These musings regarding the launch of the Olive Films Signature collection including the September 20, 2016 DVD and Blu-ray releases of the 1952 Stanley Kramer classic "adult Western" "High Noon" reinforce the thoughts in the Unreal TV review of the simultaneous Signature releases of the 1954 Nicholas Ray (of "Rebel Without a Cause" fame) Western with equally mature themes "Johnny Guitar" that Olive wisely pairs the two. One cannot imagine a better weekend afternoon double-feature.
Part of the fun of "Noon" relates to regular references to a tin star; that badge is the title of the magazine article on which the film is based.
The four Oscar wins for this Old West version of the Kiefer Sutherland drama series "24" include Best Actor for Gary Cooper in his role as perhaps the first lawman to have a horrible last day on the job Marshal Will Kane. The awesome Tex Ritter song "High Noon (Don Not Forsake Me Oh My Darlin')," which provides classic Western style (and '60scom "F Troop" spoofed) exposition is awarded Best Original Song for 1953. Other awards include several Golden Globes.
"Noon" is also notable for being a Stanley Kramer joint. Kramer goes on to produce scads o' '50s and '60s classics. A woefully incomplete list of these films includes "The Caine Mutiny," "Judgment at Nuremberg," and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."
Grace Kelly rounds out this top three as Grace Fowler Kane (rather than Amy Farrah Fowler) , who is a Quaker whose honeymoon period with Will lasts less than five minutes. This actress who goes on to be one of Hitchcock's favorite blondes shows equally quickly that she is far more than just another pretty face. Her quiet strong will (no pun intended) and limited willingness to stand by her man make her an early film feminist hero.
Just as "Guitar" dramatically opens with blasting rock as part of a railroad expansion that is integral to that film. "Noon" commences with a gathering of outlaws ahead of their recently paroled leader scheduled to arrive at the titular hour.
The action soon shifts to the closing moments of the Sunday morning wedding of recently resigned Marshal Will and Amy (Wamy?). The pronouncement of that union is barely out of the mouth of the presiding Quaker minister when a literally rude awakening comes in the form of Will leaning that Frank Miller, who is a particularly ornery outlaw that Will arrested five years earlier, is paroled and is arriving in just over an hour. None of the assembled group doubts that revenge against Will and the other locals responsible for that not-so-unfortunate incarceration is the motive for that visit.
The ensuing real-time period between Will receiving the dual bad news and the anticipated showdown is sure to have fans of the aforementioned Sutherland series imagine a digital clock on the screen and hear accompanying ominous music. "Noon" director Fred Zimmerman, who also is behind-the-camera for dramas that include "From Here to Eternity" and "A Man for All Seasons," provides the effective substitute of still shots of a wall clock.
The "24" vibe continues with the lone wolf aspect and related betrayals of that series. We further get plenty of the moral dilemmas that contribute to Sutherland's Jack Bauer literally sleepless nights.
The Kramer-caliber substance of "Noon" that separates it from stampedes and gunfights style Westerns also commences with the countdown to the titular time. Will must initially determine that staying to fight is the better course than running, try to convince the town folks to stand with him, and confront his past demons. The latter include incompetent interim Marshal (and former deputy) Harvey Pell, whom Lloyd Bridges perfectly portrays, and Will former flame/Harvey current love interest Helen Ramirez. The spot-on portrayal of Ramirez by Katy Jurado earns her a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe.
It seems that tough and independent saloon owner Helen inspires the tough and independent saloon owner Vienna whom Crawford plays in "Guitar." They both have a "past" about which neither is ashamed. An awesome scene in "Noon" refers to the history of Helen by having a hotel owner comment that Will knows the way when the former asks if Helen is in her room.
Another parallel exists in the form of the earnest boy who is eager to prove that he is a man. Turkey in "Guitar" is a barely post-adolescent who wants to prove that he is as tough as any man. One of the best scenes in "Noon" has a teen trying to convince Will that the lad has what it takes to be the Robin to Will's Batman.
Kramer and Zimmerman also add their own artistic touches to the shootout that comprises most of the final 15 minutes of "Noon." Rather than merely being two foes facing each other on an otherwise deserted dusty street, the gun battle looks more like a modern police drama chase. A highly symbolic scene in this segment has an "in imminent peril" Will take the time to save a herd of horses.
The involvement of Kramer and "Noon" not being your typical kiddie matinee oater leaves the barn door open for the possibility of a finale that is not a typical Hollywood ending. Determining if Kramer adheres to the Hayes Code in having Frank Miller killed or jailed and Will riding off in the sunset with Amy requires watching the beautifully restored film; the semi-spoiler is that its complicated.
