MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

DVD Gift Guide II: Red Skelton, Bob Hope, Der Bingle, Hitchcock, Homicide, Agatha Christie, Jean Rouch, MST3K, Curtiz, Logan Lucky, Animal Factory, Woodshock and more

The Red Skelton Hour: In Color: Deluxe Collection
Thanks for the Memories: The Bob Hope Collection: Deluxe Box Set
Bob Hope: The Ultimate Movie Collection
Holiday Inn: 75th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
Because our grandparents and great-grandparents already seem to have everything they need, they get shorted when gifts are being handed out around the Christmas tree. The challenge of picking out presents grows greater every year, it seems. After all, how many sweaters, robes and slippers can a person possibly own? Why not give the gift that never gets older that it already is: nostalgia. No matter how many channels there are, the ones dedicated to shows seniors might recall with fondness are limited to TCM, PBS and niche services on premium networks. While it’s possible that they already enjoy watching reruns of “Seinfeld” and “The Simpsons” as much as their boomer and millennial offspring, I’d be surprised if they wouldn’t cherish the opportunity to revisit variety shows from the 1950-60s, hosted by and featuring entertainers they haven’t seen perform in decades. Shows dedicated to singing, dancing, comedy and holiday cheer disappeared from network television at about the same time that talk-show guests stopped wearing tuxedos and cocktail dresses and network execs figured out that it was more profitable to pull Charlie Brown, Rudolph and Frosty out of hibernation, than stage a gala attraction. A perusal of the website offers a plethora of suggested titles, in boxed mega-sets and more affordable themed packages, featuring the stars of yesteryear. There was a time when Boomers would no sooner agree to spend an evening at home watching Bob Hope or Red Skelton than they would consider inviting mom and dad to a Grateful Dead concert. Now, the tables have turned. Watching the shows included in “The Red Skelton Hour: In Color: Deluxe Collection” and “Thanks for the Memories: The Bob Hope Collection: Deluxe Box Set,” I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the bits I once dismissed as being hopelessly square, over-scripted or oppressively wholesome. While I enjoy a good dick joke as much as anyone, I haven’t met an old-timer who feels comfortable watching comedians who pepper their material with language they once attributed to sailors, or can handle the decibel range of the bands booked alongside flavor-of-the-month celebrities only their grandchildren might recognize.

Like most of the big stars of television in the 1950s, Red Skelton and Bob Hope hadn’t reached puberty before they started busking for loose change on street corners. Skelton was only 10 when he parlayed his comedic and pantomime skills into jobs on a traveling medicine show and showboat, before joining the burlesque and vaudeville circuits. From age 12, Hope earned pocket money by entertaining passersby with his singing, dancing, jokes and impressions. Hope and his partner Lloyd Durbin were discovered in 1925 by Fatty Arbuckle, who found them work with a touring troupe called Hurley’s Jolly Follies. The skills honed on the streets of Vincennes and Cleveland laid the foundation for jobs on the stage, in radio, the movies, nightclubs and television. “The Red Skelton Hour” wasn’t originally shown in color, largely because CBS didn’t want to invest money in the still-nascent technology. It didn’t take long for consumers to begin clamoring for programming that justified their investment in color sets. Time Life’s “Deluxe Edition” is twice as large as the basic 11-disc package, leaving room for 65 hours of comedy, singing, dance and sketches with Red’s beloved characters. It includes the best of his early years on TV, featuring appearances by Jackie Gleason, Johnny Carson and John Wayne; 31 never-before-released color episodes, featuring Milton Berle, Martha Raye and Mickey Rooney; the complete final season, with Jerry Lewis, Jill St. John and Phyllis Diller; a full-length biography with rare home movies and interviews; his farewell specials, including a Christmas show; and a memory book, providing a closer look at how his characters came to life.

Hope not only is represented this year with “Thanks for the Memories,” with 38 hours of specials on 19 discs, including his historic shows entertaining the troops around the globe, but also Universal Studios’ “Bob Hope: The Ultimate Movie Collection,” which features 21 of his funniest films. The titles range from debut features The Big Broadcast of 1938, College Swing, Give Me a Sailor and Thanks for the Memory (1938), to Where There’s Life (1947), The Paleface (1948) and Sorrowful Jones (1949). Among his co-stars were Lucille Ball, W.C. Fields, Dorothy Lamour, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Martha Raye, Betty Grable, Paulette Goddard, Jane Russell and, of course, Bing Crosby. The set adds the PBS documentary, “American Masters: This is Bob Hope,” and several newsreels from the 1940s.

Universal has also dusted off the cold-weather chestnut, Holiday Inn, in a 75th-anniversary Blu-ray edition. If the film is known today primarily for introducing the Academy Award-winning “White Christmas” and providing a brand name for a chain of motels, it was originally designed as a showcase for holiday-themed songs by Irving Berlin and the singing/dancing prowess of Crosby and Fred Astaire. The inclusion of “White Christmas,” which was written with an entirely different movie in mind, was almost an afterthought, as was “Easter Parade,” published first in 1933. In the film, Crosby sings “White Christmas” as a duet with actress Marjorie Reynolds, though her voice was dubbed by Martha Mears. In the script as originally conceived, Reynolds, not Crosby, would sing the song. Both fabulously successful, “White Christmas” and “Easter Parade” would inspire movies under the same titles, in 1954 and 1948, respectively. The Blu-ray adds commentary by film historian Ken Barnes, with the taped material from Astaire, Crosby and music arranger John Scott Trotter; the featurettes, “A Couple of Song and Dance Men,” “All-Singing All-Dancing” and “Coloring a Classic”; and “Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn: The Broadway Musical.”

Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Collection: Blu-ray
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has released so many collections of movies by Alfred Hitchcock that it’s running out of superlatives to describe them. “Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Collection” was preceded by “The Masterpiece Collection” and “The Essentials Collection,” as well as packages from Diamond Entertainment and Warner Bros. Some of the movies and featurettes are repeated, so consumers are urged to carefully study the list of contents before making a purchase. Otherwise, it’s difficult to go wrong with anything by or about the Master of Suspense. “Ultimate” includes digitally restored versions of Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Rear Window, The Trouble with Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds, Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy and Family Plot. Not all were created equally, but even a flawed Hitchcock is better than a thriller by almost anyone else. Among the stars are James Stewart, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Paul Newman, Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, Tippi Hedren, Sean Connery and Kim Novak. The set contains more than 15 hours of insightful bonus features, an exclusive collectible book, 10 episodes of Hitch’s television anthologies and the six-minute-plus trailer for Psycho.

