Edgar G. Ulmer on DVD

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Scharphedin2
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#1 Post by Scharphedin2 » Mon Jan 01, 2007 5:05 pm

With a month left before submission of '40s lists, I used part of the holidays to acquaint myself with some of the work of Edgar G. Ulmer, who made almost 20 films during the forties.

Ulmer started his career in Germany at the end of the silent period, and was amongst the young filmmakers contributing to Menschen Am Sonntag. Shortly thereafter, like so many of his colleagues, he made the journey to Hollywood, and in a career that spanned 35 years, he made almost fifty films. The vast majority of his films were produced on humble budgets for very small companies -- indeed at one point in the thirties his films were not even being financed by a traditional production company, but rather by the Yiddish community (these Yiddish films are in fact newly restored and availalbe on DVD, and I for one would be interested to see comments from anyone, who may have picked them up).

Ulmer's reputation has become "the King of the B's," which could be a rather dubious compliment, but I think in this case it is a true accolade. The films that I have managed to see so far (Detour, Strange Illusion, Bluebeard and The Strange Woman) have certainly been cinematically inventive and exciting. In some commentaries on Film Noir, Detour is listed as one of the most influential films of the sub-genre, and it is certainly pitch bleak and almost euphoric in its narrative. Bluebeard has an excellent, quietly psychopathic performance by John Carradine, and Ulmer makes the most of what is clearly a very small budget in evoking the seemier side of Paris in the 18th century. With Strange Illusion, Ulmer is back in the present day of the '40s with a sort of modern Bluebeard story that involves a lot of psychiatrical musings and dream sequences. It is not quite as iconoclastic as Detour, and probably the least exciting of these four films, but still an interesting little film. Hedy Lamarr and George Sanders headline The Strange Woman, which must have been a comparatively prestigeous production for Ulmer. Cinematically, it is a gorgeous little film photographed by veteran DoP Lucien Androit. The way he molds the sparse light and deep shadows around the shape, and especially the face of Lamarr, is a study in how a film star should be presented. Lamarr's eyes smolder alternately with animal lust, calculated jealousy, hysteria and near insanity. She is a monster in the story, but a monster that is impossible not too fall in love with -- as do of course all the men in the film. The character that Lamarr plays is also one of the more emotionally complex feminine parts that I have seen in a Hollywood movie, or, maybe she just makes it so. The repressed lust and sexual manipulation that drives the film is likewise incredible -- watch the scene in which Lamarr convinces the cowardly Louise Hayward to kill for her.

These are exciting films. The latter three are available from All Day Entertainmnet in the Edgar Ulmer Archive Set. The films are not pristine looking, but as always, what a shame not to see these films at all. Detour is available from Alpha; I own the Image disc, which is now out of print (?), and it too suffers from age and wear. Also available on DVD are The Pirates of Capri (Image) and Carnegie Hall (Kino), and probably several of Ulmer's other films are out on public domain labels.

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#2 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Jan 01, 2007 9:07 pm

Not to mention the wonderfully devilish The Black Cat is out from Universal in their Bela Lugosi Collection.

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#3 Post by Scharphedin2 » Wed Jan 03, 2007 5:26 pm

I notice that I mistakenly created this thread in "DVD News and Discussions", when it more properly belongs under "Old Films." However, Kino just recently released a new disc, which combines a documentary on Ulmer's career with one of his feature films -- Isle Of Forgotten Sins (Monsoon). I suppose that eradicates my little error.

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#4 Post by Mr Sausage » Wed Jan 03, 2007 9:04 pm

Scharphedin2 wrote:I notice that I mistakenly created this thread in "DVD News and Discussions", when it more properly belongs under "Old Films." However, Kino just recently released a new disc, which combines a documentary on Ulmer's career with one of his feature films -- Isle Of Forgotten Sins (Monsoon). I suppose that eradicates my little error.
No, I moved it here. The thread title is Edgar G. Ulmer on DVD. It's in the right place.

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#5 Post by Scharphedin2 » Sun Jan 21, 2007 1:52 pm

By way of adding a little meat on this thread, I just finished wathching Carnegie Hall, and it is of course a completely different film than the noir/mystery/horror films mentioned above.

