Tag Archives: Mickey Rooney

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The Other Manson Family or Bottom Feeding In The Overseas Distribution Aquarium – An Exploitative Memoir

 

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            My significant other and I arrived in Los Angeles in 1977. We’d driven a “drive-away” Impala through a cross country blizzard from Boston.  Her mother Natasha had snared us a one bedroom in the apartment sprawl she lived in.  It was a terraced bunker uphill from the  Whiskey a Go-Go.  Dionne Warwick had been the only notable tenant there until Motley Crue in ’82.  Warwick had left eons back but long time dwellers acted as if she was still there providing glittery gravitas to the joint. It was neglected and battered but Clark Apartments was all dream exotica to former denizens of Boston’s Back Bay.  With its soaring palms, floodlit pool and a glimpse of L.A. basin sparkle this was cockeyed heaven.

Bouncing from temp spots at IBM legal to Pepperdine’s lost Watts’ campus I was longing for some Hollywood glitz appointment. Natasha offered an opening at her company, a film distributor mere blocks away from our Clark Apartments. I interviewed with Manson Distributing Corporation’s president, an anxious, awkwardly jovial gentleman named Michael Goldman. After mild chit chat, Goldman hired me. Obviously Natasha’s recommendation was key, tinsel town nepotism at work.

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Manson Distributing Corporation was situated at 9145 Sunset Boulevard in the Aladdin Building, blatantly accented by the fat brass Aladdin’s lamp hung over the entrance. It was, and still is, an undistinguished two-story square which in 1977 sat across from the Cock’n Bull tavern, birthplace of the Moscow Mule and Jack Webb’s daily waterhole.  Next door was La Maganette, our usual takeout choice, a dimly lit Italian mock swank with regulars from Sammy Davis to Richard Deacon. Further east on Sunset was Scandia, considered L.A.’s premiere eatery alongside Ma Maison.  In that era L.A. had a narrow gastronomic belly. Other neighbors included Dick Clark Productions, Dick or his wife were often out front trying to curb their massive dogs, and the old school Paul Kohner Agency, my first agent’s quarters, with John Huston carefully squeezing himself and his oxygen tank through the front door.

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Jack Webb was never perched far from the feast at the Cock’n'Bull.

 

                  The rest of Sunset was ripping itself from the clutches of the sixties as it stumbled through the seventies. Filthy McNasty’s and its flooze were in last gasp. Power Burger gave super beef shots. Turner ruled the booze front. You could eat the same bubbling quiche at both Old World and Mirabelle’s. The Rainbow served decent crunch pizza (and still does) but the Hollywood Vampires had gone bye-bye and metal heads were beginning to ooze in.  The Roxy and the Whiskey had ace acts then (before they succumbed to pay-to-play to survive.) And Tower Records was the center of the vinyl cosmos (sorry Licorice Pizza.)

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Edmund Goldman, Michael’s father, started Manson around 1953 with Sam Nathanson, the name “Manson” came from their surnames’ last syllables.  Sam had departed and Ed was settling into a more patriarchal role as Michael commandeered the company through the next phase. Ed’s fame claim was that he purchased domestic rights to Gojira from Toho for twenty-five grand and brought it to Harold Ross and Richard Kay at Jewel Enterprises.  Ross and Kay with Terry O. Morse transformed Ishiro Honda’s ground busting anti-nuke fable into the castrated American Godzilla, King Of The Monsters. There were a number of accounts as to how Ed discovered the film. One had him seeing it in a Little Tokyo movie house (did Ed really stray from the Westwood or Beverly Hills theater circuit?) Another was that it was brought to Ed’s attention by his friend Paul Schreibman, an attorney and distributor, and importantly legal consultant for Toho. But the tale I favored was from Manson’s bookkeeper Margaret who said that during the war when Ed was the Far East emissary for Columbia Pictures he was put into a Philippines detention camp by the Japanese. He struck up a friendship with one of the guards and after the war that guard became an executive at Toho. As a token to their friendship the former guard alerted Ed to the wonder which was Gojira.  I never asked Ed for verification preferring to just savor the myth.

But I did demand back story on the framed photo in Ed’s office of him being attacked by the Three Stooges on the Columbia lot. In the pic Moe has Ed in a nasty hammerlock while Shemp and Larry are doing unmentionable things to his extremities. Regarding the gouging Ed commented, “Moe Howard was friendly enough but if a camera was around he’d become dangerously violent.  Those other knuckleheads would follow his lead.”

“How often did you go to the track with Shemp?”

“We weren’t that close.” he replied.

My annual bonding with Ed came as the various foreign film markets approached. Whether it was Cannes, MIFED, or the local newbie American Film Market Ed and I would go in the company car to Smart & Final on Melrose to buy a snack spread for the hotel sales room. We’d spend a day choosing the perfect client confections.  Ed believed food was crucial to making sales.  Ed in sweater vest and dress pants resembled the Monopoly man, sans top hat, gone casual. Ed said I looked like an extra from Satan’s Sadists (one of Manson’s many Al Adamson titles.) It wasn’t off the mark when the Smart & Final cashier suggested I was Ed’s “personal hippie valet.” Ed chuckled then muttered something about Al Adamson and Sam Sherman liking Red Vines.

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I was stationed at Manson with the boys in the shipping department. The “boys” were actually two gents in their late forties and one drag queen. Devon, a determined thespian in a magnificent but obvious toupee ran the scene with expert devotion, spiked wit and high drama. Devon’s long time friend Hal assisted.

Hal was a notary and professional eccentric who had developed his own axis and orbit. At first flush Hal was the spitting image of Ernie Kovacs homophobic conception Percy Dovetonsils, including bottle spectacles and moustache, although Hal’s tongue wasn’t Percy’s. Hal expounded on Marxist principles and the anti-carcinogen benefits of cinnamon in coffee and ground up apricot pits in everything while tirelessly playing a cassette of Edith Piaf’s best. He would display his weekend acquisitions from Bargain Circus and every yard sale in a 20-mile radius of Griffith Observatory, while indulging you for your take on their value, “Guess how much, how much?” He spoke endearingly of various “mudderfuggers” who had wronged him in his global trots, tales which included his excommunication from Israel, his deep romance with India (where a soothsayer said he’d die one day, the teller was off Hal took his dirt nap in Ireland) and the glorious Roma days with Devon dating Vatican cardinals and bishops while waiting for movie roles. Hal and Devon were in Catch 22’s whorehouse scene with Charles Grodin but that “mudderfugger Nichols cut us out!” Hal didn’t hit the editing floor in Cast A Giant Shadow where he can be seen briefly as Kirk Douglas’s secretary.