The booklet, which seems to be a Signature staple, that the (awesomely produced) Blu-ray set includes has an essay that offers more insight into "Noon" than one could hope for. This article expands beyond the themes discussed above to discuss the involvement of blacklisted screenwriter Carl Foreman and the relevancy of the film in this era of the Trump candidacy. We further learn of the parallels between "Noon" and the 1929 Cooper film "The Virginian," based on the classic 1902 novel of the same name.
The special features also include the theatrical trailer, documentaries on the editing of "Noon " and the awesomeness of Kramer productions, and a Must-See "making-off" feature narrated by recently deceased young actor Anton Yelchin.
The new Olive Films Olive Signature collection chooses perfectly in launching its DVD and Blu-ray releases with two '50s Westerns that are much more than shoot-em-up kiddie matinee fare. The 1954 Joan Crawford film "Johnny Guitar," which is our current topic, is an apt predecessor of the 1955 film "Rebel Without A Cause" by "Guitar" director Nicholas Ray. Our focus tomorrow shifts to the equally deep 1952 classic "High Noon" starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly.
As an aside, the spectacular (discussed at the end of this review) extras in both "Guitar" and "Noon" are a notable part of what distinguishes Signature releases from the lost treasures and other drool-worthy titles in the main Olive catalog.
The following YouTube clip of the SPOILER-LADEN theatrical trailer for "Guitar" emphasizes the good sizzle over the even better substance of the film.
The elements that make adult Western "Guitar" Signature worthy are the aforementioned attributes that earn it the titles of "adult" and "feminist" Western, associated heavy symbolism in color and narration, having Hollywood royalty Joan Crawford star with fellow box office legends Sterling Hayden as the titular crooner/gunslinger and Best Actress winner for "All The King's Men" Mercedes McCambridge as the sexually repressed (and possibly bisexual) proper lady Emma Small, and the restoration of "Guitar" looking and sounding so amazing on Blu-ray that it does justice to the red rock scenery of the Sedona, Arizona shooting location.
Crawford stars as tough-as-nails saloon owner Vienna, regarding whom it is suggested spent a great deal of time on her back to raise the money required to get her business on its feet. The reasoning of this 19th century entrepreneur is that the relatively imminent expansion of the railroad literally to her formerly remote front door will bring the business to her.
The "crimes" of Vienna including her being a strong and independent woman in a strongly male-dominated society, having a relationship with an ambiguous amount of closeness with the Dancing Kid and a related triangle with ambiguous aspect with Emma, and welcoming the Kid and his gang that claim to be silver miners but are suspected of being outlaws into her business. This long list of offenses provide the catalyst for Emma and wealthy landowner John McIvers to use every arguable excuse to literally or figuratively come gunning for Vienna and to fabricate a rationale if none exist.
As an aside, the web verifies the sense from the clear animosity that Crawford and McCambridge direct at each other that Bette Davis is the first choice for the role of Emma; The story goes that Davis wanted too much money and that second choice Barbara Stanwyck also passed on the chance to battle Crawford on (and almost certainly off) screen. The expertly written insightful booklet in the Signature release shares both that Crawford and McCambridge do battle off-screen and that Hayden and that cast and crew side with McCambridge.
The fictional drama that sets "Guitar" in motion is a stage coach robbery in which the brother of Emma is killed; this loss and the aforementioned resentments bring Emma, McIvers, and the Marshal to Vienna's in the wake of an even more dramatic entrance of our titular character. Although the stated purpose of the newcomer for being there is to entertain the customers, it soon becomes clear that Vienna summons him based on their shared history and on his skill as a gunfighter.
The Old West elements continue with Vienna facing an effective order to be out of town by sundown, a daring daytime bank robbery, a pursuing posse, a lynching, a few shootouts, etc. Anyone even remotely familiar either with Ray or "Guitar" know that all of this is merely the outer layer of the savory onion.
A coerced betrayal based on a false promise provides commentary by a blacklisted writer (who uses a front) who contributes to the "Guitar" script, the aforementioned history of Johnny and Vienna and a scene between the two is very reminiscent of Ilsa and Rick from "Casablanca," the unconventional reversals of the white hats and the black hats, a highly symbolic barrier, etc all show both why Americans who come expecting non-stop gun fights and little dialog are disappointed and Europeans embrace "Guitar" enough to have it inspire the New Wave directors.
A simpler way of understanding this is that the emphasis in this oater is much more on opera than horse. The stirring soundtrack (which makes great use of BD), the majestic scenery, and the flowing white dress and other costumes of the highly expressive Crawford evoke a stronger sense of the Met than the multiplex.
The plethora of Turner Classic Movie-quality extras in "Guitar" extend beyond the aforementioned booklet. Acclaimed director Martin Scorsese starts things with a Robert Osborne-worthy introduction to the film. Other features include a panel of film critics discussing the work, a short film on the McCarthy element, and the aforementioned SPOILER-LADEN theatrical trailer. Aside from being great retro fun, the non-enhanced trailer perfectly illustrates (no pun intended) the value of watching even '50s-era films that make great use of technicolor and related technologies in Blu-ray.
