A pair of mid-1960s films make their blu-ray debut from Warner Archive this month, one of which boasts a script written by “Twilight Zone” creator Rod Serling, and the other a satire featuring Jonathan Winters in a dual role. Both films are shot in beautiful black and white, and on blu-ray their black and white cinematography really stands out. This week I’ll be talking about 1964’s “Seven Days in May” directed by John Frankenheimer, and Tony Richardson’s 1965 pitch black comedy “The Loved One.”
Seven Days is May” is a political thriller set in the early 1970s, released in 1964. Directed by John Frankenheimer it’s his follow up to his other widely successful political thriller, 1962’s “The Manchurian Candidate.” “Seven Days” stars Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Fredric March, and Ava Gardner. Based off a 1962 novel of the same name “Seven Days in May” is about a popular general and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman (Lancaster) who is secretly planning a coup to overthrow the government and oust an unpopular President (March), unpopular for his pacifist views. A colonel who works for the Chairman (Douglas) starts to uncover the plan and brings it to the attention of the President.
The novel was adapted for the screen by the perhaps the only writer in Hollywood perfect for the job, Rod Serling, whose legendary “Twilight Zone” went off the air the same year the film was released. Serling himself often said he felt burnout towards the end of the series, I’m sure he welcomed the chance to adapt the book. Serling and director Frankenheimer had worked together before back when each worked in TV on the popular anthology dramas of the 1950s like “Studio 90” and “Playhouse One.”
It’s a great film, one of the true standouts of the decade, with everyone giving their best on screen. The movie was produced by Douglas’s production company Joel Productions, and was done so with encouragement from President John F. Kennedy–the film was due to come out in December 1963, but was pushed back after his assassination. Kennedy had read the book when it was published and strongly wished the film to be made–though the pentagon objected. Kennedy ran notes to the production through his Press Secretary, letting Frankenheimer know that if he wished to shoot outside of The White House, he would “coincidentally” arrange to go on vacation.
“Seven Days In May” is a film taht holds up tremendously, there’s even a boisterous TV news figure in the film–who staunchly backs the coup planning general–that is eerily close to some of the more bombastic voices one would find on cable news today. Warner Archive’s Blu-ray of “Seven Days In May” looks phenomenal. A new 2K scan of the film was made from original elements and it shows. This is one of those blu-rays that you should show to someone who says “I can’t watch things in black and white” and see if they feel the same way afterwards. The black and white adds to the story here–and is sharp as a tack.
A very pleasant bonus feature on this blu-ray is a commentary track by director John Frankenheimer, which was recorded for the film’s DVD release in 1999, three years before Frankenheimer passed away. The blu-ray release of this film is a must, it’s a truly exceptional film and still manages to pack a wallop some 50 odd years after it was released. Pick this one up, you won’t regret it.
Now let us turn our attentions to one of my most favorite films of the 1960s. There is so much to say when talking about Tony Richardson’s 1965 satire “The Loved One.” Produced by MGM in association with production company Filmways, MGM’s marketing department came up with a slogan for “The Loved One” which is one of the most factual slogans any Hollywood film has ever had. All the posters and advertising material for the film prominently featured the phrase “The motion picture with something to offend everyone!”
“The Loved One” is a pitch black comedy based upon the novel by Evelyn Waugh, that satirizes Hollywood, sex, greed, religion, and the way the uniquely American Funeral Industry operates. “The Loved One” has an great cast: Robert Morse, Jonathan Winters-playing two different parts, Anjanette Comer, and then an even more amazing list of cameos by Dana Andrews, Milton Berle, James Coburn, Sir John Gielgud, Roddy McDowall, Tab Hunter, the great character actor Robert Morley, and even Liberace! Capping it all as the cherry on top is Rod Steiger, who is truly phenomenal as “Mr. Joyboy.”
Morse plays an English poet who comes to America to visit his uncle, a legendary Hollywood Director (Gielgud). Shortly after his arrival, the son of the boss the long-time studio home of the filmmaker lets him go, which leaves him despondent, eventually hanging himself. The young poet finds himself charged with making the arrangements, which leads him to Whispering Glades–an overly opulent cemetery ran by Reverend Wilbur Glenworthy–know to one and all as “The Blessed Reverend,” who only cares about the place as a money making enterprise. While planning his uncle’s services our poet meets one of the cosmeticians at Whispering Glades, a Ms. Thanatogenos (Comer), who he starts to take a fancy to.
What’s incredible about “The Loved One” is that the film got made at all. It’d be hard to adapt it today, but that this was made by a major motion picture studio in 1965 is simply extraordinary. This was director Richardson’s follow up to his massively successful film “Tom Jones”–which was a huge hit at the box office and won an OSCAR for Best Picture, and Richardson one for Best Director. Hollywood gave Richardson open invitations to do anything he desired for his follow up project, he took full advantage of that.
The film was co-produced and shot by one of the true greats of cinematography, Haskell Wexler, who I’d say is also one of the true masters of black and white film. The film looks stunning, and this brand new blu-ray scan just knocks it out of the park. I watched the film last year and I thought to myself then “Boy, I wish this would come out on blu-ray, I bet it would look phenomenal!” My wish has come true, and Warner Archive has done this film justice. I noticed crisp detail that I had never seen before, particularly on Morse’s corduroy suit in the opening scene.
“The Loved One” was a film ahead of its time, there’s a sequence in the middle of the film when Mr. Joyboy brings Ms. Thanatogenos home to meet his mother that’s practically John Waters before John Waters. When the completed film was screened for studio executives at MGM, a number of them were so taken aback and offended by the film–and it’s treatment of Hollywood in particular–that they walked out. Something that pleased Richardson to no end. There’s a great featurette on the disc about the making of the film–ported over from the DVD release.
I can’t lie, this is one of my most favorite titles Warner Archive has done yet on blu-ray.I adore “The Loved One” so much. It’s so funny, so shockingly outrageous–even at times by today’s standards–that it just seems incredible this movie exists at all. If you’ve never seen “The Loved One” and you like Monty Python or “Dr. Strangelove” you need to get this blu-ray. You’ll be in for a most enjoyable evening.
It’s an embarrassment of riches that Warner Archive has been putting out this year on blu-ray. I can’t wait to see what else they come up with as we get closer to the halfway mark of 2017. Both of these are HIGHLY recommended by yours truly, and would make a fine addition to anyone’s home library. Pick them both up and let me know what you think. See you next week.