Homicide: Life on the Street: The Complete Series
Ever since the general acceptance of streaming, binge viewing has become the spectator sport of choice for couch potatoes and fans of quality television. Weekly series aren’t likely to disappear any time soon, but the opportunity to watch an entire season of a hot show, such as “Orange Is the New Black,” or every episode of an old favorite, like “Cheers,” in what amounts to a single sitting, can be too tempting to resist. Of all the packages released this year, Shout!Factory’s “Homicide: Life on the Street: Homicide: Life on the Street” is the can’t-miss title of 2017. Not only was it one of the most influential crime dramas in the history of series television, but it also provided David Simon with a launching pad for “The Corner,” “The Wire,” “Generation Kill,” “Treme,” “Show Me a Hero” and “The Deuce,” none of which resembled any series before them. “Homicide” broke the mold by offering viewers no-nonsense, procedural-type glimpses into the lives of a squad of inner-city detectives, giving full weight to minorities and women in roles not limited to heroin kingpins and prostitutes. Paul Attanasio (Quiz Show) based the series on then-reporter Simon’s book, “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.” Another thing that differentiated the series from other crime shows was the producers’ willingness to adjust stylistic conceits when viewers reacted negatively to hand-held camerawork, jump-cut editing and the repetition of the shots in key scenes. In addition to all 122 episodes from the original series, the set includes commentaries on select episodes; interviews with members of the creative team, an hour-long documentary about the making of “The Subway”; a panel discussion with exec-producers Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson, supervising producer James Yoshimura and Simon; “Law & Order” crossover episodes; and the 2000 finale, “Homicide: The Movie.”

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express
The Best of Agatha Christie: Volumes 1, 2
When in doubt, studio executives in England and the U.S. tend to go with the tested and true over the experimental and offbeat. It explains why Agatha Christie’s chestnut mysteries continue to be reheated with such regularity and with few concessions to modernity over previous interpretations. Kenneth Branagh’s recent re-adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express may not have set box offices on fire or impressed critics, but international audiences pushed receipts to $162.3 million, against a production budget of $55 million. That isn’t too bad. It even prompted Fox to announce a sequel, based on the 1937 novel, “Death on the Nile,” re-teaming writer Michael Green (Blade Runner 2049) and director/actor Branagh, the 15th man to play detective Hercule Poirot in a direct adaptation. (Why not Helen Mirren for a change?) Just in time for holiday gift-giving, Acorn Media has released “Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express” and samplers of other Christie favorites originally shown on Britain’s ITV and PBS. The 2010 iteration of “Orient Express” starred David Suchet, who played the suave Belgian detective 70 times between 1989 and 2013, as well as Inspector Japp in “Thirteen at Dinner” (1985). Suchet was renowned for extensively researching the personality and character of each role he plays. To prepare for the role of Hercule Poirot on “Agatha Christie’s Poirot” (1989), he carefully read every description Christie ever wrote about the character, and adopted a soft French accent. In “Orient Express,” Poirot investigates the murder of a shady American businessman stabbed in his compartment on the famous train while it is blocked by a blizzard in Croatia. Suchet was joined by Sam Crane, Toby Jones, David Morrissey, Jessica Chastain, Eileen Atkins, Susanne Lothar, Barbara Hershey and Hugh Bonneville.

The Best of Agatha Christie: Volume One” is comprised of “And Then There Were None” (2015), in which 10 strangers are invited to an isolated island, only to be picked off one-by-one; “Five Little Pigs” (2003), in which Poirot is asked to clear the name of a woman, executed 14 years earlier, in the murder of her husband; and “Death on the Nile” (2004), in which a wealthy British heiress, honeymooning on a Nile cruise ship, is stalked by a former friend, whose boyfriend she had stolen before making him her new husband. Cast members include Charles Dance, Aidan Turner, Sam Neill, Miranda Richardson, Emily Blunt, J.J. Feild, Judy Parfitt, Rachael Stirling, Toby Stephens and Aidan Gillen. “The Best of Agatha Christie: Volume Two” (2016) is highlighted by “The Witness for the Prosecution,” about a young man attempting to clear his name in the death of his lover. In “Three Act Tragedy” (2011), when guests at successive dinner parties mysteriously drop dead, Poirot teams up with an old friend to find the killer. In “Hallowe’en Party” (2011), Poirot is asked by a crime novelist to investigate the macabre murder of a young girl at a children’s costume party. Here, besides Suchet, the stars include Zoë Wanamaker, Timothy West, Martin Shaw, Kim Cattrall, Billy Howle, Toby Jones and Andrea Riseborough. Bonus features on “Witness” add “From Page to Screen,” with Sarah Phelps explaining what inspired her adaptation of the 1925 story and subsequent play; “Post War Fashion,” in which costume designer, Claire Anderson, and cast members discuss the historical inspiration for the costumes; “Anatomy of a Murder,” in which lead makeup artist Samantha Marshall shares about creating a murder scene for the screen; “What Makes Christie Resonate Today,” with cast and crew members; and share about what makes Agatha Christie popular across the globe, and “Filming on the Front: When the Somme Came to Liverpool.”

Eight Films by Jean Rouch
Film Movement Film Club
Even if film buffs on your lists are unaware of French documentarian Jean Rouch’s work, they’re likely to appreciate an introduction through Icarus’ terrific retrospective, “Eight Films by Jean Rouch.” From 1946, when he made his first film in Niger, until his death in 2004, the Paris-born explorer, civil engineer, ethnologist and film director made more than 100 movies, most on African subjects, including six of the seven newly restored titles that are the focus of this boxed set. (One is a biodoc and the other a vérité walkabout through Paris.) Beginning in 1955, with his most controversial film The Mad Masters, through 1969’s darkly comic, Little by Little, they represent the most sustained flourishing of Rouch’s practice of “shared anthropology” – perhaps, inspired by Robert Flaherty’s partially staged docs — a process of collaboration with his subjects. They’re nothing like the documentaries and newsreels that emerged from colonial and post-colonial Africa in the period. For one thing, the white faces of the colonialists are in the distinct minority and the violence that came with liberation is secondary to images of social change and individuals caught up in the upheavals. He also made documentaries and feature films about France, including Chronicle of a Summer (1960), with the sociologist Edgar Morin, and Paris Vu Par … (1965), made with several New Wave directors, including Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol and Eric Rohmer. There are sections of Moi, Un Noir (“I, a Negro”) that could have provided a template for films made by writer/director Ousmane Sembène — the “father of African film” – and, perhaps, the characters in Perry Henzell’s The Harder They Come. The other titles are Mammy Water, The Human Pyramid, Jaguar, The Punishment, Jean Rouch: The Adventurous Filmmaker and The Lion Hunters, which follows a tribe on its ritual hunts over the course of seven years. It makes Donald Trump Jr.’s big-game expeditions look even worse than they already do.

