Film Review – THE DRY (2020)

THE DRY (2020, Australia/USA, 117m, 15) ***
Crime, Drama
dist. IFC Films (USA), Sky Cinema (UK); pr co. Made Up Stories / Arenamedia / Cornerstone Films / Film Victoria / Media Super / Pick Up Truck Pictures / Screen Australia; d. Robert Connolly; w. Harry Cripps, Robert Connolly, Samantha Strauss (based on the novel by Jane Harper); pr. Eric Bana, Robert Connolly, Steve Hutensky, Jodi Matterson, Bruna Papandrea; ph. Stefan Duscio (Colour | 2.35:1); m. Peter Raeburn; ed. Alexandre de Franceschi, Nick Meyers; pd. Ruby Mathers; ad. Mandi Bialek-Wester.
cast: Eric Bana (Aaron Falk), Genevieve O’Reilly (Gretchen), Keir O’Donnell (Greg Raco), John Polson (Scott Whitlam), Julia Blake (Barb), Bruce Spence (Gerry Hadler), William Zappa (Mal Deacon), Matt Nable (Grant Dow), James Frecheville (Jamie Sullivan), Jeremy Lindsay Taylor (Erik Falk), Joe Klocek (Young Aaron Falk), BeBe Bettencourt (Ellie Deacon), Claude Scott-Mitchell (Young Gretchen), Sam Corlett (Young Luke), Miranda Tapsell (Rita Raco), Daniel Frederiksen (Dr. Leigh), Eddie Baroo (McMurdo), Renee Lim (Sandra Whitlam), Martin Dingle Wall (Luke Hadler), Francine McAsey (Amanda).
Slow, moody mystery based on Jane Harper’s harrowing novel in which Bana plays a police detective who returns to his drought-stricken hometown to attend a tragic funeral. His return opens a decades-old wound – the unsolved death of a teenage girl. Bana gives a sympathetic performance as the conflicted detective and he is decently supported. Connolly commendably conjures up the local atmosphere and focuses on the characters but does so at the expense of building dramatic tension until the denouement.

Shaft deserves a “boutique” blu-ray release

Having celebrated its 50th-anniversary last year I was disappointed that SHAFT did not get a celebratory collector’s edition Blu-ray release. With so-called “boutique” distributors such as Criterion, Indicator, BFI and Arrow pushing out high-quality releases of both classic and lesser-known titles with superb packaging, a host of extras and commemorative booklets, it is hard to understand why iconic movies like SHAFT have not received such respectful treatment. Licensing of releases would appear to be one reason. In the US, Warner, who hold the distribution rights to SHAFT and its sequels, has focused primarily on vanilla releases for older titles through its Warner Archive arm – and the 1970s Shaft trilogy is no exception. In the UK, the better known Warner Archive releases have been given superior packaging through HMV’s Premium Collection, but for SHAFT this has only gone as far as adding a few art cards and a slip case.

Image 1 - Shaft (hmv Exclusive) - The Premium Collection [15] Blu-ray

Here in the UK, Indicator is the leading distributor of collectable releases. I have bought a number of their titles and even their Standard Edition releases are packed with extras and are beautifully presented. Their Limited Edition titles add a hefty booklet containing essays, interviews and production information, along with a superb collection of stills. These are real collectables for serious movie fans, collectors and students.

For example, one such title, FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE, was packaged in a sturdy box with beautifully reproduced poster artwork. The box contained an 80-page book, which included: cast and crew details; a production overview by Sheldon Hall; a re-production of 1978 and 1979 Photoplay articles including on-set interviews; a 1978 Daily Mail interview with Robert Shaw; a location report culled from a number of sources including material by cinematographer Christopher Challis and uncredited script doctor George MacDonald Fraser; and a selection of contemporary reviews. All this was illustrated with artwork, production stills and a copy of the press release. Five sturdy art cards were included with photographs from the set. Then on the discs themselves (there are two) were the following extras:
– High Definition remasters
– Extended version with original mono audio, and alternative stereo and 5.1 surround options (126 mins)
– Limited edition exclusive presentation of the original theatrical cut, with mono audio (118 mins)
– Audio commentary on the extended version with film historians Steve Mitchell and Steven Jay Rubin (2020)
– This Is a Giant Movie (1978, 21 mins): archival location report by Channel Television featuring interviews with producer Oliver A Unger, and actors Edward Fox and Carl Weathers
– Tour de Force (2020, 24 mins): actor Angus MacInnes recalls his early film role
– From Žabljak with Love (2020, 28 mins): the making of the film as told by construction manager Terry Apsey, stuntman Jim Dowdall, grip Dennis Fraser, chief hairdresser Colin Jamison, and chief make-up artist Peter Robb-King
– A Life Behind the Lens (2020, 33 mins): a tribute to the acclaimed cinematographer Christopher Challis, featuring interviews with fellow directors of photography and camera crew Dennis Fraser, Oswald Morris, John Palmer and Sydney Samuelson, as well as archival footage of Challis
– The BEHP Interview with Ron Goodwin (1999, 89 mins): archival video, made as part of the British Entertainment History Project, featuring the celebrated composer in conversation with Linda Wood
– A Show of Force (2020, 26 mins): a look at the different versions of Force 10 from Navarone
– Super 8 version: cut-down home cinema presentation
– Original trailers, TV and radio spots
– Image gallery: publicity and promotional material