The drag queen, who Hal called Queenie, was the messenger.  He jockeyed Goldberg cans from Manson’s storage (a garage with a flea size studio apartment over it behind The Palm on Santa Monica) to Nossecks’, Aidikoff’s, and Sunset screening rooms around West L.A. and Beverly Hills.  But he spent too much time on the phone arguing with fabric stores over his next costume construct. Queenie’s days were numbered as his outside curriculum was encroaching on his workaday performance.

Shipping’s main responsibility was contract fulfillment of a title’s publicity and film elements or sending out sales materials to potential buyers.  70’s overseas sale promotion required mailing salt lick sized ¾” NTSC video cassettes (a 60 and 30 minute part for each title) along with brochure sheets like these:

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Manson’s library was primarily exploitation and a hefty part of that was adult fare or as Devon discreetly tagged it “fuck films.”  Not surprisingly there was concern when sending out screening cassettes about territory censor guidelines.  This meant that features needed to be clearly marked as “hard” or “soft.”  I was appointed to determine which library screeners had “erect” as opposed to “flaccid” organs on display.  Proper labeling would decide (sometimes) whether a title made it through customs or whether it ended up in the custom house’s private library. (Greece’s postal board held “art film” fests on the second Thursday of every month.)

Japan allowed adult importation as long as a metamorphosis occurred.  Japanese distributors would purchase a feature positive 35mm print and then carefully go through it frame by frame removing all  pubic hair and genitalia, intricately “painting” it out.  From the new “clean” composite they’d make a “dirty” (low grade) negative to create release prints.

In pre-video days most territories had no public outlet for things pornographic. The Mideast was an impossible sell for anything vaguely sexual. A breakthrough came when the new Manson salesman Pete (who had moved into sales from shipping hence opening my position) sold Sinderella and the Golden Bra, a very soft skin offering, to a Lebanese distributor. After governmental slice and dice the film could have been sold as live action Disney.

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The Manson library was morphing when I came aboard.  There’d been a past deal with Janus so classics like Chimes At Midnight had been sold alongside Orgy of the Golden Nudes but overall little strayed from b to z-standard sex and violence. Now Mark and Marilyn Tensor’s Crown International was providing Manson with a new wave of youth attractions.  Crown had gone from producing Weekend with the Baby Sitter and Blood Mania to mild teen romps like The Van and Van Nuys Blvd. The Crown feature The Pom Pom Girls was second to Disney’s The Rescuers in France’s 1977 box office, a defining prize for Manson and Crown.  Another source would come from producer Charles Band with nil-budget, humdrum sci fi like The Day Time Ended, Laserblast and End Of the World. That last title brought Christopher “Playgirl After Dark” Lee and Sue “Lolita” Lyon together for the first time. Not venturing completely from stroke flicks, Band also provided an adult musical Fairy Tales (in the tradition of Bill Osco’s Alice In Wonderland and Band’s own Cinderella.Fairy Tales was notable for finally pairing Martha Reeves with Professor Irwin Corey.

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But the bulk of titles remained in the grand bottom feed tradition. Many of the purveyors were loyal pals of Ed Goldman and no one truer than Bulgaria’s gift to the world Stephen Apostolof aka A.C. Stephens.  Steve’s amazing history has been detailed capably elsewhere (particularly the interview gangbang in Psychotronic No.8, Winter 1990.) He was a habitual visitor to Manson often bringing a box of “stinkweed” cigars for Ed which Ed would dispose of as soon as Steve was out of sight.  Manson distributed such A.C. works as Class Reunion, Snow Bunnies, Fugitive Girls and Lady Godiva Rides, with its trailer narration “Filmed on two continents… in Hollywood.”  Steve was presently trying to get Edmund to pick up his latest title Hot Ice. (Hot Ice was a caper film with intended and unintended comic overtones, that unique A.C. Stephens blend. As I recall it had almost no nudity which didn’t help the sale.)  As part of the new Manson prescience there was a reluctance to acquire Hot Ice. Steve was having difficulty with this and confessed openly about it to Devon and myself. He was certain this was his greatest film and possibly the last one his buddy Eddie Wood was capable of working on. “I’m worried about the son of a bitch. He just drinks and watches TV. If Manson distributes Hot Ice it’ll help Eddie.”

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This was before major hoopla over the Ed Wood oeuvre. Like many in the tri-state area my brother and I were big fans having watched Plan 9 and Bride every time they were on Zacherly’s Chiller Theater. I asked Steve to bring Ed with him next time and we could have lunch at Cock ‘n Bull and discuss the tender side of the “The Super Swedish Angel” Tor Johnson. Steve said Wood never leaves his chair unless he falls off it.  I pleaded some more and Steve said, “If Manson distributes my Hot Ice I’ll bring Eddie to lunch.”  After Steve left Hal and Devon described Eddie Wood as “a transvestite drunk” who they didn’t want near the office. They continued with how decrepit Criswell and Vampira had become haunting the aisles of Hollywood Ranch Market at midnight. I’d seen Vampira there once and she looked heavy but fine for late fifties. Devon added “Do you really want to eat lunch with a stinking old rummy in drag?” From then on whenever Hal and Devon saw a distressed female on the street they’d suggest I take her to lunch since it might be Ed Wood (akin to “don’t step on that spider it might be Lon Chaney.”)

The ribbing continued up to the day in ’78 when a despondent Apostolof came into the office and told us Eddie was dead. Steve mused, “If Manson had picked up Hot Ice maybe Eddie would still be alive and we could have lunch. That’s something to think about.”

Manson was a compact crew in 1977, with around ten employees.  Sales and acquisitions were handled by Ed, Michael and Pete. Natasha was Michael’s assistant.  Michael as a CPA oversaw finance and was a supreme organizer.  He oversaw a paper system with multiple title, agreement and client files with every telex and soon FAX copied in triplicate regarding every contractual burp. I would never see this level of order again at another film company, anal fascism at its best.

Margaret the Manson bookkeeper was in another realm, a chain smoker who looked like Ben Franklin in a muumuu anchored to a cyclone torn office. Her desktop was a document layer cake topped by charred invoices from smoldering Pall Malls. Margaret always wore sandals; shoes couldn’t contain her toes with their elongated, twisting, never manicured nails. Margaret’s life goal was to purchase federal land in Nevada and build an underground home for herself and her son. She’d show me house blueprints and cackle about the brilliance of her plan. It would never be but she did have a novel approach to financing. South Korean distributors often paid in cash due to their government restrictions for moving money overseas via transfers or checks. So Margaret sometimes would deposit hefty greenback payments in the Sunset City National on the Beverly Hills line. Once while walking cold thousands to the bank Margaret was robbed. Or so she said. Margaret had pulled a pathetic con. Instead of her underground home she ended up in a state run facility. Poor Margaret.  As I remember she made a first-rate lasagna.

