Archive for the ‘DVD and Blu-Ray’ Category

The Queen of Spades (1949) Restoration

Dir: Thorold Dickinson | Cast: Anton Walbrook, Edith Evans, Yvonne Mitchell, Ronald Howard, Michael Medwin, Valentine Dyall | UK Drama, 95′

Yet another jewel in an output by Dickinson, short on quantity but long on quality, which showed his time at The Film Society in the 1920s had been well spent.

It takes place in Imperial Russia 1806 where St Petersburg is in the grip of gambling fever. No card strikes more fear in to the hearts of the soldiers than the evil Queen of Spades. Captain Herman Suvorin (Anton Walbrook) is a lowly German engineer: an outsider obsessed with making his fortune whose peculiar manner isolates him from the revelries of the other bawdy soldiers. He is intrigued, though, by soldiers’ gossip that tells of the legend of an ancient Countess (Dame Edith Evans), who supposedly sold her soul to the devil years before in exchange for the secret of success at the card game de jour: Faro. When he stumbles across a strange and rare book that seems to confirm the story, Suvorin sets about a dastardly plan in order to extract the old lady’s secret for himself. Worming his way into the household by paying false court to the Countess’ lonely ward Lizaveta (Yvonne Mitchell), Suvorin discovers a secret door to the palace that leads directly into the Countess’ chambers. On the night of a ball that the Countess and Lizaveta attend, he enters the palace and waits in the shadows for the Countess, determined to learn her secret before another bitter winter’s day breaks.

Immaculately assembled and incisively acted by a large cast of familiar faces it both looks good, thanks to the gothic photography by Otto Heller, and sounds good, thanks to Georges Auric’s rich score and eerie use of sound (notably the rustle of the Countess’s cape). Yet as coldly elegant as Anton Walbrook was in the lead, The Queen of Spades was a troubled production. Thorold Dickinson – at just three days notice – took over direction from screenwriter Rodney Ackland whose footage remains in the film (notably the flashback sequence with Pauline Tennant as the young countess) and plagued with money problems; not that you’d know from the film that emerged. RichardChatten

THE QUEEN OF SPADES | RESTORATION COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL  | IN CINEMAS from 23 DECEMBER | ON BLU-RAY, DVD & DIGITAL FROM JANUARY 23

The Home entertainment release comes complete with bonus features including an Introduction by Martin Scorsese, a new interview with film critic Anna Bogutskaya as well as a rare filmed interview with Thorold Dickinson discussing the film in detail. THE QUEEN OF SPADES is the newest addition to the ever-expanding Vintage Classics collection.

 

The Sleeping Tiger (1954) Blu-ray

Dir: Victory Handbury | Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Alexis Lewis, Alexander Knox, Hugh Griffiths, Maxine Audrey | UK, Noir thriller, 89′

Stylish and unmistakably Losey with its sinister vibe, striking camerawork by Harry Waxman and schmoozy avantgarde score by Northampton-born Malcolm Arnold. Of course Losey was directing under a pseudonym of Victor Hanbury having fallen foul of the US authorities.

In his first collaboration with the director, Dirk Bogarde and Alexis Smith make for a subversive couple in the jagged 1950s London-set psychological noir thriller. She is the bored housewife married to Alexander Knox’s kindly cardiganed psychiatrist, when Bogarde comes along – a suave thug in faintly ridiculous jodhpurs — and is caught red-handed during a smash and grab. Knox offers Dirk therapy rather than exacting damages, and becomes a father figure to the troubled tousled-haired drifter. A dazzling dance floor number with Alexis and Bogarde really sizzles but she ends up scorned and forced to admit “I wish I was a man”. And it all predictably ends in tears but not without a fight. Losey at his best. MT

NEWLY RESTORED and NOW ON BLURAY, DVD and DIGITAL from 7 November 2022

Never Let Go (1960)

Dir: John Guillermin | Cast: Richard Todd, Peter Sellers, Elizabeth Sellars, Adam Faith, Carol White, Mervyn Johns | UK Drama 90’

This meaner, uglier British version of Bicycle Thieves was a key film both in Peter Sellers’ development as an actor and as a human being, it being his first attempt at a heavy and also because he took the role home with him each night, which placed a terrible strain on his marriage for reasons only too obvious if you watch it.

Modern audiences probably don’t even know what a Ford Anglia was, but the moment when Sellars’ boot comes crashing down on a terrapin it still elicits gasps from people who’ve unflinchingly sat through Peckinpah.

Henchman David Lodge seems suspiciously loyal to Sellers’ character (always addressing him as ‘Lionel’). Kubrick at the time was a huge fan of Sellars so he almost certainly saw this film; is it merely coincidence that both this and ‘Dr Strangelove’ employ ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’ on the soundtrack? @RichardChatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

 

Desert Legion (1953)

Dir: Joseph Pevney | Cast: Alan Ladd, Richard Conte, Arlene Dahl, Akim Tamiroff | US Action drama | 86;

Hollywood must have absolutely throbbed with fascinating stories in its heyday, and a glance at the credits of even a Universal-International potboiler like this (actually directed with some flair by Joseph Pevney, who later worked on Star Trek) reveals it certainly lived up to both the ‘Universal’ and the ‘International’ parts of its banner in those days.

At a superficial glance this appears just another yarn about the foreign legion, based on a 1927 novel by Georges Arthur Surdez and adapted for the screen by Irving Wallace and Lewis Meltzer; but on closer inspection it turns out to have elements of Lost Horizon thrown into the mix, with ravishing redhead Arlene Dahl photographed in Technicolor in a succession of glitzy, diaphanous outfits by Bill Thomas by veteran cameraman John Seitz (whose CV included The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Sunset Boulevard).

At fourth and fifth place in the cast list we find Akim Tamiroff without his rug but sporting enormous side-whiskers, who a dozen years later would turn up in Alphaville; and as Dahl’s father 77 year-old Oscar Beregi, twenty years after playing the role of asylum director Dr Baum in The Testament of Dr Mabuse! @RichardChatten

 

Girls About Town (1931)

Dir: George Cukor | US Comedy

More glamorous escapism from the lowest point of the depression, in which the wavishing Kay Fwancis and the amazonian Lilyan Tashman sashay about pursued by Ernest Haller’s sinuous camera-work in nightclubs and on yachts dressed (and undressed) to the nines, or in the palatial bachelor girl pad where they apparently have a foolproof way of denying the sugar daddies they bring back their sugar.

Gifted silent comic Raymond Griffith shares the screenplay credit, and his hand can be discerned in funny business like the hilarious scene on the yacht with the golf balls and the ‘auction’ of Francis’s glad rags at the end (in which a slinkily attired Adrienne Ames and a blonde Claire Dodd are particularly eye-catching among the bidders).

Beneath this hard-boiled coating director George Cukor naturally whips up a soft centre in which Kay falls for handsome hunk Joel McCrea, and Tashman shows herself a tart with a heart by putting her expertise as a gold digger at the disposal of Michigan Copper King Eugene Palette’s neglected wife Lucille Gleason (“He’d never even gave me an engagement ring. I don’t believe he’d have given me a wedding ring, only his mother left him hers when she passed on.”) A touching little gesture probably engineered on the set is that the baby girl introduced to the plot near the end continues holding on to Kay’s pearls after she’s put her down. @Richard Chatten

ON AMAZON DVD

There are No Saints (2021)

Dir.: Alonso Pineda Ulloa | Wri: Paul Schrader |  Cast: Jose Maria Yazpik, Shannyn Sossamon, Paz Vega, Keidrich Sellati, Neal McDnough, Ron Pearlman, Tim Roth; USA/Mexico 2022, 104 min.

There Are No Saints has that same sober nihilism that has ruled Paul Schrader’s last few films, such as First Reformed but is directed here by Alonso Pineda Ulloa, best known for his TV fare. Nihilism is the right choice for this hard-hitting genre feature, a revenge blood bath with an all star cast of Brian Cox, Tim Roth and Paz Vega.

Schrader (who also the exec produced) is the archangel who has fallen from grace in mainstream Hollywood; but he still packs a heavy punch. Arthouse it may not be, but few can come up with a tour-de-force like this.

Sadistic hit-man Neto Niente ‘The Jesuit’ (Yazpik) escapes death row after taking the rap for a ghastly crime he did not commit. But when his wife Nadia (Paz) and son Julio (Sellati), are murdered, he finds himself implicated in their deaths. There are no Saints is a visually stylish thriller in the same mould as Brian De Palma’s Carlito’s Way. Niente is constantly on the move amid escalating violence in a world run by criminals who are all successful businessmen of one sort of the other. Schrader’s is as powerful as his writing skills: in many ways, There are No Saints is Seventies nostalgia in a modern world where ‘everything but violence is fake’. Not for the faint hearted, but Jim Thompson would have loved it. AS

VOD FROM 27 MAY 2022

Twisted Nerve (1968)

Dir: Roy Boulting | Cast: Hayley Mills, Hywel Bennett, Billie Whitelaw, Phyllis Calvert | UK Thriller 118′

When the writer of Peeping Tom got together with the Boulting Brothers the result was predictably a film with something to offend everyone, even without the questionable subject matter and insensitive language (even the pathologist is addressed as ‘Taffy’).

Thanks to Tarantino the music by Bernard Herrmann is a familiar ringtone to people who’ve never heard of this film let alone seen it, while slivers of the cynical wit of the writer and producers can be seen both in the casting and frequently amusing dialogue and details like Hywell Bennett’s eclectic reading, ranging as does from The Beano to Krafft-Ebbing. @RichardChatten

NOW ON AMAZON | TALKING PICTURES

Man Hunt (1941)

Dir: Fritz Lang | Cast: Walter Pigeon, Joan Bennett, George Sanders, John Carradine, Roddy McDowell | By 1941 the unnamed quarry in Geoffrey Household’s 1939 could finally be explicitly identified as Hitler, but since America still hadn’t yet entered the war this was still a bold film to make.

Treated by director Fritz Lang as a bit of a lark Man Hunt sees British big game hunter Thorndike (Pigeon) chancing upon Adolph Hitler’s retreat while vacationing in Bavaria, and taking aim at the dictator with a high- powered rifle. It succeeds beautifully simply as entertainment; set in a fog-shrowded London of pearly kings and wing collars with a creepy pair of villains played by George Sanders and John Carradine (the former in a monocle, the latter – described by young Roddy McDowall as a “walking corpse” – in a wing collar), and a newly brunette Joan Bennett as a tart with a heart with a cockney accent that would have made Dick Van Dyke blush in the first of a quartet of roles for the director. @RichardChatten

NOW ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY

The Men (1950) Blu-ray release

Dir: Fred Zinnerman | Cast: Marlon Brando, Teresa Wright, Everett Sloane, Jack Webb | US Action drama 85′

Even in his first film Marlon Brando dominates the screen with his feral physicality, a sullen, tempestuous and charismatic presence that burns through this black and white anti-war action drama. Made on a low budget but none the worse for it, The Men opens with the worthy message that for paraplegic veterans battle is a two way process: the first fought with the sword, the second with determination in the face of frustration.

After being injured in active service, Ken Wilocek (Brando) finds himself bedridden in hospital, his spinal cord shattered. Under the care of the dour Dr Brock (Sloane) the ward is full of strapping young men struck down in their prime, yet Brock pussy-foots around the subject of impotence, clearly uppermost in their minds as they reintegrate into female society. To their wives and girlfriends Brock is unhelpful, making it clear that he is ‘not the marrying kind’.

Wilocek’s prissy fiancee (Wright) professes undying love, but Wilocek gives her short shrift, refusing pity and avoiding sentimentality. To Dimitri Tiomkin’s jaunty score, he then embarks on a fierce regime of rehabilitation along with his chipper ward fellows, amongst them Jack Webb and Arthur Jurado are notable. No mention is made of the world outside, nor is any political context given. This is Marlon’s film and his brooding luminosity shines out, a star if ever there was one. MT

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF THE Bfi | 16 May 2022

On Dangerous Ground (1951)

Dir: Nicholas Ray | Cast: Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan | US Thriller 82′

Robert Ryan commences in full psycho mode in this further step up in the ascending career of Nicholas Ray. Filmed under the title Mad with Much Heart, it begins as a very noir noir before relocating to Colorado to become a snowswept rural drama, the two halves held together by George Diskant’s photography and by a superlative score by Bernard Herrmann (his personal favourite) which anticipates his later work for North by Northwest.

The presence in the early scenes on the mean streets of Charles Kemper, already dead eighteen months when it finally hit screens in February 1952, shows that like many other RKO productions of the time it spent months on the shelf at RKO while the studio’s new owner Howard Hughes dithered over when finally to release it. @RichardChatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

I Am a Camera (1955)

Dir: Henry Cornelius | Cast: Julie Harris, Laurence Harvey, Shelley Winters, Ron Randell | drama, 108’

I Am A Camera is based on Christopher Isherwood’s 1939 novel Goodbye to Berlin and John Van Druten’s 1951 Broadway play adaptation but somehow never escapes the confines of the stage in this chamber piece evoking Weimar Berlin in the early 1930s. South African director Henry Cornelius travelled to Europe where he made five memorable features and this fourth one has Julie Harris as one of Broadway’s greatest nightclub chanteuses Sally Bowles who finds herself sharing a tiny room with Laurence Harvey’s Isherwood. John Collier’s waspish script certainly nails down the animated exchanges between the flatmates but is less successful in capturing the social and political zeitgeist of pre-war Berlin than the novel which although more authentic than the Oscar winning musical Cabaret (1972) will always eclipse it entertainment wise.

Bowles is a simpering, irrepressible diva down on her luck recalled by Isherwood (in voiceover) in the film’s Bloomsbury-set opening sequence at his book launch, with the action flashes back to a wintery 1931 Berlin where she charms the earnest and unsuspecting intellectual into a doomed arrangement, playing on his better nature and ultimately leaving him exasperated when his half-hearted attempt at seducing her goes pear-shaped: “A puritan all of a sudden, or just where I’m concerned”.

The film is most entertaining when Bowles drags the penniless Isherwood into a cocktail bar where they meet moneyed American Clive (Randell) and Patrick McGoohan’s hydro-therapist, although Shelley Winters and Anton Diffring are less convincing as the Jewish lovers Fritz and Natalia who are haunted by the growing threat of Nazism.

Obviously there are no allusions to Isherwood’s sexuality it being the 1950s, this is played as a purely platonic relationship where Isherwood (and the audience) is gradually more and more irritated by Bowles’s flirty behaviour. MT

OUT ON 23 MAY 2022 | Bluray, DVD and Digital

 

 

Outside the Law ( 1920)

Dir: Tod Browning | Cast: Priscilla Dean, Wheeler Oakman, Lon Chaney, Ralph Lewis | US Horror 75′

While under contract at Universal Studies Tod Browning crafted a series of melodramas featuring powerful female protagonists who stood defiantly against the men who tried to control them on the wrong side of the law. Here the leading lady is Priscilla Dean.

Although recalled today as an early Chaney collaboration with Browning – Chaney playing both a gangster and a Chinaman! – both Chaneys are actually offscreen for much of the film’s tedious mid-section where lady Priscilla Dean and boyfriend Wheeler Oakman agonise over whether or not to go straight while holed up in their Knob (sic) Hill hideout. 

Fortunately “Black Mike” Chaney finally tracks them down and actually calls Oakman “you dirty rat”! (did the line make it into Browning’s own remake ten years later in which Chaney’s role was played by Edward G. Robinson?) before a remarkably violent climax in which ferocious punches are thrown that draw blood, the aggro heightened by incredibly fast cutting that surpasses Griffith. @RichardChatten. 

NOW ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

Eric Ravilious: Drawn to War (2022)

Dir: Margy Kinmonth | UK Doc, 87′

“I find it hard to say what it is to be English, but Ravilious is part of it” says writer Alan Bennett in a new film on the artist.

Eric Ravilious by the British architect Serge Chermayeff @copyright Foxtrot Films

 

Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) was one of Britain’s most iconic creative forces defining the English landscape in the British pastoral tradition with his unique engravings and prints. What other wartime painter has captured Englishness with such gentle passion. And although his short life was touched by joy and tragedy his paintings, engravings and lithographs are accessible and so easy to like. His softly nostalgic subject: the countryside during wartime, the soft rolling hills of the South Downs; the chalky fields of the Chilterns and white cliffs of Dover. But his work would soon document the war effort with fishing boats, barage balloons and a painting entitled ‘Rendering mines safe: “He’s so loved and appreciated but somehow remains a shared secret”. says Alan Bennett, one of the talking heads in this new film by the Bafta-winning director Margy Kinmonth, along with Grayson Perry and Eric’s daughter Anne Ullmann and granddaughter  Profoundly serene yet profoundly disturbing, the documentary also serves as a visual record of war.

Born in 1903 into a family that fell on hard times after the Great War Ravilious won a scholarship to the RCA where he met his mentor the artist Paul Nash. He developed his own precise but elegiac style while sharing a house in Great Bardfield in Essex with the fellow artist Eric Bawden, who he met at Morley College. Inspiration came from the nature surrounding them and was chosen for its documentary quality, the two brought watercolours back into fashion as both Eric and Bawden detested oils (too much like toothpaste).

HMS Glorious in the Arctic @copyright Foxtrot Films

 

A satirical first project in 1930 offered the opportunity of meeting his wife, fellow artist Tirza Garwood and the two started painting a mural of a seascape with parachutes raining down from the sky, an undertaking that financed the first four years of their marriage. Times were hard but Tirza made an income from marbling paper for walls while Eric combined teaching in London with his design work. Anne Ullmann explains how his boyish good looks, wit and infectious sense of fun soon led to several affairs during which time his paintings became freer and more colourful. But Tirza’s first child John arrived with a marital reconciliation and she would keep the home fires burning alone with the children for most of their married life, although Eric wrote often and affectionately, and some of his letters are interweaved into the linear narrative along with ample illustrations and personal photographs from the family collection.

What drew Ravilious to work for the War Office was the chance of excitement but also the responsibility. It gave him a salary which was welcome after struggling financially for so long. War also gave him tremendous scope to broaden his horizons, painting things he would have never dreamt of had it not been for the conflict, although much of his work was destroyed when Morley College was bombed.

Submarine Dream @copyright Foxtrot Films

 

In April 1940 Ravilious was stationed in Norway on HMS Glorious which was later to be destroyed. Ready to fight as a soldier he was also trying to paint British battleships and Germans U-boats in the deep fjords and raging seas. From then on he travelled far and wide documenting wartime in Scotland and Iceland where he found himself painting warplanes that helped to inform today’s pilots. In Newhaven his drawings were censored on the grounds of them being ‘too informative for the enemy’.

HMS Arc Royal in action @copyright Foxtrot Films

 

Two years later in 1942 Tirza’s ill health brought Eric back down to earth and he was posted at RAF Sawbridgeworth (now defunct) in Hertfordshire, where he produced a series of watercolours providing a flavour of everyday life, from the types of aircraft to the activities that took place in the interior of the airfield’s ‘mobile operations room’. He wrote to Tirza: “the weather gets finer all the time but I feel bored of pictures of planes on the ground and want to go flying”.

Eric’s affection for the watercolours of Francis Towner took him next to RAF Kaldadarnes in Iceland where he would capture ice and snow and crater scenery. In August 30th 1942 Eric went missing, aged 39, in his plane on a royal marine Air Sea Rescue patrol. These imaginative scenes are hazily recreated showing him floating down through the heavens to a watery grave surrounded by leaves from his sketch book. “From the artistic side his loss is deplorable and he will be quite impossible to replace”. Tirzah would die nine years later of cancer leaving their children orphaned.

Eric Ravilious was the first Britist artist to die on active service in the Second World War. His paintings were forgotten for 40 years until they were discovered under Edward Bawden’s bed, by Eric’s children James, John and Anne. Now how romantic is that? MT

ERIC RAVILIOUS: DRAWN TO WAR | in cinemas 1st July 2022

Swamp Woman (1956)

Dir: Roger Corman | Cast: Marie Windsor, Carole Mathews, Beverly Garland, Mike Connors | US Crime Drama, 84’

Financed by the owners of a chain of New Orleans drive-ins and ravishingly shot in glorious Pathecolor by Fred West, this early Roger Corman exploitation quickie cries out for the same cult status now enjoyed by ‘Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!’. (So far it has already been singled out for attention of sorts by being included in the book ‘The Fifty Worst Movies of All Time’; a mixed blessing since that book also includes Last Year at Marienbad and Ivan the Terrible. And most really bad films are dull, which this certainly isn’t.)

Shot in ten days on location in New Orleans and Louisiana with a jazz score by Willis Holman and a dream cast of typically tough Corman females doing their own stunts in spotless colour-coordinated blouses and tight fifties jeans which they soon cut down with unlikely professionalism into very short shorts (which would have provided far less protection against the mosquitoes) of which two of them naturally later divest themselves completely for a quick skinny dip.

Led by Marie Windsor and with Beverley Garland as psycho redhead Vera, vengeful harpy Susan Cummings (later in Sam Fuller’s Verboten!) and of course undercover policewoman Carole Matthews. Interestingly, masquerading as the prison from which they escape is the same stock shot of Stateville Penitentiary, near Joliet in Illionois that stood in for Gotham State Penitentiary in Batman. With them gone fellow inmate Selina Kyle was probably able finally to crown herself Queen Bee of the women’s section.

They unwisely allow captive ‘Touch’ Connors (his girlfriend soon devoured by alligators) – as he then was – to live. And if these desperado dames had concentrated more on making good their escape with the half a million dollars’ worth of stolen diamonds their boyfriends (who’d already gone to the electric chair) secreted in the swamp than in squabbling over him and fighting among themselves a sequel would have been on the cards. And most welcome! @RichardChatten

Every Night Dreams (1933)

Dir: Mikio Naruse | Cast: Sumiko Kurishima, Teruko Kojima, Jun Arai | Drama, Japan, 64’

A typically handsome and vigorous example of this director’s early work with a star performance by Sumiko Kurishima as a youthful example of Naruse’s careworn, impecunious heroines working hard to to keep her head afloat and raise a child against the tide of the rat race waiting for her long-lost husband to come home.

Nearly ninety years later it still looks as fresh as a daisy and – sadly – just as pertinent too in the 21st Century in it’s depiction of life at the bottom of the heap. Although set in Tokyo during the depression of the thirties, it could be taking place at any time or any place. Including here and now. @RichardChatten

Hostile Witness (1969)

Dir: Ray Milland | Cast: Ray Milland, Sylvia Sims, Felix Aylmer, Raymond Huntley | US Drama 101′

Ray Milland’s final film as a director was also one of the last in which he wore a toupee. But for the glossy colour it rather resembles a thirties quota quickie (complete with the presence of Felix Aylmer) or early sixties Edgar Wallace complete with opening and ending shots of the statue atop the Old Bailey, albeit at twice the length and with far more histrionics; but it provides the same undemanding entertainment and has a sublime final last line.

Milland stars as hot shot barrister Simon Crawford who finds himself on the wrong side of the law when his daughter is killed in a ‘hit and run’. When his neighbour is also killed, evidence points to his being involved in the murder.

The radiant Sylvia Syms represents the sixties, veteran silent star Percy Marmont the twenties; while fifties regulars Ballard Berkeley and John Horsley are also present, although by now no longer wearing trenchcoats.@RichardChatten

 

Midnight (2021)

Wri/Dir: Kwon Oh-Seung | South Korea, Thriller 103′

An impressive first film for South Korea’s Kwon Oh-Seung highlighting his country’s negative attitudes towards women and the less able in a really tense cat and mouse thriller.

Kyung Mi (Jin Ki-joo), a deaf woman, is attacked in a crowded street when she goes to the assistance of another young woman, onlookers siding with the assailant (serial killer) Do Shik (Wi Ha-Joon) and viewing her cries for help as female histrionics – or even a tantrum.

The implication here is that these two women really shouldn’t really be out and about after dark. But putting misogyny aside for the moment, the film inadvertently sheds a grim light on the male characters: a control freak brother and an outright killer.

Kyung Mi and her mother may be aurally challenged but they certainly make up for it with their courage and resourcefulness refusing to be put down despite their impairments, without coming over as self-pitying. The director makes clever uses of a soundscape that imagines the world from the POV of the hard of hearing and that is its selling point, despite the rather trite finale. MT

Midnight is released on 14 March on digital platforms courtesy of EUREKA

Days of Bagnold Summer (2019)

Dir: Simon Bird | Cast: Monica Dolan, Earl Cave, Elliot Speller-Gillot, Tamsin Greig | UK Drama 86′

The Inbetweeners star Simon Bird goes behind the camera for his screen director debut that sees teenager Daniel (Cave) spending his summer listening to heavy metal music and trying to get on with his librarian divorcee mother (Dolan).

Days of Bagnold Summer is a self-consciously quirky slice of twenty-first century life reminiscent of a less bilious early Mike Leigh comedy-drama. Originally based on a graphic novel, hence the incongruously bright colours that surround the mother and son stuck with each other in their otherwise grey little life together. @RichardChatten

OUT ON LIMITED EDITION SIGNED BLU-RAY at Anti-Words | BLU-RAY and DVD on 25 April 2022.

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Dir: Terence Fisher | Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court | UK Horror 82′

Terence Fisher’s first major gothic horror outing sees Baron Victor Frankenstein telling the story of a creature he built and brought to life – only for it to behave not as he intended.

Much of the gruesomeness is described rather than seen (as in the line “Eyes is generally the first to go”), while Cushing in his debut as Frankenstein played him as an impetuous young rake nonchalantly wiping blood off on his lapels after removing a head and seen asking “Pass the marmalade…” immediately following a particularly gruesome scene. The words in this film “I don’t think we should continue with this Victor” were ironic in light of what was to come over the next few years.

In addition to putting colour within reach of auteurs like Resnais and Chabrol, the development of Eastmancolour (sic) also transformed the horror genre, with results in The Curse of Frankenstein that were described by the late Richard Mallett as “strangely picturesque”; Frankenstein’s laboratory being as liberally sprinkled with brightly coloured props as the screen was splattered with blood. @RichardChatten

ON AMAZON

The Great Wall (2016)

Dir: Zhang Zimou | Cast: Matt damon, Tian Jing, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau | 103’ Action Drama

I actually find the idea that the Great Wall of China was built to keep out alien invaders rather fun; and if you can buy that, the story that follows isn’t too hard to take. The basic narrative of ‘The Great Wall’ has seen service before in classics like ‘Zulu’ and ‘Assault on Precinct 13’, while the monsters (collectively called the Tao Tei) are the usual slavering CGI nightmares with rows of ferocious teeth; the later emphasis on the strategic role of their queen recalling ‘Starship Troopers’.

English director Clio Bernard had a hand in the script set in the 11th Century where the action is fast, furious and very noisy; with predictable pauses for the occasional bit of hushed Eastern-style philosophising. Ironically it’s when the action transfers from the Great Wall itself to the capital that it becomes much more interesting to look at, the capital providing a far better backdrop for veteran director Zhang Yimou to display the bold use of colour for which he is renowned (most notably in a climactic scene set in a tower inevitably lined with stained glass windows).

The return to the capital by balloon of Commander Lin Mae of the Crane Troop (Jing Tian) with her female comrades-in-arms is another visual highlight, and throughout the film it’s good to see women serving on the front line (in blue, for a change, with matching capes), albeit usually in the background; and Lin Mae’s armour as Commander doesn’t seem to have been designed to immediately distinguish her from her subordinates. @RichardChatten

 

England, My England (1995)

Dir.: Tony Palmer; Cast: Simon Callow, Michael Ball, Rebecca Front, Lucy Speed, Nina Young, Robert Stephens, Corin Redgrave, Guy Henry; UK 1995, 158 min.

Director Tony Palmer, excelling in portraits of composers like Shostakovich (Testimony), turns his talents to England’s foremost Baroque composer Henry ‘Harry’ Purcell (1659-1695) with a script by  This is no mean feat as Purcell was a reclusive character – and little is known of his origins. But he was a prolific composer, and conductor Sir John Eliot Gardener certainly does his music despite his verging on the pedantic.

The narrative works on two levels touching on Purcell’s involvement with Charles II (Callow) and Mary II (Front) of Purcell (Ball) and the subsequent monarchs James II (Henry) and William III (Redgrave), Callow doubles up with girlfriend Barbara (Speed who also acts the part of Neil Gwyn) in London anno 1960, to produce and direct G.B. Shaw’s “Good King Charles’s Golden Days” at the Royal Court Theatre. John Osborne, who died before the film premiered, turns his venom on the “Little Englanders” – bankers and merchants – in the more contemporary sequences. One of the settings is the same dressing room Osborne when he was a ‘mere’ actor, before “Look back in Anger” fame.

In England of the mind 1660s, freedom of speech was also an explosive topic, as it would continue to be three hundred years later. The first poet Laureate John Dryden (Stephens) has a word or two to say about while the bubonic plague ravished London, before the great fire destroyed most of the city. The later scenes were actually shot in Bulgaria, as part of the first Anglo-Bulgarian co-production.

Purcell’s life, as far as we know of it, was full of tragedy: his wife Frances (Young) was a prolific breeder before she succumbed to small pox, Henry went to an early grave with tuberculosis – other reports suggesting something more sinister.

But the music dominates, and Dido’s lament from ‘When I am laid in earth’ from Purcell’s opera “Dido and Aeneas” is deeply affecting.

Had Tony Palmer, now eighty years old and with 65 directional credits between him, been born in France, he would be famous and probably quite wealthy. His knowledge of history, music and the arts is encyclopaedic. Most of his features (he assisted Ken Russell in the latters early music portraits like Elgar for BBC2), have a striking visual tone, in this case provided by DoP Nic Knowland, who contra-points the 1660 with the decades of the mid-19th century in stunning fashion. The script has so many ideas, comparing and contrasting historical themes, forming a rounded treatise on culture and politics, like many of Palmer’s works about England and the English. Alas, as the saying goes, the prophet in his own land…AS

AVAILABLE ON DVD

The Danish Collector: From Delacroix to Gauguin (2021)

Dir: David Bickerstaff | UK ART Doc

A private collection of modern art including works from Delacroix, Monet and Gauguin forms the subject of this latest documentary from David Bickerstaff, best known for bringing international art exhibitions to the big screen.

The Danish Collector: From Delacroix to Gauguin shows how a self made man and his savvy wife saved a treasure trove of priceless paintings from the ravages of war in Europe by transferring them to neutral Denmark.

Wilhelm Peter Henning Hansen (1868-1934) rose from modest beginnings to amass a fortune from the insurance business. At the age of 25 he bought his first painting, Monet’s ‘Waterloo Bridge’ (1903) exploring changing light and fog in the haze of industrial development, and by 1912 Hansen’s French realist and impressionist collection was well under way as he set out to acquire twelve works from each of his chosen artists mapping the development of Impressionism from its origins and early influences of Ingres and Delacroix. These included paintings by Sisley, Pisarro, Monet, Corot, Corbet and Renoir and works by female Impressionist painters Berthe Morisot and Eva Gonzales.

When war broke out in 1914 he capitalised on the conflict by sending the paintings to his wife Henny in Denmark where they were housed in a specially designed country house in Ordrupsgaard (near Copenhagen). He later joined a consortium of middle-class Danish collectors whose aim was to bring outstanding French art to Scandinavia during in a wave of Civic pride.

Accompanied by an occasional score of strings and more romantic vibes, Bickerstaff’s agile camera lingers over the detail – particularly lovely is Manet’s 1882 ‘Basket of Pears’ – as well as giving a broad-brush approach to the works in their various settings, interweaving informative on-screen interviews from relevant curators.

Eschewing a straightforward narrative the style here is to gather together the various specialists and then give them free rein to talk about their own research and insights. This gives the doc a random, freewheeling yet highly informative quality as the curators go off on their different tangents.

After an intro from London’s Royal Academy chief Axel Ruger we swing into the gallery where Bickerstaff takes us on a fleeting tour of the exhibition, double hanging reflecting the way Hansen hung the pictures in his own home, whetting our appetite for what is to follow.

Anna Ferrari takes over telling us how Henny Hansen realised that the works acquired by her husband were becoming increasingly becoming valuable amongst collectors, and shipping them back to Denmark. The couple were particularly keen on Monet’s ‘garden’ period and Sisley’s landscapes paintings that mapped a journey down the Seine, with smoking chimneys charting the burgeoning industrial era, his ‘September Morning’ (1887) shows leaves tussling in the fresh breeze, with the sky dominating. The film travels from London to Paris, the cradle of the Belle Époque, with its experimental artist scene, and then on to Denmark where Ordupsgaard’s curator Anne Brigitte Fonsmark enlightens with a tour of the house and its specially designed Danish furniture complimented by flower arrangements gathered from the lavish gardens, and the recently added extension by the later Zaha Hadid.

Art historian Professor Frances Fowle makes the most impact with her amusing stories about the illustrious women Impressionist collectors namely the Welsh sisters Gwendoline and Margaret Davies who built up the country’s largest and most important series of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works in the 1920s and bequeathed it to the National Museum of Wales, and Kentucky philanthropist Berthe Palmer (and her husband Potter) whose collection now forms the core of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Impressionist collection. MT

NOW ON DVD

Zenobia (1939)

Dir: Gordon Douglas | US Drama 99’

This unusual title – aka Elephants Never Forget – is familiar to most cinephiles as Oliver Hardy’s one starring vehicle of the sound era without Stan Laurel; and aided by an excellent supporting cast he carries the film extremely well. Playing the beloved local doctor of the fictitious town of Carterville, Mississippi in 1870, the Southern setting well suits him, and provides him with a context in which to exhibit the same Southern courtliness without being the pompous buffoon he usually was when teamed with Stan Laurel. He gives a performance of grace and charm, even dancing a few steps with spouse Billie Burke, and shows a concern for the underdog that extends to the little black kid played by Philip Hurlic that is reasonably lacking in condescension for 1939, let alone 1870. While it doesn’t even attempt to be as funny as Hardy’s work with Laurel, the film is however characterised by the charm and lack of sentimentality which remain one the principal reasons that Laurel & Hardy’s work has worn so well to this day compared to that of Chaplin.

When you see Step’in Fetchit billed with his name ‘humorously’ spelled thus in the credits you fear the worst, although in the film that follows his mistress Billie Burke is actually dafter than he is. Hardy’s comments about Southern segregation are later underlined without labouring the point by a fleeting shot of Hurlic, Fetchit & Hattie McDaniel watching the trial through the courthouse window rather than from the public gallery. This film is often spoken of as an ersatz Laurel & Hardy film with Harry Langdon filling in for Laurel, but Langdon’s is really only a supporting role, although he acquits himself well, the old gestures from his silent films are still there, and it’s interesting to both see and hear Langdon for once. Both he and Hardy look remarkably comfortable around Miss Zenobia, who plays the title role. @RichardChatten

I Passed for White (1960)

Dir: Fred M Wilcox | Cast: Sonya Wilde, James Franciscus, Patricia Mahon, Elizabeth Council | Drama 63’

Far from being the trashy exploitation movie signalled by the title, the rather bland groupings by veteran director Fred Wilcox actually heighten the drama that grows and grows and grows, with the final resolution only coming right at the very end.

Based on Mary Hastings Bradley’s novel, James Franciscus’ aryan good looks are perfect for the leading man who you never know which way he’ll jump. But but as usual it’s the women who are the most interesting characters: Sonya Wilde in her screen debut after making her mark on Broadway taking over the role of Maria in ‘West Side Story. Pat Michan as the friend who’s the only one in on the heroine’s (literally) dark secret, Elizabeth Council as the menacing mother-in-law who you are never sure how much and what exactly she suspects; and especially Isabelle Cooley as the ever-present but quiet and inscrutable maid who is yet another element in the film that keeps you guessing. @RichardChatten

NOWN ON YOUTUBE

Canyon Passage (1946) Venice Classics 2022

Dir: Jacques Tourneur | US Western

Jacques Tourneur’s first film in Technicolor won praise from Martin Scorsese for its use of colour. Set in Oregon in 1856, the obvious studio sets contrast badly with the majestic location work; but are mitigated by Tourneur’s Germanic lighting, mise en scene and elegantly mobile camera.

In the lead Dana Andrews is (constantly) addressed as and referred to just as ‘Logan’ (his full name is actually ‘Logan Stuart’). Most of the interesting supporting cast are given little to do, with the notable exception of Ward Bond as a particularly brutish heavy, and Hoagy Carmichael dressed as Mr Macawber, who gets to drawl ‘Ole’ Buttermilk Sky’. Richard Chatten

PLAYING IN THE VENICE FILM FESTIVAL CLASSICS RETROSPECTIVE 2022

Les Enfants Terribles (1949/50) Blu-ray

Dir.: Jean Pierre Melville; Cast: Nicole Stéphane, Edouard Dermithe, Jacques Bernard, Renée Cosima, Maurice Revel, narrated by Jean Cocteau; France 1949/1950, 107 min.

It is difficult to imagine two different directors (and personalities) more different than Jean Cocteau and Jean-Pierre Melville. Yes, both were French – Cocteau, the poet of a decadent underworld; and the intellectually aloof Melville, whose policiers were disguised Westerns. But it happened, when Cocteau asked Melville to adapt his 1929 novel “Les Enfants Terribles” for the big screen, having watched his 1947 debut feature Le silence de la Mer. Detachment met passion, but the result was closer to a duel than a collaboration, fought out between two ex-students of the famous Lycée Condocet. Against the odds, a cult classic was born.

Paul (Dermithe), is severely injured in a snow ball fight at the Lycée Condocet; Dargelos (Cosima) who threw the fatal ice bomb, is expelled from the school. Paul lives with his dominant, possessive sister Elisabeth (Stéphane) and their dying mother, looked after by the maid, and supported by a kind doctor (Revel). Paul’s friend Gérard (Bernard), is the only person Elisabeth will give houseroom to but after her mother’s death Elisabeth’s fortunes improve: she becomes a model and meets Agathe, also played by Cosima, although her short marriage to a wealthy business man ends with his death in a car crash before they can consummate the marriage.

Elisabeth moves into his vast mansion inviting Paul, Agathe and Gérard to join her but Agathe and Paul soon fall for each other concealing their feelings, so as not to upset Elisabeth. But their love is exposed when Elisabeth intercepts Paul’s secret billet doux to his paramour, and she forces Gérard and Agatha to marry and leave the house, so she can be alone again with Paul.

On the first day of filming, Cocteau’s lover Dermitte was on set when the writer shouted “Oh no. Cut”, immediately apologising for upstaging the director Melville, and claiming: “Forgive me, I don’t know what came over me. I thought I was still on the Orphée set”. Later Cocteau went on “to advise” Melville, leading to a contretemps between the two, putting their relationship under strain until Melville, feeling ill one day, asked Cocteau to take over the helm and was surprising that he followed his instructions, “like a real Assistant Director”. Melville then explained, “The one thing Cocteau wanted was for me to die, so that he could make the film himself.”

Jean-Pierre Melville, who became the “grandfather” of the Nouvelle Vague (for a time), reported, that Truffaut had seen the film 25 (!) times, and Chabrol, during the shooting of Les Cousins, asked DoP Henri Decaë “to do exactly what you did in Les Enfant Terribles”. Decaë’s poetic black-and-white images are perfect for this decadent incestuous rapport between two siblings who did not want to grow up, playing games until the disastrous denouement. Melville chose Bach and Vivaldi in preference to the Jazz score, Cocteau had favoured – and  it perfectly accompanies this morbid and maudlin death dance. AS

Released on Blu-ray, iTunes and Amazon Prime on 13 December 2021

 

The Love of Jeanne Ney (1927) Blu-ray

Dir.: G.W. Pabst; Cast: Edith Jéhanne, Udo Henning, Fritz Rasp, Brigitte Helm, Adolph Edgar Licho, Eugen Jensen; Germany 1927, 100 min.

Austrian director G.W. Pabst (1885-1967) was the leading proponent of interwar German cinema, along with his countrymen Lang and Murnau. But Pabst did not settle abroad, returning to Germany in 1939 where he became a pawn in Dr Goebbels’ empire. The move discredited his oeuvre, even though he tried to make amends after the war.

The Love of Jeanne Ney is based on the novel by Ilya Ehrenburg (1891-1967), a Soviet journalist and author who spent time in Paris before leaving for the USSR. Written by Vadislav Vadja and Rudolf Leonhardt, Pabst’ UFA feature is a lighter version of Ehrenburg’s tonally rather grim novel; Pabst having been told by the UFA to make a feature in the ‘American style’. He certainly obliged.

In the Crimea, the Civil War is about to be decided in favour of the Red Army. We watch the libertine Khalibiev (Rasp) getting drunk while the White Russians stage a debauched party. Pabst having encouraged his cast of real soldiers from the White Army, to imbibe freely for the endeavour.

The film centres on Jeanne Ney (Jéhanne), daughter of French diplomat Andre Ney (Jensen) and in love with Red Army soldier Andreas Labov (Hennig), a spy for the Bolsheviks. In the novel, he shoots Jeanne’s father – she forgives him immediately – but in the film, the murderer is a friend of Andreas’. Jeanne then flees to Paris where she works for her uncle Raymond (Licho) in his shady detective agency. When the two lovers meet Andreas is in the midst of organising a strike on behalf of the communists. But Khalibiev is also in Paris, and has his eye on Jeanne while making do with Gabrielle (Helm). But he is persistent in pursuing Jeanne, one scene sees him caressing Gabrielle, while at the same time trying forcefully to kiss Jeanne. He steals a valuable diamond, making Andreas look like the thief. Jeanne lets him have his evil way in the novel, but in Pabst’s feature she resists and we get a happy-ending in a train scuppering the torrid ending of Ehrenburg’s novel.

DoPs Frit Arno Wagner and Robert Lach work with natural light, the camera roving around freely and catching the protagonists in perpetual motion, along with an editing style that described “their very order re-enforcing the realistic illusion”. Film critic Iris Barry remarked: “In the scene where Khalibiev sells the list of Bolshevik agents to Jeanne’s father, it lasts about three minute, though one is scarcely aware of a single shot, there are forty in this short scene – needless to say, the director cut and edited the film himself.”

As Kracauer put it: “Pabst permanently discredits his daring attitude as in Joyless Street. The imaginative way he satisfies UFA’s craving for melodrama, confirms the strength of his own tendencies in this direction”. In the final three films that Kracauer called the “Stabilised Period”, Pabst retreated from reality and the social scene to indulge in “the secrets of the soul”. But he would return to the social whirly again with West Front 1918, Comradeship and The 3 Penny Opera, three of the most important features of the period before Hitler came to power in 1933. This makes the director’s later alignment with the Third Reich even more surprising. AS

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA | DECEMBER 2021

 

Circle of Danger (1951)

Dir: Jacques Tourneur | Cast: Ray Milland, Patricia Roc, Marius Goring, Hugh Sinclair | UK Drama, 86′

A drama rather than a thriller, with a plot anticipating Bad Day at Black Rock and Get Carter. The action encompasses both Wales and Scotland, but only the second unit under Gilbert Taylor seem actually to have gone to those outposts without Milland; the conclusion itself being an interior moment of revelation worthy of Chabrol.

Unusually produced by a woman, Joan Harrison, who later produced Hitchcock’s TV series, as much drama is generated by the two principal male characters’ relationship with Patricia Roc than with the search for the truth about the death of Milland’s bother. Red herrings abound and characters flit in and out of the narrative (including Hitchcock veteran Edward Rigby in his final fleeting film appearance as a Welsh miner. There’s also a charismatic appearance from Marius Goring) with the result you never know until the conclusion who the prime movers are going to turn out to be.

The biggest mystery of all is probably the story’s original provenance. Printed sources (but not the film itself) claim it was adapted by Phillip McDonald from his own novel, ‘White Heather’, yet he never published a book with that title. If it WAS adapted from his own book, it was an unpublished one. @Richard Chatten

Out of the Blue (1980) Blu-ray

Dir: Dennis Hopper | Cast: Linda Manz, Dennis Hopper, Sharon Farell, Doń Gordon | US Drama 94′

Initially signed on as an actor, Dennis Hopper took over the direction of this, his third feature film, from writer Leonard Yakir (whose script Hopper re-wrote eight days into the six-week shoot in Vancouver). The result is Hopper’s most professional looking film (not necessarily something he would have taken as a compliment), well-acted, good looking and engrossing, particularly when the unique Linda Manz (billed over Hopper) is onscreen; confirming here that her unforgettable performance in Days of Heaven was no flash in the pan.

Obviously intended not to be an easy ride, towards the end a spectacularly ugly skeleton comes crashing out of the family closet, and it all ends very badly for all. Does Cebe’s poor junkie mother Kathy (a characteristically attractive performance from Sharon Farell; an actress like Miss Manz grievously underused in films) really deserve what her daughter does to her? Richard Chatten

AVAILABLE from 29 NOVEMBER ON DIGITAL and BFI BLU-RAY 

Prisoners of Ghostland (2021) Blu-ray

Dir.: Sion Sono; Cast: Nicholas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Nick Cassavates, Bill Moseley, Tak Sakaguchi, Charles Glover, Yazuka Nukaya; USA 2021, 103 min.

In his first English language feature Japanese director Sion Sono (Love Exposure) is still very much the enfant-terrible of today’s Japanese cinema with this wild visual extravaganza that sometimes loses the plot (by Aaron Henry and Sôhei Tanikawa). There are good bits and very bad bits. Nicholas Cage is – true to form- an OTT hero without a name – Ghostlands is a ride-and-a-half on the wild side.

Cage is first seen robbing a bank with Psycho (Cassavates), an enterprise that goes wrong and leaves Cage in prison and at the mercy of shady Governor (Moseley) of Samurai Town. letting Cage out of jail to liberate niece Bernice (Boutella) from Ghostland, wearing a suit which threatens to explode if he oversteps his time limit, and will blow up his testicles, if he makes a move with Bernice.

Ghostland is headed up by Enoch (Glover). Time has stood still since a convoy of dangerous prisoners collided with a transport of nuclear waste; Psycho being one of the victims. But Cage also recognises Bernice, whose mother he shot dead in the debacle following the bank robbery, injuring the child. Somehow the two escape and, with the help of Yasijiro (Sakaguchi), a samurai and young Susie (Nukaya), get rid of the Governor and his clique in a wild shootout with sword fights.

The Western meets the Samurai actioner and together they spawn a post-nuclear disaster movie with humans running around as Semi-Zombies clad in card-board. Cage lets fly, Boutella is underused, and in the end one no one gives a damn that nothing makes much sense. Sôkei Tanikawa’s excoriating images are wasted, as are the attempts of the audience to remember anything of the slightest importance after leaving the cinema. A void. AS

NOW ON BLURAY AND DVD FROM NOVEMBER 15th

Paris Frills | Falbalas (1945) Bluray

Dir.: Jacques Becker; Cast: Raymond Rouleau, Micheline Presle, Jean Chevier, Gabrielle Dorziat, Françoise Lugagne; France 1944/5, 111 min.

Jacques Becker only completed thirteen feature films but still enjoys a near mythical reputation. Nouvelle Vague directors like Godard and Truffaut wrote enthusiastically about his dramas Goupi Mains Rouges and Le Trou in ‘Cahiers’, vaunting his work as far superior to the traditional French cinema offerings they often lambasted.

Becker started his film career as assistant to Jean Renoir, (Toni, Partie de Campagne), before finding his own style mainly in dark crime features mining his experiences in the Resistance in the South of France. He began shooting FALBALAS (‘Furbelow’ or trimming for a woman’s petticoat) in 1944 after the Liberation, but the release had to be postponed well into 1945.

Nineteen-year old Micheline Lafourie (Presle) has come from Reims to Paris to marry the much older business man Daniel Rousseau (Chevier). Whilst living with her ten (!) cousins in a Paris mansion, she meets couturier Philippe Clarence (Rouleau), a good friend of Daniel. Philippe is a womaniser, but worse, treats his nearly all female staff abominably. The mature fashion house manager Solange (Dorziat) is the only one who stands up to her boss, treating him like a little boy – a nasty one, at that. Not so lucky is Clarence’s ex, Anne-Marie (Lugagne), who is still in love with Philippe, even though he treats her like a doormat. Philippe is captivated by Micheline and seduces her – promising to elope with her. A few days later, he has changed his mind, encouraging Micheline to marry Daniel as planned. Micheline, scorned but determined not to let it show, decides to return to Reims alone. And her nonchalance towards Philippe makes him think again: he is once again infatuated and claiming to be in love for the first time. Daniel finds out about the affair, but it is too late. Micheline has made up her mind to teach Philippe a lesson on the launch of his new collection. The dramatic ending is one of the finest piece of noir cinema – the fashion world overall pictured as glamorous but shallow and empty. Falbalas plays out in the style of the sub-genre, so appealing with its ravishing sets and elegance it later convinced Jean Paul Gautier to become a couturier.

Rouleau is in his element as the suave and soulless perfectionist: a misogynist par excellence. DoP Nicolas Hayer (Orphee) conjures up immaculate black and white images of Philippe’s domaine: the physical and psychological exploitation in stark contrast to the beauty of the garments and the soigné clientele. Editor Marguerite Renoir (who took Renoir’s name even though they were not married) keeps up a breath-taking tempo, much more suited to a thriller than a graceful fashion feature. But the ending is one of the greatest achievements of post-war French cinema. AS

NOW ON BLURAY

Ganja & Hess (1973)

Dir: Bill Gunn/Lawrence Jordan | Cast: Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, Bill Gunn, Sam L Waymon | US Horror 112′

The confused and contradictory comments and descriptions among reviewers of both the quality and the content of this film was probably the desired effect of this laconic semi-underground conversation piece which vaguely appropriated aspects of vampire film iconography to satisfy the film’s financiers without actually making one. It doesn’t have the noisy razzmatazz of the blaxploitation film the druggy-sounding title suggests, or the visual fussiness of a continental seventies vampire movie; while the scenes depicting wrapped up bodies being carrying across a field for disposal rather recall comedies like The Old Dark House and Arsenic and Old Lace. Quite a bit of blood gets drunk, but in circumstances that suggest psychosis rather than authentic vampirism; although only a genuine vampire would be able to drain the glass of red fluid Hess offers to Ganja at one point (blood in that quantity is actually an emetic).

The liberal amounts of both sex and violence are handled in a generally deadpan fashion (the spectacular stabbing of Dr. Green with an infected knife referred to in several reviews, for example, is merely described in an opening caption, not shown), and the characters rarely seemed fazed by much that happens. Duane Jones of ‘Night of the Living Dead’ as Dr. Hess Green has acquired a beard in the intervening five years and like any self-respecting screen vampire lives in an enormous country house with servants. As Ganja Meda, Marlene Clark is enjoyably venal and grasping, her steely beauty (no afro!) contributing the seductive female component without which no seventies vampire film could possibly have possibly been complete. Richard Chatten

NOW ON AMAZON

Corridor of Mirrors (1948)

Dir: Terence Young | Cast: Eric Portman, Edana Romney | UK drama 108’

A unique Gothic version of Fifty Shades of Gray, with the extravagance but not quite the sex (debuting director Terence Young would later supply plenty of that in his James Bond pictures).

Set in 1938 and shot in France with a British cast (including future Miss Moneypenny Lois Maxwell, with later Bond villain Christopher Lee making his film debut), a French cameraman and music by the great French composer Georges Auric. Scripted by producer Rudolph Cartier and leading lady Edana Romney (‘inspired’ by a novel by Chris Massie), it provides a temporary escape from the mundane day to day realities of life in postwar austerity Britain to which she returns rather as Celia Johnson does at the end of ‘Brief Encounter’. It’s amazing that this extraordinary film isn’t better known.  @Ricard Chatten

BLURAY NOW AMAZON

Prophecy (1979) Blu-ray

Dir.: John Frankenheimer; Cast: Talia Shire, Robert Foxworth, Richard Dysart; USA 1979, 102 min.

US filmmaker John Frankenheimer (1930-2002), director of the original Manchurian Candidate, started out, like Sidney Lumet, directing TV fare including numerous reputable ‘Playhouse’ episodes. He never lost feel for a good newsworthy story, and Prophecy is a good example with its focus on environmental issues.

Written by David Seltzer (The Omen), Prophecy takes place near Maine, where strange findings are reported in the river Ossipee. Considering, the Flint Water Crisis in Michigan went on from 2014 to 2019, Seltzer’s script is very much ahead of its time.

Doctor Robert Verne (Foxworth) and wife Maggie (Shire) are working in Washington DC, and hope that a holiday in Maine might take their minds off the polluted capital. But soon they are witnessing strange incidents in the river Ossippee, near the paper mill run by Bethel Isley (Dysart). Babies are being born with physical defects, people are walking around in a drunken stupor even though they have not consumed a drop of alcohol, and in the local river salmon and tadpoles are growing to monstrous proportions, while on dry land racoon are running riot.

When a group of lumberjacks go missing, Isley blames the indigenous population, who in turn claim that the Katahdin, a Sasquatch monster, is responsible for the mysterious happenings. Maggie, who is pregnant, but has not told Robert, grows increasingly nervous – she has eaten fish caught in the vicinity. But worse is to come in the shape of an enormous bear with diseased skin that causes total mayhem for all concerned.

Bad timing saw Prophecy premiering only a few weeks before Alien, and Ridley’s Scott’s monsters were very far superior to the giant bear. DoP Harry Stradling jun. (Convoy, Little Big Man) is on fine form, and the mixture of conspiracy and horror is a potent brew. When the survivors leave the scene, a bear cub is left behind – but unlike Alien, a sequel to Frankenheimer’s outing never saw the light of day. AS

OUT ON BLURAY courtesy of Eureka Classics

The Pawnbroker (1964)

Dir: Sidney Lumet | Wri: Morton S Fine | Cast: Rod Steiger, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Brock Peters, Jaime Sanchez | US Thriller 116′

Director Sidney Lumet’s gritty New-York set Nazi survivalist movie made Rod Steiger a star with his unforgettable portrayal of a Holocaust survivor. Jewish refugee Sol Nazerman is a broken holocaust victim eking out an existence as a pawnbroker in Harlem’s squalid mean streets. His world-weary cynical approach to his customers is a study of indifference occasionally erupting in irritation – he’s too exhausted by misery and the memories of the wife he lost in the Death Camps to be angry or even sad any more, although at one point he’s reduced to tears of sheer emotional exhaustion by his tyrannical business partner, the gangsterish Rodriquez (Brock Peters).

Haunted by the lost and the misunderstood, The Pawnbroker is given a certain poignance with its louche jazz score from debut film composer Quincy Jones. Based on Edward Lewis Wallant’s cult novel – the film evocatively recreates a not so swinging Sixties America where life limps on in the shadows of the past. MT

THE PAWNBROKER IS OUT ON BFI BLURAY/DVD 16 August 2021

West 11 (1963) Blu-ray

Dir: Michael Winner | Cast: Diana Dors, Eric Portman, Alfred Lynch, Kathleen Breck | UK Crime Drama 93′

Michael Winner’s social realist crime caper is not his best by long chalk, lacking the heft to transport into the realms of a gritty thriller or an involving drama. Captured by Otto Heller’s inventive camera it certainly evokes the seedy squalor of 1960s Kensington well before gentrification made it trendy ‘Notting Hill’. The cast was intended to include Oliver Reed for the lead role of Joe Beckett. Instead Alfred Lynch stepped in as an aimless office worker recruited into crime by Eric Portman’s lowlife gangster. Beckett’s two complementary love interests are a smouldering Diana Dors and coquettish Kathleen Breck but the feature the lacks the verve of so many other outings of the era despite a decent script from Keith Waterhouse, based on Laura del Rivo’s ‘The Furnished Room’. MT

NOW ON STUDIO CANAL DVD, BLURAY and DIGITAL DOWNLOAD FROM 5 JULY 2021

 

The Krays (1990) Blu-ray

Director:Peter Medak Screenwriter: Philip Ridley Cast: Billie Whitelaw Tom Bell Gary Kemp Martin Kemp Susan Fleetwood Charlotte Cornwell, Stephen Berkoff, Alfred Lynch | UK Drama 115′

Peter Medak’s thrilling drama about the Kray twins rattles with wartime angst – there’s an evocative scene in the underground the sound of bombs thundering overhead. The Krays (1933-95/2000) were a product of that stoical generation weaned on rations by a mother as tough as old boots who fought tooth and nail for them – here played by the indomitable Billie Whitelaw in a rather painterly portrayal of the legendary story. That said there’s some brutal violence, and plenty of scarlet bloodshed mostly involving swords.

Although we think of the Ronnie and Reggie Kray as 1960s mobsters it was all over for them by 1968 (they spent the rest of their lives in confinement). Their story really started in in the 1930s where we see them as nasty little boys growing up in the grimy backstreets of Haggerston well before they became the instigators of organised East End crime.

Their’s was not a pleasant household – and the family milieu seems to dominate here, their mother Violet threatening to slit their father’s throat in one of the more feisty scenes, the boys defending their mum against an emasculated father, their consumptive aunt Rose (Fleetwood) hovering in the background with her horror stories of being left at home while the men were being ‘heroes’ on the front.

The twins rise to glory in seen in sedate night clubs and fairground settings where their heyday played out against swing bands, Matt Munro and early Beatles. The deft touchstones of Philip Ridley’s textured script are school life, army service, mob and murder. There’s a sensitive turn from Kate Hardie as Reggie’s put-upon wife Frances. Martin and Gary Kemp are more psychopathic than thuggish as the sleek, twinkly-eyed twins – Medak brushed up against them in the East End while shooting another movie and felt the full force of their power. There’s an iconic turn from Tom Bell as Jack ‘the Hat’ McVitie, and where would we be without the snarling Steven Berkoff as George Cornell. And Jimmy Jewel as the grandad. The action is more glamorous than dark and dastardly but, as I said, this is more of a family drama. A social document of backstreet London in the aftermath to the Second World War. MT

NOW ON RELEASE COURTESY OF SECOND SIGHT | 12 JULY 2021

Piccadilly (1929)

Dir.: Ewald André Dupont; Cast: Jameson Thomas, Gilda Gray, Cyril Ritchart, Anna May Wong, King Hou Chang, Charles Laughton; UK 1929, 109 min.

German director E.A. Dupont (1891-1956) did not make a success of the talkies in the advent of sound cinema, although his features set in the show-biz world: Variety (1925) Salto Mortale and Trapeze (1931) were visually ravishing.

Emigrating to Hollywood in 1933 brought him mostly failure, his twelve US films include the infamous Neanderthal Man from 1953. Piccadilly, based on the script by Arnold Bennett, was later ‘updated’ with scores and sound effects provided by Harry Gordon.

London Nightclub owner Valentine Wilmot (Thomas) is in love with dancer Mabel (Gray), brought in to boost the club’s clientele with her partner Vic (Ritchart). But one night an irate diner (Laughton) complaining about a dirty plate, interrupts Mabel’s performance, sending Wilmot into the kitchen where Shosho (Wong) is entrancing the workers with her table-top dancing routine. Wilmot fires her, and next morning Vic also resigns in a move that will lead to betrayal, lust and murder as he fights to save his club.

Wong captivates with her smouldering charisma DoP Werner Brandes showing the glamorous side of the glittering London nightlife with dreamy images, light and shadow transforming the set into an ethereal fantasy.

Unfortunately, Brandes would stay in Nazi Germany, shooting, among others, Veit Harlan’s propaganda film Der Herrscher (1937). Dupont would follow up with Atlantic, the Titanic story (1929), the major production resulting in a very costly flop despite its star turn Madeleine Caroll.

Anna May Wong soon left Hollywood, disenchanted by the portrayal of Asian characters as evil. Her European career never caught fire, so she returned to Hollywood to co-star in Josef von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (1932) alongside Marlene Dietrich. AS

PICCADILLY NOW ON BFI BLURAY ON 21 JUNE 2021

 

 

The Father (2020) Blu-ray

Dir: Florian Zeller | Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Mark Gatiss, Olivia Williams, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell | Drama 97′

If ever there was a film for now it’s The Father. Dementia has become today’s most dread disease – along with cancer – not least because of its emotive and devastating effects on sufferers and loved ones alike as the personality disintegrates in a frightening and often hurtful way casting a dark shadow on entire families as they struggle to make sense of it all as everything changes.

Based on the acclaimed, award-winning play, The Father starts out with a simple idea based on the situation familiar to many of us. Anne (Olivia Colman) realises her 80-year-old father, Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) is losing his mind but can do nothing to help him. Anthony refuses a carer determined to control his own destiny while exerting an invidious grip on his frustrated and desperate daughter, who is moving to Paris and needs to ensure his wellbeing.

The Father is rather a triumph for director and playwright Florian Zeller who has already won an Oscar for his clever script nailing the anxiety, frustration and sadness surrounding dementia, and the confusion it causes for the sufferer and those affected who increasingly find themselves at odds with each other.

Anthony thinks a conspiracy is playing out as he continues his life ‘as normal’ believing his daughter (Colman) to be overplaying the situation as she becomes increasingly neurotic and overbearing, according to him. One of the features of the disease it that sufferers confuse members of their family, and Olivia Williams steps in to play the ‘other’ person. Meanwhile Anthony suspects (wrongfully) that things are being done behind his back and this all too familiar aspect of dementia often gives rise to a dark humour that Zeller thoughtfully interweaves into the fractured narrative through a series of surprise events and changes adding a bizarre twist to proceedings.

Hopkins pulls this off brilliantly in a totally convincing performance that sways from outrage to pitiful vulnerability building on his reputation as one of the world’s finest actors. Colman too is impressive as she struggles convincingly between anger and deep sadness. A sibling set-to would have added grist to the storyline, so often family members fall out as they are pitted against one another amid stress and confusion in a battle to comply with the sufferer’s need to divide and rule in the descent in mental mayhem.

The Father is a difficult film to watch – and it will touch a nerve with so many of us – but Hopkins and Colman deliver their best and that’s all that can be hoped for in the circumstances. MT

The Father is on Digital Download 27 August and Blu-ray & DVD 30 August from Lionsgate UK

Basic Instinct (1992) Blu-ray release

Dir: Paul Verhoeven, Wri: Joe Eszterhas | Cast: Sharon Stone, Michael Douglas, George Dzundza, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Leilani Sarelle | US Thriller, 127′

A lush and stylish Neo noir thriller capturing an era of permissiveness and danger its sultry assured heroine remaining mysteriously foxy until the final reveal, the taut and twisty narrative overpowered by the cinematic allure. Basic Instinct has a potent whiff of sex and seduction about it, and that’s what sealed in the public imagination.

San Francisco seemed the right setting, more alluring that LA and laid back than New York, Jerry Goldsmith languorous score striking just the right mood for love, and murder. Sharon Stone at the height of her powers, the perfect choice to play Joe Eszterhas’ liberated woman (the script garnering him a $3 million pay check), attractive, sexually voracious, Mustang driving and smart, with just a hint of vulnerability setting the detectives against each other in their bid to prove her guilty of a crime. But one of them falls prey to her charms. And the thrill of the chase is his undoing. To be fair, he’s ripe for exploitation by this femme fatale.

Michael Douglas was also at the top of his game having won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Oliver’s Stones’ Wall Street. As detective Nick “Shooter” Curran, Stone’s Tramell whips him up into a frenzy, his addictive personality unleashed into a toxic brew of indignation and lust. So his ditches his on off girlfriend/mentor (Tripplehorn): “We went to bed ten maybe fifteen times – it wasn’t memorable enough to call a relationship”.

The film walks a fine line between revelation and enigma, giving us just enough to draw us further into the murder mystery, never revealing the truth in a finale that will remain ambiguous. MT

ON 4K UHD COLLECTOR’S EDITION STEELBOOK, BLU-RAY DVD and DIGITAL JUNE 14, 2021

 

 

Running Against the Wind (2021)

Dir: Jan Philipp Weyl | Cast: Ashenafi Nigusu, Mikayas Wolde | Drama, 119′

A feel good film about sport, friendship and ambition Running Against the Wind, sees two friends growing up in a remote village drawn together by their love of running, a sport that has long been associated with this now beleaguered nation which has produced two-time Olympic gold medal winner Haile Gebrselassie – who has a cameo in the film – and long-distance runner Muktar Edris.

But the boys’ lives diverge when Solomon (Wolde) leaves for Addis Ababa to become a professional photographer and Abdi (Nigusu) pursues his running career. They will meet again under darker skies.

German filmmaker Weyl has put a great deal of thought into his feature debut – clearly a ‘method director’ he has immersed himself in the country’s history and culture, even learning Amharic, one of Ethiopia’s eight major languages, to make a story that feels gritty and authentic with the bond of friendship at its core. Mateusz Smolka’s widescreen visuals capture the magnificent scenery and the intimacy of the human story with its universal appeal. MT

NOW ON BLURAY and QUALITY DIGITAL PLATFORMS from 11 JUNE 2021

 

The Babadook (2014) Bluray release

Dir: Jennifer Kent | Cast: Essie Davies, Noah Wiseman, Douglas Henshall Aus Horror, 94′

When it comes to home invasion thrillers it doesn’t get much scarier than this Australian shocker from Jennifer Kent that started life as a short film called The Monster in 2005. Over the next decade Kent tooled away at the narrative and in 2014 THE BABADOOK was born. It went on to win over fifty international awards from critics and viewers alike. Kent successfully employs every horror trope in the book along with a discombobulating soundscape to create a cumulatively distressing psychological thriller that feels real and yet completely outlandish at the same time with its violent visual and emotional onslaught .

Amazingly THE BABADOOK was also Kent’s first full length feature, and worth watching for its sensational central performance from Essie Davis as Amelia, a bereaved single mother still going through the trauma of her husband’s death in a car crash minutes before she gave birth to her only child, Samuel (Wiseman). The two hunker down in their dour Victorian house on the outskirts of Adelaide, where the boy becomes obsessed with a children’s book entitled Mr Babadook, a dark demonic raven-like creature who gradually becomes the vehement vector for their mutual misery and paranoia.     

At times unbearable to watch it’s the way little Samuel bears the brunt of his mother’s violent anguish that makes this so horrifying and heartfelt. There’s a visceral longing and a sexual yearning in Amelia that tips the feature into full blown Gothic territory. And as usual the family dog has to die. MT

The Babadook: Limited Edition 4K/ Blu-ray is now 28th June 2021 from Second Sight Films.

Joan the Woman (1916)

Dir: Cecil B DeMille | Wri: Jeannie Macpherson, William C de Mille | Cast: Geraldine Farrar, Raymond Hatton, Hobart Bosworth, Theodore Roberts | US Drama, Silent 138′

Premiering over a hundred years ago on Christmas Day 1916, this marked the first of the historical epics with which Cecil B. DeMille’s name became synonymous. Joan the Woman far excels his later sound spectacles, by which time he’d lost his enthusiasm for location shooting, his films becoming painfully studio bound, with just a few token exterior sequences left in the hands of second-unit directors. Handsomely designed by Wilfred Buckland and photographed by Alvin Wyckoff, at 138 minutes, it is almost as long as Victor Fleming’s Technicolor folly of 1948 with Ingrid Bergman, but far surpasses it as spectacle.

Imposing a contemporary WWI framing story was probably prompted by Griffith’s Intolerance and pushes the feature over the two hour mark, making it a long even by today’s standards; and the first third of the film drags a bit. The other weak link in the chainmail is Farrar herself. The title ‘Joan the Woman’ (compared to later versions with titles like ‘Das Mädchen Johanna’ and ‘Jeanne la Pucelle’) already seems to acknowledge that DeMille is aware that the 34 year-old soprano Geraldine Farrar looks extremely matronly as Joan (much more so than the 32 year-old Ingrid Bergman in 1948). In the rare close-ups where DeMille has her lit for effect from below, Farrar actually looks strikingly like the 43 year-old Hedy Lamarr in The Story of Mankind (1957). Sadly she also gives possibly the worst performance in the film, constantly playing to the camera rather than the other actors.

However when Joan finally gets into her armour and lays siege to Orléans the film really gets going. The screen positively swarms with extras, some of whom look as if they’re genuinely getting hurt (you can actually see some of them flinching). Joan’s imprisonment and trial also captures DeMille’s imagination and provides him with the opportunity to indulge in one of the torture sequences he developed a penchant for, to the accompaniment of appropriately dramatic ‘Rembrandt’ lighting. Now in the clutches of tombstone-faced Theodore Roberts as Cauchon, the faces of the menacing-looking extras DeMille amassed to fill the courtroom during Joan’s trial are really something; as is her execution, when a flaming orange firebrand is applied to her pyre. Courtesy of the Handschiegl colour process she expires in an eye-boggling blaze of orange flames. @Richard Chatten

NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)

Dir: Stuart Paton | Allen Holubar, Dan Hanlon, Edna Pendleton, Curtis Benton | UK, Action Drama 105′

A remarkably lavish production that seems not content with merely filming Jules Verne’s 1870 novel but for good measure also throws in his later novel ‘L’Île Mystérieuse’ and a concluding flashback that – as the subtitles themselves admit – owes nothing to Verne but must have made an already expensive production needlessly extravagant (Universal’s Carl Laemmle took a bath – if you’ll pardon the expression – on the reported $500,000 he spent on it).

The most remarkable aspect of the film is the pioneering underwater photography supervised by the brothers Ernest & George Williamson (some of it shot in the Bahamas) depicting the view from Captain Nemo’s famous picture window, the camera lingering lovingly on strikingly modern-looking actuality footage of coral reefs and shoals of fish. When Nemo’s crew get into their diving suits there is then remarkable footage of them interacting with actual sharks; although the realism abruptly evaporates in a later scene involving an extremely phony looking octopus.

The film’s makers quickly lose interest in a straight adaptation of Verne’s novel at this point, and the action transfers to a mysterious desert island whose one human inhabitant is initially a boisterous ‘child of nature’ played by Jane Gail in dusky body makeup, who jauntily trades in her cheetah skin sarong for a fetching combination of blouse and trousers provided by one of the visitors. (Quite a few adventure films from this period that I’ve seen have put the leading lady in trousers.) Nemo, alias Daaker, turns out to have been an Indian prince in a previous life, and Miss Gail turns out to be his daughter, as is explained in a flashback thrown in climaxing in a native uprising. The film had at this point seemed to be drawing to its conclusion; which makes the insertion of this very expensive looking sequence reportedly featuring almost 2,000 extras all the more bewildering.

The extraordinary underwater footage aside, the handsome and atmospheric look of the rest of the film probably owes more to the photography of Eugene Gaudio (whose elder brother Tony’s long career at Warner Bros. included The Adventures of Robin Hood) than to the rather perfunctory direction of Stuart Paton, who should have told Allen Holubar as Nemo and the unidentified actress playing his late wife not to wave their arms around so much. Other reviewers have commented on the resemblance of the uniform worn by Captain Nemo and his crew to the one traditionally worn by Santa Claus. @Richard Chatten

NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON

After Love (2021) BAFTAs 2022

Dir/scr: Aleem Khan | Joanna Scanlan, Natalie Richard, Talid Arris | UK, Drama 89 mins

A spare but transcendent feature debut that takes place between Calais and Dover in the aftermath of a cross-channel menage-a-trois. Happily married Muslim convert Mary/Fatima (Scanlan) discovers her husband’s secret on his mobile ‘phone, shortly after his sudden death. Curiosity sees her travelling to France where she tracks down Genevieve the middle-aged mother of his love child Solomon, now an unruly teenager much loved by both his parents. Through a understandable mix-up the women’s lives come together, but only Mary is aware of Genevieve’s identity. Both women are forced to deal with loss and longing in different ways.