Several years ago, when the Film Movement Film Club was still in its infancy, I gave a gift subscription to my father. Every month, he received an award-winning movie from one festival or another, usually months earlier than they were offered for public consumption. I can’t remember if I gave the service much of chance for survival – the movies were relatively obscure – but it did, and the selections have improved in quality and quantity. The service can now be streamed or delivered in the mail. Among the movies I’ve watched and admired in the past few months are Afterimage, Harmonium, Moka, Glory and After the Storm. There have been dozens of others, including some that competed for Oscars. Gift boxes are also available, divided by language, themes and festivals.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXXIX
The Violent Years: Blu-ray
Bat Pussy: Blu-ray
MST3K’s XXXIXth entry not only marks the end of an era for the show, but also for lovers of the kinds of movies lampooned by the crew of the Satellite of Love. In addition to a pair of typically schlocky movies — Girls Town and The Amazing Transparent Man – the package adds the show’s final episode, featuring Mario Bava’s 1968 spy film Diabolik (a.k.a., “Danger: Diabolik”), which starred John Phillip Law, Marisa Mell, Terry-Thomas, Michel Piccoli and Adolfo Celi. Even with the editing of naughty bits, it may have been the best of the bad movies shown on MST3K. More significant, however, is the featurette,“Showdown in Eden Prairie: Their Final Experiment,” which looks back on the making of the final episode. Mike and the bots finally get their chance to escape Pearl Forrester’s clutches, after she buys a joystick from Radio Shack and uses it to send the orbiting screening room into a dive and make its inhabitants nauseous. When the joystick breaks, the ship goes into a death spiral toward Earth. “The Last Dance” adds 76 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage from the production’s final days. The fourth disc, “Satellite Dishes,” includes the host segments from 11 episodes whose rights remain elusive to Shout!Factory. “Behind the Scenes: Daniel Griffith on Ballyhoo” is an 18-minute interview with the guy who created many of the featurettes on MST3K sets. Otherwise, Girl Town (1959) is noteworthy for a cast that includes Mel Torme, Mamie Van Doren, Charlie Chaplin Jr., Harold Lloyd Jr., Paul Anka and Robert Mitchum’s son, James. Mamie plays a girl framed for murder and sent to a reform school run by nuns. There isn’t anything positive to say about The Amazing Transparent Man, a sci-fi flick in which a mad scientist devises a way to make an escaped convict invisible, so he can steal radioactive materials he needs to conduct more experiments. Instead, he robs a bank. As is the show’s wont, a short film on railroad safety has been included on the disc.

Even if the pre-Netflix editions’ of MST3K were to disappear – a fate I doubt will be realized – it probably would take a hundred years to exhaust the supply of cheeseball flicks that are being discovered by companies devoted to saving and restoring them for posterity. AGFA (American Genre Film Archive) and Something Weird have combined efforts to provide the world with a Blu-ray edition of The Violent Years (1956), William Morgan and Edward D. Wood Jr.’s 65-minute commentary on juvenile delinquency of the female variety and parental indifference to their daughters’ unladylike behavior. Playboy model Jean Moorhead plays Paula Parkins, a spoiled-rotten blond bombshell who leads her degenerate teenage hellcats down a path of gas-station hijackings, coed pajama-party orgies and cold-blooded murder. Unfortunately, too much time is wasted in the pronouncements of a self-righteous judge (I. Stanford Jolley), whose advice to the defendant is to get right with God. While behind bars, Paula manages to get pregnant without having sex with a male character. Her response to both is, “So, what?” It’s a mess, but far from unwatchable. And, yes, there’s a cameo by Wood in drag. The Blu-ray benefits from a new 4K scan from the original 35mm camera negative; the amusing commentary of Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case) and Wood biographer Rudolph Grey; trailers of sexy European imports from the 1950s from the Something Weird vault; and a bonus movie, Anatomy of a Psycho, from a new 2K scan of an original 35mm theatrical print. It describes what happens when the brother of a condemned hoodlum vows to punish everyone he considers to be responsible for the perceived injustice. One of the co-stars is Ronnie Burns, the handsome adopted son of George Burns and Gracie Allen. Also from AGFA/Something Weird is a movie once described as the worst porno parody ever made and a bona-fide “boner-killer.” After its initial 1973 release, Bat Pussy disappeared until the mid-1990s, when the sole known print was found by chance in the stockroom of an adult bookshop in Memphis. That no one noticed it was gone speaks volumes about its quality. Apparently, the citizens of Gothum City are under attack by smut peddlers and only one hero can help: Bat Pussy. As played by Dora Dildo – probably not her real name – the superheroine hangs out in her secret headquarters, until her “twat begins to twitch,” warning her of imminent crime. She then jumped onto her Hoppity-Hop balloon to foil the grotesque sex schemes of unhappily married hillbillies, Buddy and Sam. The new 2K scan is from the only surviving 16mm theatrical print. It adds a commentary track with Lisa Petrucci and Tim Lewis of Something Weird; crime-smut trailers and shorts from the Something Weird vault; liner notes by Lisa Petrucci and Mike McCarthy, the savior of Bat Pussy; the bonus movie, Robot Love Slaves, scanned in 2K from an original theatrical print; and double-sided cover art with illustrations by Johnny Ryan.

Go, Johnny, Go!
Free to Rock: How Rock & Roll Brought Down the Wall
When rock ’n’ roll was in its infancy and still learning to duck walk, Hollywood didn’t waste any time in exploiting what was then considered by many to be a fleeting craze. What doubters expected to replace it with was never revealed, because it never went away or fell out of favor with teenagers. Blackboard Jungle (1955) has been cited as the movie that first put Hollywood in the rock-’n’-roll business, even if Bill Haley was heard, but not seen. Unless one counts an appearance in the rarely, if ever shown 1955 documentary, The Pied Piper of Cleveland: A Day in the Life of a Famous Disc Jockey, Elvis Presley’s debut would come a year later in Love Me Tender. Other idols of Top 40 radio appeared as performers or actors in such enticing titles as Rock Around the Clock, Don’t Knock the Rock, Rock Rock Rock!, The Girl Can’t Help It, Mister Rock and RollCarnival Rock, Jamboree!, Shake, Rattle & Rock!, The Big Beat and High School Confidential! Even if the guitars weren’t plugged in and lyrics were lip-synched, it was fun to watch the musicians in action, as they are in Go, Johnny, Go! (1959). Produced by and starring legendary deejay Alan Freed, who soon would fall from grace in the payola scandal, it tells the story of a disc jockey who creates a teen idol (Jimmy Clanton), practically out of thin air. The story isn’t nearly as noteworthy as the contributions of Chuck Berry, Ritchie Valens, the Cadillacs, the Flamingos, The Cadillacs, Jackie Wilson, Eddie Cochran, Sandy Stewart, Jo Ann Campbell, Harvey Fuqua and Jimmy Cavalio and the House Rockers. Like most, maybe all the aforementioned movies, the lineup is thoroughly and naturally integrated. In something of surprise, Berry sings and acts. The Sprocket Vault restoration — from the original negative — is pristine. Commentary is provided by Richard M. Roberts, Randy Skretvedt and Brent Walker.

