The Eddy Duchin Story (1956) / The Front (1976) / Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) / The Blue Max (1966) / Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) Blu-rays Review: Twilight Times Five

Previously, the folks at Twilight Time had stepped up their game from two to three releases per month to four. Recently, however, the niche home video label decided to up the ante a wee bit further, giving consumers a total of five new releases to add to their collection. As always, this batch is of a decidedly varied assortment; the only true constant here appearing to be most of the movies somehow work death into the picture! But hey, that’s one of the few things that still sells, right? Read on and find out.

Firstly, we have the 1956 classic The Eddy Duchin Story, starring Tyrone Power and Kim Novak. For those of you who are in the dark with that name, Eddy Duchin was an American pianist and bandleader during the 1930s and ’40s, and who, tragically, died at the ripe old age of 41, several years after his first wife passed away at 29. Yeah. Ouch, right? But like I said before, that’s what sells a flick – and Columbia Pictures showed the proper amount of respect by waiting a full five years before producing this charming biopic that not only benefits from a supporting part by the great James Whitmore, but a truly heartwarming scene of an enlisted Duchin (as played by Mr. Power, who oddly enough passed away two years later at the elderly age of 44) and a young boy jammin’ away on a burned-out piano somewhere in the South Pacific. Despite being a major hit at the time (Joe Besser even gave it an honorable mention in a Three Stooges short the following year), the title – as well as its titular subject – managed to fall into the cracks of time over the years. So do yourself a favor and buy it today – before you yourself die too young!

You know what sells better than death? A good scandal. And with all the scandals past and present haunting the personal life of Woody Allen, Twilight Time’s first two Allen titles on Blu-ray are ideal for reminding audiences what everybody used to remember the filmmaker for. His 1989 drama Crimes and Misdemeanors – a personal favorite of yours truly – was made shortly before that one scandal in the early ’90s happened, wherein Allen’s filmic output started to tank. Here, the always superb Martin Landau is a New York ophthalmologist who has managed to land himself on the verge of scandal himself, when his flight attendant mistress (Anjelica Huston) threatens to reveal their affair to his wife and family. Meanwhile, the neurotic Allen attempts to make it big as a minor documentary maker whilst begetting an affair of his own with a fellow film buff who also happens to be a producer (Mia Farrow). Alan Alda, Claire Bloom, Sam Waterston, and Jerry Orbach co-star in this delightful tale.

More than two decades before the aforementioned film premiered, someone in the industry decided that Woody Allen’s hung-up comedic persona would make for the ideal lead performer in a drama about blacklisting during the McCarthy Era. The result: 1976’s The Front, which finds Allen as a cashier/bookmaker named Howard Prince, who gets the break of a lifetime when a blacklisted television writer friend (Michael Murphy) suggests Prince assign his name to his own authored works so that both struggling men can survive. Prince begins to contract even more writers as the dough starts to roll in, which brings with it the attention of the good ol’ U.S. Government, intent on digging up some kind of dirt on this previously unknown scriptwriting genius. Thankfully, Allen does a fairly fine job here as the serious (though still comical, of course) hero, and Zero Mostel delivers a remarkable co-starring performance and he as well as several members of the film’s cast and crew, who were actually all blacklisted in the ’50s.

Moving back ten years and upward into the sky, we find ourselves in World War I Germany for John Guillermin’s 1966 epic, The Blue Max. George Peppard takes flight here as Corporal Bruno Stachel – a lowly trench soldier eager to become his country’s next aerial superman and, most importantly, earn himself a shiny medal (known as the Blue Max) for downing twenty enemy aircraft. Battling Brits in the sky and his aristocratic compatriots on the ground, Stachel’s performance catches the eye of a high-ranking General (James Mason), as well as his unfastened Countess wife (Ursula Andress). Jeremy Kemp, Karl Michael Vogler, and Anton Diffring co-star in this CinemaScope production that features a number of fantastic aeroplane stunts, seconded only by an almost-nekkid Andress. The film’s international cast speak in their native accents (something they tried years later in Valkyrie), and Carl Schell (Maximilian’s lesser-known brother) makes a cameo as the Red Baron himself, Manfred von Richthofen.

Finally, we hit the road for another action film, though of an entirely different nature. Michael (The Deer Hunter) Cimino’s first film, 1974 road picture/heist flick cult classic Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, stars the one and only screen pairing of Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges. Why is it the only pairing of these two actors? Because Bridges steals the show without even trying, something some scholars have felt upset Mr. Eastwood. The odd action drama focuses on a young drifter (Bridges) who pals up with an aging robber (Eastwood) who has been on the lam from his old burglary buddies from several moons back. And it isn’t long before those buddies – as played here by a sadistic George Kennedy and a simpleton Geoffrey Lewis – pop up, and soon set in motion yet another big score. Quite possibly the only Clint Eastwood film to feature a Paul Williams song on the soundtrack, as well as the only moving picture in history to proudly claim it was filmed entirely in Montana.

As always, Twilight’s crew have included isolated scores (several, in one instance) and theatrical trailers with all of their releases, the latter-three of the titles containing audio commentary tracks featuring Twilight Time founder Nick Redman and the wacky Julie Kirgo (who has also penned the enjoyable liner notes for each Blu-ray). The overall A/V quality varies from title to title (depending on what kind of HD materials the outsourcing studio lent to the folks at Twilight Time), but neither release from this assortment disappoints in any respect.

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Luigi Bastardo

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