A PEEK AT THE L-SHAPED ROOM AND OTHERS

3 Stars

I come to write a gushing, goopy love letter to the film, The L-Shaped Room. If you don’t like such things, I return you now to any of the 2001 threads. I have other things to gush about, too, and believe me I will.

I first saw The L-Shaped Room on an import DVD over a decade ago. How I missed this film when it came out is anyone’s guess, since its exclusive months’ long run was at the Lido Theatre in Los Angeles, a mere four blocks from where I lived. But then again, as I’ve said many times, 1962 was, for me, the greatest year in film history. And I probably saw over a hundred movies that year, one after another – take the time to look at a list of films for that year – it will boggle your mind. Watching the DVD, I was completely taken with the film and really loved it, although the transfer was very sketchy. Flash forward to last night, when I watched the new Twilight Time Blu-ray with a sparkling and beautiful new transfer thanks to Grover Crisp, about whom more in a moment.

Because it now looked as it should, the film was even more enjoyable, and I have to say I think it’s just about a perfect film and so ahead of its time, really, in that it has a hugely independent and strong female lead character and Leslie Caron plays her so beautifully – she was up for an Oscar and it would have been no crime at all had she won (she did win a Golden Globe and BAFTA award). She’s so endearing, funny, as well as extremely touching. Tom Bell is good, Brock Peters is much better than good, but of the supporting turns in the film, and there are many great ones, some lasting only one scene, the film belongs to Cicely Courtenage who walks away with any scene in which she appears. The scene where Leslie Caron asks her if she’s ever been in love or had a relationship is one of the most perfectly played scenes ever – they had to be VERY subtle about it back then, as she speaks of her “friend” but having to be subtle makes it even more powerful. I found it incredibly moving. The score is mostly the Brahms second piano concerto, which works very well, and then there are some nightclub bits scored by someone named John Barry. Bryan Forbes adaptation of Lynn Reid Banks’s novel is great as is his understated direction. I was very surprised to see it was slightly over two hours because the time simply flies by. The transfer is absolute perfection – that’s what black-and-white of that era was like and it’s one of my favorite looks ever.

And so, if I may, before I move on to a couple of other films – can we just give the biggest possible shout imaginable to Grover Crisp. Not only does he do brilliant work, he does it completely without fanfare or back-slapping or obnoxious press releases. He does his job, and then Twilight Time, for the most part, gets to release them. He won’t give them an old transfer nor do they want it. They leave that to others. I know if I put it a Twilight Time disc of a Sony title I’m going to get exactly what I’ve come to expect – perfection. I cannot recommend The L-Shaped Room highly enough. You can thank me later.

I also watched The New Centurions, an odd, episodic film that I’m quite fond of. Richard Fleischer does a fine job with it, and it’s one of George C. Scott’s best performances, and Stacey Keach is also great. Sterling Silliphant did a wonderful job of adapting Joseph Wambaugh’s novel. And again, a perfect transfer from Sony.

Harry and Walter Go to New York – I will say up front that I pretty much hate the move – always have. I knew several folks who were involved with it and I used to listen to their cocky banter that they were making a GREAT film that was going to take audiences and critics by storm. Didn’t work out that way and cocky is never a good way to be about anything. And you can see it right there on the screen – everyone thinks they’re being sooooo amusing and droll, but the screenplay doesn’t really cut it. The actors are all fine and they are reason enough to see the film – especially Diane Keaton, who is simply terrific. The production design is fun, and the score by David Shire (who is also in the opening scene) is perky and fun. Part of the problem was the director. When you want a fun, silly musical film, Mark Rydell would be just about the last person who would come to mind as a director. But the transfer from Sony is splendid, of course – what else is new?

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. Aside from Sony, Fox is also quietly doing splendid work on so many films. This film was never going to win any awards for its look, but the transfer replicates it perfectly. I happen to love the play by Paul Zindel, but the movie doesn’t quite capture its elusive nature. Joanne Woodward isn’t really the best choice for her role, but I just love her and love watching her. Her and Mr. Newman’s daughter, Nell Potts, is great. And Maurice Jarre wrote a very nice score. This is one you might want to take a chance on.

The Seven-Ups – another fine Fox transfer of a gritty 1970s cop film. Actors are all very good, but the director should have stuck to producing and handed the film over to a real director. The tone is all over the map and it kind of just lurches its way to the finish line, but I’ve always enjoyed it, mostly due to the cast. Twilight Time has also done its customers a great service by including the discarded score by Johnny Mandel, which turns the film into a whole other thing when you watch it with that score playing. I just released it on CD – and I love it. I know the Don Ellis score probably works better, but I LOVE the Mandel.

Manhattan Murder Mystery – of his later work, this is pretty enjoyable, maybe the best of his later comic films. And just seeing him and Diane Keaton do their stuff is worth a purchase. The supporting cast is fun, it moves along at a steady clip and it’s fun. The transfer is fine – but I, for one, am hugely thankful that Twilight Time’s time with MGM/UA has come to a close. Too hit and miss for the likes of me.

Underworld USA – Sam Fuller. The End. A must-buy. Great transfer from Sony and a Fuller film from frame one to the final frame.