While Republicans continue to insist that Ronald Reagan single-handedly brought down Berlin Wall and evil Soviet empire, he had plenty of help. Pope John Paul II certainly had more influence on working-class Catholics in Poland and other Iron Curtain countries than the American president, as did the executives of media companies whose networks tantalized the citizens of imprisoned nations with rock music and reruns of “Dallas.” If there was anything that scared the crap out of the communist leaders of East Germany and the USSR, it was the threat presented by rock-’n’-roll and how it affected the fashions, hairstyles and attitude of western youths, who appeared to be under the music’s spell. As Emmy-winning documentarian Jim Brown points out in Free to Rock: How Rock & Roll Brought Down the Wall, Soviet leaders were so wary of the impact of rock music on its young people that they believed Elvis Presley was stationed in West Berlin to corrupt them. Not a bad idea, really, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone in Eisenhower’s Pentagon hip enough to come up with such a uniquely subversive idea. Brown traces the evolution of Russian rock from its banishment in the 1950-60s, through the end of the Cold War and on to the jailing of Pussy Riot members. Such bands as Flowers, Kino and Plastic People of the Universe sparked a revolutionary youth movement that openly defied the communist government, survived the KGB crackdowns and fueled a desire for freedom. Interviews with Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Latvian President Vike-Freiberga, KGB General Oleg Kalugin and NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow attest to the impact of music on disaffected youth. They’re interspersed with images from concerts finally allowed by Soviet authorities and interviews with musicians from the west and east. The 10-year production benefitted from the funding and support of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Grammy Museum Foundation, and the Stas Namin Centre, in Moscow.

Saving Christmas
Actor-turned-filmmaker Tom DeNucci has followed an unusual career path since going behind the camera on the 2013 thriller, Self Storage. None has enjoyed a theatrical release – here, at least – but direct-to-DVD and VOD releases no longer carry the same stigma they once did. After three hardcore genre pieces, DeNucci somehow found his way into the lucrative children’s arena with last year’s Arlo the Burping Pig and 2017’s Saving Christmas and The Santa Files, both starring 88-year-old Ed Asner. He also co-starred in Christmas All Over Again (2016), alongside an adorable mutt. DeNucci’s upcoming heist picture indicates that he hasn’t entirely abandoned the genre game, but anyone who’s shown a talent for churning out family and holiday-theme movies is going to find work in the lucrative market segment. Here, middle-schooler Danny (Jack Brunault) is a tech wizard, who, as the picture opens, still believes in Santa Claus. This will be his family’s first Christmas without their dad, which makes Danny determined to cheer up his little sister, Jennifer (Lindsay Blanchard), who, still grieving, has become a doubter. Bullied by a popular boy from school because of his “childish” belief, Danny vows to use his scientific know-how to prove the existence of the holiday icon. It won’t be easy, even after he discovers that his community’s toy company may be an outpost of Santa’s North Pole empire.

Books & other stuff
Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film
Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood
You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet: Interviews With Stars From Hollywood’s Golden Era
Owned: Property, Privacy, and the New Digital Serfdom
The Screen Classics division of the University Press of Kentucky has emerged as reliable publisher of books on film intended for scholars and general readers, alike. The series includes critical biographies, film histories and analytical studies, focusing on neglected filmmakers and important screen artists and subjects. That covers just about everything, I suppose. In the wake of a well-received biography of Gene Kelly come “Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film,” “Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood” and “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet: Interviews With Stars From Hollywood’s Golden Era,” two are long-overdue biographies and the other a series of casual interviews intended for consumption by newspaper readers.  Born in Hungary in 1888, the 38-year-old Curtiz had already directed 64 films in Europe when he was invited to Hollywood by Warner Bros. He directed 102 films during his Hollywood career, mostly at Warners, where he directed 10 actors to Oscar nominations. Curtiz’ first Hollywood credit was a gangster melodrama, The Third Degree, which received a positive review in the New York Times. His final few films included King Creole, one of Elvis Presley’s best movies, and The Comancheros, with John Wayne, who took over the director’s seat when Curtiz became too ill to continue. In between, he directed such entertainments as The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), The Sea Hawk (1940), Casablanca (1942), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Mildred Pierce (1945) and White Christmas (1954). Before leaving WB, he tackled swashbuckling adventures, westerns, musicals, war epics, romances, historical dramas, horror films, tearjerkers, melodramas, comedies and film noir masterpieces. Writer and film scholar Alan K. Rode is the author of “Charles McGraw: Film Noir Tough Guy,” host and producer of the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs, and director-treasurer of the Film Noir Foundation.

If anyone under the age of 50 were to be asked to look at publicity photographs of three silent-screen stars seductresses, they might be able to identify Clara Bow and Theda Bara, although not without some hesitation. It’s likely that the picture of Barbara La Marr would remain unidentified, even though she starred in such movies as The Picture of Zenda, The Eternal City and Thy Name Is Woman, and made headlines for her tempestuous lifestyle. In “Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood,” Sherri Snyder not only explains why La Marr’s practically unknown today, but also the genesis of the book’s intriguing title. Hint: when she was 17, a year after being kidnapped by her older half-sister and a companion, a Los Angeles judge declared her “too beautiful to be alone in a big city” and ordered her to return home. (She reportedly was arrested at 14 for underage burlesque dancing.) When La Marr returned to L.A., she was ready to take the city by storm, as a dancer, party girl, serial bride, adulteress, scenario writer, actress and drug addict. She died at 29, three years after her final screen credit, a victim of tuberculosis, pain-killer abuse and exhaustion. (The Yakima native once said that life was too short to waste any of it by sleeping.) Cool, huh? Writer/actress/model Snyder portrays La Marr in a one-woman performance piece. “A Walk Through Time: Channeling Hollywood.”

In “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet,” James Bawden and Ron Miller return with a new collection of interviews with elite Hollywood stars, including Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, Esther Williams, Buster Keaton, Maureen O’Sullivan, Bette Davis, Janet Leigh, Walter Pidgeon, Lon Chaney Jr., Boris Karloff and Vincent Price. Although the interviews first appeared under their bylines in various mainstream publications, we’re assured that the pieces have been updated and revised for more in-depth coverage. Many were written before press agents began to dictate terms for interviews and profiles, and parcel out favors to prominent publications. As such, readers are accorded up-close-and-personal reflections, often in the comfort of a star’s home. The authors previously collaborated on “Conversations With Classic Film Stars: Interviews From Hollywood’s Golden Era,” which has just been released in paperback by the same publisher.

Owned: Property, Privacy and the New Digital Serfdom” isn’t so much filled with holiday cheer than timely information on the changing nature of intellectual property, now that President Trump’s FCC is about to hand over the reins to the Internet to our country’s richest, greediest and least trustworthy media conglomerates. “Owned” explains how the increasing implementation of smart technology has given these corporations new opportunities to claim ownership over things we took for granted belonged to consumers. As one of the cover blurbs argues, “’Property in the digital age is getting strange. You can own things you can’t see or touch, like Bitcoins. But your ownership of things you can, like your car and your phone, has never been less secure. ‘Owned’ is an essential guide to how not to get owned by the things you think you own.” What better time and place to consider such dire warnings than Christmas morning, after the presents are opened. The author, Joshua A.T. Fairfield, is a professor of law at Washington and Lee University, where he is an internationally recognized law and technology scholar of digital property, electronic contract, big data privacy and virtual communities.