Now, FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE is an enjoyable movie, but it does not have the level of cultural significance of SHAFT. If Indicator or Criterion managed to get licensing rights to SHAFT they would no doubt provide a release that would do justice to the film’s legacy.

Here is a potential schedule of extras I have drawn up for such a release:
– 4k scan and remaster.
– A 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio mix. Not sure if this is possible. The current Warner release is in DTS HD Master Audio 1.0 and SHAFT’s sound is notoriously poor. A clean-up job and remix would be expensive and maybe even impossible.
– Audio commentary with Richard Roundtree and/or suitable film historian.
– Soul in the Cinema: Filming SHAFT On Location (1971, 11 mins). A short behind-the-scenes documentary focusing on the directing of Gordon Parks and the musical score by Isaac Hayes. This was included in the Warner release.
– A Complicated Man: The Shaft Legacy (2019, 45 mins). A look at the Shaft franchise in the 1970s including input from Richard Roundtree and a number of film historians and fans, including new Shaft author David F. Walker. This was included in Warner’s Blu-ray release of Tim Story’s 2019 film SHAFT.
– Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks (2000, 91 mins). An intimate look at the life and career of Gordon Parks a true Renaissance man who has excelled as a photographer, novelist, journalist, poet, musician and filmmaker.
– Gordon Parks – Conversations With Black Filmmakers (1990, 20 mins). Interview with Alex Haley.
– Richard Roundtree speaks at SIU, Carbondale, Illinois (2018, 64 mins).
– Newly commissioned profile of Richard Roundtree (New, 45-60 mins). This would be newly shot material.
– Newly commissioned profile of Shaft author Ernest Tidyman including a history of Shaft in print. (New, 30-45 mins)
– Soul Man: Isaac Hayes (2000, 60 mins). BBC documentary. This Close Up special profiles the singer and actor whose Oscar-winning music for SHAFT captured the social, sexual and racial revolutions that were sweeping America in the early seventies. Candid interviews with Hayes, and contributions from colleagues and friends, paint a portrait of one of soul music’s most enduring icons
– Isaac Hayes performing “Shaft” at the 2002 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (2002, 5 mins)
– Isaac Hayes winning an Oscar® for “Shaft” (1972, 3 mins).
– Deleted Scenes. If these still exist. We know scenes were shot of Marcy Jonas’ kidnapping and a scene at Ellie Moore’s boutique. These are believed to have been included in the original US TV broadcast in the mid-1970s.
– Original trailer, TV and radio spots
– Image gallery.
– PDF material:  Ernest Tidyman original script; John D.F. Black final shooting script; Production material inc shooting schedule, production design drawings, etc.; Movie Pressbook.
– Commemorative Booklet. Essays; Interviews; Article re-production; Production Notes; Cast & Crew detail; Review Extracts.
– Art cards.
– Movie poster.

Hopefully, sometime soon Warner will look to their “boutique” piers and  SHAFT will get the Blu-ray release it truly deserves.

UPDATE 15/1: No sooner had I posted this than I was made aware that there is a planned Criterion Collection release of SHAFT in a new 4k scan sometime this year.  Artist Bill Sienkiewicz confirmed he was working on the art for the release. So wishes do come true!

