Twilight Time Presents: Moral Outcasts, Musicals, and Hey, Is That Charles Bronson?

The subject of outcasts seem to be the recurring thread with this wave of Twilight Time Blu-ray releases, as evidenced by a very versatile collection of motion picture which would appear to have nothing else in common otherwise. The exercise begins with one of contemporary society’s greatest outcasts (on either side of the camera), Mr. Woody Allen, and his 1983 offering about an even bigger outsider, Leonard Zelig. Following in the footsteps of his own Take the Money and Run, Allen’s mocumentary Zelig (released a year before the cult classic This is Spinal Tap hit screens) presents the tale of an ordinary man (Allen) in the early 20th Century, who has the amazing ability to physically transform himself into the sort of people who surround him (because everyone wants to fit in, right?).

Paving the way for the vastly overrated Forrest Gump, Allen incorporates Gordon Willis’ modern black-and-white cinematography into archival footage as he tells his delightful tale of a human chameleon, who ‒ naturally ‒ lands co-star Mia Farrow. A delightful period soundtrack mixed with “new” tunes by Dick Hyman (one of which is performed by the voice of Betty Boop herself, Mae Questel) adds to the fun in this surprisingly short (79 minutes) twice-nominated feature, which gets a beautiful 1080p transfer here (as beautiful as it can get, considering most of the footage was deliberately damaged to match the older material), complete with a fine DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono soundtrack. A rare German audio option is also included, as is an isolated score, original theatrical trailer, and liner notes by Twilight Time’s Julie Kirgo.

There’s a moment in Fred Schepisi’s 1990 espionage drama The Russia House wherein star Sean Connery, briefly reunited with Never Say Never Again nemesis Klaus Maria Brandauer, asks the latter what he does for a living. Brandauer responds with “I am a moral outcast,” to wit Connery quips “Well, it’s always nice to meet a writer.” Indeed, both stars are moral outcasts in this engaging, star-studded spy flick, which was released shortly before the dissolvement of the Soviet Union. Here, Connery ‒ in a change of pace for the former James Bond actor ‒ plays a publisher who gets pulled into the espionage game by both British and American Intelligence agents after a beautiful young Russian woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) sends him a mysterious manuscript depicted the USSR’s nuclear capabilities.

One of those movies that everyone just happened to miss when it hit theaters in December of 1990 (thank you, Home Alone, Kindergarten Cop, and Edward Scissorhands), The Russia House has a lot going for it even without its great supporting cast (Roy Scheider, James Fox, John Mahoney, J.T. Walsh, Mac McDonald, a young Martin Clunes, and even director Ken Russell, at his subtly manic best), including a bit of intrigue, a fine romance between leads Connery and Pfeiffer, and a marvelous Jerry Goldsmith score. Plus, you get to see Sean Connery playing the clarinet, so how can you go wrong? Goldsmith’s score is included as an isolated track, and the gorgeous HD release also sports a retro making-of featurette, trailer, and loving liner notes from Julie Kirgo.

At first, I thought I was going to have to endure yet another Mickey Rooney film when I noticed there was a Black Stallion feature in with this selection of flicks. And after having just sat through two vintage Rooney movies back-to-back, I was thoroughly convinced this would be the movie that forced me into an early retirement. But then I noticed it was actually The Black Stallion Returns from 1983, which didn’t feature Rooney. This family-friendly equestrian adventure based on the Walter Farley novel from 1945 (nothing like keeping up with the times, Hollywood) finds Teri Garr and former child actor Kelly Reno reprising their roles from the previous film as the human characters whom nobody really truly paid the cost of admission to see: most of the audience was just there to see the horsies, after all.

Hoyt Axton also returns from the first film, but serves as the narrator this time in this tale of horse thievery and such, set amidst lots of sand. Also appearing are Vincent Spano, Allen Garfield, and the great Woody Strode. Franco Citti and voice actor Gregory Snegoff also pop up. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray presentation of this international (the film was shot in the USA, Italy, Morocco, and Algeria) production from Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios ‒ which also sort of came and went when first released, though it has received many home video incarnations ‒ looks nothing short of amazing overall, bringing Carlo Di Palma’s breathtaking photography to life, and offers 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD MA audio options, along with Georges Delerue’s isolated score, liner notes from Julie Kirgo, and an original theatrical trailer as extras.

My apparent victory over having been spared sitting through another Mickey Rooney movie was a short lived feat when I discovered the next two titles in this wave from Twilight Time were of the musical variety. And what a variety the first, The Gang’s All Here, possess. So much so, it borders on sheer camp. But then, when did anyone ever take Carmen Miranda’s unique taste in head apparel very seriously? Indeed, the fruit-laced hats of the iconic doomed starlet come into play during this 1943 Technicolor musical from 20th Century Fox and director Busby Berkeley (in one of his last full directorial efforts), to say nothing of an entire musical sequence which, frankly, would have been more at home in Bruce Kimmel’s naughty ode to classic song-and-dance pictures of this ilk, The First Nudie Musical.

In fact, said legendary scene prevented The Gang’s All Here from being seen anywhere in Brazil when the movie first opened (instead, everyone was just read their Carmen Miranda rights). The actual plot itself totally inconsequential, The Gang’s All Here finds Alice Faye and James Ellison as the struggling romantic leads in this World War II throwback to the musicals of the previous decade. The seasoned talents of Phil Baker, Benny Goodman (and Orchestra), Eugene Pallette, Charlotte Greenwood, and Edward Everett Horton round out the cast (look quick for a young Adele Jergens as a chorus girl). Looking the best it ever has, this stellar Blu-ray includes DTS-HD MA 2.0 and 1.0 options, isolated score, two audio commentaries, two featurettes, a deleted scene, trailer, and liner notes (once again written by Julie Kirgo).

Lastly in this line-up is Miss Sadie Thompson, starring Rita Hayworth, José Ferrer, the always neglected Aldo Ray, and a bit part from up-and-comer Charles Bronson. Originally released to cinemas in 3D, the feature has rarely been seen in such form since its debut in 1953, but thanks to the ever-diligent efforts of modern technology, the this, the third adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s tale has coincidentally become Twilight Time’s third 3D release (following Man in the Dark and that Harlock: Space Pirate thing). While watered down considerably in order to meet with the standards of those prudes in the Hays Office at the time (hence, we get big production numbers instead of steamy sex), this version of the story finds Ms. Hayworth as a nightclub singer with a promiscuous past.

Cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr. takes advantage of the 3D gimmick by giving us a few stereoscopic money shots, which stick out all the more (oh, if only the banana number from The Gang’s All Here had been shot in three-dimensions…) in this marvelous HD presentation with DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono sound. Naturally, the usual Twilight Time supplemental materials ‒ liner notes from Julie Kirgo and an isolated score/effects track ‒ are on-hand here, as is an audio commentary by historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros, an introduction to the film from actress Patricia Clarkson, and a trailer. All five of these Blu-ray releases are limited to 3,000 copies each.

Happy outcasting.

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Luigi Bastardo

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