Master Models: ‘Star Wars’ Scenes
Master Models: ‘Star Wars’ R2-D2
With the hype machine in overdrive, promoting Star Wars: The Last Jedi ahead of its December 15 opening, it might be a good time to get ahead of the parade of merchandise that fans and parents will be asked to consider ahead of the holidays. Disney rarely leaves a stone unturned in its marketing campaigns, so, I suspect, the deluge has only just begun. Occasionally, though, material not specifically authorized by the Mouse House slips through, and some of it is well worth checking out. Becker & Mayer Books, for example, has already published Master Models kits that allow fans to learn the secrets behind the effects and innovations in three action-packed scenes: Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader’s duel on the smoldering mining planet of Mustafar, in Revenge of the Sith; the trench run on the Death Star, in A New Hope; and Kylo Ren and Rey’s lightsaber fight in the forest of Starkiller Base, in The Force Awakens. They can be re-created in papercraft dioramas, including one with LED lighting. The easy, step-by-step instructions help turn the included punch-out pieces into keepsake replicas. Master Models’ R2-D2 kit helps buffs relive the character’s heroic adventures and build a foot-tall paper model of the wee droid. It includes die-cut pieces, with metallic-ink printing, push-button lights, a paperback book, a sound chip and detailed instructions. They complement the recently re-published “Star Wars: The Blueprints,” by J.W. Rinzler, an intricately detailed coffee-table book that we discussed here a couple months ago.

New arrivals

Logan Lucky: Blu-ray
When news of a daring midrace robbery at the Charlotte Motor Speedway finally breaks on a North Carolina television station, the anchorman cleverly labels the caper, “Ocean’s 7-Eleven.” Although Danny Ocean probably wouldn’t be caught dead at a NASCAR event or convenience store, the reference not only pinpoints where the getaway truck is discovered in Steven Soderberg’s irresistible Logan Lucky, but also his connection to the popular series of heist films, the last three of which he directed. (He’s currently producing “Ocean’s Eight,” featuring a cast of A-list actresses, for release next June.) Any further comparison between Ocean’s hand-picked crew of world-class thieves and the motley crew of Southern reprobates assembled by the notoriously unlucky Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde Logan (Adam Driver) simply wouldn’t hold water. The insanely complicated heist, which takes place during the running of the Coca-Cola 600, is, however, choreographed with the same precision, fragility and comic timing as any of the jobs planned by Frank Sinatra or George Clooney. It also bears an uncanny resemblance to Stanley Kubrick’s 1956 adaptation of the Jim Thompson novel, The Killing. The Logans are unlucky in different ways. Clyde had his hand blown off in the war, while Jimmy’s bum leg kept him from pursuing an NFL career and, later, caused him to be fired from his job on a construction site underneath the surface of the speedway’s 1.5-mile track. Before he’s handed his walking papers, though, Jimmy discovers a system of pneumatic tubes that deliver currency from concession stands to a counting room and impenetrable underground safe. He’s already overheard the code number of a locked door that separates the construction from the track’s circulatory system, but needs help with other aspects of the plan. For that, Jimmy turns to Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), a bulked-up safecracker currently doing time in a West Virginia prison, and his dim-witted brothers, Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson). Riley Keough and Katie Holmes must have studied reruns of “Hee-Haw” to play Jimmy’s sister and ex-wife, respectively, while little Farrah Mackenzie steals the show as the crook’s pageant-obsessed daughter. If that makes Logan Lucky sound as if it’s just another indictment of Southern culture on the skids, you should know that it stops well short of being a parody based solely on tired cracker stereotypes. The screenplay is attributed to Rebecca Blunt, believed to be a pseudonym for an unidentified writer or, perhaps, Soderbergh. The ever-inventive filmmaker decided to cut out the middle man, by creating a new company, Fingerprint Releasing, to serve as a distribution “conduit” that aims to connect filmmakers and exhibitors. He raised the money he needed to make the picture through selling off foreign distribution rights and post-theatrical rights to premium-cable outlets and other ancillary interests to cover prints and marketing. With nearly everything prepaid, and no hefty distributor fees coming off the top, even a modest $15-million opening would be a win. While the critics were overwhelmingly positive, Logan Lucky’s primary competition, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, attracted the larger share of its target demographic over an atypically slow August weekend. The only bonus feature is a pair of deleted scenes, one of which features a tabletop tap dance by legendary hillbilly outlaw, Jesco White.

False Confessions
After Love
Whenever a major movie star accepts a role on the Broadway stage, ticket sales tend to go through the roof. If the play is any good and reviews were positive, producers may be able to survive the absence of the A-lister by adding another familiar name to the marquee. With less surefire properties, though, the added expense usually isn’t worth the risk. The lines outside Paris’ Odeon Theater, where Isabelle Huppert was starring in Marivaux’s “Les fausses confidences,” probably were similar to those at New York’s TKTS Discount Tickets Booth, in Times Square, over the Christmas holiday. Considering her recent run of superb performances in Elle, Things to Come, Valley of Love and Louder Than Bombs, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that more than a few of Huppert’s American fans made the trip to Paris, just to watch her light a fire under the 280-year-old drama. As is so often the case, some astute television executive took advantage of the occasion by recording False Confessions for posterity, as well as the enjoyment of contemporary viewers. Instead of merely placing cameras and microphones in strategic locations and recording what’s taking place on stage, however, director Luc Bondy shot the TV presentation during the day, using the same actors and Odeon Theater settings that were being employed at night for the plays. (He died in mid-production and was replaced by his wife, Marie-Louise Bischofberger.) The only concession to film comes when the interactions take place on a balcony overlooking a Paris street and in the Luxembourg Gardens. The costumes and hair styles also were updated. A DVD was released only a few days before it aired on French television. Huppert commands the screen as Araminte, the wealthy widow who unwittingly hires a secretary (Louis Garrel), pre-approved by her trusted servant (Yves Jacques) as someone able to weasel his way into her heart and check book. Manon Combes plays Araminte’s friend and confidante, who falls hard for the imposter. Bulle Ogier delivers a memorable turn as Araminte’s cranky mother, who suspects the young man’s intentions and wants to push her daughter into the arms of an elderly count (Jean-Pierre Malo). Apart from some Shakespearian twists and turns, False Confessions probably would require too much work on the part of American viewers to fully enjoy. But, Huppert makes the effort pay off.

John Cassavetes proved that arthouse audiences would happily endure a couple of hours watching a husband and wife yelling at each other and nearly coming to blows, before suddenly remembering the pleasure that comes with makeup sex. It helped, of course, that he could count on the services of a Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara, Seymour Cassel or John Marley to deliver the goods. The Cassavetes touch is exactly what’s missing in Belgian filmmaker Joachim Lafosse’s After Love, a story about a once happily married couple, no longer willing to make the compromises necessary to stay together, even for the sake of their two charming daughters. The problem boils down to Boris’ inability to find work as an architect and Marie’s increasing weariness over covering the mortgage, bills and groceries. They agree to split, but Boris is too broke to afford a place of his own to crash and, for some reason, Marie won’t allow him to accept a job rehabbing her wealthy mother’s home. Instead, they argue in front of the girls and sleep in separate rooms. After an hour of bickering, we begin to feel as frustrated and angry as the kids caught in the middle of this turmoil. Bérénice Bejo and Cédric Kahn are credible as combatants, but aren’t supported by a script that adds depth to their characters. It’s always nice to see Marthe Keller – co-star of Marathon Man, Black Sunday and Bobby Deerfield, in 1976-77 — who is still radiant at 72.

