Paramount, 1964, B&W, 118 mins.- Warner Bros. DVD

Fredric March: “When you get to the bottom of the barrel- where we are now- you use expedience.”

Spoken like a man who’s risen to the top- specifically, the Presidency- and now faces the threat of a coup led by Army bigwig Burt Lancaster. Lancaster, in league with other hawkish elements of the government, thinks that March’s disarmament treaty with the Russkies spells doom for the nation- and Lancaster’s going to put a stop to it irregardless of little niceties like the democratic process. But fellow Pentagon habitué Kirk Douglas gets wind of the scheme and is driven to do the right thing by his innate decency- a quality which will become rather strained as he attempts to combat the potential disaster that looms just seven days away.

Granted, it’s farfetched, but with a taut screenplay by Rod “Twilight Zone” Serling, effective direction by John Frankenheimer, and solid performances from the leads, you can buy it. The focus is on story and character, without much in the way of action, but you get to see some fun stuff- government hearings full of barbed exchanges, cocktail parties that are just as nasty, a secret military base, a smattering of period high-tech, and a wrap-up that’s believable if a bit preachy. Recommended for Serling fans and political thriller buffs- just don’t show it to anyone suffering from paranoia! Disc extras are limited to an audio commentary by the (unfortunately, recently-deceased) Frankenheimer.


Fox, 1947, B&W, 104 mins.- Fox Studio Classics DVD

Gene Tierney: “Captain Gregg, if you insist on haunting me you might at least be
agreeable about it.”

This handsomely-mounted romantic fantasy posits that love conquers all, even if a pesky little thing like death gets in the way. The recently-widowed Tierney, a free-spirited woman who has the misfortune of living at the turn of the last century, moves into a seaside cottage with her daughter and housekeeper. A cottage that is still occupied by its previous resident, Rex Harrison, a veteran sailor who has lost none of his salty personality despite the fact that he’s been dead for some time. Impressed with her spunkiness, Harrison comes to an accommodation with Tierney, eventually giving new meaning to the term “Ghostwritten” when he dictates his sensational autobiography to her. But when, at his urging, she starts to take an interest in flesh-and-blood men again, he has to decide whether or not he’s going to nobly step aside and let her live her life. One thing’s for sure- time is on his side.....

This film is chock-full of healthy vintage studio goodness, with excellent production values, standout performances, and a screenplay that is at turns charming, melodramatic, and laugh-out-loud funny. In the tradition of period romances, there are numerous bumps on the road for Tierney, who bravely faces sexism, betrayal, and an uncouth dead guy who keeps hanging around her house.

Classic Hollywood character Joseph L. Mankiewicz keeps things rolling along from his director’s chair, aided by a colorful musical score from the great Bernard Herrmann. If it all sounds like your cup of tea, chances are that you’ll find it very enjoyable. Extras on this disc include audio commentaries, a bio-doc on Harrison, and a nice selection of stills.


Fox, 1951, B&W, 92 mins- Fox Studio Classics DVD

Billy Gray: “I like you, Mr. Carpenter- you’re a real screwball.”

More than you know, Billy- for your pal Carpenter (a perfectly-cast Michael Rennie) is the otherworldly pilot of a flying saucer that recently landed in Washington. The alien’s unfortunate reception at the hands of the military immediately sets up the theme of an advanced, peaceful visitor butting up against human ignorance and foolishness. But while Rennie is hindered by our bad side, he sees the good in us too, exemplified by young Gray and his mother, Patricia Neal. The two help him in accomplishing his mission- to warn the people of Earth, who are on the verge of space travel, that the spread of their primitive violent ways will not be tolerated by the folks Out There. In fact, any aggression will be met with an overwhelming counterforce......which is a polite way of saying that they’ll blast us to atoms if we try anything stupid.
Director Robert Wise keeps the film’s action grounded in mid-Twentieth Century America, using the fantastical elements only when necessary- an intelligent approach that stood in contrast to the pulpier sci-fi flicks of the time. This approach minimizes the seams in the special effects- seen quite literally on Rennie’s robotic cohort, Gort- although to be fair, it’s easy to forgive the flaws and enjoy the story. If you’re used to the flashier stuff, you might find this a bit slow, but it’s worth sticking it out to the end, when Rennie’s “You’re either with us or against us” speech is just as topical as ever- not bad for a 52 year-old movie. Disc extras include an audio commentary by the director, a documentary, stills, and the shooting script.

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© Melt Magazine 2003