Writer director Aleem Khan delivers an accomplished and insightful drama that speaks volumes about race, identity and the nature of love and faithfulness through a storyline that goes to unexpected places. Joanna Scanlan is quietly tremendous as a woman exploring grief and bereavement in a graceful and philosophical way that never descends into melodrama or histrionics, so commonplace in this kind of story. And it’s also down to Khan’s economic style of writing that follows the saying: ‘speech is silver, but silence is golden’.

Instead the two women discretely and gradually explore the past and the present in a way that is both surprising and satisfying. Khan leaves a great deal to the imagination – we are left to make up our own minds about Mary and Genevieve’s life, the focus here is the dynamic between them as they feel their way forward, largely in the dark, as the truth gradually emerges questioning their core beliefs and feelings.

One scene in particularly mirrors the women’s crushing loss of faith seen through a section of Dover’s white cliffs literally crumbling into the sea. It’s a stunning metaphor for this graceful two-hander that portrays women at their best, coping calmly with disappointment and bewilderment, reflecting on their lot with dignity and philosophy. A stunning and mature drama in the classic tradition of storytelling. MT

BAFTA AWARD FOR LEADING ACTRESS Joanna Scanlan | Released on Blu-ray and digitally as a BFI Player Subscription Exclusive on 23 August 202

 

 

 

The Best of Men (2012)

Dir.: Tim Whitby; Cast: Eddie Marsan, George Mackay, Leigh Quinn, Niamh Cusack, Rob Brydon, Richard McCabe, Tracy-Ann Oberman; UK 2012, 87 min.

This upbeat crowd-pleaser takes place in leafy Buckinghamshire where the Paraplegic Games first kicked off courtesy of one Ludwig Guttmann (1899-1980), a Jewish neurologist who revolutionised life for injured veterans, after fleeing Nazi Germany at the beginning of the Second World War.

TV Director Tim Whitby and his writer Lucy Gannon are best known for their popular TV series Bramwell and their star-strewn big screen production shows how the pioneering Jewish doctor’s groundbreaking work at Stoke Mandeville Hospital eventually led to him founding the centre’s Para-Olympics, held parallel with the London Olympic Games of 1948. Guttmann also founded the International Medical Society of Paraplegia and was later knighted.

Eddie Marsan plays the good doctor who arrives at Stoke Mandeville where paraplegic soldiers injured in the war effort are more or less being left to die, plagued by bed sores and suicidal with chronic pain. At first the medical staff are totally opposed to Guttmann’s methods with a great deal of tutting from Nurse Carr (Quinn) and Sister Edwards (Cusack) and  pompous resident Doctor Cowan (McCabe) who tries to obstruct the newcomer, there’s even talk of a transfer.

The storyline follows twenty year old William Heat (Mackay) – who we see in happier days with his fiancée – he now wants to die after a prognosis of being confined to a wheelchair. Then there is Wynne ((Brydon), a Welshman who wants a divorce from his wife on the grounds of him not being man enough anymore. With the help of a PE instructor, Guttmann gets the men out of bed – and the rest is history.

The good old British stiff up lip makes light of the sombre topic, Rob Brydon and George McKay are lively and amusing. Guttmann’s fight against the stolid traditions of British bureaucracy has an upbeat feel – but Guttmann doesn’t get an easy ride of it – he too can be difficult at times. The men rise to the occasion with banter and witty repartee. An outing to the local pub underlines the film’s firmly British credentials.  DoP Matt Gray captures the English countryside with roving panorama shots, his interiors are full of inventive angels. Marsan is convincing as the knowledgeable intruder whose solemn bedside manner fails on the empathy front with his British hosts. A tad didactic at times, The Best of Men is a wonderfully entertaining insight into a sporting triumph. AS

DVD & DIGITAL RELEASE ON 14 JUNE 2021

Topkapi (1964)

Dir: Jules Dessin | Cast: Melina Mercouri, Peter Ustinov, Maximillian Schell, Robert Morley, Akim Tamiroff | 120′

The second of two glossy international adventures Istanbul played host to in 1963 (the first was From Russia with Love), this much-copied (especially the scene with the cat burglar suspended from the skylight) adaptation of Eric Ambler’s 1962 novel The Light of Day’ is the sort of slick entertainment Losey thought he was making – but wasn’t – when he made Modesty Blaise two years later.

Effectively a sumptuous, less clinical Technicolor remake by Jules Dassin of his own classic fifties heist movie Riffifi. Henry Alekan’s photography is as fluidly mobile as it is ravishing to the eye (notably in the scene clambering across the roof of Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace Museum in brilliant sunshine).

With the cast including Peter Ustinov playing a schmoo “who aims low and misses”, Robert Morley and Akim Tamiroff you know you’re not going to get method acting; even without queen bee Melina Mercouri. (Ustinov later opined that director Dassin “could have had a more remarkable career if he had not dedicated himself so devotedly to her service”.) Yet despite the gleaming presence of Ms Mercouri as a voracious nymphomaniac there are occasional scenes with a strong homoerotic character; and not just the one with the oiled-up wrestlers. @Richard Chatten

 

The Cry Baby Killer (1958) Amazon

Dir: Justus Addiss | Cast: Jack Nicholson, Carolyn Mitchell, Brett Halsey , Lyn Cartwright | US Drama 70′

Jack Nicholson makes his screen debut in this economy-sized Le Jour se Lève’ for the Drive-Ins where he is second billed to veteran TV and ‘B’ movie tough guy Harry Lauter; here representing the law. Although Roger Corman is credited as Executive Producer, and has one line as a TV cameraman (after which all we see of him for the rest of the film is his right hand resting on the side of the camera), the film is a United Artists release rather than one of AIP’s quickies, with slightly bigger production values; a mixed blessing in the face of TV director Justus Addiss’s lethargic direction.

Corman regulars Leo Gordon (who co-wrote the script) and Bruno Ve Sota (who the same year directed The Brain Eaters) fill out the throng gathered to ogle; and Gordon generously gives Ve Sota one of the script’s best lines, “Teenagers, never had ’em when I was a kid!”

The basic situation dates back at least as far as Jean Gabin in Le Jour se Lève’ (1939), and was probably more immediately inspired by the siege at the end of Rebel Without a Cause. Nicholson doesn’t actually get that much screen time, as much of the action taking place back in the diner and in the forecourt. The script flits from character to character, including Gordon’s own wife Lynn Cartwright, who gives an attractive performance as waitress Julie, united with Ruth Swanson as Nicholson’s mother in her contempt for poison maiden Carolyn Mitchell who started all the trouble in the first place by ditching Nicholson for obnoxious alpha male bully Brett Halsey. (Swanson sums her up as “selfish, vulgar, cruel…rotten!!”)

The film’s unsung hero is Jordan Whitfield as Sam, the black dishwasher who keeps his head throughout the crisis. That we don’t see him get his due as Hero of the Hour at the film’s conclusion is one of several issues left unresolved (including the ultimate fates of both Nicholson and Halsey) when the end credits roll. @Richard Chatten

 

Montparnasse 19 (1958)

Dir: Jacques Becker | Cast: Gerard Philipe, Anouk Aimée | Lilli Palmer | Drama France, 108′

The Grim Reaper casts a long shadow over this film depicting the final declining months of Amedeo Modigliani – one of the giants of 20th Century art – who, in January 1920, died in Paris in poverty of tubercular meningitis aged just 35. The original director Max Ophuls had died suddenly at the age of 54, and both his replacement as director and the film’s star were dead within two years of its completion.

Had Ophuls lived we would now be contemplating a very different film – probably in colour and alive with his trademark dolly shots. Having already shown the seamier side of the Belle Époque in Casque d’Or, Jacques Becker wasn’t about to romanticise Parisian life after The Great War. In addition to making drastic changes to Henri Jeanson’s script – which led to rows – Becker (who had just made his two worst films, both in colour, which put him off making a third), instead of lifting the soul by concentrating on the art as posterity’s triumph over the life – as had Lust for Life – takes us on a bleak, monochromatic tour of the lower depths of Modigliani’s cramped and thwarted mortal existence; his mental and physical decline reflected in Paul Misraki’s sinister score.

The film already carries an on-screen disclaimer that it takes liberties with historical fact; and good as they both are as the two doomed lovers, it’s hard to believe the ethereal Gerard Philipe as the sort of brute who could possibly strike a woman, while Anouk Aimée – who has just celebrated her 89th birthday – looks more like a chic fifties left bank existentialist than a vulnerable little waif. A vibrant Lili Palmer, however, is spot-on as Modigliani’s bohemian ex-lover. Representing the art trade, Lino Ventura looks as if he’s barged in from the set of ‘Touchez Pas au Grisbi’; and the final shot of him greedily rifling through Modigliani’s artistic legacy is not for the faint-hearted @Richard Chatten

 

The Hands of Orlac (1924) Blu-ray

Dir.: Robert Wiene; Cast: Conrad Veidt, Alexandra Sorina, Fritz Kortner, Hans Homma, Fritz Strassny, Carmen Catellieri; Osterreich 1924, 92 min.

Four years after his most emblematic feature, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, director Robert Wiene (1873-1938) filmed Ludwig Nerz’ adaption of Maurice Renard’s novel as a psychological horror feature blending Grand Guignol with German Expressionism. It starred two of the great stars of the German speaking cinema of the first half of the 20th century, Conrad Veidt and Fritz Kortner; both of whom emigrated to the USA, where Veidt would go on to play Major Strasser in Casablanca. The film would be later be reworked as Mad Love in 1935, directed by emigrant Karl Freund and starring fellow émigré Peter Lorre in his Hollywood debuta. Amongst others, there is also a 1960s version of the original which stars Mel Ferrer, Christopher Lee and Donald Pleasence.

Veidt is mesmerising here as creepy tormented concert pianist Paul Orlac (Veidt) who is gravely injured returning from a concert tour when his train collides with one coming in the other direction. At the nearby sanatorium, Dr. Seral (Homma) saves his life by amputating the pianist’s hands, replacing them with those of a convicted murderer. But it’s not only the criminal’s hands he inherits in the ground-breaking surgery, as we discover in a grim twist in the finale.

Based on a novel by Maurice Renard, Wiene vividly brings to life Orlac’s horrifying descent into madness as his genius suffers and his reputation slowly disintegrates, his career in tatters. He is blackmailed by Nera (Kortner) and his father is mysteriously murdered, Orlac’s fingerprints appearing on the weapon. .

DoPs Günther Krampf and Hans Androschin use light and shadow to deft effects in the cavernous set design, making Orlac much more of a genre horror feature than Caligari. Mad Love was Freund’s last feature as a director, but he would go on shooting 45 features, including Key Largo). Meanwhile, Robert Wiene died in 1938 on the set of Ultimatum while in exile in Paris, the feature – starring Erich von Stroheim and Lila Kedrova (The Tenant) was finished by yet another future Hollywood great, Robert Siodmak. AS

COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA | MAY 2021

Effie Gray (2015)

Dir: Richard Laxton | Wri: Emma Thompson | Cast: Dakota Johnson, Greg Wise, Julie Walters, John Suchet, Claudia Cardinale, Richard Scamarcio, Tom Sturridge, Robbie Coltrane | UK Drama 104′

Richard Laxton’s bleak but beguiling Victorian drama transports us back to an era where women were often the sexually oppressed victims of emotionally repressed husbands. Such was the case with the intellectual giant and emotional pigmy John Ruskin (1819-1900).

A British stage actress Mrs Patrick Cambell described marriage as “the deep, deep peace of the double bed after the hurly-burly of the chaise lounge” This was one martial bed that was distinctly frosty.

Emma Thompson’s intriguing script unveils the frigid nature of the leading art critic who nevertheless left his name to an Oxford College – albeit a minor one (Ruskin himself attended Christ Church). Thompson and her husband Greg Wise both star here as Ruskin and the women who ‘exposes’ him – so to speak, at a time where even table legs were often covered up least they dare to offend, there’s a feeling that ardour and ecstasy was slowly burning its way through many a female bodice –  and one such garment was worn by Ruskin’s young wife Euphemia (1828-97) – elegantly and dolefully played here by Dakota Fanning – who endured a sexless marriage for nearly six years before escaping, quite legitimately, to the arms of John Everett Millais (Sturridge). Their marriage had never been consummated so it wasn’t even a menage-a-deux, let alone trois.

In keeping with the subject matter Effie Gray is delicately drawn and very painterly despite the gloomy first act where Effie’s spirit is gradually broken within the confines of the marital manor home they share with John’s doting mother (a stern Walters) and her saturnine husband (Suchet). There’s a bit in the middle where the newlyweds escape to Venice for a sweltering sojourn with Claudia Cardinale and her raffish son Rafael (Scamarcio) who sets Effie’s senses on fire, further repressing her boring bed dodger husband, who retaliates by calling her a harlot. Then it’s back to the Lake District where persistent rain falls as Ruskin, Effie and Millais embark on some plein-air painting.

By this stage the arrogant Ruskin has retreated to his books and Effie’s hair is falling out. At this point on to the scene jumps Emma Thompson vivacious as ever, claiming that “the first years of marriage are often hard”. Clearly she something else in mind. But it’s thanks to her Lady Eastlake that Effie extricates herself, culminating in a landmark court case wherein the marriage was annulled.

Laxton avoids melodrama or sensationalism producing instead a rather morbid feature the only passion coming from Thompson’s rather bumptious noblewoman who despite her socialite credentials is still aware of how marriage could often be a stricture where women were forced to honour and obey, even amongst the nobility who found their pleasures elsewhere.

Ruskin was the product of an over-bearing couple who hothoused his talents but stymied his emotional growth, reducing him to a pompous man-child capable of freezing out the warmest of souls, making him a perfect critic but a parlous companion. MT

EFFIE GRAY will re-release in Virtual Cinemas and on VOD 19th April

Virtual Cinemas

Rio Cinema, Rich Mix, ICA, Home, Plymouth Arts Centre, The Dukes, Watershed, Lewes Depot, The Riverside, Northampton Filmhouse, The Dome, Derby Quad and Bonington Theatre.

Digital Platforms:

Amazon, iTunes, Virgin, IFI Player, Chili, Youtube, Microsoft, Google, Vimeo on Demand, Small Screen Machine

SPECIAL COLLECTOR’S EDITION DVD/BLURAY OUT ON 31 MAY 2021

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Karloff at Columbia 1935-42

 

Boris Karloff was born in London as William Henry Pratt on 23 November 1887. His parents shared Indian ancestry and his mother’s maternal aunt was Anna Leonowens whose writings inspired The King and I musical. Pratt was tall and well built but suffered from a lisp which adds a rasp to his deep, melodious voice. The youngest of nine children, he was privately educated at Uppingham and went up to King’s College, London with a view to joining the Foreign Office, but eventually ended up travelling to Canada where he fell into acting adopting his stage name of Boris Karloff. He would marry six times, clearly his big break in Frankenstein in 1931 at the age of 45 didn’t put women off.

As one of the legends horror cinema he made six horror films during his time at Columbia, three with Nick Grinde, one with Robert Dymtryk and a final comedy spoof, joining forces with Peter Lorre: The Boogie Man Will Get You directed by Lew Landers.

The Black Room (1935)

Writing for The Spectator in 1935, Graham Greene described Roy William Neil’s thriller as “absurd and exciting”, and “wildly artificial.” praising both the acting of Karloff and the direction of Neill, and noting that Karloff had been given a long speaking part and “allowed to act at last”, and that Neill had “caught the genuine Gothic note” in a manner that displayed more historical sense than any of Alexander Korda’s films.

In the early 19th century twins are born to the DeBerghman family who rule a Czech province from their majestic medieval castle, bizarrely located in the Tyrol and designed by Stephen Goosson (Columbia art director who won an Oscar for Lost Horizon). A curse on the family states that the birth of twin boys will destroy the dynasty forever, the younger will murder the elder one in the infamous Black Room, betrayed by the family dog.

Made for Columbia Pictures at the height of his career, an eloquent Karloff has  fun here fleshing out the characters of the gallantly endearing gentleman Anton and his arrantly fiendish older brother Baron Gregor (who women both fear and detest). Magically captured in Allen G Siegler’s luminous black and white camerawork, it’s fascinating to see Karloff getting his teeth into a fully formed, non horror role. The pet mastiff Tor is terrific in support.

The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)

Columbia’s prescient sci-fi themed riff on the Old Dark House theme sees Karloff directed by Nick Grinde in the first (and arguably most intelligent) of his ‘mad scientist’ roles as Dr. Henryk Savaard a kindly and convincing psychopath bringing the dead back to life through the use of an artificial heart, twenty five years before reality. But when his healthy patient dies in a ‘failsafe’ experiment Savaard is tried in a pithy courtroom procedural (“I offered you Life, but you gave me Death”) and condemned to swing. Using the doc’s same methods his assistant, Lang (Byron Foulger), revives him, but Savaard is bitter for revenge.

The Devil Commands (1941)

Karloff really brings out the humanity of a bereaved husband mourning his beloved wife in Edward Dmytryk’s Gothic horror outing based on William Sloane’s novel The Edge of Running Water. It’s a convincing beast from the ‘mad doctor’ stable that explores the afterlife where science meets the surreal in a sorrowful romantic love story stylishly captured by Allen G Siegler’s spooky shadowplay making Karloff look raffishly sexy.

Nick Grinde collaborated with Karloff in two other ‘mad scientist’ films: The Man with Nine Lives (1940) and Before I Hang (1940). MT

NOW ON BLU-RAY EUREKA CLASSICS | 3 May 2021

The Snorkel (1958) Blu-ray

Dir: Guy Green | Cast: Peter van Eyck, Betta St John, Mandy Miller, Gregoire Aslan | UK Psycho Drama, 90′

In 1968, when I was nine years old, I was about 10 minutes from the end of this gripping Hammer psycho-thriller on Anglia Television when my father amused himself by suddenly packing me off to bed. It’s taken me forty-nine years, but I finally got to see the ending of this film.

Hammer’s psychological thrillers of the early sixties are usually deemed sub-Hitchcock copies of Psycho; but since The Snorkel was released a full two years before Psycho their inspiration is more obviously Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955), from the mystery novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narjejac, who also wrote the book on which Vertigo was based. (Peter van Eyck, the evil stepfather in The Snorkel, actually starred in Clouzot’s previous film, Le Salaire de la Peur.)

The Snorkel was the last film lead played by the unique Mandy Miller, then 13, whose dramatically arched eyebrows and full lips render her still recognisable as the pretty little deaf & dumb girl from Ealing Studio’s classic Mandy (1952). Already convinced that her mother is simply the second of her two parents to be murdered by Van Eyck, a poster of Cousteau’s ‘Le Monde du Silence’ provides her with the clue she needs as to how he did it, and she enters with gusto into a game of cat and mouse with her wicked stepfather. Thus provoked, van Eyck puts on his striped jersey and rubber gloves again, slips her a Mickey Finn, seals off all the windows and doors and turns on the gas, and then…

It’s taken me nearly fifty years to find out what happened next, but it’s a beaut! ©Richard Chatten

NOW ON BLURAY AT AMAZON 

Zee and Co. (1972)

Dir: Brian G Hutton | Wri: Edna O’Brian | Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Caine, Susannah York, Margaret Leighton | US Drama 110′

For anyone who ever hankered to see what a collaboration between the novelist Edna O’Brien and the director of Where Eagles Dare would have looked like, look no further! After two war movies in a row, Brian G. Hutton obviously felt the need to try his hand at something a bit more dangerous; and Elizabeth Taylor in all her big-haired, loud-mouthed and even more loudly dressed glory dominates this delirious spectacle in a way rarely seen since the heyday of Bette Davis.

Taylor and Caine give their all as a self-absorbed pair who make George & Martha from ‘Virginia Woolf’ look like The Brady Bunch. In reality Caine would probably have abandoned or murdered Taylor long ago; but she’s entertaining to watch and listen to – at least for the duration of the movie – and shows a delightful flair for mimicry mocking some of her co-stars. (spoiler coming up: I thought she jumped the shark, however, with her suicide attempt.)

Susannah York understandably seems more than a little overwhelmed by the madhouse she’s wandered into. A few spoilsports have already revealed the twist at the end of this tale. As a bloke I was as surprised and delighted as I was relieved that a woman wrote it; so it absolved me of feeling guilty at being served up with one of my favourite male fantasies about two women.

Whatever happened to these three after the closing credits is anybody’s guess; but the audience I watched it with at the Barbican tonight laughed appreciatively all the way through and gave it an enthusiastic round of applause as the lights went up. @Richard Chatten.

AVAILABLE ON AMAZON

Catch Us if You Can (1965)

Dir: John Boorman | Wri: Peter Nichols | Cast: Dave Clark, Barbara Ferris, David Lodge, Robin Bailey, Clive Swift, Marianne Stone, Ronald Lacey, Yootha Joyce, David de Keyser,

John Boorman’s calling card for Point Blank wasn’t a straight-up musical biopic of the famous early 1960s band (whose 1964 hit ‘Glad All Over’ knocked the Beatles off the top of the UK Singles Chart) but something altogether more interesting, the DC5s music providing the score for a ‘Youth Culture’ escapade. Taking its title from another band hit Catch Us if You Can starts in London then broadens out into an eventful auteurish travelogue of the West Country in an E-type Jag, captured by Manny Wynn’s evocative black and white camerawork. There are some memorable turns – particularly from Barbara Ferris as a model running away with a stuntman (played by Clark) while filming a promo for an ad agency – who then capitalise on the caper. The Five boys don’t have the chops, but they certainly held the tunes – and add a certain cocky verve as ‘Beatle competitors’, and Ferris is amusingly perky as Dinah. Watch out for Yootha Joyce, Clive Swift, Michael Gwynn, Peter Nichols (who wrote the script) and a mellow David de Keyser (who is still with us) as the quintessential Sixties adman adding a touch of edgy class. MT

NOW OUT ON BLURAY, DVD, DIGITAL PLATFORMS – 5th April 2021

The Man Who Reclaimed His Head (1934)

Dir: Edward Ludwig | Cast: Joan Bennett, Claude Rains, Lionel Atwell, Juanita Quigley | US Drama 80′

The few people likely to be familiar with this title today will probably already know enough of the plot to be aware of the spectacular final retribution taken by Claude Rains against Lionel Atwill and assume that it was a follow up to Rains’ auspicious talkie film debut the year before as Universal’s new horror star in the title role of The Invisible Man.

However, Rains had already played the role on Broadway – under that title – the year before he made The Invisible Man, and the film is actually a very thirties pacifist diatribe (albeit garnished with an eye-catching title and plot gimmick) set in France just before and during the first year of The Great War.

No attempt seems to have been made to dress the cast convincingly in period attire, probably to heighten its topicality to the troubled 1930s, when fear of lethal new weapons ran hand in hand with munitions manufacturers in wing collars rubbing their hands with poorly concealed glee at the prospect of the vast fortunes to be made out of another war.

Director Edward Ludwig’s only other brush with political filmmaking ironically appears to have been John Wayne’s red-baiting love letter to the HUAC, Big Jim McLain, nearly twenty years later. ©Richard Chatten

 

Viy (1967) and Sveto Mesto (1990) | Bluray

Dirs: Konstantin Yershov, Georgi Kropachyov | Cast: Leonid Kuravlyov, Natalya Varley, Aleksey Glazyrin, Nikolay Kutuzov, Vadim Zakharchen | USSR Fantasy/Horror 77′

In 19th century Ukraine a young priest is forced to undergo a macabre test of his faith in this whimsical gothic ‘folktale’ based on the 1835 novella by Nikolai Gogol – more Arthur Rackham or Grimm’s than Tarkovsky in feel – inviting us to reflect on the temptations of Lent, with a twist that taunts Russian Orthodoxy with its nihilistic overtones.

Surprisingly avoiding censorship due to Gogol’s revered status in Russia, this first slice of Soviet fantasy horror vividly brings to life the writer’s atmospheric prose and erotic and fantastical elements spiced with a little irony, all glowingly designed by communism’s answer to Walt Disney, Aleksandr Ptushko whose special effects in the delicately creepy haunting scenes make this particularly enjoyable, and include a 360-degree camera movement to create the illusion of a protective circle around Khoma, all enhanced by Karen Khachaturyan’s evocative score.

The film was previously adapted by Mario Bava as Black Sunday (1960) in the same simple storyline. As the purple twilight of a midsummer evening descends three lost novices bed down for the night in a remote wooden farmhouse after persuading the old lady who lives there to give them sanctuary from the wolves. Later she overpowers Khoma (Leonid Kuravlyov) in a bid to seduce him, literally riding him broomstick-style into the twinkly night sky as she turns into a witch. Beating her to death after landing, Khoma sees the crone morph into a dark-haired maiden (Natalya Varley) who later emerges as the dead daughter of a local nobleman who begs him, on pain of a flogging, to pray for her soul on three nightly vigils in the locked church, each ending with the crowing of a rather handsome cock.

Viy could be set in the 15th century of Andrei Rublev with its medieval-looking peasant farmers, but the grotesque humour of Khoma’s weird dance routine echoes Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers – made in the same year – and also based on a 19th legend in Transylvania. Romanian actress Natalya Varley is alluring in the role of the young temptress, at just under five feet tall.

Djordje Kadijevic‘s Serbian gothic film Sveto Mesto (A Holy Place) (1990) is a distinctly more scary and unsettling South Slavic take on Gogol’s story, directed as a straightforward gothic drama here by Djordje Kadijevic and starring the darkly alluring Dragon Jovanovic (as the priest Toma), the real life partner of Branko Pujic who plays his onscreen temptress Katerina.

Kadijevic loses the humour but sexes up the storyline of his version where Katerina is an altogether more nasty character: in a lesbian tryst with her maid, an incestuous one with her father, she also castrates one of her manservants after seducing him in a barn.

After dark, Katerina turns into a wailing banshee, needless to say, Toma goes grey. These chapel scenes are really quite terrifying, not to mention the wincingly brutal finale where Toma gets it in the neck and somewhere even more painful, in contrast to Khoma fate in Viy’s wittier fantasy style.

Sveto Mesto was made during the wartorn era of Balkan history when audiences were not looking for more horror in their lives so the film more or less sank without trace, only to re-emerge in recent years to serve as a worthwhile companion piece to Viy. Although technically less innovative, Kadijevic had a much tighter budget than the Soviets, and a dimmer view of society in general. His trump card was to secure as DoP Alexandar Petrovic, one Yugoslavia’s most talented filmmakers of the era, who gives the film a baroque visual style. Particularly choice is the line of dialogue “every woman who grows old becomes a witch”. MT

On Blu-ray from 15 March 2021 courtesy of Eureka

Senso (1954) DVD/blu-ray

Dir: Luchino Visconti | Cast: Farley Grainger, Marcella Mariani, Alida Valli, Massimo Girotti, Heinz Moog, Rina Morelli | Italy, Drama 123′

Visconti’s first film in colour and his first with a patrician 19th Century backdrop, Senso is a squalid tale of base animal passion with an epic grandeur that raises it to the pantheon of Great Screen Romances by courtesy of Visconti having robed his sixth feature in the trappings of the momentous historical backdrop of the Risorgimento of 1866, Venetian locations, plush interiors, immaculate costumes and Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony (which wasn’t actually composed until fifteen years later).

The plot actually has marked similarities to Joseph Losey’s The Sleeping Tiger, made concurrently in drab monochrome in postwar austerity Britain; in which refined Alexis Smith (married to decent but dull Alexander Knox) completely loses her head over delinquent Dirk Bogarde. Ten years earlier, Visconti himself made a much more unadorned treatment of greed and destructive passion with Ossessione (1942) an adaptation of James M. Cain’s sweaty tale of blue-collar adultery and murder, The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Maria Callas had been Visconti’s first choice for the part of Countess Livia Serpieri – a society wife who becomes infatuated with good-looking creep Lieutenant Franz Mahler (played in a gleaming white uniform by an obviously dubbed Farley Granger), but she had too many theatre commitments to take time out for the shoot which eventually took nine months to complete, and Ingrid Bergman was too wrapped up working with her husband Roberto Rossellini, so the role eventually went to Alida Valli. Still stunning, but already perceptibly older than during her late forties Hollywood sojourn, in the arms of Lt. Mahler Valli discovers an erotic fulfilment entirely new to her; but to Franz she’s just another notch on his bedpost, and someone to sponge off.

Marcella Mariani (who died in a plane crash aged 19, just six weeks after Senso‘s premiere) is rather sweet and vulnerable as the young prostitute Clara who is spitefully exploited by Franz to further rub Livia’s nose in his rejection of her. Rina Morelli has an eye-catching cameo flitting about Livia’s villa in Aldeno as her maid, who seems to be actively enjoying the thrill of her mistress’s affair. But the most blackly comic element in the film is the way that as momentous historical events escalate around them, she and her idealistic cousin Roberto Ussoni (played by Massimo Girotti) are shown to be completely oblivious to what is making the other tick.

Under the impression that Franz is waiting for her at an address to which she has been followed by her stuffy husband (Heinz Moog) she melodramatically declares, with her back to the door, that YES SHE HAS A LOVER!!!, only to discover the place occupied by Roberto and his revolutionaries eagerly making plans; as oblivious of the turmoil raging inside Livia as she is by now indifferent to their cause. She commits treason by sheltering Franz from the Italians, and then gets even deeper into corruption by helping him to avoid combat by giving money meant for The Cause to him. One of a number of loose ends in the plot is that we never find out what happens when it’s discovered that 200,000 florins have gone missing from the fund intended to finance The Revolution, has been filched by yours truly.

As her grip on sanity loosens, Livia’s wardrobe (the work of Marcel Escoffier & Piero Tosi) becomes more and more buttoned down and severe, the black dress she wears in her final scenes making her resemble some ferocious bird of prey. The distinguished Italian cameraman G.R. Aldo was killed in a car crash during filming (this was also his first colour production); and the opening scene in Venice’s Fenice Theatre is the work of his successor Robert Krasker, who himself walked out on the production after falling out with Visconti, leaving the film to be completed by Giuseppe Rotunno. Whoever shot the amazing close-ups of Valli – her eyes wildly darting from side to side as she becomes more and more unhinged – merits particular kudos. During the final confrontation in the hotel you’re expecting her to produce a gun and shoot Franz; but she achieves the same end by more deliciously vindictive means, and he ends up in front of a firing squad assembled at remarkably short notice while she careens into the night to a very uncertain fate.

Having ended with a bang, the final credits still have one more surprise to serve up when the first two names we see after Visconti’s turn out to be those of the future directors (on this occasion humble assistants), Francesco Rosi and Franco Zeffirelli.

Senso was shot in English, and there are a couple of excerpts on YouTube from the truncated 94 minute English-language version, ‘The Wanton Countess’ which enable you to hear Granger in his own voice speaking dialogue written by no less than Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles (thus confirming suspicions that we are witnessing a Venetian variation on A Streetcar Named Desire).

By the 1970s Visconti could finally make a film truer to his own inclinations in Death in Venice (1971), with Dirk Bogarde – once the object of infatuation himself in The Sleeping Tiger, but now the one smitten – in a production again dressed up to the nines, handsomely set in period, again using beautiful Venetian locations and this time almost entirely dispensing with dialogue in favour of Mahler, his favourite composer; whose name he had co-opted for the young officer in Senso (who had been called Remigio Ruz in Camillo Boito’s original novella). Richard Chatten.

NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD on AMAZON + CRITERION COLLECTION

The End of St Petersburg (1927) DVD

Dir: Vasevolod Pudovkin, Mikhail Dollar | Cast: Aleksandr Chistyakov, Vera Baranovska, Ivan Chuvelyov, V Obolensky | USSR Drama 87′


Despite the grandiose and specific title, and crammed with the usual magnificent images one expects of Soviet silent cinema (aided by Pudovkin’s regular cameraman Anatoli Golovnya), this worm’s eye view of the Revolution is as frustrating to watch as Spielberg’s remake of The War of the Worlds in electing to show momentous events from the perspective of a humble onlooker (Ivan Chuvelev) stuck at the back with a rather poor view of what is unfolding, and assumes a detailed knowledge on the part the audience (which may well have existed in 1927) of – say – the role of the First World War in the fall of the Romanov dynasty to fill in the gaps.

Pudovkin, like Eisenstein, had considerable resources at his disposal when he made this tenth anniversary celebration of the Russian Revolution, and the money’s up there on the screen, but without the cinematic exhilaration of Eisenstein’s October. No film about the Revolution seems complete without its visit to the Winter Palace, however, and The End of St.Petersburg concludes with Pudovkin’s original ‘Mother’, Vera Baranovskaya, wandering into the Palace and up the central staircase without encountering a single other person. How many authentic proletarians in 1917 really wandered about the building so casually in the Revolution’s aftermath? (Just as how many shareholders ever actually visit the sweatshops from which their wealth derives, like the guy in the Hitler moustache and stiff collar who introduces himself to the hero while he’s stoking a furnace?) Richard Chatten

NOW ON AMAZON

Blast of Silence (1961) DVD

Dir: Allen Baron | Cast: Allen Baron, Molly McCarthy, Larry Tucker, Peter Clune | US Noir Thriller 77′

The most valuable asset to an ambitious young filmmaker of the 21st Century would probably be a time machine capable of returning you to the year 1960. Clocking in at just 77 minutes but seeming much longer, Blast of Silence is further evidence that in those days it would have taken genius for an independent filmmaker NOT to create a classic city ‘noir’. Just make sure there’s film in your camera and take your pick from all the breathtaking compositions – complete with vintage cars and sharply dressed passers-by – constantly forming around you; even Michael Winner couldn’t fail to turn in a black & white urban gem three years later with West 11 (1963).

It certainly anticipates Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai (1967) – but then so do Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss (1955) and Robert Wise’s Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) – and plenty have been seduced by Blast of Silence’s aura of monochrome period cool into extravagantly overpraising it. Allen Baron’s inexpressive performance as hit-man Frankie Bono (he resembles a young George C. Scott) certainly provides a perfect blank slate on which to inscribe any profundities or angst that grab you. In his capacity as writer-director Baron at some point late in production evidently felt the need to do just that, calling upon two eminent blacklistees whose services at the time would have been available at an affordable price.

The insistent narration reminiscent of Mark Hellinger’s in The Naked City was written under the pseudonym Mel Davenport by Waldo Salt (who later won Academy Awards for Midnight Cowboy and Coming Home), while the rasping voice of Lionel Stander is uncredited but unmistakable on the soundtrack, providing the glue which with Merrill Brody’s photography holds the film together. Unfortunately much of what Stander keeps telling us on the soundtrack doesn’t really need to be spelled out so relentlessly; while Meyer Kupferman’s jazz score is extremely effective in moderation, but gets very noisy in places.

Despite supposedly being such a pro, Frankie Bono’s murder of Big Ralph (played by Larry Tucker, who I recognised from Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor) is remarkably amateurishly executed, his long-anticipated hit of Troiano no big deal, and he proves remarkably easy to ambush at the film’s conclusion. Richard Chatten

NOW ON AMAZON

The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974) Bluray

Dir: Joseph Sargent | Cast: Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, James Broderick, Dick O’Neill, Lee Wallace | US Thriller 104′

A depressing sign of the times is that Ridley Scott’s underpowered 2009 remake of this classic thriller has far more posts on IMDb, after ten years, than the original after twenty. Mind you, even older viewers would be hard-pushed to recall the name of the actual director. But Joseph Sargent (whose long career in TV included James Cagney’s final role in Terrible Joe Moran) put his long career directing actors to good use in his one major cinema release, filmed in New York with a cast recruited largely from Broadway (including Rudy Bond – who played the judge in the opening scene of 12 Angry Men – as the police commissioner).

A slow-burner with a terrific score by David Shire (whose other films include The Conversation and Zodiac). During filming everyone knew they were making a winner, but at the box office back in the day failed to come up trumps, and the thriller rarely showed up on tv during the eighties. It was eventually resurrected twenty years later as a cult movie after inspiring Reservoir Dogs, which turned the film inside out by not actually showing the caper itself, dealing instead which its planning and aftermath.

In Reservoir Dogs we instead see the squabbling among grown men over who gets what colour, while the black suits worn in Tarantino’s film reflect the simple but effective disguises employed by the original desperadoes (it comes as quite a shock when Mr Grey turns out to be bald underneath his hat).

Frederick Raphael cited the use of the word ‘Gesundheit’ and its implications in the final scene as exemplary of the high standard of the writing; evident throughout the film as when one of the security men observes that “You’d think a million dollars would look like more” or when Garber is surprised to discover that Inspector Daniels is black. The one major flaw is when Blue behaves wholly out of character by going back into the tunnel to kill the plainclothes man solely so that he can get caught (Matthau’s line that they don’t “at the moment” have the death penalty in New York State shows just how long ago this film was made). The scene where Blue kills the guard is genuinely shocking since we have come to care about him, but demonstrates just how ruthless Blue is and justifies his own sticky ending. Richard Chatten

NOW ON AMAZON

Gunman on the Streets (1950) DVD

Dir: Frank Tuttle | Cast: Dane Clark, Simone Signoret, Fernand Gravey, Robert Duke, Michel Andre | US Noir thriller 86′

Atmospherically shot by the veteran Oscar-winning cameraman Eugen Schüfftan, Gunman in the Streets is the English-language version of a co-production released in France as Le Traqué. The French version is now even more obscure than this, and since it had a different credited director (Borys Lewin, normally an editor) may be substantially different from this one. All those obviously Gallic types speaking English seem a little incongruous and it would be easy to imagine this with subtitles (Dane Clark and Robert Duke were presumably dubbed). Jean-Pierre Melville probably saw Le Traqué, and Fernand Gravet’s police commissioner, suavely hot on Clark’s trail, strongly resembles Paul Meurisse’s Commissaire Blot in Le Deuxième Souffle (1966).

The English-language version bears the name of blacklisted Hollywood veteran Frank Tuttle (before he yielded in 1951 to pressure to name names to the HUAC), which may be why it was never released theatrically in the United States. But it can’t have helped that it’s so relentlessly sordid, grim and claustrophobic, with a hero unlikeable even by Dane Clark’s usual charmless standard.

It starts like Odd Man Out, with Clark on the run on the streets of Paris with a bullet in his shoulder after shooting his way to freedom. He contacts former girlfriend Simone Signoret, curtly informs her that he needs 300,000 francs pronto to get out of the country, and they hole up in the apartment of a creepy admirer of Signoret’s (Michel André) who Clark handles predictably roughly. What Signoret (then in her absolute youthful prime) ever saw in this vicious little runt was beyond me; I guess he must have been dynamite in the sack. Richard Chatten

NOW ON DVD FROM AMAZON

Breeder (2021) Digital/Bluray

Dir: Jens Dahl | Cast: Signe Egholm Olsen, Sara Hjort Ditlevsen | Thriller, Denmark

This brutal survival horror outing from Denmark’s Jens Dahl’s – who actually wrote Nic Winding Refn’s drug thriller Pusher – is set in rather sophisticated surroundings in a smart part of Copenhagen.

‘Women beware women’ is very much the order of the day here as female themselves are the victims of a curious bio-hacking experiment, run by a ruthless businesswoman (Signe Egholm Olsen) who is using her health supplement company as a front for selecting and abducting them as part of an experiment to reverse the ageing process, which most of the female population could end up benefiting from if only they could survive.

The central character Mia (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen, Borgman) tries to get to the bottom of it all and ends up trapped, branded and tortured in a grim underground facility. Familiar faces start to appear, and Mia realises she is not alone in all this. But does she have the will to survive and escape from the nightmare? Or do we really care?

Dahl has some interesting ideas but lacks the directing experience to pull it all off successfully, and despite his considerable talents as a writer he relies on a  script by Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen. Slack pacing and an unremarkable cast are supported by Nikolai Lok’s camerawork that certainly looks impressive, but you can’t rely on images alone to make a gripping horror film.

Clearly Dahl is harking back to the New French Extreme films at the turn of this century from filmmakers such as Gaspar Noé’s, Catherine Breillat and Leo Carax but Breeder is rather a pale rider in comparison to Polar X, Baise Moi or even Trouble Every Day. MT

NOW ON BLURAY & DIGITAL from MONTAGE PICTURES

Dr Crippen (1962) DVD | Talking Pictures

Dir: Robert Lynn | Wri: Leigh Vance | Cast: Donald Pleasence, Samantha Eggar, Coral Browne, Donald Wolfit, James Robertson Justice | UK Drama 98′

Along with Himmler in The Eagle Has Landed this is the role Donald Pleasence was born to play; although ironically Coral Browne, who stars as his abrasive wife, later married Vincent Price who landed the part originally written with Pleasence in mind, of Matthew Hopkins in Witchfinder General (1968).

Nic Roeg is behind the camera here and the focus is Crippen’s love life in a storyline that opens at the start of the doctor’s trial in the Old Bailey, flashbacks fleshing out the gruelling desperation of his marriage to failed performer Belle (Browne), whom he later leaves to elope with his young secretary and mistress Ethel Le Neve (Eggar) only to be arrested on boarding the vessel bound for freedom – and death in 1910.

George Orwell once observed that it shows what society really thinks of the institute of marriage that whenever a woman gets murdered the first person police suspect is always the husband. Making a welcome change from the usual theme of petty crime and bank robberies that British cinema at that time became known for, Robert Lynn’ macabre ‘true crime’ drama followed swiftly on the heals of the Lady Chatterley’s trial that showcased the subject of sexual incompatibility within marriage. Dr Crippen carried an ‘X’ certificate due to its raw depiction of unfulfilled married life, rather than its murderous subject; and in order to potray a very contemporary problem on screen it was necessary to do so in the guise of a famous criminal case over a half a century earlier. Richard Chatten.

ON DVD and TCM | TALKING PICTURES TV

 

Lost Boundaries (1949)

Dir: Alfred J Werker | Wri: Ormond Dekay | Cast: Beatrice Pearson, Mel Ferrer, Susan Douglas Roubes, Robert A Dunn, Richard Hylton | US Drama 99′

During the immediate postwar period Hollywood developed a new maturity and a social conscience on racial matters given expression in 1947 by two dramas about anti-Semitism, Crossfire and Gentleman’s Agreement. Two years later, Lost Boundaries was one of at least four films released in 1949 addressing discrimination against Black Americans preceded by Home of the Brave and followed by Pinky and Intruder in the Dust.

The issues addressed by Lost Boundaries anticipated Imitation of Life and the British Sapphire by ten years, but Imitation of Life itself was already based on a 1933 novel that had been filmed before in 1934. The 1934 version of Imitation of Life is possibly unique in that the daughter who ‘passes’ was actually played by a Black actress, Fredi Washington (1903-1994), who is superb, and whose failure to go on to a fruitful career in Hollywood speaks volumes. The topic remains hot today, with the White House having been recently occupied by the man who sponsored the ‘birther’ campaign against his mixed-race predecessor (who himself once raised eyebrows by describing himself as a ‘mutt’); while in 2015 the whole situation was turned on its head when Black activist Rachel Anne Dolezal was ‘outed’ as White.

Crossfire was actually based on a novel in which the original murder victim had been a homosexual, and the issue of ‘passing’ for straight for the sake of a quiet life also remains a live one, as Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia (1993) testified. (Richard Hylton – who plays the son in Lost Boundaries – ironically returned to the stage after Fox declined to renew his contract due to rumours about his sexuality, and eventually committed suicide in San Francisco in 1962.)

Mounted by Louis de Rochemont to resemble a documentary, Lost Boundaries depicts a world unfamiliar even today to many White audiences of America’s Black professional class, and is based on the case of Dr. Albert C. Johnston (1900-1988), a Black radiologist who along with his wife Thyra (1904-1995) passed as White in 1930s New Hampshire (and was even chairman of his local Republican Party) until his cover was blown when the USN withdrew his commission in 1940 after learning that he was part Black.

The story of Dr. Johnston and his family was the subject of a Reader’s Digest article in 1947, followed in 1948 by a book, Lost Boundaries, by William L. White (author of Journey for Margaret and They Were Expendable) before being turned into this film, which won the award for Best Screenplay at the 1949 Cannes Film Festival and was banned in both Atlanta and Memphis. (Dr. Johnston himself continued to work in Keene, N.H. until moving to Hawaii in 1966).

For modern viewers more used to seeing Mel Ferrer in escapist Hollywood fare like Scaramouche and Lili his role in this is a surprise; but he is in fact one of several actors making their debuts in the feature, notably Richard Hylton – whose discovery that he’s Black just as he was about to enter the navy has a power equivalent to the plight of the daughter in Imitation of Life – and a charming and impossibly young-looking Carleton Carpenter in a smaller role.

The fact that the son’s situation is far from unique is revealed when a Black police lieutenant observes, “Ohh, one of those cases, eh? Some times they really do go screwy”. Canada Lee is excellent as usual as Lt. Thompson, and it’s yet another of the film’s many ironies that when he died of a heart attack three years later at the age of 45 he was at the time being hounded by the HUAC. Richard Chatten.

ON DVD AND TCM in the US 

Letter to Jane: An Investigation About a Still (1972)

Dir: Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin | With Marlon Brando, Moshe Dayan, James Dean, Maria Falconetti | Doc, 52′

Letter to Jane is a 1972 French postscript film to Tout Va Bien directed by the same duo (under the auspices of the Dziga Vertov Group). It came as quite a surprise to me to realise that I had until recently never actually seen this much-discussed polemic from Godard’s radical phase. The fact that the commentary was delivered by Godard himself and Jean-Pierre Gorin in English was another surprise, as I had no idea that Godard spoke English.

As the film progressed I became angrier and angrier at the fact that Godard & Gorin never drew back to let us see the whole photograph for ourselves. Early on in the film (before we’ve had time to get our bearings), a slightly fuller version of the picture appears as part of the original ‘L’Express’ article in which it appeared; so we know that the picture extends further than Godard & Gorin subsequently permit us to see – but we never see the picture in anything approaching its entirety ever again.

Instead Godard & Gorin show us only what they want us to see, while on the soundtrack they didactically ramble on and on; mercilessly bludgeoning the audience with egregious digressions, non sequiturs and name-dropping. It’s as if some officious bore were sitting opposite you holding an 8 by 10 copy of the original picture which they insist on describing to you in great but selective detail; but every time you try to get it off them so you can have a look at it for yourself pulls away and never lets you have it.

This sort of stunt might have worked during the seventies when you were seated in a cinema and couldn’t replay any of the film on DVD or YouTube. But thanks to the internet, as soon as I got home after the screening I was able to immediately look up the full uncropped picture on Google Images; and the enormity of Godard & Gorin’s offense was revealed. Godard & Gorin go on and on AND ON in a wildly speculative fashion (confident assertions beginning “In fact” or “We couldn’t help observing” or “We have proved” rubbing shoulders with frequent caveats like “We think” and “In our opinion”) about the man in the white shirt in the background with his face grainily blown up to show only him; and yet almost completely ignore the man in the pith helmet in the foreground that Fonda is actually concentrating upon. Furthermore, nobody watching Letter to Jane ever sees that on the right of the original photograph there is in fact another woman listening; and only at the beginning of the film can we see that Fonda is holding a camera.

So it’s a bit rich of Godard & Gorin to sanctimoniously accuse ‘L’Express’ of deliberate lying and manipulation while they themselves are throughout wilfully withholding information from the viewer. Richard Chatten

LETTER TO JANE is available in US/CANADA on The Criterion Channel 

Twice Round the Daffodils (1962)

Dir: Gerald Thomas, Wri: Patrick Cargill | Cast: Juliet Mills, Donald Sinden, Donald Houston, Kenneth Williams, Andrew Ray, Amanda Reiss | UK Comedy 89′

Carry On Nurse had been the top British moneymaker of 1959, but Twice Round the Daffodils is far from the “Carry On in all but name” it’s usually claimed to be – and was originally promoted as – despite the presence of Kenneth Williams who’s actually rather subdued here. The ‘naughty’ digressions with Jill Ireland clambering through a window in her drawers and Donald Sinden’s roving eye actually go jarringly against the grain of most of the rest of the film.

Based on a play called ‘Ring for Catty’ by Patrick Cargill (who had just appeared in Carry On Regardless) and Jack Beale, originally produced as Rest Hour in 1951. Producer Peter Rogers had owned it for several years and had wanted to film it when he was obliged to make Carry On Nurse instead’. It’s obvious from the opening credits accompanied by Bruce Montgomery’s soaring score, however, that this is a completely different kettle of fish more akin to the ‘Sanatorium’ episode of Trio (1950).

Taking its title from the fervently aimed for constitutional exercise of ‘twice round the daffodils’ indicating possible permanent release from the hospital confines, this is a film best appreciated after a spell of serious illness, or possibly even Covid isolation. When I recently spent two months in hospital, I often thought about this film, and how soul-destroyingly boring hospital life must have been without the iPad my sister supplied me with. Everybody in this film looks far too healthy, the interminable nights and the tedium and melancholy of the days is suggested only by Kenneth Williams’ desperation for a chess partner; and while going to the lavatory isn’t overlooked – and is here treated as a subject of mirth – it looms large in your calculations if you’re stuck in bed all day.

To return to the credit sequence, Amanda Reiss as Nurse Beamish (referred to only as ‘Dorothy’ in the cast list) is listed right at the bottom of the cast despite featuring prominently and touchingly throughout the film itself. Richard Chatten.

COMING UP ON TALKING PICTURES

Eerie Tales (1919) *** DVD

Dir: Richard Oswald | Cast: Anita Barber, Conrad Veidt, Reinhold Schunzel, Hugo Doblin, Paul Morgan, Georg John, Bernhard Goetzke,

By 1919 feature films were now long enough to accommodate more than just one story (as Intolerance had amply demonstrated), and Unheimliche Geschichten provides five; replete with spooky special effects and atmospherically lit interiors shot by Carl Hoffmann that make good use of depth of field. (The apprehensive-looking fellow who appears in the prologue with Reinhold Schunzel and Conrad Veidt is director Richard Oswald.)

The Black Cat and The Suicide Club (episodes 3 and 4) will already be familiar to most viewers, while the first episode presumably draws upon the same urban legend that originated during the Paris Exposition of 1889 that was most famously filmed as So Long at the Fair in 1950. I don’t know how widely seen this film was during the 1920s, but plenty of the imagery found its way into later, more famous movies (the ghostly clutching hand in The Beast with Five Fingers, the button that can kill the person sitting in a particular chair at the reading of SPECTRE’s financial reports in Thunderball, for example).

With his creepy demeanour, slicked-back hair and tights, moon-faced Reinhold Schunzel as Satan resembles The Riddler, while in the first episode he looks like Kurt Raab. It’s always good to see Conrad Veidt; but the film is particularly valuable as a record of the naughty Weimar-era cabaret dancer Anita Berber, whose adoption of formal male attire in Dr Mabuse was later made famous by her erstwhile girlfriend Marlene Dietrich, and who was the subject of a famous portrait by Otto Dix in 1925. She burned herself out young but here gets ample opportunity to display her corporeal presence in several different roles, as well as her famous androgyny and dancing agility doing the splits in tights and a short smock that display her legs while simultaneously making her resemble a female Hamlet. Richard Chatten

SO LONG AT THE FAIR is now on Talking Pictures TV | Amazon

 

A New Kind of Love (1963)

Dir: Melville Shavelson | Cast: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodwood, Thelma Ritter, Eva Gabor | US Romantic Comedy 100′

One of the funniest things The Marx Brothers ever did was attempt to pass themselves off as Maurice Chevalier singing the title song of this ghastly misfire to bluff their way through customs in Monkey Business (1931). Over thirty years later Chevalier here puts in an appearance to briefly warble it himself; which simply demonstrates that they did this sort of thing better in the thirties and that Paul Newman couldn’t play comedy.

Rehashing the old chestnut that short hair and a suit equals frumpy, and that tarting herself up and plonking on a blonde wig and several pounds of slap automatically makes an already delightful woman irresistible. The plot resembles a leering cross between Ninotchka and Two-Faced Woman on which glossy Technicolor photography by Daniel Fapp and fanciful colour effects by George Hoyningen-Heune have been squandered. And it all thinks it’s a lot cleverer and sophisticated than it actually is. Years later they used one of the photos to headline the Cannes Film Festival, bringing the film back into the collective conscience, so that served a purpose of sorts. Richard Chatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

The Investigation (2021) BBCiPlayer | DVD

 

Dir: Tobias Linholm | Cast: Soren Malling, Pilou Asbaek, Pernilla August, Rolf Lassgard, Laura Christensen, Dulfi Al-Jabouri, Hans Henrik Clemensen | Denmark, True crime drama, 2021

True crime doesn’t get any more gruesome than the murder of journalist Kim Wall. So the Danes have thrown their best talent behind this HBO miniseries (now also on BBC 2) written and directed by Tobias Lindholm (whose Another Round is Denmark’s Oscar hopeful) and starring Pernilla August, Borgen‘s Soren Malling, Pilou Asbaek (A Hijacking) and Rolf Lassgard.

This was a murder that shocked the world: a Danish inventor Peter Madsen invited Wall to visit his homemade submarine somewhere off the coast of Denmark. She then disappeared without trace and Madsen was rescued after his vessel sunk near to Copenhagen’s Koge bay. Interviewed by police Madsen later claimed Wall had slipped and hit her head, drowning in a watery grave. But then it gets weird. As Wall’s body parts were gradually washed up, the head some time later delaying identification, Madsen was arrested and charged with her murder, changing his story several times in the aftermath.

Sombre and sumptuously photographed by Magnus Nordenhof Jonck this plays out as a slow burning and evocative thriller that manages to be utterly compelling while respecting the delicate subject matter and Wall’s loved ones, as it carefully chronicles the unfolding investigation – day by day – under the guidance of Malling’s thoughtful Jens Moller. The detective really took it upon himself to ensure that no stone was left unturned in exploring the unpalatable facts, consulting oceanographers and tide experts to fathom out what happened during that fateful night of August 10th 2017.

Wall was an accomplished professional investigative journalist with everything to live for, yet her career was cut short by Madsen who not only ended her life, but in such a macabre way – presumably he hoped the evidence would be destroyed by marine life.

Moller works painstakingly in the suitably grim conditions of a rainy Danish autumn – the whole process took four months – to try and piece together enough evidence to nail Madsen. Dogs detectives join specialist divers and pathologists, and the scenes involving Walls’ parents are particularly moving. The six part structure enables Lindholm to fully flesh out the characters’ backstories in this deeply affecting criminal procedural that widens out into a slice of social history.

Although one tries to avoid the expression ‘Nordic Noir’ in this particular case, it’s just what it is. No disrespect to Wall, she just happened to be the victim. All things considered I think she would consider this a fitting tribute to her life. MT

ON BBC2 from 29 January 2021 | DVD on 1March 2021

 

 

Three Strange Loves (1949)

Dir: Ingmar Bergman | Wri: Herbert Grevenius | Cast: Eva Henning, Birger Malmsten, Bergit Tengroth, Hasse Ekman, Mimi Nelson | Sweden, Drama 73′

Based on a short story by Birgit Tengroth who also stars, Three Strange Loves (Torst) is Bergman’s final 1940s film and follows the break up of his second marriage. This relationship strife is echoed in the three-stranded storyline which unravels on a train ride (filming was actually in Hamburg) while energetically employing the same non linear narrative structure Bergman would later bring to triumphant fruition in Wild Strawberries – fluidly shifting throughout in time and place – but put to much less wistful use.

A failed ballerina Rut (Henning); a buttoned down professor (Malmsten) and a bickering couple (she chain smokes as they squabble) all returning to Stockholm in 1946 through a Europe still full of the displaced and disenfranchised;

Only his second film with his first great collaborator as cameraman, Gunnar Fischer, Bergman had a great fondness at this time for sliding his camera through walls, and the film is quite intoxicating to watch. Richard Chatten.

AVAILABLE on the Criterion Collection via AMAZON

 

 

 

Station Six-Sahara (1963) VOD

Dir: Seth Holt | Writers: Brian Clemens, Bryan Forbes, Jean Martet | Cast: Caroll Baker, Peter van Eyck, Ian Bannen, Denholm Elliott, Biff McGuire, Mario Adorf, Hansjorg Felmy | UK Comedy Thriller 101′

Not a film for anybody currently climbing the walls under lockdown. Station Six-Sahara demonstrates that a wide open expanse can be as claustrophobic as a tiny little cabin; the oppressive desert backdrop (of Libya’s Sahara) vividly rendered by veteran cameraman Gerald Gibbs as a blinding white nothingness stretching to infinity (like snow but also oppressively hot).

Usually mistaken for a drama, Station Six-Sahara is more properly enjoyed – if that’s the right word for such an intense experience – as a very black comedy. Bryan Forbes rewrote Brian Clemens’ original script based on a play by Jean Martet which anticipates The Flight of the Phoenix and Dark Star in it’s unsparing depiction of a group of men who didn’t have much in common in the first place driven further round the bend by being cooped up together; or to suffer the final twist of the knife when Carroll Baker literally crashes in on them.

There’s little overt action, the tension deriving from what’s going on inside them rather than what they are actually doing. Or wish they were doing. Richard Chatten.

NOW on PRIME VIDEO 

The Last Warning (1928) *** Bluray

Dir.: Paul Leni; Cast: Laura La Plante, Montague Love, Roy D’Arcy, Burr McIntosh, Margaret Livingston, Carrie Daumery, John Boles)Bert Roach, D’Arcy Corrigan; USA 1928, 89 min.

Universal intended The Last Warning as a companion piece to Leni’s more famous (and superior) The Cat and the Canary (1927), and it was also German born director Paul Leni’s final: he died at the age of forty four eight months after the film’s premiere, contracting sepsis from an untreated tooth infection.

Based on the novel by Wordsworth Camp, the Broadway play by Thomas F. Fallon and then adapted for the screen by Alfred A. Cohn, The Last Warning is a mystery-thriller ‘who-done-it’, with a clunky and complicated narrative dominated by Leni’s direction and Hal Mohr’s jerky camerawork. Charles D. Hall’s art direction is inspired by German expressionism, with Leni’s Das Wachsfigurenkabinett/ Waxworks (1924) perhaps his greatest achievement.

Leni made use of the Phantom of the Opera (1925) set for his last outing which begins with one of the actors (Woodford’s D’Arcy Corrigan) being electrocuted on stage. There is rumour Woodford was part of a menage-a-trois, but more confusion occurs when the body disappears without trace. The theatre is closed but five years later producer Mike Brody (Roach) re-opens the place to catch the murderer by staging a re-run of the play with the original cast members.

During the rehearsals falling scenery, a fire and frightening noises occur, and the purse of leading lady Doris (La Plante) is stolen. Stage manager Josia Bunce (McIntosh) receives a telegram,  signed by John Woodford, telling him to abandon the play and this sets the stage, quite literally, for a series of disasters, involving a 400 volt cable electrocution and worse was to come.

After the shooting, some spoken dialogue and audio effects were added, but this version has been lost. We are left with great moments of camera work, such as in a scene where veteran actress Barbara Morgan leaps from the stage and plummets to the ground, with the camera taking on her POV. Whilst Phantom of the Opera would play a great role in future Universal canon of horror features, The Last Warning, with its masked killer, is a prelude to the Italian ‘Gialli’ features of directors Dario Argento and Mario Bava. AS

ON EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA 15 FEBRUARY 2021

In Cold Blood (1967) DVD

Dir: Richard Brooks | Cast: Robert Blake, Scott Wilson, John Forsythe, Tex Smith, Paul Stewart, Jeff Corey, Gerald S O’Loughlin | US Crime Thriller, 130′

Truman Capote’s celebrated reporting of a Kansas murder case, In Cold Blood, is the basis for Richard Brooks’s disturbing docudrama. The film opens as a Greyhound bus roars into the darkness of a desolate prairie night, bound for Kansas City. Black silhouetted figures stand out, one is a man with a guitar. A girl passenger sees a boot with the famous catspaw soles (‘catspaws won’t slip’), and this is the clue that will eventually lead to the murderer – and the Capote’s nemesis.

Formally ambitious yet elegantly restrained the film crisply evokes the small-town Sixties Kansas in Conrad Hall’s stylish black and white visuals with a classy score by Quincy Jones. New Yorker Capote had spent over six months getting to know the Kansas locals for his ‘non-fiction novel’, and one local in particular would be his unravelling. He trusted Brooks to transfer his own ideas to the screen, and they were both sold on black and white, Hall creating a gritty true crime feel, and some stunning Wild West style panoramas, Brooks carrying the authenticity through by filming in the town and the exact house where the murders actually happened, but Capote became mesmerised by one of the perpetrators, Perry Smith.

The events of the case grippingly unfold in a chronological narrative recounting how four members of the ‘God-fearing’ Clutter family were slaughtered in cold blood one night in 1959 by two two ex-convicts looking for cash during a random burglary in the remote  rural property. They stole a radio and a few dollars and left few clues as to their identity, but Brooks shows how Kansas Police (lead by a superb John Forsythe) embark on a lengthy and painstaking investigation eventually catching and convicting the killers and bringing them to justice in 1965.

Robert Blake (Perry Smith) and Scott Wilson (Dick Hickock) are utterly convincing as the ruthless killers. And although we already know that they committed the murders from the early scenes Brooks generates a palpable tension while he fleshes out the investigation and we get a chance to fathom the broken minds of the perpetrators.

At the end of the day, who can really understand why two people only intending to rob the Clutters, and who had not committed murder before, suddenly decided to sadistically murder four innocent people on a quiet night in 1959? And what did the modest Clutters do provoke such vicious violence?

Richard Brooks’s fractured narrative flips nervously back and forth brilliantly evoking both the frenzied minds of the killers and the fervent need of detectives to nail and endite their suspects. Conrad Hall’s noirish visuals re-visit the rain-soaked scene of the crime, the remote locations and the fugitives’ brief escape to Mexico and their chance arrest in Las Vegas, while allowing brief glimpses of the genesis of their disfunctional family stories.

Brooks skilfully avoids showing bloodshed, violence or macabre crime scenes, allowing the terror to haunt our minds rather than the cinema screen. The mercilessness of the intruders and the abject fear and vulnerability of Clutters in their final moments is more evocative than any blood-soaked bedroom scene. By the time we reach the trial and imprisonment, we are glad to be done with these sordid criminals, although Brooks a scintilla of sympathy for Perry Smith who seems to have been led on. Robert Blake and Scott Wilson give chilling and resonant portrayals in the leading roles. MT

ON DVD | REMASTERED COURTESY OF PARK CIRCUS FILMS.

 

Ishiro Honda in Outer Space

Alan Price remembers the days of X-rated Sci-fi with these three Japanese classics from ISHIRO HONDA, The H-Man (1958), Mothra (1961) and Battle in Outer Space (1959)

Aged thirteen I sneaked, under age, into a Liverpool flea-pit cinema for a double bill of X certificate films. A horror / SF programme kicked off with The H-Man followed by House of Wax starring the charismatic Vincent Price a rising star in the horror film firmament. H-Man was my first viewing of a Japanese film and badly dubbed into English. House of Wax featured effigies melting in a fiery climax. The only thing I remember about The H-Man was an intense screaming followed by a gooey substance running into drains as the rain poured down; this radioactive liquid was being transformed into a glowing green man.

In the cold war years of the 1960s “radiation” was a word constantly on everyones’ lips. To witness a drugs trafficker, exposed to nuclear radiation, and transformed into a poisonous creature, appeared, to my young mind, as dangerously plausible.

Many years later in 2020 I again encountered the 1958 H-Man restored, with all its gooeyness digitised, on Blu Ray. It felt like a re-union of my young fears with an older understanding of things. A force called H-Man never existed but I was still gripped and entertained by a remarkably effective film managing to fuse the crime detective film with an Sci-fi monster movie.

1958 was also the year of The Blob (with the young Steve McQueen). I love the Google description of The Blob – “A misunderstood teen fights to save his town from a gelatinous monster from outer space.” If I had to sum up The H-Man it would be something like ‘an maligned professor tries to convince the Tokyo police force that a criminal has been turned into a radioactive liquid organism.’

Eventually Dr.Masada (Kenji Sahara) manages to convince the police in an apocalyptic climax that takes place in the sewerage system, and the ‘H monster’ is finally destroyed by gasoline poured on water and set on fire. The H-Man gets a hot ending whereas  The Blob’s fate was rather more frigid: it is deposited, by aircraft, in the Arctic wastes. The H-Man actually has more in common with another liquefying monster, that of Val Guest’s 1955 outing The Quatermass Xperiment which sees a former human reduced to an undoubtedly earthbound being rather than a menacing alien from outer space.

The original Japanese title of Honda’s 1958 classic is Bijo to Ekitai Ningen that translates as “Beautiful Woman and Liquid Man.” This gives the film an apt ‘beauty and the beast’ slant as the plot forefronts a beguiling cabaret singer Chikako (Yumi Shirakawa) who was once the girlfriend of the trafficker. She is pursued by her ex-boyfriend (now a slithering organism) along the burning sewers to be rescued by the professor, smitten by her good looks, as he saves her and the rest of mankind from their destiny as an ‘H man’ or ‘H woman’.

There is a great deal to enjoy here: the stunningly shot sewer climax is possibly the most outstanding moment in The H-Man, set on a deserted ship where the crew of a neighbouring ship stumble on the creature. It’s a creepy and potently-lit sequence providing both an incredible/believable back story explores the origins of the green substance: all done with a strong feel for the old ghost-ship tale.

There are no liquid men in Honda’s 1961 Mothra. Yet there is beauty in the form of two petite women discovered on an irradiated island (named Infant Island) in the Pacific. The Beast is Mothra, a giant female moth. Mothra is not out to destroy the whole world but only those who get in her away as she attempts to rescue the kidnapped twins (played by a singing duo called “The Peanuts” whose Mothra song “The Girls of Infant Island” was a pop chart hit).

Radiation sickness also surfaces in this story. Yet instead of a traditional monster movie we have more of an enchanting fairy story. The young women are dispatched to Tokyo to appear on stage in a show called “Secret Fairies Show.” Their exploitation reminded me of the chained Kong gorilla appearing on Broadway in the film Mighty Joe Young. But these girls are too good-natured and innocent to really mind performing, though they yearn to go back home.

One of my favourite aspects of Mothra is the editing between the girls singing and the dancing natives beseeching their god Mothra to break out of its giant egg and help. The caterpillar swims the Pacific Ocean towards Japan: becomes an adult moth (with a most genial face) and flies over Tokyo on its rescue mission.

Beneath its fantasy surface Honda is aware of the script’s political satire which he handles with a lovely light touch. Overall this is an irresistibly charming film. Its special effects still stand up and the mythic and adventure element of its storyline draws upon King Kong, Godzilla (Honda directed many of the Godzilla films) and probably went on to influence Bong Joon-Ho’s 2006 The Host.

Battle in Outer Space is the slightest of these re-issued Honda films. Aliens have based themselves on the Moon. They plan to attack and invade Earth. The UN launches two rocket ships on a reconnaissance mission. The battle commences. Finally the alien’s mothership is destroyed and Earth is saved.

The two most remarkable aspects of Battle in Outer Space are its comic book model work, no strings and all smoothly executed, plus a very early sixties optimistic belief in international co-operation: nationalism recedes in the face of universal goodwill to save the planet. How far away are we now from benign diplomacy and world peace in our strongly divided Earth of 2020!

If you search on YouTube I think you will find these Honda films. But they will be the cut, un-restored American versions. Forget them and go for the complete Japanese language originals on Eureka. They look and sound great. Light and dark fantasies from another differently inventive age of popular Japanese culture. ALAN PRICE.

The Inner Sanctum Mysteries (1940-) ****

Lon Chaney Jr is the stars in this fantasy horror compendium of six cult classic features that dabble in Death, dementia and the dark arts. Based on the popular radio shows of the 1940s, Chaney, Jr. (The Wolf Man), gives a timeless performances alongside his leading ladies Anne Gwynne, Lois Collier, Patricia Morison, Jean Parker, Tala Birell and Brenda Joyce in these spooky chillers.

Calling Dr. Death (dir. Reginald Le Borg, 1943) – A doctor is not sure if he murdered his wife and has his nurse uncover the truth by hypnotising him.

Weird Woman (dir. Reginald Le Borg, 1944) – While on a trip, a professor falls in love with an exotic native woman who turns out to be a supernatural being.

Dead Man’s Eyes (dir. Reginald Le Borg, 1944) – When an artist is blinded, an operation to restore his sight depends on another person willing to donate their eyes.

The Frozen Ghost (dir. Harold Young, 1945) – A stage mentalist and a discredited plastic surgeon are involved in mysterious goings-on in an eerie wax museum.

Strange Confession (dir. John Hoffman, 1945) – Flashbacks reveal the events leading up to a man’s revenge on the racketeer who took advantage of his wife.

Pillow of Death (dir. Wallace Fox, 1945) – A lawyer in love with his secretary is suspected of suffocating his wife, among others.

INNER SANCTUM MYSTERIES: THE COMPLETE FILM SERIES starring Lon Chaney, Jr; on Blu-ray as a part of the Eureka Classics range from 18 January 2020.

The White Reindeer | Valkoinen Peura (1952)

Almost entirely dialogue-free and relying on a spellbinding score from Swedish composer Einar England to drive the narrative forward, it sees a beautiful young bride Pirita – the director’s own wife Mirjami Kuosmanen, who also co-wrote the script – fall prey to a tragic curse when she seeks advice on her love-life from a macabre Norse shamen.

Capturing the ethereal beauty of Finnish Lapland’s panoramic snowscapes, and picturing real herdsman at work in the icebound countryside, The White Reindeer is a magnificent example of low budget effectiveness and magic neo-realism in a simple but thematically rich storyline. Starting out in an upbeat mood Pirita is seen in full Nordic costume riding a sleigh alongside her lover and soon to be husband. But after their wedding night he is frequently absent.

Longing to capture his affection, she takes the shamen’s love potion and is transformed into an elegant white reindeer by night, drinking the blood of local hunters. This lyrical parable is both intriguing and mesmerising melding documentary footage with exquisite lighting techniques and elegant framing to produce a film that echoes Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers and Dreyer’s Vampyr with potent references to Norse mythology and themes of longing, loneliness and fear of abandonment. MT

THE WHITE REINDEER (Masters of Cinema) https://youtu.be/ECyp3fJBI20

Amazon https://amzn.to/2RUdXON

 

It Came From Outer Space (1953) **** Blu-ray

Dir.: Jack Arnold; Cast: Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake, Joe Sawyer, Russell Johnson; USA 1953, 81 min.

Director John Arnold (1916-1992) was the mastermind behind seven Sci-Fi classics between 1953 and 1958. It came from outer Space was the first, shot in 3-D and based on the short story ‘The Meteor’ by Rad Bradbury and written for the screen by Harry Essex.

Seen as an anti-McCarthy feature at a time when Aliens and ‘Reds’ were both out to destroy the idyll of small town America, Arnold uses small Californian towns like Victorville and the Mojave desert as background to create an exotically eerie backdrop .

Astronomer and author John Putnam (Carlson) has moved to the desert, finding his intellectual viewpoint at odds with the small-time folks back home. He is in love with school teacher Ellen Fields (Rush) who plays truant when the two discover a meteor hitting Earth. It later transpires that an alien spaceship has made some sort of an emergency landing but Sheriff Matt Warren (Drake) is the first to denounce John’s theories after visiting the crash site, he also has the hots for Ellen.