Woodshock: Blu-ray
Like too many other first features by artists who’ve made a reputation in other creative disciplines, Woodshock suffers from being too ambitious. Co-writer/directors Kate and Laura Mulleavy, known primarily for their distinctively ethereal fashion line, Rodarte, have followed designer Tom Ford (A Single Man) and Agnès B (My Name Is Hmmm …) by creating a movie that takes cues from their dreamy non-cinematic concepts and memories of growing up among the redwoods on California’s central coast. As such, Woodshock contains scenes in which the gigantic trees of upstate Eureka could double for backgrounds in a glossy magazine fashion spread. The characters, however, lack the kind of personal information that wouldn’t be missed in a Vogue spread, but are essential in a narrative feature. Kirsten Dunst’s deeply troubled protagonist, Theresa, sometimes appears to be channeling Justine, the palpably depressed bride she played in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. Married to a logger who’s conflicted by the demands of his job, Justine works at a medical marijuana dispensary that appears to double as a clearing house for terminal cases seeking the means for euthanasia. She recently assisted her cancer-ridden mother commit suicide by concocting a mixture of pot and an unidentified toxic liquid. She spends the rest of the movie wandering around her mother’s house in a haze, occasionally tripping through the redwoods and being scolded by her boss, Keith (Pilou Asbæk), for being tardy or inattentive. As her depression worsens, Justine appears to play Russian Roulette with her stash of spiked joints, as well as playing God with friends who either want to get high or die. We know why the terminally ill characters are in contact with Justine and Keith, but not what makes the principles tick. Credit for the alternately meditative and spacy cinematography goes to Peter Flinckenberg (Concrete Night). Woodshock adds an EPK-like making-of featurette, with interviews. FYI: The Mulleavys designed some of the ballet costumes, at least, in Black Swan.

Rememory: Blu-ray
Not so long ago, the premise behind Rememory would be deemed sufficiently far-fetched to relegate it to the sci-fi ghetto on Netflix or Amazon. A closer examination would argue for Mark Palansky’s promising sophomore feature to be given a duel listing, with the accent on police procedural. Given recent scientific advancements, how difficult would it be to imagine a time in the not-too-distant future when our brains were able to record and store memories in the same way that VCRs and DVRs capture television programming? Those recollections could then be transferred verbatim to a computer disc or some other kind of interpretive gizmo. Here, Martin Donovan plays Gordon Dunn, a visionary scientist whose lifeless body is found in his office, shortly after unveiling just such a device. After a patient’s thoughts are downloaded onto a computer, they can be transferred to a glass plate, not unlike the slides used in high school chemistry cl asses. Besides the killer, several people have a vested interest in discovering what Dunn might have seen before his death and recorded into the machine, which is missing. They include investors and a human guinea pig (Anton Yelchin), whose memories could reveal criminal activity related or unrelated to the crime, itself. Dunn’s wife, Carolyn (Julia Ormond), retreats into her rural house and cuts off contact with the outside world, until a mysterious man played by Peter Dinklage shows up with a bottle of vintage whiskey. He’s an architectural model builder, who, years earlier, survived a wreck that killed his rock-star brother (Matt Ellis). Still plagued with guilt, he’s especially sorry that he can’t remember the final words his brother mumbled as he died. Although Palansky sometimes has trouble holding things together, Rememory features another sterling performance by Dinklage and bears some resemblance, at least, to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and Brainstorm (1983). The package adds commentary with Palansky and Dinklage, and the 32-minute backgrounder, “The Memories We Keep.”

Deathdream: Blu-ray
Bob Clark, who was killed in an accident caused by a drunk driver in 2007, is the rare director of exploitation fare whose more dubious achievements – Black Christmas, Porky’s II: The Next Day, Rhinestone — were redeemed by a movie universally considered to be one of the great holiday films of all time, A Christmas Story. Based on material from Jean Shepherd’s collection of short stories, “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” A Christmas Story took a while to find its audience – unlike Clark’s passable coming-of-age comedy, the original Porky’s, which was a huge hit – but, once it did, the nostalgic family comedy bypassed cult status to become a legitimate classic. (In December, Fox will broadcast a live rendition of the Broadway production, “A Christmas Story: The Musical.”) I only mention this to remind readers of Clark’s contributions to U.S. and Canadian culture, beyond the newly re-released Deathdream, one of many entertainments inspired by the W.W. Jacobs short story, “The Monkey’s Paw.” Although it was made in Florida, Deathdream (a.k.a., “Dead of Night,” “The Night Walk” and “The Night Andy Came Home”) is considered to be, at once, an early example of Canuxploitation and indictment of the effects of PTSD on Vietnam vets. According to the authoritative website, it was made after Toronto-based Quadrant films had success distributing Clark and writer Alan Ormsby’s debut, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972), to drive-ins throughout the Great White North. Deathdream opens in a Floridian facsimile of Vietnam, where Andy Brooks (Richard Backus) is shot and killed in a firefight. His mother, Christine (Lynn Carlin), refuses to believe he’s dead, even after an Army chaplain arrives at their home to deliver the bad news. Sure enough, hours later, Andy is seen catching a ride home with a patriotic truck driver, whose body will be found the next day drained of blood. Still, everyone’s happy to see him when he walks through the door of the family home. Not surprisingly, Andy’s not the same good-natured young man who left home to serve his country months earlier. In fact, he’s a dangerous cross between a vampire and a zombie. As long as he’s able to acquire fresh transfusions of blood, Andy will be able to pass for human. If not, he’ll begin decomposing before our eyes, thanks to the early gore effects of Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead). Blue Underground has restored the film in 2K, from the 35mm negative in its most complete version to date. It adds separate commentaries with Clark and Ormsby; a recollection with co-star Anya Liffey and Ormsby, her former husband; interviews with Backus, Savini, composer Carl Zittrer and production manager John Bud Cardos; alternate opening titles; still galleries; a student film by Ormsby; and collectable booklet, with new essay by critic Travis Crawford.

No Gods, No Masters
The last thing most Americans would choose to watch in their spare time is a three-part, 180-minute documentary on the tumultuous history of anarchy and the international body of men and women who devoted themselves to making it a reality. While no governments ever fully collapsed behind anarchic and libertarian uprisings, alone, I was surprised to learn how close these movements came to loosening the stifling grip of the ruling class, oligarchs, totalitarians and bourgeoisie on the necks of workers and peasants around the world. Besides the assassinations and bombings that changed the course of history in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, fear of a greater spread of violence probably eased the acceptance of unions in the U.S. and Europe by industrialists. They also pushed steadily for equality of the sexes, unfettered love, civil rights and the suffrage movement. Lenin and Stalin were no more anxious to see a rise in anarchism than were Calvin Coolidge, FDR and Franco. Lately, self-proclaimed anarchists took advantage of the growing disparity in wealth and growth of an underclass to stage violent protests wherever members of the World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund gathered. Their anger only increased when the Obama administration refused to punish Wall Street interests for their role in the 2008 economic collapse and end a war in the Middle East that brought death and destruction to combatants and civilians, alike. With President Trump rushing to overturn every piece of progressive legislation enacted since the Carter administration, the time may once again be ripe for radical action. If so, the investment in time watching the first English translation of Daniel Gurin’s No Gods, No Masters: An Anthology of Anarchism could be considered three hours well spent. The series is broken into chapters, “The Passion for Destruction (1840-1906),” which explores how anarchism emerged from the horrendous social conditions facing workers at a time when industrialization was, paradoxically, providing better hygiene and social standards for the upper class; “Land and Freedom (1907-1921),” on the differing strains within the anarchist movement during the peak of its popularity; and “In Memory of the Vanquished (1922-1945),” which traces the appropriation of anarchism by communists and of anarchist symbolism by European fascists. It offers a vast array of unpublished documents, letters, debates, manifestos, reports, impassioned calls-to-arms and reasoned analysis of the history, organization and practice of the movement, as well as writings by Emma Goldman, Kropotkin, Berkman, Bakunin, Proudhon, and Malatesta.