 

Book Review – SEE THEM DIE (1960) by Ed McBain

SEE THEM DIE (1960) ***
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan, 1987, 160pp
First published in 1960
© Ed McBain, 1960
ISBN: 9780-330-25402-2
Blurb: Kill me if you can – that was Pepe Miranda’s challenge. Murderer, two-bit hero of the street gangs, he was holed up somewhere in the 87th Precinct, making the cops look like fools and cheered on by every neighbourhood punk. It was not a challenge Lieutenant Pete Byrnes and the detectives in the squad room could leave alone. Not in the sticky, July heat of the city with the gangs just waiting to explode into violence . . .
Comment: The thirteenth of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series once more sees McBain trying out a new approach. McBain concentrates less on plot/detection and more on social comment, in this story of a Puerto Rican criminal under siege in his own community from the cops of the 87th Precinct. Alongside this McBain delves into issues of inter-gang warfare and the bravado of youth in the immigrant community alongside and the racial attitudes of the cops (juxtapositioned by the racist slob Andy Parker and the Puerto Rican Frankie Hernandez) and those who live in the community itself. As such the story unfolds in the style of a three-act play. The result is a patchy novel that only comes to life in its nail-biting final act.

 

Film Review – UNDER SUSPICION (1991)

UNDER SUSPICION (1991, UK) ***
Crime, Drama, Thriller
dist. Rank Film Distributors (UK), Columbia Pictures (USA); pr co. Carnival Film & Television / Columbia Pictures / London Weekend Television (LWT) / The Rank Organisation; d. Simon Moore; w. Simon Moore; pr. Brian Eastman; ph. Vernon Layton (Colour. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.35:1); m. Christopher Gunning; ed. Tariq Anwar; pd. Tim Hutchinson; ad. Tony Reading; rel. 27 September 1991 (UK), 28 February 1992 (USA); BBFC cert: 18; r/t. 99m.
cast: Liam Neeson (Tony Aaron), Laura San Giacomo (Angeline), Kenneth Cranham (Frank), Maggie O’Neill (Hazel Aaron), Stephen Moore (Roscoe), Alphonsia Emmanuel (Selina), Alex Norton (Prosecuting Lawyer), Kevin Moore (Barrister), Alan Talbot (Powers), Malcolm Storry (Waterston), Martin Grace (Colin), Richard Graham (Denny), Michael Almaz (Stasio), Nicolette McKenzie (Mrs. Roscoe), Alan Stocks (Paul), Tommy Wright (Hotel Janitor), Lee Whitlock (Ben), Noel Coleman (Judge), Stephen Oxley (Hotel Deskman), Colin Dudley (Hotel Waiter).
In this emulation of ‘40s and ‘50s film noir, Neeson is a private eye who becomes a double-murder suspect when his client’s boyfriend and his own wife are found dead, side by side. The sleaze has been amped up here with increased doses of sex and more graphic violence. The genre conventions are played to the hilt quite nicely in the first two acts, but the story goes off the rails in its final act as implausibility takes over with director/writer Moore keen to top each twist. A race against the clock element is also thrown in for good measure. The result is an entertaining but contrived and flawed mystery/thriller – not least because San Giacamo makes for an unconvincing femme fatale. Neeson, however, is good in the lead role and the period setting (Brighton, 1959 into 1960) is well realised.

Film Review – ADRIFT (2018)

ADRIFT (2018, USA) ***
Drama, Adventure
dist. STX Entertainment; pr co. Huayi Brothers / Ingenious / Lakeshore Entertainment / Pantagruel Productions / RVK Studios / STX Entertainment; d. Baltasar Kormákur; w. Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell, David Branson Smith (“Red Sky in Mourning: The True Story of Love, Loss, and Survival at Sea” by Tami Ashcraft with Susea McGearhart); pr. Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell, Baltasar Kormákur, Shailene Woodley; ph. Robert Richardson (Colour. Digital (Digital Cinema Package DCP). ARRIRAW (3.4K) (source format), Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format). 2.39:1); m. Volker Bertelmann; ed. John Gilbert; pd. Heimir Sverrisson; ad. Andy McLaren; rel. 1 June 2018 (USA), 29 June 2018 (UK); BBFC cert: 12; r/t. 96m.
cast: Shailene Woodley (Tami Oldham), Sam Claflin (Richard Sharp), Jeffrey Thomas (Peter Crompton), Elizabeth Hawthorne (Christine Crompton), Grace Palmer (Deb), Tami Ashcraft (Tami Ashcraft), Siale Tunoka (Customs Agent), Kael Damlamian (Smiley), Lei-Ming Caine (Outrigger Girl), Neil Andrea (Crewman), Apakuki Nalawa (Musician), Tim Solomon (Musician).
Woodley gives an impressive physical performance as Tami Oldham, who with her new boyfriend Richard Sharp (Claflin) sails directly into a hurricane. In the aftermath of the storm, Tami awakens to find Richard severely injured and their boat in ruins. Adrift without hope of rescue, Tami must fight for their survival. Kormákur’s film is based on a true story and combines love story elements of the couple’s meeting and growing relationship, told in flashbacks throughout, with their battles on the open sea. The director struggles to find the right balance and structure with the latter elements working best and the less interesting love story increasingly feeling like an interruption. It is Woodley who keeps us hooked as her character adapts to the harsh environment. Technical attributes are good, with vivid photography by Richardson.

