Twilight Time: Cover Girl

Cover Girl is reviewed from screener graciously provided by Twilight Time. Per the usual for the label, the release is a limited run of 3000, and is available for purchase exclusively through ScreenArchives.com.

While not exactly my area of expertise I must admit to having a bit of a soft spot for classic Hollywood musicals, particularly those wise enough to enlist the likes of Busby Berkeley, Al Jolson, Fred Astaire or, as is the case here, Gene Kelly. While my reaction was lukewarm at best to the only other musical reviewed here, 1957′s Sinatra / Hayworth / Novak vehicle Pal Joey (coincidentally also out on Blu-ray from Twilight Time), Charles Vidor’s Cover Girl is more my speed. A shining example of the feel-good cinema that thrived in the wartime ’40s, Cover Girl also boasts a top-flight production and lush Technicolor photography from aces Rudolph Maté (The Passion of Joan of Arc, When Worlds Collide) and Allen M. Davey (A Song to Remember). The film was a smash hit and made a bona fide star of young Gene Kelly, and the level of control he was allowed over certain aspects of the production gave audiences their first real taste of that Kelly style, later to be immortalized in classics like An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain.

Chorus girl Rusty (Rita Hayworth, reaching the height of her Columbia career) is happy with her lot in life as the star attraction of boyfriend Danny’s (Gene Kelly) small-time nightclub – happy, at least, until she chances into mega-stardom courtesy of a cover-girl contest put on by magazine mogul John Coudair (Otto Kruger, The Colossus of New York). Rusty’s newfound fame opens the usual doors and attracts the usual callers, and of them none are more persistent than Noel Wheaton (Lee Bowman,Buck Privates), who, by way of a proposal, casts her in a musical extravaganza and makes her the toast of Broadway. With Danny too sore about losing his star and his girl in one fell swoop to do anything about getting either back, it’s up to stage jokester Genius (MSgt. Bilko himself, Phil Silvers) and Rusty’s own (belated) good sense to set things right.

Packed with the usual emotional ups and downs but careful to keep audience anxieties to a bare minimum, Cover Girl is quintessential war-time Hollywood fare that invites viewers to wrap themselves in a manufactured conflict whose cheerful resolution is never in doubt. Screenwriter Virginia Van Upp is as calculating as Capra when it comes to eliciting a potent “feel good” whallop, even if she never lets her characters slip so close to perdition as the latter’s – with war raging on two fronts the romantic antics here were doubtless deemed dour enough.

While earthy verisimilitude it may lack, Cover Girl certainly isn’t left wanting in the production department. For aficionados of grand old-school Technicolor the picture is aces, courtesy of format directors Natalie Kalmus (Gone With the Wind) and Morgan Padelford (The Adventures of Robin Hood), art directors Lionel Banks (His Girl Friday) and Cary Odell (Cool Hand Luke), and the aforementioned directors of photography, Allen M. Davey and the legendary Rudolph Maté. More impressive still is the sheer scope of the thing – star Rita Hayworth was never given a more beautiful opportunity to demonstrate her considerable performance talents.

Still, brightly as Hayworth shines it is Kelly who really steals the show, crafting (with frequent co-conspirator Stanley Donen, Saturn 3) a few breakout dance numbers that elevate the film (and perhaps a whole genre) well above its former stage-bound limitations. Most memorable by far, and most indicative of the wonders Kelly was to achieve half a decade hence, is the late-film duet / tap-dance-off between Kelly and a literal mirror image of himself on a deserted city street that’s very Singin’ in the Rain indeed. A concept that might have been unforgivably bungled in less capable hands, the scene instead becomes an exercise in expert choreography and technical precision, a hell of a thing in its own right and the number one reason to search the film out. For those 4 minutes Cover Girl bursts towards the stratosphere, leaving its humble entertainment aspirations behind on its way to becoming high art – little else from the time can compare.

There’s an even-better-than-usual Sony restoration backing Twilight Time’s new Blu-ray of Cover Girl, with the result that it’s easily one of the best looking classic film releases of the year. Presented in 1080p at the accurate full-frame ratio of 1.33:1, the image here leaves precious little for even persnickety reviewers like myself to complain about. The practically blemish-free transfer belies what was surely a substantial effort on the part of Sony’s ace restoration team, but the transparency of their work is perhaps its own reward. Cover Girl looks camera fresh, with brilliant Technicolor saturation and contrast to match. The appearance is lush, if not exactly razor-sharp, and those allergic to grain manipulation will find none to distract here – the film’s texture is alive and well, and blessedly unperturbed.

Technically this is one of Twilight Time’s less robust efforts, with the 107 minute feature and minimal supplements occupying just a single layer BD25, but any adverse effects are negligible. The video is well represented by an Mpeg-4 AVC encode at a nice average bitrate of 26.4 Mbps, and aside from a bit of posterization briefly glimpsed in a few of the flat color backdrops to the title music number I noted nothing untoward. Audio is a simple unboosted DTS-HD MA 1.0 monophonic track that sounds quite magnificent, bearing in mind the age of the production (nearly 70 years!), and is accompanied by optional English SDH subtitles. While it’s unusual for a Twilight Time release to boast much supplemental content Cover Girl takes the issue to the extreme, offering no on-disc extras whatsoever (not even the usual isolated score). Another excellent essay by Julie Kirgo helps make up for the limitation, as does the modestly lower price point - Cover Girl retails for $29.95.

I’m well out of my depth when it comes to much of anything musical, and Cover Girl is no exception, but strong showings from Hayworth, Kelly, an excellent cast of supporting players (Kruger, Silvers, and the wonderful, underrated Eve Arden as no-nonsense secretary Cordelia “Stonewall” Jackson) and a similarly excellent roster of production personnel won me over handily. For those keen on classic musicals Cover Girl is a must-see, and even with its paucity of extras Twilight Time’s Blu-ray delivers the goods. Recommendations don’t come much easier.