Margaret used to complain about many things including tracking “short film” distribution. “What a waste of time these aren’t even real films.” Manson did distribute short films, one was The Legend Of Jimmy Blue Eyes which was nominated for an Oscar in ’64, directed by Robert Clouse who would later helm Enter The Dragon.  The other was Minestrone written and directed by Danny DeVito. DeVito during this time was mainly known for playing Martini in the play and movie of Cuckoo’s Nest as he hadn’t yet nailed the part of Louie on Taxi.  So like Apostolof DeVito had nothing better to do but hang around the shipping department chatting up Devon.

One fine day DeVito was to drop by to pick up some Minestrone flyers.  Devon left them out for Danny and headed to an audition. Hal was making his daily lunch concoction which consisted of Laughing Cow cheese cubes, wheat germ, Lipton’s onion soup mix, apricot pit powder and boiling water shaken up in a thermos. Queenie was out running errands. The shipping department was a unified jumble of desks and chairs, no partitions, telex machine, file cabinets and plenty of wall cases slotted for pub materials. Each of us had a chair but there was no space for guest seating. While passing Queenie’s chair I noticed its cloth seat was damp, badly stained.  I asked Hal if he’d dropped some of his thermos slop on Queenie’s chair.

“No, I did not.  Lemme take a look at it.” Hal examined the chair, feeling and sniffing it. “There’s K-Y all over it.  Wait‘ll Devon sees this he’ll have another heart attack.”

The bohemian occupant of the residence over the Manson storage garage had told Devon recently that Queenie was bringing visitors there.  It wasn’t to peruse stills from The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed Up Zombies of which there was an unusual glut of 8x10s in the garage.  The connect between Queenie’s chair and the garage would likely occur to Devon.

“Don’t touch that chair.  I’ll be right back.”  Touching it was far from my mind. Hal ran off to pick up Dirty Western dialogue continuity copies nearby at “Henry Jaglom’s copy joint”, “Jaglom’s” because he tended to stake out there.

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Edmund G. buzzed me to take a print of Cries Of Ecstasy, Blows Of Death across the street to Nosseck’s.  “Right this minute?” “Yes, right this minute.” I grabbed the print and left, leaving the shipping department unmanned. Nosseck’s Screening Room was in the rear basement of a building which would soon house David Geffen and Lookout Management. Run by Don and Marilyn Nosseck it was a historic little theater. Don was there between screenings so we struck up the usual conversation about the months Howard Hughes holed up in ’58 watching Republic horse operas while chasing Hershey bars with Alta-Dena quarts. As I examined the carpet for ancient cow juice stains I envisioned Queenie’s chair and DeVito sitting in it.  I hightailed it across Sunset.

DeVito was indeed in Queenie’s chair talking non-stop to Devon.  Hal walked in with the Dirty Western continuities. As he was about to inform DeVito about the state of things I intervened, “No, Hal, some things are best left… you know.”  DeVito departed with his flyers and Hal updated Devon on Queenie’s chair. Devon didn’t have a heart attack but he had one of his more striking outbursts, transparency sheets and an ashtray took wing, Devon’s skull rug did an Edgar Kennedy 360.  Queenie vamoosed to Las Vegas where someone believed he died in the 1980 MGM Hotel fire.

In ’79 Hal found some old lysergic acid in his freezer and dropped it before a dinner party.  At the soiree Hal had chest pains and ended up hospitalized.  It was a minor attack but he was put on lengthy bed rest.  This by the way doesn’t suggest a correlation between LSD ingestion and heart function (refer to Sidney Gottlieb’s CIA studies for further analysis.)

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With Hal temporarily gone Devon brought in a close pal (and perhaps past romance) to sub for him. I came into work to find a familiar face dressed in Johnny Cash black seated at Hal’s desk.  The distinctive Oklahoma accent, which graced Rod McKuen LPs, called out, “Hey, Todd, didja hear Sid Vicious is finally dead.” It was Jesse Pearson, Bye Bye Birdie’s Conrad Birdie announcing that Sid Vicious had OD’d in NYC.  Jesse was now directing porn having given up acting after a mountain top revelation while shooting Bonanza in’69. He’d tired of playing   cowboys and “Birdie types” like Johnny Poke on Beverly Hillbillies and Keevy Hazelton on Andy Griffith. Jesse was a sweet guy and very funny. A recent Manson acquisition was Olly Olly Oxen Free starring Katharine Hepburn (it paired well with Atom Age Vampire.)  Jesse did an imitation of Kate singing Sid Vicious’s version of My Way.  Jesse got smacked with cancer later that year and headed to Louisiana for his final days. My significant other and I went to his going away gala at erotic producer Tod Johnson’s Hollywood Hills castle. She spent the party crying in the bathroom as she’d had a pre-teen crush on his Birdie character.  Jesse regaled the rest of us with gallows humor about crossing Cedar Sinai’s striking nurse picket line to get to his dentist. “Let me through. Gotta get my cavities filled before I’m dead.” The last film Jesse directed, The Legend Of Lady Blue won best picture at the 1979 AFAA Erotic Film Awards and Jesse under the name A. Fabritzi won a posthumous best screenplay trophy.

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While Manson started picking up fringe mainstreamers like Charlton Heston’s Mother Lode, Philip Borsos’ The Grey Fox, Penelope Spheeris’s The Decline Of Western Civilization, Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and the Oscar winning documentary Genocide there was still room for top grade exploitation. Answering my prayers Jimmy “Salacious Rockabilly Cat” Maslon brought Herschel Gordon Lewis’s ‘60s classics Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs! to the Manson family.   As well Mr. Lewis was being coaxed to revisit Blood Feast with a follow-up (it was finally completed in 2002.)  Canadian productions under the Great White North tax shelter began showing up like Roger Vadim’s The Hot Touch and David Cronenberg’s Scanners.  There was morbid interest in how the Dorothy Stratton tragedy would impact sales of Crown International’s Galaxina (not much bang there.)