Book Review – THE HECKLER (1960) by Ed McBain

THE HECKLER (1960) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1987, 176pp
First published in 1960 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1960
ISBN: 978-0-140-02393-0
Book CoverBlurb: Spring was intoxicating the city air, but the harassing anonymous telephone calls planting seeds of fear around town were no April Fool’s joke. Crank calls and crackpot threats reported to the 87th Precinct by a respected businessman were not exactly top priority for detectives Carella and Meyer — until a brutal homicide hits the papers. Connections are getting made fast and furious, and there’s a buzz in the air about the Deaf Man, a brilliant criminal mastermind. Now, the 87th Precinct is buying time to reveal the voice on the other end of the line — as the level of danger rises from a whisper to a scream….
Comment: The twelfth of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series introduces us to the squad’s recurring nemesis, the Deaf Man. The plot is a convoluted one of distraction and heist planned out and delivered with the utmost attention to detail by the Deaf Man and his cohorts. The detectives of the 87th, are working on what they believe to be the distinct cases of a heckler threatening shop proprietors and a murder. The Deaf Man’s scheme appears to be foolproof as the police are dispatched across the precinct in the aftermath of a wave of bombings and arson distracting them from the gang’s real plans. The plot unfolds in customary McBain fashion showing our detectives to be both human and vulnerable. The dialogue sparkles as ever and the prose has the familiarity of a storyteller at the top of his game. The resolution relies on irony, happenstance and remains open-ended. Another strong entry in the series.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: EVE OF THE DALEKS (2022)

DOCTOR WHO: EVE OF THE DALEKS (2022, UK) ***
Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
dist. BBC One; pr co. BBC; d. Annetta Laufer; w. Chris Chibnall; pr. Sheena Bucktowonsing; ph. Robin Whenary (Colour. 2.00:1); m. Segun Akinola; pd. Dafydd Shurmer; b/cast. 1 January 2022 (UK); r/t. 58m.
cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Bishop (Dan Lewis), Aisling Bea (Sarah), Adjani Salmon (Nick), Pauline McLynn (Mary), Nicholas Briggs (Daleks (voice)).
The third successive New Year Special in Chris Chibnall’s reign to feature the Daleks and it is fair to say this is the most low-key of them. Sarah (Bea) owns and runs ELF storage, and Nick (Salmon) is a customer who visits his unit every year on New Year’s Eve. This year, however, their night turns out to be a little different than planned with the appearance of an executioner Dalek. Like all stories using time loops as their basis, this one has several lapses in story logic and continuity. There is fun to be had, however, with Bea and Salmon delivering likeable characters and performances. As for the rest, there is little new or original on offer and the Daleks’ dialogue often feels out of character. Once again, the producers try to shoe-horn a companion’s infatuation and physical attraction to the Doctor, and it just feels like it is placed there to tick the diversity box as it adds nothing to the story itself. It will likely play out over Whittaker’s final two stories later this year. The result is a passable hour’s entertainment, but little from this or the FLUX series convinces me Chibnall will pull anything extraordinary out of the fire for his final two stories.