Strange things happen all over town, as citizens are cloned by the Aliens. Among them are Frank Dayton (Sawyer) and George (Johnson) two electricians whose spouses are telling Warren their men folk changed personality before simply disappearing, taking their clothes with them. John, helped by Ellen, finds out that the Aliens are repairing their spaceship, using the tools and equipment of the local engineers and electricians. Then Ellen gets taken over by the strangers, she appears to John in an evening gown and leads him to a mine, where she is taken hostage.

John comes to an arrangement with the leader of the spaceship who appears as a glittering droopy-eyed monster. John pretends to blow up the mine, whilst Warren and his posse (or lynch mob), are closing in on the entrance. The Aliens repair their spacecraft and leave Earth.

DoP Clifford Stine creates some startling black-and-white images, often veiled by an ethereal mist. It Came from Outer Space shows Arnold (who was assistant to Robert J. Flaherty) as a chronicler of the The Eisenhower era, where anti-intellectualism and the McCarthy Witch Hunt was the dominating factor. Arnold’s other classics sided with outsiders, among them Creature from the Black Lagoon (famously restyled by Guillermo del Toro in 2017), Tarantula and The Space Children. He was also known for his Westerns, and one of his last cinema features, The Mouse that Roared (1959) which made Peter Sellers an international star.

A true creative, Jack Arnold later switched to directing TV fare, his seminal ideas providing the basis for some of today’s most popular big and small screen outings. There is hardly a series he did not have a hand from Wonder Woman to Dr. Kildare; The Brady Bunch, Ellery Queen and Perry Mason amongst the very best. AS

BLURAY/DVD AVAILABLE 14 DECEMBER 2020 | FABULOUS FILMS

Cape Fear (1991) **** Blu-ray

Dir: Martin Scorsese | Wri: Wesley Strick from the novel by Joh D MacDonald | Cast: Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis,

J Lee Thompson’s cult classic 1961 thriller is undoubtedly a more sober and classy reflection on recidivism with its serious and starkly realised legal procedural, you cannot deny the appealing immediacy of Martin Scorsese’s version, its characters are certainly more relatable in our contemporary gaze. The 1991 Cape Fear  has  four colourful central performances to enjoy, as well as cameos from key characters from the original, including Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck (in what would be his final film). As a piece of entertainment the 1991 version has everything, including Freddie Francis behind the camera, although some may argue its melodrama and schlocky sensationalism verges on the extreme. It’s a thriller and a fiery one at that, Scorsese finding a brilliant way of bringing things to a climax in the coruscating final act.

Scorsese’s decision to stage the final denouement during a tempestuous rainstorm on the bayou was a masterstroke, the turbulence of the rushing water serving as a magnificent metaphor for the emotional turmoil felt by all the characters, and for different reasons: Nolte’s defence lawyer is hellbent on protecting his family (Lange’s histrionic wife, the innocence of her daughter (Lewis). And a felon just keen to survive as the waves gradually claim the psychotic victim.

Scorsese leaves us in no doubt that his married couple are still enjoying each other, whereas the Peck and his staid onscreen wife Bergen seem to have veered off that avenue of pleasure, despite their relative youth. Robert De Niro makes for a terrifying villain as bible-bashing Max Cady; all quietly persuasive and self-righteous, he emerges a viciously twisted misogynist when riled, and a chilling sociopathic monster in a finale that will remain seared to the memory, alongside Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men (2017). In preparation for the role De Niro paid a doctor USD 5,000 to grind his teeth down and then USD 20,000 to have them restored after shooting had finished. He also used vegetable dyes for the horrific tattoos, that faded a few moths later.

In contrast Robert Mitchum’s 1962 Cady is a standard nasty piece of work, but he doesn’t make our blood run cold, certainly not from a woman’s point of view, coming across moreover as a suave operator who just happens to be a sadistic small time criminal. But Mitchum comes up trumps in the Scorsese version as the heavyweight Lieutenant Elgart. In contrast J Lee Thomson’s womenfolk are twee coffee morning folk, particularly Polly Bergen’s prissy housewife, Peggy. Admittedly it was early Sixties Georgia in America’s staid Deep South (where race riots were still raging).

Martin Scorsese regular casting director Ellen Lewis makes a wise choice with Juliette Lewis for the role of Danielle Bowden, and both she and De Niro garnered Oscar nods for their performances. She gives a great deal of texture to the flirty vulnerable teenager: on the cusp of adulthood, and  hormonally charged, she is sexually curious yet still possessing of a young girl’s fragile charm.

Nolte’s Bowden has clearly put a foot wrong in his legal judgement by suppressing evidence that may have kept De Niro’s Cady out of jail, and he continues to blot his copybook on this misdemeanour, flirting with Douglas’s unstable Lori Davis rather than making amends with a decent apology to Cody.

Casting and performance-wise Gregory Peck comes across as a morally superior Bowden, with his finally chiselled jawline, matinee idol demeanour and clean-suited integrity, as against Nolte’s rather scuzzy married man nursing a nascent midlife crisis and sniffing around before the inevitable onset of sexual disfunction. Bernard Herrmann’s thundering score also unites these two films (remastered for the 1991 version), it’s a magnificent and memorable musical calling card to what will follow. As an elegantly realised moral drama the award goes to J Lee Thompson, but as a rip-roaring riveting thriller Scorsese wins with Cape Fear. MT

CAPE FEAR IS NOW ON BLU-RAY | 14 DECEMBER 2020 | COURTESY OF FABULOUSFILMS.COM

 

 

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961) ****

Dir/Wri: Irwin Allen | Writers: Irwin Allen, Charles Bennett | Cast: Walter Pidgeon, Joan Fontaine, Barbara Eden, Peter Lorre, Robert Sterling, Michael Ansara | US Sci-fi Fantasy, 105’

A feelgood answer to ‘On the Beach’ which owes more to Jules Verne (right down to a fight with a giant squid) than to the Atomic Age, in which the end of the world is averted by the crew of a submarine rather than contemplated by one. Actually rather prescient in predicting global warming, but unlike the same year’s The Day the Earth Caught Fire, detonating a nuclear device at the North Pole averts catastrophe rather than causes it. Enough has already been said on the ‘science’ in this film to fill a book; so I’ll simply confine myself to saying I was most amused by the sight of the North Pole still covered with icebergs despite the sky being tinted red to denote that the Van Allan Belt was ablaze.

I remember the dreary sixties TV series that followed only too well and didn’t learn until much later that there had originally been a film. At $3 million at least the money is there up on the screen; of which $400,000 was spent on the submarine ‘The Seaview’ itself. (The sonic pulses it emitted as it ploughed gracefully through the water remained one of the coolest features of the TV series, and in the film we’re spared those annoying shots of the crew being thrown from side to side that became such a tedious feature of the series.)


Ironically another critic (TheHonestCritic) thought Peter Lorre the only cast member who didn’t look bored, whereas I thought he looked easily the least interested in what was going on around him. Aside from Michael Ansara’s religious fanatic Alvarez (in those days, when a character started quoting the Bible you knew you were in for trouble), the most fascinating performance comes from Joan Fontaine. Still a handsome woman at 43 but washed up as a film star, 1961 began with the finalising of her divorce from producer Collier Young on 3 January, and in November she lost her home in Brentwood to that year’s catastrophic Hollywood Hills fire. Although in her autobiography she dismissed Voyage to the Bottom as “a horrendous film”, wearing high heels, a lab coat and an even more than usually anxious expression on her face she was ripe at the time to play such a neurotic role and gives an electrifying performance. Richard Chatten

ON TV MOVIES4MEN | Blu-ray RELEASE

 

 

Finding Vivian Maier (2014)

Dir.: John Maloof, Charlie Siskel | Doc; USA 2013, 85 min.

A nanny makes history in this fascinating film that was also one of the most popular documentaries in the year of its release. It’s not often than one finds a genius by accident, furthermore a genius who did not want to be discovered and who hid her art from everybody: but this is exactly what happened to the Chicago neighbourhood historian John Maloof, when researching photos to illustrate a history about his local district in 2007, and obtaining a box of photos from a nanny called Vivian Maier.

Ms Maier died in 2009, aged 83, just when Maloof began to collect all her work (over 100 000 negatives, 27 000 roles of film, audio tapes and 8mm and 16 mmm films) consisting of mainly street photography from the rougher parts of the “windy city”. Her photos are now shown all over the world; the work of a rare talent who hid from the world. Having discovered Maier’s work, Maloof began to research Vivian Maier’s life: this film is the result of his detective work.

Vivian Mayer was born in 1926 in New York, but her French mother and Austrian father (who soon cleared off), moved to a village in the French Alps, where Vivian was educated, before moving back to Manhattan in her mid-twenties. There she worked in a sweat-shop, before moving to Chicago in her early thirties where she was employed for the rest of her working life as a nanny. Maloof has found over a hundred of her ex-charges and their memories are mostly positive (some paid her rent in old age), but a few talked about her temper, or her style draconian discipline. But most remember being dragged by Vivian into the slums of the city where most of her photos were taken, though the more bourgeois quarters, where she lived, are also represented. Maier was an artist first and foremost: when one of the children she was looking after was hurt in a car accident, Vivian took photos of the injured child whilst the mother, rushing on to the scene of the accident, was relieved that it was not the family dog who was injured.

Vivian, who features in many of her photos taken with a Rolleiflex twin lens camera (which she always carried with her), was a tall, imposing woman. But in contrast, to her physical appearance, psychologically, she was very fragile. She was extremely shy, sometimes not even wanting to give her real name, calling herself V.Smith. Some of her former charges remembered that she was very hostile towards men in general, and speculated that she might have been abused as a child.

Looking at the photos it is clear that Vivian identified with the underdog in society, finding a split-second where photographer and subject become emotionally engaged. The same can be said about Maloof and his subject: this documentary is a labour of love, one obsessive collector researching another. The interviews are very informal and lively, and Maloof obviously shares his love of Chicago with Maier. Kafka asked for his writings to be destroyed, and we can thank his friend Max Brod for disobeying him – Maier never wanted the acclaim she is getting now posthumously, and we have to thank John Maloof for discovering her style. History repeats itself sometimes in strange ways – but then, Vivian Maier was in a way very much a stranger on this planet. AS

Vivian Maier Developed: The Untold Story of the Photographer Nanny by Ann Marks  | 
Atria Books £28 pp368

 

 

     

 

 

Birdman (2014) **** MUBI

Dir: Alejandro González Iñárritu | Wri: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., Armando Bo | Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts  | Comedy/Drama, US  119mins

After Gravity comes Birdman, a breathless, funny, sad, esoteric meta-cinematical work that equals the former’s visual feat, but also an about-turn by director Alejandro González Iñárritu, the likes of which has rarely been seen. A return to the limelight comes in Michael Keaton’s great performance as Riggan Thompson, a former star of the superhero Birdman franchise, whose career has faltered into wilderness (comparison to Keaton’s real life are very much intended). He wants to stage a comeback on Broadway to direct and star in his own adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story. But it’s not plain sailing, even for a movie star, as he has to deal with ego-maniacal co-stars, a druggie daughter and disastrous previews. Oh, and he’s haunted by the voice of his Birdman character, and believes he can move things with his mind.

But that doesn’t begin to explain what watching the film is like. Directed to look like one continuous shot alongside Antonio Sánchez’s glorious free jazz score, but set over several weeks (following tricks out of Hitchcock’s Rope, it’s somewhere between the technical mastery of Russian Ark (2002) and the themes and styling of Synecdoche, New York (2008)– but in fact it looks almost like something that’s rarely been seen before. It’s far from Iñárritu’s previous works, which were grim, expansive world-is-connected films, shot with shaky steadycams and quick editing like Amores Perros (2000) and Babel (2006). And what a successful volte-face.

birdman_clip_pulls_051514-LUT.00070587.tif

Much of the thanks should go to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeski, whose redefined 3D in Gravity last year to critics who dismissed stereoscopy as dead on arrival, creating long, dazzling steadycam takes. The first shot is a levitating Michael Keaton, and there are some magic moments – Keaton walking through Times Square in his Y-fronts is just one of many highlights. But perhaps the style’s greatest feature is simplicity, how after a big moment – an argument, a fight, for instance – the film doesn’t cut, change scene, but we find out that rarest of things: what happens in those moments next.

The cast are dynamite together with Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Zack Galifianakis on top form alongside Emma Stone as Riggan’s dagughter, who delivers a zeitgeisty rant about how Riggan’s play is of little importance in the modern world compared to the 350,000 YouTube visitors that have seen her father in just his underpants. In a way it’s not dissimilar in tone to Truffaut’s Day for Night, also about a dysfunctional troupe of directors and actors. But while that’s about a film set, it struck me how much Birdman is actually one of the great films about the stage, where Broadway’s St James Theatre is as much a character as the players and which reflects the theatre in the film’s very composition – no cuts is, well, like theatre.

It’s also a searing satire of ego-centric thesps, Hollywood and of popular culture, where top actors have been downgraded and are now hired in Hollywood only for superhero flicks (Michael Fassbender and Jeremy Renner are roll called). But also it credibly shows the foolhardiness of putting faith in dreams and the pitfalls of grand artistic pretensions – a hole into which Iñárritu himself fell in the past. Riggan says he went into acting because Raymond Carver gave him a personal note with a good review as a youngster, but, as we soon discover, it was on a bar napkin, meaning the author was presumably (as he often was) drunk. With the film’s subtitle “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance“, would knowing that have made Riggan more or less happy, more or less willing to plunge into his art? Perhaps ignorance is bliss. The film went on to garner four Oscars, in the Academy Awards of 2015: for cinematography, directing, and screenplay, it also won Best Motion Picture of the Year. Ed Frankyl.

NOW ON MUBI | BIRDMAN PREMIERED AT VENICE 2014 | DVD BLU-RAY IS NOW AVAILABLE

 

No Man is an Island (1962) ****

Dir: Richard Goldstone, John Monks Jr. | Jeffrey Hunter, Barbara Perez, Marshall Thompson, Ronald Remy, Amparo Custodio, Paul Edwards Jr. | US Action drama, 116′

No Man is an Island (aka Island Escape) is based on the 1945 memoir ‘Robinson Crusoe, USN’ by George Ray Tweed (1902-1989), who evaded capture by the Japanese for more than two and a half years after the Japanese invasion of Guam in 1941.

Nearly two hours in length, this Universal release handsomely lensed in colour and scope by Carl Kayser and back in Hollywood edited by veteran cutter Basil Wrangell is considerably more ambitious than the other cheap war movies shot in the Philippines during the early Sixties; with Hollywood star Jeffrey Hunter again finding himself alone on an island dodging enemy bullets just nine years after finding himself in the same situation in the Boulting Brothers’ Singlehanded.

The title quoting John Donne – along with a lead actor who had just played Christ – had made me expect something preachier; but apart from a scene with a local priest there’s actually surprisingly little God talk (maybe there was more in Tweed’s original book). The situation was played for laughs in Heaven Know, Mr Allison! (from which footage reappears) and Father Goose; while the ending recalls Brigadoon. But here – despite one character treading barefoot on a scorpion and others bleeding to death, being decapitated and stripped down to a skeleton by crabs – the treatment is more like a soap opera, with a pet chicken cutely named ‘Admiral Halsey’ and a suitably romantic score by Restie Umali.

Although prominently billed second in the opening credits, Girl Friday Barbara Perez in fact gets a fraction of the screen time of ninth-billed Filipina comedienne Chichay (Mrs Nakamura) as a feisty Japanese-American saloon owner, to whose establishment the film keeps returning. Richard Chatten.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE and Amazon DVD

 

Masque of the Red Death (1964) **** Blu-ray

Dir: Roger Corman | Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee | Horror, US 89′

The Masque of the Red Death is the seventh in the series of Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe adaptations produced by AIP in the 1960s. These visually handsome films were praised for an integrity of tone, laced with dark humour; and a careful – though not over-reverential – respect for the period horror genre.

Atmospheric widescreen colour sets and costumes complimented intelligent scripts and sensitive direction. Of course, there were earlier Poe films yet it was only with the Corman features that we experience a remarkable grandeur faithful to the tone of Poe’s writings, which greatly appealed to critics and audiences.

For his ninety minute version of The Masque of the Red Death Corman takes a sparse storyline and makes it rich in atmosphere. Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell worked on a plausible treatment and also added material from Poe’s tale Hop-Frog. As with the earlier Corman film The Pit and the Pendulum (an even starker one prisoner/victim situation) further characters and sub-plots needed to be created.

Alongside the Masque’s hooded figure of the Red Death (often seen as a reference to Bergman’s death character in The Seventh Seal,  those monks surfacing in Bunuel’s films and the callous Prince Prospero (malevolently performed by Vincent Price) we also have a selection of court people, dwarf actors and dancers. A rival villain is provided by Patrick Magee’s Alfredo, although Magee gets short shrift in this rather underwritten role, and would have fared better as Prospero, for he conveys much darker undercurrents of evil with his bitter cracked voice and cold stare.

It made sense to move out of the hermetic court and include some villagers. Those chosen are a virtuous peasant girl Francesca (Jane Asher, ideally pure but never sentimental), her lover and her father. The men are kept inside the dungeons while Francesca, against her will, has to join the company of the court. Francesca is probed by the Satan-worshiping Prospero. He sees her belief in Christianity as equalling his attachment to the powers of darkness. Like Prospero’s mistress Juliana (Hazel Court) the peasant girl is ideal for an apprenticeship with the Devil. A quasi-initiation scene, where Vincent Price leads Jane Asher through a series of highly-coloured rooms is fascinating. Like the doors in the legend of Bluebeard’s castle, a diabolic temptation is being presented to the curious, though resistant Francesca.

These new characters are perfectly serviceable although The Masque of the Red Death tends to make them secondary to the sheer beauty of the film. And although the cast do their best, the photography, set design and costumes create an even stronger note, adding to the visual allure of the picture. Of all the Corman/Poe outings Masque is the most opulent, containing some of the most magnificent colour photography to be found in the genre (perhaps only the colour filtering and lighting in the restored Mario Bava, Kill Baby, Kill achieves a Gothic intensity equal to The Masque of the Red Death).

Nicholas Roeg won a BAFTA for his terrific work. His seductive photography is not just skin deep, it offers brilliant texture that lights up the horrible cold decadence of Prospero’s rooms, divorced from reality, and the misty presence of the village – not forgetting the hill and tree where the ominous figure of death lays out his tarot cards. Dan Haller’s set design is remarkable (they are re-used and re-decorated sets left over from the film Beckett) and so are the costumes supervised by Laura Nightingale.

Corman reportedly gave his cameraman a lighting “theme” and said that ‘Nic lit everything really very beautifully.’ So where does that leave Corman’s direction in this intense artefact? Well he directs with a fluid and elegant touch that glides you through the film. None of the performances seem obviously grand guignol. They’re very natural. And given Vincent Price’s tendency to sometimes be hammy, his Prince Prospero is as restrained as his Mathew Hopkins in Witchfinder General.

There’s a sense that Corman trusted his actors to deliver. However The Masque of the Red Death’s danse macabre scene slightly disappoints and is  somewhat underwhelming. There’s a feeling of it not being adequately choreographed. Roger Corman has said he thought this sequence was a failure and he’d wished he’d had more filming time. It lacks a sense of pain and ritual, a dress rehearsal for everybody’s dreadful fate rather than the real thing.

This new blu ray comes uncut – so the flesh branding scene and Julia’s satanic hallucinations are intact. And the quality of this restoration does justice to its production values. My personal best of the Poe films still remains The Tomb of Ligiea but The Masque of the Red Death and The Fall of the House of Usher are not far behind.

According to the opening lines of Poe’s short story: “The “Red Death’ had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal – the redness and the horror of blood.” The partnership of Roger Corman and Nicholas Roeg gave such glorious style to this allegory, and combined with ideal casting they achieved a heightened realism to communicate the tale’s poetically despairing descriptions of both a very real, and at the same time, dream-like plague. It’s a classic horror film that’s splendidly stood the test of time. ©ALAN PRICE 2020

The Tenant | Le Locataire (1976) ***** Blu-ray

Dir: Roman Polanski | Wri: Roman Polanski, Gerard Brach | Cast: Roman Polanski, Isabelle Adjani, Melvyn Douglas, Shelley Winters, Jo Van Fleet | Prods: Andrew Braunsberg, Alain Sarde | Original Music: Philippe Sarde | 126mins

The Tenant completes the Apartment Trilogy following on from Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby and a faithful adaptation of the 1964 novel Le Locataire Chimerique. Polanski directs, co-writes and appears as a Polish emigré called Trelkovsky in this allegory of the outsider in society, a poignant reminder of the immigrant in these Brexit-ridden days.

Paris is the sombre star of the twisted psychodrama, squalidly romantic and steeped in Jan Nyqvist’s evocative visual gloom that unearths nostalgia for the Paris of the 1970s with its sleazy backstreets and nicotine-stained bars where seedy raincoated types breakfast on Gauloises and Café Crème.

Based on the book by Roland Topor, this portrait of paranoia is punctured by lewd moments of humour and a scabrid script. Trelkovsky is a timid, insignificant sort of functionary. Despite his newly acquired French citizenship he is painfully aware of his foreign status in the eyes of the chauvinist French. Renting an two-room apartment where the previous tenant has attempted suicide, he remains a doleful character soaking up the ancient atmosphere of the squalid apartment block with its ghostly corridors, strange noises, and litany of neighbour complaints, until he gradually takes on the guise of the former occupant of his flat in the rue des Pyrénées: Simone Choule.

Polanski gives an understated but persuasive performance and one that leaves us reflecting on his own tragic past. The horror slowly unravels to Philippe Sarde’s poignantly plangent score (with its suavely syncopated dance sequence). Trelkovsky’s American colleagues gradually fade into the background leaving him a vulnerable figure troubled by his sniping landlord and accusing neighbours, imagining the worst in this moribund backwater of the city’s former industrial heartland.

The director clearly feels for his character, a seedy little outsider who is desperate to do the right thing. He pours the anguish of his own past into this Polish alter ego, from the loss of his mother in a concentration camp, to a childhood of rejection from foster families on account of being Jewish, to the brutal bloody murder of his wife and unborn child. Trelkovksy also becomes obsessed with Simone and her mysterious past, even entertaining a friend and comforting him when he turns up unaware she had subsequently lost her fight for life in the Hospital Bretonneau. Simone’s  funeral is particularly macabre adding a Gothic twist this richly textured saga. Gradually empathising with Simone’s terrifying breakdown he embodies her whole being, dressing in her frocks and a grotesque wig. Haunted by the past the present becomes his reality in flesh and blood, echoing in his horrifying screams that resonate with a wartime siren in the final moments. Pity, shame and humiliation in the Père-Lachaise.

Polanski would go on to win an Oscar for his 2002 thriller The Pianist. The Tenant limped home empty-handed from Cannes, a bruised and broken, intimately private film, feeding into the director’s personal brand of enigmatic psychosis, the outsider’s descent into self-inflicted purgatory that eventually becomes self-realising, or is it just a nightmare?

Strangely Polanski received no acting credit for his quietly appealing role alongside Isabelle Adjani’s nonchalant lover, Shelley Winters’ sulky concierge, Lila Kedrova’s tortured neighbour and her crippled child. Watching the film you can’t help meditating on Paris’ grim revolutionary past. For me, every part of France is a film memory: Claude Chabrol’s Le Boucher is Bergerac; Swimming Pool (2003), Avignon; A Prophet (2009) very much embodies the fighting spirit of Marseilles; La Reine Margot is resolutely Bordeaux: but Paris is The Tenant, one of the most haunting films ever made. MT

NOW ON BLURAY

NOW on BLURAY | THE TENANT IS SCREENED most recently as part of a Roman POLANSKI RETROSPECTIVE AT THE BFI, LONDON DURING JANUARY AND FEBRUARY 2013

Night of the Eagle (1962) *** Talking Pictures

Dir: Sidney Hayers  Wri: Fritz Leiber Jnr | Cast: Peter Wyngarde, Janet Blair, Margaret Johnston, Anthony Nicholls, Kathleen Byron | UK Horror, 90′

Two years earlier Anglo Amalgamated had realised the horrific potential of modern technology in Peeping Tom. This smart British shocker shows how telephones and tape recorders. as well as tarot cards. are employed by a twentieth century witch to cast spells (aided naturally by a cat) in a terrific Freudian version of ‘Bewitched’, played for chills rather than laughs (just as director Sidney Hayers’ early use of zooms and a hand-held camera anticipates the much clumsier later use of these devices by other directors).

Having already portrayed an evil spirit in Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961), a pre-Jason King Peter Wyngarde is here beset by them himself; and, like any average man, is bewildered and embarrassed when he investigates the contents of his wife’s handbag (her bedside reading is ‘The Rites and Practises of Black Magic’). Meanwhile a bunch of very average men are oblivious of the office politics seething behind their backs amongst a poisonous coven of spitefully ambitious faculty wives (including a tart little cameo from the wonderful Kathleen Byron).

Based upon A.Merritt’s 1932 novel ‘Burn Witch Burn! (its US release title), the triumvirate that adapted it include the venerable fantasy writers Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, with one sequence of a THING attempting noisily to gain entry worthy of ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, but with a spool of magnetic tape instead of a pagan relic working its malign magic. 

The perpetrator wears an enormous fur collar creating the impression of a bird of prey that’s had a stroke, and also adding another layer to the traditional superstition that physical disability was the price paid for striking a pact with the devil. Richard Chatten.

ON TALKING PICTURES | AMAZON DVD

Blue Sky (1994) **** Blu-ray BFI


Dir: Tony Richardson | Wri: Rama Laurie Stagner | Cast: Jessice Lange, Tommy Lee Jones, Powers Boothe, Carrie Snodgress, May Locane, Anna Klemp | US Drama 101′

A few years before he died in 1991 Tony Richardson created a powerful portrait of obsession between a diva and the man who loves her. A more mainstream hit than his arthouse affair, thirty years earlier, but with the same mesmerising punch as Mademoiselle (1966).

Jessica Lange and Tommy Lee Jones score high on the sparky chemistry front as Carly and Hank whose dynamite devotion dominates everything else in their lives, including their children and an army career that suffer as a consequence. And so did  Richardson’s swan song, hitting the buffers when Orion went bust, its release was put back until three years later. Blue Sky is still a memorable tribute to his career.

If histrionic performances appeal – and Jessica Lange scooped Best Actress for this one – then Blue Sky is right up your street. The Oscars are littered with plate-throwing turns from Bette Davis in Jezebel to Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?, yet emotional nuance is a more difficult skill to master, and therefore possibly more laudable. Food for thought. Lange is particularly fiery here and oozes chutzpah and charm, and her dance sequences are really spectacular. 

Hank is besotted with his wife, despite her manic moods, largely attributable to her unsuitability as an army wife confined to prefab housing in military backwaters, as here in Selma, Alabama. Carly is a deeply narcissistic fantasist who sees herself as a Southern Belle of the ball, lauding it over everyone in her sphere: in short, not one of the army girls, or a team-player. Her marriage with Hank is a miracle but it works (to the detriment of everyone else), such is the mystery of love and sexual attraction, and the script – a three-handed effort by Stagner with Arlene Sarner and Jerry Leichtling – conveys this with considerable skill and insight, leaving the strand about army radiation tests in the ‘atomic’ 1960s firmly in the background.

Talking of which, Hank is an army scientist engaged in nuclear testing in the Alabama desert and tasked with investigating a dangerous leak. But Carly proves to be far more dangerous: a ‘stay at home’ housewife is, in her case, a misnomer if ever there was one: she spends her time cavorting topless on the beach and dancing suggestively with Hank’s boss, a smouldering Powers Boothe, and neglecting her daughters who are gleefully left to their own romantic devices.

Highly entertaining and occasionally funny, this is a complex, fraught and often embarrassing inter-dependent relationship, Lange and Lee Jones shimmer at the top of their game in Richardson’s last hurrah. MT

OUT ON BLURAY 25 JANUARY 2021 | BFI

The Overlanders (1946) **** Talking Pictures

The reason for the docudrama approach stems from the original idea of making a propaganda film for the Australian government who knocked on Watts’ door looking for a well known director and a reputable studios – Ealing naturally fitted the bill, although the film was released after the war was over.

River of No Return (1954) ***

Dir: Otto Preminger, Jean Negulesco | Cast: Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe, Rory Calhoun | US Western 91’

Rather more rugged to make than Marilyn Monroe was accustomed to, she recalled River of No Return with a shudder as her worst film. This was probably more due to the arduous shoot than because it wasn’t actually any good, since she sprained her ankle while getting drenched on location in Canada and then had to repeat the performance back on the sound stage in Hollywood while Otto Preminger (who compared directing Monroe to directing Lassie) cracked the whip.

Today it holds up well as an atmospheric, entertaining production with two handsome leads, shot largely on location in Alberta in Technicolor and CinemaScope. Although much is made of her flaunting her legs in tights as a saloon girl in the scenes that bookend the film, Monroe spends most of the rest of the shoot in cowboy boots, tucking in a pair of classic rump-hugging fifties jeans she would never really have worn back in 1875 (a pair of which were auctioned off in L.A. as recently as 2017). She cuts an impressive figure shooting the rapids in what was Preminger’s only western and Monroe’s only outdoor adventure. It was also the only picture she ever made with Robert Mitchum who’s at his hunkiest; introduced felling a tree just before we hear him singing the title song. Richard Chatten.

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Marlene Dietrich at Universal 1940-42

These four classics from the Golden Age of Hollywood showcase the timeless charisma of Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992). Seven Sinners, The Flame of New Orleans, The Spoilers and Pittsburgh were all produced by Universal during the war years of the early 1940s, and capture Dietrich’s enduring persona that had justifiably brought her the fame and riches garnered during her six magnificent collaborations with Josef von Sternberg. Dietrich continued to be the epitome of big-screen glamour and sensuousness, and although she never quite attained the dizzy heights of her time with von Sternberg, she continued working until the early 1960s, her last substantial role being in Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg in 1961. MT

Seven Sinners

Seven Sinners is the first of three films starring Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne – Pittsburgh and The Spoilers followed in 1942. This lively musical showcases the versatile talents of a vampish Marlene Dietrich following her spectacular comeback in the standout Western Destry Rides Again (1939), after being branded “box-office poison.” Once again she plays a dubious gaiety girl and entertainer to John Wayne’s honest and gallant lover, Navy Lt Dan Brent (from Stagecoach). After the Wild West, the South Sea Island setting is luminous and exotic (complimented by Rudolph Maté’s sublime shadowplay). Dietrich’s Bijou sings her lovelorn ballads with a great deal of charm, in a similar vein to her 1930s triumphs with von Sternberg yet somehow bereft of the innate style and emotional heft of these outings, Dietrich trying – unsuccessfully – to keep her troupe of motley misfits under control. There is Antro (Homolka), Dr. Marin (Dekker), Little Ned (Crawford and Sasha (Auer). When Dan Brent enters the fray with a big bouquet of orchids, Dietrich has to save him from the knife-throwing Antro – and also from himself, because an affair would have destroyed Brent’s career chances, and one of Brent’s superior’s quips is fittingly: “the Navy has already got enough destroyers”. In the end, Bijou leaves him to his first love: The Navy.

The script by John Meehan and Harry Tugend is a mixture of songs (by Dietrich), brawls and witty repartee. Russel A. Gausman’s production design, and the Maté’s camerawork are both stars turns in their own right, bringing to mind a Joseph von Sternberg feature. Sternberg, who directed Dietrich in Der Blaue Engel and her first Hollywood films, was known as her Guru, and his style and influence on the actress still shape her appeal. The set design was intricate, with elaborate windows and labyrinthine staircases and an overall ornate richness, coming to life in Maté’s fluid camera. Many of Sternberg’s movies (Macao) fall into the “Exotica” category, here symbolised by the huge gargoyle in the club were Bijou performs, recalling Sternberg’s Scarlett Express, where Dietrich was flanked by huge statues. Dietrich is in perpetual motion, an ethereal angel in satins and haute couture, driving the narrative forward a lightness of touch. Again, in a nod to von Sternberg, Dietrich wears the white Officers uniform, mirroring Wayne/Brent.

This is very much Dietrich’s film  (“I am a bad influence”). Wayne is her acolyte – he had only just made the step from support to main player, and it shows. Tyronne Power, who was originally cast, would have certainly been a stronger pendant to Dietrich’s Bijou. Garnett favoured maverick stars for his films, often casting those who’d fallen foul of established society, such as Greer Garson’s Mrs. Parkington (1944) and Valley of Decision, a year later. And whilst Garnett does not always reach the heights of von Sternberg, Seven Sinners is a glittering piece of entertainment. AS

Pittsburgh

With its sequences of social realism picturing the grimness of Pittsburgh mining traditions (as Groucho Marks once commented: “this is like living in Pittsburgh, if you call that living”, Lewis Seiler’s 1942 morality tale is certainly the least glamorous of the trio of films Dietrich made with John Wayne. Greed is the theme here, and Seiler sets the scene from the get-go with a rousing speech from Wayne’s Charles “Pittsburgh” Markham who is hellbent on financial success in the steel industry, whatever the cost. To get there he’ll trample on friends and lovers, but when the sh*t eventually hits the fan, he does get a second chance. The film came out a year after Pearl Harbour, which is also cleverly wound into the plot line. Randolph Scott plays Wayne’s rival and Dietrich the smouldering siren Josie Winters. MT

The Spoilers

This 1942 version of a popular Rex Beach novel has been filmed three times before (twice as a silent) and another would follow. An eventful romantic adventure following a group of crooks adding corruption to its list of themes, the setting is Nome, Alaska, during the Gold Rush days of 1900. Hero John Wayne gets the bit between his teeth, and particularly in the final showdown set-to in the bar with crooked gold commissioner Randolph Scott and good guy John Wayne, all over a woman, and the woman in question is the joint’s owner, Marlene Dietrich.

The swindlers have in their sights the biggest mine in the territory. They also have Scott’s McNamara on their side along with a dodgy Judge (Samuel S. Hinds) and his underling Struve (Halton). They plan to lure the wealthy punters in with the services of an upmarket Helen Chester (Lindsay). John Wayne’s Roy Glennister falls for her. Wayne and Scott take to their action roles with a swagger, and Marlene does her stuff with a succession of elegant and seductive costumes. She’s not just a pretty face but a witty and entertaining hostess enjoying some comedy moments with her maid Marietta Canty. And she’s a mistress of the put-down too, making short shrift of an unwelcome suitor in the shape of Richard Barthelmess, dismissing him with a curt: “Go down below to your table.” MT

Flame of Orleans

After the end of her partnership with Josef von Sternberg, Dietrich echoes her role in Destry Rides Again this time in Rene Clair’s farce Flame of Orleans. Once again she plays woman with a dubious past, this time cutting a dash as a ‘faux’ countess in New Orleans, torn between a stable marriage to a rich banker and her wild sexual attraction for a strapping but penniless captain of a Mississippi steamer. This was the first of the four films that Clair directed in Hollywood during his wartime exile from France. Norman Krasna wrote the entertaining script but Dietrich sets the night on fire with her flirtatious game-playing in a delightful costume drama that was Oscar nominated for Jack Otterson’s stylish art direction, Russell A Gausman’s set design and DoP Rudolph Maté’s peerless visual allure. MT

Limited Edition Blu-ray release on 18 January 2021 | BFI SHOP

Oliver Sacks: His Own Life (2020)

Dir. : Ric Burns; Documentary with Oliver Sacks, Kate Edgar, Bill Hayes, Paul Theroux; USA 2019, 114 min.

The final six months in the life of eminent clinical neuro-psychologist Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) are the focus of Ric Burns’ immersive biopic. Filmed in the Sacks’ Greenwich village home and taking its title from his New York Times essay of February 2015, penned on discovering he was dying with terminal cancer, this warmly enjoyable portrait reflects Sacks’ compassionate nature as well as his courage.

Sacks appears to make a graceful exit from this world; writing, talking and loving to the end. Not that the doctor’s life had always been so harmonious and well-structured – on the contrary – his homosexuality and extreme shyness, which he blamed on his prosopagnosia (Face blindness), a neurological defect which some of his patients shared.

Born into an orthodox Jewish family in Cricklewood, London in 1933, he was destined to become a medical doctor: both his parents were members of the profession, so were two of his older brothers. Oliver was his mother’s favourite but when she found out he was homosexual (at the age of 18), she declared “I wish you had never been born.”

Oliver and his brother Michael had been evacuated during the Blitz to a boarding school in the Midlands where both were bullied and beaten. Michael was so disturbed he developed full-blown schizophrenia. Oliver was physically strong, but very timid, and on his 18th birthday let his parents know his plan to move to the USA. In San Francisco and LA he found a life very different from that in repressive London. Achieving a weight-lifting record from his body building he also became addicted to  amphetamines and his BMW motorcycle. His sex life was a disappointment: he constantly fell for straight men and after a birthday encounter in 1963 at the Hampstead Ponds, on a short-lived return to London, he turned celibate for 35 years.

Back in the Bronx Sacks’ life hung in the balance during a fellowship at the Albert Einstein College. And by New Year’s Day 1966, came the realisation his drug habit had to go. In its place came writing. Seeking the help of psychoanalyst Leonard S (the two where still “getting there” by the end), the late 1960s saw him working at Beth Abraham Hospital, where he discovered the beneficial effects of a dopamine replacement drug (L-DOPA) on victims of the encephalitis lethargica pandemic of the 1920s. His patients recovered and shared their experiences during “Lock-Ins”.

Unfortunately, Neurology had acquired a bad name largely as a result of the widespread practice of lobotomising difficult young schizophrenics, but Sacks’ work with kids in this area was too subjective and therefore regarded as ‘unscientific’. In 1973 he was sacked for criticising the practice of putting troublesome young patients suffering from Schizophrenia into solitary confinement.

But his book on EL, entitled ‘Awakenings’ was not well-received, and his colleagues shunned him. To make matters worse, he had written it during a rapprochement with his mother, who then died during a trip to Israel. So disturbed was he at her loss that he injured his leg during a hiking accident (an obvious act of self-harm/suicide) and it took him years to regain his full mobility. This was made worse by his relationship difficulties – homosexuality was a crime, and even an admittance would mean the end of a career. Prison terms and chemical castration were common punishments. (Ironically Penny Marshall’s 1990 film version of Awakenings, with Robin Williams and Robert de Niro, was nominated for three Oscars).

In 1982 Sacks met the editor Kate Edgar, who became his mother surrogate: organising not only his writing output but running his day-to-day life. Sacks output was prolific: his books are always centred around neurological topics, like the aforementioned Prosopagnosia, which he tackled in “The Man who mistook his Wife for a Hat” and “Egnosias”. His love for music was the main theme in “Musicophilia”, “The mind’s Eye” is a research into the brain recognition process of seeing moving images, where a neurological disorder can slow down our recognition process to a slow motion tempo.

Sacks was an explorer of the mind, observing and empathising with his patients, he became completely at one with them during the treatment process. He considered the hierarchical structures which dominate medicine to this day as deleterious to the profession.

DoP Buddy Squires close-ups of Sacks dominate the feature, with Burns keeping proper distance from his subject – apart from at the end, when he chronicles his late-life relationship with NY journalist Bill Hayes, whom Sacks met in 2008. This story of an outsider who became the part of a professional mainstream tainted by decades of patient mistreatment is an enjoyable and informative watch. AS

NOW ON release in Cinemas

The Seventh Veil (1945) ****

Dir:  Compton Bennett | Wri: Muriel and Sydney Box | Cast: James Mason, Ann Todd, Herbert Los, Hugh McDermott | UK Drama, 91;

Compton Bennett started life as a bandleader and then a commercial artist before he started making his own films catching the eye of producer Alexander Korda who hired him as an editor in 1932.

Later he directed this amusing drama which was Gainsborough Studios’ Oscar-winning contribution to the ‘Lady on the Couch’ genre of the forties, described by the late David Shipman as “a dotty mixture of psychiatry, Greig, Tchaikovsky and so on”.

Also worth mentioning is the script by Britain’s most prolific female director Muriel Box who collaborated with her husband Sydney and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. It begins like Letter from an Unknown Woman with it’s button-eyed female lead in pigtails as an extremely mature-looking schoolgirl, here getting caned. Soon her wardrobe is far more glamorous, but she’s still being bullied; this time even more expertly by James Mason at his most saturnine with the result that she ends up being treated by psychiatrist Herbert Lom (in the role that made him a star and which he effectively reprised on TV nearly twenty years later in The Human Jungle).

That by now she’s also being forced to chose between three handsome suitors is a problem only too many of the women in the audience wished they had, and it was a huge box office hit. Richard Chatten.

NOW ON YOUTUBE

The Son’s Room (2001) La Stanza del Figlio | MUBI

Dir: Nanni Moretti | Drama, Italy 89′

Nanni Moretti’s portrait of tragedy is an emotionally intelligent and cumulatively moving drama that won him the Palme d’Or in 2001. Naturalistic, unsentimental yet eventually quite shattering the film unpicks the slow and surprising way the sudden death of a close relative can completely change the way we see each other and the person we lost.

In the first half-hour or so this family is living life as normal in the pleasant coastal town of Ancona. The Sermontis are a happily married professional couple: Moretti plays the psychiatrist father Giovanni, Laura Morante is Paola his wife. Their teenagers Irene (Trinca) and Andrea (Sanfelice) are going through the usual teenage ups and downs at school. But when Andrea dies suddenly in a diving accident, his parents and sister find themselves so lost in sadness, anger and confusion their world is blown apart. But then the bombshell – there is another person involved in the equation: a girlfriend they never even knew existed. Nothing surprising – yet this stranger is pivotal in a drama so strangely gripping and psychologically profound, it forces each member of the family to re-examine life up to the event and going forward. Some films make a big impact but are instantly forgettable, this moving story will stay with you for a long time. MT

NOW ON MUBI | BLU-RAY, DVD & DIGITAL

 

Le Cercle Rouge (1970) New release

Dir.: Jean-Pierre Melville; Cast: Alain Delon, Ives Montand, Gian-Maria Volunte, Andre Bourvil, Paul Crauchet, Francois Perier, Anna Douking; France 1970, 140 min.

By the early 1970s the varied career of Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973) which included wartime dramas, psychosexual character studies and even a collaboration with Jean Cocteau – the two shared the same “do it yourself attitude’ – was drawing to a close. This penultimate feature echoes the fatalism of thrillers such as Le Deuxieme Souffle (1966), Le Samourai (1967) and his last film Le Flic (1972). Dictated by the various criminal criminals and detective codes as the only moral guide, protagonists and their players are often interchangeable, women just peripheral to sex up the scenario (the director was a notorious womaniser) and often admitted that his films were camouflaged Westerns – this clearly informed the choice of Herman Melville as his nom de guerre as a novelist.

Distinguished by a dialogue free 27 minute heist sequence, this stylised feature is very Seventies in feel, a jazzy score often giving way to stretches of silence that focus the attention on the elegant framing and distinct cinematic style of Henri Decaë, one has to admire Melville’s rigour and insistence on style over matter in this spare and soigné caper. The plot is rather convoluted and based on a Japanese proverb.

Commisaire Mattei (Bourvil who would die before the premiere) is transferring  the notorious criminal Vogel (Volunte) on the night train from Marseille to Paris, handcuffed to a couchette. Meanwhile Corey (Delon) is spending his last night in prison, where a guard tempts him with the ‘perfect’ heist that sounds right up his street. In a parallel timeframe Vogel has jumped from a train window escaping into open countryside, and is later rescued by Corey, who has robbed his boss, and seduced his girl friend (Douking). Corey is then ambushed by hitmen send by his ex-boss, and Vogel rescues him, shooting the two assassins. The two then set about planning the robbery of an expensive jewellery store at Place Vendome, inviting alcoholic ex-policeman Jansen (Montand), a famed sharp shooter, to join them in the plan. As the day of the heist dawns, all four players are determined to cheat fate.The robbery goes well, but the fence (Crauchet) gets cold feet, and the cat-loving commisaire dupes the trio with an invitation to meet him in the titular ‘Cercle Rouge’, where their fate is sealed.

The robbery itself is shot without any dialogue, like Rififi (1955), which Melville was slated to direct, before the Hakim Brothers, opted for Jules Dassin. Otherwise, the various strands are brought together in a sober and ceremonious fashion, with Delon glancing enigmatically at mirrors, whenever he leaves a room. Melville, who was once called the ‘godfather of the Nouvelle Vague’, later fell out with Godard and the other directors over artistic differences. Melville’s studio had burned down, just before he started shooting Le Cercle Rouge, and he lost scripts among other valuable items.

Le Cercle Rouge has a distinct style seen in the portentious nature of the pacing and the daring existential quality of the narrative. Melville was seen as a godfather of sorts for the French New Wave (Godard giving him a cameo in Breathless).  His most personal movie was L’Armée des Ombres, which, though misunderstood upon its initial French release in 1969, is now widely considered a masterpiece. Here the enjoyable trio of Delon, Montand and Volonte make this a memorable addition to his short-lived but fiercely independent career. AS

RESTORED FOR THE FIRST TIME ON 4K HD, BLURAY, DVD AND DIGITAL – 23 NOVEMBER 2020.

 

Night Moves (1975) Blu-ray

Dir: Arthur Penn, US Thriller, 100′

Filming on Night Moves was completed in 1973 right in the middle of the Watergate scandal but its release was held back until 1975. This was probably because the film’s tone of despair echoed the country’s political disenchantment. Dialogue such as this wouldn’t have helped it at the box office: Paula: Where were you when Kennedy got shot? Harry: Which Kennedy? Paula: Any Kennedy.

Night Moves sinuous storyline didn’t make for an easy film for Warner Brothers to promote. Certainly Alan Sharp’s screenplay is a dense and entwined narrative. The film’s noirish plot about smuggled Asian art treasures, killings and small plane crashes is made subservient to a riveting study of character: the script’s depiction of loneliness, uncertainty and failure was undoubtedly what really attracted Arthur Penn to direct, more than who did what to whom. 

Night Moves is an unusual production, as the mantle of noir is questioned and almost abandoned. It turns into a bleak road map for the private investigator, disturbed by a moral murkiness, that no longer allows for a comfortable resolution to a crime. Criminal intent is blurred with human frailty and responsibility. 1973 was also the year of Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye in which Eliot Gould’s portrayal of Philip Marlowe shunted the private eye into irreverence, parody and even de-construction. 

If Night Moves’s investigator Harry (Gene Hackman on great form) doubts the meaning and purpose of his work, whilst struggling with a troubled marriage, he still wishes to enjoy the process of detecting, whereas his contemporary Marlowe strides blithely and disengaged through dangerous and increasingly absurd situations. Harry Moseby is still hanging on to the fact that he does want real answers. Yet Philip Marlowe is tired of asking the questions and now plays along with a crazy game.

L.A. investigator Harry is hired by an ex-actress Arlene (Janet Ward) to find her missing teenage daughter Delly (Melanie Griffiths). He completes the job yet also experiences complex relationships that undermine his professional authority, confidence and marriage. 

There are two scenes that are so quintessentially Arthur Penn in illustrating his brilliance at the editing of an action sequence and a great tenderness and empathy for the soul of his characters. Rather than reveal the action/suspense – for the crucial violence is for the most part held back to implode in Night Moves’ still shocking climax – let’s dwell on the intimacy of the film and in particular the bedroom scene between Harry and his wife Ellen (Susan Clark).

It’s a moment that beautifully settles on Harry’s tracking down of information: not simply about the missing girl case, but on his own family. Ellen knows that as a boy Harry was left by his parents and brought up by his relations. She calls him the ace sleuth, the all American detective who did discover his parents. When questioned about his father, Harry tells Ellen: “…this old guy sitting reading the funny pages out of the paper, and his lips were making the words and I just stood there and watched him and walked away.” Ellen: “Why did you never tell me?” Harry: “It wasn’t something I was too proud of. To stand six feet away from your own father and then walk away.”

Penn’s enormous sympathy for people struggling for truth and self-knowledge (An investigation more difficult than detective work) is beautifully on show here in what is one of the greatest scenes in Penn’s films. For me it’s remarkably affecting: a heart of the matter episode that is also equally, if not so intensely, signalled in many scenes with other characters. Night Moves movingly describes people who try and fail to communicate their real needs or live long enough (Young Delly’s murdered in a tampered stuntman car crash) to move forward with maturity and insight. 

The despair of Night Moves is not simply one of working out the tropes of noir (An acute visual pessimism of setting and underhand motivations) but a reflection on the loneliness of the self. Penn was always a very European-influenced filmmaker (Bonnie and Clyde exults in his love of the French New Wave). Emotionally he was closer to the passion of an Ingmar Bergman (Of whom Penn was a great admirer) than the cynicism of Hitchcock. No surprise then that a character, early on in Night Moves, talks about going to see Eric Rohmer’s My Night with Maud (A film where a couple spend a chaste night in part-philosophic conversation). 

Night Moves was negatively described by one critic as a suspense-less thriller. Yet attend to the suspense of its relationships, over the plot, and the film grips and haunts, so that when the violence is eventually delivered it manages to feel horribly futile and inevitable, though never cathartic. The superb Night Moves is one of the finest, most melancholy and tragic American films of the 1970s. Deeply humane and compassionate and not quite the neo-noir journey we were expecting. © ALAN PRICE

NIGHT MOVES IS NOW AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY

Waxworks (1924) Blu-ray

Dir.: Paul Leni; Cast: Emil Jannings, Conrad Veidt, Werner Krauss, William Dieterle, Olga Belajeff; Germany 1924, 107 min.

German born filmmaker Paul Leni (1885-1929) was one of the greatest talents of the silent era. His German features include Hintertreppe (Back Staircase, 1917) and The Man who Laughs (1928), but he is probably best known for The Cat and the Canary (1927) made in Hollywood where he often worked as a director of photography. The fantasy drama Waxworks captured the comedy-horror craze (or ‘tyrant’ films) of the 1920s and was Leni’s final German outing before he set his sights on America.

Credited with inspiring The Wizard of Oz (1929) and House of Wax (1953) Waxworks (Das Wachsfigurenkabinett) sees a young author (Dieterle) commissioned to add value to the most popular figures in a waxwork museum by crafting their backstories: they Sultan Haroun al Raschid, Ivan the Terrible and Jack the Ripper. The writer has already fallen for the proprietor’s daughter Eva (Belajeff), and lets his imagination run wild making the lovers part of the fun in all three fairytales where they fight to stay together against all odds.

The first tale sees Emil Jannings as the portly Sultan Haroun al Raschid wondering where the smoke is coming from below his palace. His Grand Vizier (Biensfeldt) is tasked with killing whoever is responsible but when he sets eyes on the baker’s wife Maimune (Belajeff) he fails to execute her husband the baker (Dieterle) instead returning to the palace with tales of her great beauty. That night the baker argues with his wife about money and promise to improve things by stealing the ‘wishing ring’ from the Caliph at the dead of night. The womanising Sultan meanwhile visits the bakery to have his wicked way with the wife. When the baker suddenly returns all hell breaks lose, and the Sultan hides in the oven. But a happy ending is ensured courtesy of Maimune.

The second episode is an exercise in sadism. Czar Ivan (a sinister Veidt), loves to poison his adversaries, real or imagined and employs a special poison-mixer to this effect, although he is warned that the man has too much power. So Ivan does away with him, but the dying poison-mixer puts a curse on his final toxic potion: Ivan’s name on the poison bottle will kill the tyrant.

Meanwhile, the writer and his love Eine (Belajeff) are betrothed to be married, and the Czar is invited to the party. Ivan and the bride’s father are travelling on a sledge, the old man is dressed in the Ivan own clothes. Assassins kill the old man, and Ivan arrives unhurt. He takes the bride and bridegroom to the cellars of the Kremlin, threatening to kill the husband if the bride does not consent to having sex with him. But the poison-mixer’s elixir does the trick, and once again ensures a happy ending.

The third story is the shortest, but by far the wildest. The author and Eva find themselves in a distinctly terrifying fairground sharing a tent with Jack the Ripper (Krauss) who chases them round. Finally, Jack stabs the author in the heart – but he wakes up from the nightmare, having cut himself with his pen.

DoP Helmut Larski, whose exotic images dominate the feature, emigrated 1932 to Palestine before returning disillusioned to Switzerland in 1948. Writer Henrik Galeen (1881-1949), the celebrated author of The Golem and Nosferatu, went to work in Britain the late 1920s returning to Germany for a last film, before establishing himself in Hollywood after the Nazism reared its head in his homeland.

Though this fantasy is not as well known as Caligari or Nosferatu, Kracauer is convinced Waxworks goes even further in “The Procession of Tyrants” by “stressing the role of the fair: which in Caligari merely served as a background” Here the fair is very much part of the action. “In the course of their flight, the writer and the girl hurry past the constantly circling merry-go round while Jack the Ripper himself, Caligari and Cesare in one, pursues them in miraculous dream paths, hovering through a gigantic Ferris-wheel that also turns without a pause. Completing the kindred pictorial efforts of Dr. Mabuse, these images symbolise the interpretation of chaos and tyranny in a definite manner. Waxworks adds the final touch to the tyrant films proper.” Sadly Paul Leni died in Hollywood at the height of his career aged only 44, from a tooth infection. AS

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA | 2020

The Sheltering Sky (1990) ***** Blu-ray

Dir: Bernardo Bertolucci | Debra Winger, John Malkovich, Cambell Scott, Jill Bennett, Timothy Spall | Drama 138′

Bertolucci transforms Paul Bowles’ oppressively mournful novel into a sizzlingly seductive big screen feast. With a talented cast all dressed up in James Acheson’s stylish rigouts and Vittorio Storaro’s lush visual mastery there is also Ryuichi Sakamoto’s teasing score and the sultry scenery of the Sahara to salivate over. So abandon yourself to the sensual pleasures of this richly romantic drama that lingers for over two hours.

John Malkovich and Debra Winger are at their languorous best as the rather louche Americans (Kit and Port Moresby) who are travellers – rather than tourists – in North Africa in 1947. Bertolucci brings out the humanity in this rather dizzy couple – who are unlike their page versions – so when it all ends in tears we actually care in a finale that echoes The English Patient.

There is something Gatbyesque about Kit and Port – spoilt beautiful people they may be but there is a tenderness in their love for each other, however much they suffer their melancholy ennui. Both are casually unfaithful early on in the film: Kit with their travelling companion Tunner  (a sultry Scott), Port with a Moroccan prostitute. But the pivotal moment comes when they realise their relationship is doomed while making love under the eponymous sheltering sky.

From then on Algeria morphs from exotic paradise to a place of primitive danger as the trip gradually implodes. This is because Port contracts typhoid leading to a fraught search for medical help. Until then this is a sumptuous swoon of a film full of magnificent sunsets and mysterious beauty. Bertolucci by no means subverts our expectations of the cruel savagery of Africa but triumphs in showing us how terrifyingly Heaven turns to Hell. Kit loses her moral compass after Port loses his life and the enigmatic desert swallows her up in an entirely appropriate denouement. MT

A distinguished and emotive follow-up to his Best Picture-winning The Last Emperor (Academy Awards 1988) and a highlight in an extraordinary filmmaking career, The Sheltering Sky won a BAFTA for Vittorio Storaro’s outstanding cinematography and a Golden Globe for Ryuichi Sakamoto’s haunting original score. MT

NOW ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF ARROW

 

 

Silent Running (1971) ***

Dir: Douglas Trumball | Cast: Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin, Jesse Vinterberg | US Sci-fi, 86′

Douglas Trumball’s ecological Sci-fi outing s now nearly 50 years old yet feels more relevant that ever despite its slightly wacky mise-en-scene and a score performed by Joan Baez.

The year is 2001 and 36 year old fresh-faced blue-eyed Bruce Dern plays an evangelical botanist adrift in space in a Garden of Eden. His message is loud and clear, re-working that of 2001: A Space Odyssey (Trumbull was in charge of the special effects): The planet needed saving – and humans were the ones to do it. The Garden planet ‘Valley Forge’ has been carefully nurtured by Dern’s Freeman Lovell to nourish and preserve plant specimens rescued before Earth’s apocalyptic meltdown during nuclear war. But afterwards Lovell defies orders to destroy his nurtured slice of paradise, instead taking off for a spin around space (with Drone robots Huey and Dewey), on a mission to save the Earth in perpetuity.

Working with Deric Washburn, Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues) and The Deer Hunter‘s Michael Cimino, Trumball’s feature debut is a fabulous ground-breaking idea full of fun and fantastic visuals. Dern brings a  febrile intensity to the part keeping things weird and wonderful, striking the perfect tone for a fantasy thriller with more up its sleeve than just space travel. MT

OUT ON DVD | 9 NOVEMBER 2020

King of New York (1990) Arrow Player

Dir: Abel Ferrara | Cast: Christopher Walken, Laurence Fishburne, David Caruso, Wesley Snipes, Steve Buscemi, Joey Chin  | Crime Drama, 103′

Abel Ferrara gives this US crime thriller a lyrical almost existential makeover spiked with some  vicious violence and an incendiary car chase on a storm-lashed bridge. Haunted by the otherworldly elegance of Christopher Walken as mercurial world-weary crime lord Frank White, a strangely likeable felon determined to do good, having done bad in gangland New York.

Walken carries his villain head and shoulders – quite literally – above the usual hard-nosed mobsters. Not that he doesn’t mince words, and there are some punchy lines thanks to Ferrara’s regular writer Nicholas St John: “are you gonna arrest me, because if so do it because I’ve got people waiting for me”.

Laurence Fishburne and David Caruso also add zest to the mix, Caruso as a frustrated cop: “every time Frank kills somebody out there, it’s our fault, and I can’t live with that”. But this is a film made of memorable moments rather than a true epic feature. Ferrara makes gangland look real but stylish, rather than gritty or dangerous – he a 5 million dollar budget to play with. Bojan Bozelli’s lighting in the high class brothel and neon nights scenes is particularly lush.

Back on the streets Frank White’s game-plan is to rebuild the community hospital out of his ill-gotten gains but his recidivist credentials cannot help getting in the way, especially when the Chinese gangster Larry Wong gets involved. Ferrara portrays a time when New York gangsters made millions and sunk it into real estate, adding to the city’s reputation for iniquity, finally addressed – and rectified – by Mayor Giuliani. Sadly, women only get to play molls and prostitutes (although one pretty boy serves as a nifty receptacle for cocaine). The soundtrack is terrific and Walken does his funky dances and makes some serious social comment about the drug trade. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON ARROW PLAYER & 4k RESTORATION BLU-RAY/DVD

 

Hoop Dreams (1994) **** Blu-ray release

Dir.: Steve James; Documentary with Arthur Agee, William Gates; USA 1994, 172′.

A sporting dream based on basketball spawned this multi-award winning documentary about two becoming NBA stars.

Hoop Dreams started life as a thirty-minute documentary short for first time director Steve James. But after nearly five years of shooting and two years of editing 250 minutes the running time grew into nearly three-hours.

Arthur Agee and William Gates were fourteen year old Afro-Americans living in different housing projects in the West Garfield neighbourhood in Chicago. Their flair for the basketball that saw them beating their elders and competitors captured the attention of a scout who ‘encouraged’ them to enrol at St. Joseph’s, a middle-class (and therefore nearly completely white school) in a leafy suburb.

The star pupil there was Isiah Thomas an NBA legend. It took the two boys three hours a day for the roundtrip (something quite normal in the US unlike here). But it turned out Arthur was not as promising as they had hoped, so the school literally throw him out in the middle of the academic year, his now estranged parents being unable to pay their part of the school fees, so Arthur had to join his local community school.

William, on the other hand, found a wealthy sponsor in Mrs. Wier, who helped with his family’s finances. No such luck for Arthur, whose parents Arthur sen. (‘Bo’) and Sheila had split up, his father spending seven months in prison, selling drugs on the open-air playground where Arthur often played with his friends. When Sheila lost her job as nursing assistant, electricity and gas in the home was turned off. So the filmmakers decided to help out.

Gene Pingatore, the team’s basketball coach at St. Joseph’s, turned out to be a bully and particularly so towards William who suffered two serious knee injuries, nearly ending his career. Curtis Gates, Williams’ older brother, had been an outstanding player himself, but was called “un-coachable”. He would be shot dead just after the turn of the century. Bo, Arthur’s father, also was murdered in 2004.

Not surprisingly, Sheila was thankful that Arthur was still alive and able to celebrate his 18th birthday. For William, St. Joseph more than supportive: they ‘massaged’ his academic grades so he could attend Marquette University. Arthur too reached university level at Arkansas State, after a detour via the Mineral Area College. Neither men would play in the NBA, though William came nearest in 2001. After training with Michael Jordan, he missed his trial with Washington Wizards because of a foot injury. He is now a Pastor and Youth Team coach in Texas, Arthur does community work in Chicago, funding himself with the USD 200,000 bursary the producers gave each of their subjects after the surprise success of the documentary.

Watching Hoop Dreams, you can understand the Americans’ fixation for ball games of all sorts. Spectators become hysterical in their thousands, and on a scale that far surpasses anything we’ve come to appreciate in Britain. Hoop Dreams could be called the first reality doc: not a second has been wasted on Hollywood structures – a reason, the feature was boycotted by the Oscar jury for Documentaries. The three filmmakers capture the essence of the American Dream: sport and music as an escape from the poverty trap. Sadly, drugs and poverty are now the only release for the huge majority who fail to reach the promised land. AS

NOW ON BLU-RAY

The Hammer Horror Collection | New blu-ray release

Celebrating 60 years of Gothic horror and grisly gore, THE HAMMER HORROR COLLECTION hails from the glory years of this iconic house of horror offering a chilling foray into a selection of British cult classics first spawned by Terry Fisher’s in 1957 outing The Curse of Frankenstein up until the 1970 with Peter Sasdy’s Taste the Blood of Dracula, now making its blu-ray debut. The production house was originally founded 82 years ago by William Hinds and James Carreras.

TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA | 1970, 91’

Atmospherically directed  by Hungarian Peter Sasdy, and adapted for the screen by Anthony Hinds – stepping in due to budgetary constraints under the pseudonym of John Elder (he told his neighbours he was a hairdresser to avoid publicity throughout his entire career) this outing actually broadens the storyline into a damning social satire of Victorian repression and upper class ennui. The eclectic cast has Christopher Lee, Geoffrey Keen and Gwen Watford and sees three distinguished English gentlemen (Keen, Peter Sallis and John Carson) descend into Satanism, for want of anything better to do, accidentally killIng Dracula‘s sidekick Lord Courtly (Ralph Bates), in the process. As an act of revenge the Count vows they will die at the hands of their own children. But Lee actually bloodies the waters in the second half, swanning in glowering due to his lack of a domineering role in the proceedings.

7C940955-3F3B-4D0D-A526-A2E93CD37184BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB

Directed by Seth Holt | Starring Andrew Keir, Valerie Leon | UK | 1971 | 89 mins
Adapted from Bram Stoker’s mystical thriller The Jewel of the Seven Stars, this supernatural shocker is one of Hammer’s most enduring classics. A British expedition team in Egypt discovers the ancient sealed tomb of the evil Queen Tera but when one of the archaeologists steals a mysterious ring from the corpse’s severed hand, he unleashes a relentless curse upon his beautiful daughter. Is the voluptuous young woman now a reincarnation of the diabolical sorceress or has the curse of the mummy returned to reveal its horrific revenge? Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb was plagued by the sudden deaths of director Seth Holt and the wife of original star Peter Cushing, leading to rumours of a real-life curse. Michael Carreras completed the movie that made a Scream Queen of Valerie Leon as the Mummy who, in a titillating twist, forgoes the usual rotting-bandages and is instead resurrected sporting a negligée.
Extras: New featurette – The Pharaoh’s Curse: Inside Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb

1DB70328-2F7E-4621-ABE6-82C9355D699FDEMONS OF THE MIND

Dir: Peter Sykes | Cast: Robert Hardy, Shane Briant, Patrick Magee | UK | 1972 | 89′

In 19th century Bavaria, deranged Baron Zorn (Hardy) keeps his children Emil (Briant) and Elizabeth locked up because he thinks they are possessed by tainted hereditary madness. It’s up to discredited psychiatrist Professor Falkenberg (Magee) to unravel the dark family secrets involving incest, traumatic suicide and proxy fantasies in this satisfying and unusual late-period masterpiece.
Extras: New featurette – Blood Will Have Blood: Inside Demons of the Mind

C2BB7EFB-1328-4D87-B707-705E379113E3FEAR IN THE NIGHT

Dir: by Jimmy Sangster | Cast Judy Geeson, Joan Collins, Ralph Bates, Peter Cushing | UK | 1976 | 94′

A damaged young girl (Geeson), recovering from a recent nervous breakdown, is about to move with her new husband (Briant) to a secluded boarding school in the country but, the night before they are due to leave, she is attacked by a one-armed man with a prosthetic hand. With no evidence remaining, her kindly old neighbour and the local doctor conclude that she may have imagined the attack and the intruder altogether. The terror follows her and at the school she is attacked again but again her story is met by doubt, this time from her kind and loving new husband. She continues to be terrorised by the mysterious one-armed man, but nobody believes her.
Extras: New featurette – End of Term: Inside Fear in the Night

9DA0E0C1-1ED9-46D9-A532-841BF4DCAC5ASCARS OF DRACULA

Dir: by Roy Ward Baker | Starring Christopher Lee, Dennis Waterman, Jenny Hanley, Patrick Troughton | UK | 1970 | 96′

Count Dracula (Lee) is brought back from the dead when blood from a bat falls on his mouldering ashes and once again spreads his evil from his mountaintop castle. When a young man, Paul, disappears one night, his brother Simon (Waterman) and his girlfriend (Hanley) trace him to the area, discovering a terrified populace. Thrown out of the local inn, they make their way, like Paul before them, towards the sinister castle and its undead host.
Extras: New featurette – Blood Rites: Inside Scars of Dracula

5FB7AF34-6BD5-4200-A000-99B6D4BD70CBDR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE

Dir: Roy Ward Baker | Cast:Ralph Bates, Martine Beswick | UK | 1971 | 97 mins

In Victorian London, Professor Jekyll (Bates), an earnest scientist, obsessively works day and night haunted by the fear that one lifetime will not be enough to complete his research. Side-tracked from his objective he becomes consumed with developing an immortality serum. Once convinced his findings are complete, he consumes the potion only to discover that he is to become two as he turns into half Jekyll and half Hyde. Desperate to cover up his newfound identity he calls her his sister, but things take a turn for the worse when he realises that he needs female hormones if he is to maintain his existence. Before long he is battling with his alter ego Mrs Hyde (Beswick), as a number of young girls begin to go missing in the streets of London…
Extras: New featurette – Ladykiller: Inside Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde

B4674D93-6B5E-4B87-A1BB-45F72FBE630BTO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER

Dir: Peter Sykes | Cast: Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee, Honor Blackman, Denholm Elliott, Nastassja Kinski | UK | 1976 | 95 mins

In 1970s London John Verney (Widmark), a renowned occult writer, is approached by Henry Beddows (Elliot) to help rescue his daughter Catherine (Kinski) from a Satanic cult. Catherine is a nun with the Children of the Lord, a mysterious heretical order based in Bavaria and founded by the excommunicated Roman Catholic priest (Lee). When Catherine arrives from Germany, Verney sneaks her away from her bodyguard and takes her to his apartment. The order, however, are determined to get Catherine back and use all the powers of black magic at their disposal in the ensuing battle between the forces of light and darkness
Extras: New featurette – Dark Arts: Inside To the Devil a Daughter

STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING

Dir: by Peter Collinson | Cast: Rita Tushingham, Shane Briant, James Bolam | UK | 1972 | 96 mins)

This is not some sort of night of unmitigated lust chez Dracula, but the tragedy of  young Brenda (Tushingham), an innocent young girl, who leaves her hometown of Liverpool for London in search of love. By chance she meets Clive (Briant). Attractive, debonair and rich he seems to be the handsome Prince Charming she’s been looking for. Clive is actually a deeply disturbed young man and his psychotic tendencies soon manifest themselves and destroy Brenda’s dreams of a fairy-tale life offering instead a kind of COVID-19 style misery – and we all know about that

5603F039-792D-4DEF-BE89-8EB09D72EACCTHE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN

Dir: by Jimmy Sangster | Cast: Ralph Bates, Kate O’Mara | UK | 1970 | 95 mins)

Young Victor Frankenstein (Bates) returns from medical school with a depraved taste for beautiful women and fiendish experiments. But when the doctor runs out of fresh body parts for his ‘research’ he turns to murder to complete his gruesome new creation. Now his monster has unleashed its own ghastly killing spree and the true horror of Frankenstein has only just begun…Extras: New featurette – Gallows Humour: Inside The House of Frankenstein

TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA | AVAILABLE On BLURAY AND DVD DOUBLEPLAY  | Amazon | Warner Bros

CzechMate: In Search of Jiri Menzel (2019) **** Blu-ray|VOD

Dir.: Shivendra Singh Dungarpur; Documentary with Jiri Menzel, Vera Chytilova, Woody Allen, Raoul Coutard, Milos Foreman, Ivan Passer, Ken Loach, Andrzej Wajda, Agnieszka Holland; India 2018, 448 min./Special features 23 min.

Indian filmmaker Shivendra Singh Dungarpur fell in love with the films of Jiri Menzel (1938-2020) after watching the Czech director’s Oscar-winning debut Closely Observed Trains (1966) and this new documentary certainly does his hero justice – weighing in at over seven hours and eight years in the making – it also serves as a deep dive into the Czechoslovakian New Wave (that culminated in 1968 when Russian forces invaded!).

After meeting the Czech master in a Prague cafe ten year’s ago Dungarpur’s obsession grew, and the result is this labour of love – which would take him all over the world – CzechMate re-igniting the spirit of a world long gone by, at a time when Eastern Europe’s right-wing authoritarian regimes have ironically replaced their former Stalinist dictatorships.

Dungarpur had to be persuasive in chasing down the contributors to this mammoth endeavour “It was a challenging, often frustrating task to capture their stories: it took three years and a ruse to convince the Diamonds of the Night director Jan Nemec to give an interview; “I had to chase the veteran actor Josef Somr to a village hundred kilometres from Prague, and still he refused to talk to me. I drove five hours one way from Bratislava only to have Closely Observed Trains star Dusan Hanak refuse to open the door, forcing me to try again later. But in the end, I got them all”.

Jiri Menzel was a subversive rebel in the vein of Czech literary figure The Good soldier Schweijk. He chose to tackle the authorities head-on, unlike his compatriots Milos Foreman (Loves of a Blonde) and Ivan Passer (Intimate Lighting), who emigrated to Hollywood. Most of his films are portraits of small-town life (Cutting it Short, The Snowdrop Festival, My Sweet Little Village, and he brought out the humanity in his provocative characters who were loveable in spite of it all.

During his time at FAMU Film School in Prague, Menzel got to know the writer Bohumil Hrabel (1914-1997), who became the Czech New Wave’s leading light. But it was Vera Chytilova who gave Menzel his first break as assistant director in her 1963 feature Something Different. Hrabel went on to script Menzel’s own debut feature Skylarks on a String (1969) a rather mild comedy about life in a “reform” Camp, more satire than anything else. But it was banned by the authorities and kept locked up, only to be screened in 1989 – before winning the Golden Bear at the Berlin Festival a year later. Meanwhile, Menzel was left out in the cold cinema-wise and in the intervening years worked in theatre with plays by Chekhov, Shakespeare, Michael Frayn, and later Vaclav Havel’s stage adaptation of ‘The Beggars Opera’, (based on the original 1728 libretto), with a film version that would follow in 1991.

