantasy, part of Arrow’s ambitious “Gothic Fantastico” set, is gorgeous to view and directed with an eye for heady symbolism and surrealism by Damiano Damiani, save for an ugly finale which seems to revoke its careful dissection of the brittle male ego. Kat Ellinger provides commentary and Mark Thompson Ashworth repeats his introductory duties from the other films in the set; a visual essay by Miranda Corcoran and interview with filmmaker Antonio Tentori highlight the picture’s unique look and appeal.

“The Mystery of Edwin Drood” (1935, Kino Lorber) Early (but not the first) adaptation of Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel, with Claude Rains in rotter mode, this time as an opium-addicted choirmaster whose lust for the fiancée (Heather Angel) of his nephew (David Manners of “Dracula”) spurs him to dispatch the younger man and pin the crime on a newcomer (Douglas Montgomery). Universal release hews closer to the studio’s horror cycle (director Stuart Walker also helmed Uni’s “Werewolf of London”) in terms of atmosphere and imagery, which is impressively Gothic and lavish; the script is pure penny dreadful and the ending feels ill-considered, though Rains’ full-throated take compensates for any deficiences. Kino’s Blu-ray includes informative commentary by historian David Del Valle, who notes major players in bit roles (Walter Brennan) and the horror heritage of others (Rains and Manners, of course, but also Valerie Hobson, who appeared in “Bride of Frankenstein”).

Maigret” (1960-1962 Kino Lorber) Though many actors have played Georges Simenon’s unflappable French detective Inspector Maigret – including Michael Gambon, Bruno Crèmer, and most recently, Rowan Atkinson and Gerard Depardieu – British actor Rupert Davies’ take for this BBC series appears to remain a favorite among European and Canadian audiences of a certain age. Davies embodies Maigret’s key appeal – his understanding of and sympathy for the conditions that lead to criminal acts – in an understated manner, defined largely by doggedness and reserve; the cases featured on the Series 1 and 2 sets are equally unshowy (no super villians here) but with enough complexity to allow Maigret to ply the breadth of his talents. Satisfying TV detective fare for those who appreciate the Continental approach to sleuthing: Kino’s three-disc sets of Seasons 1 and 2 feature new scans of films taken of the original TV broadcasts.

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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