Film Review – ALL IS LOST (2013)

ALL IS LOST (2013, USA) ****
Action, Adventure, Drama
dist. Lionsgate (USA), Universal Pictures International (UPI) (UK); pr co. Lionsgate Films / Roadshow Attractions / Before the Door Pictures / Washington Square Films / Black Bear Pictures; d. J.C. Chandor; w. J.C. Chandor; pr. Neal Dodson, Anna Gerb, Justin Nappi, Teddy Schwarzman; ph. Frank G. DeMarco (DeLuxe. 35mm (anamorphic) (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema. ARRIRAW (2.8K) (source format), Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format). 2.35:1); m. Alex Ebert; ed. Pete Beaudreau; pd. John P. Goldsmith; ad. Marco Niro; rel. 22 May 2013 (France), 29 August 2013 (USA), 12 October 2013 (UK); BBFC cert: 12; r/t. 106m.
cast: Robert Redford (Our Man).
Redford delivers a performance built on endurance in this absorbing drama of a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean. Veteran sailor (Redford) awakens to find his vessel taking on water after a collision with a stray shipping container. With his radio and navigation equipment disabled, he sails unknowingly into a violent storm and barely escapes with his life. With any luck, the ocean currents may carry him into a shipping lane — but, with supplies dwindling and the sharks circling, the sailor is forced to face his own mortality. The story sticks to the nuts and bolts of Redford’s struggle for survival against the odds and the natural elements of the open sea. There is no attempt to fill in the blanks of his character’s back story or the reason why he is sailing alone in the middle of the Indian ocean, but that would likely have distracted from the key theme of the thin line between life and death when we live at the edge. Redford carries the movie with a minimum of dialogue and a maximum of physical performance. The honesty of the star’s performance and Chandor’s authentic shooting of the minimalist script keep the viewer hooked until its admittedly overly stylised finale.

Film Review – THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975)

THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975, UK/USA) ***½
Comedy, Musical
dist. Twentieth Century Fox (USA), Fox-Rank (UK); pr co. Twentieth Century Fox / Michael White Productions; d. Jim Sharman; w. Jim Sharman, Richard O’Brien (based on the musical play by Richard O’Brien); pr. Michael White; ph. Peter Suschitzky (DeLuxe. 35mm. Spherical. 1.66:1); m/l. Richard O’Brien; ed. Graeme Clifford; pd. Brian Thomson; ad. Terry Ackland-Snow; rel. 14 August 1975 (UK), 26 September 1975 (USA); BBFC cert: 15; r/t. 100m.
cast: Tim Curry (Dr. Frank-N-Furter – A Scientist), Susan Sarandon (Janet Weiss – A Heroine), Barry Bostwick (Brad Majors – A Hero), Richard O’Brien (Riff Raff – A Handyman), Patricia Quinn (Magenta – A Domestic), Nell Campbell (Columbia – A Groupie (as Little Nell)), Jonathan Adams (Dr. Everett V. Scott – A Rival Scientist), Peter Hinwood (Rocky Horror – A Creation), Meat Loaf (Eddie – Ex Delivery Boy), Charles Gray (The Criminologist – An Expert), Jeremy Newson (Ralph Hapschatt), Hilary Farr (Betty Munroe), Pierre Bedenes (A Transylvanian), Christopher Biggins (A Transylvanian), Gaye Brown (A Transylvanian), Ishaq Bux (A Transylvanian), Stephen Calcutt (A Transylvanian), Hugh Cecil (A Transylvanian), Imogen Claire (A Transylvanian), Tony Cowan (A Transylvanian).
A colourful adaptation of Richard O’Brien’s cult musical play sees Sarandon and Bostwick as a newly engaged couple who have a breakdown in an isolated area and must seek shelter at the bizarre residence of Dr. Frank-n-Furter (Curry). The production puts a capital C into Camp with Curry giving a powerhouse performance as the transgender doctor. The foot-tapping and witty musical numbers have translated well, and whilst the choreography is a little loose, it adds to the charm. Sarandon and Bostwick make a likeable hero/heroine pair and O’Brien is suitably spooky as Curry’s handyman. Whilst it could never replace the live experience, the film serves as a good document of a truly original work. US release was edited to 98m. Followed by SHOCK TREATMENT (1981).

The Rise and Fall of the Movie Guide in Print

Today, when information is instantly available at the push of a button or the swipe of a finger it is hard to imagine a world of research before the internet made everything so easy. But just thirty to forty years ago to find out stuff you had to go to the library or buy books on whatever subject you wanted to research. That involved time, expense and shoe leather. My passion is for films (or to the Americans…movies). Now, you can look up any film in a matter of seconds and get full cast, crew and technical data as well as expert and public opinion on any movie from a variety of online sources. These include the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), American Film Institute and British Film Institute databases, All Movie Guide, Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and the Movie Review Query Engine. But back in the 1970s, the only way to research information and opinion on films was via physically published encyclopaedias and film/movie guides.

