Paramount is borrowing an old idea from Walt Disney Studios and making it a bit more modern. They’re digging into their vault of classic films and doing 4K restorations and releasing them under the new Paramount Presents banner. Now, as much as I’d like to see actual 4K UHD releases, I suspect that these are intended to be feelers for various classic films to try to gauge the demand for these trips into the archives. I also suspect that the titles that show the most promise will likely end up seeing a UHD release. It’s actually a pretty good plan and a chance for you to “vote” with your dollars and show each film what kind of interest still exists. I’m sure some will falter and fall by the wayside, while a few polished gems will show the kind of promise that calls for the 4K release. Now the restoration work is done, and it’s just a matter of printing some discs. So here’s a look at the first three films served up for consideration. Each is sold separately and comes in a cardboard case covering the plastic case that folds out to reveal a release poster for said film. The presentations are nice and geared toward the collector.
Fatal Attraction (1987)
“One night stands can be murder.”
That’s the tagline for 1987’s Fatal Attraction. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that both Fatal Attraction and the later Indecent Proposal were both directed by Adrian Lyne. Both were quite controversial upon their release. Both dealt in a kind of “what if” scenario that got people talking around their water coolers and watering hole gatherings. While the latter was pretty much a morality or ethics drama, the former was a gut-wrenching morality tale with a Grimm’s Fairy Tale twist. Even if you’ve never seen the film, you’ve at least heard of the “Bunny Boiler”, a term that’s entered the pop culture lexicon describing a woman who is likely to go psycho on you. The film was almost never made.
Dan Gallagher (Douglas) is an attorney working for a publishing company. He’s married to Beth (Archer) and they have a young daughter. He appears to live a rather idyllic life. Enter Alex Forrest (Close) who works for the publishing company. They meet at a party and later at a business meeting. Upon their second encounter, Beth is away looking at a suburban home and staying with her parents. When the cat’s away … or so they say. The two end up sharing a rather torrid weekend together. When the weekend is about to end and Dan is ready to return to his storybook life and family, he begins to discover that Alex isn’t exactly wrapped too tightly. She slits her wrists as he’s about to leave. From this point on, Dan knows he’s going to pay big for this mistake. Alex continues to stalk him, announcing that she’s pregnant and will not be ignored. The episodes escalate before Alex becomes a danger to Dan and his entire family. He’s forced to come clean with his wife, but that’s not going to be the end of it for any of them.
The film was actually a short movie by James Dearden called Diversion. It was a short UK thriller. Dearden wrote most of the screenplay for this American remake which was changed to the current Fatal Attraction. Every major studio considered it to be unmarketable and passed at one time or another. Even with the attachment of Michael Douglas, it was a very hard sell. Little did anyone know that it would not only become successful, but an iconic image for our culture going forward.
Listen to any number of interviews, including those included on this release, and you’ll discover there was a lot of resistance toward casting Glenn Close in the role of Alex. She was persistent and apparently won over at least the decision makers in the project. Her physical appearance is just not right for this kind of a film. She looks almost as much like a guy in drag as anything else, so it’s a bit hard to believe that Dan would risk his much more attractive wife to have such a physical relationship with this woman. What Close lacked in looks, she certainly made up for in her acting skills. Perhaps a more attractive actress couldn’t have pulled off the more demanding psychological aspects of the role. We’ll never know, but it was certainly her performance that ingrained the film and the character in our minds. Anne Archer does a wonderful job as the victimized wife here, and Michael Douglas is his usual strong self throughout. The film doesn’t pull any punches, however. The sexual scenes are quite over-the-top. I guess the level of passion might be necessary to ignite the equally passionate insanity Alex displays for the rest of the film. In whatever it does, the film keeps up a level of intensity that, quite honestly, can become fatiguing before it’s over. Unlike Indecent Proposal, this movie doesn’t appear quite as dated. Perhaps because it has become so ingrained in our collective experience that it has become all too familiar, but hasn’t appeared to age at all. You know what that means, don’t you? “This is not gonna stop. It keeps going on and on.”