Blu-ray screenshots:

All screenshots were captured as native resolution .png in Totem Movie Player, then compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 97% using the ImageMagick command line tool.

We Have Failed, Master, We Have Failed

I have no new review for all of you today – I’m anxiously awaiting the Arrow Video’s Limited Edition of Kinji Fukusaku’s Battle Royale (which streets today, for those interested, and will be reviewed as soon as Wtf-Film’s copy arrives) and trying to work up something special for next week’s lead-in to Christmas, the latter of which is leaving me too busy to post much of anything at the moment.  Woe is me, eh?

So until I get things in order and the posts begin to flow, enjoy this fanciful bit of musical madness courtesy of United Artists’ hilarious  re-purposing of Nathan Juran’s Jack the Giant Killer:

Slumber Party Massacre II

film rating:
disc rating:
company: Concorde Pictures
year: 1987
runtime: 75′
director: Deborah Brock
cast: Crystal Bernard, Atanas Ilitch,
Jennifer Rhodes, Kimberly McArthur,
Juliette Cummins, Patrick Lowe
writer: Deborah Brock
cinematography: Thomas L. Callaway
music: Richard Cox
Reviewed from a screener provided
by Shout! Factory, LLC.
Pre-order this film from Amazon.com

The Slumber Party Massacre Collection double disc DVD set is due out from Shout! Factory on October 5th, in plenty of time for Halloween get togethers, and can currently be pre-ordered through Amazon.com and other online retailers.

Coming five years after the original The Slumber Party Massacre, Deborah Brock’s Slumber Party Massacre II (originally to be called Don’t Let Go: Slumber Party Massacre II) has direct narrative connections to the first film but bares slim resemblance to it otherwise. Brock’s (Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Forever) film loses much of the suspense but more than makes up for its absence, ratcheting up the humor and gore and tossing in a bucketful of absurdity for good measure.

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Creating Rem Lezar

company: Rem Lezar Corporation
and Valley Studios
year: 1989
runtime: 48′
country: United States
director: Scott Zakarin
cast: Jack Mulcahy, Courtney Kernaghan,
Jonathan Goch, Kathleen Gati,
Scott Zakarin, Stuart H. Bruck
cinematography: Richard E. Brooks
music: Mark Mule
order this film from Amazon.com
(VHS is OOP, only available used.
No DVD is currently available)

Plot: Two lazy and under-achieving children create an imaginary super-friend named Rem Lezar out of mannequin parts and go on a quest to find the magical Quixotic Medallion.

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I generally try not to curse unnecessarily in my reviews here (regardless of the acronym from which this site takes its name), but certain situations call for it.  In fact, some seem to crawl on their hands and knees to my review chair and positively beg for it.  This is certainly one of those moments.  So pardon my language, but what is this shit?  It’s like the worst conceivable elements of the late eighties, sans step aerobics and puffy neon headbands, snuck onto a T-60 video cassette tape and died.  I feel a little like an unfortunate archaeologist who’s stumbled upon a sad bit of history that, honestly, would have been better left buried.

Such is the pain of Creating Rem Lezar, which is probably the single worst independently produced straight-to-video musical superhero film for children ever devised by man.  Probably.  If it isn’t then please spare me the details, as I really don’t want to know.

The affair seems to be the boozy brain child of one Scott Zakarin, who is credited as writer, director, producer, editor, and choreographer. He also plays the villain of the piece, a giant floating shape-shifting disembodied head named Vorock who has hidden away the all important Quixotic Medallion somewhere very high.  Hunting for said medallion are the lazy and annoying co-ed pair Ashlee and Zack and their newly manufactured dream-time playmate Rem Lezar (Jack Mulcahy), a creepy meat-head in a blue suit and a cape with gold sneakers and an aggravating preponderance for impromptu song and dance.  The children and their unnerving companion (I’m sure Sid Davis must have warned about him somewhere . . .) must find the Quixotic Medallion, lest Rem fade into oblivion come sunset and Vorock become the ruler of dream time.

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The trio’s journey takes them everywhere from downtown Manhatten to the nearby woods and . . . well, I guess that’s about it.  The quest for the Quixotic Medallion is pretty brief, though agonizingly prolonged by a jaw-dropping multi-style hip-hop / doo-wop / classical song and dance number, and I doubt I’m ruining anyone’s lunch in revealing that it’s never found.  Instead the children convince Vorock that they want to be his friend, so he does what any sane person would if approached in friendship by these two children – he leaves.

Rem Lezar disappears and the children awake to discover that, surprise surprise, it was all a dream.  A policeman (also Mulcahy) finds them in a shed with their rather frightening Rem Lezar doll and takes them home, where both (previously lambasted for their constant daydreaming in school) promise to become productive little members of society.  Did I mention that each is suddenly graced with a gigantic cardboard Quixotic Medallion necklace?  Trust me when I say it doesn’t matter.

Short as it may be (I can’t imagine this at feature length), Creating Rem Lezar makes for a pretty greuling viewing experience.  If the public access production values (including magical floating clip art) and frequent unbearable musical numbers aren’t enough to keep you away then there’s always the uncomfortable edge that a full grown man serenading two elementary school kids about their fantasies provides.  This is just terrible, boring, moderately creepy crap – and it’s currently selling for $43 used at Amazon.com!  It’s also up in pieces on Youtube.  I’ll give you half a guess as to which option this reviewer settled for.

Those hoping for something fun and family friendly should really look elsewhere, as Creating Rem Lezar is less a diamond in the rough than a huge dog turd on your freshly mowed lawn.  It’s not a pleasant experience to say the least.  Keep your distance.

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