Five years after Skylarks Menzel would continue with his comedy output his 1976 Secluded, Near Woods garnering the Golden Shell at San Sebastian in the same year, and Who Looks for Gold (1974) was selected for Berlinale but went home empty-handed, and Cutting it Short receiving at Honorable Mention at Venice in 1981. In 2006  he adapted Hrabel’s novel I Served the King of England, which took the FIPRESCI prize at Berlinale the following year and this was his penultimate feature in a career that culminated with his energetic opera-themed swan song The Don Juans that met with a rather mixed reception, described by Variety called it a “frothy operatic romp” haunted by the spectre of the hated financier.

Dungarpur offers little in criticism of his idol whose only dissenter appears to be Agnieszka Holland, who thought Menzel’s approach to “twee”, particularly his portraits of the Nazis in Closely Observed Trains. For what it’s worth, the Polish director apparently preferred the more sombre confrontational works of the New Wave’s Slovakian filmmakers: Jurak Jacubisco, Dusan Hanak and Stefan Uher.

Menzel’s story is the story of the Czechoslavak New Wave in microcosm. Many suffered more than Menzel: Evald Schorm (Courage for every Day) and Eduard Grecner (Nylon Moon) were banned from working for decades, Stefan Uher (Genius) died prematurely from cancer at 62. Others, like Otokar Vavra (Witchhammer) gave in to the regime, but were criticised afterwards for getting too close. It was a non-win situation.

As for CzechMate, DoPs David Calk, Ranjan Palit, K.U. Mohanan and Jonathan Blum help to keep Dungarpur’s Opus Magna flowing gracefully. As film essays go, this is certainly as comprehensive as possible. It is carried by the playful relationship between Menzel and Dungarpur – echoing the jaunty exuberance of his oeuvre. Passionate and brimming with verve, this is a gem which can be tackled at once, or dipped into again and again for the pleasure of revisiting the Czech master’s life and work. Like most worthwhile things, CzechMate needs time commitment, but is well worth it for the joy of the ride. AS

AVAILABLE ON SECONDRUNVD.COM VOD from 26 OCTOBER | on BLU-RAY 2 DISC SPECIAL EDITION

The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) **** Blu-ray

Dir: Charles Crichton | Script: T.E.B. Clarke | Cast: Alex Guinness, Stanley Holloway, Sidney James, Alfie Bass | UK, Comedy Crime Drama 78′


Of all the British-produced caper films The Lavender Hill Mob has to be the most endearing. Almost seventy years old it still engages and delights with a period innocence that’s now impossible to recreate. Although Crichton’s comedy is on a par with the whimsy of Passport to Pimlico – both films were scripted by T.E.B.Clarke – this is not amongst the very best of Ealing comedies: that accolade still goes to Kind Hearts and Coronets, Whiskey Galore and The Ladykillers. But The Lavender Hill Mob delivers a unique gentleness of tone that makes it special.

The plot centres on the theft of a security van carrying gold bars which are melted down to be encased in souvenir paperweights of the Eiffel Tower, and shipped over to France. A supposed perfect plan, until a few are accidentally sold to a class of English schoolgirls, leaving the mob (each a grown-up kid at heart) panicking over one stubborn child who won’t exchange her Eiffel Tower for a ten shilling note. A simple story of a mob undertaking, with childlike courage, a heist remarkable enough to disarm a complacent British establishment.

Assembling a gang of East End thugs sounds somehow a lot less threatening than a mob of Chicago hoodlums. The spivs and gangsters of violent British films like They Made me a Fugitive (1947) have been replaced here by the mischievous ‘boy’ criminal. Ironically, sweet rationing came to an end in Britain two years after the release of The Lavender Hill Mob, so you can imagine how easily satisfied the British public were prior to that – just a lollipop made people happy back in the day, never mind a gold bar.

I emphasise the adult Lavender Hill mob as being deprived kids because, as in The Ladykillers, they are often subtly and ingeniously infantilised. There’s a delightful scene where a drunken “Al” Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway) and “Dutch” Holland (Alec Guiness) return to their lodgings to be reprimanded by landlady Mrs Chalk (Marjorie Fielding). She calls them noisy “naughty men” for disturbing the other residents. This prim old lady looks forward to Mrs Wilberforce (Katy Johnson) of The Ladykillers. As Charles Barr describes in his brilliant Ealing Studios “She (Wilberforce) becomes a triumphant nanny” on discovering what her furtive visitors are really up to.

Both films depict middle and working class blokes reprimanded for being naughty and irresponsible – even Lackery Wood’s missus forbids him to go on a boat trip to Paris to collect the golden souvenirs. Both films carefully reveal an astute feminine force at work to challenge the behaviour of bad men. If The Ladykillers is a black comedy that finally destroys the would-be murderous visitors then The Lavender Hill Mob is a light (or white) comedy intent to show gentlemanly thieves, without violent impulses or methods, eventually found out by Mum and her detectives.

Charles Crichton directs with confidence aided by the precise editing of Seth Holt. Witness Al and Dutch’s giddy descent on the steps of the real Eiffel Tower. Dizzy from their efforts (like kids after a Big Dipper) they regain their balance just as a car is speeding off with the schoolgirls happily clutching their souvenir towers. The edit from them standing up to witness the car leaving, is superbly done, and one the four chase sequences featured.

Chase two begins with Al and Dutch arriving at the port where the school party will catch a boat to sail back to England. They suffer the last minute frustration of having to buy tickets, go through passport control and customs. Each procedure is a gem of comic observation, culminating in them missing the boat.

Chase three is set in an exhibition hall illustrating how the police force works, or tries to work, in England. The little girl hands over her Eiffel tower model to a policeman friend. The thieves grab it and mayhem ensues. Trapped in a confined space police accidentally pursue other police, including one on an exhibition motor bike.

Chase four is the funniest of all and sees Al and Dutch steal a police vehicle to be pursued by patrol cars – one being driven by a man dressed in Robert Peel period uniform. The cars collide, their radio aerials entwine and Scotland Yard overhears a policeman singing as he cadges a lift by the mob, all this interspersed with loud pig snorts, the song “Old McDonald had a Farm” in time with a BBC radio broadcast.

Each sequence is handled with expert timing that not only recalls silent movie escapades but possibly inspired Cliff Owens’s sublime 1963 comedy The Wrong Arm of the Law – a satirical chase film about naughty villains and a befuddled police force. And Lavender’s fast moving antics are reinforced by an exuberant music score from Georges Auric.

If I’ve stressed the innocence of a film that appears to have no dark content, then I’d make one qualification. The film has a small note of despair. “Dutch” Holland, formerly a timid bank clerk, was lacking in drive and ambition. Alec Guinness (voice over) describes himself as a desperate nonentity. Cut to a shot of documentary footage of similar nonentities, trapped in their boring jobs, crossing over London Bridge. This oddly piercing moment made me think of Eliot’s famous lines in The Waste Land.

“A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many.
I had not thought death had undone so many.”

But to mention Eliot is probably too weighty. For The Lavender Hill Mob is first and foremost a seriously funny comedy more than a serious film. The meek Dutch (Holland’s first and real name was Henry) is transformed from being an anonymous worker to paradoxically a celebrated and plucky local-hero for the bank staff and a cunning mastermind thief who finally absconds to Rio de Janiero; wining and dining whilst generously donating the stolen money to good causes.

We never learn of the final fate of the other members of the Lavender mob. But this irrepressibly charming classic portrays them as typically 1950s post-war English eccentrics, repressed, but not bitter, more sweetly irreverent and decidedly special: characters that challenge the label of nonentity, as scripted by T.E.B.Clarke, with a golden touch of wit, enough to garner the writer a richly deserved BAFTA. ©AlanPrice

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL

The Ladykillers (1955) ****

Dir: Alexander Mackendrick | Drama | UK 83′

Celebrating its 65th Anniversary The Ladykillers was the last of the legendary Ealing Comedies., a subversively amusing caper that proves the undeniable civilising force of charming female influence. The female in question is Katie Johnson’s Mrs Wilberforce, a genteel little old lady who agrees to let a suite of rooms in her St Pancras abode to a ghoulish looking ‘musician’ with unfeasible dentures (Alex Guinness). As we soon discover, his intentions are far from honourable when joined by a motley crew of what turns out to be rather gentlemanly crooks: Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom, Cecil Parker and Danny Green. The Ladykillers reflects on the kindness of strangers – but reminds us never to look a gift horse in the mouth – in a world that sadly no longer exists.

In a role originally intended for Alistair Sim, Guinness looks almost macabre as Professor Marcus, whose plan to dupe the seemingly naive Mrs Wilberforce into being part of a heist goes pear-shaped after the crew rob a security van. But the heist is just a vehicle for darkly amusing antics that involve a parrot, a tea party and a strange old house facing St Pancras Station in Euston Road, but now no longer exists.

This gothic caper is far superior to the Coen Brothers’ 2004 remake, the humour derived from Mrs Wildberforce’s typically English way of derailing the gang’s activities with her innocent requests for assistance, and offers of cups of tea. Meanwhile they try to conceal their sculduggery by posing as a farcical string quartet, though they are unable to play a note and are in fact miming to a recording of Boccherini’s Minuet. In the end the gang pull off the robbery, but none of them could have predicted that their greatest obstacle to escaping with the loot would be their well-meaning hostess. 

The Ladykillers was the last Technicolour three-strip film shot in Britain and went on to win Best British Screenplay for William Rose and Best British Actress for Katie Johnson, in the film that made her a star at the grand old age of 77.

Restoration-wise a 35mm Technicolor print was used as a reference for the colour grade to ensure the new HDR Dolby Vision master stayed true to the films original 1950s ‘Colour by Technicolor’ look. In total the remaster benefitted from over a 1000 hours’ worth of 4K digital restoration to achieve a sparkling new digital print. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 23 OCTOBER 2020 | UHD, BLU-RAY/DVD includes Forever Ealing Documentary narrated by Daniel Day-Lewis and BBC Omnibus Made in Ealing (1986) featuring interviews with Alexander Mackendrick and William Rose.

Dementia (1953/55) ****

Wri/Dir: John Parker | UK Drama 56mins

A woman’s paranoia proves to be more than just a nightmare, in John Parker’s influential 1953 horror film Dementia.

Made on a shoestring and certainly none the worse for it, the film shows how much can be achieved with a slim budget.

Attracting a great deal of controversy surrounding censorship, Dementia had a doomed start in life: it fell foul of the New York State Film Board in 1953, who deemed it “inhuman, indecent, and the quintessence of gruesomeness”. It had a limited release two years later, and was then re-named Daughter of Horror in 1957, and given a VoiceOver narration by Ed McMahon. Well ahead of its time, it is a startling portrait of a woman working through vivid emotional trauma to come to terms with her troubled family past.

Dementia was Parker’s only film, expanded from a short, it barely makes the full length feature category. Garnering cult status after appearing on TCM’s late night horror spot ‘The Underground’, furore for the film’s strange blend of Gothic and fantasy horror gradually developed.

It came into being as a result of a dream experienced by John Parker’s then secretary Adrienne Barrett, who plays the main character. Awakening from a nightmare in a squalid hotel room in the back streets of Los Angeles (where the film was also shot), ‘the gamin’ begins her journey into the deep recesses of her mind – whether real or imagined. Clearly her reverie connects with some deep hidden anxiety. Armed with a flick-knife she sets off into the night where darkness envelopes her, along with a string of menacing and exploitative characters.

An interesting companion piece to The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920), Dementia is also a harbinger of the sinister brand of psychological drama  that would follow: The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) : Roman Polanski’s 1965 outing Repulsion strikes a chord, although visually Dementia connects with Guy Maddin’s hallucinatory fantasy outings such as Keyhole (2011) or even the cult classic Blue Velvet (1986). There are film noir and expressionist elements in the oblique black and white camerawork, the shadow-warped backstreets and pervasive paranoia. Narrative-wise Dementia could even come out of the pages of a Shirley Jackson novel with its chillingly sinister sense of foreboding; the heroine sinking into madness, consumed by terror.

Dialogue is minimal – apart from the occasional scream or laughter – the focus is on tone and atmosphere, with an unsettling soundscape by George Anthiel (Ballet Mécanique). ‘The gamin’ rushes through the empty streets where she collides with a series of weirdos and wayfarers (including a deranged flower-girl), culminating in a salutary meeting with the lascivious, cigar-chomping Bruno Ve Sota. He takes her on the town, only to be mesmerised by a suggestive nightclub performer.

Meanwhile the woman is gripped by a fantasy of her own which takes the shape of a foggy graveyard vignette, where she is approached by a black-hooded man carrying a lamp. As she stares down at her mother’s grave, the incongruous figure of a glamorous woman is seen smoking on a chaise-long. The woman – potentially her mother – is involved in a violent encounter with a smirking man. These characters are clearly symbolic yet shrouded in mystery, and the evening comes to a dreadful end.

The director (1899-1980) remains an elusive figure. According to a back copy of Variety magazine he was the son of Hazel H Parker who owned a chain of cinemas in Oregon.

ON BFI DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY/DVD/DIGITAL on 19 OCTOBER 2020 | simultaneous release on iTunes and Amazon Prime |EXTRAS include a newly recorded commentary, and an alternative cut of the film, retitled Daughter of Horror (1957) which has added narration by actor Ed McMahon.

Yield to the Night (1956) *** Blu-ray release

Dir: J. Lee Thompson | Cast: Diana Dors, Michael Craig, Yvonne Mitchell, Geoffrey Keen | Drama UK 99′

This sober female-centric prison thriller, echoing the Ruth Ellis case, stars Diana Dors as a hard-nosed convicted criminal waiting for a possible reprieve in her grim prison cell.

In stark contrast, the upbeat opening sees Dors ‘shopgirl’ strutting along in black stilettos, a cool articulate London blonde with love on her mind. Tired of her inattentive husband she has fallen for the darkly dishy musician Jim Lancaster (a sultry Michael Craig). Her romantically troubled past seems over and the future finally looks bright with her Prince Charming, or so it would appear. But Lancaster has feet of clay and and no money, and is unable to break off his existing relationship with well-healed socialite Lucy Carpenter (Mercia Shaw). But when Jim’s relationship with Lucy takes a tragic turn, a heartbroken Mary snaps, her love for him transformed into bitter hatred turns for her rival as she takes matters into her owns hands.

Adapted for the screen by John Cresswell and Joan Henry (from her own novel which preceded the Ellis affair), this anti-capital punishment study of stoicism and unrequited love stands out as a rare female led 1950s drama – both in terms of the story and the fact it was written by a woman. Mary Hilton was a precursor to the “Angry Young Women” ushered in the British New Wave realist features with their aggrieved girls like Jo in A Taste of Honey (1961), Eva Koenig in That Kind of Girl, 1963) and This Sporting Life’s Margaret Hammond, of the same year.

Dors maintains a dignified presence throughout, her radiant charm and vulnerability eventually giving way to dignified impenitance as she takes off her make-up and dons drab prison garb. Despite her incarcerated status she still pulls rank over the female prison officers in a role that received nods to best actress at Cannes and the BAFTAs in the year of its release. Michael Craig makes for an alluring low-level lothario, and Mercia Shaw a petulant and sophisticated woman of means.

Yield to the Night is makes for rather distressing viewing with its death sentence theme overriding the more exciting sequences where Gilbert Taylor’s artful black and white camerawork is given full rein. But Mary’s claustrophobic confinement certainly exerts a sinister thrill during the countdown to the inevitable. MT

FULLY RESTORED ON BLU-RAY, DIGITAL AND DVD ON OCTOBER 12

Blood and Money (2019) *** Digital/DvD

Dir: John Barr | Cast: Tom Berenger | US Drama 90′

This solid vehicle for Tom Berenger makes enjoyable autumnal viewing keeping us glued to the screen despite a generic storyline. Berenger’s laconic style and suave economy of movement have made him a cinema stalwart throughout his long and undervalued career as a talented actor in mainstream titles and B movies such as this first feature for John Barr, who makes a well-worn plot watchable with solid production values and Berenger at the helm.

Essentially a one-hander Blood and Money is also slim on dialogue that somehow suits its peaceful snowy setting in the wilds of a winter-bound Maine. Berenger is Jim Reed a man of few words with a laid back approach to life that seems to stem from his poor state of health and possible terminal illness. Despite regular coughing fits that spray blood onto his parka he doesn’t make any bones about it, and Barr weaves this cleverly into the narrative as a McGuffin. It soon emerges his daughter was killed in a car accident and Reed was at the wheel.

On a last ditch solitary vacation all togged for the icy conditions he cuts a rugged figure trudging through snow near his makeshift cabin in the woods. A custom jeep waits to transport him homeward to a comforting diet of peanut butties and painkillers washed down with milk, and a post prandial cigarette before sleep takes over, his sole mission to shoot a male deer is the only thing waking him up the morning. And he keeps missing his target.

One target he does manage to hit is a lonely figure hurrying away with a bag of money. What happens next is largely immaterial because we’re somehow lost in reverie contemplating the pointlessness of life and the weakness of the human condition when the chips are finally down. A big shoot out adds some spice to the final stretch but there is also a satisfying human twist to this lowkey thriller that takes us mildly by surprise but pleasantly so. MT

BLOOD AND MONEY IS AVIALABLE COURTESY OF SIGNATURE ENTERTAINMENT ON DIGITAL HD from 16 October and DVD 19 October 2020.

 

 

 

This Gun for Hire (1942) ***** Blu-ray

Dir.: Frank Tuttle; Cast: Veronica Lane, Alan Ladd, Robert Preston, Laird Crogar, Tully Marshall, Mark Lawrence; USA 1942, 81 min. 

Frank Tuttle gives the full film noir treatment to Graham Greene’s themes of guilt and redemption in this highly influential thriller with iconic performances from Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd.

Adapting Greene’s 1936 novel of the same name, the action is transported to wartime US where hit man Philip Raven has killed a blackmailing chemist and his girlfriend on the orders of shady operator Willard Gates (Crogar), who is after his research paper on poison gas. Gates works for Alvin Brewster (Marshall), the wheelchair bound Nitro Chemical boss, who wants to sell US secrets to the Japanese. Cat-lover Raven is quietly ruthless swearing revenge when he discovers his pay-0ff is counterfeit.

Nightclub-owner Gates has meanwhile hired magician and singer Ellen Graham (Lane), who, unbeknown to him, is working for a Senate committee on the trail of Brewster. Ellen is also engaged to police Lieutenant Michael Crane (Preston), who is hunting Raven. On a train journey, Raven and Ellen meet by accident, and he is smitten. Gates, who is also on the train, believes Ellen is Raven’s girl and plans to abduct and kill her. But Raven will save her life, finding her chained in a wardrobe in Gates’ mansion where Gates’ servant Tommy (Lawrence) is about to dump her in a river. Ellen and Raven are on the run, trying to nail Gates and Brewster. Meanwhile Crane is hunting the two, unsure if Ellen is still on his side.

DoP John F. Seitz (Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, The lost Weekend) conjures up smouldering noir settings, among them an underground chase (with shades of The Third Man) in a gas works where Ellen and Raven are fleeing from the cops.  

One of the most revered and successful film noir hits of the 1940s This Gun for Hire would see Lake and Ladd team up again although this remains their standout feature as a duo. Raven is a frightening yet oddly sympathetic hit man, Ladd bringing out his humanity in a breakout debut turn that transformed him into a star. As The New York Times said of Ladd upon the film’s 1942 release, “He is really an actor to watch. After this stinging performance, he has something to live up to – or live down.”

Working with writers Albert Maltz and WR Burnett, Tuttle also underlines Raven’s ambiguity as a broken individual suffering from an abusive childhood. This wariness of people has kept him an outsider, and the narrative revolves round his strengthening relationship with Ellen whose life as a female nightclub-chanteuse also put her in a vulnerable position in the society of the day. And whilst the censors would have insisted on a happy-end for Ellen and Crane, there are moments when Ellen is hard pushed to choose sides. Stunningly cinematic, This Gun for Hire is also a clever character study of forbidden love. AS

ON BLU-RAY | EUREKA CLASSICS RANGE | 14 SEPTEMBER 2020

 

Mademoiselle (1966) **** blu-ray release

Dir.: Tony Richardson; Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Ettore Manni, Keith Skinner, Umberto Orsini, Paul Burge; France/UK 1966, 105′

Based on a story by Jean Genet and adapted for the screen by Marguerite Duras, Tony Richardson’s sinister arthouse drama Mademoiselle did not fare well with the critics (or the public) when it was released after its Cannes premiere.

Perhaps audiences expected something different from an MGM release: in those days there was a chasm between mainstream and independent cinema. It could have been down to the fact that neither viewers nor critics were aware of Richardson’s sublime subversiveness, even though it was not the first time his idiosyncratic style had been aired on the silver screen.

Jeanne Moreau is the Mademoiselle in question, a school teacher and an inverted version of Colin Smith from The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner played by Tom Courtenay, a few years earlier. Here Moreau’s teacher rebels in a series of spiteful acts on her village community, each time covering them up with over-adjustment.

The attractive, middle-aged Parisian arrives in the country town of Corrèze (the film was shot in Le Rat, with cast and crew living locally for the duration) looking for a new start in life, and hoping to up the ante with her sophisticated urban ways. Put simply, she wants to be a big fish in a small pond. Posing as a respectable buttoned-down teacher during the day, the nighttime transforms her into a pyromaniac, setting fire to houses and barns, she poisons farm animals and even creates a flood of biblical proportions during an annual get together.

But the blame falls squarely on the resident Italian lumberjack, Manou (Manni) whose lady-killing potential have made him unpopular with the village men. Fellow Italian Antonio (Orsini) asks Manou to move on, but suggests his son slightly backward son Bruno (Skinner) should stay on at school where his studies are progressing rather well with Mademoiselle. But Bruno is no fool when it comes to male intuition, and he smells a rat when it comes to his teacher. Picking up on these bad vibes she lashes back calling him a ‘gypsy’ and demonising him in the classroom.

Meanwhile, a subtle chemistry simmers between Mademoiselle and Manou; and this fatal attraction drives the story forward, her covert lust fuelling the incendiary acts of rebellion. Sadly the farm animals come off worst, many of them losing their lives in the process. Eventually the two come together for a rather wild night of passion in the pastoral splendour. Arriving home the worse for wear, Mademoiselle is asked by a concerned neighbour “was it him?”. Her tacit agreement thereby signing Manou’s death warrant that sees him lynched by the angry male mob. Mademoiselle leaves for good shortly afterwards, Bruno spitting at her from a distance, having found evidence to confirm his suspicions – although lacking the confidence of his convictions.

Look Back in Anger DoP David Watkin once again joins Richardson’s Woodfall crew, his delicately rendered black and white images creating a bewitched and magical wonderland in the English countryside evoking folkloric associations with Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Wicker Man. Mademoiselle is an exercise in Freudian dualism. Ironically Richardson and Moreau began an affair during film, fired up by the heady atmosphere in the summer heat. Over fifty years later, the film still feels fresh and real with its central theme of xenophobia and mistrust.

NOW ON BFI BLU-RAY/DVD from 21 SEPTEMBER 2020

Buster Keaton | Blu-ray (1923-1927) ****

The celebration of Buster Keaton on Blu Ray continues with Eureka’s three film package of Our Hospitality, Go West and College. These features have been lovingly restored from the best film elements available. If you own their previous Keaton issues then this set is self-recommending.

I’ll begin with a masterpiece, Our Hospitality (1923). In this wonderfully charming and tender film (above) we have Keaton successfully integrating amusing set pieces (not merely clever gags) with a dramatically involving story. A family feud, with murderous consequences, is an old idea, ripe for comic exploitation: suspense being created in order to ward of bloodshed. Not only does Keaton achieve his reconciliation, through a brilliant inventiveness and tour de force timing, but films Our Hospitality‘s story, of the McKay’s v the Canfields, against the backcloth of a lyrically realised 1830s American South.

The film’s period charm is enhanced by sequences featuring a Stevenson’s Rocket train complete with stagecoach carriages. Like Keaton’s The General a train becomes a quirky character in its own right: watching it bravely travel over a rocky terrain proves irresistible. Two very funny incidents involve the shifting of the track to accommodate a wilful donkey, and the moment an old man pelts the train driver with stones, so that logs of wood are then thrown back and collected by the villager to be used as firewood. Halcyon days they maybe but vulnerable to interruptions.

In order to survive Keaton mustn’t leave the house – the Canfield’s code of Southern hospitality says they will not kill a McKay whilst indoors. At one point Keaton has to dress like a woman, run out the building and create a decoy by dressing a horse in his discarded clothes. A superbly paced comic rythm is established as McKay desperately flits in and out of the Canfield home and although guns are fired a lot in the film no one gets injured.

At the end when peace is achieved and the Canfield’s lay down their pistols, it turns out the victimised McKay was carrying an armoury far bigger than their own. Keaton’s most dangerous moment actually occurs attempting to rescue the Canfield’s daughter (played by Natalie Talmadge, Keaton’s wife) from rapids flowing into a waterfall. Keaton does it with such poetic skill – and not a stunt man on the set!

Although Go West (1925) never achieves the sublimity of Our Hospitality this is a lovely film: captivating, surreal and even flirting with sentimentality. That last objective is much more Chaplin than Keaton territory – David Robinson (Chaplin’s great biographer) noted that Keaton’s friendship with a steer named Browneyes, recalls the tramp and flower girl affection in City Lights. “Do you need any Cowboys today?” asks the forlorn New Yorker named Friendless (Keaton) to the ranch owner. A classic inter-title question that gets him the job. Of course the city slicker does everything wrong but finds consolation with Browneyes.

Apparently Keaton was disappointed with the film because he couldn’t get the cows to stampede through the town fast enough in the final scenes. Keaton does manage to evoke both their docility and action to splendid surreal effect. I love how the steer stroll into department stores, lumber into a barbers and agitate the local police force. And I can’t help thinking that Bunuel’s L’Age d’Or (with its dead donkeys over a piano) wasn’t influenced by Keaton’s Go West. Bunuel’s on record as adoring Keaton’s filmmaking. Of Keaton’s expression he said it was “as unpretentious as a bottle.’

Of course the clown-bottle genius never smiled. In College (1927) Keaton puts himself through so much physical effort trying to prove his athletic prowess to the students (and his girl) that you almost want him to break into the relief of smiling: then as a boatswain he eventually triumphs – the irony of the film is that in reality Keaton was arguably the most athletic of the silent comedians.

College has some excellent gags and as in Our Hospitality and Go West Keaton is revealed as a master of framing and deployment of space. However the film doesn’t have a coherent structure, being more a succession of incidents that are deftly, but routinely orchestrated. A very different but more rewarding college silent movie is Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman. Lloyd’s breezy personality is more at home in this
material.

I could have reviewed this entertaining boxset just by describing in great detail the wealth of gags. But words would fail me. Here we have a genius on the road to perfection; Keaton’s first fully fledged expression of greatness. With his deep impassive countenance, Keaton orchestrates his antics while remaining acutely aware of his commanding presence as the world implodes around him, knowing that, philosophically at least, he will always rise stoically above every threat and misfortune. ALAN PRICE 2020.

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA 

Five Graves to Cairo (1943) **** Bluray release

Dir: Billy Wilder | Cast: Eric von Stroheim, Franchot Tone, Anne Baxter, Akim Timaroff, Peter van Eyck, Fortunio Bonanova | US War thriller 96′

Before he made one of the most lauded film noirs ever committed to celluloid Double Indemnity Billy Wilder directed this gutsy Second World War espionage thriller that froths with energy despite its rather stagey confines of a chamber-piece. He had only been in Hollywood for a decade but Five Graves proves that Wilder and screenwriter Charles Brackett—who would collaborate on thirteen films, winning screenplay Oscars for The Lost Weekend and Sunset Boulevard—were already at the top of their game having cut their teeth together on a star-studded comedy The Major and the Minor with Ray Milland and Ginger Rogers, the previous year.

Enjoying an equally strong cast of Franchot Tone, Anne Baxter and Eric von Stroheim (who gets some of the best lines, including the fiendishly misogynist: “I don’t like women in the morning, go away”) the thriller is based on a play by Hungarian writer Lajos Biro, and retains a slightly claustrophobic feel despite the stylish camerawork of Oscar nominee John F Seitz who creates evocative shadow-play within the confines of the hostelry and inthe wonderful opening desert scenes (filmed in Arizona) recalling those velvety sand dunes in Laurence of Arabia. 

The plot is an engaging one. Tone is British Corporal Bramble, the only survivor in his unit after a battle with Rommel’s soldiers in North Africa. After falling from his tank and staggering to the isolated Empress of Britain hotel, he is offered sanctuary by owner Farid (Akim Tamiroff) and his French employee Mouche (Anne Baxter). But Eric von Stroheim’s Rommel soon fetches up crunching on a cigar and shooting the cuffs of his elegant desert rig-out (designed by Edith Head who really goes to town on the costumes). He soon commandeers the hotel in an extraordinary performance and claims it as the new quarters for his Nazi sidekicks. Meanwhile Bramble is back-footedly forced to assume the identity of a recently killed waiter. It soon emerges that this waiter was also serving as a German spy, a role Bramble now has to adopt for his own survival. And while Mouche knows Bramble’s true identity, she has her own reasons for not wanting to aid and abet him as they survive in close quarters in this nest of wartime vipers.

Named by Quentin Tarantino as one of his favourite films, Wilder enriches the minimal action scenes with archive war footage and explanatory inter-titles. The interior scenes dice between light-hearted wittiness and sinuous tension as the disparate group of characters are huddled up hiding their own secrets and ulterior motives. The director would soon become one of Hollywood’s most lauded talents, but his genius was clearly evident in this early work.

Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present the film in its UK debut on Blu-ray from a new 4K restoration

https://youtu.be/rmrE1FHUyjY

 

Horse Money (2014) |Best Director | Locarno 2014 | Bluray Release

Dir/Wri: Pedro Costa | Cast: Ventura, Vitalina Varela, Tito Furtado
Portugal Drama 104mins

Drenched in profoundly mannered grief, Pedro Costa’s tortuously paced HORSE MONEY (CAVALO DINHEIRO) is a magnificent monument and/or an egregious folly, demonstrating the Portuguese director’s expertise in arresting compositions as well as the decidedly acquired taste of his opaque minimalism. Starring Costa’s regular protagonist Ventura, a charismatically stalwart, mononymic Cape Verdian, the film won Best Director at LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL’s 67th edition and is now playing in the Journey Through History strand at this year’s celebration (viewable online via MUBI).

Though German Expressionism might be an unlikely source of inspiration for Costa, there’s more than a touch of Robert Weine’s THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919) about his latest feature, which before anything else seems to entrap its listless characters in harsh quadrants of chiaroscuro lighting, with ominously shadowy depths encroaching from the extreme edges of frame. Cinematographer Leonardo Simões employs wide-angled lenses and canting horizons to distort the film’s claustrophobic interiors into a nightmarish grid of dilapidating geometry. It’s as if the very axes of the earth shifted a long time ago—and people are only now adjusting.

Also like CALIGARI, HORSE MONEY is set for large portions of its narrative in a medical centre, unfolding as a succession of dreamily purgatorial fragments that suggest a kind of hallucinatory hotchpotch of somnambulant trauma. Ventura is one of only a few patients left at this half-abandoned outpost, being treated for a nervous disease after being badly beaten by soldiers sent in to displace him and others from the Cape Verde settlement of Fontainhas decades previously (forgoing traditional drama, Costa presumably assumes his audience is familiar with the real-life history so obliquely referenced here). Claiming he’s 19 years and 3 months old, Ventura may or may not be a reliable narrator: one consequence of state violence is, apparently, the aggressive onset of senility—which of course benefits a state eager to bury its colonial guilt.

Our visibly shaken hero is visited by ghosts from rosier pasts. This circle of displaced pals posthumously places its trust in Ventura to unshackle memories and preserve the truth. Chief among such friends is Vitalina, a benumbed widow who speaks only in a monotonously stately whisper—as if wary of disturbing sleeping dogs from their slumber. In a concluding sequence, Ventura is confronted by long-suppressed horrors in an elevator—a space he shares with a street performer-like ‘human statue’ dressed as a soldier from the Revolutionary Army. Large parts of this scene arrive intact from ‘Sweet Exorcism’, Costa’s largely insufferable contribution to the typically uneven portmanteau project CENTRO HISTORICO (2012). At least on this occasion we’re given a little more context.

Like the elevator itself, the film as a whole seems reluctant to move forward: though Ventura is eventually discharged from the facility, his mental wounds don’t appear to be healed. In fact, stasis is one of the film’s visual strengths: it opens stunningly, with a series of Jacob Riis photographs. Hereafter, Costa repeatedly shows himself as a potential master of still photography, having his performers pose motionless within absorbingly framed scenarios. Moments such as that in which Ventura walks along a road in his red underpants only to be stopped at a crossroads by armed soldiers and a tank, for example, have such a potency and urgency about them that one can’t help but wonder if the director’s thematic aims would be better served by a stills exhibition.

Until then, we’ll endure these glacial temporalities the Lisboan dares to impose upon us. In passing, we’ll merely note that challenging, politicised cinema doesn’t need to be a challenge to sit through. But at least this pertains to somebody’s idea of a worthwhile artistic experience—which, for any artist wanting to do things her or his own way, is sometimes enough. MICHAEL PATTISON

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | A JOURNEY Reviewed at LOCARNO

 

 

The Man Who Laughs (1928) **** Bluray release

Dir Paul Leni | Silent Drama, 100′

This visually remarkable late silent film is an adaptation of a French novel (by Victor Hugo) within an English setting, directed by a German filmmaker (Paul Leni) in an American studio. By the end of the 1980s critics were complaining that cultural identity in Trans-euro pudding films was neither one thing nor the other. Yet in 1928 the ingredients were well-baked: The Man who Laughs is no flat hybrid, but a splendidly risen cake. And the icing on top is the charismatic actor Conrad Veidt.

England in the 1680s and King James II has had his political enemy Lord Clancharlie killed. His son Gwynplaine is disfigured by Dr. Hardquannone who works as a comprachico (a dealer in mutilated children intended to play fools or dwarfs at Court.) The grown-up Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt) now has a permanent fixed grin, due to his disfigurement, and is reduced to working as a clown in a freak show carnival. He falls in love with a blind actress named Dea (Mary Philbin.) Meanwhile, a jester at the Court of Queen Anne, ‘discovers’ Gwynplaine and reveals his royal lineage and inheritance. Yet the estate is now owned by a seductive vamp, the despised Duchess Josiana (Olga V. Baklanova.). And when Gwynplaine is bought to Court, emotional and political turmoil ensues.

First, let’s get one thing out of the way. The Man Who Laughs is today seen as an influence on the Joker character in the Batman comics and movies. However, the only resemblance between Conrad Veidt and all the actors who’ve played The Joker, is the fixity of that grotesque grin. Unlike Batman’s adversary Veidt’s Gwynplaine is not malicious and wears no  pronounced makeup: in other words the two characters have nothing in common with each other. 

Conrad Veidt uses his hypnotic eyes to convey a complex personality that both attracts and repels women. Veidt was a highly intelligent and subtle actor: throughout The Man Who Laughs he evokes the anguish and joy of Gwynplane’s thoughts – his performance is an master class in how the eyes can be used to express deep emotion. Writer Daniella Sannwald cleverly puts this into words in an extract from The Oxford History of World Cinema:

‘Veidt’s face reveals much of the inner life of his characters. The play of muscles beneath the taut skin, the lips pressed together, a vein on his temple visibly protruding, nostrils flaring in concentration and self discipline. These physical aspects characterise the artists, sovereigns and strangers of the German silent film…’


Of course, no film is solely the landscape of a great actor’s face. The design and spatial excitement of Paul Leni’s film, a German silent tradition enriching American silent cinema (often as lyrical as Murnau’s Sunrise), is considerably enhanced by his spry and stylish direction. The Southwark fair scenes; the chase at the London harbour and the episodes at Court are full of exciting mobile camerawork and editing.

The Man Who Laughs is more of a tender love story than a horror film. Veidt’s scenes with Mary Philbin (the heroine of the silent The Phantom of the Opera) are genuinely touching and steer well clear of sentimentality. Their romance is unconsummated yet charged with erotic tension– how far does Gwynplaine want to go in the relationship? He is terrified that Dea might just possibly regain her sight and then see how strange he looks. 

Gwynplaine’s frustration is put to the test in a deliciously sexy scene where Duchess Josiana (perversely attracted to Gwynplaine’s grin) attempts to seduce him. Here Conrad Veidt’s placing of a face cloth over his lips is in order to resist temptation. Whereas when with Dea, he does it to hide his shame. Olga V.Baklanova really lets rip, giving a glowingly photographed scene much sexual animalism. There are even some earlier nude-back scenes of her emerging from a bath, risqué for 1928, or maybe not given what Eric Von Stroheim was up to in his 1928/29 Queen Kelly.) 

Of course the film changes Victor Hugo’s ending. Best not to divulge, and it really doesn’t matter, for it perfectly suits the fate of the two romantic leads (who we really care for.) My one complaint about The Man who Laughs is the over-use of a faithful dog with the obvious name of Homo the Wolf,  played by a dog called Zimbo: it’s a case of a canine melodramatic over-drive.

But the case for Paul Leni’s film (for me his greatest) doesn’t need to be argued, just experienced. And in this beautiful restoration from a 4k source I was enthralled by the passion of The Man Who Laughs. ALAN PRICE©2020   

OUT ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA ON 17 AUGUST 2020

A Matter of Life and Death (1946) | New 4k Restoration | Poetry

Dir: Michael Powell | Writer: Emeric Pressburger | Cast: David Niven, Roger Livesey, Raymond Massey, Kim Hunter, Marius Goring, Abraham Sofaer, Robert Coote, Joan Maude, Kathleen Byron, Bonar Colleano, Richard Attenborough | UK / Fantasy / 104min

Although by general consensus it is now accorded the status of a classic, it actually took quite a while for this beautiful and unique film to be considered as such. Lindsay Anderson at the time actually used it as his yardstick for mediocrity when he despaired in ‘Sequence’ of audiences that “allow themselves to be diverted by A Matter of Life and Death, but confess themselves too lazy for Ivan the Terrible“, while as recently as 1973 it had been dismissed by Angela & Elkan Allan in ‘The Sunday Times Guide to Movies on Television’ as “[e]xtravagantly awful… told not as a comedy, but as a serious, ludicrous drama”.

Matter-870When it first appeared plenty of critics grumbled at its lack of realism, although director Michael Powell himself took great satisfaction in the fact that everything in the film was psychologically explicable as a hallucination on the part of the hero, Peter Carter (engaging played by a young David Niven). The light-hearted backdrop of fantasy, however, made palatable the graphic depiction of the violent death of two of the film’s characters (we first see Bob Trubshawe [Robert Coote] looking very realistically dead with his eyes open), since within the context of the film’s narrative they are both soon depicted jauntily bounding back to life, when in reality at the film’s conclusion they would both have been very much dead, and remained so for all eternity.

 Under the baton of maestro Michael Powell, A Matter of Life and Death is an enormously satisfying exercise in organisation, with the many components that make up  a feature film – Emeric Pressburger’s literate script, the enthusiastic performances by a uniformly fine cast, Jack Cardiff’s Technicolor photography, Allan Gray’s music, Alfred Junge’s production design, Reginald Mills’ editing and so on – smoothly coalescing into a sublime whole, which Powell himself prided himself on making it all look so easy, when it had been anything but.  It was typically audacious that the film chose at so early to reverse the convention already emerging in cinematic fantasy by depicting real life in Technicolor and Heaven in black & white. The transitions are smoothly organised, although some took exception at Marius Goring’s line – breaching the fourth wall – that “One is starved for Technicolor up zere…!”  Depicting Heaven in black & white was perceived by Raymond Durgnat as satirising the welfare state, and in an odd little book published in 1947 called ‘The World is My Cinema’ E.W. & M.M. Robson heaped page upon page of abuse on the heads of Powell & Pressburger accusing them of being unpatriotic fascist sympathisers (although it’s worth noting that nobody from the Axis Powers is anywhere to be seen, the Chief Recorder is a woman (Joan Maude) and The Judge is played by an Asian actor [Abraham Sofaer]).

matter-4A remarkable amount of Britain’s imperial dirty linen indeed receives a very public airing during the heavenly tribunal (including a laugh-out-loud moment depicting the introduction of an Irish juror in standard IRA uniform of trilby and trenchcoat) led Richard Winnington of the News Chronicle to suppose it was there just for “American box-office purposes”, which ironically attests to the artfulness with which Powell & Pressburger’s company The Archers had camouflaged their propaganda, since the whole reason for the film’s existence had been a request from the Ministry of Information to make a film stressing Anglo-American friendship (relations between the Allies were becoming strained even before Germany surrendered). Anyone else would have simply obliged with a conventional romance between a Brit and a Yank, but The Archers didn’t do conventional, and only they would erect such a formidable edifice to get their message across.

It’s hard to imagine any other national cinema or filmmakers combining such technical and philosophical ambition with such boundless exuberance in its telling. The whole film looks so extraordinary, it’s easy not to notice the skilful use of sound throughout – from the hollow, echoing acoustics of the opening scene narrated by John Longden taking us on a tour of outer space, through the ominously ticking clock in the control room at the air base, to Allan Gray’s exquisite and atmospheric score, his last for an Archers production.

A Matter of Life and Death represents both the culmination and conclusion of The Archers’ first phase, since as their later productions became more ornate they in the process lost much of the gusto and graceful good humour which had characterised their earlier productions. ©RChatten

The film also inspired Alan Price to compose this poem:

A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946) 

No one has ever dramatised a brain seizure like you guys. 

An airman hallucinating on earth and its WW2 ‘heaven.’ 

Pilot Peter Carter, so English a fighting poet. One moment 

in a three-strip Technicolor village, the next on a staircase 

to a monochrome beyond. Blaze of aircraft crashing down. 

A beach. Her cycling. You meet; grab the falling handlebars, 

embrace and kiss. Not some visionary sight of a nether world. 

Nor a surgeon spying the street with his camera obscura. 

Nor the French messenger who lost his head. Nor the smell 

of fried onions can change my mind: the idea of a sacrifice

for love. June got her man. Peter got his woman. Emeric and 

you Michael got the film you wanted. AMOLAD determined 

my fantasy after-life. I was born premature three years later: 

taken out of my pram; nurtured in a cinema, entranced by 

black & white pearls with the option for wide screen rainbows. 

Hovering betwixt and between, knowing I’d never starve.

©ALAN PRICE

The Woman in Black (1989) **** Blu-ray

Dir: Herbert Wise | Cast: Adrian Rawlins, Bernard Hepton, Pauline Moran, David Ryall, Clare Holman | UK Horror Thriller, 100′

Originally made for TV and screening on Christmas Eve 1989, Herbert Wise directed this well made and effective thriller that takes us back to the Gothic tradition of storytelling in a Victorian ghost fantasy based on Susan Hill’s original 1983 novel. The Woman in Black follows the same formula as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, minus the blood-sucking Count who is replaced by an equally menacing woman in black, and the boxes of earth by a trunk full of evil trappings.

On the request of his crusty old boss young lawyer Arthur Kipps (Adrian Rawlins) travels from London to the North Eastern coastal town of Crythin Gifford, and out across the eerie salt marshes to attend the funeral of a friendless old widow, Alice Drablow. During the church service a be-hatted, black-robed woman appears to be watching Arthur Kidd from a distance and reappears on the marshes later that day, her face set in a ghastly grimace.

Wise’s film is chockfull of ghastly horror tropes. The wind moans and gulls screech as Kipps makes his way in the swirling mists to Eel Marsh House, only to discover a mournful legacy of untimely death and ghostly appearances in this miserable corner of Victorian England. A talented British cast includes Bernhard Hepton who plays a kindly professional Sam Toovey a sort of Devil’s advocate in explaining away the terrifying sounds and occurrences. The other locals are a sceptical bunch. And no one can explain how a ball comes to be bouncing and a little boy’s voice greets Kipps laughingly in a room that has apparently been locked since Alice’s death. Not to mention a recurring sound of a carriage crashing amid blood-curdling screams outside the house. All this has been recorded on a phonograph by Mrs Drablow herself. Meanwhile, Kipps seems to be losing his mind – not surprisingly. And things don’t improve when he returns to London, freaked out by the whole affair which continues to haunt him in the film’s shocking finale. Made in the late 1980s this reliable horror story  still has an undeniable kick thanks to Wise’s able direction. MT

https://youtu.be/wYfKkf_0Pnc
The worldwide Blu-ray debut of The Woman in Black is available exclusively from the Network website on 10 August 

The Heiress (1949) **** Tribute to Olivia de Havilland

Dir: William Wyler, Script: Ruth Goetz, Augustus Goetz | Cast:                                        Montgomery Clift, Olivia De Havilland, Ralph Richardson, Miriam Hopkins, Vanessa Brown, Selena Royle, Betty Linley, Ray Collins, Mona Freema | US Drama | 110mins

Dame Olivia de Havilland, who has died aged 104, claimed her second Oscar for leading actress in William Wyler’s stirring drama, based on Henry James’s novel, ‘Washington Square’. She had already won an Academy Award for Mitchell Leisen’s To Each His Own (1946) and was one of the last surviving cast members of the 1939 epic Gone With the Wind.

As the sister of Joan Fontaine, she was not only an acclaimed actress but also a feisty member of the Hollywood studio system and had had the presence of mind to successfully sue her employers Warner Brothers in the famous “De Havilland decision” – that was a victory not only for female performers but but actors in general.

The Heiress was originally a play by Ruth Goetz that successfully ran on Broadway, with Basil Rathbone and Wendy Hiller headlining. Betty Linley is the only one to survive from the play, here reprising her role as Mrs Montgomery. Goetz’s husband Augustus then adapted the play for the screen

It’s a silken, subtle piece really, about human psychology and the impact that loss can have on a person and on those around them. Ralph Richardson plays the imposing, exacting father to a naïvely young Catherine Sloper (de Havilland), an heiress in waiting to a fortune, both from her already deceased mother and eventually, her father; inexperienced in the ways of the world at an age when she should be out meeting potential suitors, rather than staying at home endlessly threading tapestries.

The entire production was beset by off-screen politics. In the Forties and Fifties the director was often chosen by the actors and, indeed, de Havilland chose Wyler, confident he would push her enough to get the requisite strong performance. Word is that Method actor Montgomery didn’t regard her as much of an actress though and this, combined with Ralph Richardson improvising through his scenes in the hope of stealing as much of the limelight as possible, made it a very bruising experience  for her. But de Havilland triumphs with a wonderful performance that garners Best Actress.

 

Wyler championed her and protected her throughout the shoot and their mutual support and belief in each other paid huge dividends, the film going on to take down four Oscars, including Best Actress for de Havilland, but also Costume, Art Direction and the last for a very interesting score by Aaron Copeland.

Copeland was a true talent, but what is less known is that Wyler was  uncomfortable with his score and is rumoured to have had it heavily rewritten and re-orchestrated. Not the first time an Oscar has been awarded to the public face of something potentially ghost written, and certainly not the last. Copeland was ahead of his time with his spare score but traditionalist Wyler was unsure of this new sound.

Clift was chosen over Errol Flynn for his more subtle and committed brand of acting and indeed, learned the piano for the scenes where he plays and sings, however, he was unhappy with his performance in general and walked out of the premier, disgusted.

The Heiress doesn’t run as a standard ‘play by the book’ drama and is so much the better for it, especially when compared to so much of the current derivative screen fare, and Monty was perhaps not the best judge of his outstanding talents and certainly too harsh on himself.  He is perfectly suited as the devastatingly handsome and charming love interest, whose true motives remain tantalisingly cloaked as the story unfolds.

Made in an era when depth of character, superlative crafting and inventive choices were the touchstone of filmmaking, this well-constructed drama is a tribute to a British star who has now taken her rightful place in the glittering Hollywood firmament.  MT

THE HEIRESS

 

The League of Gentlemen (1960) *** Bluray release

Dir: Basil Dearden. Prod: Michael Relph. Scr: Bryan Forbes, from the novel by John Boland. Cast: Jack Hawkins, Nigel Patrick, Roger Livesey, Richard Attenbrough, Bryan Forbes, Keiron Moore, Terence Alexander, Norman Bird, Robert Coote, Melissa Stribling, Nanette Newman, Lydia Sherwood, Doris Hare, David Lodge, Patrick Wymark, Gerald Harper, Brian Murray. Comedy drama/ Great Britain/ 116 mins.

Michael Relph and his production team would provide ‘entertainments’ like this between ‘message’ films such as Sapphire (1959) and Victim (1961). Their short-lived company Allied Film Makers hit the ground running in 1959 with this slick, enjoyable early ‘caper’ film in which eight army officers fallen upon hard times pool their talents to rob a bank. The League went on to become the sixth highest-grossing British film of 1960.

No relation to the TV series, and originally written with Cary Grant in mind, it anticipated the James Bond films with its pre-credits sequence that saw the gang’s mastermind Hawkins emerging from a manhole cover immaculately dressed in black tie. In contrast to the earnestness of their ‘message’ film, The League of Gentlemen light-heartedly throws in cynical home truths about the newly affluent postwar Britain (including passing references to its activities in Cyprus and Ireland) and is gently satirical about the deference to authority still rife in Britain during the 1960s. Crime was still not allowed to pay in 1960, so the ending is a bit of a downer. But you couldn’t expect everything in those days. Richard Chatten.

NOW ON BLURAY

The Rifleman | Dveselu Putensis (2019) *** Digital and DVD

Dir.: Dzintars Dreibergs; Cast: Otto Brantevics, Taimonds Celms, Martin Vilsons, Greta Trusina; Latvia 2019, 104 min.

The Rifleman pays stark witness to the horrors and brutality of the First World War, as seen through the eyes of an innocent 17-year-old farm-boy turned soldier and the tragic fate of his family.

Written by Boris Frumin and based on the 1933/34 novel by Aleksanders Grins, which was forbidden in the USSR, its author shot down in 1941. This lushly mounted historical drama was, not surprisingly, a huge success at the box-office in Latvia, and an impressive first feature for Latvia’s Dzintars Dreibergs, who made his name as sports documentarian.

The Rifleman is an unashamedly male and patriotic affair, filmed as an eyewitness report from the POV of 17-tear-old Arthurs Vanags (Brantevics), it opens in 1914 giving full emotional throttle to the murder of the young man’s mother by German soldiers, who, for good measure also kill the family’s dog. Arthur’s father (Vilsons) has served in the Russian Imperial Army, and burns down the farmhouse and shoots the cattle, before enlisting with Arthurs and his brother Edgars (Celms) in Latvia’s first National Battalion, part of the Russian forces overrun by the Germans.

Wounded in a skirmish, Arthurs soon falls for Marta (Trusina), a nurse in the field hospital. But more tragedy follows when Arthurs is asked by Red Army commanders to shoot Latvian soldiers who have disobeyed their Russian officers. Returning home, Arthurs catches up with Marta who is now working as a farmhand in Latvia, before setting out to liberate his homeland from “Tsars, Red Army and the Germans who all want to repress Latvian independence.”

DoP Valdis Celmins does a great job with his grizzly images of foggy snowbound battles, the frozen bodies reduced to ghostly spectres. Lolita Ritmanis’ evocative score is in line with this heroic approach to war, providing the emotional underpinnings to this rousing feature (1917 it is not) depicting a grim episode in Latvian history. AS

In the Showcase Cinema circuit nationwide | Sunday 26th July  
On Digital from 10th August | On DVD from 24th August 
 

The Good Die Young (1954) *** Blu-ray

Dir: Lewis Gilbert | Cast: Stanley Baker, Gloria Grahame, Joan Collins, Laurence Harvey, John Ireland, Richard Basehart | UK Drama

This watchable if rather moralistic British thriller sees three law-abiding men brought together Producer Clayton and director Gilbert (the most hard-working of all British post-war film-makers) assembled a top Anglo-American cast for this rather moralisitic and decent thriller, based on a book by Richard Macauley).

Boasting a stellar cast that also includes Gloria Grahame (The Bad and the Beautiful), Joan Collins (Cosh Boy) and Robert Morley (The Battle of the Sexes), this compelling crime picture is presented in both its original theatrical version and in an extended export cut (Blu-ray only), originally intended for international audiences.

Psychotic playboy Harvey finds himself short of the readies so he persuades ex-GI Basehart, AWOL Air Force sergeant Ireland and no-hope boxer Baker to join him in holding up a mail van. This being a British picture from the ’50s, you don’t expect them to get away with it – but neither do you quite anticipate Joan Collins and Gloria Grahamepopping up in such low-key supporting roles as they do here.

Amoral aristocrat Miles Ravenscourt (Laurence Harvey, Room at the Top) plots a daring robbery to settle his gambling debts in this taut, tough thriller played out on the shadowy streets of post-war London. Enlisting the aid of washed-up former boxer Mike (Stanley Baker, Zulu), ex-GI Joe (Richard Basehart, Moby Dick) and US airman Eddie (John Ireland, Red River), Ravenscourt sets out to plan the perfect heist. But is there any such thing as a sure thing?

Blu-ray/DVD release on 20 July 2020, and on iTunes and Amazon Prime on 3 August 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cronaca di un Amore | Story of a Love Affair (1950) ****

Dir: Michelangelo Antonioni | Cast: Lucia Bose, Massimo Girotti, Ferdinando Sarmi, Gino Rossi | Italy, Drama 98′

Antonioni’s impeccably stylish social critique unfolds crisply in black and white, in and around his hometown of Ferrara known for its beauty and cultural importance.

Set amongst the wealthy industrialists of Italy’s Po Valley powerhouse whose main concern other than business and their elegant cars and fashions is, of course, love. And especially for the women. But  Cronaca di Amore gradually emerges not just as a sombre story of marital infidelity and discontent but also a tightly-plotted noirish expose of the life and times of a seemingly innocent young bride.

Cronaca di Un Amore was Antonioni’s first feature but his graceful sense of framing and mise en scene were already evident – in one of the early scenes is an aerial view of four gleaming sports cars sets the tone for this menage a trois amongst the upper classes and the star lead was his then girlfriend 19 year old Miss Italy Lucia Bose.

She plays Paola the self-focused and voraciously acquisitive new wife of a rich but workaholic Milanese fabric manufacturer. Her truculent attitude to his amorous overtures along with photos of her past cause him to hire a private investigator to track her movements in an around Ferrara and Milan.

As always in Italy the”Bella Figura” is of the utmost importance to both sexes, and Antonioni reflects this in his choice of costume designer in the shape of cutting edge couturier Ferdinando Sarmi who headlines the titles not only for his costumes but also as Paola’s cheated husband, Enrico.

But Paola wants the only thing money can’t buy: love. And although the two never really look happy together, she soon confesses her undying love for the good-looking but impoverished ex Guido (Girotti) who she wheels in to fill the emotional void in her life, although Guido is already spoken for. Tortured by their feelings for one another, and plotting Enrico’s demise, the two embark on a doomed but very chic and well-turned out love affair, primped by Giovanni Fusco’s plangent score, and chiaroscuro camerawork by Enzo Serafin. MT

Story of a Love Affair is on BFI player and Blu-ray 

 

 

 

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They Came to a City **** (1944) | Dual format release

Dir.: Basil Dearden; Cast: Googie Withers, John Clements, Raymond Huntley, Renee Gadd, Mabe; Terry-Lewis, Fanny Rowe, A.E. Matthews; UK 1944, 77 min.


Basil Dearden (1911-1971) was one of the most undervalued of British directors. His films featured the persecution of homosexuals (Victim, 1961) and the not so latent racism in Sapphire (1959). No surprise therefore that J B Priestley’s little known but worthwhile play They Came to a City (premiered 1943) should capture his imagination in the final days of the Second World War. Taking its title from the Walt Whitman poem ‘The City’, it is a Sartre-like scenario set in a transient underworld, ever more relevant in the current climate.

Nine characters, picked from every stratum of British society, are stranded at the entrance to a city; the huge door is locked, and the protagonists feel unsure of the way ahead. But after the door opens and they are (unlike the audience) allowed into the ‘magic’ city, and soon recover their mindsets, very much the product of their individual places in society. It emerges that this city offers the option of social equality, but  only two will stay. The rest, for whatever reasons, will return to the life they had. 

Of the minor characters, Sir George Gedney (Matthews), is every inch the upper-class gentleman, kept away from his game of golf, and only too ready to forget all the arguments arising from their encounter. Lady Loxfield (Terry-Lewis) is his equal, but her daughter Philippa (Rowe) finds enough strength to cut loose from her over-bearing mother, who is too stunned by her daughter’s sudden resistance, to react. Malcolm Stratton (Huntley) is a bank manager, who looks through the charade of the hierarchy he is working for, calling the chairman of the bank a pompous idiot. But his wife Dorothy (Gadd), totally dependent on him, is fearful of any change, and even promises to be more outgoing if Malcolm returns with her to their middle-class existence. The main couple, barmaid/shop girl Alice (a sparkling Googie Withers) and the explosive seaman Joe (Clements), might be falling in love with each other but nevertheless argue non-stop. She reacts against his aggressive masculinity, and talks of the sexual harassment she encounters at work. He raves on about this new opportunity but has no idea how to make it happen. These two soon become aware that neither they, nor society as a whole, is ready for change.  

Using most of the original stage cast, Dearden directs thoughtfully, letting all the characters explore themselves as much as their hopes for a future. Whilst this often feels stuck in its stagey setting, and would have possibly worked better as a radio play, DoP Stanley Pavey (Home is the Hero) brings a certain poetic realism to the proceedings. In many ways, the doomed affairs of French films such as Quai de Brumes, are re-enacted through a British gaze. Needless to say, They came to a City was a disaster at he box-office, and it is to the credit of Ealing supremo Michael Bacon, that the brave feature came to be be produced at all. MT

ON RELEASE ON A NEW 2K FORMAT FOR THE BEST SURVIVING 35 mm ELEMENT  COMPLETE WITH AUDIO NFT LECTURE BY MICHAEL BALCON IN 1969 | BFI

 

 

 

 

 

Maborosi (1995) **** Blu-ray release

Dir.: Hirokazu Kore-eda; Cast: Makiko Esumi, Takashi Naito, Gohki Kashima, Tadanobo Asanao; Japan 1995, 110 min.

Born in 1962, Hirokazu Kore-eda studied literature at university with plans to become a novelist, later establishing himself as a documentarian in the late 1980s, working in television, were he directed several prize-winning programmes. Maborosi brought him and his DoP Masao Nakabori international acclaim, winning awards at Venice film festival. He would later win the Palme d’Or at Cannes with Shoplifters (2018).

Maborosi is a mature, poetic discourse on the meaning of loss and longing. Scripted by Yoshihisa Ogita and based on a novel by Teru Miyanoto. Maborosi takes its title from the Japanese word for mirage, and resonates with Feu Follet, Louis Malle’s feature about a suicide. Kore-eda was 34 when he shot Maborosi; contrasting modern and traditional life, rather like Japanese master Ozu.

In Osaka, Yumiko (Esumi) is content with her easy-going husband Ikuo (Asano) and their baby-boy Yuichi. One morning she finds the police on her doorstep: Ikuo has been killed on the nearby railroad tracks. Yumiko is shattered, the tragedy bringing back memories of the disappearance and death of her grandmother Kyo, when Yumiko was twelve years old. For a long time Yumiko lives in limbo, not able to accept the death of her husband. An arranged marriage brings her to the remote windswept coast of Uniumachi on the Noto peninsula. Her new husband Tamio (Naito) and his daughter live with an extended family and Yuichi (Kashima) bonds easily with the two. But Yumiko takes time to adjust to her new life, unable to forget her the deep affectionate love she shared with Ikuo. And when she returns to Osaka for a visit, all the old wounds open – particularly when she re-connects with Ikuo’s friends about the circumstances of his death. She goes back to Uniumachi but the past stays with her.

The hustle and bustle of city life in Osako contrast with the tranquil setting of the fishing village. Although in both places Kore-eda shows the warmth and humanity of close neighbours and the daily routine. Yumiko’s anxiousness and the barriers she puts between herself and a new life are palpable: for most of the film we see her as an observer, looking in from outside. The languid tempo also brings to mind Ozu, as do the frequent near static shots, featuring the rough landscape around the village. The feeling that fate could once again We observe this grieving process with a shared feeling of ambivalence: Yumiko has lost confidence in happiness, doom is constantly waiting round the corner. She is not yet ready to say goodbye to her former life and the limbo between the past and an unknown future, where “she brings death to the ones she is close to” – like her first husband and her grandmother.

Moborosi is a story that also paints an emotional portrait; music, light and weather express the heroine’s sate of mind while her serene persona is also deeply troubled. The spoken word is often replaced often by an inner monologue. In the end she has to make up her mind whether she, like Ikuo, wants to ‘listen’ to the siren songs in the light of death, or whether she is ready to progress with her life and new family. Like his compatriot Hsiao Hsien Ho, Kore-eda takes care of every frame: nothing is superfluous, everything is stripped down to the minimum. Kore-eda’s whole oeuvre is about using the screen to paint poetry, his protagonists seek to overcome their banal reality with something more meaningful which, as in this case, can also be destructive. AS

NOW ON BLU-RAY

 

Murders in the rue Morgue, The Black Cat, The Raven **** Blu-ray release

This trio of classic 1930s horror films—Murders in the Rue MorgueThe Black Cat, and The Raven—is also distinguished by a trio of factors regarding their production. Most notably, each film is based on a work by master of the macabre Edgar Allan Poe. Part of the legendary wave of horror films made by Universal Pictures in the 30s, all three feature dynamic performances from Dracula‘s Bela Lugosi, with two of them also enlivened by the appearance of Frankenstein‘s Boris Karloff. And finally, all three benefit from being rare examples of Pre-Code studio horror, their sometimes startling depictions of sadism and shock a result of being crafted during that brief period in Hollywood before the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code’s rigid guidelines for moral content.

Director Robert Florey, who gave the Marx Brothers their cinema start with The Cocoanuts in 1929, worked with Metropolis cinematographer Karl Freund to give a German Expressionism look to Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), with Lugosi as a mad scientist running a twisted carnival sideshow in 19th-century Paris, and murdering women to find a mate for his talking ape main attraction. Lugosi and Karloff teamed forces for the first time in The Black Cat, a nightmarish psychodrama that became Universal’s biggest hit of 1934, with Detour director Edgar G. Ulmerbringing a feverish flair to the tale of a satanic, necrophiliac architect (Karloff) locked in battle with an old friend (Lugosi) in search of his family. Prolific B-movie director Lew Landers made 1935’s The Raven so grotesque that all American horror films were banned in the U.K. for two years in its wake. Specifically referencing Poe within its story, Lugosi is a plastic surgeon obsessed with the writer, who tortures fleeing murderer Karloff through monstrous medical means.

THE BLACK CAT

Dir.: Edgar Ulmer; Cast: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lucille Lund, David Manners, Julie Bishop, Harry Cording, Egon Brecher; USA 1934, 69 mins.

When Moravian born director Edgar G. Ulmer (1904-1972) directed The Black Cat, losely based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe and adapted for the screen by Peter Ruric, he teamed up legendary horror stars Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi for the first of seven co-operations. Ulmer, who had worked in Vienna with Max Reinhardt and co-directed Menschen am Sonnatg (1930), first went to Hollywood in 1926 to assist Murnau on Sunrise. After the Nazis took power in 1933, Ulmer then returned to Hollywood, directing Damaged Lives in the same year. He had a great future ahead of him – before falling in love and eloping with Shirley Castle, wife of the producer who also happened to be a nephew of Carl Laemmle, the Universal Studio boss. Ulmer was blacklisted by the major studios for marrying Shirley, so was relegated to working for Producers Releasing Corporation, the lowest of Hollywood’s Poverty Row studios. Despite this he directed a string of successes including the famous noir Detour (1945) with a meagre budget of USD 20,000. Soon he could command better budgets with runaway success Ruthless (1948), bringing out a great performance from Hedy Lamar. Ulmer also made features in Jiddish, amongst them Amerikaner Schadchen (1940) and the most famous Jiddish/American film Green Fields (1937). He ended his working career with a return to Europe, and Germany (Meineid Bauer, 1956) and Italy (Cavern, 1964).

The Black Cat sees American newlyweds Peter (Manners) and Joan Alison (Bishop) on route for their honeymoon in Hungary. Travelling in a train carriage they meet Hungarian psychiatrist Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi) who despite his sinister appearance and woeful tale of discontent is in fact a goodie in this surreal charade, . While sharing a cab to their destination Joan is injured, forcing the trio to hole up in the imposing modernist villa of Hungarian architect Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), built on the ruins of First World War Fort Marmorus.

It soon emerges that Werdegast was denounced by Poelzig, spending 17 years in a prison camp in Siberia, Poelzig marrying his (now dead) wife Karen, and sharing a bed with their entranced daughter also called Karen (both played by a luminous Lucille Lund). In an extraordinary twist, Werdegast suffers from ailurophobia – a fear of cats – and kills one of Poelzig’s black cats much to his Satanist host’s anger.

Poelzig intends to sacrifice Joan, Werdegast pledging to save her, and her husband, by beating Poelzig at chess, but sadly losing the game. Poelzig and his ghastly servant Thamal (Cording) attack Peter and carry Joan to her fate in his catacombs underneath the building. Werdegast chains Poelzig to a rack, threatening to skin him alive, while Joan desperately tries to get the key to the chamber of horrors. Peter awakes, and accidentally shoots Werdegast who blows up the whole building with Poelzig and his cult members.

Ulmer acted as his own costume and set designer in Poelzig’s Bauhaus construct of steel and glass. DoP John Mescall (The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein) moves the camera along vertical lines, creating a maze-like atmosphere. Lugosi cleverly manages to convince us, playing against type in his role as a mournful character full of bitterness and regret. In some way Ulmer must have understood his miserable hero, having been thwarted and blackballed himself, this time from directing major features – and just for falling in love with the wrong person.

MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE

Dir.: Robert Florey; Cast: Bela Lugosi, Sidney Fox, Leon Ames; USA 1932, 62 min.

Based on the short story of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe, and adapted for the screen by Tom Reed and Dale van Every, Poe’s fictional detective Pierre Dupin making his first appearance in this delicately rendered arthouse gem. Director Robert Florey (Till we Meet Again) was involved in Frankenstein (1931), but was assigned by Universal to Murders in the Rue Morgue. It stars Bela Lugosi, born 1882 as Bela Ferenc Dezsö Blasko in Hungary, who had made the burgeoning horror genre his own since appearing as Dracula (1931) in Tod Browning’s version of the legend.

Set in a fake but fabulous Paris of the turn of the century, Dr. Mirakle (Lugosi) uses his pet gorilla Erik on sideshows in fair grounds. But this is just a cover for his murderous activities with young women, whom he injects with ape blood in a bid to find a mate for Eric, his unsuccessful attempts given rise to a slew of murders in the titular road. When Mirakle comes across Dupin (Ames) and his finance Camille L’Espanage (Fox), Erik is so taken by the young woman it nearly strangles Dupin in a fit of jealousy, but Mirakle finally succeeds in kidnapping Camille with the intention of making her his ape’s bride. The body of Camille’s mother is found stuffed into a chimney, clutching ape fur. Dupin and the police chase down Mirakle, who is killed by Erik, before running off with Camille, Dupin coming to the rescue.

Shot by the great Karl W. Freund (The Last Laugh), Murders is very much based on the school of German expressionism. Long shadows dominate, and the hero is always with his back to the wall, gaining the sympathy of the audience, Dr. Mirakle channelling his namesake Calligari. There are also undertones of Frankenstein, proof of Florey’s involvement as script writer – he himself was replaced by James Whale, Lugosi losing out to Boris Karloff in the title role.

THE RAVEN

Dir.: Lew Landers (Louis Friedlander); Cast: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Irene Ware, Lester Matthews; USA 1935 61 min.

Prolific director Lew Landers (1901-1962), whose credits include Law of the Underworld and Bad Lands, bases The Raven on Edgar Allan Poe’s narrative poem, hiring David Boehm to write the screenplay. And once again it stars ‘the terrible twins’ of the genre, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

Jean Thatcher (Ware) is gravely injured in a car accident. Her father, an eminent judge, implores the best surgeon in the land Dr. Vitus Vollin (Lugosi) to save her. Vollin does his stuff and befriends the grateful Jane, expressing his obsession for Edgar Allen Poe’s work, his homemade collection of Poe-inspired torture instruments: pit, pendulum, razor, and the shrinking room guarded by his talisman the Raven. Vollin soon becomes obsessed by Jean, despite the protestations of her father who vehemently opposes the union. But Vollin is not to be thwarted, and  engages the services of escape convict Edmond Bateman (Karloff) in a Faustian pact, proposing to surgically change Bateman’s looks if he agrees to assist him in an evil act of evil revenge on the Thatcher family. The elegantly crafted thriller touches on themes of devotion, obsession and revenge in a series of gripping plot twists underpinned by Vollin’s lament at love lost that turns to anger.

DoP Charles Stumar (Werewolf of London), born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, uses light and shadows brilliantly, before ending in a magnificent creshendo, when the love-mad doctor is literally obliterated. Karloff again plays the innocent victim/aggressor, with great humanity.  

ON Limited Edition (3000 copies only) Blu-RAY from 20 JULY 2020 

 

Maserati: A Hundred Years Against All Odds (2020) **

Dir: Philip Selkirik; Documentary with Carlo Maserati, Stirling Moss, Juan Manuel Fangio; Germany 2020, 89 min.

Unlike the sleek and streamlined vehicle in question this new documentary is a dreary journey through detail weighed down by a monotonous voice-over and too many backseat talking heads.

Maserati originates from Bologna where brothers Alfieri, Ettore and Ernesto had a fight on their hands to keep their legendary company on the road, surviving thanks to take-overs by Orsi, Citroën, Fiat, even sharing the same owners as arch rivals Ferrari. Henry Ford II was keen on producing Maserati models for the mass market in the USA – rather like he was with Ferrari and the late British GP driver Stirling Moss talks about “spare girls and spare cars”, before lauding the Maserati as the best car he has ever driven.

Philip Selkirk does his best occasionally enlivening his film with archive footage of races such as Nuvolari’s triumphs in 1930s. But the focus seems to be company politics: and we learn that Maserati will soon be re-united with old rivals, made possible by the forthcoming merger of PSA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Group) and Peugeot /Citroën/DS/Opel and Vauxhall. Maserati has not driven in F1 for 50 years, unlike Mercedes or Ferrari.

Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason’s comments dovetail into the avalanche of technical data. Selkirk bills the Fascist movement in Germany and Italy as “just a change in politics”, mentioned in passing between the more glorious successes of the Maserati “Trident” car: The symbol of Neptune’s powerful weapon was adapted in 1920 as a company symbol, copying the spear of the Fountain of Neptune statue in the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, before the factory was moved to Modena. Unfortunately for Maserati, the brand’s trident symbol has recently been closely associated with far-right organisations such as ‘For Britain’ and fascist groups such as Trident Antifa.