To Catch A Thief (1955)
To Catch A Thief is not typical Alfred Hitchcock territory, but then again, it really is. It’s not a terribly suspenseful film coming from the acclaimed “Master of Suspense”, nor is it at all a frightening film even though it was directed by one of horror’s genius minds. What really is scary, however, is how close to a different film this almost was. Cary Grant had exiled himself into retirement. If you can believe his statements at the time, he was concerned that the moviegoing public was pretty much sick of seeing him and preferred the younger actors just then coming of age. He turned Hitchcock down for the role at least twice, before Hitch made a personal visit and appeal to the Hollywood legend. Grace Kelly was also reluctant to do the part. She did it because she loved working for Hitch. Unfortunately, Paramount had other plans. They were troubled that Grant was nearly twice Kelly’s age, and worried that either the public or the standards censors would not accept the situation. They were half right. While the film was one of Hitch’s toughest battles with the standards folks, the public flocked to see Grant and Kelly on the screen together. Grant would continue his return to acting for over a decade longer. Not so Grace Kelly. The Philadelphia native would have her fateful meeting with Prince Rainier of Monaco and would spend nearly 30 years portraying the larger-than-life, but real nonetheless, Princess Grace of Monaco, before a tragic automobile accident would end her life. All the same, To Catch A Thief would remain one of her last films. Hitch almost lured her out of retirement some years later, but she declined, saying that if she were to do a film, Hitchcock was about the only man she would have done it for.
John Robie (Grant) is a renowned jewel thief and cat burglar. While he’s been retired for fifteen years, he’s still the prime suspect when a rash of burglaries occurs on the French Riviera. The MO is the same as Robie’s, and before long the police are blaming him for the work of France’s newest celebrity thief, The Cat. Robie sees only one chance to get himself out from under the mess. He has to go to the area and catch the real thief. Once there he hooks up with insurance agent Hughson (Williams) who cooperates on the off chance his company can be spared these high payouts. Robie also meets young and attractive socialite Frances Stevens (Kelly), who sets her sights on catching this thief for her own. She constantly tries to seduce Robie, knowing who he is and suspecting him of being The Cat. When her own family jewels turn up missing, she begins to rethink the dangerous game she was playing. That only gives Robie even more incentive to catch the real crook. Will Robie catch The Cat? Will Frances catch Robie? Only Hitch knew for sure, and in 1955 audiences found out in the film classic, To Catch A Thief.
Hitchcock was never a fan of location shooting. He was a control freak who insisted on having almost godlike powers over his set. He was also a bit of a French fanatic as well. With this film even Hitch couldn’t resist the urge to give up some of that control and capture the French Riviera, making this film stand out from most of his others with its vast vistas and Academy Award winning cinematography. Hitchcock also turned to a new method, used only twice previously, to capture his latest movie on film. Paramount had developed the VistaVision system in response to the hugely popular Cinemascope system. Hitch liked it so much he continued to use the system on many of his subsequent movies. That doesn’t mean that Hitch completely abandoned those trademark touches that made his films so easily identifiable even if there were no screen credit. Look for his traditional cameo early in the film, seated next to Grant on a caravan. There is also plenty of that sardonic humor that was so much a part of Hitch’s image. There are also many instances of his disdain for eggs, which he took every opportunity to abuse in his films. Hitch was a gourmet cook, but had a very strong aversion to egg yolks. They literally made him sick. There are also those incredibly clever images that were a part of his usual toolbox. One such image shows an unlucky Cat suspect dead in a pool of water. Hitch lingers on the image, framed as only he could.
On the surface this is a mystery, but honestly, the mystery elements take a back seat to the flirtation between Kelly and Grant. Hitch was no idiot. He knew what he had in these stars, and he knew that’s what audiences were going to come to see. Hitchcock had a great amount of trouble with the censors, and he appeared to delight in playing a game of cat and mouse with them. He pushed the limits of innuendo in the film and managed to bully into the film a scene deemed far too suggestive to the more conservative censors and even studio brass. Like the shower scene in Psycho, the fireworks scene here would be copied over and over again until it became almost a Hollywood cliché. As Grant finally succumbs to Kelly’s advances, the film continually cuts to a fireworks display going on outside of their window. As the leads got more involved the display increased in intensity. It was a testament to the power and respect Hitch welded that the scene remained intact. Both Kelly and Grant considered this to be one of their best films. Take a look for yourself, and you can’t help but understand why.
It can safely be said that this is a romance film more than anything else. I don’t really tend to like romance films. But Hitch had a way of making even a romance extremely interesting. The best part is that Hitch never lingers on the two getting together, outside of his famous fireworks scene. Instead, Hitch was more into the chase. There’s also little question that Grace Kelly was aptly named, for it is her grace more than her looks that made her the attractive starlet she was. Oh, and by the way, did I mention there was this little mystery going on? The fact is, To Catch A Thief is an appropriate selection to Paramount Presents and the best of the first three selections. “Oh, it’s good. It’s quite good.”