Reoccurring visitors made appearances in the shipping department.  Johnny Legend bopped through trawling for trailers for his comps.  Holly “Tuxedo Warrior” Palance and Tanya “Tourist Trap” Roberts dropped in for hot clips for their promo reels and cocktails at “La Maggot.” Richard “Soft White Underbelly” Meltzer came by and did a tap dance because his tune “Burnin’ For You” was climbing the charts. Jim Wynorski was our “one-day trailer maven” before he made his directorial debut with The Lost Empire beginning his eighty and still counting features.  Jim would bring his cohort Linda “Humanoids From the Deep” Shayne who hijacked my IBM Selectric.  Al Adamson and Regina Carroll would peek in on occasion.  And Steve Apostolof usually showed up around film market time still shopping Hot Ice.

Sometimes surprise guests hung around longer than they wished. Manson had a small screening room on the second floor with a booth for 16mm projection and ¾” NTSC playback.  The projection room door had a troublesome lock. Once while passing the room I heard banging and a voice yelling in French and English. I went in to discover Roger Vadim trapped in the projection booth.  I freed the understandably distraught director.  I asked him if he thought Bardot would have been a more superior Barbarella than Fonda and he punched me in the face.  No, actually he was so upset by his entrapment he barely said “Merci” and took off for the safety of Sunset Blvd.

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I made numerous excursions up to Charlton Heston’s home on Coldwater during the promotion of Mother Lode. He was usually wearing a corset for a back injury. “Damn tennis.” Heston would go through the color transparencies I’d chosen approving the slides we needed to support the film. He seemed often to be in pain so I didn’t engage him in heavy conversation.  But one time after throwing out complimentary jazz about Touch Of Evil and Will Penny I got around to his most recent stage turn as Sherlock Holmes and the role of Holmes in general. I asked him if Robert DeNiro would be better as a Watson or a Holmes. ”DeNiro can pretty much play whatever he wants to play and I’m sure he’d play it well.”  What about Clint Eastwood? “That would be an interesting portrayal.” What about Mickey Rooney?  Heston handed me the pile of slides. He made a guttural noise, adjusted his corset and strode into the next room. I never got to ask him about his co-star in the play Crucifer Of Blood, Jeremy Brett who played Heston’s Watson. At that time Granada was just beginning to court Brett for their Holmes series.

The next time I visited Heston he and his house staff greeted me outside by the tennis court and they kept my visit quick without dialogue or gracious house entry. It may have been my earlier mention of Mickey Rooney or the furtive gestures of the crazed individual, actor Johnnie P. from San Jose Confidential, who was sitting in my company Toyota in the drive.

 

Devon was getting more stage work and spending less time in the office.  Other than the time Mae West kissed him at the Crown International premiere of Sextette  the happiest I’d seen him was when he found the discarded brand new 40” TV in the building dumpster. Someone had deposited the TV and remote and Devon was the first to spy them. Devon carried them into the office proclaiming “They’re mine!”   Both items were in cartons shrink wrapped with colored cellophane.  Feverishly elated he set them aside by his desk and planned to take them home at day’s end.

In the hallway outside shipping the owner of the Aladdin building, a Beirut millionaire, accosted me and Adam, the non-drag queen new shipping guy, and asked us what happened to the TV set out by the trash.  We told him that Devon had snatched it up. He began to laugh maniacally.  “I put it out there to see who would take it. It’s a complete goddamn fake.”  A peculiar prank indeed, like bad Allen Funt on lithium.

When Adam told Devon I knew there’d be a compressed acting lesson in the offering.   Devon violently tore off the wrap, smashed open the carton and removed the TV shell weighed down with worthless ballast instead of tube and circuitry.  The TV remote turned out to be a pack of cigarettes.  Devon pushed everything to the ground.  Then he picked up the phony remote.  “Well at least I got a pack of cigarettes out of it.”

Devon would go on to star as Waldo Lydecker in a staging of Laura at the Hollywood United Methodist Church.  It was great acting, a critic pronounced him better than Clifton Webb.  Christopher Guest and Peter DeLuise were in the cast. The only down side the night we went was that Peter’s father Dom sat in front of us and  seemed to be doing a monologue for himself competing with the play.  The night of Laura’s final performance, after the last curtain call, Devon dropped dead back stage; he finally had that second heart attack.  It was like a cheesy Busby Berkeley plot only there was no need for an understudy to step in.  One odd note, days after Devon’s death the director of the play, Dick “East Of Eden” Davalos, called the office asking for Devon to go to lunch. He obviously knew of Devon’s demise but acted as though he hadn’t. Taken aback I told him Devon wasn’t in. Dick inquired about Devon the next day as well. I asked him if this was some sick joke. He said “Don’t worry about it.” and hung up.

Manson had a wonderful Christmas wingding each year at the Beverly Hills Hotel.   It was a fine arena for prattle and pratfalls.  A place for buyers, producers and talent to mingle in a festive moment.  Where Michael “Timerider” Nesmith would recall how Hendrix traumatized parents as the Monkees opening act and how his mother had invented Liquid Paper. Director Penelope Spherris debated the magnetic appeal of Albert Brooks vs Darby Crash.  A German distributor pulled a knife on a Scandinavian distributor. I tried to convince Mark and Marilyn Tensor to no avail that Crown should do a teen zombies flick. Richard Farnsworth acted out horse stunts making the ladies swoon. My future boss Andy Vajna declared First Blood would change the foreign marketplace forever. My future wife grabbed a violin from the string quartet and played hot gypsy improv. And Charlton Heston passed through quickly due to back problems. “Damn jai alai.”

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I quit Manson to go to Texas seeking lost romance and ended up spending time with a charming carnival freak show in Beaumont (Hall and Christ Sideshow I believe).  When I returned to L.A. Manson welcomed me back into their fold but it was a-changing.  Manson International eventually moved from Sunset to a “more prestigious” building on Olympic in West Los Angeles. The bigger digs were required for the larger Manson Family of twenty plus employees.  As part of its expansion Manson got hitched to production, financially floating Albert Pyum’s concrete boat Radioactive Dreams.  All production is high stakes gambling but some of us were concerned where Manson was placing its bets.  Employees jumped ship to more lucrative ventures. In 1985 Michael kicked me and two other “non-team players” out the door. It was the beginning of streamlining for eventual sale of the Manson library to Jonathan Krane’s MCEG in 1987.

I resurfaced at Carolco, a foreign distributor and producer which did not feed off the bottom, a company that transformed Hollywood financing for better or worse.  Carolco’s filing system was absolute chaos compared to Manson but for Carolco that may have been insurance.