My own interest in films began in my early teens back in the early-mid 1970s and over the years I have collected nearly all the major printed film guides available and still have the latest editions of each in my personal library. My fascination with the guides confirmed the writers and editors had come up with a successful and easy to use format aimed at movie fans such as myself. But what was the catalyst?

Steven H Scheuer’s syndicated TV Key newspaper column from 1 June 1953 courtesy of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

The answer goes back to the late 1950s, when television was beginning to threaten cinema as the entertainment of choice. Households were increasingly being released from austerity post-WWII and the TV served to bring moving pictures into their homes, albeit on a very small screen. Old movies began to find their way into the TV schedules and viewers were having to make their own choices on what to watch. A movie would require one and a half or two hours of attention, so discerning consumers were becoming more selective. Was the movie scheduled worth two hours of their time? The need for an authoritative guide was becoming apparent. Step in Steven H. Scheuer. Scheuer developed his TV Key preview column to help guide viewers and sift out the wheat from the chaff. “In the middle of the night I woke up, and it was absolutely clear to me that the whole approach to TV criticism was backward. It was being covered the same way as books and plays and movies. You were told on Thursday by a newspaper critic that there had been an interesting program on Tuesday. It was live. So, you couldn’t see it if you missed it.” (Clavin 1992)

Steven H Scheuer

The column was distributed by the King Features Syndicate and covered everything from live drama and soap operas and included news programmes. Interest in his column grew to such an extent that he was published in 300 newspapers. The problem was the newspapers’ TV guide sections were limited to just one or two pages and Scheuer to just a column. Daily newspapers were not only short of space, but they also had bigger priorities with home and world events demanding pages of coverage. Old movies had also increasingly started to occupy the schedules. Scheuer decided to expand his column to include previews of the movies being aired.

The natural next step was to produce a book that included short summaries of all movies likely to be broadcast on TV. TV Movie Almanac and Ratings was published by Bantam in November 1958 and had a capsule review coverage of over 5,000 movies available for TV showings across 244 pages. The marketing stated: “This new, handy guide for television movie fans describes, carefully rates and helps you pick all the important movies you will want to see on your TV screens during the year.” The book immediately sold out. A second edition was published in 1961 and a third in 1966, re-titled TV Key Movie Reviews & Ratings. The third edition again immediately sold out and was republished as TV Key Movie Guide and then by its fourth printing in March 1968 as Movies on TV – a title (suffixed with and Videocassette from 1988) it would retain for the remainder of its seventeen-edition run through to 1992.

Whilst Scheuer had a monopoly of the market through the 1960s, rival publisher Signet was looking to produce an alternative. The publisher’s attention had been drawn to an 18-year-old student who was publishing and editing his own magazine, Film Fan Monthly. The student’s name was Leonard Maltin. Signet invited the young Maltin in and asked him how he would improve on Scheuer’s book. Maltin replied he would add more cast names, a director credit, a note of the film’s original run time, and whether it was in black and white. Signet took the risk and signed Maltin up. The result TV Movies was published in 1969. It was a huge endeavour for someone so young, although Maltin did have help with half of the 8,000 reviews the book included. At this stage, Scheuer was updating his own book every two or three years. Maltin would not produce a second edition for another five years. From 1980, both books would be updated every couple of years with Scheuer and Maltin alternating until each settled on an annual update from 1987 as the number of competitor books started to increase.

In the UK, the first accessible guide published was Angela and Elkan Allan’s The Sunday Times Guide to Movies on Television, which was published in 1973. Like Scheuer’s early editions, the book was skimpy on detail and had a lower coverage of around 5,000 films. With Scheuer’s book readily available in the UK as an import the Allans’ book failed to get a regular update. A second edition did not follow until 1980, and by then a major new player had entered the UK market.