King Creole (1958)
Elvis Presley is often referred to as The King Of Rock And Roll, at least to his fans. There’s no denying the impact that he had on the music scene. He was the first rock and roll star, to be sure. Colonel Tom Parker, his long-time manager and partner, created many of the marketing traditions that are commonplace in the industry today. He knew the value of his star, not only as a performer, but as a brand. For the first time, a musician’s image and name started to appear on everything from bath towels to women’s underwear. Fans are often split on their feelings for the self-styled Colonel, but Elvis would not have become the name brand he still is today without him.
One of those brand expansions tapped into Elvis’s own boyhood fantasy. Elvis had worked as an usher at a local movie theater as a teen. He’s often related that he would linger in the auditoriums, watching those movies and fantasizing that he was James Dean or Marlon Brando, two of his idols. With the help of Colonel Parker, Elvis would get to see that dream become a reality. The King was to expand his realm to include the movie business and Hollywood. No experience? No problem. After all, if Elvis could go from failing music in high school to becoming the highest paid musician on the planet, he could certainly tackle the world of acting. And he did just that.
Danny Fisher (Elvis) is about to flunk out of graduation for the second and last time. He doesn’t fit in well. He lives with his father (Jagger) and sister (Shepard). Their mother died three years ago, and Pop hasn’t been able to escape his grief and can’t hold down a job. Danny is tired of watching him crawl while others bully him and vows not to live that kind of life. His real troubles start when he ends up rescuing Ronnie (Jones) from a hood who is abusing her at his morning cleanup job at a local club owned by the local mobster Maxie Fields (Matthau). Danny tries to get money by joining a street gang led by a guy named Shark, played by Vic Morrow. When he shows Maxie that he can sing as a cover for his Ronnie flirtations, he’s a hit with the crowd. Danny ends up being hired by Maxie’s rival and old running buddy Charles LeGrand, played by Paul Stewart. Of course, he ends up a hit and brings LeGrand’s titular club King Creole back to life, which doesn’t sit well with Maxie. The series of relationships puts Danny in deeper and deeper trouble until it all boils to the surface.
Elvis often called this his favorite film, and it likely is his best performance as an actor. Elvis wasn’t always given a great chance to show just how good an actor he could be. Here he was, and he held his own with a pretty strong cast. It was also shot immediately before he reported to the Army. In fact he had to seek special permission to delay his reporting for duty. What’s funny is that Deloris Hart who played a love interest here starred with Elvis twice and then entered the convent where she is still a nun. The film has an almost noir element of authenticity that takes advantage of the New Orleans atmosphere. Certainly there are moments when the music is forced, most particularly while he’s distracting people for the gang to steal. But much of it appears seamless and fits in with the Elvis culture quite well. Of course, I’m sure Col. Parker had something to do with that. He always got a piece of anything Elvis did and got a credit as technical advisor on this and nearly all of his films.
I must confess that I’ve never really been an Elvis fan. I don’t dislike his material and have heard plenty of it throughout my life. I had an uncle who was crazy over The King; of course, he was actually crazy. I respect the man’s accomplishments, and as a musician myself, I acknowledge the influence he has had on the history of the industry. I even have more than a little respect for his movie career. Elvis did have acting talent. It wasn’t always, or even very often, put to the best use. Still, he was pretty good in many of these films. He created an entire genre of movies. He would have been better served if he hadn’t been exploited for the music all the time. He shows in several films an ability to play a serious and emotional role. This is certainly a fine example. Unfortunately, there were trademarks to preserve at the cost of a movie’s quality. Beyond the need to force songs into the story, there was that never-changing greaser hairstyle that was too much a part of his image to change no matter what part or time he was playing in. Fans and casual viewers will both be pleased by what they find here. “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
Each of the films are restored from 4K negatives and in their proper aspect ratio. There is only one new extra on each disc. It’s a feature called Filmmaker Focus, but only on Fatal Attraction does it actually feature the filmmaker in the person of Adrian Lyne, the director. The other two films feature Leonard Maltin. All of the features clock in at under 10 minutes. This is a collector edition and likely trial balloon for UHD releases. So there’s a bit of a dilemma here. “Why do you want to buy an old car if you can get a new one cheaper? It will run better and last longer.”