Weekend Cinema Listomania (Special Down These Mean Streets Edition)

on January 23, 2009 by Steve Simels
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DVD Event of the Week: Is it the Criterion Collection's new double disc set of the 1935 John Stahl and 1954 Douglas Sirk versions of the preposterous Lloyd C. Douglas sudser Magnificent Obsession? Could it be Fox's edition of Max Payne, the latest video game turned into a film vehicle (this time for former underwear model Mark Wahlberg)? Or against all odds, might Peace Arch Home Entertainment's version of The Deal, which imagines Benjamin Disraeli as a Jewish action hero(!), conceivably get the title?

All worthy, to be sure, although one of these days I'm gonna start a fight around here about Sirk, who I think, on balance, is taken way too seriously by some folks who should know better. But in any case, for my money, it's Paramount's new Breakfast at Tiffany's: Centennial Collection, a spiffy new edition of the 1961 Blake Edwards classic starring Audrey Hepburn, the music of Henry Mancini and lots of cool Kennedy Era fashions by Givenchy and Edith Head.

There's little that needs to be said at this point about the film itself; despite one serious flaw, it remains one of the most entertaining grownup romantic fables ever to have emerged from Hollywood -- all but perfectly cast (again, with one exception), sharply written by George Axelrod (and no, I don't particularly mind that Hepburn's character isn't as obviously a call girl as she is in the Truman Capote novella it's based on), and directed by Edwards with just the right combo of romantic haze (New York City has never looked lovelier) and coolheaded realism. This new DVD version -- the third to date, if memory serves -- has been given an absolutely flawless high def transfer (the 5.1 surround mix is particularly effective), and it comes with a second disc featuring some better than average bonuses (besides the de rigeur making-of documentary). There's a very nice biographical look at composer Mancini (apparently, one of nature's noblemen), a heartfelt tribute to Hepburn from a current creative director at Tiffany's, and a very funny return to the film's famous cocktail party scene featuring several of the surviving 2nd-tier character actors who starred in it. The most interesting of the lot, however, is the aptly titled "An Asian Perspective," which addresses the 800 pound gorilla in the room (i.e., the above mentioned serious flaw) that is the casting and performance of Mickey Rooney as the bucktoothed Mr. Yunioshi , a Japanese ethnic stereotype seemingly piped in from a racist WWII propaganda film. There's also an interesting optional running commentary by producer Richard Shepherd on disc one and, back on disc two, the inevitable original trailer (here it is, looking just slightly the worse for wear than it does on DVD).

All in all, it's an exemplary presentation of a film that deserves the deluxe treatment.You can -- and very definitely should -- order it here.

 

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Okay, that said, and because things will be relatively quiet around here till Monday, here's an obviously relevant little project for us all:

Most Memorable Film Using New York City as a Backdrop (Comedy or Drama)!!!

And my totally top of my head Top Five is:

5. The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (Ranald MacDougall, 1959)

 

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Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens and Mel Ferrer, the last people on Earth after some kind of nuclear apocalypse, enact the eternal triangle in a deserted New York City. Pretty silly and overheated stuff most of the time, but the concrete canyons are quite as eerie as you might imagine.

4. Men in Black (Barry Sonnefeld, 1997)
The Aliens Among Us sci-fi comedy and thrills notwithstanding, the location photography makes this practically a love letter to the Big Apple.

Kay: All right, kid, here's the deal. At any given time there are approximately 1500 aliens on the planet, most of them right here in Manhattan. And most of them are decent enough, they're just trying to make a living.
Jay: Cab drivers?
Kay: Not as many as you'd think.

 

3. The Naked City (Jules Dassin, 1948)
Groundbreaking combo of police procedural and film noir, with an absolutely astounding concluding chase sequence shot on the pedestrian walk of the Williamsburg Bridge.

2. Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick, 1957)
Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis in a Battle of the Amoral Scumbags set against gloriously photographed midtown Manhattan locations. An amazing document of a vanished New York that feels as remote as the Pleistocene and yet still eerily familiar.

And the most memorable Fun City flick, you gotta be kidding it's not even close so don't give me a hard time you frickin mook, obviously is --

1. Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927)

 

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The possibly apocryphal story is that Lang sailed into New York harbor for the first time (in 1924), looked at the skyline and said "What a splendid ruin it will make." In any case, his city of the future was clearly meant to be New Yawk, as anybody who has ever seen the opening scene of the demoralized workers and thought "That's me on the subway!" will attest.

Awrighty now -- what would your choices be?

 

Tags: John Stahl, Douglas Sirk, Max Payne, Magnificent Obsession?, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Blake Edwards, Audrey Hepburn, Truman Capote, The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, Men in Black, The Naked City, Sweet Smell of Success, Metropolis
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