Twilight Time Presents: From the Dark to the Way Too Light

A timeless, tiresome proverb tells us it is darkest before the dawn, and we have all surely met that one idiot who is always more than happy to impose some form of such an idiom upon you whenever things aren’t looking overly bright for you. Fortunately, there is no lack of lighting in this sextet of moving picture offerings from Twilight Time. In the instance of the two film noir titles included in this lot ‒ Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) and a re-issue of The Big Heat (1953) ‒ the lighting is always perfect. When we’re in the great outdoors amid sprawling adventures from all points west ‒ Cowboy (1958), a double billing of Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969) and Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971); or The Hawaiians (1970), we have much natural lighting to keep things abreast. And speaking of breasts, the early giallo La bambola di Satana could very well be the brightest horror movie ever.

But more on that in a bit, for Where the Sidewalk Ends is where our journey begins. Based on a (then-)recent novel by William L. Stuart and adapted for the screen by Ben Hecht, the 1950 film noir from noted filmmaker Otto Preminger takes us off the beaten track (or, Sidewalk, if you really need to be keyed in) into some truly (then-)unexplored terrain. For it is here we see one of cinema’s earliest glimpses of “good cops” who do “bad things.” From the get-go, as a rogue NYC police detective receives an unceremonious demotion for being too rough with the hoods he has sworn to protect the honest folk from, we can’t help but wonder if Dana Andrews’ Mark Dixon is the father of Harry Callahan. But Dixon can’t help do what he does; an unfortunate fate bestowed upon him thanks to that whole “sins of the father” thing. Sure enough, Dixon’s irrefutable family history is about to make a Mark.

An attempted murder frame via gangster Gary Merrill sends Andrews to the residence of a drunken Peter Gunn, Craig Stevens, who is soon playing a harp once Dana’s hands get too heavy. Preminger’s film then takes a unique howcatchem approach (Columbo fans, take note!), as Andrews is assigned to search for the missing man he secretly murdered! The beautiful Gene Tierney co-stars as the abused ex-wife of the deceased, whom our anti-hero takes a weird romantic interest in. A rising Karl Malden is Andrews’ recently-promoted superior, Tom Tully is Tierney’s talkative father, and a young Neville Brand makes one of his earliest appearances as one of Gary Merrill’s hoods in this well-crafted, surprisingly femme fatale-less flick. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray includes an isolated score, audio commentary with Eddie Muller, and theatrical trailer as extras.

But Where the Sidewalk Ends is not where this darker shade of film would ultimately conclude. Previously released on Blu-ray by Twilight Time in 2012, Columbia Pictures’ The Big Heat quickly wound up selling out once genre aficionados got wind of this Heat wave. Fortunately for anyone who may have missed out the first time ’round, the gritty 1953 Fritz Lang noir classic has returned to BD once more as one of the label’s “Encore Edition” titles (becoming one of the few films to garner a re-issue), this time with new supplemental materials included. Following World War II, when Hollywood began to publicly embrace much grimmer facets of storytelling (while still staying true to the ever-watchful eyes of the conservative goons at the Hays Office), film noir developed a strong stance where patriotic Abbott & Costello musical comedies had previously danced about.

It seemed only natural for filmmaker Lang ‒ who all but pioneered the aforementioned style during his German Expressionistic days via Metropolis and M ‒ to grab a seat and direct during the US film noir scene. The Big Heat was certainly no exception. Glenn Ford is a police detective pure in heart, whose determination to wipe out the mob boss (Alexander Scourby) who rules the town with an iron fist leads to much heartbreak and bloodshed. Jocelyn Brando, Gloria Grahame, and the amazing Lee Marvin (as the sadistic henchman who enjoys getting people into hot water) also star. This re-release features the same A/V aspects as their 2012 release, with new featurettes from Michael Mann and Martin Scorsese, and a new audio commentary from screenwriter/historian Lem Dobbs, hosted and moderated by Twilight Time’s Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo.

Glenn Ford is at it again in our next feature, Columbia Pictures’ Cowboy (1958) . This time, however, the already established actor (and one of the quickest draws in the industry, by many accounts) ‒ despite his top-billing ‒ gets to play second-fiddle to a fast-rising, mostly comedic, performer by the name of Jack Lemmon. Based on the (dubious, at best) memoirs by Frank Harris, Cowboy finds Jack Lemmon as a lovelorn Chicago hotel clerk whose fondest wish is to become a part of the once-respected livestock herding community which has since been replaced by heavy-drinking brawling rodeo rejects, half-assed farmers with delusions of political aspirations, and recording artists paid to keep America’s ignorant masses of Trump supporters shopping for direct-to-video B movies with WWE stars and cheap Chinese crap at Walmart (yes, as a matter of fact, I did grow up in a hick town, why do you ask?)

After all-but bribing his way into a partnership, Lemmon accompanies Ford on a cattle drive to Mexico and back. Along the way, the green Lemmon becomes ripened to harsh realities of the lifestyle: dejection, disassociation, and death via seemingly-harmless rattlesnake-tossing pranks (poor Strother Martin). But the joke gets old as the naïve tenderfoot becomes worse than his paid-for peers. In many respects, Cowboy feels like a precursor to contemporary Hollywood “buddy” pictures which cannot decide whether they’re supposed to be comedies or dramas. Anna Kashfi, Brian Donlevy (in a good, but all-too fleeting part), Dick York, and Richard Jaeckel are among the supporting cast. Saul Bass designed the opening sequence, Dalton Trumbo served as a co-scriptwriter. Twilight Time’s beautiful transfer includes an isolated score, commentary (with Paul Seydor, Julie Kirgo, and Nick Redman), and trailer.