Death Laid an Egg: Blu-ray
Released in 1968, on the eve of the golden age of giallo, Giulio Questi and writer Franco Arcalli’s wildly idiosyncratic Death Laid an Egg set a high bar for the emerging genre. Boiled down to its essentials, the bright, erotic and experimental thriller stages a traditional battle of the sexes against the background of a socio-political satire. A love triangle develops between three people who run a high-tech chicken farm: Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant), his wealthy wife Anna (Gina Lollobrigida) and their secretary, Gabrielle (Ewa Aulin). Having sacked the workers and gone fully automated, the business now produces record profits. Beneath the glossy surface, though, run parallel streams of criminality, perversity and horror. Marco spends his weekends playing kinky games with prostitutes, before murdering them. He hopes to eliminate Anna and make off with her money, as well, but is required to compete with the company’s publicist (Jean Sobieski) for Gabrielle’s hand. A freak accident at the lab produces a mutant strain of headless, wingless chickens – this was before Buffalo wings — that Anna and the company’s stockholders see as a lucrative new profit center. Marco, the murderer, is repulsed by the new development and plots to subvert the process. Death Laid an Egg advances several giallo conceits, including the killer’s black gloves, a jazzy opening montage and disorienting score by Bruno Maderna. Questi had set the table for the movie’s inventive style with the bizarro Western, Django Kill … If You Live, Shoot! (1967). Arcalli would go on to share credits on 1900, Once Upon a Time in America and Last Tango in Paris. The Cult Epics Blu-ray adds a lobby-cards gallery and Maderna’s isolated score.

Animal Factory: Special Edition: Blu-ray
If Edward Bunker hadn’t existed, it’s unlikely that any Hollywood screenwriter could have invented a character quite like him. (The same could be said about Danny Trejo, I suppose.) A career criminal who once held the dubious distinction of being the youngest-ever inmate in San Quentin State Prison, Bunker was inspired by Caryl Chessman (“Cell 2455 Death Row”) to begin writing stories about his experiences and observations. The advice didn’t begin to pay dividends until the early 1970s, when his first novel, “No Beast So Fierce,” was published and rights to it were optioned by Dustin Hoffman, for the movie Straight Time (1978). Two years after being paroled, in 1975, Bunker’s second novel, “Animal Factory,” was published to favorable reviews. It would take another 23 years for the book to be adapted to film, this time by co-producer/director Steve Buscemi and co-writer John Steppling. In the meantime, he appeared in a couple dozen pictures – Reservoir Dogs, Tango & Cash, Best of the Best – co-wrote the screenplay for Runaway Train and served as a consultant on Heat and other genre flicks. He befriended Trejo in California’s Folsom Prison in the late 1970s and they since worked together on Runaway Train, Heat and Animal Factory. Despite a terrific performance by Hoffman, Straight Time, failed to attract the audience it deserved. Animal Factory, which was shot in a decommissioned prison in Pennsylvania and received excellent reviews, didn’t do any better. It stars Edward Furlong as Ron Decker, a troubled youth who’s sentenced to a five-year bit in a maximum-security prison on a marijuana-dealing beef. (It would subsequently be doubled for bad behavior.) Standing a sliver under 5-foot-6 and possessing the kind of hangdog look that would make him a prime target for sexual predators, Decker is taken under the wing of Earl Copen (Willem Dafoe), an experienced con who’s conversant with the ins and outs of prison life and has the respect of the various gangs. After surviving several close calls, their father/son relationship is severely tested by Ron’s increasingly cocky behavior. What separates Animal Factory from a dozen other very good prison pictures is its authentic dialogue, raw look and the tombstone eyes of the prisoners, many of whom were convicts recruited from other facilities. The professional actors did their homework, as well. Mickey Rourke is nearly unrecognizable as a prison-weary drag queen; Tom Arnold is frightening as a would-be rapist; Mark Boone Junior and Chris Bauer look as if they had been one of the guys discovered at an open call in a prison yard; Trejo is Trejo; Bunker looks as if he never left the joint; and Seymour Cassel and Buscemi might as well have been on the payroll as a guard and bureaucrat. The Arrow Video release adds an interview with critic and noir historian Barry Forshaw, covering Eddie Bunker’s varied career; vintage commentary by Bunker and Trejo; a reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jacob Phillips; and a collector’s booklet containing new writing on the film by Glenn Kenny.

Misery: Collector’s Edition: Blu Ray
No stranger to Blu-ray, Rob Reiner and William Goldman’s nifty adaptation of the Stephen King novel, “Misery,” really needs no further introduction in its Scream Factory incarnation. Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) remains as scary as ever, while the stranded novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is every bit as vulnerable as in Misery’s various other VHS, DVD and Blu-ray editions. The difference here is that it’s been given a fresh 4K scrub from the original film elements and new interviews with Reiner and special-makeup-effects artist Greg Nicotero. Previous bonus material includes commentaries with Reiner and Goldman; “Misery Loves Company,” featuring interviews with Reiner, Kathy Bates, James Caan and Frances Sternhagen; and the featurettes “Marc Shaiman’s Musical Misery Tour,” “Diagnosing Annie Wilkes,” “Advice for the Stalked,” “Profile of a Stalker,” “Celebrity Stalkers,” “Anti-Stalking Laws.”