Maserati is hard work, as one critic put it, “make sure of adequate food and drink supplies”. Intended as a doc for mainstream audiences Maserati somehow misses the Zeitgeist of our times – by a mile and more. It’s more likely to please diehard fans of the brand or petrol-heads. AS

AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD 20TH JULY, DVD & DIGITAL RENTAL FROM 27THJULY

Parasite (2019) **** In Black and White

Dir: Bong Joon Ho | Cast: Song Kang-ho, Choi Woo-shik, Chang Hyae-jin, Park So-dam, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Jung Ziso, Lee Jung-em, Jung Hyeon-jun | Drama | Korea 131′

The black and white cut of this wickedly thrilling upstairs downstairs social satire Korean-style seems even more resonant, relevant and appealing in its monochrome format.

This scabrous story is the latest in a line of hits from the South Korean master along with The Host, Snowpiercer and Okja. But this time the gloves are off as Boon Joon offers up shameless social reality and makes no bones it, dishing the dirt on the rigid class system in his homeland.

Thematically rather too similar to last year’s Plane d’Or winner Shopkeepers to offer any big surprises about South Korean life, this is nonetheless startling in its candour. The characters are ordinary people making their way as best they can. But this is a flashier film that wears its satire on its slick sleeve for all to access, and there’s nothing subtle about its social message. The ‘parasites’ are sharp individuals who cunningly see their way to the main chance. Bong Joon calls the film “a comedy without clowns, a tragedy without villains.” Yet in the natural world, parasites live off their hosts, depending on them for survival, but often causing disease or harm. This certainly was the case in The Servant, but does it happen here?

Head of the family Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) lives with his wife Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin), son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam) in a squalid slum, grafting a living by preparing cardboard pizza boxes. Through his backstreet contacts, young Ki-woo inveigles himself into a wealthy household of a captain of industry Mr. Park (Lee Sun-kyun) where he is tasked with tutoring his teenage daughter Da-hye (Jung Ziso). Her mother Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong) is a typically vacuous trophy wife who prances around their pristine modernist mansion all day, doing a spot of shopping when she occasionally ventures out with . Without giving any clues away, the Ki-woo’s entire family are drafted into the vast mansion, taking various guises, and booting out the old guard. As the narrative spools out with a series of plot twists, the tension gradually mounts and the gulf between rich and poor is ramped up to the maximum. No one comes out a winner after a lavish garden party where they all take part in some form or another, as blood mingles with the champagne.

Winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2019 and four Academy Awards in 2020, including the Oscar for Best International Feature, this is a confident and entertaining drama that beats as it sweeps, its production values as smooth as silk and laced with a dread-laden score. The kids give as good as the adults performance-wise and leave us pondering which is best: North Korea with its oppressively restrictive communist regime or the South with its dog eat dog capitalism based on the law of the jungle? MT

PARASITE WON THE PALME D’OR 2019 | ACADEMY AWARDS FOR BEST DIRECTOR, BEST MOTION PICTURE, BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY, BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE.

NOW in Black and White COURTESY OF CURZON ARTIFICIAL EYE | IN CINEMAS from 24 July 2020

 

 

 

The Disappearance at Clifton Hill (2019) ****

Dir: Albert Shin | Cast: Tuppence Middleton, David Cronenberg | Fantasy Drama, Canada 100′

Tuppence Middleton is the intriguing focus of this Canadian-set mystery drama that sees her investigating a haunting childhood event in the Clifton Hill area of Niagara Falls. David Cronenberg plays a mesmerising podcaster who joins in to unlock the past in a thriller that is interesting to watch rather than gripping as a psychological whodunnit.

In his third feature Canadian filmmaker Albert Shin has developed a distinctive cinematic style with lurid echoes of David Lynch, Hitchcock and even Cronenberg himself. There’s a chilling vibe to the richly textured, atmospheric drama with its characters who feel like real people you might even know, and you certainly feel for Middleton’s Abby who still keeps her edgy allure. The story develops in an offbeat but often contrived way and what slowly comes to light is predictable until the riveting reveal.

Shin knows the territory well. He grew up in Niagara Falls where we first meet Abby working as a hotel receptionist in this seedy off season tourist centre. Nothing is what it seems, and Abby gradually becomes an enigmatic woman dogged by a history of mental illness clouding the truth behind that  lakeside outing with her parents when she saw a boy with a patch over his eye, being kidnapped.

Back in the present and Abby and her sister (Laure/Gross) have recently lost their mother and are back in town with the family lawyer (Dan Lett). The girls now own a motel and a sale needs to be concluded on the rather distressed property. The sibling rivalry feels genuine here and naturally they fall out over their legacy. Initially we are on board with Abby, rather taking her side of events, until she starts to give off unreliable vibes after a chance meeting in a bar with a guy (McQueen) who turns out to be a detective. A one night stand goes pear-shaped but he takes up the case of the missing boy and further investigations soon reveal sleazy secrets from the past, and some characters who you wouldn’t trust to post a letter. These include the infamous Magnificent Moulins (Marie-Josée Croze and Paulino Nunes) who turn out to be the parents of the missing one-eyed boy whose disappearance underpins the narrative. Also key are a couple of raddled old-timers (Elizabeth Saunders and Maxwell McCabe-Lokos) who seems to play a part in the boy’s murky fate.

An evocative jazzy soundtrack gives the film part of its unsettling allure, Catherine Luke creating neon-tinged visuals that reflect a tackier side of the lakeside resort, this is a captivating film that casts a certain spell. MT

ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD 20 JULY | DVD 3 AUGUST 2020

The Killing Fields (1984) **** blu-ray

Dir.: Roland Joffé; Cast: Sam Waterston, Haing S. Ngor, John Malcovich, Julian Sands; UK 1984, 141′

British director Roland Joffé’s (*1945) debut feature is a triumph. Chris Menges’ documentary-style photography transports to the horror but also the era: Killing Fields is not just another heroic Vietnam War film like the Deerhunter.

Based on Sidney Schanberg’s biographical novel “The Death and Life of Dith Pran”, Bruce Robinson’s narrative begins in 1973 in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh. American journalist Sidney Schanberg (Waterston) and his Cambodian assistant and interpreter Dith Pran (Ngor) pick up on rumours that American bombers have destroyed the city of Neak Leung, the US war spilling over from Vietnam to Cambodia, and despite sanitised reports in the US press. they soon discover the extent of the carnage when they arrive in Neak Leung,

Two years later, the two are joined by photographer Al Rockoff (Malcovich), when the Khmer Rouge, having won the war, are entering Phnom Pennh. Rockoff assists in trying to forge a passport for Pran, but it all goes pear-shaped. Still, Schanberg is able to get Pran’s wife and four kids out of the country. Pran stays behind, in a tacit agreement with Schanberg, who wants to use him for stories about the Khmer Rouge’s brutal regime. Pran escapes the communist’s firing squad, knowing that intellectuals are the main target for execution, and playing the dumb peasant. One of the Khmer soldiers, Phat, is suspicious of him, and asks him to educate his son with some hair-raising moments, soon escaping with some other friends, a plan that leads to tragedy, Pran finally reaching Thailand, and re-uniting in the USA with Schanberg,  who has had a time of it too but has garnered a Prize for his work. Schanberg, ashamed of himself, begs Pran to forgive him.

Dr. Haing S. Ngor won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor: he had never acted in his life but gives a naturalistic performance because this is his story. Robinson plays a balancing act with his script, showing the mass executions of the Khmer Rouge, but also pointing the finger at the other warring nations. There are no heroes, just guilty men for different reasons. Joffé is something of an enigma: he would go on to direct The Mission, which won the Palme d’Or in 1986 at Cannes and a cinematography Oscar. His is one example of a career that has never since touched the zenith of its early success. AS

AMAZON PRIME | JULY 24 2020

Dark Waters (2019) *** Home Entertainment

Director: Todd Haynes | Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Pullman, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, Mare Winningham, William Jackson Harper, Louisa Krause, Kevin Crowley, Bruce Cromer, Denise Dal Vera, Richard Hagerman

Mark Ruffalo plays a whistleblowing lawyer in Todd Haynes’ fact-based drama, co-starring Anne Hathaway and Tim Robbins.

After some rather elegant arthouse dramas such as Carol Haynes returns to more conventional territory with this sober legal inquiry that echoes Safe (1997) in gradually unearthing the facts behind the DuPont water poisoning travesty that came to light as a result of a 1990s New York Times magazine article “The Lawyer who became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare”. It reveals how the conglomerate had been contaminating water in the area around West Virginia with the carcinogenic substance PFOA. Cattle in a local farm were dying and the chemical – used in Teflon – had entered the bloodstreams of people living nearby with disastrous affects.

Ruffalo plays the scandal’s original hero Robert Bilott who slowly but surely builds a case against DuPont, much to the initial consternation of his boss (Tim Robbins) and colleagues at a Cincinnati law firm who realise they could be losing more than they stand to gain against the corporate giant.
In all starts in 1998 when a local farmer Wilbur Tennant (a sad-faced Bill Camp) approaches Bilott impressing him with his conviction that DuPont are dumping chemical waste near his farm in Bilott’s home town in West Virginia. Cows are literally dropping dead and some of the locals have blackened gums, flagging up water as the likely contaminant. Bilott remembers a photograph of girl with this problem, and is the kicker for him to proceed. It takes legal tenacity and perseverance to pursue the case and Bilott has this in spades, along with a quietly spoken, lowkey charm that makes him a likeable character guided by moral integrity and supported in his endeavour by his clever professional wife (Hathaway, in equally subdued mode).
Fraught with unsettling undertones and creeping paranoia, Ohio looks sombre in Ed Lachmann’s blue-tinged visual makeover, and West Virginia even more so. But Dark Waters is not all bleak: Robbins get some caustic dialogue in a case that is complex and a film that is plodding but satisfyingly persuasive. MT
RELEASE ON 6 JULY ON HOME ENTERTAINMENT

 

The Specialists (1969) *** Blu-ray

Dir: Sergio Corbucci | Cast: Johnny Hallyday, Gastone Moschin, Francoise Fabian | Western 104′

Casting is crucially important to the success of a film – even in the Italian Western where it was often lumbered with poor English dubbing, making it harder to discern how credible a character was intended to be (or incredible given the stylisation of the genre).

Even with the original language and decent English subtitles the lead is vital. Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef were relaxed and laconic masters, of the less said and barely suggested school, who perfectly pitched their cunning minimalism to light the fuse for a violent gun raid or duel. Actors like Terence Hill and Franco Nero continued this tradition of self-confident strangers and equestrian loners. 

Johnny Hallyday (a famous French pop singer) is the star of Sergio Corbucci’s film The Specialists, but despite his lithe physique and good looks delivers a wooden performance – any charisma is in his athletics not his line delivery which hardly departs from its single register. He simply can’t act well. During the early development of the film Lee Van Cleef was hired but eventually fell out with the director. So the producer brought in Hallyday and a near-fatal flaw was planted.

Johnny Hallyday plays Hud who rides into the town of Blackstone, where his brother has been wrongly accused of robbing the bank. Without a proper court hearing he is then hanged. Hud is determined to avenge his brother’s death. One of the town’s most respected citizens has actually robbed the bank. So Hud is compelled to shoot his way through the corruption of Blackstone, stave off Mexican bandits, desiring their own share of the stolen money and then finally repel the furious dignitaries and townsfolk.

The Specialists is a revenge Western. On its first release Tony Rayns (in the MFB) described it as ‘dourly going through the motions of the Continental revenge western’ and for a large proportion of the film I wouldn’t disagree. The Specialists contains its stereotyped villains (a one armed Mexican bandit over-acted by Mario Aldorf); Sheba (Sylvie Fennec) the passive orphaned woman who pines for Hud; a world-weary sheriff (Gastone Moschin) and a cheated community acting as a vociferous chorus.

Now all this is agreeably entertaining if over-familiar material. We have to wait for the last act for some pleasing, if irrelevant, originality. Corbucci throws in an anachronism in the shape of three young male hippies who chose to anarchically misbehave. This politicisation of The Specialists has the hippies (looking like ragged leftovers from Godard’s 1968 Weekend) forcing the townspeople to crawl naked along the main street. Once capitalism’s naked self is revealed Corbucci has Hud, who has discovered the bank’s money, burn the banknotes and throw the part-ashy remains to the eager crowd below his balcony on the saloon. This humiliation is engendered by the hippie’s own humiliation, at the beginning of the film, when the nasty Mexicans force them to bathe in pig excrement. When they are rescued a respectable, middle class citizen cries out his thanks to The Mighty Hud (it’s hard to resist not calling Hallyday ‘Mud’ at this moment.) “I’m against drugs and hippies. I wanted to denounce them in The Specialists. I’m really against their attitude, and I hate Easy Rider.

If The Specialists had developed Corbucci’s intended critique then we might have had a relevant sour rather than obvious dour film. Sadly the film’s critical gestures don’t make for a coherent political western. The action scenes are effectively staged, there’s some beautiful landscape photography and a tuneful score. That said, I sat through The Specialists not really caring about the outcome of its slick revenge story. Lee Van Cleef might have convinced me if he’d been re-hired and also re-written the script. Yet we are left with a wounded Johnny Hallyday limping away on his horse, abandoning a beautiful woman and riding off into an over-filtered sunset. 

Did they forget that Hallyday is a singer? Why didn’t the producer insist on a scene where Hallyday strums his guitar and sings a bitter ballad? It all feels like a cynical case of the Mighty Hud unsung, when it could have been a focussed anti-hippy or agitprop version of a Johnny Guitar drifter. ALAN PRICE©2020

NOW OUT ON THE EUREKA LABEL

Walkabout (1971) **** Blu-ray

Dir.: Nicolas Roeg; Cast: Jenny Agutter, Luc Roeg, David Gulpilil, John Meillon; UK/Australia 1971, 100 min.

Nicolas Roeg (1928-2018) is, like his contemporary, Ken Russell, was a unique talent in British movie history, a pioneering maverick with his own cinematic vision. Whilst Russell chose to be megalomaniac, Roeg set himself apart as the man with a shuttered vision of reality: his narratives dissolve in enigmatic, opaque images, which he honed as DoP before coming to direct his first single feature Walkabout at the age of 43.

He had made his name as DoP for The Servant (1963), Fahrenheit 451 (1965) and as second unit cameraman for David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. Lean was so impressed, he wanted Roeg to shoot his subsequent epic Dr. Zhivago, but the two fell out over artistic differences. In Performance, co-directed by the tragic Donald Cammell, Roeg’s filmmaker’s ambition were at last fulfilled.

Walkabout, written by Edward Bond, based on the novel by James Vance Marshall mainly set in the Australian outback. Although the early city-bound scenes in Sydney feel dated in their Seventies concrete aesthetic they bookend a fantasy tale where nature forms the beguiling backcloth to a parallel universe of Aboriginal and urbanite, the outback assumes an exotic character of its own where a father (Meillon) comes to wrestle his personal demons with his pubescent daughter (Agutter) and his six-year old son John (Luc Roeg) in tow.

There he has a psychotic episode, shooting at his children, before setting fire to the car and killing himself. Jenny Agutter is epitome of naive teenage beauty instilling in her younger brother the mores of modern middle class society, but in this savage desert they soon run out of water. Their saviour is an aboriginal boy (Gulpilil) on his ‘walkabout’ (a rite of passage into manhood) who shows them how to draw water from a hidden well, and takes them to his home on a farm, having watched in shock, how white hunters killed dozens of buffalos. The two boys soon develop a line of communication, the girl is not tuned in to the subtle sexual advances of the Aboriginal boy, who does his best to attract her with  teenager a mating dance, showing off his male prowess with tragic results. The scene, in which all participants were naked, was removed, for the premiere in Cannes and following cinema run, but later restored.

In an epilogue, we see the girl as a mature married woman listening to the banal banter of her husband, and harking back in her dreams to that surreal experience in nature that changed her forever, even though she was unaware of it at the time. Walkabout works on several levels, but perhaps the most significant channels Proust’s idea that underpinned his novel Remembrance of Things Past. Youth is a dream that can teach us so much about ourselves and our vital connection with nature and the nurturing purity of a simple way of life that soon becomes clouded by sophistication, although we are unaware of it at the time, it will haunt us through our adulthood when life becomes complex and often unsatisfactory.

Roeg’s features seem to hover between dream and reality; particularly The Man who Fell to Earth (1976) and Don’t Look Now (1973). His characters are suspended in time, a case in point is Bowie in The Man, drifting in the supernatural, or seeing a mirage, in this case our planet. In Don’t Look Now, the grieving parents enter a nightmarish time warp in Venice, where fact and fiction continuously float beyond their grasp in a vain hope of bring their drowned child back to life. In Walkabout too, Roeg is his own DoP, a watery Venice is replaced by the searing heat of the Australian outback, creating a mirage of images, the kids lives become one with nature which opens up and swallow them for a time until reality bites. We are left to bring their own conclusions to the melancholic ending, when the mirror is smashed forever, and we are never quite the same. AS/MT

ON LIMITED BLURAY RELEASE FROM 27 JULY 2020

War of the Worlds (1953) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Byron Haskin | Wri: H G Wells (novel) Barre Lyndon | Cast: Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne, Robert Cornthwaite | US Fantasy/Sci-fi 85′

Although a brash travesty of H.G.Wells’ original 1898 novel, and despite Steven Spielberg’s 2005 ‘upgrade’ and last autumn’s well-received TV version, George Pal’s original big screen version is still for many the last word in fifties Technicolor destruction on the grand scale (blessed as John Baxter described it with “the smooth unreality of a comic strip”).

With Oscar-winning special effects (which took so long to complete the award went posthumously to Paramount special effects veteran Gordon Jennings), the elegant fire-spewing war machines like dragons based on manta rays by Japanese-American designer Albert Nozaki bring a touch of eastern elegance to their menace, while the sophisticated use of sound throughout to mount up suspense at key moments remains exemplary.

In all it adds up to a film with a power that remains in the words of critic Richard Mallett “in places quite hypnotic”. And it can now be savoured in all it’s pristine glory on Blu-Ray! Richard Chatten

OUT ON BLU-RAY FROM 7 JULY 2020

Black Shadow (1989) **** Blu-ray

Dir: Mike Hodges | Cast: Rosanna Arquette, Jason Robards, Tom Hulce | UK 100′

Rosanna Arquette shines as a clairvoyant on tour with her father (Jason Robards) in this supernatural curio from undervalued English director Mike Hodges.

Black Shadow plays out like a thriller but goes in unusual directions and has wit and quirkiness too thanks to a clever script and a charismatic Jason Robards who keeps things tethered to reality with his skeptical view of his daughter Martha’s work, and her flirty encounters with Tom Hulce’s investigative journalist.

The two New Yorkers are travelling through the Southern States bringing solace to the bereaved thanks to Martha’s psychic gift. During a séance she communicates a message from a dead man to his wife in the audience. Shocked, the wife claims her husband wasn’t dead when she left him just a few hours ago. Their journey is full of surprising encounters taking a road less travelled and exposing the deep insecurities of our life here on earth.

There’s plenty to enjoy in a fantasy drama that explores fate and human dynamics with humour and sinister vibes, with some fabulous performances from Robards, and Arquette at the top of her game. MT

NOW ON BLURAY FROM 6 JULY 2020 | from ARROW FILMS

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Couldn’t Happen Here (1987) *** Blu-ray release

Dir/Jack Bond | 86′ Biopic Drama

Jack Bond throws every English icon into this absurdist outing. It sees the Pet Shop Boy’s Neil Tennant dolled up In evening garb and ready to party, rather soberly, alongside his partner in crime Chris Lowe rocking a beanie and leather jacket. The two fetch up in the English seaside resort of Clacton where they befriend a bonkers blind priest (Joss Acland); a camp Gareth Hunt; nuns in drag; a ventriloquist’s dummy and marauding school boys for an existential day that spills into a neon night.

Scored by their legendary classics, one of the best scenes features Lowe in a biplane soaring over the English countryside in Summer, Tennant riding below in an old Humber banger complete with a bunch of dice. At a funfair pervy bovver boys threaten to queer the pitch as they whizz by on a big wheel. Tennant finally returns his mother’s call (an unlikely Barbara Windsor in curlers and psychedelic lipstick). Zeebras, cows and snakes roam through the Victorian station of Horsted Keynes where a train is – naturally – derailed.

If you’re an avid fan this nostalgic trip to those glory days will have you singing from the rafters – but it’s a kitsch bridge too far for most audiences, feeling very dated in its 1980s ponceyness. MT

NOW ON BFI BLURAY | 15 JUNE 2020

Phantom Thread (2017) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Paul Anderson | Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, 130′ | US | Drama

The latest film from Paul Thomas Anderson is quite unlike anything he has done before. PHANTOM THREAD is a deliciously thrilling love story with a slow-burning tight-lipped tension bred partly out of the discrete haute couture world of its gracefully dapper central character Reynolds Woodcock. Played peerlessly by Daniel Day-Lewis in his ‘swan song’, Reynolds is a Hardy Amies-style fashion designer who lives and works in London’s Fitzroy Square where he presides over a celebrated 1950s fashion house specialising in dressing high society and the Royals.

This stylishly buttoned-up affair is all about control, power and prestige in maintaining a veneer of respectability through discipline, dedication and duty that drives Reynolds forward, preventing him from acknowledging the hole in his soul, left by the death of his dear mother, and the absence of true love in his life.  Anderson constructs a world of superlative elegance where the daily round involves the pristine almost priestly preparation of his dress, coiffure, floral arrangements and particularly his breakfast: “I can’t begin my day with a confrontation.” Says Reynolds primly as he goes through the motions of his morning tea ceremony (lapsong, please) and silently buttered toast. “Nothing stodgy”. And no “loud sounds”. His sister Cyril (Lesley Manville at the top of her game), trundles in all red-puckered lips and seamed stockings. She rules the roost with utmost decorum, helping Reynolds as his business advisor and mentor. Reynolds is a disillusioned romantic, a bachelor in his fifties secretly yearning for love, but unable to let it into his tightly-corseted schedule. So his lust for carnal pleasure is channelled into luscious food – runny egg yolks and jugs of cream – until the real thing comes along to unleash his passion in the shape of a scrubbed up waitress named Alma (Luxumbourgeoise actor Vicky Krieps).

In his weekend retreat, he delicately delivers a breakfast order to her: poached eggs, butter, bacon, and jam – but not strawberry, raspberry…and some sausages –  is the verbal equivalent of an orgasm. And beneath Reynolds’ fussy exterior there really does lie a highly sensual man capable – we feel – of giving sexual pleasure to a woman, as well as tailored perfection, and this is the fine line that prevents Day-Lewis’ performance from being too prissy, although it sometimes veers in the direction. Alma is slightly gauche but also sensuous – like a ripe peach that won’t yet yield its stone. And so love gently blossoms in the autumn of Reynolds’ life while storm clouds linger on the horizon.

PHANTOM THREAD feels like a perfect metaphor for the well-known adage: AISLE ALTER HYMN (I’ll alter him, for the uninitiated) and this is just what the innocent-looking Alma has in mind when the two start working together in the West End atelier. This is a drama that sums up the utter dread many men feel about losing control of themselves to a woman. Reynolds will not cede to Alma’s charms and refuses to sacrifice his precious craft by allowing her control of his inner sanctum – the House of Woodcock – which represents his heart and life blood. She remains tough but loving – the perfect replica of his beloved mother, tempting him yet repulsing him by equal measure. Day-Lewis is adamant as the tortured artist, every subtle nuance flickers across his face in a display of mesmerising petulance. It’s impossible not to admire his gentle delivery and his chiselled, tousled allure. As an actor his economy of movement is unparalleled; he possesses the feline grace of Roger Federer and the innate style of breeding of George Sanders. During a delirious night of Alma-induced food-poisoning, Reynolds reveals his deep love attachment to his mother (whose ghost appears to him in her wedding dress)  and somehow her power is magically transferred to Alma, who from then on gets to wear the tailored trousers.

PHANTOM THREAD is Anderson’s eighth feature, and refreshingly is not based on anything but his own inventiveness. It perfectly suits its 1950s setting, an era where England was still on its knees after the war and rationing, and duty and pride in one’s work was paramount – people were so glad to have a job – and this is conveyed by a team of first rate unflappable seamstresses (with names like Biddy and Nana) who understand implicitly when a deadline looms, and a wedding dress must be tweaked or repaired for the following morning at 9am.

There is an erotic charge to PHANTOM that cannot be underestimated despite its immaculate and primped aesthetic. And the acerbically brittle Reynolds is no high-performing borderline psycho. He can transform at the doff of a cap into an amorous and extremely tender lover.  As in “The Master (2012) this is a film about the power and control dynamic between man and woman, and who eventually wins. It moves like the well-oiled engine of Reynolds’ blood red Bristol he drives down country lanes to his retreat. “I think you’re only acting strong,” says Alma, to which he replies, “I am strong.” And the two continue their power play in a way that never resorts to extreme physical or extreme verbal displays, although there is an extremely sinister side to Alma’s methods that make her the perfect antiheroine of the piece, Reynolds, like some overtly powerful  men, emerging the weaker of the two.

Jonny Greenwood’s music is the crowning glory, setting a tuneful rhythm of piano and strings for the soigné scenario that often feels quite claustrophobic, particularly in the final scenes, where we find ourselves shouting: “Don’t!” (you’ll soon see what I mean). At one point Reynolds says: Are you sent here to ruin my evening? And possibly my entire life?” These are the long-held suspicions of the committed bachelor who desperately longs for love, but constantly suspects the worst from his loving mate. Regretfully PHANTOM THREAD is our last chance to see Day-Lewis on the screen. He will be much missed from the films that he has graced. And this is possibly his best. MT

PHANTOM THREAD IS ON Blu-ray

Emma (2020) *** DVD/Blu-ray release

Dir.: Autumn de Wilde; Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Mia Goth, Johnny Flynn, Callum Turner, Gemma Whelan, Bill Nighy, Amanda Hart, Amber Anderson, Josh O’Connor, Rupert Graves, Tanya Reynolds; UK/US 2020, 124 min.

Emma has enjoyed several screen and TV versions but this visually ravishing addition to the party refreshes Austen’s novel with a delightful contemporary cast, adding to its allure. American photographer Autumn de Wilde films Eleanor Catton’s script casting Anya Taylor-Joy as Austen’s titular heroine. Far better than previous big screen outings, it trumps the limp 1996 version by Douglas McGrath, starring a self-congratulatory Gwyneth Paltrow.

We first meet twenty-one year-old Emma (Taylor-Joy) picking flowers for her ex-governess Miss Taylor (Whelan) on her wedding day to Mr. Weston(Graves). Emma and her hypochondriac father (Nighy) are sad to lose her. Emma – intelligent, beautiful, rich and wilful – turns her attentions to new best friend Harriet Smith (Goth) who is in awe of our accomplished heroine. Emma tells her to reject a proposal from Robert Martin, a prosperous farmer, implying Harriet can do much better. But close confidante George Knightley (Flynn) is not always taken in by Emma’s scheming, despite being in thrall to her charms. Vicar Elton (O’Connor) asks for her hand in marriage and gets a swift kick in the teeth, metaphorically speaking. Frank Churchill (Turner) is a bit of a mystery but comes good in the end, marrying the timid Jane Fairfax (Anderson) who piano and singing skills far outweigh Emma’s.

Cannon’s narrative thrusts the spotlight on Emma, keeping the running time manageable, but rather undercooking the other characters; a device that won’t flummox Austen habitués but may leave newcomers with too many questions unanswered. Anya Taylor-Joy inhabits Miss Woodhouse better than the filmmakers give her credit for, making her far too saccharine: Austen’s acerbic anti-heroine describes her as “only likeable for myself”.

DoP Christopher Blauvelt (Certain Women) conjures up England’s green pleasant land where nature and the characters melt into languid dances of love-sickness, bolstered by a never ending supply of servants. Taylor-Joy sparkles with mischievousness as if the world is her own private kingdom – and male acolytes react accordingly. Flynn’s George is in every way a match for her, but Callum Turner’s Frank pales into insignificance like most of the support cast. Miranda Hart is a perfect Miss Bates in a performance that will linger for a long time. Overall this Emma is good but not great compared to the BBC version. Still a worthwhile celebration of one of our best loved English novels. AS

DVD/BLU-RAY release 22 June 2020

Cross of Iron (1977) **** Amazon Prime

Dir: Sam Peckinpah | US War Drama, 132′

How many English language films, realised by an American director, portray German combatants in trenches and dugouts during the first and Second World War? At first four films spring to mind depicting the German army at the end of the two wars. For the First World War there is All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). For the Second World War we have The Young Lions (1958); Cross of Iron (1977) and Inglorious Besterds (2009.) Yet there are really only two films that deal with the practicalities of German combatant warfare, solely from the viewpoint of approaching defeat, and remaining resolutely determined in their anti- war stance. They are All Quiet on the Western Front (the 1980 remake could be included but that poor film is negligible) and Cross of Iron. The other films I’ve mentioned, that potentially stand alongside the German-centred The Eagle Has Landed (1976) or Where Eagles Dare (1968), may show German soldiers over-heroically or ineptly fighting, but don’t attempt to describe the day to day life of an army trying grimly to survive. 

Cross of Iron deals with a German platoon involved in the 1943 retreat from the Russian front. The ordinary soldiers and officer class are equally disillusioned and realise they have probably lost the war. An aristocratic Prussian officer Captain von Stransky (Maximillian Schell) arrives as the new commander of the platoon. The regimental commander Colonel Brandt (James Mason) and his adjutant Captain Kiesel (David Warner) express surprise that Stransky deliberately applied for transfer to the Eastern front, as he had a greater chance of winning the Iron Cross from this standpoint. What he fails to mention is his lack of loyalty to the Nazi state, a medal will serve as a symbol of pride for his family. The arrogant Stransky immediately clashes with Corporal Steiner (James Coburn) who disrespects officers and appears to conduct his own form of anarchic warfare. The conflict between the ambitions of Stransky and the cynicism of Steiner takes centre stage.

This was the only war film made by Peckinpah but he directs with the aplomb of a war veteran. Cross of Iron contains some of the best staged minor battles in any WW2 film. The sound design captures explosions and gunfire with an intensity not fully developed until Speilberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998) which is a precursor, sound-bombardment wise, to Nolan’s Dunkirk (2017). Yet because Cross of Iron is not aiming to be an immersive experience (As Ryan and Dunkirk often are) an argument for realism can be credited to it more than the other films. Peckinpah has an instinctive feel for the relentless bombardment of war – true, you could argue that his slow motion killing effects (apropos The Wild Bunch) has a stylising effect on proceedings, somehow Peckinpah manages successfully to integrate these slow-mo sequences and the noisy hell of battle into a plausible and intelligently written storyline. 

Ultimately, the all too human clash of class conflict, military authority, ambition and personal freedom is what makes Cross of Iron so engrossing. As in Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957) the film attempts to be analytical about a military power structure and the questioning of motivations and needs. Stransky wants his cross, Brandt wants to maintain a semblance of order, and Steiner seems to escape into his own bitter anti-authoritarian war game.

“Do you know how much I hate this uniform and everything it stands for? 

“I believe God is a sadist but probably doesn’t know it.”

“What will we do when we lose the war? Prepare for the next one.”

All these utterances are from Corporal Steiner, who rejects his promotion to Sergeant when in arrives, continuing to act as a partly shell-shocked outsider. James Coburn is very good and very watchable in this part but sometimes appears to  respond like an outlaw or renegade in a Western, rather than a war film. Is he fighting a private war against the Nazi war machine (that he’s part of) or merely being self- destructive? Arguably a bit of both. Cross of Iron depicts Steiner hallucinating about a Russia boy soldier whom he saves and sets free, only for him to be mistakenly shot by the Russian army. The splits in Steiner are only an exaggeration of conflicts to be found muted in Brandt and sadistically expressed by Stransky who would lie, cheat, blackmail – he discovers two gay soldiers in his platoon – and have men killed in order to get his iron cross.

Cross of Iron has strong performances from not only Coburn but Maximillian Schell (who makes a repellent aristocrat seem sympathetic) and James Mason (the General’s hurt and shock at Steiner’s disrespectful behaviour is superbly conveyed.) I’ve mentioned the soundstage but the editing by Michael Lewis and Tony Lawson is terrific whilst John Coquillon’s photography has a dusty war-weary beauty. There are weak episodes: Steiner’s convalescing and subsequent brief relationship with a nurse (Senta Berger) at the hospital fails to convince and feels all a bit hurried and undeveloped. The sequence when the platoon captures an all-female Russian detachment certainly raises a familiar accusation made about Peckinpah’s films that he’s a misogynist. And powerful though Coburn’s performance is, his character has an untrammelled and violent energy that feels too much at odds with the film. But perhaps I am wrong here. Steiner is certainly not a despicable Rambo action man. Steiner’s character is much more reflective and intelligent. Not a brute, but a crazed, even philosophic force?

All Quiet on the Western Front ends with that unforgettable shot of a German soldier reaching out for a butterfly, just beyond his trench, only to be shot down by an enemy sniper. There is no such poetic ending for Sam Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron. In fact, it doesn’t quite appear to have an ending,  more an abrupt, though perfectly satisfying, anti-conclusion; the film’s producers ran out of money and had to halt filming prematurely, but this proves an aesthetic bonus. For at its ‘end’ the bitter laughter of James Coburn is heard off-screen, scornfully indicating that this hellish defeat of the German army will be a recurrent bad dream. It would be a shame to disclose the finale. Let’s just say that Cross of Iron’s final bleak sense of a death-trap has none of the tragic ‘release’ of the young soldier’s death in All Quiet on the Western Front. 

 “Don’t rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.”

Those lines from Bertolt Brecht’s play about Hitler, The Resistible Rise of Aturo Ui appear in the end of the film’s titles sequence. However a line before that has been cut out, “This was the thing that nearly had us mastered”. I wonder if Peckinpah dropped that line because it was another reference to Hitler, and by losing such specificity he wanted to generalise more about men in war fighting on madly and uncontrollably, to erase the ‘heat’ of their own private all consuming war? Certainly in the figure of James Coburn as Sergeant Rolf Steiner he looks, at the ‘end’ of Cross of Iron as if he has lost, along with the war, the plot (his sanity) and can only self-destructively fight on.

Cross of Iron reminded me of a Brechtian experience at London’s Riverside Studies in the 1980s while watching “The Berliner Theatre Ensemble” reciting Brecht’s poetry, in German, on stage. I had an English language translation sheet in my hand but what gave me most pleasure that evening was listening to the harsh, rasping sound of an East-German dialect. The sounds of that all male ‘chorus’ had an unforgettable and meaningful sting of anger, compassion and political concern. This memory resonated with the considerable sting of Peckinpah’s remarkable film. Alan Price

CROSS OF IRON  IS NOW ON BLU-RAY

A Foreign Affair (1948) **** Blu-ray release

Dir.: Billy Wilder; Cast: Marlene Dietrich, Jean Arthur, John Lund, Peter von Zerneck, Millard Mitchell; USA 1948, USA 1948, Comedy 116 min.

Shot in post war Berlin, the ruins of the divided capital a startling sign of the times, A Foreign Affair reunited Billy Wilder (1906-2002) with his star Marlene Dietrich. Both had met in Berlin in 1929, when Wilder interviewed Dietrich, who had a part in George Kaiser’s musical revue ‘Two Ties’ – the same year Wilder collaborated with Robert Siodmak and Fred Zinnemann (among others) for Menschen am Sonntag. 

US captain John Pringle (Lund), has an affair with German ‘Lorelei’ nightclub singer Erika von Schlütow (Dietrich), well aware fraternisation between US soldiers and German civilians is strictly forbidden – but disregarding this anyway. But prim congress woman Phoebe Frost (Arthur) arrives in Berlin to enforce these strict ground rules. Meanwhile, Pringle’s commanding officer, Colonel Plummer, turns a blind eye to his involvement with the German femme fatale, hoping she leads the army to Hans-Otto Birgel (von Zerneck), a Nazi war criminal.

Phoebe and Pringle meet and realise they are both from Republican-dominated Iowa and this flirty encounter adds grist to the mix. Later, Phoebe and Erika are arrested in the ‘Lorelei’ unable to produce their identification papers. Down at the police station, Erika claims Phoebe is her cousin, and they both get off Scott free. But back at the apartment, when Erika reveals Pringle is her lover, Phoebe storms out humiliated, just before Pringle emerges arrives. But eventually love finds a way.

The shoot was no less fraught with emotional up and downs. Jean Arthur was jealous of Marlene Dietrich, claiming, claiming Wilder favoured her because of their history of working together. Once, in the middle of the night, Wilder, Jean Arthur and her producer husband Frank Ross turned up and caused a furore over some close up shots. Later, to try and smooth things over, Wilder offered Arthur the chance to be doubled in a rough scene where GI soldiers were required to toss her into the air. After rejecting the offer of the double, Arthur then complained Wilder had humiliated her.

The feature was very much a re-union party for the rest of the crew: composer Friedrich Hollaender had written the score, returning with Wilder from Hollywood having emigrated after composing the score to The Blaue Engel. And Erich Pommer, former boss of the UFA, was part of the production team trying to rebuild the West German film industry. DoP Charles Lang was nominated for an Oscar for his documentary style grainy black-and-white images. He would later collaborate with Wilder for Sabrina, while the director would go on to make One, Two Three with James Cagney in Berlin in 1961 – just when the Wall went up. AS

ON BLU-RAY | 22 JUNE 2020

Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1983)**** Blu-ray

Dir.: Nagisa Ôshima; Cast: David Bowie, Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Takeshi Kitano, Jack Thompson, Johnny Okura; Japan/UK/New Zealand 1983, 123 min.

David Bowie is the star of this emotional rollercoaster from Japanese New Wave director  Nagisa Ôshima (1932-2013) Empire of Passion).

Mr. Lawrence has aged very well and has lost nothing of its impact as an analysis of male short-comings. Adapted from Laurens van Der Post’s The Seed and the  Sower, the film takes place in a Japanese POW camp during the Second World War and is centred on four men: British POWs Major Jack ‘Strafer’ Celliers (Bowie) and Lt. Col. John Lawrence (Conti), and two Japanese soldiers, camp commander Capt. Yonoi (Sakamoto, who also composed the score) and sergeant Gengo Hara, a brute with a softer side.

Group Captain Hicksley (Thompson), the camp’s highest ranking officer and the spokesmen for the prisoners plays a minor, but catalysing role. Celliers’ stubbornness sees him locked in a battle of wills with the camp’s new commandant, a man obsessed with discipline and the glory of Imperial Japan. Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence (Tom Conti) is the only inmate with a degree of sympathy for Japanese culture and an understanding of the language, and attempts to bridge the divide through his friendship with Yonoi’s second-in-command, Sergeant Hara (Takeshi Kitano), a man possessing a surprising degree of compassion beneath his cruel façade. Celliers is also living with a guilty secret: he has betrayed his younger brother at boarding school. Captain Yonoi is also secretly ashamed of himself for being part of a military uprising in 1936, but unlike his comrades-in-arms, he escaped execution. Yonei develops a homo-erotic crush on Celliers, provoking him into a duel with the salve: “if you kill me, you will be free”. Celliers declines.

When a secret radio is discovered at the base , Yonoi makes Celliers and Lawrence take responsibility, sentencing them to death. But on Christmas Day, Hara frees the two prisoners, wishing Lawrence a titular “Merry Christmas”. Hara gets a light ticking off for showing mercy. But when Group Captain Hicksley learns about Yonoi’s plan to replace him, a fracas develops, with the Japanese camp commander ordering Hicksley to have all men stand up on the parade ground, including the sick. When Hicksley refuses, Yonoi wants to kill him, but Celliers kisses him on the cheek. With his honour in tatters, Yonoi retreats and is replaced as camp commandant who doesn’t give Celliers such a wide birth, “unlike my predecessor, I am not a romantic” and buries Celliers up to his neck in sand as a punishment. At an epilogue set in 1946, Lawrence makes a trip to visit Hara, who has been sentenced to death. Yonoi has already been executed, and Hara tells Lawrence that Yonoi gave him the lock from Celliers hair to place in a shrine in Yonoi’s home village.

David Bowie commented later that during the shooting he had been surprised Ôshima only showed the perimeters of the prison camp – yet when he saw the film afterwards he was able to appreciate how much more terrifying the threat of the compound was in contrast to the detail of the camp itself. DoP Toichiro Naushima (Double Suicide) shows how the mens’ emotions reflect the harshness of their surroundings (filming took place on the Polynesian island of Rarotonga) by continuously changing the angles of close-ups and the long tracking shots. Merry Christmas avoids the moral judgements made by David Lean on Bridge on the River Kwai.  In his valedictory chat to Hara, Lawrence makes a shrewd observation: “there are times when victory is very hard to take“. Ôshima always keeps the balance, avoiding sentimentality, without shrinking from this very emotional conflict. AS  

ON RELEASE 15 JUNE | ARROW BLU-RAY 

                                        

   

 

 

Throw Down (2004) *** Blu-ray release

Dir.: Johnnie To; Cast: Louis Koo, Aaron Kwok, Cherrie Ying, Hoi Pang Lo, Tony Leung, Calvin Choi, Eddie Cheung; China/Hong Kong 2004, 95 min.

Throw Down has a very special place in Johnnie To’s body of work. It stands apart from narrative driven films like Election or Office: Throw Down is Kurosawa on speed, the plot being more or less accidental. The son of Judo Master Cheng introduces himself to his opponents in the violent arcade games “I will be Sanshiro Sugate, you will be Higaki”, referring to Sanshiro Sugate I and II, Kurosawa’s first and third features featuring judo fighters.

Sze-to Bo (Koo) is a bar owner who steals big time from gangster boss Savage (Cheung), only to lose the money on the gambling table. Bo had been a judo champion a long time ago, but has retired for unknown reasons. Lee Ah-kong, the current champion, has a grudge against Bo because the he failed to turn up for a fight Lee was sure he would won. Master Cheng (Pang Lo) is Bo’s former teacher; his son Ching stricken by dementia, prone to introducing himself as Sugagte. Into this murky milieu comes Tony (Kwook), a keen judo fighter, and Mona (Ying), a would-be singer, who is running away from her pimping manager. Bo joins this desperate, spunky trio, with To staging some bizarre sequences. At one point, Bo steals money from Savage and his men, only to lose it on their flight, with Mona returning to pick up some bank notes, Savage’s henchman doing the same at the other end of the street. Mona then runs to Bo, who has lost a shoe – Mona running back to pick it up front of the gangsters, still collecting the bank notes, which have flown everywhere like confetti. When Bo gives up fighting because of threatened blindness due to his detached retina, a frantic finale starts to unfurl, Bo trying to wipe out his adversaries before losing his sight. But the atmosphere remains the dominant factor right to the end.

DoP Sie-Keung Cheng’s stylish images of noirish sleaziness overlay this angst ridden riot. Artificial light dominates in the studio and the eerie empty streets of Hong Kong. Yeun Bun, in charge of the fight scenes, choreographs like a ballet master. Ying is by far the liveliest protagonist, running riot over the fighting males. Overall, Throw Down is an idiosyncratic mixture of fight movie and melodrama, with large dollop of surrealism thrown in. AS

NOW ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA   

The Vanishing | Spoorloos (1988) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: George Sluizer | Gene Bervoets, Johanna Ter Steege, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu | Thriller | 107′

A simple plot grows into a suffocatingly desolate psychodrama exploring the depraved wickedness of the human mind. Although Stanley Kubrick claimed it was the most terrifying film he’d ever seen, George Sluizer was unable to find distribution for his film that screened at the Sydney film festival to critical acclaim. And it’s not difficult to see why. A group of singularly unappealing characters fill a narrative so bleak and uncharitable it leaves you utterly dejected by the time the credits roll. What starts as a tender love story in the sun-drenched South of France ends in an autumnal Amsterdam as leaves fall on human tragedy.

A young Dutch couple, Rex and Saskia  (Bervoets and Ter Steege) are on their way to her French holiday home, in a battered old Peugeot. After stopping for drinks and petrol at a service station near Nimes, Saskia vanishes into thin air. A protracted and febrile search by Rex draws a blank. Scripted by Tim Krabbe from his own novel The Golden Egg, a parallel narrative introduces Raymond Lemorne, a devious and conceited father of two who starts to contact Rex claiming to know the whereabouts of Saskia, via taunting postcards that reveal a disturbed mind.

In this portrait of obsession and frustrated desire, Sluizer focuses on Rex’s desperation but also on Donnadieu’s conniving Raymond who makes for a cynically asexual psychopath with his immaculately trimmed goatee beard. He lives a banal quotidian existence with his two daughters and pleasant wife, who starts to question his protracted lone visits to the family’s country house.

Rex, by contrast, cannot move on emotionally after losing Saskia and is tortured into an angry mess of a man by his troubled dreams, despite a supportive new girlfriend. Eaten up by his desire for closure, Rex confronts his nemesis and ends up in a Faustian pact, submitting himself to Raymond’s unfeasible requests just to satisfy his inner demons. Clinically plotted and devoid of any humanity after the upbeat opening sequences Sluizer’s thriller makes for a critically watertight but thoroughly unpleasant watch.MT.

ON VOD, EST and Blu-ray from 8 JUNE 2020

 

The Epic of Everest (1924)

Wri/Dir/Prod: Captain John Noel | UK Doc, 87min

George Mallory and Andrew Irvine’s failed attempt to climb Everest in 1924

There’s a moment during The Epic of Everest that really reflects the powerless of human endeavour when faced with the magnitude of nature: As three tiny insect-like creatures totter over a snow-caked precipice of solid ice and gradually disappear from view, the total insignificance of man versus the mountain finally dawns. What sheer folly to think that these men could conquer a force of nature dressed flimsily in tweed jackets and plus fours almost 100 years ago but, of course, North Face puffas didn’t exist then.

1924_Everest_expedition_group_photo copy

Captain John Noel accompanied Mallory and Irvine on this third attempt to conquer the magnificent Himalayan peak using the most powerful lenses of the day to produce jaw-dropping photos and ethereal time-lapse sequences that are testament not only to the dangers of the snowscape but also the spiritual splendour of this deeply spiritual part of the world. To add context, Noel captures footage of the megalith of Rongbuk monastery (where they are told that the expedition is fated not to succeed) and the local people of the world’s highest town: Phari-Dzong, who never wash from birth to the day they die, when they are ‘hacked to pieces’ on a slab of stone. They seem cheerful enough.

Despite restoration by the BFI National Archive, the photography naturally feels dated in comparison with recent mountaineering films such as Chasing Ice and The Summit but what Captain John Noel has captured here is the extreme sense of loneliness and isolation of the vast expanses. Filming the lead party up to two miles away, thanks to the clarity of visibility, they look like tiny dots on a hostile landscape often shrouded in swirling mists and eerie legends of local Tibetan folklore.

Heights mean nothing to those of us who stay happily at sea level, but when we hear that sherpas carved up to 2,000 steps in the ice on some of the ascents, the extreme arduous nature of the expedition finally hits home. On the day of his birth, a tiny donkey was forced to walk 22 miles and collapsed in sheer, sleepy exhaustion after his first day of life. These bare facts really put this extraordinary venture into human context that can be appreciated.

The Epic of Everest is accompanied by Simon Fisher Turner’s atmospheric ambient soundtrack featuring cowbells, Tibetan music and vocals gradually turning more sinister and haunting as the expedition unfolds. A moving and peaceful tribute to our courageous men. MT

THE EPIC OF EVEREST IS NOW free ON BFI PLAYER marking TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH: EXPLORATION AND ENDURANCE ON FILM. 

Journey across the planet’s most challenging terrain in this ode to exploration and endurance on film, accompanying TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH: EXPLORATION AND ENDURANCE ON FILM, season at BFI Southbank continuing throughout January.

On 5 January 1922 the ‘heroic age’ of Antarctic exploration drew to a symbolic close with the death of Anglo-Irish explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. Marking this centenary and that of Britain’s first attempt to summit Mount Everest, this collection tells a connected story about human endurance, our relationship with and impact on the natural world. The birth of film collided with exploration’s heyday as a competitive sport, source of national pride and beacon of scientific discovery. This free curated archive collection includes early film records of expeditions to Everest and the Arctic and beyond to remote regions of South America and South Asia. Many of the films are part of the extraordinary Royal Geographical Society collection, preserved by the BFI National Archive.

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/collection/to-the-ends-of-the-earth

 

Outside the City (2019) **** Digital/DVD release

Dir: Nick Hamer | UK Doc 82′

In his lavishly filmed documentary Nick Hamer meets a group of Trappist monks in the Leicestershire monastery of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey. He talks to them individually about their lives, thoughts and prayers. The Cistercian Abbey is a closed community that has seen its numbers dwindle since the early decades of the 2oth century. Now there are only 30 monks in residence.

Although the film subverts our expectations about spirituality, the main focus is the monks’ desire keep their community thriving and viable. And to this end they have converted their dairy farm into a brewery, a traditional monastic occupation which has been successful enough to ensure the abbey’s survival. Their beer is called Tynt Meadow, and is sold as ‘English Trappist Ale’, Helped by Belgian brewing advisor Constant Kleinemans it has become a successful craft beer.

The inspirational tenet of the Cistercian monks is simplicity. Life in a monastery is not an escape route from the world. Apart from running the monastery and brewing, the monks lives are spent in deep contemplation, silencing their minds and stripping back their own desires and thoughts and offer themselves to God in prayer. Not to be confused with meditation that has as its focus green fields, beaches or or the next holiday: the monks are taught to empty their minds so as to make room for God’s presence. Their existence is enriched by the simplicity of their lives and not their material wealth.

Death is not a sad end but a joyful culmination of their existence, and everything they have learnt and given to others through prayer. Two monks actually die during filming and their passing is a peaceful and contented occasion. By the end of Hamer’s film we have learnt that the monastic life is not about suffering or deprivation but a journey towards fulfilment and acceptance of themselves and their selfless commitment towards the world as a whole. And Hamer conveys this convincingly in this spare and dignified documentary. Being a monk is about achieving the highest form of life. MT

ON DVD and DOWNLOAD from 8 June 2020

 

America as Seen by a Frenchman | l’Amerique Insolite (1960) ***

Dir.: Francois Reichenbach; Documentary with commentary by Jean Cocteau; France 1960, 90 min.

French writer/director/DoP Francois Reichenbach (1921-1993) made his name with a series of musical biopics, amongst them Serge Gainsbourg, Herbert von Karajan, Yehudi Menuhin and Mireille Mathieu. Chris Marker collaborates on this freewheeling travelogue with its delightful preamble by Jean Cocteau  that praises his homeland’s spirit of resistance.

The journey kicks off at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Franciso, where Reichenbach meets participants of the ‘Salt Route’, re-staged in Houston. Ordinary Americans saddle up horses and carts and re-live, for a few days, the experience of the founding fathers. The voice-over expresses how their Native Indians will live forever live in their hearts – a rather dubious statement. But Reichenbach really gets going with the next sequence, a photo shot on a beach in California where a couple of actors get really excited by their activities, “even beyond their remit”. This male perspective never comes to rest.

After a cursory visit to Disneyland (back then a far less technological experience) and a ‘Ghost Town’ in LA where extras from Hollywood pose with visitors, we visit a Rodeo in a prison where the winner will have his sentence reduced by a year – the runner-up will have three weeks ‘holiday’ from jail to spend with his wife. Then starts a nostalgic trip to American childhood, expectant fathers learning to bathe and feed babies in a three week course. When said babies have been born, we discover they have their own TV programmes in hospital. Hula-hop contests and various parades with children and adults, show a strict segregation, but the director turns a blind eye. Further on, boys under thirteen are taught to be impervious to their injuries at Soap-Box Derbies, toughening up the new generation.

But soon we come back to the sexy side of it all, visiting a school for striptease where young women learn the trade. A half-naked young  woman appears in a ad while the off-voice commentator states”this woman has an ordinary husband”. Reichenbach spends an awful long time at the beach where teenagers “discover their sexuality”. After a demolition derby, the feature takes us to New Orleans, where the carnival processions are strictly segregated: Black and White Carnival do not meet. Finally some unruly young men are seen in prison, following by a sequence involving their positive counterparts in a cult-like ‘Holy Rollers’. It all ends up in New York with its massive glass store-fronts, making Reichenbach wonder “if the US is not just a big shop with slogans” and fearing “that Europe might look the same in twenty years.” Clearly he wasn’t wrong!

Nothing prepares for the violence of the Kennedy or Martin Luther King assassinations, or the Vietnam War, which dominated the next decade. But thanks to Reichenbach’s uncritical approach, we start to appreciate the fault lines of a society which would explode not long afterwards. Forget the white-washing commentary, just take it all in with your eyes. Reichenbach offers a cinematic and valuable heads-up for what was to come. AS

ON RELEASE COURTESY OF ARROW | 1 JUNE 2020

David Hockney: A Bigger Splash | Blu-ray/DVD re-release

Dir/DoP: Jack Hazan | With: David Hockney, Celia Birtwell, Mo Mc Dermott, Kasmin, Mike Sida, Ossie Clark, Patrick Proctor, Henry Geldzahler, Nick Wilder | UK Doc, 106

This rather sombre partly imagined drama is set in a wintery London in the early 1970s and follows episodes in the life of Britain’s most expensive living artist David Hockney (1937-), in the early days of his career. For those who revere Hockney and his coterie: Celia Birtwell, Ossie Clark, Mo McDermott – all of whom appear here in the flesh – this is cinematic catnip. The four of them went on to form what is still described by Bonhams as “a Northern invasion of Swinging London” they would become its epi-centre.

Made on shoestring but none the worse for it, A Bigger Splash was at first rejected by Hockney who offered Hazan £20, 000 t0 destroy the print. But his long term confident Shirley Goldfarb gave it a big thumbs up so the release went ahead, and the film was accepted for Cannes Critics’ week and Locarno where it won the Golden Leopard in 1974.

Critically speaking the script is confusing with its bewildering fractured narrative, and his idea to frame the film as a drama is also problematic: the real life characters, though fascinating, feel rather wooden and self-conscious in their attempts to be natural – Hockney emerges the most appealing and unaffected of all,  his unassuming placidness, his tall ranginess, blond hair and iconic round glasses setting a look that still rocks. That said, the real people give the film a blinding authenticity that in retrospect makes it an important chronicle of the era and the pioneering artistic community that lived through it, although many elements never actually occurred in reality. A straightforward documentary may have been more informative in fleshing out the characters, but this strangely dreamlike affair (newly remastered on blu-ray) captures the zeitgeist of a time when the art world was still relatively unaffected by rampant commercialism, and the cult of celebrity unheard of. John Kasmin is seen at his London gallery, trying to persuade the artist to speed up his work and expressing frustration that most of his paintings leave the country without being exhibited. Hockney says nonchalantly: “John, I’m going to leave now”. Kasmin’s gallery transformed the art world of the 1960s. And he continues to be a major force in the art world.

The dramatic focus of the film is the break-up of Hockney’s affair with photographer Peter Schlesinger: “when love goes wrong there’s more than two people suffer”. As much an intimate study of a relationship breakdown it also offers insight into Hockney at work – he has just finished Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (now in the Tate and featuring Celia, Ossie and their cat). It shows how Hockney  prepares by taking copious photographs, figures are then be incorporated into the landscape canvas, stencilled in for clarity.

While talking to another famous curator Henry Geldzahler (1935-94), Hockney expresses his deep love for painting and his feelings of isolation from a wider like-minded artistic community, considering New York as a possible new place to express his ideas. And the end of his relationship provides the ideal opportunity to broaden his horizons. The New York scenes add further texture to this enjoyable, almost ethnographical piece. There are illuminating discussions with Patrick Proctor (1936-2003) on his method of starting with a white canvas and building his marks from there, and Hockney examines these at close range with his lighter, before enjoying a cigar.

The muted pastel aesthetic of the London scenes contrast with the vibrancy of those flashback reveries of poolside California and Southern France, giving A Bigger Splash a lowkey melancholy, Hockney haunted by memories of Peter during the wee small hours which flip back to salacious scenes of his ex, poolside or actually swimming naked, always in a pool. A sequence in the blue tiled shower of his South Kensington flat – David didn’t know Hazan was shooting him naked – segues into more daydreaming; Hockney warming to his focus on these ‘pool period’ paintings, and preparing extensively with photographs, assisted by his close sculptor friend Mo McDermott. ‘A Bigger Splash’ painting would in November 2018 fetch $90.3 million – nearly doubling the previous record-holder Jeff Koons for his 12 foot sculpture Balloon Dog). Koons regained the title in May 2019 however with the stainless steel sculpture ‘Rabbit’ which sold for $91.1 million.

The painting on the cover of the DVD/Blu-ray is Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1972. The first composition for the painting started in 1971 but was destroyed by Hockney as documented in the film. In April 1972 however Hockney decided to return to the concept ahead of a planned exhibition due to open just four weeks later.

The National Portrait Gallery was due to showcase an exhibition of Hockney’s work titled David Hockney: Drawing from Life devoted to Hockney’s drawings from the 1950s to the present, depicting himself and those close to him. The exhibition was due to run until 18 June 2020 | A Bigger Splash is available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray at amazon.co.uk.

Suddenly, Last Summer (1960) Blu-ray

Director: Joseph Mankiewicz | Script: Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal | Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Katherine Hepburn, Montgomery Clift, Albert Dekker, Mercedes McCambridge, Gary Raymond, Mavis Villiers | US | 110′

Sam Spiegel was already firing on all cylinders by the time he backed an adaptation of the standout stage play by the great Tennessee Williams, having already made The African Queen, On The Waterfront and Bridge On The River Kwai. It’s therefore no surprise that he was able to command a headliner cast anyone else might give their right arm for, Taylor, Hepburn and Clift.

All was not quite as it seemed though. In 1957, Clift had been involved in a near fatal car crash and had only been saved by Elizabeth Taylor pulling two teeth out of his mouth, preventing him from choking to death. He required extensive facial reconstruction and was also a serious addict to pain killers by the time filming started, however Taylor would only accept the role if her great friend Clift was cast opposite her.

Spiegel understood the draw of Taylor; there was nobody hotter, she having recently completed Giant opposite James Dean, her Oscar nominated Raintree County and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof with Paul Newman, so he passed over his more favoured choice of Brando to keep her onboard.

Liz first met Monty when the studio asked her to accompany him to the 1949 premier of The Heiress in an attempt to assuage growing rumours of his homosexuality, prior to their working together in A Place In The Sun. They hit it off immediately and remained close friends until his untimely death in 1966.

The subject matter for Suddenly, Last Summer was a delicate one and perhaps a difficult sell, if it wasn’t for the star wattage involved in the cast. Mental health might not be the first choice topic for a blockbuster, but the film was a huge success and Taylor was again Oscar nominated alongside Katherine Hepburn. They both lost out to Simone Signoret (for Room At The Top), but Taylor did win a Golden Globe for her performance as a traumatised young woman who cannot remember something truly horrific that she witnessed.

Hepburn plays Violet Venable, her rich, powerful but deeply manipulative aunt, threatening to have her lobotomised to keep her silent about what she witnessed the day Violet’s ‘canonised’ son died. Under extreme duress, it’s down to Monty’s Surgical Doctor Cukrowicz to cure her.

Obviously, Tennessee Williams is no slouch and the story is a good one, tension coming from the personal politics and financial need and greed as much as Catherine’s desperate illness, all topped off with sexual desire. It’s a heady mix and one we are quickly drawn into; Hepburn is sublime as the all-powerful grieving multi-millionaire.

Clift is good too but the role demands less of him and having seen several movies in the Monty canon in short order recently, the transformation to his visage is marked and appears even to have left him partially frozen. Upsetting to see his star power here prematurely on the wane.

But it’s Liz Taylor who tears up the screen. If you haven’t seen a Liz Taylor film for a while, then this is an example of why she was regarded as one of the last true screen legends, nominated for Oscars for four consecutive movie performances. There’s a vulnerability, a truth to her performance and a luminescence to her beauty that comes across in spades, even here in black and white.

Structurally, this is a storyline that may feel overfamiliar to many; even hackneyed, but it is also worth considering that this film was made in 1959 and has had many imitators in the intervening years. At the time, it was busy blazing a trail for what was permissible for the big screen as much as for a new way of performing. One to see perhaps for Kate and Liz then, rather than Monty, but one to see nevertheless. MT

SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER | Blu-ray 

 

Your Sister’s Sister (2011) *** Tribute to Lyn Shelton (1965-2020)

Director/Writer : Lynn Shelton | Cast:  Mark Duplass, Rosemarie DeWitt, Emily Blunt | Cert1 5  100 mins

This easy going rites of passage drama along the lines of “Grab a dude and preg yourself up” has three memorable performances and comes from a director who writes from the heart and from her own life experiences. Her follow up to Hump Day (2009) is full of witty insight and watchable scenery, a classic tale of thirty-somethings, it stars Mark Duplass as Jack who’s mourning the death of his brother Tom. Mutual friend Iris (Blunt) offers him sanctuary in her island hideaway just off Washington State. She secretly fancies Jack but within hours of rocking up he is bedding her sister Hannah (DeWitt) who happens to be lesbian or, at least she thought she was until broodiness and a few drinks intervened.  After a night of unexpected shagging Iris turns up unannounced.

A tangled mess of misconception and conception follows and feelings are shared and thoughts aired by the trio. This brings them closer but has unexpected consequences and far-reaching complications all round.  Skelton’s outline script gives an improvised feel that’s indie in style but slick enough to appeal to wider audiences.  The result is a tense but funny tale about sex, sisterhood and growing up.

Lynn Shelton, who died on 15 May 2020, went on to make Touchy Feely and Say When (Laggies) before embarking on a successful TV career (Mad Men, Love, Fresh off the Boat amongst others) and Little Fires Everywhere which airs from the end of May, and reunites her with stars Rosemarie DeWitt and Reese Wetherspoon.  MT ©

Now out on DVD-Blu-Ray | Tribute to Lynn Shelton      

Another Shore (1948)

Dir: Charles Crichton | DoP: Douglas Slocombe | Cast: Robert Beatty, Moira Lister, Stanley Holloway, Michael Medwin | UK Drama 77′

Robert Beatty leads a sterling British cast in this upbeat bit of Ealing whimsy that sees him dreaming of the South Seas during an inclement postwar Dublin summer. Although the story is rather slight (based on Kenneth Reddin’s novel) the theme of escapism is a universal one – particularly at the moment when everyone is cooped up at home due to Covid.

On his daily walkabout in Dublin, Gulliver Shiels (Beatty) meets a variety of different characters – and  characters is the operative word. There is poor old Mrs Gleeson (Delaney) who sells newspapers; an alcoholic called Moore (Wilfrid Brambell) whose dog Gulliver adopts, Michael Golden as a police detective; he also makes a drinking friend of Michael Medwin’s Yellow. A chance encounter with a wealthy alcoholic (an elegant Stanley Holloway) offers him the chance to realise his adventure, but eventually he plumps for Moira Lister’s bored but wealthy widow in an unconvincing trade-off.

But the main reason to see Another Shore is for Dublin itself which is very much the star of the show. DoP Douglas Slocombe creates a magnificent sense of place in and around the Liffey, St Stephen’s Green and Merrion Square which glow in his immaculate black and white photography. Ealing costume designer Anthony Mendleson creates some rather dapper costumes. MT.

On BLU-RAY and PRIME VIDEO 

 

 

Convoy (1940) *** Blu-ray release

Dir: Pen Tennyson | Cast: Clive Brook, John Clements, Edward Chapman, July Campbell, Penelope Dudley-Ward, Edward Rigby | Wartime Drama, UK 90′

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Penrose Tennyson  (1912-1941) was one of the Golden hopes of British social realism in the 1930s. The great grandson of the poet, he was taken under the wing of family friend and Gaumont-British supremo Michael Balcon, and cut his teeth on The Good Companions and The 39 Steps before following Balcon to MGM and Ealing Studios where he finally took over the helm finding a voice in social realism with There Ain’t No Justice (1939) that follows the trials and tribulations of a young boxer (Jimmy Hanley) at the hands of his crooked promoter. The Proud Valley (1940) was a more ambitious project that mined the dramatic potential of disaster and unemployment in a Welsh pit village based on Herbert Marshall’s script of his wife Alfredda Brilliant’s ground-breaking novel. Paul Robeson’s wartime wanderer finds acceptance in the tight knit community through his powerful bass-baritone voice, when he joins the local choir.

With the Second World War on the way Tennyson, signed up to the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve to make training films and got the idea for his final film while serving on HMS Valourous. A patriotic ambitious adventure, Convoy was one of the first British war films and features remarkable shots of various fictitious destroyer vessels engaged in protecting the vital supply cargoes between the US and Britain during hostilities. According to one amusing source, Noel Coward saw the film on its release, and joked these were possibly filmed using miniature models from nearby Gamages department store – although they certainly look believable in Roy Kellino’s camerawork.

Clive Brook heads the cast that sees stars in the making Stewart Granger and Michael Wilding in minor roles. Brook is Captain Armitage in charge of a tiny English vessel targeted by a German battleship that threatens to blow everyone out of the water, until a battle squadron comes to the rescue. But that’s not the only battle on his hands. Amidst the scenes of derring-do there lies an intricate love story: crew member Lieutenant Cranford (Clements) has had an affair with Armitage’s ex-wife Lucy (Judy Campbell) whose life hangs on a thread as she sails in another missing boat carrying Jewish refugees, and this ‘menage a trois’ provides a frisson of drama in counterpoint to the combat scenes.

Tennyson married English actress Nova Pilbeam, whom he met on the set on The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), but while she went on to a successful career in film and stage, he would lose his life on active service a year after completing Convoy.. MT.

CONVOY IS ON BLU-RAY FROM 18 MAY 2020 | Convoy is presented here as a High Definition remaster from original film elements in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio.

 

Convoy (1978) **** Prime video

Dir.: Sam Peckinpah; Cast: Kris Kristofferson, Ali McGraw, Ernest Borgnine, Burt Young, Madge Sinclair, Franklin Ajaye, Cassie Yates, Seymour Cassel; USA 1978, 110′.

In a career spanning twenty-two years – but just twelve features, US director Sam Peckinpah (1925-1984) fell foul of producers more often than not. His films were butchered in the editing rooms, Convoy being no exception: the supervising editor credit for Graeme Clifford shows how EMI lost trust in the director. Written by BWL Norton, based on a song by CW McCall of the same title, Convoy is Sugarland Express meets Easy Rider. 

Set in the (then) contemporary American South West, legendary trucker Rubber Duck (Kristofferson) and his merry band of truck drivers, among them Pig Pen(Young), Widow woman (Sinclair) and Spider Mike (Ajaye) are at loggerheads with the corrupt Sheriff ‘Dirty’ Lyle Wallace (Borgnine), who has the National Guard on his side, but is more interested in preventing Mike from seeing his pregnant wife, and issuing speed tickets to the rest of the truckers. Meanwhile, Rubber Duck has picked up journalist Melissa (McGraw), whose Jaguar XKE has broken down, and she has to get to Dallas to start a new job. They set off from a cafe where Violet (Yates), Duck’s former flame, but now Lyle’s wife, works as a waitress. A whole town falls victim to the ensuing destruction derby, before Duck look like he’s heading for a watery grave, State governor Jerry Haskins (Cassel) promising at his funeral to help the truckers in their fight. Still, there is a happy-end: “You ever known a duck that couldn’t swim?”

Pauline Kael talks about Peckingpah’s feature as ‘nihilist poetry”, claiming the director of The Wild Bunch, The Getaway and Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is only interested in showing his disgust with American society, which did not allow any form of resistance during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement. The truckers represent the earlier cowboys, not for nothing is Mexico the escape target for the truckers. Yes, these haulers are a Wild Bunch, running over policemen and crashing homes – but only because their path of destruction is as inhuman as that of the authorities. The truckers also represent the film crew – and their fight against interfering producers. John Huston, Peckinpah’s idol, once commented on the demise of a film company “as the end of the world”. It is therefore only fitting that Borgnine’s mad laughter at the ending very much channels Captain Ahab from Moby Dick.

Kristofferson takes the film in his stride leaving McGraw (again) underwritten on the sidelines, observing his antics. Highlights are the well choreographed trucker chases, a ballet of machines, much more impressive than Michael Bay’s Transporters a later, much paler rider. DoP Harry Stradling jr (McQ) stylises the fight between nature and technology in brilliant panorama shots, and the close-ups in the truck cabins echo those war features by Samuel Fuller. Peckingpah would only direct one more feature, the (again) heavily re-edited The Osterman Weekend (1982), before his early death.

NOW STREAMING ON PRIME VIDEO + BLU-RAY

The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice (1952) **** Blu-ray

Dir: Yasujiro Ozu | Cast: Shin Saburi, Michiyo Kogure, Koji Tsuruta, Chishu Ryu | Japan, Drama 116′

The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice tells the story of a marriage slowly imploding as Japan shifts into the modern world from its pre war traditions.

Like many luminaries of the last century Japanese legend Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963) experienced some milestones – from the Manchurian Invasion to the Second World War and the atomic bombs that ruined Japan on an epic scale. But the director absorbed all this tragedy and distilled it into gentle domestic dramas reflecting on the virtues of humanity and the subtleties of relationships in family life as seen in Tokyo Story (1953) and Good Morning (1959).

The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice (1952) cleverly skirted round the censors in telling a story of one family unable to overcome the shift from the traditional to the contemporary. Taeko Satake (Michiyo Kogure) comes from a wealthy family but her marriage to working class husband Mokichi (Shin Saburi) is in trouble, her refined ways and preference for wearing kimonos is at odds with his more down to earth attitudes, and the couple have no children to keep them together. During a spa trip with friends she voices her feelings of disenchantment. Meanwhile, her niece Setsuko (Keiko Tsushima) expresses her own desires to make a break from tradition dressing in the latest fashions and resisting her aunt’s attempts at matchmaking, pointing out how her own arranged marriage is clearly not the answer.

All this is handled with the lightness of touch and underlying humour so familiar to Ozu’s films. The tone is upbeat and there is still an affectionate playfulness to the couple’s discord with the usual daily tiffs that speak volumes about their troubled relationship. Taeko prefers cultural pursuits such as the  kabuki theatre while Mokichi is more at home riding his bicycle. But they eventually reach a compromise over a simple meal of green tea over rice they prepare together late at night after their maids have gone off duty. Meanwhile Setsuko finds a new boyfriend in the shape of Noburu, a young friend of Mokichi. The final scene is a cleverly enigmatic depiction of the one of the film’s pivotal themes. We see Setsuko running away from her lover down a Tokyo street: is she rejecting the idea of marriage or simply playing hard to get? Underlying tensions are teased out delicately in this graceful domestic drama from the Japanese master. MT

Blu-ray/DVD release on 18 May 2020 and simultaneously available to stream or buy via iTunes and Amazon Prime. On BFI Player from 5 June 2020 within a collection of 25 Yasujirô Ozu films released on BFI Player’s Subscription service as part of JAPAN 2020, a major new BFI season launching this month (more details below)

The Importance of Being Oscar (2018) ** DVD release

Dir.: Richard Curson-Smith; Commentated excerpts from Oscar Wilde plays with Anna Chancellor, Anna Devlin, James Fleet, Freddie Fox, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Freddie Fox, Alice Orr-Erwing, Nicholas Rowe, Claire Skinner, Ed Stoppard; UK 2020, 84 min.