The Olive Films September 13, 2016 2-disc DVD and Blu-ray sets of all thrill-packed 12 episodes in "Commando Cody"from the '50s makes this Saturday review of that kiddie matinee feature very apt. One spoiler is that that the titular Sky Marshal of the Universe gets his name from his daring wartime exploits, not from a habit of opting out of wearing underwear.
Although much of the initial excitement surrounding these full 30-minutes of awesome low-budget '50s scifi goodness relates to the late '80s-early '90s basic cable show "Mystery Science Theater 3000" often featuring the show, watching the expertly crafted Blu-ray set shows that the episodes are even better when you get to watch the whole story in one sitting and (albeit hilarious) sarcastic comments do not drown out the dialog.
The overall theme and feel of the series is that of the "Flash Gordon" serials. The jet-pack that Cody straps to his back and the bullet-shaped helmet and leather jacket that he wears while doing so are well-represented in the 1991 Disney live-action film "The Rocketeer."
Great cost-cutting elements include the pilot seats in the rocket ship of Cody being undisguised desk chairs of the day with seat belts, an alien compound clearly being a model, and a robot looking like the Halloween costume of a 12 year-old.
"Cody" begins with a three-episode arc in which our hero and his team first learn of the existence of the alien villain The Ruler. The first nefarious attempt of this bad guy involves a fairly straightforward effort to conquer earth and enslave mankind. This also is the first time that The Ruler attempts to penetrate the cosmic dust barrier that is the creation of Cody designed to protect earth from alien threats. This Star Wars style defense and the attempts to penetrate it remain an element through the run of "Cody."
The modern-day elements of "Cody" extend well beyond having a defense shield that is intended to neutralize missiles and other harmful projectiles. The heavy eco elements include separate plots by The Ruler to create massive storms to cause catastrophic storms and to increase global warming to a degree (no pun intended) that the entire earth literally bakes.
Further, The Ruler with his Eastern European accent, spies on earth, and fondness for stealing secret plans and breaking the communication system of Cody add a wonderful Cold War feel to the episodes.
This all amounts to a chance to watch a vintage "one more" worthy Saturday afternoon matinee series without a theater full of screaming kids.
The 36 minutes of bonus interviews in the recently released (and spectacularly produced) Blu-ray edition of (the Unreal TV reviewed) documentary "Tab Hunter Confidential" scream for this separate review. These additional comments by Hunter, several big stars/friends of the era, and other Hunter admirers can be considered the missing link between the theatrical version of "Confidential" and the Hunter biography of the same name. These people showing Hunter arguably even more love in the extra footage than they show in the film further validates that Hunter always being kind to both people and animals has its rewards.
Before getting to the primary topic du jour, the graciousness of Hunter deserves special mention. The documentary enhancing long-time regard for Hunter, his being very nice in an Unreal TV interview, and Hunter showing immense gratitude for the ongoing love for his film is behind a request for an autographed copy of the "Confidential" Blu-ray. Rather than ignore such requests or say "no," Hunter considerately has his PR rep. reply that Hunter either has to give all of us signed copies or none to any of us one. This makes the related disappointment very palpable.
Hunter himself remains the star of the show in the extra scenes, which approach the depth of the Hunter autobiography of the same name as the film. His numerous topics include more insight into his relationship with his challenging mother. telling his "where I was when Kennedy was shot" story, and great humor related to fellow teen idol (sorry Tab; I know that you HATE labels) Troy Donahue.
Other "Confidential" information that Hunter shares from the book relates to his first sexual encounter and his secret romance with Anthony Perkins.
Seeing uber-awesome film historian Robert Osborne throw in his two cents regarding lecherous Henry Wilson and his stable of hot young studs. Fellow Wilson stallion Robert Wagner (of the soon-to-be-reviewed 1967 caper film "Banning") shares his memories both of Wilson and of Wagner's deceased wife (and Hunter's very close friend) Natalie Wood.
Awesome gay rights poster boy George Takei shares his memory of being a young closeted man who learns of Hunter on seeing a shirtless photo of this blonde Adonis (sorry again, Tab) on the cover of a fan magazine. Seeing the eyes of Takei light up as he discusses subsequently rushing to see his first Hunter movie and watching every one that comes out (no pun intended boys) after that is terrific. Takei offers the true bonus of uttering his catchphrase.
Other household names who share memories of Tab in the bonus feature are Debbie Reynolds, John Waters, and "Lust in the Dust" co-star Lainie Kazan.
The only way to end this personal tribute to Hunter is to say that I casually know Tab Hunter and no one in Hollywood today is Tab Hunter. Thank YOU for your graciousness throughout the few months of my helping spread the word about your story and the kind and caring man underneath the oh-so-stunning packaging.