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Savant Blu-ray Review: “The Killers” (1964)

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Here’s a real achievement, a new Blu-ray that makes a feature film look far better than it ever has before, even on a big screen. Eleven years ago the Criterion Collection released an impressive double bill of both film adaptations of Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers. The very brief short story was successfully expanded to feature length in 1946, with the use of Citizen Kane- like flashbacks to a highly romantic, fateful story of crime and betrayal. The Robert Siodmak movie made stars of Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner. I’ve seen the 1964 remake several times, but Arrow Films’ new disc is so much of an improvement that I feel I’ve seen it for the first time.

As a general rule classic films noir resist remake efforts: much of what works about them is endemic to the time they were made. Restage 1945′s Detour in the present, and Al Roberts’ self-pitying pessimism wouldn’t work for a minute. But noir veteran Don Siegel had been a central figure in the evolution of ’50s noir, in pictures like Private Hell 36 (1954), Baby Face Nelson (1957) and The Lineup (1958). The romanticism of noir was breaking down in Siegel’s films, as the level of cynicism and violence steadily climbed.

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Gene L. Coon’s progressive screenplay for Siegel’s The Killers remake flips the original storyline like a pancake. The ’46 version followed an insurance investigator obsessed with finding out why the target of paid killers didn’t make an effort to save himself. Siegel’s version has no reassuring cops tracking down the truth, and instead gives the investigating duties to a pair of chatty Pulp Fiction- like hit men, in search of a big payday that will allow them to retire. Siegel develops the hit man ethos more than any other director: Robert Keith and Eli Wallach in his The Lineup may be the real original protagonist hit men, with quirky personalities.

As opposed to classic noir, The Killers takes place almost completely in broad daylight. Brutal hit men Charlie Strom (Lee Marvin) and Lee (Clu Gulager) track down their contract target Johnny North (John Cassavetes) to a school for the blind, where he teaches an auto shop class. To their surprise, North passively accepts his fate. Charlie is intrigued by this fact. He and Lee crisscross the country to ferret out North’s backstory, both to quench Charlie’s curiosity and to profit from whatever crime their victim was a part of. As it turns out, North was a promising race car driver until a debilitating accident that may have been caused by the distraction of his flashy new girlfriend, Sheila Farr (Angie Dickinson). Starting with the testimony of mechanic Earl Sylvester (Claude Akins), Charlie and Lee learn about North’s involvement in an armored car robbery, for Sheila and her new boyfriend, crook Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan). If the hit men can find Sheila and Jack, the loot can’t be far away.

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The Killers rewrites the rules for screen crime. Almost as if the production code no longer existed, “nice” characters are nowhere to be seen, and the cops are mostly absent as well. The obsessed Charlie and the wisecracking health nut Lee are our protagonists. They terrorize innocent people for information, just like Hemingway’s original Al and Max but with an essential difference of of expedience. In the hepped-up, speed-obsessed sixties, Charlie and Lee have no time to mess around. Rudely cornering their prey, they immediately go for the hard sell, whether it means hanging a woman out of a high window, or driving a helpless blind lady into hysterics. They carry their pistols in a valise, as if they were businessmen paying a sales call.

Making the film seem even more modern, Charlie and Lee already display the “look” that dominates hit man characters to this day. They woudn’t be caught dead without the heavy dark glasses that make them look ominous, almost faceless. Director Don Siegel nails a prime visual that’s become an icon: when Charlie points his gun to take a shot, a wide-angle lens frames his oversized silencer in huge close-up. Charlie’s on the trigger but the gun is given equal graphic emphasis.

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Johnny North’s role as an existential loser is basically the same as in the ’46 version. John Cassavetes received a big career boost when he played a twisted juvenlie delinquent back in Don Siegel’s excellent Crime in the Streets (1956) (which incidentally also seems to have influenced the gang action in the play and movie West Side Story). Here Cassavetes is the cocky driver of a Cobra race car. His stomping ground is the former Riverside International Raceway, which had already seen screen time in the violent car race action scenes in 1959′s On the Beach. One of the hottest actresses of her time, Angie Dickinson is the new brand of amoral thrill-seeker. She’s attracted to Johnny when he’s a winner and quickly abandons him when he’s injured. There’s no longer any romantic mystique with this femme fatale, as she immediately goes where the money is. Cassavetes’ North is already defeated when he agrees to drive a vehicle in Jack Browning’s robbery scheme. This part of the movie seems lifted intact from Richard Quine’s 1954 noir Drive a Crooked Road. Just like Mickey Rooney in the earlier picture, North is hired because he can cover a mile or so of twisting country road in less than a minute. Sheila tempts North with a promise of a mutual getaway when the job’s done… a sucker play if there ever was one.

It’s quite a surprise to see Ronald Reagan playing a humorless crook in the picture, his final feature film before becoming Governor of California. Perhaps the man most hated by U.C.L.A. students in 1970-71, Reagan sent in an army of cops to teach a lesson to demonstrators against the invasion of Cambodia. The amazing thing about Reagan’s performance in The Killers is that he has the same permanent scowl on his face that he showed in newsreels when he promised to deal out punishment to Berkeley and U.C.L.A.. A one-dimensional heavy with no redeeming qualities, Reagan is as rigid as a washboard. But his Jack Browning has a jaw-dropping moment of violence when he slaps Angie Dickinson across a room. It’s a classic piece of film, just on content alone: Burt Bacharach’s woman recoils backward, hair flying, and our cool liberal Cassavetes, Machine Gun McCain himself, decks Reagan with a retaliatory right cross. This utterly priceless scene got standing ovations at UCLA; why doesn’t it show up in Oscar montages, I ask you?

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Lee Marvin nails the buttoned-down shark patter that Charlie lays on his victims, defining the star persona he’d nurture for the next two decades. Clu Gulager affects a giggling hipster cruel streak. He primps like Ed ‘Kookie’ Byrnes of TV’s 77 Sunset Strip a behavior that hasn’t aged well. Gulager comes off as the weak sister to Marvin’s cold menace, sort of a hit man’s Sancho Panza. Angie Dickinson, the modern man’s woman of choice from China Gate (1957) and Ocean’s Eleven (1960), has an essential toughness that would later make her a perfect mobster’s foil when she reunited with Marvin in 1967′s Point Blank. John Cassavetes contributes his reliable intensity. At this time he was concentrating on his directing career, and reportedly acting to gather production money.

Cassavetes even obtained a brief bit part for his Faces star Seymour Cassell. Familiar actor Norman Fell has a smallish supporting roll. Helping to get The Killers off to a shocking start is the wonderful actress Virginia Christine. In the 1946 original she played a charming cop’s wife. Here she has a brief but strong role as a blind woman manhandled and threatened by Lee Marvin. For viewers old enough to remember, Christine’s television fame as the “Folger’s coffee lady” greatly enhances the scene’s impact.