Leslie Halliwell was a film buff with an extraordinary encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema. Halliwell had grown up in Bolton in Northern England and was a keen cinemagoer. He was involved in his school’s film society and undertook research to learn more about the industry. Through journalism, he found his way to becoming a researcher and buyer for Granada TV calling on his vast knowledge of the cinema for new purchasing deals. In 1965, Halliwell published his Filmgoer’s Companion, which listed many major stars, directors, producers, writers and technical crew as well as most of the classic films. The book proved immensely popular and would be updated on a regular basis. In 1977, Halliwell published his Halliwell’s Film Guide. The guide was at this point the most comprehensive on the market, the author noting: “When I pick it up, with something of an effort, I can scarcely believe that I typed every word with my two overworked and untrained index fingers. But I did.” (Binder n.d.) The first edition covered 8,000 English-language films, but the guide was quickly expanded via an update every two years to double that count of films (including foreign entries) by 1988. Halliwell passed away in 1989, but his Film Guide would be continued by other editors until its last edition in 2008.

The 1980s and 90s saw the demand for movie reference books grow considerably with the advent of home video. The public could now consume movies new in the cinema when scheduled on TV or by choice from video rental shops. Many guides in this period concentrated on the new home entertainment medium. Those emerging during this period that achieved some longevity included Consumer Guide’s Rating the Movies (from 1982), Roger Ebert’s Movie Home Companion (from 1985), Mick Martin & Marsha Porter’s Video Movie Guide (from 1985), Time Out Film Guide (from 1989), Variety Movie Guide (from 1990), Elliot’s Guide to Films on Video (from 1990), Videohound’s Golden Movie Retriever (from 1990), Virgin Film Guide (from 1991), TLA Film & Video Guide (from 1991) and Blockbuster Entertainment Guide to Movies and Videos (from 1994). In the UK two major new titles emerged in Derek Winnert’s Radio Times Film & Video Guide (from 1993) and David Quinlan’s TV Times Film & Video Guide (also from 1993). The former title would be subject to a high court challenge from the Leslie Halliwell estate for alleged similarities to Halliwell’s own guide. The result was it being pulped following the publication of its second edition. It would be later superseded by the Radio Times Guide to Films from 2000. Arguably, the most important work to emerge during this period was Jay Robert Nash, Stanley Ralph Ross and Robert B. Connelly’s massive ten-volume The Motion Picture Guide. This monumental work was aimed primarily at the library market and was published between 1985 and 1987 with annual volumes following until 1999. The initial ten volumes covered more than 50,000 movies in more detail and with longer reviews than any other guide. Page count was not an issue due to the removal of single-volume restrictions.

With the advent of the internet and, more notably, in 1990 the creation of The Internet Movie Database, the interest in a physical guide to films started to wane. IMDb had taken on the mantle created by The Motion Picture Guide in its aim to be comprehensive. Printed movie guide titles began to drop away. Pioneer Steven H. Scheuer’s Movies on TV and Videocassette was the first major title to cease publication, following its 1993-4 edition published in 1992, seemingly having lost its battle with Leonard Maltin’s alternative. Others followed at a steady rate over the next couple of decades as IMDb and other online movie reference and aggregator sites became more comprehensive and accurate. By 2013 there were only three major print titles remaining: Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, Videohound’s Golden Movie Retriever and the Radio Times Guide to Films. The final 2015 edition of Maltin’s guide was published in 2014 and the Radio Times publication ceased in 2017 with its 2018 edition. That left just one guide, Videohound, surviving in print. However, when the 2022 edition failed to materialise at the end of 2021 the printed movie guide ceased to be.

IMDb - WikipediaWhilst the modern aggregator sites provide a consensus rating for all new movie releases based on the opinions of sometimes hundreds of critics (both professional and amateur), they provide scant coverage for pre-internet era films. At the time of writing, Rotten Tomatoes, for example, will give you a consensus view of 2018’s BLACK PANTHER based on the opinions of 525 critics; MRQE is more selective and will give you a consensus, based on 167 critics; Metacritic narrows it down further to 55 critics. IMDb meanwhile accepts ratings from the public, so rather than a critical consensus you get a public vote. For BLACK PANTHER that currently includes a weighted average rating based on 693,588 voters. The All Movie Guide offers just one uncalculated rating (presumably based on their editorial team’s decision) and a write-up review from a single critic.