If you are expecting another amusing arthouse drama from one of Ireland’s greatest writers, you will be disappointed by this pot pourri of Wilde’s work. Director/producer Richard Curson-Smith, whose TV portraits of Nureyev, Ted Hughes and Francis Bacon are highlights of the BBC programming, fails in his attempt to have Wilde scholars connect his work with his stormy life story. The Importance just makes you yearn for a whole play, especially with this fine assembled cast of Freddie Fox, Anna Chancellor and Ed Stoppard. And although the dramatised excerpts are enjoyable in themselves, there are too many talking heads, the only engaging commentators on Wilde being Giles Brandreth and Stephen Fry who share early tit-bit such as his appearance in ‘Punch’ magazine.

They discuss Gilbert & Sullivan’s Patience (1988), a parody of the genius-in-the-making. We learn, that Wilde went to the USA in 1882, and was greatly impressed by the circus impresario Phineas Taylor Barnum. On his return he became, among other occupations, a contributor and editor to London outlet ‘The Strand Magazine’. From this era there are  excerpts from The Canterville Ghost (1887), a short story. There is an interesting (part) dramatisation of his essay The decay of Lying (1882). Equally captivating is De Profundis (1897), which got the same treatment as the above mentioned essay, quoting from Wilde’s letters from prison, published posthumously in 1905.

But his famous society plays, as well as a part adaption of The Portrait of Dorian Gray make up most of the running time, and commentary concentrates on the well known trial of Wilde for homosexuality, instigated by the Marquise of Queensbury, whose son, Alfred Lord Douglas, was Wilde’s long term lover. What the film does establish is that Wilde was imprisoned not so much for his homosexuality but because, as a wealthy man of society and standing, he took advantage of less fortunate members of the community in the shape of rent boys desperate for money. As such Wilde’s story connects to the narrative of the #metoo movement.

Wilde’s grandson features but adds nothing sparkling to the party and DoP Graham Smith’ images are perfunctionary. And this is one example where an attempt to cram the life and work of a major literary figure into just 84 minutes should be questioned. Surely, the subject deserves much more – and this goes not only for the length of this rather flimsy affair. AS

ON DVD FROM 11 MA Y 2020

 

Lola Montès (1955) **** Blu-ray release

Dir.: Max Ophüls; Cast: Martine Carol,Peter Ustinov, Anon Walbrook, Lisa Delamare, Oscar Werner, Will Quadflieg, Ivan Desny; France 1955, 114 min.

This dazzling visual masterpiece was Max Ophüls’ last feature and based on the novel La vie extraordinaire de Lola Montès by Cecil Saint-Laurent. Clearly a femme fatale Martine Carol was however, no actress and brings the film down with her lack of talent. The original version was then butchered by the producers and some shorter versions ensued, all with a linear style that destroyed the Austrian filmmaker’s original fractured narrative. Then in 2008, a restored widescreen version was made available, showcasing all the glory of widescreen Technicolor. This blu-ray further enhances the thrill of it all.

We first Lola Montès first in a circus in New Orleans where the famous 19th century dancer and courtesan is being disported by the ringmaster (Ustinov) like a fair ground attraction of times gone by. Under two glittering chandeliers (that echo the Vienna theatre, where Ophüls’ career in the 1920s), a band is playing and a chorus line of girls, juggling ninepins, introduces the ringmaster’s storyline. Lola makes a triumphant, as a counterpoint to her troubled background, which plays out in flashback, her cruel mother (Delamare), whose lover, lieutenant Thomas James (Desny) she goes on to marry. There are affairs with a a student (Werner); Franz Liszt (Quadflieg) and Ludwig I, King of Bavaria (Anton Walbrook) who leads the film along with Peter Ustinov. In the end, Lola exists only for her male audience who can touch, or even kiss her, for a Dollar extra fee.

Ophüls films are characterised by their roving camerawork uniting one moving shot to another. His grandiose aesthetic echoes in the decor – like that rather strange Goethe arch in Liszt’s room. “Details make art”, Ophüls opines. There are some rather gruesome ‘details’, a sequence showing a soldier with the maimed leg in Ludwig’s famous castle, where his servants run hither and thither on some gratuitous errand for their King.

In contrast to the ambitious settings, the script is just another version of the ‘tart with the golden heart’. Whilst Dumas’ Marguerite Gautier attempts to show humanity in a femme fatale, Lola: is all about the heroine’s exploitation. That said, the cyclical structure of many of Ophüls films: La Ronde, Le Plaisir and The Earrings of Madame de… is also visible in Lola: instead of a fade-out, the camera moves further and further away from her, the customers lining up, rather like the Chorus Girls at the beginning – DoP Christian Matras (La Grand Illusion) leading the film audience in a merry cycle, symbolised by the circus ring. Ophüls was very much aware that the audience was paying to watch his caged diva, because, as usual, the producers wanted to get their money’s worth. But Ophuls was only interested in talent and creativity. AS

NOWON BLURAY FROM 11 May 2020

 

                          

     

           

   

Revenge (2018) **** Blu-ray release

Wri/Dir: Coralie Fargeat | France, Thriller 106′

Dirty weekends don’t come any dirtier than the one in this ferocious indie revenge thriller that has ravishing locations, a twisty storyline, and a female lead who is not just a pretty face.

Revenge is the impressive debut from French filmmaker Coralie Fargeat. This is a movie that will resonate with women everywhere with its feminist humour, from the dreaded chipped nail polish to the unwelcome male attention, especially the unwanted male attention. Bathed in garish technicolor and pulsed forward by a pounding electronic soundscape, Revenge snakes its way through the Moroccan desert where its heroine, the cheeky bummed hottie Jen, fetches up with her smugly married lover Richard (Kevin Janssens) for a sexy sun-drenched ménage à deux. But this French woman (Mathilde Lutz) is not just gorgeous, she is also extremely cute. And although she can play the seductive siren at will, she can also be as tough as old boots. And when two of Richard’s friends suddenly appear on the scene, their company is distinctly ‘de trop’.

Revenge is a playful film that teeters on the brink of fantasy: combining surreal Grande Guignol with down to earth horror in a gore fest so stylishly achieved it actually becomes vital to the plot line in the incendiary finale laced with spurts of subversive humour, along the lines of I Spit on Your Grave. Jen is seen rocking raunchy tops and a seductive smile that makes up for her monosyllabic part, she is just there to perform on the shag carpet which is perfect for soaking up the bloodshed that will follow.

Meanwhile the misogynist love rat Richard makes disingenuous phone calls to his wife back in France, discussing the canapés for a forthcoming event, and pretending he’s there just to enjoy some downtime with pals Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchede), who are later seen leering at Jen through the enormous windows of the glamorous modern villa.

Fargeat makes brilliant use of the local flora and fauna echoing the over the top, tongue in cheek decadence of it all: insects crawl over a rotten apple core, as Dimitri urinates over a scorpion emerging from the sands. But it all turns nasty when Stan takes a shine to Jen and ignores her clear rejection of him. Just because Jen presents herself as a purring sex kitten it doesn’t follow that these men can stroke her at their own volition. What comes next will set this cat amongst the pigeons in a prolonged showcase showdown that sweats out between the foursome in the dazzling desert heat. A woman behind the camera allows a licence for extremes, and Fargeat pushes her story to the limits in a thriller with appeal for every sexual persuasion. And the moral of the tale: if you have a secret lover, keep them strictly to yourself. MT

LIMITED ADDITION BLU-RAY FROM 11 MAY 2020

https://youtu.be/YTJrztVvmx0

A Fistful of Dynamite (1971) Bluray release

Dir: Sergio Leone | Cast: Rod Steiger, James Coburn | US Western 157′

Sergio Leone’s final foray into spaghetti western territory was originally called Duck, You Sucker!, a title that certainly rings true with the unexpected comedy talents embodied in the dynamite duo of Rod Steiger (Juan Miranda) and James Coburn (John Mallory) who exude a feisty chemistry as a couple of anti-establishment hellraisers who are both on the run, for different reasons. At the beginning of the Mexican Revolution in 1913, they fall in with a band of revolutionaries and embark on a rip-roaring journey to rob a bank – but their real triumph is as saviours and heroes in the pursuit of the revolutionary cause

With thrilling support from Maria Monti, Romolo Valli, Rik Battaglia and Franco Graziosi and an atmospheric score by iconic composer Ennio Morricone, Fistful of Dynamite never quite reaches the heady heights of Leone’s  Dollars Trilogy but Steiger and Coburn more than make up for it with their sheer bravura.

ON RELEASE COURTESY OF EUREKA 

 

 

A Paris Education | Mes Provinciales (2018) **** DVD

Dir.: Jean-Paul Civeyrac; Cast: Andranic Manet, Diane Rouxel, Jenna Thiam, Gonzague van Bervesseles, Corentin Fila, Valentine Catzeflis, Sophie Verbeck, Christine Brucher, Gregori Manoukov; France 2018, 137 min.

Jean-Paul Civeyrac’s passionate cocktail of Sex, cinema and politics is a seductive distillation of what it means to be French. Based on the novel Lettres Provinciales by Blaise Pascal, it follows the adventures of Etienne who arrived from Lyons to study filmmaking in Paris, Saint-Denis, leaving his family and friend Lucie (Rouxel) behind. Shot in ravishing black-and-white by Pierre-Hubert Martin, A Paris Education feels very much like La Maman et la Putain by Eustache, transported into contemporary times.

Etienne (Manet) is a shy, immature young man – and extremely naïve – he’s looking for a mother/father figure. Shacking up with a new flat mate Valentina (Thiam), he soon falls under the spell of the enigmatic Mathias (Fila), a fellow student and troubled provocateur who would rather criticise than actually put himself out there and make a film. Then there is Jean-Noel (Bervesseles), who is just the opposite: caring and balanced – Etienne’s two new friends could not be more different. Yet he seems to be more passionate about Mathias than anybody else – even though he hardly knows him. Meanwhile Valentina moves to Berlin and is replaced by fierce eco-warrior Annabelle (Verbeck). Etienne tries to get close to this vulnerable woman but she falls for Mathias, until his violent outbursts jeopardise their love, Mathias turning his aggression on himself; Etienne has lost both his friends – and he is literally picked up by Barbara (Catzeflis), who was only briefly introduced to him by Annabelle in the flat.

Etienne appears vulnerable but he is primarily a non-committal, both in love and work. He sails through the film like a ship without a flag: his only constant concern is to make films, people come second in every way – with the exception of Mathias. Even his relationship with his parents (Brucher/Manoukov) is far from straightforward. When they visit him in Paris he seems embarrassed and aloof. The endless discussions with his friends and co-students seem to be a way to avoid growing up, and also full-time work. In a sad epilogue, we see him gradually withdraw from Barbara: how can he commit when he only loves himself.

Music plays a central part in this affecting drama; editor Louise Narboni has worked in opera, and Bach and Mahler dominate (particularly his 5th symphony that scored Death in Venice), and underline how marginalised Etienne has become since leaving provincial life made him a big fish in small bowl.  In Paris his lack of real identity and commitment turn him into Musil’s titular hero in A Man without Attributes. A Paris Education is a tour-de-force of art and psychology, and for once, the running time of over two hours is appropriate. AS

NOW ON DVD FROM 11 MAY 2020  

The Overlanders (1946) **** Blu-ray release

The reason for the docudrama approach stems from the original idea of making a propaganda film for the Australian government who knocked on Watts’ door looking for a well known director and a reputable studios – Ealing naturally fitted the bill, although the film was released after the war was over.

The Man with X-Ray Eyes (1963) **** Blu-ray release

Dir/Wri: Roger Corman | Cast: Ray Milland, Diana Van der Vils, Harold J Stone, John Hoyt | Sci-fi Thriller UK, 79′

Drawing comparisons with Jack Arnold’s Incredible Shrinking Man this gripping foray into Sci-fi showed Roger Corman capable of inventive storytelling as well as horror in this enterprising low budget thriller with a razor sharp wit that stars Ray Milland in the leading role. It even has a forward- thinking female role in the shape of Diana Van der Vils who plays a vampish pearl-rocking blond Dr Diane Fairfax, who also provides the romantic twist.

Space exploration had captured the collective imagination of the cinema-going public for all things scientifically ground-breaking in the early 1960s and The Man with X-Ray Eyes buys into this vibe. There’s also ‘something of the night’ about Ray Milland, despite his sparkling blue eyes, and these take on a superhuman power for his character Dr James Xavier who has invented a serum for championing human vision.

Set in Las Vegas, Nevada – we get to see blue skies and palm trees – but the action mainly takes place in the confines of labs and domestic interiors (aka the studio). At first his vision leads to cheeky revelations about women’s underwear and even their spines! Twisting with a blond who picks him up at a party he comments on her (hidden) birthmark and underwear: “Remember I’m a man”: he jokes lasciviously, and she quips back:”Remember I’m a woman” taking him off guard, realising he has been successfully pulled, and gets his coat.

But things get serious when he discovers that his serum has a cumulative affect, giving him the ability to see inside a patient’s body to their veins and organs during an operation, and his colleague threatens him with malpractice. But Xavier is not afraid: “Soon I’ll be able to see what no man has ever seen”. And this knowledge is power. So much power that he accidentally throws his colleague out of the window during the ensuing contretemps.

Forced to go on the run, Corman gets the chance to cast the brilliant Don Rickles as Dr Xavier’s stooge/compare when he embarks on a foray as a fortune teller in a bizarre turn of events. And soon he’s seeing to much for his own liking, donning an enormous pair of dark glasses that give him a striking resemblance to Ricky Gervais.

Overnight he becomes a miracle worker, treating the sick but also seeing the downside of his gift, which works both ways, showing him the sinister, seamy side of humanity warts and explores the ethics of power: In the process he loses his empathy for the common man.

Corman avoids sensationalism creating some rather clever visual affects that are in keeping with the integrity of the performances and thematic strength of a story that explores the moral side of Xavier’s powers, and the nature of what it is to be human. Corman was forced into a studio-dictated ending which is nevertheless reasonably satisfying, Ray Milland carrying the film from start to finish. And whatever the question was at the beginning, love was always going to be the answer. MT

NOW ON BLURAY from 4th May 2020 COURTESY OF SECOND SIGHT FILMS

 

Mr Klein (1976) Blu-ray

Dir: Joseph Losey | Cast: Alain Delon, Jeanne Moreau, Francine Berge, Juliet Berto, Michael Lonsdale | Thriller, 123′


What a fabulous and resonant contribution American director Joseph Losey made to the world of European cinema: each film a work of art that seems to live on. reinventing itself with each new generation. Mr Klein is a case in point and seems more relevant now that it did on its original release in 1976 in telling a story from Nazi-occupied Paris of the early 1940s.

Elegant, unsettling and strangely brooding this noirish thriller reflects another world of caution and insecurity reflecting the current state of crisis. Opulently set in and around the quartier of a Parisian apartment belonging to an art dealer – a superb Alain Delon who plays the central role with a suave and amiable dignity alongside his pouting heroines Jeanne Moreau and Juliet Berto exquisitely attired by French costume designers Collette Baudot and Annalisa Nasalli-Rocca. Gerry Fisher’s subtle camerawork and chiaroscuro lighting enhances Alexandre Trauner’s magnificent production designs creating an atmospheric sense of place in the beautiful bourgeois Parisians settings. So much so that you almost forgot the storyline that is stealthily working its way to a compelling conclusion, in the background. Not to mention the salient subject of Jewish persecution and anti-semitism which is at the film’s core. And crucially, it is the police that are carrying out the rounding up of Jews (some 13,000), not the German soldiers.

Elliptical in nature, in the same way as The Servant and Accident, Franco Solinas (Battle of Algiers) wrote the script along with Fernando Morandi and Costa-Gavras, but Losey drew on his experience with Hollywood Blacklisting to create the atmosphere of creeping uncertainty and mistrust that steals through the feature.

Delon’s Robert Klein is running a tight business buying up art works from Jewish Parisians desperate to leave the country. But gradually his facade drops when a Jewish newspaper bearing his name is delivered to his private address, forcing him to check the provenance of the paper, and prove his identity and his raison d’être. And as he digs deeper, the more the mud seems to stick to his hand-tailored tweed suits, eventually landing him in deep shit when things spin out of control, as they eventually do, in the best possible taste. A fascinating film about suspicion, illusion, collective recrimination and the strange way people behave when the ground starts to shift. MT

Joseph Losey’s MR. KLEIN | Fully restored on Blu-Ray, DVD & Digital on September 13

 

 

 

 

 

The Green Man (1956) *** Blu-ray release

Dir.: Robert Day; Cast: Alastair Sim, George Cole, Jill Adams, Terry-Thomas, Raymond Huntley; UK 1956, 80 min.

Robert Day, who died age 94 in 2017, had an interesting and varied career after directing his first feature, under the guidance of Basil Dearden and based on the play Meet a Body by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat,The slight but entertaining farce takes its title from a hotel on the South Coast where Alastair Sim is Harry Hawkins, a watchmaker with a sideline as a professional hitman.
He is tasked with killing politician Sir Gregory Upshott (Huntley) but in the process  comes across skirt chaser Charles Boughtflower (Terry-Thomas), whose latest crush Ann Vincent (Adams) teams up with vacuum cleaner salesman William Blake (Cole) to save Hawkins’ victim – without even knowing what he looks like. After repeatedly getting in the way of Hawkins’ plan, they manage to derail his efforts and the whole crew end up in a dilapidated seaside hotel (The Green Man), where the tension and laughs steadily rise to a brilliant climax.Cole is hilarious as the gadget obsessed Blake, who cannot understand, that hardly anybody shares his love for the newest inventions. Terry-Thomas is his usual blustering self, and Huntley’s pompous Sir Gregory does not deserve to get away. DoP Gerald Gibbs tries hard to overcome the theatrical setting, whilst Day directs with great panache.
Day would later direct Boris Karloff in The Haunted Strangler and Corridors of Blood, Peter Sellers in Two Way Stretch, Ursula Andress in She and George Sanders in Operation Snatch. He also was in charge of four Tarzan features in the 1960s, but would later turn to TV work, directing episodes of Dallas, Kojak, The Avengers, The Streets of San Francisco, McCloud and classics like Police Story and The Adventures of Robin Hood. Work didn’t dry up and in the 1980s he signed off with the TV disaster movie Fire: trapped on the 37th Floor in 1991.
For the 2020 restoration of THE GREEN MAN, STUDIOCANAL went back to the original camera negative where possible and alternative sources where severe damage that could not be repaired was encountered. These elements were scanned at 4K resolution in 10bit and then restored in 4k.
ON RELEASE FROM 18 May  | BLU-RAY, DIGITAL DVD

The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse | Die tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse (1960) ***

Dir.: Fritz Lang; Cast: Peter van Eyck, Dawn Addams, Gert Fröbe, Werner Peters, Wolfgang Preiss, Lupo Prezzo, Reinhard Kolldehoff; Germany/Italy/France 1960, 103 min.

Fritz Lang (1890-1976) goes back to the beginning with his final output: The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse: there is the re-emigrant Lang, making his last of three films in West Germany, finishing his career with completing the Mabuse trilogy that started with Mabuse the Gambler (1922) and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1932). Joining fellow Hollywood re-emigrant Peter Van Eyck, Lang concentrated on the Nazi spirit of evil, still virulent in West Germany, and his favourite topic: machines versus humans. Based on the novel by Polish author Jan Fethke and using the Mabuse character created by Norbert Jacques, The Thousand Eyes is a melancholic good-bye from one of 20th century’s greatest directors, who had forged his career in the early days of silent film.

Having promised his radio station an impressive scoop, a reporter is murdered in his car. Meanwhile in the Hotel Luxor, where the Nazis used spy on the clientele with hidden microphones, wealthy American Henry Travers (Van Eyck) saves the live of fellow guest Marion Menil (Addams) not once but twice: he saves her from committing suicide, then kills her club-footed husband Roberto (Kolldehoff) with a single shot. A voyeur is in control of the hotel, watching every room via TV: the new Mabuse is after Travers’ nuclear plans to dominate the world. But detective Kras (Fröbe) is puzzled by the identity of the evil genius: is it the ubiquitous salesman Hironymos B. Mistelzweig (Peters); the blind clairvoyant Cornelius (Prezzo), or the enigmatic Professor Jordan (Preiss)?

The Thousand Eyes is a feature of double mirrors: every scene is connected to the previous one. Each take is followed by something “directed” by the evil genius. As in Metropolis, the story is one of triumph and destruction of a machine come alive. This Mabuse is the very much in the spirit of the 1932 feature: Hitler using technology first to conquer Germany, then the world. But this Mabuse is more creative than ever: he makes friends, divulging his secrets to them, only to destroy them when they are no longer of use. He is subversive, hoping to change the power structure from within.

Sadly DoP Karl Löb’s black-and-white images lack elegance and fluidity, short-changing the feature along with the German cast who are anything but enigmatic or unfathomable: they were the same actors who played clichéd characters in the UFA re-makes of the era – at a time when the Nouvelle Vague in neighbouring France was re-inventing cinema. So we often get second-hand emotions, and bemusement instead of real angst. That Lang’s last feature is still by far the most interesting of the era in West Germany’s post WWII film history speaks for itself – the era was  dominated by caricature thrillers based on the work of British author Edgar Wallace, who met deadlines by dictated his books from London phone boxes. No fewer than six Mabuse ‘thrillers’ were produced in the next decade in Germany, Lang was eventually forced to retire after his eye-sight worsened. AS    

ON BLU-RAY FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE UK ON 11 MAY 2020

               

The Debussy Film (1965) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Ken Russell | UK Doc-drama 82′

The longest of his outings for the BBC Monitor series, this is an ambitious and gently flamboyant biopic that certainly reflects the hazy impressionism and subversive imagination of its subject, the French composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918) who was around at the same time as Claude Monet, both trying to reject the creative formalism of what had gone before.

The Debussy Film oscillates between several strands in evoking the emotionally complex life of Debussy. Essentially a film within a film, there is a dramatisation of his relationships with his friends, lovers and collaborators played by an eclectic cast of Vladek Sheybal (as ‘the director’ and Debussy’s own Svengali who is juggling his own demons while trying to capture those of the composer).

Sheybal had risen to fame for his role in Dr No. and adds an exotic touch to proceedings, along with Vernon Dobtcheff. Oliver Reed, only 27 at the time, makes for a smoulderingly seductive Debussy, his roving eye constantly alighting on a succession of nubile females notable of whom is the small but perfectly formed Annette Robertson (an ex wife of John Hurt) and Penny Service.

Russell co-scripts with Melvyn Bragg and the often frothy mise en scene is shot in schmoozey black and white by Ken Westbury with a very 1960s feel to the fashions – Courrèges often springs to mind in the costume department, although this was clearly the mid 19th century. And despite Huw Weldon’s beady eye on proceedings, Russell manages to get away with some outré ideas while largely sticking to the facts embellished,  of course, by his vivid imagination. MT

NOW ON BLU-RAY

 

Tchaikovsky and the Music Lovers (1970) **** Blu-ray

Dir.: Ken Russell; Cast: Richard Chamberlain, Glenda Jackson, Max Adrian, Christopher Gable, Kenneth Colley, Izabella Telezynska, Sabina Maydelle; UK 1970, 122 min.

Blending the crass with the ethereal as was his wont Ken Russell billed his portrait of Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) as “a romance about a homosexual married to a nymphomaniac”. Riding high on his success with Women in Love, United Artists allowed a lavish budget for The Music Lovers, and it was completed in the same year as Russell’s Richard Strauss biopic Dance of the seven Veils for the BBC.

As a director of sober BBC biopics and large screen escapism, Russell was having a field day. Dance of the Seven Veils was only aired once until recently, after the Strauss family forbade any music by Richard Strauss to be played in the feature because they misinterpreted the composer being shown as a staunch Nazi, which the archive material shows quite clearly. The Music Lovers, on the other hand, is aesthetically much closer Russell’s Mahler portrait of 1974. Based on the letters between Tchaikovsky (Chamberlain) and his benefactor Madame Nadezhda von Meck (Telezynska), edited by Catherine Drinker Bowen and Barbara von Meck, Melvyn Bragg’s script has operatic proportions but uses dialogue very sparsely, leaving the music to stand for itself.

In a romantic setting, we meet the composer first with his lover Count Chiluvsky (Gable). But homosexuality was illegal in Czarist Russia, and at the conservatoire, fellow composers including Rubinstein (Adrian) had started gossiping. Tchaikovsky takes an aggressive, and as it turned out, not too wise approach to the dilemma: he marries the over-sexed and rather fragile Antonina Miliukova (Jackson). The marriage ends in disaster with Antonina becoming more and more unhinged, finally ending up in a psychiatric ward. Tchaikovsky dearly loves his family, brother Modest (Colley) and favourite sister Sasha (Maydelle), he also has a horrible memory of his beloved mother’s death, which will, in the end, mirror his own. He transfers all his attentions to Madame von Meck, who lives in Switzerland. On her estate, the composer rests for long periods of time, whilst von Meck travels in Europe. In reality the two never met, but in the feature von Meck watches the sleeping composer. The episodic character of the narrative, combining Tchaikovsky’s music and psychological estate, as it does in the 1812 Overture, is less jarring than in later features such as Lisztomania.

With much help from the great Douglas Slocombe (Rollerball, Hedda) and his sweepingly romantic images, The Music Lovers just stays on the right side of the line between opulent drama and over-the-top showmanship. Chamberlain and Jackson are outstanding in their turbulent train crash of a the newly married couple paired with Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, and this is the highlight of Russell’s stylistic achievement. AS

NOW ON BLU-RAY

 

Blind Chance (1987) | Now on Blu-ray

PRZYPADEK (BLIND CHANCE) 1987 | was Krzysztof Kieslowski’s most direct attack on the authorities, produced in 1981, it was shown only “underground” for six years. A sort of Sliding Doors narrative, it is one of the few films that manages to be deeply affecting right from its opening sequence. It tells the story of Witek Dlugosz (Boguslaw Linda), born in 1956 in Posen. His father had participated in the uprising and moved to Lodz, where Witek went to school and started to study medicine. After his father died with the words “you don’t have to do what you don’t want to”, Witek decides to take a gap year, and takes the train to Warsaw. The three endings hinge on whether or not he catches his train. Version one sees him leaving the station, and arriving in Warsaw, where he starts a career as a party functionary. In the second variation, he misses the train, than fights with a railway policeman, and becomes a fervent opponent of the system. In the last version, he again misses the train, but meets a friend from university. The couple get married, and Witek lives a life faraway from strife and politics.

When, at the end, Witek has to fly to Libya for work reasons, he changes his mind at the last minute in a decision that has disastrous consequences. Kieslowski said in an interview that the last scene was proof “that the plane is waiting for all three ‘Witold’s’. All their lives end in the plane. The plane is waiting for him all the time. But, really, the plane is waiting for all of us”. Ironically, when BLIND CHANCE was invited to the Cannes Film Festival in 1987, to be shown “out of competition”, Kieslowski enquired, why the film was not to be shown ‘in competition’. Gilles Jacob, artistic director of the festival, answered in a letter that he feared the film would not be understood by the audience. So Kieslowski cut some political scenes from the film and sent the new copy back with the label “For the French censors” – which failed to change Jacob’s mind. Last year the digitally remastered BLIND CHANCE was shown in the Classics Strand at Salle Debussy during the 67th Cannes Film Festival, proudly introduced by Kieslowski’s daughter.

NOW ON BLURAY VIA ARROW FILMS | EARLY WORKS BY KIESLOWSKI

 

Becky Sharp (1935) Blu-ray release

Dir Rouben Mamoulian | Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Frances Dee, Cedric Hardwicke, Billie Burke | US Drama 84’

The first feature film shot entirely in the newly perfected Technicolor process, Becky Sharp – which had cost an estimated $950,000 – was dismissed at the time by Otis Ferguson as “As pleasing to the eye as a fresh fruit sundae, but not much more”. Unlike The Jazz Singer – which had blazed an equivalent technological trail eight years earlier – Becky Sharp was not a box office hit, and colour was to take another thirty years to become the cinema’s default setting the way sound did; more associated with historical rather than contemporary subjects.

Becky Sharp was in fact the third film version to be made of Thackeray’s sprawling 1847-48 novel (which had originally appeared in serial form) set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. This version was based upon the hit 1899 Broadway dramatisation by Langdon Mitchell, and as meticulously designed by acclaimed theatre designer Robert Edmond Jones. The rigours of early Technicolor filmmaking resulted in an extremely stagy and studio-bound experience which whizzes in just 84 minutes through an originally very long and convoluted narrative under the punishingly hot lights that made early Technicolor films such a trial to act in. (Mira Nair’s 2004 remake with Reece Witherspoon, by comparison, clocks in at 141 minutes!)

The men at whom Miss Sharp sets her cap are all inclined to be pompous middle-aged caricatures (with the honourable exception of Alan Mowbray as Rawdon Crawley), since she is after financial security rather than romance. Opinion continues to remain divided over Miriam Hopkins in the title role, whose stature as an actress has dimmed considerably since she received an Oscar nomination for this film; but she does bring sparkling blue eyes to the part, seldom apparent in her other movies. Although the most eye-catching moments involve red British army uniforms, much of the rest of the film actually employs blue (a hue hitherto absent from the Technicolor palette) to attractive effect. The credits, for example, are in blue, and the first shot of the film itself is of a blue stage curtain being pushed aside.

For over forty years the film languished in the public domain in a cheap 67 minute 16mm Cinecolor travesty until finally restored in 1984. It subsequently received only one British TV screening ten years later; but now be enjoyed on BluRay as the “triumph for colour” Graham Greene declared it on its first appearance. Richard Chatten

BECKY SHARP (1935) NOW AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY

Kwaidan (1964) **** Blu-ray release

Dir.: Massaki Kobayashi; Cast: Michiyo Aratama, Misako Watanabe, Renaro Mikuni, Tatsuya Nakadai, Keiko Kishi, Katsuo Nakamura, Tetsuo Tanba, Takashi Shimura, Hanuko Sugimura, Osamu Takizawa, Ganjiro Nakamura, Noburo Nakaya; Japan 1964, 183 min.

Japanese director Massaki Kobayashi (1916-1996), best known for his Human Condition trilogy, adapted writer Yoko Mizuki’s script based on four short stories by Lafkadio Hearn, into a sumptuous, eerie and beguiling horror feature, with the images of DoP Yoshio Miyajima of carrying the sometimes rather slim narrative. To use the term horror is perhaps a little misleading since the storyline often focuses on supernatural forces invading the human sphere and re-creating a balance, which was disturbed by the protagonists. The quartet are more or less fairy-stories, all told with a didactic undertone. 

In The Black Hair (Kurokami), a poor Samurai (Mikuni) leaves his loving wife (Aratama) because he can not stand the poverty any more. He marries the daughter of a wealthy family (Watanabe), but soon tires of her, telling the lday-in-waiting he had only married for her inheritance, sending her back to the family in shame. After years of wandering around, the Samurai returns to his first wife’s house, finding it in disrepair. She surprisingly takes him back and, before falling asleep, the re-united couple make plans for a happy future. When the warrior wakes up next morning he discovers, he has slept next to her rotting corpse and tries to run away in horror, but the titular hair of his wife keeps him back.

The Snow Maiden  (Yukionna) is the tale of two woodcutters who seek refuge from the cold in a fisherman’s hut. One of them, Mosaku is killed by a Yuki-Onna (Keiko Kishi), a ghost-like creature. When it is Minokishi’s (Tatsuya Nakadai) turn, the spirit spares him because he is so handsome. But she tells him never to share her secret. Minokoshi returns home, and obeys her. One day she meets a beautiful woman, called Yuki, another incarnation of the Yuki-Onna. When she stitches a kimono at night, he sees the resemblance and tells her. Yuki forgives him for breaking his word because of their two children, but leaves him behind, heartbroken.

In Hoichi the Earless (Miminashi Hoichi no Hanashi), a blind musician/monk, Hoichi (Nakamura) is an accomplished biwa player. He is singing about the battle between two clans at the height of the Genpei War. One night a Samurai (Taba) visits him in the garden, asking him to play for his master, the Warlord. The High Priest of the monastery (Shimura) finds out about Hoichi’s nightly adventures, and tells him he is in great danger. The monks paint the text of the war ballad all over Hoichi’s body, but forget the ears. This has dire consequences for Hoichi, but there is still a happy-end waiting for him.

The last episode, In a Cup of Tea  (Chawan no naka) is rather tame in comparison with the previous trio. A writer (Takizawa), who is also the narrator, hears the story about the attendant Sekinai, who sees the face of un unknown man in a cup of water. Even though he refills the cup many times, the face will not go away. Later on, the person’s face comes alive, calling himself Shikibu (Nakaya). He brings two friends with him, the trio trying to kill Sekinai. The writer leaves the end of the story open, leaving the solution to the imagination of the readers.

Kwaidan went on to win the Special Jury Price at the Cannes Festival in 1964. Today it is mainly considered a masterpiece due to Miyajima’s masterly photography. The whole set was located in a huge aircraft hangar, with the hand-painted sets reflecting the changing seasons and settings. Kwaidan needs to be watched, not seen or interpreted. It has all the qualities of a Grimm fairy-tales, coupled with a specific Japanese form of angst and fatalism. AS

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA | 27 APRIL 2020

Viaggio in Italia (1954) | Journey to Italy | Bfi Player

Dir: Robert Rossellini | Wri: Roberto Rossellini, Vitaliano Brancati | Cast: Ingrid Bergman, George Sanders, Maria Mauban | Drama, Italy/France, 86

In this groundbreaking film it is almost impossible to take your eyes off Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders as they enact the fading love story of a well-healed fifties middle class couple both undergoing painful heartache of their own, behind the scenes. Roberto Rossellini’s drama is the culminating masterpiece of Italian neo-realism and arguably one of the greatest neo-realist love stories of the era.

Inspiring and ushering in the New Wave, Viaggio channels the ideals of the neo-realist movement in the use of non-professional actors and rural everyday life, in the this case in Naples and Pompeii and although it performed badly at the Box Office, it went down very well with French critics, based loosely, as it was, on Colette’s novel Duo and Francois Truffaut, called it the first ‘modern film’.

The film’s plot is simple: an unhappily married couple drive down to Italy to organise the sale of an inherited villa in one of the most scenic locations in the South, the bay of Naples. They bicker and neither is at peace. Katherine is young and vivacious but disappointed with her hostile husband, Alex, who – she claims – cares only for money and work and dislikes the area: “I’ve never seen noise and boredom go so well together.” As the trip grows more complex with delays in the property sale so Alex takes it out on his wife, who harks back to a previous lover and starts to sense that divorce is inevitable. The two flirt openly with outsiders on every social occasion and spend increasing time away from each other during in activities and venues that seem to enhance their feelings of desperation and sadness. Katherine visits a morbid catacomb, Alex becomes close to a girl he meets through friends. The final moments are unforgettable, unexpected and transcendent in the history of Italian cinema and mark Viaggio in Italia out as a significant film that has stays in the memory long after the titles fade.

The production was not without it difficulties. Ingrid Bergman’s marriage to Rosellini was under severe pressure. George Sanders was at the end of his union with Zsa Zsa Gabor and was fraught from his attempts to contact her long-distance.  He was not only annoyed that he was expected to improvise, but also that the director himself appeared to be making it up as he went along.

According to Tag Gallagher (The Adventures of Robert Rossellini, New York Da Capo Press, 1998) Sanders was waiting in his hotel reception as instructed at 2pm: “I was led like a man in Sing Sing’s Death House to the waiting car which whisked me away to some Neapolitan back street where Rossellini had set up the camera to shoot the momentous scene for which we had all been waiting so patiently.  He had his scarlet racing Ferrari with him (a new one!) and he kept eyeing it and stroking it while the cameraman was fiddling with the lights, getting the scene ready. Finally when all was ready, Rossellini changed his mind about shooting the scene and dismissed the thunderstruck company. While we watched him in stupefied silence, he put on his crash helmet, climbed into the Ferrari, gunned his motor and disappeared with a rorar and screeching tyres round the bend of the street and out of our lives for two whole days…). Meanwhile Ingrid Bergman was equally distraught. She couldn’t improvise, she hated to improvise, which Roberto well knew.  Yet whenever she’d ask what she was supposed to say, he’d snap: “Say what’s on your mind”.

After a long and tortuous process, the film was finally released in July 1954. Despite all the set-backs and unpleasantness and Rossellini’s wasteful and unorthodox methods the film emerged as one of the most enduring examples of ingenious innovation and timeless inspiration.  Rossellini managed finally to get convincing performances from two people authentically portraying the end of love. MT

Recently restored l’Imagine Ritrovata VIAGGIO IN ITALIA | BFI Player 

Éric Rohmer – Comedies and Proverbs | Blu-ray

The Comedies and Proverbs series brings together six of Éric Rohmer’s best; the first entry in the series, The Aviator’s Wife, sees François become obsessed with the idea that his girlfriend is being unfaithful. A Good Marriage follows Sabine in her pursuit of matrimony with Edmond, who it seems is the only person that doesn’t know the two are set to marry. In Pauline at the Beach the titular Pauline and her cousin Marion discover lovers new and old during a summer vacation. Full Moon in Paris centres on Louise who although in a relationship with Remi seeks the freedom of single life. The Green Ray sees Delphine let down by her holiday companion, travelling alone she witnesses a remarkable natural phenomenon. The sixth and final tale in the series, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend tells the story of new-to-town Blanche and her colleague Léa whose relationships become entangled.

ON BLU-RAY from the 20 APRIL 2020 | Available on Amazon

Fedora (1978) *** Mubi

Dir.: Billy Wilder | Cast: William Holden, Marthe Keller, Hildegard Knef, Frances Sternhagen, Mel Ferrer | France/W Germany | 116min.

Since his last film Buddy, was just a remake of a French comedy, FEDORA can be easily counted as Wilder’s swansong. Some view it as a masterpiece, others, a misguided attempt to recreate his classic Hollywood movies that made his famous.

Down-on-his luck producer Barry Detweiler (Holden) learns about the death in a train accident of the famous actress Fedora (Keller), who seems to have never grown old. Detweiler suspects foul play: when he visited her two weeks before the suspected ‘suicide’, the actress seems to have been kept like a prisoner at her home by the shady countess Sobryanski (Knef), the servant Miss Balfour (Sternhagen) and her doctor (Ferrer) who was responsible for her seemingly eternal youth. It then emerges that Fedora had a daughter, and Detweiler is determined to delve deeper.

Holden narrates Fedora in the same style as Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, but that’s where the comparisons end. After the commercial failure of Front Page, Wilder had difficulty finding a Hollywood producer for the project, even though his crew was really stellar: DoP Gerry Fisher (Wise Blood), veteran PD Alexandre Trauner (Irma La Douce), composer Miklos Rozsa (Quo Vadis), editor Fredric Steinkamp (Out of Africa) and Wilder’s long time co-writer I.A.L. Diamond. But none of them could compensate for a script which oscillated between nostalgia and self-parody. Fedora has a certain charm and old-world emotional intensity, and is certainly worth a watch as a Wilder curio. AS

NOW ON MUBI from 3 May 2020 | On Dual Format EUREKA 

Krzysztof Kieslowski – Early works on Blu-ray

Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski (1941-1996) brings a raw emotional simplicity to his films that disarm even the hardest heart. Nothing is overstated or irrelevant in his sober depictions of human life during the last thirty years of Polish communism.  Starting his career as a documentarian, by the mid 1970s a novel by Romuald Karas was to inspire his first feature The Scar (1976).

THE SCAR (BLIZNA, 1976)

Dir.: Krzysztof Kieslowski; Cast: Frantisek Pieczka, Marius Dmochowski, Jerzy Stuhr, Halina Winiarski; Poland 1976, 106 min.

In the small Polish city of Olechov, the local party committee decides to build a huge chemical complex. The project is forced through despite the local fear of environmental fallout. Stephan Bednarz (Pieczaka) heads up the project. A very straightforward and honest Party man, he and his wife (Winiarski) used to live in the area and had some unpleasant experiences there, although the exact nature of these is not alluded too. Bednarz is responsible to the Party boss (Dmochowski), who has his hands full with infighting in his many sub-committees. Stephan’s wife (Winiarski) has been very sceptical from the beginning, along with his assistant (Stuhr). Everyone wants a piece of the action, and Stephan is buried under an avalanche of complaints. Kieslowski and DoP Slawomir Idziak handle the crowd scenes very well, as the focus narrows on Stuhr’s assistant. Fans will appreciate this dour slice of social realism made starker by Kieslowski’s documentary style which lacks humour or even irony. A bleak start for the director’s dramatic career.

CAMERA BUFF (AMATOR, 1979/80)

Dir.: Krzysztof Kieslowski; Cast: Jerzy Stuhr, Malgorzata Zablonska, Ewa Pacas; Poland 1979/80, 112 min.

Camera Buff is a much more human affair. Kieslowski, co-writes in a drama that concentrates on the individuals, the society issues melting into the background. Remarkably, Kieslowski had five DoPs sharing camera duties. The story revolves around Filip Mosz (Stuhr) who has bought himself a an eight millimetre camera to film the birth of his daughter. He takes his new hobby seriously: When his daughter falls off her chair, he continues to shoot oblivious. “Would you have gone on filming, had she fallen off the balcony?” asks his wife Irka (Zablosnka). As his talent develops, his boss asks Filip to be the official chronicler of Party activities. With responsibility comes privilege, and the “man with the camera” turns into more than just an observer: When he shoots the workers mending the pavement, he does so from his balcony – symbolising his new empowerment. Family life takes a back seat and he belittles his wife when she walks out on him: “I saw you walking away. You looked so small. I will always see you like this”. Filip is proud to be a chronicler, but, as one of his friends puts it “filmmakers are service providers”. His new sense of entitlement blinds him to his obligations to society. Total autonomy and independence are illusions, as Julie will find out in Three Colours Blue.

NO END (BEZ KONCA, 1985 

Dir.: Krzysztof Kieslowski; Cast: Grazyna Szapolska, Maria Pakulniss, Alexander Bardini, Danny Webb; Poland, 107 min.

Even though playful at times, No End is a serious story, the narrative’s absurdist elements never overshadow the sober nature of the human struggle at the film’s core. The main character Ursula Zyro (Szpolska) has lost her lawyer husband Antek (Radziwilowicz) to a heart attack. And Antek faces the camera in the opening scene describing the moments surrounding his death on the way to take their son Jack to school. He was set to defend a man accused of organising activities for the repressed Solidarity movement during a time of draconian martial law in Poland. Ulla, an English translator, currently working on ‘the’ Orwell project, feels guilty, because their marriage had been going through a bad patch. Ulla reaches out to an American tourist (Webb) and they sleep together even though he doesn’t even speak Polish, but Ulla shares her grief all  the same. Meanwhile, the activist’s case is taken up by an old lawyer called Labrador (Bardini), who had been Antek’s teacher, but is now rather cynical, convincing his new client to agree a plea bargaining sentence. Meanwhile, Antek comes back to haunt proceedings as a ghost, still talking directly to the camera and watching over Ulla and Jacek. At one point he is seen stroking a dark Labrador (sic). It’s amazing that No End got through the Communist censors and made it to cinema screens. Ironically, the only criticism came from the opposition parties and the Catholic Church. No End was Kieslowski’s first time collaboration with scriptwriter Krzyszof Piesewicz, a partnership that was to last until the end of Kieslowski’s career – and further. The two worked together on three scripts before the director’s death. These were filmed by Tom Tykwer, Stanislaw Mucha and Danis Tanovic, in the first years after the new millennium. AS

BLIND CHANCE, 1987

ON LIMITED EDITION BLURAY | CINEMA OF CONFLICT: FOUR FILMS BY KRZYSZTOF KIESLOWSKI | 20 APRIL 2020

Battleship Potemkin (1925) **** Bfi Blu-ray release

EISENSTEIN ON THE STEPS  Alan Price shares some thoughts on Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 epic that sees the crew of a Russian battleship mutiny against the brutal, tyrannical regime of the vessel’s officers, resulting in a street massacre with police when the ship finally docked in Odessa in 1905.                          

There are three problematic shots of lion statues in Battleship Potemkin (1925) that disturb some critics when they discuss the use of montage in film. And they profoundly offended V.F.Perkins in his landmark book Film as Film. He didn’t proceed to attack Potemkin’s most famous montage moment, the Odessa Steps sequence. No, it was the lions, as symbols of authority, inserted arbitrarily into the general narrative of Potemkin, which he thought to be wilfully self-imposed. Though if you consider Potemkin as a great example of revolutionary propaganda then can you denounce Czarism’s lions the right to be assertively present and thus exposed as another enemy of the people?

Victor Perkins considers the lions to be a “momentary flaw” that “adventurous filmmakers are bound to explore.” Does that mean directors will become over-iconoclastic and throw in any image to make a dubious point? Yet his argument is more with critics “I would wish the limits of my attack on montage to be clear. I claim only that there is no special merit attached to the use of editing devices as such, and nothing more cinematic or creative about these usages than about achievements in the significant use of lighting, dialogue, décor, gesture or any other of the film-maker’s resources.”

The expressiveness of a fully functioning mise en scene requires what’s listed. And the outcome of such cinematic density can be synthesised into the long take – the logical antithesis to rapid cutting. As Andre Bazin said of the films of Stroheim, “One can well imagine in theory, a Stroheim film composed of a single shot which would be as long and as close-up as one liked” I can easily conjure up shots from Stroheim’s often raw and pitiless Greed (1924) that create the illusion of holding your attention longer than their actual screen time. But they are never un-cinematic or boring. 

The mise en scene of Eisenstein’s Potemkin is often a fidgety motion holding back or anticipating the rapid editing of the film’s climaxes. Thousands of words have been written on the construction of the Odessa steps sequence but they cannot really paraphrase its dynamic (though director Roger Corman made a fine attempt now viewable on YouTube.) Film students can theorise about the meaning of the editing but as an ordinary viewer you really have to bodily feel that you and its victims are helplessly falling down and down. Even today we are forced to emphasise with the fate of that baby in the pram, just prior to it bumping down the many steps. It makes you want to reach out a hand and save the innocent. The firing soldiers move, like a stark Italian Futurist machine, over the running and falling bodies forcing you to imagine peoples screams and the cracking of heads and ribs. Those seven and a half minutes of violent repression still exert an artistic and visceral power that shames other cinematic crushes (or more precisely bloodbaths) like the formulaic violence often found in Tarantino and De Palma’s self-conscious Odessa imitation, The Untouchables: but at least managing to constructively inspire the massacres in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch or the violent mayhem of The Godfather 2.

Potemkin is a film in five parts. (1) Men and Maggots – The sailors protest at having to eat rancid meat. The doctor, peering through his pince-nez, examines a carcass and tells the sailors that it’s not worms but only maggots that can be easily washed off with brine (In the BFI Blu Ray restoration they have never looked so sharp and repugnant.) (2) Drama at the Harbour – the sailors’ mutiny and their leader Vakulynchuk is killed along with some officers and a priest (played by Eisenstein, suddenly laughing and yielding his cross after feigning death.) As the mutiny is enacted Eisenstein’s masterly eye for group composition is apparent– though I do have sympathy with those of his Russian contemporaries who accused Eisenstein of being a mere formalist- for this grouping and re-grouping of men can’t escape from sometimes being manipulative and self-conscious – not exactly a slow game of chess more rapid checkers. (3) A Dead Man calls for Justice, the body of Vakulynchuk is mourned over by the inhabitants of Odessa (The composition of the shots we view from inside the covering, over Vakulynchuk, as mourners approach him, has a superb lyric strength.)  (4) The Odessa Staircase – the Tsarist soldiers kill and trample everyone with the cold logic of a programmed Terminator. Heightened realism it might be but a realism that shifts its killing machine into fantasy, even SF. (5) The Rendezvous with a Squadron. We assume the navy is about to attack Potemkin, but end up joining forces with the rebellious sailors (wonderful images of sailing boats and warships here but less wonderful is the relentless pounding rhythm of Eisenstein’s editing accompanied by Edmund Meisel’s apt, if bombastic score, that rapidly becomes hectoring.) 

Parts 1 – 4 climaxing on Odessa are mostly thrilling. But after the magnificent steps magic Potemkin has nowhere to go. Of course anything afterwards was bound to be an anti-climax. But the film can’t end here – there must be an epilogue. Yet Part 5 begins to bludgeon you with its revolutionary fervour. If only it had been shorter and not built up over-inexorably to its triumphant conclusion. Sergei, the state required a communist message, but it should (could have?) have been trimmed and then I might have forgiven you that shot of a hoisted up, red-tinted flag.

The violence of Odessa lives on as great cinema amidst Potemkin’s other episodes where ‘masterly’ filmmaking can appear strained. Odessa will always command our compassion and horror even though that sequence is heavily aestheticized An aesthetic call to revolution can work powerfully in political cinema (see The Battle of Algiers) yet at Potemkin’s climax it naively feels like a command to rejoice in victory, or else comrade! 

Stark Eisenstein violence preceded Potemkin in his savage first feature, the consistently brilliant Strike. Eisenstein moved on, with his mathematical film concepts, and realised, for me, his greatest compositional achievement (and most satisfyingly film) in Ivan the Terrible Part 1.  Whilst an even more richly sensual and liberated imagery is to be found in the stunning fragments that remain of his uncompleted Que Viva Mexico (with the gay shots of Potemkin sailors in hammocks anticipating the Mexican peasantry in their hammocks too). Mexico and the tyrant Ivan appeared long after the explosion of Potemkin – produced when Eisenstein was twenty seven: youthful genius indeed that we’ll continue to celebrate along with the other films I’ve admired, his theoretical writings, a vast amount of drawings (sometimes erotic) and generally marvellous artwork. ALAN PRICE

BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN is now on blu-ray at the BFI 

  

Hockney: A Life in Pictures (2014)

hockDirector: Randall Wright | 113min   UK Biopic

“We grow small trying to be great”.

Born in a tightly-terraced house in Bradford, the fourth of five children, David Hockney’s early memories were of darkness and claustrophobia. It was a happy and aspirational childhood with his strong mother and a father who encouraged him not to care about what the neighbours thought, and fired his imagination and enthusiasm for the world outside with regular visits to ‘the pictures’.

Randall Wright’s portrait of the artist is as ambitious and upbeat as Hockney himself, enlightened by archival material and enriched by cine footage from Hockney’s family collection. Spanning a career that started in local art school and the RCA as a popular and gently opinionated maverick, it shows how he was associated with the Pop Art movement of the 60s, abstract expressionism and figurative work, and is now considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century, and the most expensive living artist when his Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures (1972) was sold at Christie’s for 80 million dollars under the hammer in November 2018.

Kicking off with the usual talking heads who share their fondness for the artist contemporaries and American pals (Ed Ruscha who fleshes out a picture of a philosophical thinker, capable of amiable friendship, lively wit and occasional bouts of introspective loneliness: “I think the absence of Love is Fear”). After a sexually and artistically explorative spell in 1960s New York (his blond hairstyle was the result of a Clairol advert on TV), Hockney gravitated to California spending many years developing his technique with acrylics in bright colours, a fascination with the spacial qualities of water and swimming pools led to his most famous work: A Bigger Splash (1967) – the splash took seven days to paint.

Friendships with Christopher Isherwood and his partner Don Bachandry feature heavily during these years along with a love affair for Peter Schlesinger, an art student who also posed for him and followed him back to London where Tchaik Chassey designed a lateral apartment for the couple in Kensington. Embarking on a series of portraits for friends and relatives, we also meet Celia Birtwell who appeared with Ossie Clark in his other well-known figurative painting, Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970/71).

Continually broadening his artistic horizons, Hockney also stresses the intellectual side of art as opposed to photography: “the longer it takes to put (an image) together, the more representative it becomes of time and space”. Hockney also developed an interest in Opera due to his gift of synesthesia, an ability to see bright colours when listening to music. His iPad paintings are possibly his most innovative work with landscape, developing and exploring a spacial awareness unique to painting and allowing us to chart the development of his paintings from the first marks  “the way we depict space and the way we behave in it are different – wider perspectives are needed now”.

Filled with serenity, insight and gentle humour, Randall Wright’s biopic overflows with information, facts and fascinating footage, packing in every subtle nuance of this remarkable creative force in just over two hours.  We are left with a feeling of pride and admiration for our national figure who is as charmingly appealing and strangely naive and this colourful legacy. MT

HIS LATEST EXHIBITION entitled THE ARRIVAL OF SPRING 2020 IS NOW SHOWING AT THE ROYAL ACADEMY IN LONDON

HOCKNEY: A LIFE IN PICTURES IS ON DVD

 

 

They Live By Night (1948) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Nicholas Ray | Cast: Farley Granger, Cathy O’Donnell | US, Film Noir 95′

Legendary director Nicholas Ray began his career with this lyrical film noir, the first in a series of existential genre films overflowing with sympathy for America’s outcasts and underdogs. When the wide-eyed fugitive Bowie (Farley Granger), having broken out of prison with some bank robbers, meets the innocent Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell), each recognizes something in the other that no one else ever has.

The young lovers dream of a new, decent life together, but as they flee the cops and contend with Bowie’s fellow crims, who aren’t about to let him go straight, they come to realise there’s nowhere left to hide. Ray brought an outsider’s sensibility honed in the theatre to this debut, using revolutionary camera techniques and naturalistic performances to craft a profoundly romantic crime drama that paved the way for decades of lovers-on-the-run thrillers to come.

Available on Amazon from 20 April 2020

Why Don’t You Just Die (2019) Blu-ray release

Dir/Wri: Kirill Sokolov | Cast: Vitaliy Khaev, Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Evgeniya Kregzhde, Mikhail Gorevoy, Elena Shevchenko

Russian director Kirill Sokolov’s debut feature is a bloody-spattered, neon-infused cocktail of toxic manhood tinged with bitter comedy that sees a war of attrition play out between a meat-headed bellicose gangster and his daughter’s wiry and wilful boyfriend.

Set almost entirely within the confines of a pokey Moscow apartment, this luridly gory genre piece makes a striking showcase for the 29 year old Russian filmmaker’s nascent talents, eking out a shoestring budget to remarkable effect. A lively inventive script elevates the film’s pulp credentials with some shocking social commentary on Putin’s Russia and an illuminating take on today’s Russian womanhood. Resonances with Tarantino are clear from the outset. But this first film is slick and surprisingly confident, its turbulent tension primped by a perky score from Vadim QP and Sergey Solovyov.

Twentysomething Matvei (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) is feeling a little back-footed when he fetches up at the family home of his girlfriend Olya (Evgeniya Kregzhde), armed with a hammer and an assignment to murder her detective dad Andrei (Vitaliy Khaev). Clearly the old bruiser is no pushover, but strangely neither is the lithely ‘up for it’ Matvei. A wrestling match soon turns nasty and the mayhem sees Matvei’s face embedded in a TV screen, luckily it’s switched off.

In the thick of the fight, Sokolov cuts to threefold flashbacks filling in the backstories on Matvei, Olya and Andrei’s police partner Evgenie (Mikhail Gorevoy). The showdown in the apartment is rooted in an earlier blackmail pact between the crooked cops, which released a killer from prison but ended in tears all round. As the tangled threads of skulduggery come to light, friends and family turn against each other and the mounting body count becomes a bloodbath.

This is a hyper violent affair that may prove too much for many with its ludicrous fight scenes, Sokolov ramping up the butchery while maintaining a sardonic upbeat tone that sees the good, the bad and the ugly bite the dust – women included. Although it must be said that the bad get their just deserves in a pitiless payback scenario.

Why Don’t You Just Die! can and will be read as a caustic commentary on Putin’s rotten Russia, but Sokolov certainly makes a meal of it all – cashing in on his opportunity to put the boot in, big time. The film’s original title translates as Daddy, Die! hich and Sokolov emerges as a refreshing and raucous new talent on the Russian indie film scene. MT

ARROW FILMS BLU-RAY RELEASE ON 20 APRIL 2020 

 

The Wind (1986) ** Blu-ray release

Dir: Nico Mastorakis | Cast: Robert Morley, Meg Foster, Wings Hauser, David McCallum | Horror, 92′

The Wind (aka Edge of Terror) is an odd film that begins as a promising Greek giallo thriller but loses its way half way through despite a brilliant cast, lush locations and Hans Zimmer’s spanking score – his first of many.

Robert Morley (Alias Appleby) and David McCullum (John) add ballast to the tenuous plot constructed by Mastorakis and his Blind Date writer Fred Perry in the second of their colourful collaborations that sees John’s successful novelist wife Sian (Meg Foster) leave their luxury LA home to finish a book on the Greek coastal town of Monemvasia. Shame then that the film’s best two male actors only get slim cameos.

Why anyone would travel to Greece from LA to find a remote retreat is a first mystery, especially when Meg has to tolerate Alias Appleby’s condescending banter on her arrival. At least Morley adds swagger to the opening scenes, offering her a stylish hideaway that comes with a caveat about the tunnels running under the property, and the ferocious nocturnal wind. Sadly the film makes scant use of its magnificent setting, confining most of the action to claustrophobic interiors and cramped alleyways.

Monemvasia is far from the sanctuary Meg had in mind; more a hub of frenzied activity of the worse kind involving the unwanted attentions of a psychotic handyman in the shape of Phil (Wings Hauser) whose opening gambit is the comforting: “Death is a whole lot different than on paper”. From the get-go we get the impression this guy is going to be a major pain in the neck, and Mastorakis never fails to disappoint in his irritating characterisation of Phil, which is neither terrifying not compelling, just plain irritating. And that’s the only psychic part of this story. Inspired by Phil’s skulduggery Meg’s writing then bizarrely pushes the plotline forward, predicting events as they gradually come true – and leaving us in doubt as to the murderer at large.

For some reason, Mastrovakis squanders all his trump cards by half-baking the script: there so much that really doesn’t follow through, lending a hollow feel to proceedings: What is Phil so angry about? What happened in his past to inform the present? What are the reasons for the demonic wind? None of this is properly explored, and there’s a latent misogyny that has us believe that Sian is a numpty who is game for verbal and physical abuse from two men, and believed to be over-doing it when she contacts the local police, when clearly she is a sane and accomplished intellectual who is being traumatised? Mavrokakis would go on to make another slasher the same year, in the shape of Zero Boys. How much more low can you go.? MT

NOW ON BLU-RAY from 13 April 2020

 

Two Marilyn Stopovers | Niagara (1953) Bus Stop (1956)

Both Niagara (1953) and Bus Stop (1956) provided parts for Marilyn Monroe to accommodate a studio imposed stereotype and yet subvert its imposition. A dumb blonde transitions into a femme fatale. And when the dumb blonde becomes a feisty gal she demands and wins respect, says Alan Price. 

In both films Monroe effectively exploits her sexual power over men: her tight clinging dresses being both a sensual invitation and a slinky suit of armour for Monroe’s constantly alert body. In Niagara Marilyn is trapped in her marriage to a psychologically disturbed war veteran – Joseph Cotten. Whilst in Bus Stop Marilyn is courted and literary lassoed by a country hick rodeo rider – Don Murray. She triumphs (even after dying in her Niagara role) to crush murderous behaviour and reform the immature.  

Niagara (a beautiful colour film noir) employs the background of its stunning waterfalls as a character in its own right. Yet this set-up is not for a holiday but crime. Honeymoon couple Ray and Polly Cutler (Max Showalter and Jean Peters) arrive at their holiday cabin to discover George and Rose Loomis (Joseph Cotten and Marilyn Monroe) occupying their reserved abode. Rose tells them her husband isn’t well. The Cutler’s are content to accept another cabin but become increasingly concerned about George’s mental health and the Loomis’s unhappy marriage. Enter a young lover Patrick (Richard Allan) whom Rose has persuaded to kill George. Yet it’s Patrick who dies in the struggle leaving George to pursue Rose. The Cutlers change from being bystanders to helpers, with the police force, to track down a now frantic husband.

You can appreciate Niagara on three levels. As a liberating vehicle for Monroe (it was her first, and financially very successful, starring role); a noir that joyfully employs colour symbolism (the holidaymakers are provided with raincoats to resist the spray of the falls – black for the men and yellow for the women: with Marilyn wearing, at one point, black, yellow and red to exploit her conflicted, or harmonised, masculine and feminine energies) and director Henry Hathaway’s skill at integrating his natural locations to make Niagara Falls feel perfectly at home in its noirish plot.

Monroe presents us with an alluring and credible scheming woman as far as it goes. For there is still too much of the frustrated victim written into Marilyn’s part, and acted out, that conflicts with the real vulnerability conveyed when Marilyn is at her very best. Here she is not as forcefully vindictive as say Barbara Stanwyck is in Double Indemnity, nor as assertive as Jean Peters once was playing a girlfriend of a communist in Pick up in South Street. 

Jean Peters would have been excellent playing the part of Rose in Niagara. It’s not a case of miscasting, having instead Monroe playing Polly, the wisely practical if conventional wife of an advertising man, but the correct actor persona. In real life Jean Peters hated being seen as glamorous or sexy and manages to bring a splendid warmth and wisdom to her Niagara character. This almost makes us forget, but its hard, her prostitute role in Pickup. Peters was a fine actor but not someone groomed to be a star and deeply resistant to that process anyway. 

Marilyn Monroe was a cunningly created star, a hugely gifted actor, with a greater emotional range than Peters and a powerful erotic presence achieving miracles in some parts that severely underestimated her talent. I’m not saying she isn’t right in Niagara.  But I sense strain: a struggle to get the femme fatale side to fully click. She bravely tackles Rose’s dark behaviour well enough but not so effectively as the yearning depicted in her loneliest moment – here Rose, as a sexually liberated female, in a tight purple dress, part sings along to her special song “Kiss” and it’s remarkably affecting. If I had to chose the roles that she didn’t have to ‘struggle’ through and are fully worthy of her talents, as an exquisite comedienne and commandingly serious actor, they’re to be found in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Some Like it Hot, The Misfits and Bus Stop. Here you discover the unforgettable real thing: glowingly crafted performances and, most importantly for Marilyn, authentic.

Niagara is famous for the scene where Marilyn walks away from us, high heels on cobble stones, to establish the famous Monroe walk. It lasts for all of seventy feet of film. Most commentators have noticed, in an obvious sexist manner, that this moment epitomised the potent sexy wiggle of the dumb blonde. Yet if you carefully watch her walk it doesn’t appear affected or provocative at all (In interviews Marilyn always insisted that she walked naturally on and off screen.) In the context of the film Rose / Marilyn is employing all the shrewd resources of her body language to convey her triumph at the thought (mistaken) that her lover has just disposed of her husband. 

Graham McGann’s 1988 book simply called Marilyn Monroe quotes the ballerina Margot Fonteyn who met Monroe in 1953 and perceptively observed: “She was astoundingly beautiful…What fascinated me most was her evident inability to remain motionless. Whereas people normally move their arms and head in conversation these gestures, in Marilyn Monroe, were reflected throughout her body, producing a delicately undulating effect like the movement of an almost calm sea. It seemed clear to me that it was something of which she was not conscious; it was as natural as breathing, and in no way an affected “wiggle”, as some writers have suggested.”

Fonteyn is correct to note the ‘balletic’ skill of Marilyn. This is an attribute Monroe shares with Jacques Tati, Charles Chaplin and Clara Bow. When these great talents performed each brought their own joyful, innocent and distinct movement to perfect and constantly accentuate the needed motion of a motion picture.

What then of Marilyn’s movement in Joshua Logan’s delightful romantic comedy Bus Stop? On the surface it’s a simple story of a naïve cowboy (Beauregard Decker) energetically played by Don Murray who finds his “angel” in Monroe (Cherie a singer hostess in a run down bar) and ‘kidnaps’ her to take home on the bus back to his ranch in Montana. His long suffering buddy (named Virgil Blessing, winningly played by Arthur O’Connell) being the only sensible barrier between Decker’s crass behaviour and Cherie’s charm. Logan directs with a lightness of touch, expertly handling the wide screen with the kind of prowess he exhibited in Picnic and South Pacific. 

The scene to single out is the moment Murray and Monroe eloquently sprawl across the counter of a café where the bus party stayed overnight because of a snowstorm. It’s cinemascope poetry, a physically elongated love scene that encapsulates the film’s breakthrough to real romance and common sense. The hick stops fooling around. The singer looks like she’s getting the man she needs to respect her – something never accorded to Marilyn in real life. But in the fabricated happiness of a movie called Bus Stop we believe it and the agile Marilyn’s wonderful at convincing us that it’s happened. Perhaps the long shadow of Jean Harlow’s wit and the misbehaviour of Mae West are behind Monroe. Yet aren’t they more an encouragement for her to act well, serious and true without any obvious influence? Two movie stopovers then, always worth our attention: on a country bus and besides a thunderous waterfall that are inimitably Marilyn’s. Alan Price. 

BOTH NOW AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY 

 

The Horse Soldiers (1959) *** Blu-ray

Dir: John Ford | US, Western

John Ford is renowned for his US cavalry pictures but not for his American Civil War films. On this issue he only made one feature (The Horse Soldiers) a film segment (The Civil War 1861-65 for How The West Was Won) and a TV episode of Wagon Train (The Colter Craven Story.) Arguably the most visceral, though historically limited, of those three is the tragic How the West Was Won episode.

Ford was vocally passionate and highly knowledgeable about the Civil War. He’d always wanted to adapt a biography of Ulysses C. Grant but it never materialised. So we are left with his sole feature, The Horse Solders – containing an opening scene that briefly includes an appearance by Grant. To this day, The Horse Soldiers is unloved by most critics: Ford’s chief biographer Joseph McBride calls it “mediocre”, critic Scott Eyman considers it “a dud” and in Peter Bogdanovitch’s interview book, Ford himself admits, “I don’t think I ever saw it.”

Over the years my reaction has ranged from good but meandering, then better than I’d recalled, to a flawed and underrated film containing deeply felt moments. The passage of time has proved kinder for this production. Although for me it will never be as compelling as other late Ford (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Seven Women) The Horse Soldiers has considerable pleasures. It’s not the big Civil War picture Ford should have made but a considerable and accomplished gem.

In April 1863 the U.S. cavalry lead by Colonel John Marlow (John Wayne) goes on a 600 mile raid through Mississippi into Louisiana to cut railway lines and attack Confederate troops from Grant’s drive towards Vicksburg. Accompanying him is army doctor, Major Henry Kendall (William Holden) who has to put up with Marlowe’s animosity – he’s distrustful of doctors since his wife died, wrongly diagnosed with a tumour, at their hands. En route they encounter the Southern plantation mistress, Hannah Hunter (Constance Towers). She and her slave Lukey (Althea Gibson) eavesdrop on the officers’ plans to thwart the Confederates and to protect the secrecy of their mission they are taken with them.

No director filmed long lines of men on horseback better than John Ford – place riders on a hill at sunset, singing a ballad or military song, and Ford’s poetry never fails to captivate. His eye for composition was immaculate. There are numerous examples of this in Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. It was never macho posturing but an affirmation of folkloric and communal values. Ford’s group formations have a painterly depth. The Horse Soldiers has some of the best photographed patterning of men and equestrian power in all of his work. Ford’s viewpoint is the long shot, or medium long shot that impacts so well with his careful framing.  And William H. Clothier’s photography gives the troops and scenery a lovely autumnal charge. So much so that there are times when you could almost forget the story and characters of The Horse Soldiers and simply delight in a lyrical mise en scene of cavalry expertise.

But the problem with The Horse Soldiers is its undeveloped screenplay. Too much time is spent on the argumentative feuding between John Wayne and William Holden. This is lively and engaging but overdone, causing the film to often be a series of war episodes intercut between the their incessant personal scrap.  Yet if you relax into the rhythm of The Horse Soldiers – which is detached, but not disengaged, then you’ll also discover a sensitive questioning of military and civilian values, the tension of the actual military raid and how war represses feelings of love, shame and regret.

There’s a fine scene where Marlow, in a captured saloon, is talking to Miss Hunter about his wife’s death. It’s so beautifully acted by Wayne – his hurt looking eyes conveying a bitterness and anguish that’s reminiscent of Wayne’s great performance as Ethan Edwards in The Searchers. The attack on the Confederate troops, coming in on a train, contains a haunting shot of an apprehensive officer that echoes the barber scene in My Darling Clementine. And the soldiers’ response to the shocking killing of Lukey has a tenderness exhibiting Ford’s compassionate sense of community. Finally perhaps, and most striking of all, is the bizarre skirmish with the boy cadets from a local military school.

Civil War to one side The Horse soldiers, as a cavalry picture, is never as expressive as She Wore a Yellow Ribbon or as complex as Fort Apache yet it avoids the musical bombast of Rio Grande. It’s a quieter, restrained, but equally angry and concerned film of personal and military conflicts. We may mourn the fact that Ford never gave us a Ulysses C. Grant bio-pic (though with Grant’s early reputation for heavy drinking that could have been over the top) but we do have Ford’s subdued The Horse Soldiers still riding along, slowly growing in stature. ALAN PRICE    

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) Talking Pictures

Dir.: Martin Ritt; Cast: Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, Peter Van Eyck, Oscar Werner, Sam Wanamaker. Michael Hordern, Rupert Davies, Bernhard Lee, Cyril Cusack, Robert Hardy; UK 1965, 112 min.

Martin Ritt (1914-1990) best known for The Long Hot Summer, was one of America’s most sensitive directors with a keen understanding for the British post-war scene which he portrays with great feeling in this stylish adaptation of John Le Carré’s 1963 novel.

Based on a script by Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper – and shot brilliantly in black-and-white by Oswald Morris. Ritt, who was a victim of the HUAC witch hunt, which he worked through in The Front, shows the same palpable appreciation of the murky borderlines of Nazi induced terror,  as far removed from the glittery Bond mania that had started in 1962.

Alec Leamas (Burton) is a British MI6 operative, working for Control (Cusack) who has sent him to West Berlin to direct the espionage net in East Germany. But GDR Counter-Intelligence, under the leadership of the ruthless Hans Dieter Mundt (Van Eyck), has killed nearly all agents. Now Leamas is sent into the GDR to discredit Mundt. For this purpose, Leamus is kicked out of MI6, hits the bottle and is, as hoped, picked up by GDR agents Ashe (Hordern) and Peters (Wanamaker) in London, whilst he is working in a library, where he meets and sleeps with Nancy Perry (Bloom), a member of the local branch of the CPGB.

All goes to plan when Leamas is smuggled into East Germany and meets Fiedler (Werner), Mundt’s deputy, who believes (rightly) that Mundt is a British spy. At a secret trial, Fiedler accuses Mundt of treachery, but it turns out Nancy, who has entered the country as an adoring visitor to the country of Marx and Engels, is present at the trial.

She has been compromised by MI6 to save Mundt and condemn Fiedler who, like Nancy, is Jewish. Leamas discovers too late he was not sent by Control to incriminate the Ex-Nazi turned communist turned British agent Mundt, but to save him from Fiedler who was on the verge of exposing him. At nightfall Mundt frees Leamas and Nancy, having arranged a safe conduit over the wall into West Berlin. But when Nancy is shot, Leamas would rather take a bullet himself, than jump over the wall to his waiting colleague Smiley (Davis).

The cast is supported by a sparkling array of British talent, not least the undervalued Michael Hordern as Ashe, who is gay. He picks up prisoners from Holloway prison and tries to seduce them in the guise of being a charity worker, and is also in hock to the Sam Wanamaker’s East German agent Peters who treats him with contempt. Bernhard Lee plays a grocer who is witness to Leamas’ violent temper tantrums after being fired from MI6. His casting is particularly ironic since he was playing M, James Bond’s MI6 boss, in the first of the 12 movies. In the role of George Smiley the movie also stars Rupert Davies, who played Inspector Maigret for many years trying in vain to coax his friend Alec to jump back into his old life.