Don Siegel bounced around for most of the 1960s, trying to stay active in big-screen work but often collecting a paycheck for TV jobs. Initially produced as a TV movie, The Killers ended up being something of a stumbling block for the director. Not long after it was completed John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and the film’s nihilistic violence — which includes a pair of sniper killings from atop a tall building — was deemed far too brutal for television. It was instead released directly to theaters in July of ’64. When film critics of the 1970s discovered genre studies, the JFK connection helped The Killers become a standout title in articles and books seeking a conncection between the movies and the accelerating violence in modern life. Lee Marvin and his gun graced the cover of English fine art critic Lawrence Alloway’s rambling essay-book Violent America: The Movies, 1946-1964. Anyone concerned about screen violence in 1964 was surely in for a rude shock when pictures like Bonnie & Clyde came along a couple of years later.

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Don Siegel and Gene L. Coon’s conclusion makes a strong statement about the culture in general. A main character gets what he wants yet ends up drained of blood on a neat green lawn in suburbia, defeated by the everyday, square consumer life he held in contempt. Several other pictures convey this notion of dissatisfaction with the value system, such as Burt Kennedy’s The Money Trap. But Siegel’s final shot gives us the iconic image to remember.


Arrow Academy’s Region B Blu-ray of The Killers is a huge improvement over Criterion’s 2003 DVD. At the time, the best Universal could provide was a grainy flat transfer of the film. The Killers always looked like a fairly ratty TV production until now. Arrow’s grain-free image is as sharp as a tack and colors are bright and accurate; clearly Universal did a bang-up remastering job. The Blu-ray has both television and cinema aspect ratio versions of the movie, which in this case is a terrific choice. Although planned for TV, the picture was composed for theatrical widescreen use, as TV movies (and some series, re-edited) of the time were commonly distributed theatrically in Europe.

The wide screen version is the way to go, as the images look beautiful when framed to exclude extraneous ceilings and floors. Although it’s surely an illusion, the image even looks a bit wider. The cropping also helps minimize the impact of some cost-cutting in the production, which was done on a TV budget. Rear projection driving scenes look less awkward, for one example. Some painted backdrops are also on the weak side, especially the incredibly fake view from Jack Browning’s office window. It somehow seems appropriate, though, to see Ronald Reagan staring blankly at such a phony backdrop.

Arrow’s extras include a couple of presentations by authors with books to sell. Marc Eliot’s coverage of Reagan’s involvement is welcome, as the man did have longevity as an actor. Dwayne Epstein’s remarks on his subject, Lee Marvin, go awry from the start with the unsupported assertion that Marvin was the catalyst for screen violence in the ’60s. The fine actor was more successful during these years in comic roles, for which he was rewarded with an acting Oscar.

The best piece on the disc is a 1984 interview with Don Siegel by a French TV crew. Siegel is marvelously candid about his work and the business. We’re intrigued to hear a couple of remarks that his acolyte Sam Peckinpah would adopt as his own, namely the statement that film directors are whores that work where they’re told (or kicked). We immediately like Mr. Siegel — he’s not the kind of self-promoter that considers himself the star of his movies. Luckily, Siegel’s other pupil Clint Eastwood was more generous, and 1971′s Dirty Harry returmed him to the top rank of directors for a few years.

The disc extras also contain a thorough still gallery. My check disc did not include Arrow’s illustrated insert booklet, which is said to contain an essay by Mike Sutton, interview excerpts with Siegel and contemporary reviews. Final product discs also come with a choice of reversible package artwork.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson



The Killers

Blu-ray

Arrow Academy (UK)

1964 / Color / 1:78 widescreen and 1:37 flat full frame / Street Date February 24, 2014 / £ 15.09

Starring Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes, Clu Gulager,
Claude Akins, Norman Fell, Ronald Reagan

Cinematography Richard L. Rawlings

Art directors Frank Arrigo, George Chan

Editor Richard Belding

Original Music Johnny Williams, Henry Mancini, Don Raye

Written by Gene L. Coon from the short story by Ernest Hemingway

Produced and Directed by Donald Siegel

Packaging: Keep case

Reviewed: March 8, 2014

 

Its a Mad Mad World 1083_013275.jpg

Special Report: Criterion’s Reconstruction of “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World”

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One of the most eagerly-awaited titles of this or any other year, Criterion’s new Blu-ray of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World offers a long-desired reconstruction of the film’s original roadshow version, a cut of the film not seen by anyone a few months after the movie’s November 7, 1963 premiere.

An epic, all-star comedy directed by Stanley Kramer, it’s as divisive as Hillary Clinton: people tend to either love or hate it. Indeed, some of the more extreme haters harbor an inexplicable resentment toward those who don’t share their opinion. I’m squarely in the other camp. I’ve adored and have been endlessly mesmerized by Kramer’s film since childhood. For me it never gets old, but I can also understand why it might not click with everyone who sees it. It helps to be familiar with the dizzying array of stars, supporting actor-comedians, and even bit players who populate it. It also plays better viewed cold, without any awareness of what’s to come, with no promises or expectations of a “comedy to end all comedies.”

It is, unquestionably, misunderstood by many. Though dominated by broad, large-scale slapstick, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World works as much for other reasons. The movie has an unusual structure, introducing a group of characters which it then breaks up into, eventually, six major groupings, cleverly intercutting their various adventures before they all meet up again at the climax, with additional characters picked up and encountered along the way. This cutting among the various sub-plots as they converge on a potential $350,000 jackpot several hundred miles away is a big part of the film’s charm. Structurally, a comparison to D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916) is not inapt. That silent epic doesn’t make much of an impact when its multiple stories are viewed separately (as they frequently were), but intercut as Griffith intended that picture, like IAMMMMW, it becomes an entirely different viewing experience.

Some reviewers have also mistaken the film as some sort of tribute to silent comedy. Certainly its Harold Lloyd-like climax has elements of that, but overall the film is its own animal. It’s not an attempt at an old-fashioned tribute the way The Great Race (1965) later was. Despite Kramer’s reputation for socially conscious drama and despite IAMMMMW’s greed-driven plot there’s no  attempt at any social significance or a “message” of any kind. Despite the presence of comedians and comic actors drawn from silent films, Vaudeville, burlesque, nightclubs, radio, television, and other venues, William and Tania Rose’s screenplay brings these widely-varied performing styles into a solidly-plotted cohesive whole, though it does draw inspiration from various sources and gives each performer breathing room to ply their craft. (For me, parts of the film play like a more cynical Preston Sturges script, particularly in scenes featuring actor William Demarest, in all but name reprising his Officer Kockenlocker character from The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek.)