ARotten Tomatoes: Movies | TV Shows | Movie Trailers | Reviews - Rotten  Tomatoespply the same search to a pretty well-known film from Hollywood’s golden age, such as 1953’s Robert Mitchum/Jean Simmons vehicle ANGEL FACE and the picture is very different. Rotten Tomatoes has a rating view based on 12 critics but offers no consensus summary; MRQE offers no aggregated rating although it has four critics with a rating submission and links to twenty reviews; Metacritic has no coverage of the film at all; IMDb gives a rating based on votes from 7,564 members of the public; All Movie Guide also covers the film with a rating and review. Delve down into titles with a little more obscurity and the numbers from the aggregator sites diminish further to the point where no coverage is provided or there are just a handful of public votes on IMDb. Only the All Movie Guide retains coverage of older material offering ratings and reviews on most major titles and many minor ones.

For reasons of nostalgia and research, I have retained the latest editions of all my old print guides to ensure I can get broad coverage of opinion on both the old and the new. Whilst the online resources can be constantly updated and evolve, books are a permanent tangible archive. One day we will hopefully see the Movie Guide return to print, offering retrospective and literate reviews and opinions from movie experts that will provide hours of browsing fascination for movie fans.


PRINTED MOVIE GUIDES IN MY COLLECTION
Title (Latest Edition – No of Titles Reviewed)

Videohound’s Golden Movie Retriever (2021 – 29,000)
Radio Times Guide to Films (2018 – 24,600) now online
Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide (silent – 1965) (2015 – 10,000)
Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide (2015 – 16,000)
Time Out Film Guide (2011 – 19,000) now online
Halliwell’s Film Guide (2008 – 24,000)
Empire Film Guide (2007 – 3,000)
DVD & Video Guide (Mick Martin/Marsha Porter) (2007 – 20,000)
TV Guide Film & Video Companion (US)/Virgin Film Guide (UK) (2006 – 3,500) now online
TLA Video & DVD Guide (2005 – 10,000)
Variety Movie Guide (2001 – 8,600) now online
TV Times Film & Video Guide (1999 – 7,000)
Blockbuster Guide to Movies & Videos (1999 – 23,000)
AMC Classic Movie Companion (Robert Moses) (1999 – 5,000)
Essential Monster Movie Guide (Stephen Jones) (1999 – 3,500)
Roger Ebert’s Video Companion/Yearbook (1998 – 1,500)
Creature Features (John Stanley) (1997 – 3,400)
Elliott’s Guide to Home Entertainment (1997 – 10,500)
The Ultimate Movie Thesaurus (Christopher Case) (1996 – 8,000)
Mark Satern’s Illustrated Guide to Video’s Best (1995 – 3,660)
Radio Times Family Video Guide (Barry Norman/Emma Norman) (1995 – 1,500)
Radio Times Film & Video Guide (Derek Winnert) (1994 – 18,000)
The Critics Film Guide (Christopher Tookey) (1994 – 2,000)
Movies on TV and Videocassette (Stephen H Scheuer) (1993 – 20,000)
Consumer Guide – Rating the Movies (Jay A Brown) (1990 – 3,900)
The Good Film & Video Guide (David Shipman) (1986 – 6,500)
The Motion Picture Guide (Jay Robert Nash/Stanley Ralp Ross) (1985 – 50,000)
Best 1,000 Movies on Video (Peter Waymark) (1984 – 1,000)
The Sunday Times Guide to Movies on Television (1980 – 5,000)


Bibliography

Binder, Michael. n.d. LeslieHalliwell.com. Accessed March 2, 2021. http://lesliehalliwell.com/brief_history/index.html#.

Brennan, Patricia. 1987. “Leonard Maltin was a Young Movie Nut.” The Courier-News (from The Washington Post), July 10: B-13.

Clavin, Tom. 1992. “Long Island Q&A;: Steven H. Scheuer – Fast Forward Through 30 Years of TV.” The New York Times, April 19: Section 12LI page 2.

Ebert, Roger. 2014. RogerEbert.com. September 15. Accessed February 26, 2021. https://www.rogerebert.com/interviews/leonard-maltins-final-guide-marks-the-end-of-an-era.

Erstein, Hap. 1997. “The Man of a Thousand Reviews.” The Palm Beach Post, September 22: 1D.

Leopold, Todd. 2014. CNN.com. September 3. Accessed March 4, 2021. https://edition.cnn.com/2014/09/02/showbiz/movies/leonard-maltin-movie-guide-ending/index.html.

Meyer, Gary. 2015. EatDrinkFilms.com. September 25. Accessed February 26, 2021. https://eatdrinkfilms.com/2015/09/25/maltin-and-the-movies-an-interview-with-leonard-maltin/.