Burton is like a reeling boxer, seconds away from being floored. His beliefs are on the line, but he is not ready to give them up: being an agent is his drug. Seething with self-disgust on discovering he is the fly in Mundt’s spider’s web. He does not actually love Nancy, but neither does he want her to become another statistic in his deadly game.

Bloom convinces as the fragile, naive communist, totally unaware of what her adored comrades are doing behind the wall. Peter Van Eyck, who spent the war as an emigrant in Hollywood (Five Graves to Cairo), is the personification of evil as Aryan – detached swopping sides remorselessly and totally lacking in empathy. Werner (Fahrenheit 451), his polar opposite, shows conviction as a man who would rather sacrifice himself, than give up.

There is a sinister shadowplay between all these characters, lurking in the gloom, they are as lost as the Flying Dutchmen, waiting in vain for redemption. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a harsh but trenchant portrait of spies suffering from multiple personality disorders, caused by their addiction to lies and double play. AS

AVAILABLE ON ON TALKING PICTURES TV, YOUTUBE AND GOOGLE PLAY and to own on Bluray from 17 May 2021

     

Henri-Georges Cluzot | Mubi

LA PRISONNIЀRE (1968)

Josée (Elizabeth Wiener) is the wife of an artist whose work is exhibited in Stan Hassler’s modern art gallery. Stan (Laurent Terzieff), impotent and depraved, satisfies himself by photographing women in humiliating poses. Josée is fascinated by the man and soon falls completely in love with him.

LE CORBEAU (1942)

A veritable masterpiece of French cinema, LE CORBEAU is a dark and subversive study of human nature starring Pierre Fresnay and Ginette Leclerc. A wave of hysteria sweeps the small provincial town of St. Robin when a series of poison-pen letters signed ‘Le Corbeau’ (The Raven) begin to appear, denouncing several prominent members of society. The slow trickle of sinister letters soon becomes a flood and no one is safe from their mysterious accusations. Upon its release in 1943, Le Corbeau was condemned by the political left and right and the church, and Clouzot was banned from filmmaking for two years.

QUAI DES ORFEVRES (1947)

A marriage that has fallen on hard times is further tested by the couple’s implication in a murder. Jenny Lamour (Suzy Delair) is a music hall chanteuse married to her pianist husband Maurice (Bernard Blier). Keen to get ahead, Jenny leaps at the chance when an ageing wealthy businessman (Charles Dullin) offers her the chance of some gigs.

However, when she agrees to a meeting at his home and he is found dead later in the evening – Maurice’s untamed jealousy is in the frame. A Maigret-esque detective, Antoine, played by Louis Jouvet, leaves no stone unturned in his exceedingly private investigations of the down-at-heel showbiz couple’s sad, tempestuous life.

MUBI | 14 April 2020 |  BLURAY, DVD AND DIGITAL | STUDIOCANAL

Buster Keaton | Three films | Blu-ray debut

Buster Keaton directed these three films between 1920 and 1929, establishing him as “arguably the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies”.  The Navigator, Seven Chances and Battling Butler. may not be on a par with The General; Sherlock and Steamboat Bill Jnr, but they are certainly enjoyable examples of his talents as an entertainer, and presented by Eureka for the first time on Blu-ray boxset.

The Navigator (1924, dir. Buster Keaton & Donald Crisp) – Wealthy Rollo Treadway (Keaton) suddenly decides to propose to his neighbour across the street, Betsy O’Brien (Kathryn McGuire), and sends his servant to book passage for a honeymoon sea cruise to Honolulu. When Betsy rejects his sudden offer however, he decides to go on the trip anyway, boarding without delay that night. Because the pier number is partially covered, he ends up on the wrong ship, the Navigator, which Betsy’s rich father has just sold to a small country at war. Keaton was unhappy with the audience response to Sherlock Jr., and endeavoured to make a follow-up that was both exciting and successful. The result was the biggest hit of Keaton’s career and his personal favourite.

Seven Chances (1925, dir. Buster Keaton) – Jimmy Shannon (Keaton) learns he is to inherit seven million dollars, with a catch. He will only get the money if he is married by 7pm on his 27th birthday, which happens to be that same day! What follows is an incredible series of escalating set-pieces that could only have come from the genius of Buster Keaton. Elaine May made a similar film with Walter Matthau in 1971. It was called A New Leaf.

Battling Butler (1926, dir. Buster Keaton) – A rich, spoiled dandy (Keaton) pretends to be a champion boxer, “Battling Butler”, to impress the family of the girl he loves. When the real Butler shows up, he decided to humiliate the imposter by having him fight the “Alabama Murderer”!

BUSTER KEATON: 3 FILMS (Vol. 2) [Masters of Cinema] 3-Disc Blu-ray Set Trailer 

The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968)

Dir: Michael Elliott | Wri: Nigel Neale | Cast: Leonard Rossiter, Suzanne Neve and Brian Cox

First broadcast by the BBC on 29 July 1968, The Year of the Sex Olympics is one of the most original pieces of television drama ever written, foreshadowing both the likes of Big Brother and Love Island and the sexualisation of digital space.

Unavailable on DVD for many years, on 20 April 2020 it will be re-released by the BFI in a new edition with a host of accompanying extras including a feature-length audio commentary by actor Brian Cox and Nigel Kneale in conversation. Also on the disc is Le Pétomane(1973), a short comedy biopic of Joseph Pujol, starring Leonard Rossiter and written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson (Hancock’s Half Hour and Steptoe and Son).

Nigel Kneale’s eerily prescient drama is set in a future when society is split into two strata. The low-drives are the passive majority, mentally anaesthetised by an incessant diet of TV consisting largely of pornography. Television, and by extension the populace, is controlled by the high-drives, an educated class engaged in a perpetual quest for better ratings and audience subjugation. But when the low-drives become increasingly uninterested in the programming on offer, production executive Ugo Priest (Leonard Rossiter,  Rising Damp, The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin) and his team happen upon a new concept: reality TV.

The Year of the Sex Olympics was originally broadcast in colour. At some point after that single broadcast, the original colour tapes were erased and all that remains is a black-and-white 16mm telerecording which has been remastered by the BBC for this release.

DVD release on 20 April 2020 

Special features

 

Battle of the Sexes (1960) *** Home Ent release

Dir: Charles Crichton | Cast: Peter Sellers with Robert Morley, Constance Cummings and Donald Pleasence | UK Comedy 84′

Comedy genius Peter Sellers gives one of his best performances in this famously sharp-edged satire on sexual politics in the 1950s workplace.

The sleepy staff of Macpherson’s traditional Scottish tweed firm get a rude awakening when young Macpherson (Robert Morley, Theatre of Blood) hires a feisty American efficiency expert Angela Barrows (Constance Cummings, Blithe Spirit). She advocates new-fangled horrors like automation and – ghastliest of all – ‘synthetic fibre’.  Can nothing stop her? Nothing, perhaps, but meek accountant Mr Martin (Peter Sellers). Beneath that placid surface, still waters run deep; to balance the books, he decides, he must erase the ‘error’.

Made just after I’m All Right, Jack, this misleadingly titled version of James Thurber’s The Catbird Seat transposed to fifties Scotland was both Peter Sellers’ final character part (recalling his elderly projectionist Percy Quill in The Smallest Show on Earth) and his first starring role as a shuffling old accountant driven to thoughts of murder by American efficiency expert Constance Cummings.

It’s more a battle of cultures or of generations in the vein of an Ealing comedy than of the sexes; as befits Michael Balcon’s maiden production for his newly formed company Bryanston. Directed by Ealing veteran Charles Crichton, it is also considerably enhanced by the glacial black & white photography of the rabbit warren in which Sellers works and on the streets of Edinburgh by Oscar-winning cameraman Freddie Francis fresh from Room at the Top. R Chatten

Blu-ray/DVD release on 20 April 2020 with simultaneous release on BFI Player, iTunes and Amazon

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Rio Grande (1950) ** Bluray

Dir.: John Ford; Cast: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Claude Jarman jr., Ben Johnson; USA 1950, 105 min.

John Ford’s Rio Grande is the final part of the “cavalry” trilogy that started with Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and continues in the same vein: the Indians are dastardly, real men – when on the right side – are above the law, and women get to see what’s good for them, even if it takes them a long time.

Colonel Kirby Yorke (Wayne) is fighting the Indians at the titular river, but the cowards always decamp into Mexico when things get rough. And the high command allows him not to go in hot pursuit, since Mexico is a foreign country. Enter Jefferson Yorke, a son Kirby hasn’t seen for fifteen years. Jeff’ has just flunked West Point, but still wants to be a good soldier under Dad’s command. Hot on his heels comes mother Kathleen (O’Hara) – who has also has not seen Kirby since the latter burned down her family mansion during the Civil War. Kathleen wants to buy her son out of the army, but Jeff is hellbent on following Dad, and earning his spurs. Up comes trooper Tyree (Johnson), who is on the run for manslaughter, but is given a helping hand by the Colonel and his mates. Eventually, the Colonel finds a way to track the Indians down – even if it means breaking the law. But hell, if a certain Lt. General Sheridan is your best friend, you can take a chance or two.

Rio Grande now seems so dated, not only in look but also in theme. And there are many little ‘Trumps’ at work: misogynists for whom the law means nothing. The Indians are shown as a wild bunch who need to be killed lest they further endanger white women and children. The script by James Kevin McGuiness is as vapid as a plume of pipe-smoke, the downtime between fighting scenes filled with songs by the Sons of the Pioneers. DoP Bert Glennon (Stagecoach) does his best, but General Sheridan didn’t need to worry  (“I wonder what history will say about this”): all is now being revealed in the White House today. AS

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA | APRIL 6TH   

  

 

The Nights of Cabiria (1957) **** Blu-ray Home Ent

Dir: Federico Fellini | Drama, Italy 113′

Although Fellini’s The Nights of Cabiria won him an Oscar for Best Foreign film in 1957, and his wife Giulietta Masina Best Actress at Cannes as the typical “tart with a heart”, the film then drifted into the long grass, Gwen Verdon later taking up her role a decade in Neil Simon’s Broadway classic which was filmed by Bob Fosse, starring Shirley MacLaine in Sweet Charity (1969). 

 

Nights of Cabiria was caught in the cusp between Italy’s neo-realist period, which came to a close with Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia (1954), and the later more lushly surreal Fellini features such as La Dolce Vita, as Italy moved out of post war austerity and towards prosperous golden era of the 1960s. That said, Cabiria shares certain elements of Dolce Vita in its Via Veneto settings and the high Baroque style of the church ceremonies that contrast with the flirty night clubs scenes.

Masina is perfect as the poignantly chirpy fallen angel about town in the eternal city, looking for love in all the wrong places. An eternal optimist she is at home on the streets and in the nightclubs, a disillusioned romantic dusting herself down after each failed love affair, Francois Perier’s Oscar offering hope that once again disappoints. Pier Paolo Pasolini made contributions to Fellini’s script which was based on another story from Tullio Pinelli.  MT

OUT ON BLU-RAY for the first time and on DVD and DIGITAL | 6 April 2020 ALONG WITH THE WHITE SHEIK | COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL

Wake in Fright (1971) ****

image004 copyDir: Ted Kotcheff | Writer: Evan Jones, based on the novel by Kenneth Cook

Cast: Donald Pleasence, Gary Bond, Chips Rafferty, Sylvia Kay, Jack Thompson | DoP: Brian West | 108min   Drama

The maverick and multi-talented filmmaker Ted Kotcheff grew up in a Macedonian community in Toronto, eventually becoming the youngest drama director in the country at only 24. Working extensively for theatre and TV, his well-known series ‘Play for Today’ and ‘Afternoon Theatre’ became household names.  His features have become cult classics from Life at the Top with Jean Simmons and Honour Blackman; Golden Bear winner: The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974) that launched the career of Richard Dreyfus to Uncommon Valor, considered one of the greatest dramas about the Vietnam war. First Blood defined the Rambo series and his North Dallas Forty is considered to be one of the best sports films ever made. Turning his hand to successful comedies: Fun With Dick and Jane and Weekend at Bernie’s, Kotcheff has also been behind the popular ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’ for the past 12 years.

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His second feature, Wake In Fright, screened to massive critical acclaim at Cannes in 1971, whereafter it did very poor box office internationally: a not unusual occurrence – Rome, Open City (also re-launching this week), was also unsuccessful on its first release. But Wake In Fright is considered by many to be one of the best Australian films ever made, revitalising the flagging film scene and ushering in the Australian New Wave movement and Ozploitation movies (low budget horror, comedy or action), along with others that wandered into the same cinematic territory: the Barrie McKenzie series, Mad Max 1 & 2, and Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout.

Based on a book by Kenneth Cook, Kotcheff opens with a 360-degree pan of the isolated sun-baked wilderness of the outback establishing the de-humanising environment into which our protagonist John Grant wanders when he fetches up in the Australian mining town of Yabba on his way to Sydney for the Christmas holidays.  Played by the impossibly good-looking Gary Bond, he’s a dapper and fresh-faced young intellectual. But when he comes across the local bobby Jock Crawford (Chips Rafferty) in a bar, he ends up on a drunker bender, gambling away his earnings in the hope of winning enough to leave the job he hates in a dead-end location.  Up on the money, he retires to bed, then making the classic mistake of returning to the gambling game. And so begins his descent into a nightmarish hell, isolated from civilisation, in the back of beyond with a collection of raucous locals.

Grant emerges a malleable, weak-willed man who dislikes the people he comes across but is unable to extricate himself from their company or show any restraint in dealing with them. Serving as a parable for the Innocent’s descent into Hell, Wake in Fright perpetuates the theory that men will turn into monsters given sufficient alcohol, testosterone and bad company. And the Yabba is a place where you can murder, rape and kill but it’s a criminal offence not to hang with the boys; and once you spend time here the law of the jungle prevails.

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Forcing themselves onto Grant’s urbane gentility, the locals ply him with drink and inane banter which he parries with good grace and without restraint until he becomes a lightweight creature of scorn. These are men who slaughter animals for fun and undermine women. After his skinful on the first night, Grant then encounters Tim Hynes, a local ‘businessman’ who invites him to stay in his ranch.  His daughter Janette (Sylvia Kay in a gracefully alluring turn), has also been forced to her knees emotionally after years of disdain from the local menfolk. Donald Pleasence plays a flippant, roguish doctor, struck-off in Sydney and now in the Yabba to ply his trade to the initiated and uncaring.  Of all the characters, Dr Tydon and Janette are probably the most well-matched, occasionally ‘friends with benefits’; Dr Tydon is a sexually ambiguous character. He’s also the most psychopathic and least red-necked local, but there’s a hard-edged sinister quality hiding behind his glib charm and well-manicured hands. Kotcheff remains completely neutral to his characters, observing their antics dispassionately and giving us space to be disgusted or pitiful at Grant’s fate and introducing an element of realism into the drama. But it’s difficult not to be sickened by the unrelenting depravity which peaks during an horrific night-time foray where they indulge in kangaroos shoot-out from their jeep, in a set piece which remains seared into the memory.

Although Wake in Fright is not classified as a horror film as such, the narrative contains elements of horror in its sinister build-up. There are no moments of explicit terror; just an unrelenting stream of offence that gradually has a corrosive effect on the psyche and soon the long-cherished idea of Aussie manhood and camaraderie is shot down and exposed for what is ultimately is: a  lame excuse for wanton brutality and mayhem. By the end of the film, nobody emerges unscathed by the events or worthy of our sympathy and so this becomes a drama entirely fraught with antagonists, leaving us desperate to find some kind of redemption where none exists, putting this on a par with John Boorman’s Deliverance or Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch: quite an achievement given its low budget, lack of stylistic effects or any real bankable stars apart from Donald Pleasance, who shines out with his richly-crafted portrait of Dr Tydon.  Wake in Fright is a chilling but universal portrait of a civilised man who falls victim to a community he holds in contempt. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON BFI PLAYER

KOTCHEFF ON THE KANGEROO FOOTAGE: “I loved the kangaroos. I spent a lot of time with them, intimately close: they would lie around my director’s chair, waiting, like extras to be asked to do something. They are the most anthropomorphic creatures I have ever encountered. Nothing on earth would persuade me to hurt them or any other animal for any reason whatsoever.”

Magic (1978) **** Bluray

Dir: Richard Attenborough | Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Ann Margaret, Ed Lauter, Burgess Meredith | UK, Horror 100′

Weird dolls have long been a fascination for horror fans. From Hugo to Annabel and the many incarnations of Chucky, meet one of the original devilish dummies: Fats…the side-kick from hell.

He belongs to Charles ‘Corky’ Withers (Hopkins) a shy magician who just cannot get his act together, quite literally, until he introduces a foul-mouthed ventriloquist doll to his shtick, and his star begins to rise. His powerful agent Ben Greene (Meredith) asks Corky to appear on TV, after his double act’s great success. But Corky runs away into the Catskill mountains, claiming he is afraid of success. There he meets his high-school love Peggy (Anne-Margret), who is in a sterile marriage with Duke (Lauter), also known to Corky. Corky tricks Peggy into believing he is love in love with her and they sleep together. Fats becomes jealous of Peggy, but first he has to ‘deal’ with Greene and Duke, who meet a sticky end. After Corky puts a knife to himself so as to stop him and Fats from doing any more harm, the latter, also feeling very faint, already has his eyes on another ‘person carrier’.

Adapted for the big screen by William Goldman from his best-selling book Magic is directed by Richard Attenborough who crafts a creepy study in schizophrenia, following in the footsteps of Hitchcock’s Psycho and later The Dummy and Caesar and Me in the ‘Twilight’ series. All of these share a popular misunderstanding about schizophrenia, assuming that there is clear cut split into two defined personalities. In reality, schizophrenia fragments the personality into small sub egos, allowing sometimes a sort of domineering second identity, which allows the old self to accomplish (often violent) acts of omnipotence.

Goldman mixes elements of the “Incubus” mythos into his script, muddling the waters slightly. The cast, particularly Hopkins and Ann-Margret are convincing, Hopkins deftly morphing between Corky’s various personalities. Dog Day Afternoon veteran Victor J. Kemper’s (Dog Day Afternoon) is behind the camera, although the production now feels dated visually. Magic is a bloody tour-de-force, and there is a certain gleeful voyeurism at work, without reaching the eeriness of Powells’ ‘Peeping Tom’. AS

HOPKINS’ 1978 HORROR CLASSIC WITH ITS FIRST UK BLU-RAY RELEASE SET TO ARRIVE 23 MARCH 2020

Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) **** Blu-ray

Dir: John Schlesinger | Cast: Peter Finch, Glenda Jackson, Murray Head, Vivian Pickles, Frank Windsor, Tony Britton, Marie Burke, Peggy Ashcroft | UK Drama 110′

In John Schlesinger’s ménage a trois drama kids smoke dope, men snog each other and then slip between the sheets, and a patient undergoes an intimate examination. All perfectly natural de nos jours but on the cusp of the 1970s this was all quite groundbreaking. When the film went on release in California a woman bustled her husband out of the cinema saying: “Come on honey this is not for nice folk” according to the audio interview with the director (included in this BFI bluray release).

John Schlesinger’s breezy direction is spiked by Penelope Gilliatt’s daringly perceptive script capturing the zeitgeist of a decade more world-weary than the one preceding it, in this snapshot of suburban society. Glenda Jackson and Peter Finch play disillusioned Londoners Alex and Daniel,  linked by their younger bisexual lover Bob (Murray Head) whose glib favours they are forced to share. Their daily professional lives seem to revolve around their dependence on Bob who leads a butterfly existence as an artist. Meanwhile they are brought to their knees by their love for him, each feeling the stultifying presence of the other. Alex and Bob spend a rather louche weekend looking after the kids of some friends of hers in Blackheath (Vivian Pickles and Frank Windsor are typically nonchalant as 1970s parents). On the audio interview, Schlesinger admits to regretting having cast Head in the role of Bob. Clearly Jackson and Finch outshine him, leaving his rather shallow turn in the shadows. Tony Britton’s talents are showcased in a playful role as Alex’s debonair one night stand. Peter Finch is outstanding in his ability to create resonance in what he is feeling but not showing. And this particularly comes across in the deeply affecting final scene where he talks to the camera and connects with everyone who has suffered for love. MT

BLURAY RELEASE ON 16 MARCH 2020

 

 

 

Long Day’s Journey into Night (1962) **** Dual Format release

Dir.: Sidney Lumet; Cast: Katherine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson, Jason Robards, Dean Stockwell; USA 1962, 174 min.

Nobel literate Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953) wrote Long Day’s Journey into Night in 1941/42. He stipulated that the highly autobiographical play should not be staged until 25 years after his death. But his widow Charlotta Monterey was so impressed by Lumet’s stage production of late husband’s play The Iceman Cometh she gave him the film rights despite higher bids from other directors. Trust the Swedes to get their paws on the gloomy Bergman-esque play), it premiered in in Stockholm in 1956, nine months before the first US staging in Boston and New York,

Set in August 1912, Journey follows one day in the life of the Tyrone family playing out in their house in rural Connecticut. This is a family in denial: Patriarch James (Richardson) is in his mid sixties and looks back on a long acting career channelled into one role, limiting him severely. His penny-pinching ways have caused his wife Mary (Hepburn) to become addicted to cheap morphine easing the pain suffered by the birth of their youngest son Edmund (Stockwell) – now in his early twenties. Their oldest son Jamie (Robards) is a drunkard and womaniser, trading on his father’s name to get on in the acting profession. He also suffers from tuberculosis – which the whole family fail to recognise. Now and again the truth rears its ugly head: Edmund being blamed for his mother’s trauma. Moody and melancholic, Mary is afraid her chronic depression and addiction will be the death of the family, not least because of their financial worries. Their story is an ongoing love and hate scenario par excellence.

Eugene O’Neill Sr. had a difficult relationship with his children: he disowned his daughter Oona in 1943, when she married Charles Spencer Chaplin, 36 years her senior – he was never going see to her again. Both his sons, Eugene Jr. and Shane, would commit suicide. 

Lumet’s sensitive direction gives the actors plenty of freedom. Hepburn takes centre stage, whilst Richardson seems to stay on the back burner, veering erratically from an Irish brogue to Shakespearean declamation in his lowkey performance. Robards is bombastic and over the top,  Stockwell’s Edmund feels rather out of place, given his meekness: certainly a rather unjustified self-portrait by the playwright. Lumet’s script sticks faithfully to the page, DoP Boris Kaufman  (Twelve Angry Men) achieving an atmosphere somewhere between The Magnificent Andersons and The Glass Menagerie.AS

ON DUAL FORMAT (BLU-RAY/DVD) for the first time ever | MASTERS OF CINEMA SERIES | 16 MARCH 2020    

Syncopation (1942) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: William Dieterle | With Benny Goodman, Charlie Barnet, Harry James, Jack Jenney, Gene Krupa, Alvino Rey, Joe Venuti and Singer Connee Boswell | US Musical Drama 88′

William Dieterle’s entertaining tribute to the evolution of jazz covers a quarter-century of American “syncopated” music (ragtime, jazz, swing, blues, and boogie woogie), from the turn of the 20th century through prohibition, the Great Depression, the Wall Street Crash and the outbreak of WWII. It does so through a love story that sees a jazz trumpeter wooing a fellow New Orleans singer musician setting up a band in the hope of bringing them closer together. While they play and argue musical creativity flowers. Featuring jazz greats Benny Goodman, Charlie Barnet, Gene Krupa, Harry James, and more.

ON DUAL FORMAT (DVD/BLURAY) from 16 MARCH 2020

 

 

 

Beat the Devil (1953) *** Bluray release

Dir.: John Huston; Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Edward Underdown, Peter Lorre, Robert Morley, Ivor Bernhard, Marco Tully; USA 1953, 95 min.

Beat the Devil is based on a novel by James Helwick, written by Claud Cockburn and a 28 year-old Truman Capote.  What would become the first Camp movie, started out as an earnest endeavour about the evils of colonialism. But when the location was switched from France to Italy, with Capote writing the script in daily instalments, putting in a call to his pet raven in Rome, the narrative became secondary. Bogart had put his own money into the project but thought ‘only phoneys’ would like the box-office flop. Meanwhile, Huston told Jennifer Jones she would be remembered much longer for Devil than for her previous role in Song of Bernadette.

Billy and Maria Dannreuther (Bogart/Lollobrigida) and Harry and Gwendolyn Chelm (Jones/Underdown) play two couples down on their luck but pretending otherwise. They team up with four villains, O’Hara (Lorre) Peterson (Morley), Major Ross (Bernhard) and Ravello (Tully) to exploit uranium resources in British East Africa, biding their time in an Italian resort while their decrepit ship is made seaworthy. Then on the voyage to Africa, Major Ross tries to kill Harry, but Billy thwarts him. Once in Africa they are arrested by Arabian soldiers; Billy convincing the troops to send them back to Italian shores, where they are interrogated by Scotland Yard. The crooks are charged – Peterson for the murder of a British Colonial officer, who had discovered his scheme – Harry buys the land containing the uranium and sends a telegram to Gwendolyn, forgiving her for her affair with Billy.

There are some corny jokes, like the Major exclaiming “Mussolini, Hitler – and now Peterson” after the latter appeared to have been killed in a car accident. Overall the chaos of the shooting has a liberating effect in the finale, nobody grasping what was going on. Things are made murkier by the Hays’ Office insistence that no extra-marital sex should be shown on set. The grainy black-and-white images of British DoP Oswald Morris are very evocative, and the self-written dialogues by Morley and Lorre often hilarious. Ironically Beat the Devil looks more modern today than it did at the premiere when neither the public nor the critics saw the funny side of things. AS

BLURAY/DVD RELEASE | 16 MARCH 2020 WITH SIMULTANEOUS RELEASE ON BFI PLAYER, iTUNES and AMAZON

 

 

 

 

Last Holiday (1950) **** Bluray release

Last Holiday is based on a simple premise: a man believing himself to be terminally ill splurges his life savings on a luxury stay in an exclusive seaside hotel. Alec Guinness plays the man in question, JB Priestley produced the film and wrote the script which was directed by a young Hampstead filmmaker Henry Cass who was known for The Glass Mountain (1949) and would go on to make The Reluctant Bride (1955) and comedy, Castle in the Air (1952).
Aware of his impending fate, Alec Guinness’s George actually has a new lease of life and loses his inhibitions to indulge in some traditional English pastimes such as croquet and horse-racing, all kitted out in some seriously elegant outfits. Priestley makes some witty and ironic observations on the nature of life, love and loss this is a poignant and enjoyable B movie which ends happily – but you’ll have to watch it to find out why. MT
LAST HOLIAY | DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital | 9 MARCH 2020  COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL VINTAGE CLASSICS
https://youtu.be/m2dO-ufQpvo

Scandal (1989) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Michael Caton-Jones | Wri: Michael Thomas | Cast: John Hurt, Joanne Whalley- Kilmer, Bridget Fonda, Ian McKellen, Leslie Phillips, Britt Ekland, Daniel Massey, Roland Gift

Michael Caton-Jones’ first feature is a sophisticated but fun-loving affair made just thirty years after the Profumo Scandal itself. It re-creates the Swinging Sixties with a well-paced script that puts the focus on the genuine and heartfelt friendship between Christine Keeler and Stephen Ward. Scandal also exudes the rather quaint buttoned up feel of London in the late 1950s with its sleazy underbelly and arrant racism (Ward refers to Lucky as a ‘lovesick jungle bunny). The period detail is strong but the performances make this head and shoulders about the others – it really is a fabulous cast: Joanne Whalley is a softer more kittenish Keeler than Sarah Cookson’s sultry hard-edged take. And John Hurt was such a complex actor and here he plays Stephen Ward  as raddled but genuinely likeable in his seedy vulnerability. He is a more appealing, less smarmy Ward than the BBC’s James Norton. And of course Bridget Fonda brings her elegance and Hollywood style to the party as Mandy Rice Davies. A shaven headed Ian McKellen is less appealing as Profumo, lacking a certain sardonic charm, but Leslie Philips has just the right shambling allure as Lord Astor. Jean Alexander is underused as Mrs Keeler and makes for a convincing even loveable working class woman of the era. Music by Carl Davis is sparing and effectively used in this enjoyable and illuminating trip down memory lane. MT

BLURAY/DVD RELEASE ON 24 FEBRUARY 2020 with SIMULTANEOUS release on BFI PLAYER, iTunes and Amazon

The Old Dark House (1932)

Dir: James Whale | Wri: Benn Levy/J B Priestley | Cast: Boris Karloff| Charles Laughton | Eva Moore | Gloria Stuart | Melvyn Douglas| Raymond Massey | Horror / Comedy |US  75′

James Whale’s greatest film was arguably The Bride of Frankenstein but The Old Dark House comes a near second with its spine-tingling blend of thrilling suspense piqued with deliciously dark humour, cleverly sending up the horror genre in a subtle and brilliant way, thanks to Benn W. Levy’s script based on J B Priestley novel, Benighted. The storyline is secondary to spirited performances from a superb cast led by Raymond Massey, Mervyn Douglas and Gloria Stuart as a trio forced to take refuge in a macabre household presided over by sinister siblings (Ernest Thesiger and Elspeth Dudgeon). Things go bump in the night and Boris Karloff plays the monstrous hirsute butler off his rocker – hinting at an early version of Frankenstein himself. But it’s the quirky characterisations that make this supremely entertaining, along with an eerily evoked Gothic atmosphere. Another threesome soon emerges – a ménage à trois between Charles Laughton’s bumptious  Yorkshire mill-owner and his gal (Lilian Bond) who is chivalrously courted by Douglas whispering sweet nothings in the gloaming. Good fun all round. MT

New 4K restoration of THE CHILLING LOST CLASSIC from the director of FRANKENSTEIN, THE INVISIBLE MAN & THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN | and on dual format from 21 May 2018 COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS of CINEMA | ALSO SHOWING AT THE CINEMA MUSEUM, LONDON on FEBRUARY 23  

 

 

Villain (1971) *** Bluray release

Dir: Michael Tuchner | Co-Wri: Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais | UK Thriller 108′

This 1970s British crime caper pales in comparison with Mike Hodges’ Get Carter of the same year. But Villain is certainly enjoyable as gangster sagas go, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ pithy dialogue raising a titter as we step back down memory lane to those refreshing politically incorrect days. Villain has a fabulous sterling British cast including Ian McShane, Donald Sinden. Joss Acland and Nigel Davenport, not to mention T P McKenna. The problem here is Richard Burton. Well versed in his suave role as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold; he makes for a wicked working class hero in Look Back in Anger, a peerless Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, and was masterful as Cleopatra‘s Mark Anthony. But cockney wide-boy he ain’t, and he really struggles with an accent that somehow throws his performance off-kilter as mob boss Vic Dakin. Burton is also an unconvincing homosexual is this otherwise enjoyable thriller from TV director Michael Tuchner, now on re-release and hoping to attract a wider audience with its LGBTQ+ credentials: McShane and Burton nip between the sheets – although the scene was cut and you only see them slipping their fitted shirts off. There is a great deal of old style violence involving coshes rather than today’s more ubiquitous guns and knives, giving this classic an authentic twist. And it’s fun guessing the locations with 1970s London looking decidedly grim: Battersea Power Station, Notting Hill Gate and Kensal Rise Cemetery all feature in this solid but rather stolid Britflick. MT

FULLY restored on BLURAY, DIGITAL and DVD | 30 March 2020 | STUDIOCANAL’S VINTAGE CLASSICS COLLECTION 
 

The Son of the Sheik (1926) ***** Bluray release

Dir: George Fitzmaurice | Cast: Rudolph Valentino, Vilma Banky, Montagu Love | US, Silent drama 69′ | English intertitles

This simple love story of lust and betrayal is elevated by exquisite performances from Valentino and his personally chosen co-star Vilma Banky who is visibly transformed by his sultry love-making in the desert sands of Araby, sumptuously evoked in William Cameron Menzies’ set design.

The narrative is driven forward by Artur Guttmann’s atmosphere score primping the emotional lows and highs of the tragic fable. The legend behind the camera was George Barnes whose evocative images would see him winning an Oscar for Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1941), a Golden Globe for Cecile B. DeMille’s 1952 extravaganza The Greatest Show on Earth and many other nominations.

ON THE EUREKA LABEL FROM 17 FEBRUARY 2020

 

 

 

Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) *** Blu-ray release

Dir.: Stanley Kramer; Cast: Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Maximilian Schell, Marlene Dietrich, Werner Klemperer; USA 1961, 179 min.

Director Stanley Kramer (1913-2001) was always ready to bring controversial stories to the screen, Guess Who is Coming to Dinner being one of them. When he directed Aby Mann’s adaption of his own story in 1961, Judgement at Nuremberg was very much a slap in the face for Cold War warriors, who had forgiven (West) Germans the Holocaust, just to have old Nazis to fight against Bolshevism. 

Four years after the original Nuremberg trials, Chief Justice Dan Harwood (Tracy) is presiding over the trial of four German judges who had sentenced the defendants to death following the orders of Nazi laws. Dr. Ernst Janning (Lancaster), who heads up the defendants, had sentenced a Jewish man to death for committing “Rassenschande” (Blood defilement) by sleeping with a ‘gentile’ German girl of sixteen. Despite being aware of his guilt, Janning asks Harwood to reason with him: poverty in Germany had been one of the main factors in Hitler’s rise to power and he was one of the many to embrace Nazism. But he denies knowledge of the death camps.

Colonel Tad Lawson (Widmark) is the combative military prosecutor. The same can be said for defence lawyer Hans Rolfe (Schell), who questions the US Judges authority. Defendant Emil Hahn (Klemperer) goes even further: he harangues Harwood: “Today you sentence us to death, tomorrow the Bolsheviks will do the same to you”. Trying to empathise with the German, Harwood befriends Frau Bertholt (Dietrich), the widow of a German general killed by the Nazis for his part in the uprising against Hitler on 20th July 1944. Harwood later visits Janning in prison, after the four defendants have been give ‘life’. Closing credits reveal that at the time of the film’s release all 99 defendants of the original Nuremberg trials, who were imprisoned in the American Zone of West Germany, had been set free.

Apart from the overindulgent length (and verbosity), Kramer succeeds again with this strong moral tale, raising the profile of war crimes that should never be forgotten, even when political alignments change. DoP Ernest Laszlo (Kiss me Deadly) re-creates the harrowing visual landscape of post-war Germany, zooming in on the court scenes to reflect the angst ridden trial. Maximilian Schell won the Oscar for Best Actor, with Montgomery Clift leading a starry cast that included Judy Garland. Judgement at Nuremberg does its best to avoid sentimentality and melodrama in a moving testament to a monumental human tragedy. AS

NOW ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF THE BFI 

https://youtu.be/Gz2USfzaCUE

Cosh Boy (1953) ***

Dir: Lewis Gilbert | Cast: James Kenney; Joan Collins; Betty Ann Davies; Hermione Baddeley, Bob Stevens Robert Ayres | UK Crime Drama

Lewis Gilbert’s searing slice of British neo realism sees a juvenile delinquent commit a swathe of brutal robberies on innocent victims, aided and abetted by his rather puny sidekicks. Cosh Boy was a tamer, noirish version of what was to follow teenage crime-wise with Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Alan Clarke’s Scum (1979). And although it all seems fairly quaint nowadays, the film scandalised audiences back in post war days when kids mostly respected their parents and were glad of a return to normality after the war, despite the simmering social tensions provoked by the years of privation.

Roy (Kenney) is a brash, chain-smoking thug who bullies his friends into subservience (including Rene, played by a luminous young Joan Collins). He and his gang are not died in the wool criminals but possess a certain hard-nosed opportunism, and things get increasingly dangerous when their behaviour escalates, with tragic consequences.

Best known for his more upbeat fare: Alfie and The Spy Who Loved Me, Gilbert’s punchy direction certainly gives the crime drama some gritty wellie, providing an acerbic and sinister portrait of the backstreets of South London, although the film was actually shot at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith W6.

On 20 January 2020, Cosh Boy will become the 40threlease in the BFI Flipside series, released in a Dual Format Edition with extras including short films by Lewis Gilbert and more. It will be launched with a special screening event and discussion with Flipside founders at BFI Southbank – details below.

Dual Format Edition (Blu-ray/DVD), release on 20 January 2020, with simultaneous BFI Player, iTunes and Amazon Prime release

Flipside at 40 – Special event & discussion, Wednesday 15 January, 18:30, NFT1 at BFI Southbank – special guest actor Caroline Munro

 

Fellini’s Casanova (1976) | Fellini Centenary 2020

Dir.: Federico Fellini  | Wri: Bernardino Zapponi | Cast: Donald Sutherland, Tina Aumont, Cicely Browne, Carmen Scapitta, Diane Kourys | Italy/USA 1976, 155 min.

The last years of Casanova’s life are a permanent odyssey through Europe indulging in a variety of amorous but mostly tired adventures. Fellini’s production echoes this emotional ennui. But the film was also an exercise in misery that started with a long search for the leading man: Alberto Sordi, Michael Caine, Jack Nicholson and Gian Maria Volonté were all in line to play the raddled seducer before Donald Sutherland finally got the part. More than one producer gave up and had be replaced. The shoot was suspended between December 1975 and March 1976; on top of everything, some of the  reels were stolen and the scenes had to re-shot.

Sutherland’s Casanova is an old man, a shadow of himself. His role as the Count Von Waldstein’s librarian occupies his days but at night he is hellbent on enforcing his virility at the Venice carnival before he is imprisoned by the inquisition and accused of ‘black magic’. After his flight from the infamous ‘Piombi’ (lead chambers) he travels to Paris, but his stay is short-lived: he finds out that the hostess Marchesa d’Urfe (Browne) is only interested in gaining the secret of eternal life from him. An affair with the young Henrietta (Tina Aumont) causes him to fall into a deep, suicidal depression when the young woman suddenly leaves. After many more affairs, Casanova feels his existence become an ordeal, and ends up dancing with an automated puppet as he is reduced to an object of ridicule by the  servants.

In an interview Fellini is quoted of saying:  “I wanted to realise the total film. I wanted to change the celluloid of film into a painting. If you look at a painting, the effect is total, there are no interruptions. But if you watch a film, the effect is different. In a painting, everything is included, you only have to discover it. But film is just not as complete: The audience does not look at the film, the film allows the audience to look at it, and so the audience becomes the slave to the rhythm of the film, it dictates the tempo. It would be ideal to create a film which has only one sequence. A film in one, great, permanent and varied movement. With Casanova, I would have liked to get closer to this ideal, with Satyricon I nearly reached my goal.” AS

SCREENING AS PART OF THE FELLINI CENTENARY | BFI LONDON 2020

7 Facts | Alejandro Jodorowsky | Bluray re-releases

The legendary Chilean filmmaker is still active at 90. His latest film, the documentary PSYCHOMAGIE, un art pour guerir came out a few months ago. He is also an author, poet, theatre director and comic book writer. Here are a few interesting facts about him.

Jodorowsky moved to Paris in 1953, at the age of 24. He felt there was little left for him in Chile, where he had grown up in an abusive household facing discrimination for being the son of immigrants. Arriving in France, he studied mime and ended up touring with the legendary Marcel Marceau. Once back in Paris, he moved on to theatre directing, working on Maurice Chevalier’s music hall comeback.

He directed his first film, a 20-minute Thomas Mann adaptation entitled La Cravate.in 1957. The short garnered praise from Jean Cocteau but was subsequently considered lost until a print resurfaced in 2006.

Santa SangreIn 1968, Jodorowsky’s first feature film, FANDO AND LIS caused a full-scale riot when it premiered at the Acapulco Film Festival. As a result, the film was banned in Mexico, which led to his decision not to release his next film EL TOPO in his adopted country, fearing another scandal.

For the American release of EL TOPO, cinema owner Ben Barenholtz, who had attended a private screening of the film at MoMA, decided to screen it as a midnight feature at The Elgin. This proved to be a successful strategy as midnight audiences were enraptured by the film, and it kept running in New York seven days a week from December 1970 to June 1971. The midnight screening platform was retained for the film’s distribution across the United States, which reportedly the result of praise from a very high-profile fan: John Lennon.

thedanceofreallity_thIn 1974, Jodorowsky was hired to direct an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science-fiction novel Dune. The project would have featured an eclectic cast consisting of, among others, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger and Salvador Dalì; with the director’s own son playing the lead. It was eventually shut down due to budgetary issues, but Jodorowsky suggested someone could revive it as an animated film, using his storyboards. Frank Pavich’s documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune provides an insightful and often hilarious account of the project’s history.

He is considered a spiritual mentor by Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn, and has been mentioned in the “Special Thanks” section of the closing credits in three of Refn’s films: Drive, Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon

All three of Jodorowsky’s sons have appeared in his films. Most notably, Brontis (born 1962) plays his own grandfather in both La Danza de la Realidad and Poesia Sin Fin, which also features Adán (born 1979) as Alejandro himself. MT

EL TOPO | PRINCE CHARLES CINEMA on Friday 10 January 2020

EL TOPO (1970)

Director Jodorowsky himself plays ‘The Mole’ of the title: a black-clad, master-gunfighter. In the first half, El Topo journeys across a desert dreamscape with his young son to duel with four sharp-shooting Zen masters, who each bestow a Great Lesson before they die. In the second half, El Topo becomes the guru of a subterranean tribe of deformed outcasts who he must liberate from depraved cultists in a neighbouring town. EL TOPO is considered he director’s most violent film, often described as an ‘acid western’. The film shocked and dazzled audiences back in the day of its controversial original release. A countercultural masterpiece, which ingeniously combines iconic Americana symbolism with Jodorowsky’s own idiosyncratic surrealist aesthetic, EL TOPO is an incredible journey through nightmarish violence, mind-bending mysticism and awe-inspiring imagery.

THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973)

Jodorowsky casts himself as The Alchemist, a guru who guides a troupe of pilgrims, each representing a planet of the Solar System, on a magical quest to Lotus Island where they must ascend the Holy Mountain in search of spiritual enlightenment.

FANDO Y LIS (1968)

In Jodorowsky’s feature debut, Fando and his paraplegic sweetheart Lis embark on a mystical journey through a series of surreal scenarios to find the enchanted city of Tar. On the way, they journey through urban desolation, scorched deserts and towering mountains, whilst encountering a series of terrifying and sometimes moving characters.

Boasting some of the auteur’s most disturbing images, the film is an ambitious and intense adaptation of a controversial play by Fernando Arrabal. A bizarre tale of corrupted innocence and tortured love rendered in searing, high-contrast black and white, FANDO Y LIS incited a full-scale riot when it was first screened at the 1968 Acapulco film festival. Film4 said the film ‘leaves Fellini and Buñuel spluttering in its dust’.

EL TOPO is released 10 Jan; THE HOLY MOUNTAIN is released 24 Jan; and FANDO Y LIS is released 7 Feb in selected cinemas by ARROW VIDEO. All three titles will also be released as a Limited Edition Blu-ray set in March 2020.

The Winslow Boy (1948) *****

Dir: Anthony Asquith | Cast: Cedric Hardwicke, Robert Donat, Margaret Leighton

Anthony Asquith and playwright Terence Rattigan worked together on three literary adaptations, but this legal-themed drama about defending justice is possibly the best. It was also a great stage success for Rattigan, reflecting the traditional values of middle-class society in a glorious portrait of Edwardian England. David Mamet’s 1999 version isn’t a patch on this black and white masterpiece with its drole comedy undertones. Based on the true-life Archer-Shee case of 1910, it sees a strong-willed father (Cedric Hardwicke) determined to risk his reputation and fortune in defending his son’s honour when the young navy cadet (an earnest Neil North) is accused by the establishment of stealing a £5 postal order (a bill of payment, rather like a cheque). Meanwhile the Winslow family relationships come under strain as the legal case plods on endlessly – nothing has changed there.

Cedric Hardwicke and Robert Donat are superb as Ronnie Winslow’s father Arthur Winslow and his defending barrister Sir Robert Morton respectively (Morton is based on a renowned Irish lawyer Sir Edward Carson). Margaret Leighton is also superb as Winslow’s suffragette sister, Catherine, looking graceful in William Chapell’s elegant designs (she was a willowy, 5.10’). Mona Washburne plays against type as an amusingly plucky female journalist who comes to cover the case for the Evening News (Morton later has a dig at the press: “What you say, will have little bearing on what they write”). There are rousing musical interludes capturing the zeitgeist of the era, and one echoes the public’s support, courtesy of Herbert Clifford’s musical compositions. Mother Grace (Marie Lohr) berates her husband for devoting his life to his son’s innocence at the expense of the rest of the family: Catherine’s upcoming nuptials are put in jeopardy by her future father in law. This is all captured in Freddie Young’s lustrous monochrome camerawork. The Winslow Boy competed for the Grand International Award at Venice Film Festival that year but came home empty-handed. The winner was Lawrence Olivier’s Hamlet, with Jean Simmons winning Best Actress, so at least the British didn’t lose out that year. MT

FULLY RESTORED AND RELEASED FOR THE FIRST TIME ON BLURAY | DVD | DIGITAL | 3 FEBRUARY 2020

Lucian Freud: A Self-Portrait (2019) ****

Dir: David Bickerstaff | Writers: David Bickerstaff/Phil Grabsky | With: William Feaver, James Hall, Tim Marlow (RA Artistic Director 2014-19, Jasper Sharp, Curator, Kunthistorisches Museum Vienna | Andrea Tarsia (Head of Exhitibitions RA) | Doc, 85′

“I wanted to shock and amaze” says Lucian Freud in faintly-accented English. Sitting in his workshop where he fought, struggled and experimented tirelessly with his craft – Freud was well into his eighties when he died in 2011 – the renowned Berlin-born portraitist is an intense and furtive figure in the early scenes of this new biopic by David Bickerstaff. The filmmaker’s previous subjects have included Van Gogh, Picasso and Monet. Co-written by Phil Grabsky, the doc interweaves filmed interviews with Freud in his final years, with the usual talking heads approach. Curators and specialists add valuable insight, although a few of the contributors bring little to the party.

The former artistic director of the Royal Academy Tim Marlow takes us round Lucian Freud’s first and only exhibition at the London gallery (until 26 January 2020). Although Freud is seen as a modern artist his work is very much connected to that ‘old master’, painterly tradition of Titian and Rembrandt: Few modern artists have explored the human body with such intensity, and such determination. Of course, he was a gambler, a playboy and a bon viveur, but few artists spent as much time in their studio as Lucian Freud. The RA’s Andrea Tarsia explains how he pitted his developing style against his personal life, scrutinising himself as much as his subjects. His single-minded passion focused on self-portraiture as much as on those his was painting:. “Everything is a self-portrait”. Often his subjects are not even named: what mattered more to him was the immediacy of the situation, the spontaneity of the gaze. Accompanied by a jazzy score the doc conveys the energy and charisma that seems to spin off each hypnotic portrait, even a small canvas can dominate a room.

Born into an eminent but non-religious Jewish family on the 8th December 1922, Lucian Freud’s father was an architect and the youngest son of the analyst Sigmund Freud. The middle son of three, Lucian was his mother’s favourite and as such he was deeply resented by his brothers. His biographer William Feaver (The Lives of Lucian Freud) reports how as a popular teenager he was taken by surprise when the family came under scrutiny by the authorities and had to move to London in the autumn of 1933. He was sent to the progressive Dartington school where he developed an interest in plants and horses, and thence Bryanston whence he was expelled for mooning in Bournemouth High Street, on a bet. A stone sculpture of a horse secured him a place in a London art school in 1937 but this was also short-lived. Eventually Freud fetched up in what he told his parents was “the only decent art school” of the time run by Sir Cedric Morris in East Anglia. Subversive to the last, Freud once again disgraced himself and “burnt the school down”.

But Morris had by this time instilled some discipline into the 18 year old Freud and he produced his first work – a tight and rather flattened oil painting simply entitled ‘Self-portrait,1940′. An ability to draw was the first step on the ladder and led to commissions for various book covers but impetuosity led to Freud joining the Navy for a spell. Returning to London he shared a St Johns Wood flat with fellow painter John Craxston who introduced him to an influential circle of friends. For nearly ten years he and John experimented with architects sample pots producing glossy-looking abstracts and portraits.

In the early 1940s Lucian Freud moved to the more seedy area of Paddington and settled down to a more committed painting style, ‘Man With a Feather’ (1943) was exhibited at his first solo show at London’s Lefevre Gallery. Now in his early twenties, women fell for Freud’s mesmerising allure and powerful presence, and he was able to navigate his way round English society marrying Kitty Garman. But he made a hopeless husband; although he could be sensitive and sociable, focusing on you with an intense gaze, he could also be callous and cruel.

In Paris in 1946 he met Picasso and soon realised the dedication that painting required. By now he was using oils and honing his style of self-portraiture, his face creeping into the frame with surprise, suggestion or a quizzical expression that calls to mind the ‘fourth wall’.  ‘Still Life with Green Lemon’ was a case in point, painted during a visit to Greece in 1946. Ostensibly these were self-portraits – Freud’s face only just intruding into the edges of a work dominated by another subject – he was already displaying the prickly illusiveness that was to become his style. ‘Startled Man’ (1948) ushered in a period of clean, conte-work. This is an extremely accomplished drawing that really flaunts his capabilities. ‘Sleeping Nude’ (1950) and the surrealist ‘Interior at Paddington’ (1951) were actually hyper-realist paintings. By this time John Minton had become a friend, and Freud had also met and painted Francis Bacon. His marriage to Lady Caroline Blackwood saw her being incorporated into various works, and she appears in bed in his self-portrait ‘Lucian Freud, 1949’ which was exhibited at the Venice Biennale that year. She left him four years later due to his infidelities. Like most artists Freud wanted his life to be his work, and it was impossible for him to be committed to any woman. His only focus was himself and whoever he was painting at the time.

A sensuality entered the artist’s work in the late 1950s and early 1960 where an emphasis on touch starts to appear. This is most noticeable during a trip to Ian Fleming’s Golden Eye when he painted a Flemish style portrait on a small scrap of copper. It sees him putting his finger on his lips and was the start of this sensuous awareness. The 1960s also marked a switch to hog-hair brushes with ‘Man’s Head’ (1963) and the restless associated portraits, smooth backgrounds allowing the face to stand out. Although Freud admired Francis Bacon’s style of working in a gestural way, his own work increasingly gained a more structural, almost architectural element, as he slotted colours together with pasty brushstrokes, trying to make the paint tell the story.

The film’s focus then switches from Freud’s own work to visit Amsterdam where he often visited the Rijksmuseum to study Rembrandt and understand his approach. Back in London at the Royal Academy’s Exhibition, the film shows how Freud’s portraits  actually hold and dominate the room. ‘Man with a Blue Scarf’ (2004) was a canvas that required exactitude, the sitter under as much pressure to perform as Freud himself. This portrait of art critic Martin Gayford offers further evidence of the Freud’s obsession with detail. The relationship was intense and required the sitter to be totally committed and, crucially, to return to the studio for sittings that went on several times a week for at least a year. But during this time Freud engaged in avid conversation: highly entertaining he was a raconteur who was as focused on the sitter as he was in himself. But Freud was certainly not an expressionist painter.

Lucian Freud’s large 1993 self-portrait is defiant – he was 71, but still emanated power and excitement; his greatest fear was losing his mind, but he was also concerned about his physical vigour. ‘Benefits Supervisor Sleeping’ (1995) sold in 2008 for 33.6million dollars – the highest price ever paid for a work by a living artist. Freud carried on painting voraciously until his death on 20 July 2011. He was 88. “Being with him was like being plugged into the National Grid for an hour” said one sitter. “Freud was one of the great European painters of the last 500 years. He’s one of those big figures across the centuries, rather than representative of an era or a movement” says Tim Marlow. “Tradition is a big word but Lucian challenged tradition constantly”. Jasper Sharp adds him to a list that goes back to Holbein; Durer; Cranach and Rembrandt. And he goes on: “Freud gives that list a little shuffle, making us look at Rembrandt a bit differently and Holbein a bit differently through his eyes, and through himself”. And that is a remarkable achievement for any artist. MT

LUCIAN FREUD: A SELF PORTRAIT | ON RELEASE FROM 14 JANUARY 2020 | SEVENTH ART PRODUCTIONS | ROYAL ACADEMY LUCIAN FREUD 

Cloak and Dagger (1947) **** Home Ent

Dir: Fritz Lang | Cast: Cary Cooper, Lilli Palmer, Robert Alda | 106′ US Spy Thriller

This virtuoso World War II espionage thriller is one of Fritz Lang’s most underrated films, its edgy European cast adding grist to Albert Maltz and Ring Lardner’s screenplay based on Corey Ford and Alastair McBain’ book: Cloak and Dagger – The Secret Story of the Office of Strategic Services. The noirish classic was Lang’s first post-war and stars Gary Cooper as a suave and sardonic nuclear physicist Alvah Jesper (Cooper) who is tasked by the U.S. OSS to become a reluctant undercover agent, embarking on a secret mission to Switzerland and then Italy to investigate Germany’s plans to construct an atomic bomb. His plans are waylaid when he falls for vulnerable resistance fighter Gina (Lilli Palmer, in her first Hollywood role). The two then join forces in a eventful and often tortuous effort to smuggle a scientist out of Italy. Although Cloak and Dagger is not quite as pithy and focused as You Only Live Once, but definitely worth a watch. With Max Steiner’s rousing score, Sol Polito’s captivating chiaroscuro camerawork and some dazzling shoot-outs and set pieces, Cloak and Dagger is an intriguing wartime story that melds romantic melodrama with stylish spy thriller as the lovers embark on an adventure fraught with danger and sinister characters, into the unknown. Lang’s original footage was lost, and so the ending changed for the theatrical release. MT

CLOAK AND DAGGER (Masters of Cinema) out on 27 January 2020

Eureka Store https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/cloak-and-dagger/

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The Miracle Worker (1962) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Arthur Penn | Cast: Anne Bancroft, Patty Dukes | US Drama, 106′

The Miracle Worker is a Southern Gothic melodrama about the remarkable life of Helen Keller (1880-198), who was born deaf and blind but went on to achieve great things in the world of literature and politics. Directed by Arthur Penn and based on William Gibson’s Broadway play, the film avoids sentimentality achieving a rare emotional power due to its raw and uninhibited performances from Patty Duke (Keller) and Anne Bancroft as her Irish governess Anne Sullivan whose patience and dedication helps her overcome her physical and emotional setbacks and live a full life. The Academy Award-winning story is set in 19th century Bible Belt Alabama where Helen is born into a middle class family who are frightened and devastated when they realise their newborn daughter is unable to see or hear. The real Helen Keller’s illness was attributed to meningitis – or possibly Scarlet Fever at the age of seven, but in Penn’s version Keller is afflicted from birth. Hope arrives in the shape of Anne Sullivan, a 20-year old specialist teacher from Boston whose empathy comes largely due to her own recently regained ability to see. Anne responds to Helen through the power of touch —the only tool they have in common—and leads her frightened pupil on a challenging journey from fear and isolation to enlightenment and self-determination. MT

The Miracle Worker on UK Blu-ray for the first time | EUREKA

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg | Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964) *****

Dir.: Jacques Demy; Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Anne Vernon, Ellen Farmer, Nino Castelnuovo, Marc Michel, Mireille Perrey; France/West Germany 1964, 91 min.

Jacques Demy (1931-1990) was a unique and multi-talented filmmaker who rose to fame in the wake of the New Wave. The Umbrellas was the second of a trilogy, bookended by Lola (1961) and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967). American style musicals are dominated by song and dance numbers, whereas in The Umbrellas is entirely sung. Demy wanted to create a European counterpart to the American tradition: The film is much closer in style to opera than musical.

It all focuses on Sixteen-year old Genevieve Emery (Deneuve) who is madly in love with car mechanic Guy (Castelnuovo). Her mother (Vernon) is not keen on the marriage, she is holding out for a more substantial match for her daughter. Guy is not really poor, he still lives with his godmother Elise (Perrey), who spends most of her time in bed, being looked after by Madeleine (Farner). But Madame Emery has another reason to wish for a financially more rewarding partnership for her daughter: her umbrella shop is on the verge of bankruptcy. Enter Roland (Michel), a diamond dealer, who falls for Genevieve.

When Guy gets drafted into the army, with the possibility of seeing action in the Algeria War, the lovers consummate their relationship. Madame Emery’s best laid plans seem to come to nothing when her daughter gets pregnant. But Roland (who was part of Lola, and quotes from it), forgives all and suggests they bring up the child together. But the marriage ceremony is anything but joyful, and the little epilogue is even grimmer: Guy has married Madeleine after the death of Elise, and has bought a petrol station with the money he inherited from her. On a cold winter evening Genevieve stops at the petrol station and asks Guy if he wants to speak to his daughter, who is in the car. Guy is not keen at all, looking forward to meeting his wife and little son.

Comparing The Umbrellas with Godard’s Un Homme et une Femme (1961), it turns out that Demy is very much more a realist than the self-proclaimed revolutionary Godard. Whist Anna Karina (in bohemian Paris) just wants to marry Jean-Paul Belmondo to have a baby – even if the baby’s father might be Jean-Claude Brialy, Genevieve and her mother (in provincial Cherbourg) see the child as a fly in the works. Instead of a fairy tale ending, where the pigherd marries the beautiful princess and they live happily ever after, Demy offers an exchange relationship: Genevieve’s young beauty is traded for Roland’s wealth. The ending is more bitter than sweet.

Michel Legrand’s score and Jean Rabier’s colourful images have made The Umbrellas into an emotionally resonant classic. Shot on Eastmancolour, notorious for fading, Demy’s widow Agnes Varda created a restored copy in 1992. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 6 DECEMBER 2019 at BFI SOUTHBANK and NATIONWIDE as part of the BFI MUSICALS! THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH

Betrayed (1988) *** Blu-ray release

Dir:Costa-Gavras |Screenwriter:Joe Eszterhas Cast: Tom Berenger, John Heard, Ted Levine,Jeffrey DeMunn, John Mahoney, Betsy Blair, Debra Winger | Thriller UK 127’

With its universal themes of alienation and racial division, comes a particularly timely re-release that highlights the continuing issues surrounding anti-semitism in the Labour Party thirty years on, and nearly fifty years since the Holocaust.

After the Chicago killing of a controversial radio talk-show host by right wing extremists, FBI agent in the shape of Debra Winger goes is tasked with investigating the prime suspect (Tom Berenger). A thanks to his moves on the dance floor, and tousled haired charm, it doesn’t take long before she is seriously smitten by this outwardly clean living widower despite nagging feelings of doubt.

But it all goes pear-shaped when this appealingly earthy guy takes her on a night time  hunting expedition of a very sinister kind, one involving human beings. Clearly Winger is not impressed but her boss and ex-lover (John Heard) forces her to keep on his trail, one that reveals serious crime involving a white supremacist conspiracy against Jews, blacks and the LGBT crowd in the heartlands of America’s tradition-bound midwest that serves as a thorny counterpoint to her own ambivalent feelings about her new lover. Highly intelligent she may be as a detective, but we are sometime fools for love.

The strength of this thriller is undoubtedly in the performances. Winger and Berenger skilfully navigate Eszterhas’ flawed script, riding over the potholes to make this convincing and often gripping viewing, with its highly corrosive subject matter. MT

On 2 December the BFI will bring Betrayed to Blu-ray for the first time in the UK. Special features include a new audio commentary and audio interviews with Costa-Gavras and Joe Eszterhas.

 

What’s New Pussycat (1964) *** Bluray

Dir: Clive Donner | Cast: Peter O’Toole, Romy Schnieder, Capucine, Paula Prentiss, Woody Allen, Ursula Andress | 109′ France/US Comedy

What’s new Pussycat? Is a light-hearted often hilarious comedy farce thanks to a witty script by Woody Allen (who also stars) and its fabulous cast. Nowadays it will be criticised for its perceived misogyny, but back in the 1960s this is how life was. So the film is certainly not laudable ethically or aesthetically but that doesn’t mean it’s not highly entertaining, and not least because of its performances and jazzy score from Burt Bacharach.

The opening sequence sets the tone for what is a flagrant but lush satire and outlandish behaviour from both the sexes, and everyone seems to play by the same rules, the men never upstaging the women. 

Clive Donner would eventually go on to direct Peter O’Toole in Rogue Male (1976). Here he plays Michael Voltaire James, a rogue of a different kind. One who is dating Romy Schneider’s “Pussycat” but is giving out clear signals that he doesn’t want to be tied down. “Marriage is forever, like concrete”. The other women is his life enjoy his attentions but are never degraded or hurt by him. 

So off he goes to seek the advice of Peter Sellers’ dementedly camp psychoanalyst who is himself not exactly averse to the odd extramarital affair, causing his wife (Eddra Gale) to inquire: “is she prettier than me? “Prettier than you?”, he replies “I’m prettier than you”. 

Donner’s skilful direction plays down some of the film’s more slapstick sequences but still allows his prodigious cast free reign to style their own idiosyncratic roles, and this makes for some inspired and enjoyable vignettes from the likes of Capucine, Paul Prentiss, Romy Schneider, Ursula Andress, and Sabine Sun, although Peter Sellers shouts far too much for everyone’s enjoyment. Peter O’Toole is incredibly debonair as the philandering chain-smoking lead character who never seems able to curtail his romantic attentions.

Pussycat does have a happy ending and and brilliant finale – and Allen’s script provides plenty of memorable one-liners to make this a cult classic worthy revisiting. MT

NOW ON BLURAY | EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA | 2 December 

A Fistful of Dynamite (1971) Bluray release

Dir: Sergio Leone | Cast: Rod Steiger, James Coburn | US Western 157′

Sergio Leone’s final foray into spaghetti western territory was originally called Duck, You Sucker!, a title that certainly rings true with the unexpected comedy talents embodied in the dynamite duo of Rod Steiger (Juan Miranda) and James Coburn (John Mallory) who exude a feisty chemistry as a couple of anti-establishment hellraisers who are both on the run, for different reasons. At the beginning of the Mexican Revolution in 1913, they fall in with a band of revolutionaries and embark on a rip-roaring journey to rob a bank – but their real triumph is as saviours and heroes in the pursuit of the revolutionary cause

With thrilling support from Maria Monti, Romolo Valli, Rik Battaglia and Franco Graziosi and an atmospheric score by iconic composer Ennio Morricone, Fistful of Dynamite never quite reaches the heady heights of Leone’s  Dollars Trilogy but Steiger and Coburn more than make up for it with their sheer bravura.

ON RELEASE COURTESY OF EUREKA from  DECEMBER 2019 

 

 

Operation Petticoat (1959) *** Home Ent

Dir: Blake Edwards | Cast: Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, Joan O’Brien, Dina Merrill, Gene Evans, Dick Sargent (TV’s Bewitched) | US Drama 124′

William Blake Crump, better known by his stage name, Blake Edwards, was an American filmmaker who began his career in the 1940s as an actor, but soon began writing screenplays and radio scripts before turning to producing and directing in television and films in a comedy vein, the most famous of which is arguably his 1961 light-hearted romantic drama Breakfast at Tiffany’s starring Audrey Hepburn. He was also responsible for creating the Pink Panther series with Peter Sellers playing the bumbling Inspector Jacque Clousseau, “an officer of the low” that ran from 1963 until 1993 culminating in an eighth sequel Son of the Pink Panther, where Roberto Benigni takes over as Clousseau’s progeny, alongside Herbert Lom.

Cary Grant and Tony Curtis, are the dynamite comedy duo behind Edward’s Academy Award-nominated sixth film Operation Petticoat. Filmed in glorious Eastmancolor, by six times Oscar-nominated Russell Harlen, Grant is in his usual sardonic guise this time as Admiral Matt Sherman in charge of a submarine USS Sea Tiger during the Battle of the Philippines at the time US involvement Second World War. In flashback Sherman reflects on the amusing misadventures of the fictional U.S. Navy submarine, in a script that was based on real incidents affecting the Pacific Fleet’s submarines during the war. 

As Sherman is due to relinquish command to the morally questionable Lt. Nick Holden (Curtis), who is tasked with taking the vessel to the scrapyard, he is joined by a motley collection of female nurses, adding a frisson to proceedings, along with a goat. Most of the humour is on the lewd side, but no more so that Gerald Thomas’ comedy Britflick Carry on Jack that would follow five years later, starring Kenneth William, Charles Hawtry and Juliet Mills. A threadbare narrative is saved by enjoyable performances from Grant, Curtis, Merrill and O’Brian who all have a whale of a time. Blake tried to transform the energy of the film into a TV series which never really took off. MT

EUREKA Classics presents one of Blake Edwards most beloved comedies on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK in a Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition | 2 December 

 

 

The African Queen (1951) **** Bluray

Dir: John Huston | Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Morley | US Drama 105’

The African Queen, is one of the best romantic adventures to come out of the First World War. Adapted from a novel by C.S. Forester, this rollicking rollercoaster sees Bogart and Hepburn as an unlikely couple forced to travel together down a hazardous East African river.

Katharine Hepburn plays Rose Sayer, the unmarried sister of a prim British missionary (Robert Morley). When occupying German forces pitch up in her village, killing her brother, Bogart comes to the rescue in the shape of raddled old captain Charlie Allnut (a role that won him his only Oscar), whisking her away in his rambling tramp steamer called the African Queen. But the voyage is more eventful than either could possibly imagine. And from their intense hatred of one another develops a sparky romance that carries them through against the odds. And they sail towards calmer waters united by their battle against the Germans.

The African Queen is one of the most popular films in the history of cinema, and may well be the perfect adventure film and certainly is one of the best literary adaptations ever to hit the big screen.

THE AFRICAN QUEEN is available from 18 November 2019 EUREKA

Nuri Bilge Ceylan | The Complete Works

Nuri Bilge’s langorously contemplative dramas draw on Turkish life and offer a unique style of visual storytelling often reflecting his personal experiences as exponents of the disillusionment and unfairness of Turkish life, particularly where family trauma or social injustice implodes on the individual.

The past collides with the present, the countryside with the city and the rich with the poor in these gorgeously rendered reveries that muse on fraught domestic scenarios, betrayal or officialdom calling to mind the work of Tolstoy, Ibsen or even Terence Davies. 

Social realism shapes his early work that observes everyday life in thoughtful moments of reflection. His beguiling moody cinematic style and need for spontaneity combines magnificent widescreen images with a potent intimacy that draws us into the minds of his often troubled characters whose lives are exposed through vibrant visual storytelling. His delicately rendered black and white feature debut Kasaba (The Small Town, 1997) sees the changing seasons through the eyes of two school children whose family is at odds with the local set-up in and forms part of the unofficial “Provincial Trilogy” along with Clouds of May and Uzak.

Uzak is a study in alienation which sees a man’s life imploding after his marriage breaks down and he is forced to re-adjust to changing circumstances of his personal life. In some ways this same theme is teased out in Climates that explores the deteriorating relationship of a married couple and the repercussions as their marriage slows spins out of control. Two crime thrillers follow: The powerful Three Monkeys is a visual metaphor for anxiety, a moody reflection on family guilt echoed after a tragedy under the glowering skies of Istanbul. The darkly amusing Once Upon a Time in Anatolia burns through the torpor of a stifling summer afternoon where the impact of crime and officialdom weighs down on the lives of those involved in a local murder and their tight-knit families. Clouds of May (2009) actually stars his own father as a filmmaker returning to his village to cast the locals in a feature about their daily trials and tribulations.

In his Palme d’Or winner Winter Sleep (2014) Ceylan hones his discursive style in an intense meditation on the ties that bind. Set in the snow-swept panoramas of his beloved Anatolia, a couple engage at length on the complexities of their relationship and their family. This brings us full circle to his most recent and resonant work The Wild Pear Tree that once again sees the present connecting with the past when a troubled writer returns to his hometown in Marmara to seek financing for a book while dealing with his ageing father’s gambling debts.

ON BLURAY/DVD from 11 NOVEMBER at NEW WAVE FILMS 

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The Golem: How he came into the World (1920) ****

Dir.: Paul Wegener, Carl Boese; Cast: Paul Wegener, Albert Steinrück, Lydia Salmonova, Ernst Deutsch, Lothar Müthel; Deutschland 1920, 91 min.

The Golem was one of the highlights of German  Expressionism. Directors Paul Wegener (The Student of Prague) and Carl Boese (Grock) created a world of chaos and destruction in the Jewish ghetto of Prague, where love and political commitment are shown as equally destructive. 

Set in the Middle-Ages, the Emperor gives the order for all the Jews to leave the country. Rabbi Löw (Steinrück) is able to to convince the Emperor to take the decree back. And he is helped in his endeavour by the Golem (Wegener), a giant who is  (sometimes) under the command of the evil genius Astaroth. The Rabbi is not aware of it, but when the Cosmic forces allow the Golem becomes destructive. He is helped by the Rabbi’s assistant (Deutsch), who is in love with the Rabbi’s daughter Miriam (Slamonova). When his assistant finds Miriam in bed with the Knight Florian (Müthel), he brings the Golem back to life: the Rabbi had merely ‘disarmed’ him. The Rabbi’s assistant tells the Golem to open the heavily locked door to Miriam’s bedroom, but the Golem kidnaps Miriam and runs riot, destroying nearly all of the ghetto. The Rabbi is able to destroy the connection between the Golem and Astaroth, making the giant docile again. Finally, a little girl innocently plucks away his amulet, which gives him life force.

Brilliantly shot by Karl Freund (The Last Laugh) and Guido Seeber (Sylvester), this, the forth Golem film version (The 1915 version was lost), was a great success at the box office, and is also, according to Kracauer “the only progressive feature made during the post-war period. If this attempt of reason would have been successful, reason would have denounced the character of torture and given way to the true alternative to tyranny and chaos”. AS

THE 4K RESTORATION IS AVAILABLE 19 November 2019 COURTESY OF EUREKA

 

Clockwise (1986) ****

Dir: Christopher Morahan | Wri: Michael Frayn | Cast: John Cleese, Alison Steadman, Sharon Maiden, Stephen Moore, Chip Sweeney, Penelope Wilton, Joan Hickson

Cleese plays a toned down version of his iconic hotel owner Basil Fawlty in this whip smart comedy drama brilliantly written by the great English playwright and author Michael Frayn.

It sees a clock-watching comprehensive headmaster Mr Stimpson (Cleese) finally go off the rails after perpetually brow-beating and berating his pupils and staff with a loud speaker. Heading for a vitally important Headmasters’ Conference in Norwich, he first boards the wrong train then leaves his speech in the carriage. This leads to a major misunderstanding with his wife when he goes hell for leather in a female pupil’s car in order to make it to the conference across the summery East Midlands countryside in time for the keynote speech.

Michael Frayn is famous for his pithy writing skills and is supported by a well-known British cast making this all highly entertaining. But Cleese tops the hilarity bill as the masterful headmaster whose calmly pragmatic approach always teeters on the brink of barely suppressed hysteria as desperately tries to make it in time dressed at one point as a monk. But it’s his final modish rig-out that will have you in hysterics : “I can take the desperation, it’s the hope…”.