The Incident – not the most comfortable film to watch and some of it hasn’t aged well, but boy does it still pack a punch. Larry Peerce was a fine director (see his One Potato, Two Potato if you can) and he keeps the tension high and very much in your face. A really great transfer from Fox.

Gun Crazy – as one who has the French Blu-ray I can only tell you that the new Warner Archive blows it out of the water. What a great transfer of one of my all-time favorite films. Peggy Cummins and John Dall are fantastic and certainly this is the finest film of Joseph H. Lewis’ interesting career. A must-have for any serious film buff, plain and simple.

That’s it for now.

Published by

Kevin Collins

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11 Comments

  1. I'll add a kind word for the new Twilight Time Blu-ray of Walter Hill's Geronimo: An American Legend, which arrived today. An outstanding transfer of a richly elegiac, underappreciated Western, and as it happens a good choice for Memorial Day weekend.

  2. At the opening night party of last month's TCM Classic Film Festival some friends at Universal introduced me to a gentleman who was part of a group of people doing the usual meet-and-greet so common at these things. I didn't catch his name properly because of the noise and I was one of three or four people being introduced at the same time. It wasn't until after we left that my friend told me his name was Grover Crisp! It may have been just as well, as I would probably have said something gushingly embarrassing about how great his restoration work is and how wonderful it was to meet him.

    He also mentioned an upcoming Criterion title that he's worked on that I don't believe has been made public yet but I'll respect his privacy and keep it to myself. 🙂

  3. Bruce, I always enjoy reading your "peeks". In fact, it was one of your missives that got me to buy the French Blu of GUN CRAZY a few years back. I also recently bought the Warner Archive GUN CRAZY Blu. And yes, I've never seen such rich blacks before in my life, but much more than this, Joseph H. Lewis' film now looks like it was shot the day before yesterday. The detail is beyond description, and finally Russell Harlan's cinematography shines at the level it did when the film was first released in 1949 & every DP & AC in Hollywood wanted to know how he achieved those effects, For instance, all those weird point of view shots, like from behind a broken mirror or the mist lifting from frozen sides of beef during a payroll robbery, and of course that long extended take shot from the back seat of a car which end (climaxes?) with Peggy Cummings turning her head and looking directly into the camera with a look of sensual excitement on her face as John Dall runs out of the bank with a bagful of cash. It now all seems totally three dimensional and real, as if one can walk right into these images, through the magic mirror of one's widescreen TV. (But I am keeping the French Blu for the book, as I think Eddie Mueller sounds a lot better in French.)

    I also concur about the visual quality of THE L SHAPED ROOM disc, which is perfection. This is the first time I've seen THE L SHAPED ROOM, for I was too young when it opened, as it was one of those films that had an adults only sign affixed to the box office. I must say I was a little disappointed by the film, as I found both the direction and the cinematography too decorous, too classical and too beautiful. The lighting was so gorgeous, and the framing was so artful and precise, that the somewhat down to earth, even sordidness of the subject matter didn't quite come through for me. However, Leslie Caron broke through all that, to the extent that I'm at a loss for words. So if there's anyone out there who hasn't yet experienced Ms. Caron's performance in THE L SHAPED ROOM, all I can do is echo Bruce and say is, what are you waiting for?

    And finally, a brief notation: MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY was originally released by Tri-Star-Columbia, so it should look fine, as the master would be provided by Sony, not MGM/UA. And while I like the MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY just fine, especially the scenes with Diane Keaton, my favorite late Woody comedy is BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, which I hope will also be released by Twilight Time very soon.

  4. Of course – Manhattan Murder Mystery is Sony – I made that mistake once before and was corrected – I thought, how can it look so good when it's MGM/UA – well, that's how 🙂 I'll amend that part of the peek.

    EDIT: Apparently one can't edit after not even twenty-four hours?

  5. I saw THE L-SHAPED ROOM on first release and was hugely impressed. It very much captured London as it then was. Unfortunately both the TT and Studio Canal releases are in the wrong aspect ratio. According to Kine Weekly it was at filmed at Shepperton for 1.85:1.

  6. bujaki

    I also saw The L-shaped Room on first release. I thought Caron should have won the AA for Best Actress. Neal was tremendous in Hud in a supporting role. Ah,well…

    Ms. Neal was tremendous in HUD, and in a way, it was kind of a comeback for her, which of course the Academy loves, but Ms. Caron seems to transcend acting, in that she becomes the moral center of the film, and each breath she takes appears to become aligned with the light that shines down upon the London streets, not to mention the film coursing through the projector, like blood coursing through a person's veins.

  7. lark144

    Ms. Neal was tremendous in HUD, and in a way, it was kind of a comeback for her, which of course the Academy loves, but Ms. Caron seems to transcend acting, in that she becomes the moral center of the film, and each breath she takes appears to become aligned with the light that shines down upon the London streets, not to mention the film coursing through the projector, like blood coursing through a person's veins.

    And she made a great cup of coffee 😉

  8. haineshisway

    Apparently one can't edit after not even twenty-four hours?

    True, and that has frustrated me a number of times. Guess we should just be more careful when originally posting.

  9. Dick

    True, and that has frustrated me a number of times. Guess we should just be more careful when originally posting.

    I always now proof read again the moment I have posted. Previously, it wasn't so urgent.

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