Mainly, this review will explore the 197-minute reconstruction – not “restoration” – of the original 202-minute roadshow version, what was put back and in what form, and how these added elements play against the more familiar and subsequent 163-minute roadshow/general release version.

If you’re reading this review you already probably know It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World backwards. If somehow you’ve made your way through life without ever seeing it, like audio co-commentator Mark Evanier I recommend that you first watch the shorter version of the film, then the longer cut some time later, and then come back to read this review.

To summarize: Trying to elude detectives hot on his trail, career crook “Smiler” Grogan (Jimmy Durante) spectacularly crashes his car in the Mohave Desert many miles north of Los Angeles. Before expiring he tells the five motorists who’ve stopped to help – dentist Melville Crump (Sid Caesar); Vegas-bound pals “Ding” Bell (Buddy Hackett) and Benjy Benjamin (Mickey Rooney); milquetoast seaweed entrepreneur J. Russell Finch (Milton Berle); and simple-minded furniture mover Lennie Pike (Jonathan Winters) about $350,000 buried several hundred miles away at Santa Rosita Beach State Park, under what he describes as “ a big ‘W.’” (In a nice touch, Durante repeats this important clue for the audience’s benefit, looking straight into the camera, ensuring that they will be on the lookout, too.)

Joined by Russell’s straight-laced wife, Emmeline (Dorothy Provine), and domineering mother-in-law, Mrs. Marcus (Ethel Merman), and Melville’s wife, Monica (Edie Adams), the group quickly abandons any thought of calmly driving down to Santa Rosita together as a group and dividing the stolen money equally. As Benjy says, “it’s every man, including the old bag (Merman), for himself.”

Meanwhile, Chief of Detectives Capt. T.G. Culpepper (Spencer Tracy, top-billed) of the Santa Rosita Police Department closely monitors their actions. An honest cop four months away from retirement, Culpepper is equally anxious to close this 15-year-old case, believing that he can finagle its successful resolution into an upgraded pension so that he can “retire with honor.”

As the treasure hunters leave an awesome trail of destruction in their wake – “withholding information, causing accidents, failing to report accidents, reckless driving, theft, at least three cases of assault and battery…” – they pick up other strangers along the way, notably British army Lt. Col. J. Algernon Hawthorne (Terry-Thomas), unscrupulous con-man Otto Meyer (Phil Silvers), and Russell’s spaced-out brother-in-law, Sylvester Marcus (Dick Shawn)

It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World was filmed in Ultra Panavision 70, an anamorphic 65mm process, and originally exhibited as a road show, meaning that instead of saturation bookings on hundreds or thousands of movie screens simultaneously, the film rolled out across the country (and around the world) slowly, methodically. It typically opened in just one big downtown movie palace in each of the country’s biggest cities, playing on a reserved-seats basis for an average run of one year, then after that went into general release and neighborhood theaters and, eventually, drive-ins.

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The movie premiered at the Cinerama Dome Theater in Hollywood on November 3, 1963, and by mid-December had also opened in New York, Chicago, Boston, London, and Atlanta but few, if any, other theaters, partly because most Cinerama houses were still playing How the West Was Won to packed houses, and partly because theaters had to then be converted from the original three-strip Cinerama process to the more standard 70mm equipment needed to run IAMMMMW. By mid-December 1963 distributor United Artists, working with Kramer, decided to cut about 43 minutes of movie out of the long film which, taking into consideration its overture, intermission break, entr’acte, and exit music clocked in at nearly three-and-a-half hours.

And so it was the shorter, 163-minute version that played everywhere else, as a roadshow throughout 1964, in general release, during its 1970 rerelease, on network television, in syndication, and on home video. In 1991 MGM cobbled together its own 175-minute reconstruction, but that release was far from perfect: some of the footage was incorrectly integrated, and least one shot included in that release was apparently never part of any official version.

Criterion’s reconstructed Blu-ray version, supervised by Robert A. Harris, consists mostly of MGM’s HD transfer of the short version integrated with the same deleted footage included on the 1991 home video version, footage derived from 70mm theatrical print trims of the long version. For the 1991 laserdisc and VHS release, this footage retained the optical squeeze added to the extreme left and right sides of the frame so that, when projected onto Cinerama’s deeply-curved screen, the image would stretch back out to more or less normal. This has been optically corrected and properly integrated with the rest of the film. In the 22 years in-between these two home video releases, the color on the trims had faded so badly that the decision was made to layer the color from the 1991 transfer on top of the remastered-for-HD trims. Because the older transfer cropped the Ultra Panavision framing slightly, the area around the edges of the frame look almost monochrome. It’s noticeable, but not nearly as distracting as frame grabs of these scenes suggest. Because of where the magnetic soundtrack matching the action was placed on 70mm release prints, the audio drops out a second at the end of each cut. Harris has included these bits, using English subtitles so that viewers don’t miss any of the dialogue.

So, the vast majority of reinstated material consists of these trims, the same material integrated for that 1991 release. There is a bit of new material, though probably not as much as many were hoping for, and some of that has audio but no picture. The previously unreleased material with both picture and sound is easy to spot, as it’s the footage without the monochrome borders at the edges of the frame. There’s not a lot of this, but what’s there is worthwhile, most notably footage that expands the build-up to the intermission break, particularly at the Santa Rosita police station. The short version edits the build-up to the intermission extremely well, but the build-up in the long version is just as good, just a little different.

There are three short scenes in which there is sound but no picture: Sylvester’s theft of his girlfriend’s car, some more footage of the Crumps locked in the basement of a hardware store, and Culpepper’s telephone conversation with Jimmy the Crook (Buster Keaton, who in the short version has but one line and is onscreen for less than ten seconds).

Each of these three scenes offers a few surprises previously unknown to most Mad World fans: that Sylvester’s girlfriend is actually a married woman, for instance, and that it’s her car he steals. The telephone scene in one respect is almost heartbreaking: the audience hears Keaton’s voice but is denied the chance to actually see him and his reactions to Culpepper’s plotting.

But the sequence also completely changes one aspect of the film. In the short version it appears that Culpepper has suffered some sort of nervous breakdown. (“You know what I believe I’d like?” he asks his fellow cops. “A chocolate fudge sundae, with whipped cream and a cherry on top.”) In the short version, Culpepper’s decision to steal Smiler’s 350 Gs for himself isn’t made clear until very late in the film and comes as a genuine surprise, though there are clues earlier in the picture pointing to that.