At least the people behind Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969) and Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971) were perfectly aware of the sort of cinematic ilk they were manufacturing. Although, in the case of these two United Artists western/comedies starring James Garner, you may feel free to add “for better or for worse” to the end of that statement. Whereas the first film ‒ as unrealistic and unoriginal as it may be ‒ is a highly enjoyable laughfest situating the former Maverick star in a small, lawless gold mining town replete with every sort of lunatic imaginable, the completely unrelated follow-up feature feels like a JJ Abrams’ Star Wars sequel: it is essentially the same damn thing all over again, delivered without any of the charm. It’s good for a laugh or two, even if the funniest moment of the film ‒ the final line of dialogue, at that ‒ is an in-joke about spaghetti westerns.

In Support Your Local Sheriff!, Garner is a quick-witted wanderer who reluctantly takes on the job of lawman, only to become the object of odd infatuation by the headstrong tomboyish daughter (Joan Hackett) of Mayor Harry Morgan. The same concept is repeated in Support Your Local Gunfighter, which in many ways feels more like a bad Maverick / The Wild, Wild West crossover. Jack Elam, Henry Jones, Willis Bouchey, Gene Evans, Walter Burke, and Dick Haynes appear in both films; Walter Brennan and Bruce Dern are in the first; Dub Taylor, Marie Windsor, Joan Blondell, Grady Sutton, and an uncredited Chuck Connors pop up in the second. Twilight Time gives us both movies on one disc with isolated tracks and (spoilerific) trailers are included for both film; an audio commentary with Lee Pfeiffer and Paul Scrabo is available for the first title.

In Twilight Time’s previously sailed waters, I washed ashore in Hawaii: one of the many lavish, expensive epics produced in the ’60s as a way to lure people back into cinemas as television became the preferred method of motion picture entertainment. But the adaptation of James A. Michener’s 1959 novel only represented a fraction of the story, so it made sense for producer Walter Mirisch to bring another chapter of the book onto the screen, and in 1970, The Hawaiians came to be. Set 40 years after the depressing events of Mirisch’s Hawaii, The Hawaiians shows us an entirely newseries of heartbreaking moments, starting with the casting of Charlton Heston as our slave ship captain “hero.” This tale also sprawls over the course of time, delivering Heston’s various ups and downs as he tries to become a legitimate pineapple paradise.

Meanwhile, we witness the more interesting parallel tale of Chinese slave Tina Chen, who initially arrives as a makeshift concubine of Mako before making use of her keen business sense. While The Hawaiians does not disappoint in anyone who loves to hear Charlton Heston shout out good strong “Damn!” (something Joe Flaherty’s portrayal of on SCTV was always keen to do), it leaves a great deal of room for improvement in many other fields. But at least we get to see John Phillip Law, Keye Luke, Khigh Dhiegh, James Hong, and James Gregory in action. To say nothing of some of the worst makeup appliances ever, which stand out even further in Twilight Time’s beautiful HD presentation. The critically-panned epic is accompanied by a theatrical trailer and an isolated track of Henry Mancini’s music score, which sounds like West Side Story‘s “Maria” turned into travelogue music.

Had The Hawaiians been made a year or two sooner, it may have served as a cautionary tale to the makers of 1969’s La bambola di Satana (Satan’s Doll) ‒ the first giallo offering ever from Twilight Time, which makes this a momentous occasion unto itself ‒ on the importance of utilizing natural lighting wherever possible. Though I could not even begin to guess how many movies I have seen, I can safely say La bambola di Satana wins the award for Best Lighting Ever. Not because it’s good lighting (it isn’t, not by any means), but because there’s so damn muchof it! Whether people are supposed to be sleeping in darkened rooms in the middle of the night or crawling through a decrepit old castle’s catacombs, they have every light bulb acquired from possibly (though not limited to) the whole of Italy tightly, brightly fixed and focused directly upon their European mugs here.

If only the cinematographer for this unintentionally hilarious flick was unable to keep things in focus. In a nutshell, Ferruccio Casapinta’s La bambola di Satana looks like the culmination of (at the very most,) days of hard work as performed by a group of people who were talented in art forms other than that of filmmaking. Incompetent on every front, this oddity finds the attractive young blonde heiress to a castle (Erna Schurer, who couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag) arriving at her family estate only to discover strange things are afoot. Namely, the lack of any talent whatsoever in a film that nevertheless serves to bridge the gap betwixt classic Italian gothic horror and a still-forming giallo movement. Roland Carey and Aurora Bautista co-star amid some of the most hilarious lightning effects to ever not go unnoticed by filmgoers, coupled with some of the limpest erotic moments ever filmed.

Not surprisingly, director Ferruccio Casapinta never found himself making another film, though his strange contribution to the giallo field makes for fascinating viewing. And thanks to Rewind Film, Twilight Time is able to present this lost turkey via a stunning-looking transfer (wherein you can see just how bright every scene is!). Twilight Team’s disc includes optional English subtitles (which could have stood with some proofreading, and were probably fan-made) for the Italian audio track (much like the film’s well-lighted visionary never returned to direct, the film was never dubbed into English for an international release ‒ for reasons which I’m sure have become all too apparent now, especially with all of that light!), an audio commentary by horror gurus David Del Valle and Derek Botelho. An isolated score is also available here, which is probably the most incredible of all (insert your own English dubbing!).

All six of these Twilight Time releases include none-too-dark liner notes by Julie Kirgo, and are available while supplies last .

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Luigi Bastardo

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