Operation Petticoat: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
Father Goose: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
After a brief delay, due to a technical glitch, Olive Films has released the wartime comedies, Father Goose and Operation Petticoat, as part of its limited-edition Signature Series. Unlike Blu-rays of vintage titles typically released by the company, Signature titles includes bonus featurettes, interviews, commentaries, newsreels and critical essays. The pressings are limited to 3,500 copies. Besides the period and military settings, Father Goose (1964) and Operation Petticoat (1959) share the presence of Cary Grant, who, in 1966, at 62, would retire from acting. In Blake Edwards’ Operation Petticoat, Grant plays the commander of the U.S. submarine Sea Tiger, which was commissioned and nearly destroyed after the attack on Pearl Harbor and declaration of war. After being sunk by a Japanese plane, the sub is raised, given a partial two-week overhaul and sent to a repair station, 400 miles away, limping out on one bad engine. Besides the crew, five American nurses are brought along for the ride. Just before New Year’s Day, the Sea Tiger is docked in Australia for retrofitting. Due to a shortage of traditional Navy gray paint, the primer is created by combining existing supplies of red and white paint. Temporarily, at least, the entire craft is a bright pink, with a topcoat of gray scheduled for application shortly thereafter. Tony Curtis plays a procurement officer, whose skill for acquiring requisitions will remind viewers of Milo Minderbinder, who would appear two years later in Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22.” Joan O’Brien and Dina Merrill play Edwards-ian nurses engaged in a comedic tug of war with the officers. The Blu-ray is enhanced by a new high-definition digital restoration; commentary by critic Adrian Martin; “That’s What Everybody Says About Me,” with Jennifer Edwards and actress Lesley Ann Warren; “The Brave Crew of the Petticoat,” with actors Gavin MacLeod and Marion Ross; “The Captain and His Double: Cary Grant’s Struggle of the Self,” – with Marc Eliot, author of “Cary Grant: A Biography”; Universal Newsreel footage of Grant and the movie’s premiere at the Radio City Music Hall; archival footage of the submarine USS Balao, which doubled as the USS Sea Tiger in Operation Petticoat; and an essay by critic Chris Fujiwara.

In what would be his second-to-last film appearance, Grant plays a boozy beachcomber on an idyllic island hideaway, coerced into service as a lookout for the Allies during World War II. He will soon be joined by seven mischievous schoolgirls and their prim and proper teacher (Leslie Caron), left stranded on a nearby island following an enemy attack. Trevor Howard plays the Navy commander Frank Houghton, who becomes the proverbial thorn in Grant’s side. Some observers believe that the scene in which Grant teaches Caron how to fish with her bare hands qualifies as big screen’s first “wet T-shirt” moment, although far less revealing than Jacqueline Bisset’s famous scene in The Deep, a dozen years later. Father Goose won an Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. The limited edition adds a 4K scan of original camera negative; commentary by film historian David Del Valle; “Unfinished Business: Cary Grant’s Search for Fatherhood and His Oscar,” with Marc Eliot, author of “Cary Grant: A Biography”; “My Father,” in which Internet pioneer Ted Nelson discusses director Ralph Nelson; Universal Newsreel footage featuring Caron; and an essay by critic Bilge Ebiri.

Lifetime: Girl in the Box
PBS: Masterpiece: Poldark: The Complete Third Season: Blu-ray
PBS: The Gene Doctors
PBS: Craft in America: Borders and Neighbors
PBS: POV: Swim Team
PBS: Vermeer, Beyond Time
Based on a frightening true story, Lifetime’s “Girl in the Box” is based on the 1977 kidnapping of 20-year-old Colleen Stan by Cameron and Janice Hooker, as she was hitchhiking from Eugene, Oregon, to a friend’s house in northern California. For the next seven years, the young married couple kept Colleen locked in a coffin-sized box, hidden beneath their bed, for up to 23 hours a day. When not imprisoned, Colleen was forced into becoming a live-in slave, child-minder and victim of Cameron’s perverted sexual inclinations. First-time writer/producer/director Stephen Kemp’s re-creation the young woman’s ordeal comes as close to “torture porn” as one could expect for a Lifetime movie, even one produced originally for Canadian television. The case received plenty of attention around the world and has inspired scenarios for numerous network crime series, books and movies. Coming so soon after the kidnapping and conversion to radical politics of Patty Hearst, Colleen’s predicament prompted media experts to describe it as another example of Stockholm syndrome, which causes abductees to empathize and sympathize with their captors. Eight months after she was kidnaped, Colleen signed a contract agreeing to serve as the Camp’s slave for life. To prevent her from attempting to escape, they also brainwashed her into believing that activities in the house were being monitored by a large, powerful organization called “The Company,” which would torture her and harm her family if she tried to flee captivity. Colleen eventually was allowed to leave the house without supervision and even visit her parents. “Girl in the Box” is enhanced by convincing performances by Addison Timlin (“Californication”), Zane Holtz (“From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series”) and Zelda Williams (“Dead of Summer”). The latter is the daughter of Robin and Marsha Garces Williams, who named her after Princess Zelda from the “Legend of Zelda” video-game series.

Season Three of the “Masterpiece” mini-series, “Poldark,” opens by tying up loose ends from the violent conclusion to Season Two and unraveling more strands holding together the ongoing BBC/PBS soap opera. Being 1794, war and the revolution in France hang like dark storm clouds over the Cornwall coast. Despite Ross’ declaration of love after the beating Demelza endured at the hands of George Warleggan’s thugs, their marriage is as fragile as it ever was. Also, hanging over the early episodes are questions about the paternity of Elizabeth Warleggan’s son, Valentine; the intentions of her newly arrived cousin, Morwenna (Ellise Chappell); and motivations of Demelza’s brothers Drake and Sam (Harry Richardson, Tom York). When the ships carrying Captain Blamey and Dr. Enys are reported missing, Ross leads a small raiding party to France to rescue Enys. George will test fate by using his stockpile of grain as a weapon against starving miners and farmers and Demelza gives birth to a baby girl. And, that’s just for starters. At the conclusion of the third-season finale, it was announced that Poldark will return for a fourth year. The Blu-ray adds 30-plus minutes of behind-the-scenes coverage.

PBS’ “The Gene Doctors” delivers reasons for optimism to parents of the estimated million-plus babies born annually with a hereditary disease, which are often fatal. Until lately, doctors could only treat the symptoms of these ailments. Now a pioneering cadre of gene doctors, is starting to target root causes. Through intimate stories of families whose lives are being transformed, “The Gene Doctors” takes viewers to the frontlines of a medical revolution.

In “Boarders and Neighbors,” this season’s theme for PBS’ Peabody Award-winning documentary series, “Craft in America,” the relationships and influences that Mexican and American craft artists exert on each other’s work and their cultures are explored. Visits with more than 25 weavers, ceramic artists, papermakers, jewelers, muralists and altar makers, reveal just how porous the borders separating these cultures are.

In the “POV” presentation, “Swim Team,” we’re introduced to the parents of a boy on the autism spectrum who take matters into their own hands, forming a competitive swim team, recruiting other teens on the spectrum and training them with high expectations and zero pity. Watch the extraordinary rise of the Jersey Hammerheads, capturing a moving quest for inclusion, independence and a winning life.

Images from Johannes Vermeer’s paintings have become permanent part of our collective imagination and are instantly recognizable as masterpieces. In French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Cottet’s splendid bio-doc, “Vermeer, Beyond Time,” we learn that this wasn’t always the case. Vermeer died in 1675, at 43, overwhelmed by poverty, physically weakened and humiliated. Soon afterward, his paintings were sold to cover his debts. It took another 200 years for his work to be appreciated for its sensitivity, unique light and interpretive genius. The film explores Vermeer’s family life, including his conversion to Catholicism, his artistic contemporaries and the wider world of the short-lived Dutch Golden Age of the 17th Century.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon