The team of producer-director Herbert Wilcox and actress Anna Neagle, who would later marry each other, made many English films and, for RKO, three old-fashioned musicals that revived older American hits to mediocre effect. The first of these, Irene, is now on demand from Warner Archive.
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“The producers of the picture you are about to see feel a moral obligation to warn you that it will shock you as no other film ever has. Because it could be very harmful to young and impressionable minds, it is restricted to only those over 14 years of age.”
This come-on, after we’ve already paid for the ticket, opens American International Picture’s U.S. print of Mario Bava’s classic Italian horror film. Kino Lorber has previouly released the uncut edition on Blu-ray, and now they’ve exhumed the American International version for those nostalgics who grew up with it. You’d have to be a nostalgic or completist to find appeal in the film, and you certainly shouldn’t prefer this version to the original (with its sharper image), but it’s still spooky, clammy, and stylish. Those are all thanks to the gliding camera, Gothic sets, Bava’s expressionism, and Barbara Steele’s evil grins and flashing eyes as the dead, grotesquely deformed witch who tries to resurrect by stealing the youth of her descendant-double.
This film version of Jack Gelber’s one-room, real-time play The Connection takes place in a Greenwich Village loft that, although grungy and low-down, now presents every speck of dirt and every cockroach with a clarity probably unseen since 1961, if then. As a time capsule alone, the film’s historical and stylistic perspective is fascinating.
Robert Siodmak’s The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry might be confused in some minds with Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, because both are small-town crime stories about murder and uncles. The latter film features Uncle Charlie, an evil man visiting a small town from the big, sophisticated outside world. However, Siodmak’s film has an arguably more disturbing premise, as its moral rot is homegrown from the town’s oldest and most illustrious family.
One useful aspect of on-demand and streaming titles from Warner Archive is the chance to see obscurities that sound halfway interesting, as well as to confirm that, in some cases, obscurity is merited.
Shot in Italy with a mostly Italian cast and crew (and obvious dubbing in certain scenes), Panic Button offers several points of half-interest. Top-billed Maurice Chevalier spends the whole movie winking and shrugging and mugging as though paid by the tic, twice bursting into jaunty if unmemorable songs by George Garvarentz. It will also appeal to fans of Jayne Mansfield, who has a reasonable role showing off her assets, although this film is shot in a flat, unflattering black and white that devalues what should have been all its pleasing vistas.