In the reconstructed version all surprise is gone as made clear by that phone call to Keaton’s character. Further, Culpepper’s desire to have that chocolate fudge sundae is no longer the pathetic non sequitur of a broken man, but a ruse so that he can get out of the station and call Jimmy from a nearby drugstore. Nice as it would be to see and hear Keaton, the movie is better without that scene.

The brief audio-only footage of the Crumps in the basement is seriously damaged by one truly terrible decision. Unlike the other two audio-only scenes, which use publicity stills (possibly unreleased stills from contact sheets), this footage incorporates behind-the-scenes and set stills. In addition to Sid Caesar and Edie Adams, these stills make visible members of the film crew, including director Stanley Kramer himself, along with a massive Ultra Panavision camera in one shot. This has the effect of completely taking the viewer out of the movie. They’re interesting as photographs but they have no business in a reconstruction like this.

Likely no appropriate stills of the missing scene exist, but that was also true of some of the scenes missing from the 1954 A Star Is Born. In that Gold Standard of movie reconstruction, producer Ron Haver cleverly found ways around the problem, making those missing scenes play as seamlessly as possible. Clearly any evidence of the crew should have been cropped or matted out.

Overall, the long version has its advantages and disadvantages. Except for one early scene showing the mad motorists driving recklessly through a small desert community, with a few exceptions the cut footage mostly extends scenes from the short version and is no great loss without them. While some would argue the reinstated scenes merely make the long film even longer, in some ways it actually improves the pacing. In its short form the movie at times is a little schizophrenic and cuts too abruptly among the various subplots. The build-up in the longer version is more carefully and deliberately paced, in some respects making the payoffs that come later more satisfying. Interestingly, much of the cut scenes relate to the incredulous monitoring of the fortune-seekers by various law enforcement officers driving black-and-whites or riding in helicopters.

The cut footage also offers a short scene between Winters and Provine that provide Winters’s character with a selfless motive to want his share of the loot, a motive that’s completely absent in the short version. Moreover, there are a handful of great comedy bits the short version should have retained: Culpepper’s $5 bet with Police Chief Aloysius (William Demarest); Rancho Conejo air traffic controllers Carl Reiner and Eddie Ryder shaking hands, a last goodbye as Ding and Benjy’s out-of-control twin-engine plane is on a head-on collision course with their tower; a funny deleted line from cab driver Eddie “Rochester” Anderson near the climax.

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

The cut footage also make sense of continuity issues created by the short version, which had left viewers familiar only with that version baffled for years. They explain that the silver mine Otto Meyer speaks of is the place where the character played by Mike Mazurki lives. (I never realized this.) The long version also explains just why Hackett’s character is soaking wet in a couple of shots.

If ever there was a special edition prompted by consumer demand, it’s this. Though a popular catalog title, MGM was loathe to spend the vast sums of money a restoration/reconstructed would have required back in the ‘80s-through-early 2000s. Like David Strohmeier’s Cinerama restorations, IAMMMMW is only possible now because of cost-effective computer technologies that, combined with MGM’s preexisting HD master of the short version, now make such a release cost-effective.

The transfer of the extra-wide Ultra Panavision process (65mm, at 2.76:1) is impeccable, but then again it already was when the beleaguered MGM transferred the short version to HD a couple years ago. Excerpt for the new scenes, this is a same transfer as that, with only minor tweaking. The 5.1 surround, adapted from the original 6-track magnetic stereo, sounds great, a more noticeable improvement from MGM’s earlier Blu-ray of the short version. In addition to the original overture, entr’acte, and exit music, this release incorporates audio-only “police calls” heard sporadically throughout the intermission. All of this is over black, no title card, and there’s a lot of dead air between these calls but, apparently, that’s how they were spaced back in late 1963.

Criterion’s release offers both cuts of IAMMMMW on two Blu-ray discs and three DVDs, the third SD disc consisting of the same extra features spread across the two Blu-rays. The foldout packaging is nice, incorporating Jack Davis artwork commissioned for the 1970 rerelease. Inside there’s a booklet featuring an essay by Lou Lumenick and details about the film and sound elements sourced. Also included is a colorful but impractical map identifying some of the film’s shooting locations (Google Earth comes in very handy here).

Supplements are voluminous though curiously missing the “Something a Little Less Serious” documentary made for the 1991 home video version. That documentary featured Kramer and many more original cast members, all in better health and in greater number than they appear in the newer extras included here. “The Last 70mm Film Festival,” for instance, literally wheels-on Jonathan Winters, Mickey Rooney and Marvin Kaplan (one of the two gas station attendants whose business Winters’s character destroys), with Winters in good spirits but clearly not long for this world. Hosted by Billy Crystal and also featuring other cast and crewmembers, it’s a bit rambling, but enjoyable. (It’s a shame there’s no good video of the American Cinematheque screening I attended some years earlier, which had more of these folks and in far heartier shape.) Also included is a long excerpt from AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs focusing on IAMMMMW.

Other extras include original and reissue trailers; Stan Freberg’s TV and radio spots, which Freberg himself introduces; a two-part CBC program documenting the movie’s giant press junket and premiere; one-sided press interviews from 1963, featuring Kramer and his cast; an excerpt from a 1974 talk show hosted by Kramer and featuring Caesar, Hackett, and Winters; short but enlightening featurettes about the reconstruction process and another about the film’s visual and aural effects, including some fascinating behind-the-scenes footage.

And, best of all, there’s an informative and cozily personal audio commentary track on the long version by “Mad World aficionados” (they’re much more than that) Mark Evanier, Michael Schlesinger, and Paul Scrabo. It’s worth all 197 minutes.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World rates:

Movie: Excellent

Video: Excellent

Sound: Excellent

Supplements: Audio commentary, trailers, radio spots, press interviews, 1974 TV reunion, 2012 cast and crew reunion, Mad World locations map, AFI 100 Years…100 Laughs excerpt, featurettes on the reconstruction, sound and visual effects, booklet.

Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? YES (for the general release version).

Criterion 1963 / Color / 2.76:1 Ultra Panavision 70 / 197 and 163 min. / Street Date January 21, 2014 / $49.95

Starring Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas, Jonathan Winters, Edie Adams, Dorothy Provine and a Few Surprises.

Director of Photography Ernest Laszlo

Music Ernest Gold

Written by William and Tania Rose

Produced and Directed by Stanley Kramer