Tuesday, 27 November 2018

On Blu-ray - David Hare looks over early Cecil B De Mille, Ray Milland as director, MAN'S FAVOURITE SPORT, SOME LIKE IT HOT and AGE OF CONSENT

Here's a roundup of recent Blu-rays which I am still trying to get through since our return from a Sydney visit.
De Mille's very camp Sign of the Cross (1932) in which the lions are still winning their fight against the Christians. The picture is far from the most interesting or formally dynamic exercise. Static pictorialism, heroic gestural acting and declamatory line readings were used to convey Victorian High Historical painting mode. But Sign of the Cross takes the prize for De Millian absurdity, with ample help from Mitchell Leisen, in the presentation of censor baiting "depravity". 

The three screens (above) here are Laughton as Nero, playing the role as a psychopathic infant, Colbert in the bath of Asses Milk, with peekaboo titties, and the "Lesbian Kiss" in which the demure "Mercia" (Alissa Landi) is unsuccessfully tempted by the wicked "Ancaria" (Joyzelle Joyner, an exotic dancer of the period who gives a far more enthusiastic performance than Landi) in a Lesbian hoochy cooch routine to titillate the orgying dinner guests during the sequence. 
The movie-going public have presumably never personally put together at home such perversions as wine-guzzling and eating grapes while rolling on the floor, and generally fiddling with long haired hookers' tumbling locks while watching a live lesbian dance number in their living room. Thank the metaphorical god for De Mille who makes such things possible in the movies to simple folks like you and I. This is, surely, one of the roles of cinema art. 
The movie is one of three De Milles recently released in France on the redoubtable Elephant Blu-ray label. The others are the 1934 Cleopatra (already out on Masters of Cinema) and a nice Technicolor transfer of Reap the Wild Wind (1942). 
Also new from Universal, Hawks' last comedy, Man's Favorite Sport. Screen (above) here has Rock showing Paula Prentiss how well he can throw a line. Color and definition are good in 1080p but I do not care for the scrubbed appearance, devoid of film grain, something which had previously been a most unwelcome characteristic of older Universal upgrades from its deep catalogue. 
The worst of these was their atrocious Blu of Hitchcock's Marnie which seems to have been dust busted and then as an afterthought regraded with a ceaseless rain of digital noise/faux grain on the image. I had thought these days of misguided grading and mastering were over at Universal and maybe this unsatisfactory transfer of the 1963 Hawks is from a (much) earlier time. They need to do a lot of these titles again with the current tech team there. 
Next, two fascinating movies directed by Ray Milland before he went on to direct the fine Panic in Year Zero (1960). Both are released by Kino Lorber. His first film as director, A Man Alone (1955, above) a sombre and very credible western with MIlland himself, Ward Bond, Lee van Cleef and others. And his next picture from 1956, a colorful travelogue thriller in Scope, Lisbon (below) (long before the tourist invasion) with Maureen O'Hara, Claude Rains and Yvonne Furneaux. 

Both movies were made for Republic in their Trucolor system, a dye transfer three strip process like Technicolor which was still being shot with their modified cameras into the mid-fifties, after Tech had gone to monopack Eastman neg filming. The transfers are impeccable and the movies worth your consideration, if you like Panic in Year Zero as much as I do. 
Criterion's new BD release of Wilder's great Some like it Hot ) two screens above) is from a new 4K and the only thing I have to say is, along with the new 4K of The Apartment, you will not see anywhere a better and more flawless transfer of late 50s black and white American film-making. The only disappointment from these two new 4K sourced Blu discs is that they are not released in 4K UHD discs or 4K streaming format. Some Like it Hot is eye watering and its audacity and classical comedy balance never abates for me. 
Finally, my least favorite Michael Powell film, Age of Consent from 1969, with the first movie appearance of Helen Mirren. God knows how or why but this is another one of those slightly outrĂ© movies with an unexpected full frontal female nude shot of Mirren (her first, more later for Ken Russell et al) but with no visible "bush" as they used to say which blithely passed the pre 1971 "R" certificate Oz Censorship Board to get an "NRC". I saw this on its first day at the Rapallo in March 1969 and to say the audience drew breath at the sight of Helen posing nude for Mason is an understatement. 
I had and still have big problems with the movie. For all the goodwill I can muster I cannot abide some of the secondary performers, in particular the awful Jack MacGowran (with whom Powell had always wanted to work) and a teeth grinding Neva Carr Glynn as Cora’s gin-soaked “guardian". 
The master seems to be from the same encode Sony did in 2009 from the Aussie 35mm restoration prior to that. As it was with the DVD, I am not crazy about color and grading here. It seems to me black level is pushed a bit too high and this has thrown color values up to slightly oversaturated, with a dark undertone which occasionally affects flesh tones, especially Mason's, whose natural tan sometimes goes gray. I am guessing the 35mm may have been reprinted and color timed like this and that any further transfer and grading/disc mastering has had to work with that. Certainly my viewing back then recalls a very bright image with unpushed shading and natural vibrant color. 
Anyway, it will probably satisfy most viewers, especially folks who are more fond of the movie than me. The new Indicator BD comes with a plethora of extras, every one of them wonderful history and recollection some from 2009 and others new, like Ian Christie's superb analysis of Powell and Islands. And to a sceptic like me these easily outweigh the movie's own shortcomings to make for a worthwhile purchase. 
Screens here are the very lovely Harold Hopkins (above) airing his basket for Cora on the boat over to Dunk Island, and the famous nude scene in reverse shot (to appease the FB censors.)

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