APES ON FILM: Mysteries, Mermaids, & The Man of Steel, Oh My!

Posted on: Aug 10th, 2020 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

SUPERMAN: THE BULLETEERS – 1942
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring:
Bud Collyer, Joan Alexander
Directors: Dave Fleischer
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Fleischer Studios
Original Release Date: March 27, 1942
4K Upscale via Waifu2x by Jose Argumendo
Run Time: 8 minutes
CLICK HERE TO VIEW

Every classic film deserves a classic cartoon screening before it! Youtuber and Warner Media employee Jose Argumendo has used an “AI” media suite to upgrade an example of one of the greatest cartoons of all time, a Fleischer Studios Superman cartoon from 1942, THE BULLETEERS. In the public domain for many years, the Fleischer Superman cartoons have long been relegated to low quality VHS and DVD releases, bundled with other PD animation clips. They are actually gorgeously rendered, high-quality animation that has rarely been duplicated, and it’s great to finally see one in such a high resolution presentation, though speckles, scratches, and other artifacts are still present. It would be great to see Argumendo run another pass through existing software to eliminate those issues as well.

Not released on disc (yet!), you can only view this wonderful animated short on Youtube at the link above. Do yourself a favor and click it now and enjoy the exploits of the “Man of Steel” as he protects the Art Deco canyons of Metropolis, rescues Lois Lane, and saves the day. Up, UP, and AWAY!

MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM – 1933
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Fay Wray, Lionel Atwill, Frank McHugh, Glenda Farrell
Directors: Michael Curtiz
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Warner Archives
BRD Release Date: May 12, 2020
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Resolution/Codec: MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Run Time: 77 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Perennial screen villain Lionel Atwill keeps handwringing in MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM to a minimum, proving once again what a great actor he was. No need to overstate the sadness and madness of his character, sculptor Ivan Igor, who loses everything in a fire at the beginning of the movie and spends the rest trying to recapture a flicker of magic that he lost in the flames. KING KONG’s Fay Wray is radiant and fresh throughout, only coaxed into hysterics by director Curtiz for a few screams in the third reel, but this film truly belongs to Glenda Farrell, whose fast-talking, wisecracking girl reporter Florence Dempsey steals all the best lines as well as hearts for the duration of the film. Remade as HOUSE OF WAX in 3D with Vincent Price in 1953, the original version is the superior watch, though both are worth viewing.

Shot in a two strip Technicolor process (red and green), the film has long been available in a washed out, speckled and lined print that originally belonged to Jack Warner. For the Blu-ray release it’s been restored to amazing success by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation, with principle funding provided by The George Lucas Family Foundation. Colors are rich, though primarily tinted towards red and green, and there are little to no artifacts that haven’t been scrubbed clean. The picture is sharp and looks almost brand new in 1080p resolution. Audio is clear and well-toned. Bonus features include audio commentaries by UCLA Head of Preservation Scott McQueen as well as author Alan K. Rode. Also included are a featurette “Remembering Fay Wray” and a featurette on the film’s restoration.

Though hampered by the lack of an original musical score, especially in the final reel, MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM is a true classic of its era, and a great film worthy of the restoration lavished upon it. Do not hesitate, grab this disc while it’s available!

MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID – 1952
3 out of 5 Bananas
Actors: Esther Williams, Victor Mature, Walter Pidgeon, David Brian, Donna Corcoran
Directors: Mervyn LeRoy, Busby Berkeley
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Warner Archives
BRD Release Date: July 28, 2020
Audio – English: DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Run Time: 110 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

“I learn much from people in the way they meet the unknown of life and water is a great test. If they come to it bravely, they’ve gone far along the best way. I am sure no adventurer nor discoverer ever lived who could not swim.” – Annette Kellerman

MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID tells the life story of Annette Kellerman, a pioneering aquatic performer and professional swimmer who created not only the sport of Synchronized Swimming and the modern one piece bathing suit for women, but also the cinematic nude scene in 1916’s A DAUGHTER OF THE GODS. Mervyn LeRoy’s film plays fast and loose with the facts of Kellerman’s life, but ultimately entertains thanks to solid performances from his cast, especially Esther Williams as Kellerman and Walter Pidgeon as her father. Williams was more than just a swimmer with a pretty face, she was a pretty fine actress.

What exactly do I mean by “fast and loose”, you ask? For one thing, none of the characters portrayed as Australians have any hint of an Aussie accent. None of the details of Annette’s personal life match up to reality except that she married her manager, James Sullivan, in 1912. Writer Everett Freeman’s screenplay introduces a lot of dramatic crossfire by adding a pseudo-romance with David Brian’s character, as well as a near fatal accident on a movie set that I can find no mention of in researching her life. However, the film will keep your attention as it rolls along thanks to its sharp dialog and amazing set pieces, especially as Williams cavorts in water tanks with dozens of other water ballet “dancers,” under the sure direction of Busby Berkeley. These sequences are worth the price of admission alone.

Picture quality is high, and the audio is crisp and well-balanced. The film is very colorful and looked gorgeous on my screen throughout thanks to a new 4K restoration. As with many high-resolution transfers, there is a bit of visible film grain, but not to a distracting level. Extras include an equally beautiful and hilarious MGM Tom & Jerry cartoon called “Little Quacker,” a vintage short subject called “Reducing,” a vintage radio adaptation featuring Williams and Pidgeon, as well as the theatrical trailer.

I’ve seen other reviewers recommend this for fans of Williams only, but I enjoyed the movie. As long as you realize its completely fictionalized, it’s quite watchable.

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video WatchDog, and more.

*Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , ,

APES ON FILM: Romance on the High Seas and the Docks

Posted on: Jul 20th, 2020 By:

By Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

Welcome to the first installment of Apes on Film on ATLRetro! This column exists to scratch your Retro-film-in-high-definition itch. Going forward we’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in Retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS (1948)
2.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Jack Carson, Janis Paige, Don DeFore, Doris Day, Oscar Levant
Directors: Michael Curtiz, Busby Berkeley
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Warner Archives
BRD Release Date: June 16, 2020
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Video Resolution/Codec: 1080p AVC/MPEG-4
Aspect Ratio(s): 1.37:1
Run Time: 99 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Film Still: Doris Day Romance on the High Seas

Doris Day bows on film as a cabaret singer caught in a wacky web of marital deception in the sort of screwball musical comedy she’d go on to perfect. This one is a bit too enamored of itself and the oh-so-whimsical, Preston Sturges-esque dialogue of the era; the problem is that no one bothered to have Preston Sturges actually write the film, so much of it just seems stilted and flat. The most entertaining lines and comedic bits come from background players. The musical numbers are forgettable and mostly fail to enthrall, the exception being “It’s Magic,” the picture’s finale. Throughout, the saving grace is Doris Day, who remains sparkling and a joy to watch. Hard to believe this was her first film, truly.

Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray release includes the film, its theatrical trailer, and a classic Bugs Bunny cartoon (“Hare Splitter”)—which is not presented in HD and laden with artifacts. The film itself looks gorgeous with deep blacks and vivid colors. Sound is adequate in MA 2.0 Mono.

Recommended for the completist, Doris Day fans, and lovers of period musicals.

 

CANNERY ROW (1982)
2 out of 5 Bananas
Actors: Nick Nolte, Debra Winger, Audra Lindley, Frank McRae, M. Emmet Walsh
Directors: David S. Ward
Rated: PG
Studio: Warner Archives
BRD Release Date: June 9, 2020
Audio – English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Run Time: 121 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Film Still: Cannery Row, Nolte and Winger

Like Robert Altman’s POPEYE a mere two years earlier, David S. Ward’s CANNERY ROW concerns the effects a stranger’s arrival has on a small, seaside town filled with hobos, eccentrics, and the feeble-minded, and like the earlier movie, it misses the mark. Also based on well-loved source material, written and directed by a true wunderkind of the era (Ward wrote arguably one of the best movies of all time, THE STING), and featuring a cast of enormously talented performers, CANNERY ROW is the victim of its first-time director’s self-indulgent excess and misunderstanding of the process he was into up to his neck. Almost everything about the movie is too “on-the-nose,” eschewing innovation for cliché, from the production design to the score. Especially rancorous are the performances of the supporting cast, who Ward must have encouraged to chew scenery like it was bubble gum. The good in all of this are the performances of Nolte and Winger, who keep things on track even as the film meanders around aimlessly for its second half. Also, of note is Director of Photography Sven Nykvist’s cinematography, which is lush and evocative throughout.

Warner Archive’s Blu-ray release is bare bones, including just the film and its original trailer. Film grain is apparent throughout and heavy in many of the darker scenes, but overall, it’s a very watchable presentation. Audio seemed uneven from a volume aspect, but otherwise serviceable.

I wish I could recommend CANNERY ROW, but it is a very mixed bag. Nolte’s performance is nuanced and subtle at times, from the era when he was still capable of such a thing. Worth a watch for that if you have time to kill.

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video WatchDog, and more.

*Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

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