At 136 minutes, and featuring a who's who of classical music personalities from the era of the '30s/'40s, the film tells the story of Carnegie Hall from the inside, through the narrative of a woman, who happened to be present as a little girl at its opening in 1891, and whose personal and private life becomes inseparable from the "life" of the music hall. However, it is clear that the real motivation for the film is to showcase the musicians. The story is really inserted between the musical numbers, rather than the other way around. And, while I know next to nothing about classical music, I was entranced by the various musicians praticing their art on screen. Ulmer is never in a hurry here, and always content to take a backseat as director, and allow the music and musicians to capture center stage. There are long passages, where the camera is almost static, trained upon a pianist, or conductor, or violinist, but only "almost." At the right moment, there is the slightest awareness of a tracking shot, pulling back slowly from the virtuoso to include the orchestra in the shot; or, there will be a cut from a full shot to a medium close-up, in order to show the audience the play of the virtuoso's hands on the instrument.

It is a fascinating and unique film, and the print that Kino has used for the transfer is for all intents and purposes spotless.

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#6 Post by Scharphedin2 » Sat Jan 27, 2007 6:39 pm

Scharphedin2 wrote:Kino just recently released a new disc, which combines a documentary on Ulmer's career with one of his feature films -- Isle Of Forgotten Sins (Monsoon)...
Being intrigued by Ulmer, I picked up this disc. And, I have to say (for the benefit of all the discerning DVD fans) that the source print of Isle of Forgotten Sins is in rather rough condition -- at one point so rough that it looked like a segment from a Bill Morrison picture. However, the film is again a great example of the kind of eccentric double-bill fare that constitutes the majority of Ulmer's output. In this case, we are treated to a South Seas adventure yarn revolving around a lost gold treasure. Gale Sondergaard leads a pack of dance-hall double-crossing dames wearing sarongs and hibiscus flowers in their hair, while John Carradine and his sailor side-kick are the fortune hunting protagonists. The film stops for a musical number replete with cut-aways to a South Sea beauty and her beau doing an Esther Williams routine in the near-by lagoon. Later, much is made of a clunky diving job in one of those old Jules Verne type diver's suits with big round helmets. In fact, as the diver descends to the floor of the sea, we are treated to something that sounds suspiciously like the ouverture to Wagner's "Das Rheingold," which in a highly imaginative way does come across as oddly appropriate. Along the way, we are also treated to many a bout of fisticuffs, a raging typhoon, and, I was suspecting there would be a sea monster in there too, but in this respect I was disappointed. In short, this is great fun of the cheap variety, where it is almost appropriate that the film stock is on the verge of falling apart completely.

The documentary (which is actually billed as the main attraction by Kino) is a newly produced love letter affair, with everyone from obscure Viennese film historians and family members to such stable luminaries as John Landis, Peter Bogdanovich and Roger Corman commenting on Ulmer's versatility, genius, and ultimately rather sad and unfulfilled life.

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#7 Post by Forgotten Goldfish » Tue Feb 06, 2007 9:23 pm

Detour has recently been issued in France by CinéMalta, coupled with Lupino's The Hitch-Hiker. Technical review with screencaps here.

Evidently from the same notoriously incomplete source as the Image and Alpha discs; but the coupling might attract some buyers (the screencaps of both films look reasonably good). The French title of The Hitch-Hiker is Voyage dans la peur, which must confuse some people!

Some amateur internet reviewers of Detour have recommended the Sinister Cinema transfer. A few years ago, in the interests of science, I sacrificed some of my hard-earned cash and bought it. It's a serviceable second-generation transfer (print to tape to DVD-R) from a 16mm reduction positive. Its main attraction is that it presents the film absolutely complete, including all the little bits of footage omitted by Image and Alpha. I suspect many viewers would rather watch 100% of Detour from 16mm than 98% from 35mm (the gaps are only tiny, but a couple of them ruin crucial moments of the movie)... though the choice is a bit like asking whether you'd rather be hanged or guillotined... you can't help wishing there were a third alternative.

There are also two different states of Strange Woman on the market, though I've never encountered anyone else who has noticed this; and in some respects, the Acme version is clearly more authentic than the All Day Entertainment one. This is most easily seen in the poster announcing the revival meeting (at about 85 mins). Acme gives the topic as “The Strange Womanâ€

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Re: Edgar G. Ulmer on DVD

#8 Post by repeat » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:25 pm

I don't suppose anyone knows what happened to the projected Ulmer set on Carlotta? It was slated for October 2011, but seems to have vanished into thin air. I do hope they're still working on it - judging by this interview they were certainly putting effort into it (but that release date did seem quite optimistic in the first place)

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Re: Edgar G. Ulmer on DVD

#9 Post by Feego » Sat Apr 19, 2014 11:22 am

DVDBeaver gives a positive review for a new DVD edition of The Strange Woman by Film Chest. Now, this is the same company that released DNR-slathered Blu-ray editions of titles like The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Kansas City Confidential, and The Stranger, but those caps do look promising.

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