CLOCKWISE is the film that inspired Cleese to make A Fish Called Wanda and won him the Evening Standard Peter Sellers Award for Comedy in the year after its release. MT

ON BLURAY, DVD and DOWNLOAD | 19 NOVEMBER 2019 from STUDIOCANAL

 

The Invitation (2016) Bluray release ***

Dir: Karyn Kusama | Wri: Phil Hay  | US Thriller 100′

In this hypnotic psychological thriller Karyn Kusama creates a cocoon of tension that slowly implodes during a friends’ evening get together in the Hollywood Hills.

Grieving father Will (Marshall-Green) turns up to visit his ex-wife Eden (Blanchard) who has clearly put their tragic past behind her. But an unsettling vibe seems to haunt this shadowy get-together where everyone is behaving in a bizarre fashion while secrets and desires slowly muddy the familiar water. Will gradually becomes convinced there is a hidden agenda at play behind the invitation to join the people he thought he knew and loved. The tension mounts amid an increasingly unsettling atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion as the evenings turns decidedly hostile – and friends soon become enemies. Kusama’s taut pacing, spooky sound design and suggestively ambiguous narrative combine to make this impressively tense thriller well worth a watch. MT

ON BLURAY FROM SECOND SIGHT FILMS | 4 NOVEMBER 2019

 

Uzak | Distant (2002) ****

Dir/DoP:  Nuri Bilge Ceylan | Cast: Muzaffer Ozdemir, Mehmet Emin Toprak, Zuhal Gencer Erkaya, Mazan Kirilmis, Feridun Koc, Fatma Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan | Drama Turkey

In his third feature Uzak you can sees Ceylan gradually transitioning from the social realist cinema verite style of his early two works to something more like an urban arthouse drama. Spare on dialogue and score, Mozart’s Symphony Concertante (K364) accentuates the feeling of displacement and alienation in this thoughtfully sober two-hander.

At this stage Ceylan is still writing, photographing, editing and producing his own features and this melancholy depiction of loneliness and isolation is set in a dour and wintry Istanbul where Yusuf (Mehmet Emin Topak) fetches up from the country in order to find work on the banks of the Bosphorus. He moves in with Mahmut (Muzaffer Ozdemir) a distant relative and successful photographer whose flat over looks the harbour. Keen on arthouse cinema, particularly Tarkovsky, he enjoys the company of various women friends or hanging out in a jazz-filled local cafe. The contrast between the rough-edged young blade and the louche yet faintly sophisticated older man makes Distant compellingly watchable as the two ruffle each others feathers in a low-key but extremely masculine way. Ceylan’s static camera observes their daily life from a detached point of view: eavesdropping on casual conversations, laconic encounters and familiar comings and goings in the block of flats where they live out an uneventful existence.  .

Mahmut is often pictured in front of the TV, his feet up on a poof, enjoying a film while in the background distant conversations emanate from the concierge downstairs. His wife Nazan has left him and he has grown accustomed to his state of isolation almost relishing it as a badge of honour and with a comforting pride. But he still mourns hiss loss. Meanwhile his mother is forever leaving urgent messages on the ‘phone which he ignores as a matter of course.

Yusuf, on the other hand, is uneasy and restless, out of sync with his newfound urban freedom. He spends his days idly wandering around the locale, trying to meet women in the hope that something will give without much effort on his part, in the style of Dickens’ Mr McCawber. A poignant moment sees him worrying about the suffering of little mouse which Mahmut has tried to poison. The country boy still has a feeling for nature, lost to the man inured to harshness of city life.

Stunningly visual, leisurely and slow-burning but not to the extent of his later films Winter Sleep and The Wild Pear Tree, this is very much a tale from the city that relies on an atmosphere and takes the viewpoint of a detached observer allowing plenty of scope for our imagination to wander and even enjoy the subtle situational humour created by the growing friction between these uneasy flatmates who are clearly both lonely but also loathe to come to any satisfactory modus vivendi. The only moment of real drama is when Mahmut berates Yusuf about not flushing the lavatory. And this leads to a contretemps with the older many suddenly tiring of this young feckless loser who expects to be handed things on a plate, a conversation which highlights Ceylan’s ongoing preoccupation: the contrast between town and country; the old and the new. MT

NOW ON DVD/BLURAY COURTESY OF NEW WAVE FILMS | 11 NOVEMBER 2019

 

 

Five Films by Samuel Fuller | Bluray release

A towering figure of American cinema, Samuel Fuller was a master of the B-movie, a pulp maestro whose iconoclastic vision elevated the American genre film to new heights. After the major success of The Steel Helmet, Fuller was put under contract by Twentieth Century Fox after being impressed by Darryl F. Zanuck’s direct sales pitch (other studios offered Fuller money and tax shelters; Zanuck simply told him, “We make better movies.”).

Over a six-year period, Fuller would produce some of the best work of his career, (and therefore, some of the best films in American cinema), an uncompromising series of masterpieces spanning multiple genres (the Western, the War film, film noir, the Crime-Thriller) that would establish the director as a true auteur, whose influence continues to be felt today.

Five of the films from this fruitful period, are now presented on blu-ray from stunning restorations. The impossibly tense Korean-War drama Fixed Bayonets! (1951); the outrageous and confrontational spy-thriller Pickup on South Street (1953); the Cold War submarine-actioner Hell and High Water (1954); the lushly photographed, cold-as-ice film noir House of Bamboo (1955/main picture); and the audacious Western with a feminist twist, Forty Guns (1957). Also included is Samantha Fuller’s 2013 documentary, A Fuller Life, featuring friends and admirers of the great director reading extracts from his memoirs.

ON BLURAY | 28 OCTOBER 2019 | EUREKA 

 

That’ll be the Day (1973) **** Home Ent release

Dir: Claude Watham, Wri: Ray Connelly | Cast: David Essex, Ringo Star, Keith Moon, Robert Lindsay, Rosemary Leach | UK Drama 91′

Bad boy David Essex was a teenage heartthrob back in the 1970s. With his twisted grin, blue-eyes and cheeky swagger he was a little bit louche in contrast to David Cassidy’s fresh-faced boy next door. But the camera loves him as Jim MacLaine, the perfect teen hero in Claude Whatham’s seamy coming of age drama about wannabe rock ‘n’ roll stardom in a post-war suburbia where England is still rather down on its knees, gloomily captured by legendary DoP Peter Suschitzky. Leaving school just before the end of term exams Jim soon finds himself in the Isle of Wight working in a holiday camp, and then joins the travelling fair where he meets his mentor in the shape of a game Ringo Star with his mellow Merseyside burr. Rosemary Leach doesn’t get much of a role as Jim’s mother, but she certainly makes her mark as the face of maternal disillusionment in this poignantly atmospheric trip down memory lane. MT

NOW COMING TO DVD, Bluray and DIGITAL together with cult classic STARDUST (1974) | 21 OCTOBER 2019

Hair (1979) **** Bluray Release

Dir Miloš Forman | Cast: John Savage, Treat Williams, Beverly D’Angelo, Annie Golden | US Comedy musical 121′

Emblematic of the so-called Swinging Sixties this zany anti-establishment smash hit musical captured the imagination of Czech director Miloš Forman who made a film of it ten years later.

John Savage plays Claude Bukowski, a naive country boy who leaves Bible-bashing Oklahoma for a journey of love and self-discovery in New York City, before reality finally bites in the killing fields of Vietnam.

The film was nominated for two Golden Globes but came home empty- handed: only the music remains in the collective memory with a string of hits such as: The Age of Aquarius and San Francisco.

Loosely based on Hair: An American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, the musical play, book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, the opening scene seems ludicrous today – it sees a group of hippies sashaying along a country lane extolling the virtues of masturbation, just as some rather posh women are riding by on their horses. But there’s a joyful energy at play throughout this coming of age musical that sees the wide-eyed Claude (Savage) waiting for his Vietnam drafting while falling in love with a rich but rebellious ‘it’ girl (D’Angelo). He certainly experiences a baptism of fire – but not the one he originally had in mind back in Oklahoma. And although Hair occasionally feels cheesy and dated, there’s plenty to enjoy in this provocative and sometimes downright hilarious musical memoir. MT

Celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year, HAIR will be released on Blu-ray (a UK premiere)/DVD in a Dual Format Edition by the BFI on 28 October 2019 as part of a UK-wide season, BFI Musicals! The Greatest Show on Screen.

Dual Format Edition release on 28 October 2019

And Soon the Darkness (1970) **** Bluray

Dir: Robert Fuest | UK Thriller 99′

Directed by Robert Fuest (The Abominable Dr. Phebes, Wuthering Heights) AND SOON THE DARKNESS is an unsettling Claude Chabrol style thriller starring Pamela Franklin and Michelle Dotrice as young English nurses enjoying a cycling holiday in the French countryside. In a bar they come across a dark and seductive stranger (Paul/Sandor Eles) who is the catalyst for the two falling out and going their own separate ways. But Paul is not what he seems. A local woman then warns Jane (Franklin) to be careful and Cathy (Dotrice) finds a broken bicycle and some female underwear in the bushes. Desperately they try and find each other as the tone grows increasingly sinister with suspense generated largely by the film’s atmospheric sound design, Laurie Johnson’s clever score and Ian Wilson’s vibrant camerawork (both are still alive). Based on an original story by Terry Nation and Barry Clemens who also co-wrote the script AND SOON THE DARKNESS cleverly confounds expectations and extracts the maximum amount of suspense, sustaining jeopardy and a sense of claustrophobia despite the story all taking place in wide open spaces in complete daylight. Unlike Chabrol, Fuest makes no real attempt to explore his characters, preferring to rely on atmosphere, score and clever editing to drive the narrative forward.

FRIGHT (1971) | 87′ | Dir: Peter Collinson (main picture)

Directed by Peter Collinson – best known for The Italian Job, Straight on Till Morning) – this original British slasher film from 1971 stars Honor Blackman (Goldfinger), Susan George (Straw Dogs), Ian Bannen (The Flight of the Phoenix), George Cole and Dennis Waterman (Minder)

Young babysitter Amanda (Susan George) arrives at the Lloyd residence (Honor Blackman and George Cole) to spend the evening looking after their young son. Soon after the Lloyds leave, a series of frightening occurrences in the gloomy old house have Amanda’s nerves on edge. The real terror begins, however, when the child’s biological father appears after recently escaping from a nearby mental institution. Pre-dating the release of Halloween by seven years, FRIGHT was the groundbreaker for the ‘terrorised babysitter’ variation of the ‘home invasion’ horror genre.

FRIGHT and AND SOON THE DARKNESS release on 14 October 2019 http://po.st/AndSoonTheDarkness and http://po.st/Fright

 

The Prey (2018) **

Dir.: Jimmy. Henderson; Cast: Gu Shangwei, Vithaya Pansringarm, Dy Sonita, Nophand Boonyai, Byron Bishop, Sahajak Boonthanakit; Cambodia 2018, 93 min.

Italian born director, co-writer and producer Jimmy Henderson (Jailbreak) may well lay claim to have delivered the first Cambodian action movie, but The Prey is a second rate blend of Irving Pichel’s The Most Dangerous Game, Predator and Hard Target. Henderson never avoids a cliché, if he can help it – making this debut at times rather tedious.

Chinese undercover cop Xin (Shangwei), is investigating a ‘phone scam involving Mainland Chinese customers in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. Captured by local police in a raid he is sent to a faraway prison with the Warden (Pansringarm) is less interested in rehabilitation, and more in hiring out his prisoners to be hunted down and killed Hunger Games style.

Released into the jungle Xin and the other victims are hunted down by Payak (Boonthanakit), Mat (Bishop) and Ti (Boonyai). Fortunately, and to keep the plot rolling, Xin is able to send off a signal to his superiors, who send in a rescue team which includes Li (Chinese supermodel Dy Sonata). There is a sub-plot with a rebel village controlled by the The Warden, but this narrative strain is quickly forgotten. Instead, booby traps; gruesome injuries; snapping twigs as well as unbelievable braveness and sadistic brutality takes over, to deliver a predictable outcome. 

The production values, including DoP Lucas Gath’s lively images and original angles, make this old-style slaughter feature slightly more bearable than the more recent, CGI controlled models. But that’s not saying not too much. AS

AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD FROM 7 OCTOBER 2019  

 

Werewolf (2018) ***

Dir.: Adrian Panek; Cast: Kamil Polnisak, Sonia Mietielica, Danuta Stenka, Nicolas Przygoda; Poland/Netherlands/Germany 2018, 88 min

Inspired by real-life, historical events, writer and director Adrian Panek turns the nightmare of the Holocaust onto a motley group of children who are still alive in the last knockings of the war. One-part survival horror, one-part wartime thriller with a dash of coming-of-age drama, Werewolf is an unconventional yet haunting contemporary dark fable. But its use of young Concentration Camp survivors – in what is basically a horror film featuring vicious German Shepherd dogs – is rather questionable.

In the final days before liberation by the Red Army, the guards in the Gross-Rosen Camp in South-west Poland kill some of the survivors, others are bitten to death by the Alsatians. Young Wladek (Polnisak) is a prisoner who ingratiates himself with the guards, voluntarily throwing himself to the ground and jumping up shouting Auf (Up) and Nieder (down), to please his masters. After he survives along with seven much younger children, they are taken to the the sinister cottage belonging to enigmatic Jadwiga (Stenka) deep in the woods where Jadwiga is killed under mysterious circumstances. The children soon start to run out of food but are forced to remain in the remote house under the leadership of twenty-year old Hanka (Mietielica), due to the wild dogs circling outside, baying for blood. When one of the invading Russian soldiers tries to rape Hanka – with the clear acquiescence of Wladek who is jealous that Hanka prefers the outsider Hanys (Przygoda) to him – he saves the young woman. Wladek seems to be able to communicate with the dogs, before Hanys removes his striped uniform, making the dogs obey him.

Panek clearly objectifies the survivors, with Wladek becoming more mean as the films goes on. Survival depends on living by their wits and the victims cannily comply with their captors. But Werewolf goes a step further, and denounces Wladek as completely wicked. Unfortunately, many Poles were complicit in the murder of their Jewish countrymen – one estimate by the historian Grabowski talks of over 200 000 cases, ending with the deportation or death of Jews. But between the liberation of 1944 and 1946, over 2000 Jews, often Camp survivors, were murdered by Poles – some forty at the first post-war pogrom in Kielce in July 1946. The nationalist government of today has tried to block out any discussion, making it a crime to speak about Polish collaboration, before rescinding the law. Panek’s treatment of Wladek and the other survivors (relegating them to fairground objects) is just another example of the difficulty Poland has with its Jewish history. AS

Werewolf is out on 30 September 2019 (UK & Ireland) 

https://youtu.be/ZmLmbij1W0s

Nationwide from 20 September 2019

Kaleidoscope **** DVD Bluray

Dir.: Rupert Jones; Cast: Toby Jones, Anne Reid, Sinead Matthews, Cecilia Noble; UK 2016, 100 min.

Debut director/writer Rupert Jones has crafted a sublime psychological thriller, enhanced by yet another standout performance from (his brother) Toby Jones as the tortured anti-hero.

Set in a large London Housing Estate, Carl (Jones) lives in a pokey 1970s style flat after being released from prison the year before. One morning Carl wakes up, and finds the body of a young woman he vaguely remembers as Abby (Mathews), in his bathroom. He seems to recall how they ending up dancing together before he possibly locked her in the bathroom. The stairs outside his flat become a kaleidoscope, strangling him in always new twits and turns. The police show up, and so does a helpful neighbour, Monique (Noble). Toby is convinced that he has done something wrong – but can’t work out exactly what or why. When his mother Aileen (Reid) invites herself over – very much against his will – images of Abbey and Aileen co-mingle, Toby certainly suffers from displacement activity – a repressed guilt complex, which will revealed in the final reel.

This is 10 Rililngton Place meets Kafka’s The Trial: Jones even looks spookily very much like Richard Attenborough as the murderous landlord. The grimy atmosphere in the flat is another parallel – but whilst Attenborough’s John Christie was sheer evil, Carl is suffering from a trauma. He is hectically trying to cover up the traces of whatever he might have done; objects, he wants to destroy or find, becoming his enemies. Carl is paralysed, whenever he meets authority, be it the police, or his boss at the garden centre. His anxiety increases the longer his mother stays in his flat, and when she reveals that’s she has bone cancer and wants to spend a lottery win on a last family visit to Canada with him, Carl is close to breaking point.

Let’s just be clear over one thing, and director Jones underlines it – “Kaleidoscope is a psychological thriller, a tragedy, but not a horror feature”. The score, using a harp concerto by the German/American composer Albert Zabel, really intensifies Carl’s desperate state of mind.  There are also echoes here of Bernhard Hermann’s score for Hitchcock’s Vertigo: But whilst Scottie was suffering from Vertigo (and love sickness), Carl is haunted by a past, that remains partly an enigma. DoP Philipp Blaubach (Hush) creates elliptical camera movements, showing Carl permanently fleeing from himself, whilst the long tracking shots mark him like a hunted animal. Overall, Jones has made the most of his limited budget, avoiding any gore, and staying consistently within the parameters of unsettling psychological drama. AS

On DVD/BD release 23 September 2019

Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom | Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (1975) *** 

Dir.: Pier Paolo Pasolini; Cast: Tatiana Mogilansky, Susanna Radaelli, Giuliana Orlandi, Liana Acquaviva, Paolo Boacelli, Giorgio Cataldi, Umbert Paolo Quintavalle, Aldo Valletti, Caterina Boratto, Elsa De Giorgi, Helene Surgere, Sonia Saviange; Italy 1975, 117min.

Banned, censored and reviled the world over since its release, Salò was Pasolini’s final and most controversial masterpiece. The content and imagery is extreme, retaining the power to shock, repel and distress. But it remains a cinematic milestone: culturally significant, politically vital and visually stunning.

Originally intended as the first part of a trilogy about death, it was actually Pier Paolo Pasolini’s swansong: it was premiered at the Paris Film Festival on 23rd November 1975, three weeks after his murder. Based on the novel The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade, it takes place in Northern Italian Fascist Republic of Salò (1943-1945), controlled by Mussolini with the support of Nazi Germany. It tells the story of the Libertines, who kidnap 18 teenagers and subject them to four months of violence, murder, sadism and sexual and psychological torture. Told in four segments ((Ante Inferno, Circle of Manias, Circle of Shit, Circle of Blood), all based on Dante’s The Divine Comedy. There are also quotes of Friedrich Nietzsche (On the Generality of Morality), the poem The Cantos by Ezra Pound and A la Recherche de Temps Perdu by Proust. Shot brilliantly by DoP Tonino Delli Colli and with a score by Ennio Morricone, the drama has moments of brilliance.

The public officials The Duke (Bonacelli), The Bishop (Cataldi), The Magistrate (Quintavalle) and the President (Valletti) decide to marry each other’s daughters: all four are raped and killed in the end. The victims are told “we will govern your life”. Heterosexual intercourse will be punished by mutilation and “the slightest religious act committed by anyone will be punished by death.” Most of the action takes place in a villa, including the coprophagic wedding banquet. Like a Greek chorus, four middle-aged prostitutes are commenting on the on-going bloodshed. The four men dictate everything, their slogans are actual fascist quotes or ones by de Sade. Death is the central topic, Pasolini claims that real and imagined death is connected, and that political and pornographic dehumanisation are the same kind of phantasy. Filmed with radical artificiality, on purpose Saló is very uncomfortable to watch. The Cubist art on the walls, the camp outfits, the sheer absurdity of certain scenes – especially the drag wedding – all make it impossible to reason with anything. The fascists laugh, but it is certainly not funny when they declare: “You cannot reason your way to an understanding of us or a prediction of what we will do next”.

The overriding impression of is of dread. The violent scenes are brief, but the torture that unfolding in the imagination is even more unbearable. The essence of torture is not violence or physical pain, but in the de-humanisation that takes place beforehand. Comparisons with Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter and Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing are clear.

Roland Barthes felt that Pasolini failed on both accounts with Salò: describing fascism and combining it with de Sade. “A flop of figuration (both of Sade and of the fascist system). That is why I wonder, if, at the end of a long concatenation of errors, Pasolini’s Salò is not, all things considered, a proper Sadean object: absolutely irredeemable: no one, indeed, so it seems, can redeem it.” 

Surprisingly, most of crew and cast claimed to have enjoyed the shoot, despite the bruises and cuts they suffered. During the filming at the Villa Gonzaga-Zani in Villempunta, the Salò team where not far away from Bertolucci’s 1900 shoot, which provided the ideal opportunity for these directors to bury the hatchet on their long-standing disagreement that had started when Pasolini criticised Last Tango in Paris. AS

On 30 September 2019 the BFI will release Salò on Blu-ray utilising a High Definition master new to the UK. Special features for this release include a new commentary by Kat Ellinger.

 

           

Local Hero ( 1983) **** Bluray special Edition

Dir: Bill Forsyth | Cast: Burt Lancaster, Peter Riegert, Denis Lawson, Peter Capaldi, Jenny Seagrove, John Gordon Sinclair | UK Drama 111′

Bill Forsyth’s lyrical comedy drama feels at relevant now as it was back in the 1980s with its sterling British cast led by Burt Lancaster. He plays a canny local hermit who refuses to give way on negotiations when Riegert’s Texas oilman attempts to buy up an idyllic Scottish village to build a refinery. With echoes of Alexander Mackendrick’s whimsical fable Whisky Galore! the film conjures up the gentle mystique of its island location that contrasts gracefully with the amusing brashness of the Texas tycoon. Things don’t go as expected but everyone has fun along the way including a girl with webbed feet. A true British classic worth revisiting if you haven’t yet had the pleasure. MT

NOW on  Blu Ray. The special new remastered Collector’s Edition includes brand new extra features, including an audio commentary with director Bill Forsyth

 

 

Pickup on South Street (1953) ***

Dir.: Samuel Fuller; Cast: Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter, Marvyn Vye, Richard Kiley, Willies Bouchey; USA 1953, 80 min.

Pick Up is another classic film noir that gained considerably from Fuller being adamant about the female lead. 20th Century Fox wanted either Marilyn Monroe, Shelley Winters or Ava Gardener for the role of Candy, but director Samuel Fuller not only resisted the three divas on the grounds of them being “too beautiful”, he also threatened to walk off set if Betty Grable (who wanted a dance number for herself) was cast instead of his own choice Jean Peters.

Pickpocket Skip McCoy steals a wallet from Candy (Peters) in a subway train. FBI agent Zare (Bouchey) is tailing Candy, but loses Skip. He then contacts Police Captain Tiger (Vye), who asks his old informer Moe (Ritter) to identify Skip. She agrees happily, and Zare can now go on the hunt for the micro film in Candy’s purse, which she got from her ex-boyfriend Joey (Kiley), a communist agent. He later murders Moe – who had cashed in a second time on Skip’s identity, selling it to her killer. Candy has fallen in love with Skip, but he has no faith in her. Finally, Skip tracks down Joey and the communist ringleader, and starts a new life with Candy.

Samuel Fuller was known as an anti-communist, but Pick-Up, in spite of its topic, is ambivalent about taking sides. As often in Fuller’s films, the American bourgeoisie which had most to gain from the status quo, is ‘saved’ from communism by the down-and-outs of society. Moe, who lives in utter squalor and Candy, the ex-prostitute, are the most violent defenders of the system, Moe does not want to sell her information after she learns Joey is a communist: “Even in our crummy kind of business, you gotta draw the line somewhere”.

Pick Up is first and foremost a gangster film, a milieu which the ex-crime reporter Fuller knew well. Fuller might have been right-wing, but he took very badly to J. Edgar Hoover’s criticism of Pick Up; Skip laughs off appeals to help as ‘patriotic eyewash,’ and only goes after the communists in revenge for the beating they gave Candy – with producer Daryl F. Zanuck backing Fuller up in an acrimonious meeting with the FBI boss. The film was selected for the 1953 Mostra in Venice, where it won a Bronze Lion in a year when the jury withhold the Golden Lion for the ‘lack of a worthy film’, – in a selection which included Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu Monogatari.  The festival compensated with six Silver and four Bronze Lions.  AS

NOW OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA

Dogs of War (1980) **** Bluray release

Dir: John Irwin | US Thriller 118′

Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter) is a masterful presence as a brutal mercenary who must fight the ultimate battle – against his own conscience – in this powerful, energetic action thriller. Based on Frederick Forsyth’s paperback The Dogs of War, the screen adventure brilliantly captures the horror – and glory – of war, in an imagined African state of Zangar

Walken’s James Shannon is no pipe and slippers man – he only feels alive in the heat of armed conflict. After being captured and tortured while on reconnaissance on behalf of a British mining concern, he goes back to Africa with a vengeance, and a mission to invade the corrupt dictatorship and replace it with a set-up more friendly to the British. With him are a select bunch of well-trained buddies – in the shape of Tom Berenger, Paul Freeman, Hugh Millais and Jean Francois Stevenin. John Irvin’s feature debut is now on Blu-ray courtesy of Eureka. MT

ON RELEASE  14 October 2019

https://youtu.be/oaAh2tgOHcg

The Dark Half (1992) *** Bluray release

Dir: George A. Romero | Horror 

George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead) adapts his intelligent chiller from the bestselling novel by Stephen King, who wrote the novel as a nod to his own literary pseudonym, Richard Bachman. It stars Timonthy Hutton as small town tutor author and horror writer Thad Beaumont who kills off his own literary doppelgänger as a publicity stunt to distance himself from the killings in his own novels and from George Stark, the pseudonymous name he has used to author them. But things don’t go according to plan. And when people around him start dropping dead in macabre scenarios – and his own fingerprints appear at the crime scenes – Beaumont is bewildered until he learns that Stark is back with a vengeance.

The Dark Half is now on Blu-ray

Eureka Store https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/the-dark-half/

Amazon https://amzn.to/2MYjqph

The Criminal (1960) **** Home Ent release

Dir: Joseph Losey | 97′ UK Crime drama

Stanley Baker was once of the most unusual romantic heroes during the 1950s. His stock in trade was a mean masculine allure and leopard-like physique and he triumphs in this British gangster thriller that has become a cult classic with Losey fans. Baker leads a sterling British cast of Sam Wanamaker (The Spy Who Came In from the Cold), Grégoire Aslan (Cleopatra), Margit Saad (The Saint) and Jill Bennett (For your Eyes Only), as an angst-ridden loner and recidivist criminal whose self-destructive personality sees him locked into a life of crime. Ricocheting between empowerment as a kingpin behind the prison walls run by a sadistic chief warder (Magee) and the underworld of a gangland boss (Sam Wanamaker) who has his eyes on Baker’s crock of gold, THE CRIMINAL is a jagged, violent film that gleams in Oscar winner Robert Krasker’s camerawork, complemented by Johnny  Dankworth’s jazzy score. Losey’s direction gives it the edge on many other British crime thrillers of the time. MT

THE CRIMINAL from director Joesph Losey which will be released on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital Download on September 16 2019.

Midnight Cowboy (1969) ***** Re-release

Dir.: John Schlesinger; Cast: Dustin Hoffman, John Voigt, Sylvia Miles, Brenda Vaccaro, Jennifer Salt; USA 1969, 113 min.

Based on James Leo Herlihy’s 1965 novel, scripted by Black List victim Waldo Salt, John Schlesinger’s 1969 film adaption of Midnight Cowboy is still a landmark in film history. Not only were gay men shown for the first time in mainstream history, the hero’s broken sexual identity (in the novel Joe Buck is raped by two men) is an equal first. Schlesinger excels like in his two other epics, Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) and Day of the Locust (1975), because he takes his time to develop his characters in all their ambiguity.

Joe Buck (Voigt) sees himself as stud, who leaves his small town Texas home for the glittering prizes waiting for him in New York. But Joe is anything but like John Wayne, his hero. Left by his mother with his granny, who looked after him affectionately, he was in love with Annie (Salt), a ‘nymphomaniac’, who is put into psychiatric care by her father. But Joe feels safe in his Cowboy outfit, bringing a brand new, all conquering identity to the Big Apple. And soon he picks up veteran sex worker Cass (Miles), having a great time – before he asks for money. Needless to say, that he is the one who pays – his bravado personality punctured immediately. Meeting small-time conman Ratso Rizzo (Hoffman), costs him more money and a further deflation of his Ego. He spends the winter in Rizzo’s unbelievable derelict squat, trying his luck as a rent boy, but mainly looking after the deteriorating Rizzo, whose tuberculosis is getting worse. After he meets Shirley (Vaccaro) at a sort of Warhol party, his luck seems to have changed. But soon the duo is back at the condemned flat. And again, Joe conjures up a magic cure for salvation: to finance a trip for two to Miami, he attacks and (perhaps kills) a customer. Alas, only one of them will arrive.

Midnight Cowboy is told like a latter-day Hardy novel, with Jude the Obscure a likely comparison. Like in most Hardy novels, poverty and (self) delusion lead to violence. Joe is the only one, falling for his macho image, and he pays for affection of the only love-object he has (Rizzo) by loosing him too. DoP Adam Holender’s images are dark and grey, (Rizzo’s flat) and a garish colour of glittering New York, for which nobody falls. The gay men Joe meets live in depraved circumstances, only a little better off than Joe. This is a feature of decline and deprivation, Joe is caught in his own spider web of dishonesty and deceit, the turmoil from Texas is following him. Unable to adjust to any reality, he is driven to self-distraction: he is Rizzo one step removed. In its total bleakness, Midnight Cowboy goes very much again the grain of a society, in which clean sex and clear sexual identities were the pillars of a positivistic consumer society, which does allow no deviation. This way, Schlesinger is ahead of the changes which were on its way. With Annie, Joe and Rizzo are a trio of victims of a society, whose celebrated superficial optimism was to collapse in the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement – closely followed by Stonewall. AS

OPENING AT BFI SOUTHBANK AND CINEMAS NATIONWIDE | 13 SEPTEMBER 2019

 

  

Comes a Horseman (1978) *** Blu-ray release

Dir: Alan J Pakula | Western | US 118′

Alan J Pakula made some outstanding films – COMES A HORSEMAN was not one of them but certainly entertains as an impressive modern day (1940s) Western with a remarkable cast and crew. The Blu-ray release positively gleams in its vibrant Technicolor scenery of Westcliffe Colorado; Flagstaff, Arizona and the Coconino National Forest, brilliantly brought to life by the inimitable Gordon Willis.

Jane Fonda and James Caan play Ella Connors and ‘Buck’ Athearn, Montana ranch-owners who join forces against the depredations of her ex-lover, Jason Robards’ ruthless J R Ewing determined to increase his empire no matter what. In the opening scene he confronts her when the dust has settled, taunting her with the possibility of a re-union. The onscreen chemistry between them crackles. An interesting foray into Western territory then, but certainly not as strong as his thrillers.

The film won an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for stuntman Richard Farnsworth in the role of a craggy cowhand called Dodger, although another stunt man Jim Sheppard was killed when a horse that was dragging him veered off course. And the script also goes off course slightly too despite Pakula’s able direction. His best known film Klute (1971) was another collaboration with Jane Fonda, and he would go on to make more stylish thrillers such as Sophie’s Choice; Presumed Innocent and The Pelican Brief during the course of a career which concluded with Brad Pitt starrer The Devil’s Own (1997). MT

OUT ON BLURAY FROM 16 SEPTEMBER 2019

 

 

 

 

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Triology of Life (1970s) ****

Dominating Pier Paolo Pasolini’s work of the 1970s, is a trio of exuberant dramas that explore three literary classics: Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron (1971), Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (1972) and The Thousand and One Nights (1974) (often known as The Arabian Nights). These came to be known as his ‘Trilogy of Life’.

Challenging consumer capitalism and celebrating the uncorrupted human body while commenting on contemporary sexual and religious mores and hypocrisies, Pasolini’s scatological humour and rough-hewn sensuality leave all modern standards of decency behind.

Full of bawdy, earthy spirit, The Decameron romps through its tales of sex and death – of lusty nuns and priests, cuckolded husbands, murdered lovers and grave-robbers – with five of the stories linked by the character of an intriguing artist, played by Pasolini himself.

Plunging with gusto into some of the blackest and bawdiest of The Canterbury Tales, Pasolini celebrates almost every conceivable form of sexual act with a rich, earthy humour. A particular delight is the use of a largely British cast, including Hugh Griffith, Jenny Runacre and Tom Baker, and Pasolini takes the part of Chaucer.

Arabian Nights was two years in the making. The locations – Yemen, Ethiopia, Iran and Nepal – form a rich, exotic backdrop to these tales of slaves and kings, potions, betrayals, demons and, most of all, love and lovemaking in all its myriad forms. Engrossing, mysterious, profound and liberating, Arabian Nights is an exquisitely dreamlike, sensuous and adult interpretation of the original folk tales.

Available on Blu-Ray from 9 September, courtesy of BFI | High Definition masters | Special features in the set include Notes for an African Oresteia(1970) and an interview with Robin Askwith about Pasolini.

 

 

The Go-Between (1971) ***** Home Entertainment

Dir: Joseph Losey | Wri: Harold Pinter | Cast: Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Edward Fox, Michael Redgrave, Dominic Guard, Margaret Leighton | UK Drama 113′
Losey’s adaptation of LP Hartley’s novel is arguably his masterpiece. Pinter’s script adds a darkly amusing twist to the torrid love and coming of age story set in the lush summer landscapes of Norfolk to Michel Legrand’s iconic score.
Harold Pinter playfully shows the bitter irony of the English class system: true love between a rugged farmer and the daughter of a gentleman cannot run its course due to the strictures of convention and duty, so she is forced to marry someone from her own background (the rather dapper Edward Fox).  All this is experienced through the eyes of an innocent boy who inadvertently becomes the conduit for a sophisticated affair between them as he desperately tries to learn about life and love from his own perspective. What is outwardly intended to be his glorious summer holiday in a Norfolk estate enjoying the pleasures of cricket and afternoon tea as a guest of this civilised family, becomes fraught with misunderstanding, manipulation and misery. Although the adults have learnt to play this civilised game, it is nonetheless devastating for this naive boy (played by Dominic Guard) and the lovers whose passion is genuine and unbridled: Julie Christie and Alan Bates (Far From the Madding Crowd) are once again united with their palpable onscreen chemistry. Winning both audience and critical acclaim as well as a raft of awards (including 4 BAFTAs and the prestigious Palme d’Or), the visceral story of an Edwardian romance set during one seemingly endless Norfolk Summer (shot sumptuously by Gerry Fisher) continues to endure with a contemporary audience. The film was acknowledged by Ian McEwan as a strong inspiration for his modern classic, Atonement. Poignant, witty and devastating this is a film that will stay with you forever. M
RESTORED by STUDIOCANAL VINTAGE CLASSICS and available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital Download from September 16 2019 .

Kaleidoscope (2016) **** Home Ent release

Dir.: Rupert Jones; Cast: Toby Jones, Anne Reid, Sinead Matthews, Cecilia Noble; UK 2016, 100 min.

British director Rupert Jones keeps it in the family with this surreal and nightmarish psychological thriller, enhanced by yet another standout performance from his brother Toby as the tortured anti-hero.

Set in a large London Housing Estate, where Carl (Jones) lives in a pokey flat – a throwback to the 70s. We learn that he has moved in a year ago after being released from prison where he’s done  time for a serious crime. One morning Carl wakes up to find the body of a young woman in his bathroom. His memory serves up a meeting with her, she was called Abby (Matthews), they danced and he might have locked her in the bathroom. When he walks up the stairs, the staircase becomes a kaleidoscope, it seems to strangle him in continuous twists and turns. The police show up, and so does a helpful neighbour, Monique (Noble). Toby is convinced of some wrong-doing – but can’t think what, exactly. When his mother Aileen (Reid) invites herself over- very much against his will, the images of Abbey and Aileen mingle, Toby certainly suffers from displacement activity – a repressed guilt complex, exposed in the final reveal.

This is 10 Rillington Place meets Kafka’s The Trial: spookily Jones even looks like Richard Attenborough as the murderous landlord. The grimy atmosphere in the flat is another parallel – but while Attenborough’s John Christie was sheer evil, Carl is suffering from past trauma. He hectically tries to cover up the traces of whatever he might have done; objects, he wants to destroy or find, becoming his enemies. Carl is paralysed: whenever he meets authority, be it the police, or his boss at the garden centre, he goes into meltdown. His anxiety grows the longer Aileen stays in his flat. And when she reveals she has bone cancer and wants to spend a lottery win on a last family visit to Canada with her son, Carl is close to breaking point.

Kaleidoscope is crucially “a psychological thriller, a tragedy, but not a horror feature”. The score, using a harp concerto by the German/American composer Albert Zabel, underlines Carl’s feeling of tension. The whole film resonates with Hitchcock,  particularly in the way the staircase is shot. It also brings to mind Bernhard Hermann’s score for Hitchcock’s Vertigo: But whilst Scottie was suffering from Vertigo (and love sickness), Carl is haunted by a past he has yet to understand fully. DoP Philipp Blaubach (Hush) creates elliptical camera movements, showing Carl permanently fleeing from himself, the long tracking shots mark him like a hunted animal. Overall, Jones has made the most of his limited budget, avoiding any gore, and staying consistently on a psychological level. AS

 On UK digital platforms on 12 August 2019, followed by its DVD release on 23 September 2019. The cast includes Sinead Matthews (Jellyfish), Cecilia Noble (Danny and the Human Zoo) and a stand out turn from national treasure Anna Reid, MBE (Last Tango in Halifax).

 

 

 

In Bruges (2008)

Dir: Martin McDonagh | Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Clemence Poesy | Irish/UK Drama

I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much and so continuously as watching In Bruges. The sheer outrageousness of it all is enough to raise a smile whenever you think back to it. Although Woody Allen’s All Time Crooks and most of his other comedies certainly beat it on wisecracks and clever dialogue, Martin McDonagh’s script epitomises the sheer pissed-offness of a couple of sweary Dublin hitmen who fetch up in the Belgian town after failing abysmally to bring off a job set for them by their ridiculously snarling boss Ralph Fiennes (as Harry) – playing out of character – in his finest comedy hour.

There’s nothing to be proud of in the sweary humour but it’s infectiously funny for most of the film’s running time. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play Ray and Ken, who have been ordered to lie low after the fiasco – in Bruges. Shoot the breeze, enjoy the architecture and wander round generally taking in the atmosphere. To makes matters worse they are to share a tiny, twin room in a B&B – but milling about just isn’t their style, it queers their pitch and generally leaves them back-footed, appalled at themselves and each other, the whole situation is ludicrous, and they moan and rant as they mooch about aimlessly, quite out of place in this quaint, romantic hideaway where everyone else is enjoying themselves. Not them.

Martin McDonagh’s directs with easy aplomb. Farrell explodes when a man with an American accent complains about their cigarette smoke – although smoking was still quite legal at the time, in Bruges. Farrell then meets sexy single girl Poesy, and the story reaches a natural, successful conclusion. A real one-off, but a memorable one where everyone rises to the occasion. MT

OUT ON BLURAY ON 19 APRIL COURTESY OF SECOND SIGHT FILMS

Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back (1967) | Tribute to D.A. Pennebaker

DYLAN-Dont-Look-Back-DROPDirector\Writer: D A Pennebaker

With: Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Donovan, Alan Price, Marianne Faithfull, Allen Ginsberg

96min | Documentary | US

Although it may not have meant much back in 1967, D.A. Pennebaker’s full-length documentary DON’T LOOK BACK now offers an absorbing and resonant tribute to a handful of folk heroes of the ’60s and particularly Bob Dylan who it follows on his 1965 British tour.

This freewheeling and voyeuristic trip down memory lane offers a rare and real portrait of the recalcitrant singer songwriter performing impromptu in hotels and more formal venues showcasing his laid back but often prickly approach which won the hearts and minds of his young audience of the time, Dylan went on to capture the imagination of many and achieve iconic cult status. Whether the film pictures the real Dylan or just his facade is a matter for consideration but Pennebaker makes us feel the intimacy of these encounters.

Surrounded by an entourage of contempo cronies: his rebarbative manager Albert Grossman; his long-term companion Joan Baez; the Scottish balladier Donovan; helmer of The Animals, Alan Price, the film offers behind the scenes glimpses of their convivial gatherings offering up ad hoc renditions of their work: Dylan strums and sings “The Times They Are A-Changing,” and Donovan ‘To Sing for You”. There is a chance to see Baez’ gentle beauty and spiky humour in offguard moments that capture her feral beauty.

The awkward approach of some of the interviewers – particularly a journalist from Time Magazine – is very amateurish, and it’s a wonder that Dylan didn’t punch him in the nose – but he adopts his usual acerbic style, hiding behind a public persona, ruffled hair and sunglasses, refusing to be riled but engaging nevertheless.

D. A. Pennebaker has since made several impressive biopics: Monterey Pop (1968) and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars being among the best. His handheld camera offers a grainy indie feel with jump cuts that keep the pace lively despite the relaxed tone that often hints at an underlying anger, that eventually seeps out in a scene featuring an ugly encounter between Grossman and a hotel manager. The film’s finale sees Dylan kicking backing after a successful concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, happy to be seen as an artist peddling no particular message and who no one understands. MT

OUT ON CRITERION UK | Amazon BLURAY

 

The Incident (1967) **** Bluray release

Dir: Larry Peerce | Cast: Martin Sheen, Tony Musante, Beau Bridges, Thelma Ritter | US Thriller

Larry Peerce’s raw and intense urban tension thriller offers a snapshot of 1967 New York City in all its seedy, black-and-white glory, The Incident also features an iconic 60s cast that must be seen to be believed. Martin Sheen makes his feature film debut as one of two small-time hoods – the other is Tony Musante (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage) in one of his earliest roles – terrorising a subway car full of trapped passengers, portrayed by an ensemble cast including Thelma Ritter (Rear Window), Beau Bridges (The Fabulous Baker Boys), Ed McMahon, Donna Mills (Play Misty for Me), Jack Gilford (Save the Tiger), Brock Peters (To Kill a Mockingbird), Ruby Dee (A Raisin in the Sun), and a host of other instantly recognisable faces from NYC films and television of the era.

After mugging an old man for a few dollars, thugs Artie (Sheen) and Joe (Musante) hop a subway deep in the Bronx, and proceed to threaten and intimidate the Sunday night commuters all the way to Times Square. The terrified riders are a mixed group – an elderly Jewish couple, a family trying to protect their 5-year-old daughter, an alcoholic, two teens on a date, two military Privates, a bigoted African-American man and his wife, etc. – but they are united by their fear and sense of helplessness as switchblade-wielding Joe and Artie block the subway doors from opening at stops, and prevent the riders from leaving. Will any of them have the courage to confront the two maniacs?

A high-velocity “home invasion”-styled hostage drama on rails, The Incident is a NYC transit suspense film that precedes the better-known The Taking of Pelham One Two Three by seven years. When director Larry Peerce (Goodbye, Columbus) and cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld (Young Frankenstein) were denied permission to shoot in the NYC subways, they did it anyway, using concealed cameras for some footage, providing a gritty time capsule of the 60s Big Apple as it begins to rot. Review courtesy of Eureka.

WORLDWIDE DEBUT on Blu-ray in a Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition as part of the Eureka Classics range from 12 August 2019 | Eureka Store  https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/the-incident/

Amazon https://amzn.to/2MGREz5

 

The Cockleshell Heroes (1955) ****

Dir: José Ferrer | US drama 97′

Based on a true story and a book by George Kent, US filmmaker José Ferrer directs and stars in this popular and quintessentially British wartime caper that sees Royal Marines embark on a daring mission to destroy enemy shipping at the height of the Second World War. Trevor Howard and Ferrer lead a strong cast of commandoes who undertake an intense night-time sortie on collapsible canoes into the comparative safety of the port of Bordeaux where the German ships are tucked away. The plan is to blow them all up with limpet mines, but the execution is far more perilous and gruelling affair, making for a grippingly tense drama. Christopher Lee, Anthony Newley and Dora Bryan also star, MT

Eureka Classics is proud to present the film in its worldwide debut on Blu-ray.

Available to order from:

Eureka Store https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/the-cockleshell-heroes/  

Amazon https://amzn.to/2DXwzJV

Le Sang d’un Poète | Le Testament d’Orphee – re-mastered on Bluray

Jean Cocteau – poet, playwright, novelist, designer, visual artist and one of the avant-garde movement’s most inventive and influential filmmakers was born in 1889, and grew up in Paris, immersed in the theatre and art world. He published his first volume of poems at just 15 and began mixing in bohemian circles becoming known as the Frivolous Prince.

He associated with Marcel Proust, Maurice Barres, Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and numerous other writers and artists with whom he later collaborated. At a time when society condemned it, he was openly homosexual and homoerotic undertones, imagery and symbolism pervade all aspects of his writings, art and films. Despite financial constraints he continued to work even through the war years when he was forced to ad-lib often making do with bric-a-brak and bed sheets as part of the scenery in Le Belle et la Bête (1946). It still looked ravishing.

Made thirty years apart, these two recent 4k restorations effectively frame his filmic career and are both considered masterpieces of the avant-garde movement. 

LE SANG D’UN POÊTE – is an exploration of the tortuous relationship between the artist and his creations. LE SANG D’UN POÊTE, seeks to explore the feelings within a poet’s heart and soul, beginning in an artist’s studio where an unfinished statue comes to life. The lips of its androgynous face move, pressing a kiss to the artist’s hand. At the statues demand, he plunges it into a mirror.

LE TESTAMENT D’ORPHÉE brings full circle the journey made in 1932, the first part of the ‘Orphic’ trilogy LE TESTAMENT D’ORPHÉE (1960)

This last film is a truly abstract piece of work. Portraying an 18th century poet who travels through time on a quest for divine wisdom, it is another finely crafted, surreal and magical piece set in a mysterious, post-apocalyptic desert where Cocteau meets a series of enigmatic characters, joining them to muse about about the nature of art. Often gently poignant and whimsical in tone, this ethereal drama resonates with his Spanish roots – he settled in Andalucia for a while, in common with Picasso. Cocteau assembles an eclectic cast that includes vignettes with  Pablo Picasso himself, Jean Marais, Brigitte Bardot, Charles Aznavour, Roger Vadim and Yul Brenner in a piece that veers between gentle irony and low-key pessimism. Cocteau admirers will probably find it very moving.

LE SANG D’UN POÊTE (The Blood of a Poet) and LE TESTAMENT D’ORPHÉE (The Testament of Orpheus) will be released on ON BLU-RAY, DVD AND DIGITAL DOWNLOAD – 5TH AUGUST 2019

Pre-order now: http://po.st/TestamentOrphee; http://po.st/SangPoete.

https://youtu.be/qW84uNnNv0Y

A Short Film About Killing (1988) | KROTKI FILM O ZABIJANIU

Dir.: Krzysztof Kieslowski; Cast: Miroslaw Baka, Krzyztof Globisz | Poland 1988, 84 min.

So powerful was the effect of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s graphic description of violence in eighties Warsaw that the Polish authorities declared a five-year moratorium on capital punishment. Forty minutes go by before the first murder: a nearly botched attempt, mercilessly shown in all the gory detail. The second killing is just the opposite: a professional job, executed by the hangman in cold blood, but much more gruesome than the first one. A rope is used in both cases, but there all similarities end.

Jacek (Baka) is a young man lost in the high-rise concrete that is Warsaw in 1988. The camera encircles him like an animal in a laboratory. He is alienated, has lost nearly all contact to friends and family, life has been sucked out of him. When he kills the taxi driver without an obvious motive it may seem senseless to the audience, but for Jacek it is only just one more unexplainable act in a chain of events he cannot comprehend any more. Jacek’s lawyer in the forthcoming murder trial, Piotr Balicki, (Globisz) is just his opposite. Not much older than the murderer he is defending, Piotr has just finished law school and is a ferocious opponent of the death penalty. He is full of idealism with his life stretching out in front of him in a clear path: he wants to do good. But he too will be scarred by the case; he stands no chance in the courtroom and for the rest of his life he will suffer from this defeat.

Kieslowski shows a grim world; children play with dead cats in dark backyards – the light seems a predominantly nauseous green, as in a  morgue. Jacek is a product of this society – we should not be surprised that he acts out his inner hollowness in this way. Many reviewers saw this film as a condemnation of the death penalty (which was only abolished in Poland in 1997), but it is more realistic to assume that Kieslowski wanted to show that Stalinism had hit rock bottom – a year before the system finally collapsed.

Both leads give dynamite performances. The camera shows this Dantesque Inferno with panoramic shots and close-ups. Jacek is cold-eyed and ashen-faced throughout. The portrait of a dying world in which murder, in whichever form it takes, is as normal as clocking-in for work. AS

A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING IS NOW OUT ON BLURAY

One Deadly Summer – l’Eté meurtrier (1983)**** Blu-ray release

Dir: Jean Becker | Wri Sébastien Japrisot | Cast: Isabelle Adjani, Alain Souchon, Suzanne Flon, Jenny Clève, Michel Galabru, François Cluzet, Edith Scob | France 133’

Isabelle Adjani plays a sensual pert-bottomed coquette in Jean Becker’s flirty revenge thriller based on Sébastien Japrisot’s script from his novel of the same name. In true petulant form, Adjani originally rejected the part but after reconsidering she came back to play Elle, kicking Becker’s second choice Valerie Kaprisky into the long grass.

It doesn’t take much to get French men going, so when Elle prances into a small French village in the Vaucluse the locals are predictably hot to trot. But the tone soon shifts when it turns out the lusty long-legged temptress is more interested in getting her own back rather than conquering hearts in this increasingly unsettling and complex drama.

The action unfurls through the eyes of the various characters as elements of trickery, lies and exploitation all come into play in this vivid yet surprisingly subtle film “du look”. Japrisot’s bold characterisations reveal multi-layered personalities in a sinuously gripping storyline where nothing is black and white amusingly played by a cast led by the seductive Adjani in luminous form. MT

CultFilms presents One Deadly Summer on dual format Blu-ray and DVD 29 July

https://youtu.be/IOd_NBTqjnA

The Night Has Eyes (1942) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Leslie Arliss | Cast: James Mason, Wilfred Lawson, Tucker McGuire, Joyce Howard | UK Gothic Horror 79′
Although he directed some of the biggest British box office successes of the 1940s, Leslie Arliss‘s contribution to British cinema remains under-celebrated. He was born Leslie Andrews in London on 6 October 1901, and started life as a journalist in South Africa, returning to London in the late 1920s to take up a job as a screen writer during the 1930s, turning his hand to various genres from comedy to historical epic dramas such as William Tell (1958); The Wicked Lady (1945) and Idol of Paris (1948). One of his most successful scripts was for Ealing studio’s The Foreman Went to France directed by Charles Friend in 1942.  
Based on the novel by Alan Kennington The Night Has Eyes sees James Mason at his most suave and sinister as a troubled ex-soldier from the Spanish Civil war. Schoolteachers Marian (Howard) and Doris (McGuire) are looking for their friend Evelyn who has gone missing in the Yorkshire dales (actually filmed at Welwyn Garden City Studios, an overflow for Elstree). Retreating during a storm to a remote cottage for the night they soon fall under the seductive thrall of the owner, a reclusive pianist Stephen Deremid (Mason) who is strangely appealing especially to Doris who soon senses some connection between this cool customer and the disappearance of her friend. Gunther Krampf’s evocative camerawork does wonders with shadows and light while Arliss keeps us gripped with his tortuous storytelling. MT
NOW OUT ON Blu-ray at AMAZON.CO.UK
https://youtu.be/lwts14_PIlc

Coming Home (1978) *** Blu-ray release

Dir: Hal Ashby | Cast: Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, Bruce Dern | Drama US

One of director Hal Ashby’s biggest hits (second only to Shampoo) is a compelling and uncompromising tale of love and loss, exploring the shattering aftermath of the Vietnam War and starring a trio of Hollywood’s best: Jane Fonda, Jon Voight and Bruce Dern.

When Marine Captain Bob Hyde (Bruce Dern) leaves for Vietnam, his wife Sally (Fonda) volunteers at a local hospital. There she meets and falls for Luke Martin (Voight), a former sergeant whose war injury has left him a paraplegic. Embittered with rage and filled with frustration, Luke finds new hope and confidence through his growing intimacy with Sally. The relationship transforms Sally’s feelings about life, love and the horrors of war. And when, wounded and disillusioned, Sally’s husband returns home, all three must grapple with the full impact of a brutal, distant war that has changed their lives forever.

Coming Home is sometimes over-sentimental in its portrayal of a nation’s guilt but the performances win through and the movie won three Oscars, for Best Actress (Jane Fonda), Actor (Jon Voight), and Original Screenplay.

Available on The Masters of Cinema Series for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK on 15 July 2019.

Romance (1999) | Blu-ray release | Bfi player

4767 copy Dir.: Catherine Breillat | Cast: Caroline Ducey, Sagamore Stevenin, Francois Berleand, Rocco Siffredi | France 1999, 84/99 min.

Catherine Breillat, novelist and filmmaker, has been a victim of censorship (and misinterpretation) from the beginning of her career as a cinematographer: her debut film Une Vraie Jeune Fille (1975), based on her own novel Le “Sopirail” was banned after its premiere until 1999. Influenced very much by George Bataille (whose 1928 novel “Histoire de l’oeil” was wrongly indicted for pornography), Breillat, too, had to fight off the same accusations.

Her heroines do not fit into the mainstream categories of either victim or aggressor: they like their sex in whatever form, but at the same time they want to determine their lives; fighting their male partners successfully for domination in their relationships. And they are no goody-two-shoes: Barbara in Sale Comme Un Ange (1991), is married to the young detective Didier Theron, and willingly seduced by his much older superior George Deblache, who might be a drunkard, but satisfies her carnal needs much better than her bland husband. Deblache gets Theron killed on a job, and slaps Barbara at the end of the film: he is only now aware of her manipulating, whilst she smiles like the cat that got the cream.

Marie (Ducey) in ROMANCE (1999) chooses a not so different way to punish her narcissistic boyfriend Paul (Stevenin) for his refusal to sleep with her, simply because he wants to control her. First Marie, a primary teacher, has a casual affair with Paolo (Siffredi, a well known porn star), then she plays S&S games with her headmaster Robert (Berleand). Somehow, she gets Paul to sleep with her after all, and the resulting pregnancy makes him even more removed from her, neglecting her in favour of friends and relatives. But he ends up paying the price: after the birth of Paul junior, only one male with this name ends up being part of Marie’s life.

Breillat’s films show an understanding of women’s sex life from their own perspective – just the opposite of the male view that is usually trotted out. Whilst male sexual transgressions (in films and books) are usually tolerated, Breillat’s female counterparts are censured, her films condemned as pornographic. Like Simon de Beauvoir and Bataille; Breillat in her novels and films, often adds an essayistic character, strong symbolism and abstract images, best described by Linda Williams as “elitist, avant-garde, intellectual and philosophical pornography of imagination, [as opposed] to the mundane, crass materialism of a dominant mass culture”. Whilst one can describe male sexuality (including nearly all phantasies) as strictly one to one, meaning that there is no ambivalence left, actions and desire are one, female sexuality thrives on ambiguity and imagination. Whilst sex from a male perspective (and its mostly male descriptions in all forms) is treated as an object. For Breillat and her heroines, sex is the subject of their emancipation. There is no pleasure in Breillat’s sexual images, the best example being Marie’s encounter with a man on the staircase. The man offers her money for performing cunnilingus on her, but she does not take the money. Instead she turns over, having rough sex doggy-style. The scene ends highly ambiguously: Marie cries, but when the man calls her names, she retaliates: “I am not ashamed”. Further more, the whole scene begins as voice-over, Marie informing us that this particularly way of being taken, is her phantasy. In blurring the boarder between phantasy and reality, Breillat leaves the audience to judge what they have seen, and how to categorise it. This is just the opposite of conventional pornography, where a mostly male audience is never left in any doubt what is going on, taking their pleasure from the submission of the female.

In A Ma Soeuri! (2001) Breillat went a step further, trying to redefine rape: Anais (12) and Elena (15) are sisters; the latter attractive and sexual active, the former overweight and insecure. On a parking lot, an attacker kills Elena and her mother, afterwards raping Anais. When questioned by the police, the young girl stoical denies having being raped, in her experience, she has at long last caught up with the experience of her sister: for the first time in their rivalry she has come out on top. Breillat’s interpretation gives room for misunderstanding, as does the use of un-simulated sex in her films – but she is a major figure of modernist filmmaking; her films are dominated by reflectiveness and a desire to reinvent class consciousness; not via an out-dated model but by describing women as a class via their experience of sex: Breillat is an innovative heir to the ideas of de Beauvoir’s “Le Deuxieme Sexe”. AS

NOW OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF SECOND SIGHT FILMS and BFI Player 

 

Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982) ****

Dir.: Robert Altman; Cast: Sandra Dennis, Cher, Karen Black, Sudie Bond; USA 1982, 102 min.

The terrible box-office receipts for Popeye forced director Robert Altman to sell Lion’s Gate and his Malibu home in 1981. He took his family to New York to begin his “minimalist’ decade. The French, always helpful when it came to Hollywood misfits of all sorts, gave out the official Altman line that he “was trying the small format as a means of circumventing the traditional film distribution circuits” – but in reality the retreat was nothing but a final effort to mend his now nearly defunct relationship with the major studios. On a personal level, he felt isolated and paranoia had got the better of him. His supporters believers had to listen to rants about old and new enemies – one of them, director Alan Rudolph was singled out for crossing the line to the enemy, by asking MGM to produce his next feature – never mind that only a few years later, Altman would do exactly the same.

At this point, the theatre was the logical stepping stone. He directed two one-acters for the Los Angeles Actor’s Theatre. One of them, Two by South was re-staged in Manhattan in the autumn of 1981 and taped for TV, after good reviews. When Altman staged Come back to the five and dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean in New York, the reviews were quiet unfavourable. Never the less, a new recruit to the Altman ‘family’, the former sports reporter and documentary filmmaker Peter Newman, set up a deal for cable TV. The budget was USD 850 000, when backers pulled out, Altman had to put USD 200 000 of his own money into the production. 

Written by Ed Graczyk and based on his stage play, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy is just another soul searching expedition in the Tennessee Williams mode. It is set in a rundown Woolworth store in a small Texan town called McCarthy (sic!). James Dean disciples are commemorating the 20th anniversary of their idols death in 1975. The flashbacks show his arrival in a near-by town, where Giants would be shot. Sandra Dennis is Mona, asthmatic and hyper sensible. Cher, at a low point in her singing career, is Sissy, a waitress with artificial breasts whose wisecracks hide a secret. Finally, there is Karen Black’s Joanna, who comes late and gets of the attention in Juanita’s (Bond) restaurant. At the end all is revealed: Joanna (who had a sex change operation) is the father of Mona’s son, who steals a Porsche – putting an end to speculation that he might be Dean’s son.

Apart from the brilliant female cast, PD David Cropman and DoP Pierre Mignot (who would shoot the rest of the Altman pictures in the 80s) take most of the credits. Cropman built a set of two identical dime store stage sets, separated by a two-way mirror. This way, the audience was looking at a self-reflecting front store. Mignot’s 16mm camera captures the anguish in very intimate shots, creating an atmosphere not unlike Streetcar Named Desire.

Altman took the film (literally) with him to any festival who would pay his flights and hotel. His credit cards were often rejected, and whilst Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean made a small profit, Altman was back where he started before: drinking on long flight and waxing nostalgically, oblivious to the fact that he had launched Cher’s film career, self obsessed as always. A Hollywood rebel without a cause. AS

ON DUAL FORMAT DVD AND BLURAY FROM 22 JULY 2019

Romeo and Juliet (1968) **** Tribute to Franco Zeffirelli

Director: Franco Zeffirelli  Screenplay: Franco Brusati, Masolino D’Amico | Cast: Olivia Hussey, Leonard Whiting, John McEnery, Milo O’Shea, Pat Heywood, Robert Stephens, Michael York, Bruce Robinson

138min  | Romantic Drama | Italy

Franco Zeffirelli’s ROMEO AND JULIET captures the innocent rapture of teenage love when hormones spill over to create an intoxicating cocktail of lust and longing. Full of life and perfectly cast, newcomers Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey were absolutely exquisite as the star-struck pair, evoking a sweetly innocent sexuality that has never been seen again in cinema history. Their beautifully spoken prose and mesmerising chemistry completes this idealistic yet achingly romantic depiction of tragic love between Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, who came from different warring families.

And although D’Amico and Brusati’s screenplay dumbs things down in the classic speeches, each character is superbly cast: Milo O’Shea as the kindly indulgent yet dignified Friar Laurence; John McEnergy’s fiesty Mercutio, and Pat Heywood’s jovial Nurse all make their memorable mark and are still fresh and familiar nearly 50 years later, in this sparkling restoration. Zeffirelli makes good use of the original settings of the play in the medieval ‘struscio’ of Perugia, Viterbo, Siena and the Palazzo Borghese in Rome, and where Pasqualino De Santis’ stunning set pieces luxuriate in an around the rolling countryside of Gubbio (Umbria) and rural Siena (Tuscany), winning him an Oscar for cinematography. Danilo Donati won another for his richly beautiful costumes, and also a Bafta.

Nino Rota’s romantic score “What is Youth” will also flood back to the memories of those who first saw it in the late ’60s or ’70s. He made his name in The Leopard and would go on to write music for The Godfather, Part I and II. The script plays up the relationship between friends Mercutio and Romeo. And Robert Stephens is suave and wise as the Prince of Verona. Romeo and Juliet’s bedroom scenes are quite raunchy in a sensual way – Hussey was almost 16 and Whiting 17 – but they show their tenderness when they break down in tears in the touching final scenes and win Golden Globes for Most Promising Newcomers. MT

A BRAND NEW 4K RESTORATION is now available |  PART OF THE SHAKESPEARE LIVES SEASON: CELEBRATING THE WORKS OF THE BARD over 400 YEARS AFTER HIS DEATH.

 

 

La Ronde (1950) **** Blu-ray release

 

Dir: Max Ophüls | Arthur Schnitzler | Cast: Anton Walbrook, Simone Signoret, Serge Reggiani, Simone Simon, Daniel Gelin, Danielle Darieux, Fernand Gravey | France, Drama 93′

Max Ophüls (1902-1957) creates a delightful avant-garde merry-go-round full of subtle sexual vignettes based on Arthur Schnitzler’s play from 1920. Using the same technique and narrative structure as he would in Lola Montez (1955), this delicately dreamlike pot pourri of romantic rendezvous takes place in Vienna in the last decade of the 19th century and is set to a melodious score by Oscar Strauss.

Led on by the Master of Ceremonies (Anton Walbrook), talking directly into the camera, he changes the proceedings symbolically, altering the outcome of the encounters – not unlike the ringmaster of the circus in Lola Montez.

Leocadie (Signoret) and the soldier Franz (Reggiani) enjoy a romantic interlude under a bridge. This sets off a carousel of rather casual affairs in which the lovers treat the person they come across like a runner in a relay race. First of all, Simone Simon (Marie) is seduced by her employer (Daniel Gelin), and so the affairs continue, until the Count (Philipe) closes the circle, falling for Marie.

There are echoes of von Sternbergs’s romantic comedies, particularly Shanghai Gesture, that played out like a roulette wheel. Both directors make use of irony and wit, as well as well as farcical moments. The female characters are often victims of male society, they are courtesans or bourgeois women who have failed to fit in with the hypocritical standards of their class. The male characters strut around like peacocks in their dandy-like attire, and soldiers in highly decorative uniforms. Songs and music are key elements in the work of both directors, driving the narrative forward, as here with Strauss, the “Waltz King”.

The highly fluid camerawork of Christian Matras (Lola Montez, Grand Illusion) is crucial in maintaining the flirty lightness of touch in compositions which roll along in an elliptical scroll, the camera reflecting the changing thoughts of the characters.

La Ronde is a nostalgic look back to a world which had been destroyed by the social changes of the First World War. Ophüls’ films yearn to re-create this lost world of gentility, reflecting moral codes and social mores that no longer apply. AS

NOW ON BLURAY from 27 May 2019

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) **** Home Ent

Dir: Elia Kazan | Drama | US

Elia Kazan‘s first film, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn shows that the filmmaker’s great empathy for his characters was already quite evident at this early juncture, and this endures as one of the most moving Hollywood dramas of the 1940s. Based on Betty Smith‘s novel – a bestseller in the U.S. but also one of the most popular books among American soldiers overseas in WWII – Kazan’s debut is a sensitive, masterful adaptation.

Set among Brooklyn tenements circa 1912, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a portrait of the Nolans, an Irish-American family living in financially challenging circumstances, often made worse by father Johnny’s drinking and employment problems. But matriarch Katie keeps the family together, caring for son Neeley and daughter Francie, as well as Katie’s outspoken, oft-married sister Sissy. But just as Francie’s gift for writing opens up new avenues, more tragic developments test the family’s resolve.

Winning Academy Awards for actors James Dunn (as Johnny) and Peggy Ann Garner (as Francie), and featuring splendid work by Dorothy McGuire and Joan BlondellA Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a heartfelt testament to the strength of family, and offers an early indication of Kazan’s unrivalled proficiency with actors. COURTESY OF EUREKA

ON RELEASE from 22 July 2019  https://amzn.to/2VM4GdJ Eureka Store  https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/a-tree-grows-in-brooklyn/

 

I Was Monty’s Double (1958) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: John Guillermin | Script: Bryan Forbes | Cast: M E Clifton Jones, John Mills, Maureen Connell, Cecil Parker, Patrick Allen, Leslie Philips, Barbara Hicks, Sidney James, John Le Mesurier, Marius Goring, Michael Hordern | War Drama | UK 101′

During the war years doubles often served as decoys to divert the enemy away from the main action. One such doppelgänger was ME Clifton-James whose striking resemblance to General Montgomery made him the ideal candidate to impersonate him during a special assignment in North Africa with D-Day fast approaching at the end of the Second World War. And he really is terrific in the role, successfully drawing German troops away from Normandy and becoming both a hero and a major military target.

The riveting real story has been amusingly adapted for the screen by Bryn Forbes providing the drama for John Guillermin’s entertaining caper which stars his wife Peggy and a top-tier array of British talent from the era including a chipper John Mills, Leslie Philips (looking rather pleased with himself), John Le Mesurier (playing it rather severely against type), Michael Hordern and even Marius Goring. I WAS MONTY’S DOUBLE is smart, astute and pacy as it powers along convincingly in Basil Emmott’s slick black and white camerawork. As Clifton James prepares for his role of a lifetime there’s never a dull moment both in the tensely conspiratorial interior scenes and on the widescreen – with some terrific set pieces such as the landing in Gibraltar and North Africa. Guillermin’s eclectic career path would see him directing Orson Welles in the 1966 mystery thriller House of Cards and Paul Newman and Steve McQueen in The Towering Inferno (1974). MT

AVAILABLE from JUNE 11 | COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL to COMMEMORATE the 75th ANNIVERSARY OF THE D-DAY LANDINGS

Odette (1950) **** Home Ent release

Dir.: Herbert Wilcox; Cast: Anna Neagle, Trevor Howard, Marius Goring, Peter Ustinov, Alfred Schieske; UK 1950, 124 min.

Directed by Herbert Wilcox (1890-1977) and scripted by Warren Chetham-Strode after the book Odette, The Story of a British Agent by Jerrad Tickell, Odette was produced by Wilcox and his leading lady and wife Anna Neagle (1904-1986). 

A popular star of the British cinema from the 1930s onwards, she played Neil Gwynn, Queen Victorian (twice) and Edith Cavell, Neagle was nevertheless reluctant to be cast as Odette Hallowes- Samson-Churchill, a French born British Special Operations agent, who survived Ravensbrück Concentration Camp after being captured working for the resistance in France. Wilcox (The Lady with a Lamp) offered the part to Michèle Morgan and Ingrid Bergman, who both turned him down. The real Odette Samson finally convinced Neagle to take on the role.

Odette works with the resistance as British operative in France. She meets and works for commander Peter Churchill (Howard), whom she would marry after the war. Odette and the Russian agent Arnaud (Ustinov) are lured into a trap by ‘Henri’ (Goring), who is really the German Abwehr spy Hugo Bleicher, pretending that he is on the side of anti-Hitler forces. The three of them are captured, and Odette is tortured in the notorious Fresnes prison near Paris. Whilst Arnaud (real name Rabinovitch) is sent to the extermination camp Rawicz, near Lodz in Poland, Odette is transferred to Ravensbrück, where she is to be executed. But the camp commandant Fritz Suhren (Schieske) believes her lie, that she is Winston Churchill’s niece. He hopes to bargain for a pardon after letting her go free to meet the advancing American troops. Odette is reunited with Peter in the UK, and a witness in the trial against Suhren – who was, ironically hanged the same year, the feature Odette hit the British cinemas, being the forth most successful film that year at the box-office.

This was a picture with some real howlers (like Bleicher apologising to Odette, and making it possible for her to see Peter Churchill in prison ‘for a last time’), Neagle is superb in her understatement. But the star is veteran DoP Max Green aka Mutz Greenbaum (1896-1968), a German émigré who founded the ‘Deutsche Bioscope’ and was after his emigration responsible for classics like The Stars look Down, Night and the City and So evil, my Love. The black-and-white images, particularly the one in Fresnes and Ravensbrück, belie the studio background. Only slightly dated, Odette is still a harrowing reminder of the price women had to pay in the liberation from fascism. AS

DVD, BLU-RAY, DOWNLOAD | JUNE 11th | STUDIOCANAL VINTAGE CLASSICS | COMMEMORATING THE 75th ANNIVERSARY OF D DAY 

The Kid (2019) *** Home Ent release

Dir: Vincent D’Onofrio | Wri: Andrew Lanham | Cast: Ethan Hawke, Leila George, Dane DeHaan, Jake Shur | Western US 100′

Vincent D’Onofrio’s first foray behind the camera is a good-looking Western that keeps the camp fires burning with some top tier performances and a contemporary look. The Western genre is still popular, the classics packing some punches with their tales of macho males and simmering molls created by the heavyweights John Ford, Sam Peckinpah and Walter Hill. Some of themes seem outdated and politically incorrect in today’s modern world, but perhaps that’s why they still strike a cord with some nostalgic audiences. The only modern ones that shake a stick at the cult classics are Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992), Kristian Levring’s The Salvation (2014) and John Mclean’s Slow West (2015).

The Kid reworks the story of a young boy called Rio (newcomer Jake Schur) who witnesses Billy the Kid’s encounter with Sheriff Pat Garrett – Dane DeHaan and Ethan Hawke playing the respective roles with skilful aplomb. After an unnecessary voiceover introduction we see Rio (Jake Schur) killing his father to prevent him doing for his mother, then scarpering in the direction of Santa Fe with his older sister Sara (Leila George) to avoid reprisals. The pair get holed up on the way in an abandoned house with the charismatic Billy, in a terrific turn by DeHaan, Hawke allowing him all the glory and holding back with a rather stylish performance. Andrew Lanham plays fast and loose with the Garrett/Bonney story and the whole thing looks rather fresh with a cinema vérité twist to proceedings, while still maintaining its traditional tropes. It’s decent but not memorable, if Westerns are your thing. MT

NOW ON RELEASE | DVD, BLURAY AND DIGITAL DOWNLOAD

https://youtu.be/LNUlXRp0Ax0

Halston (2019) London Fashion Week

Dir/Wri: Frederic Tcheng | With: Tavi Gevinson, Liza Minnelli, Marisa Berenson, Joel Schumacher, Pat Cleveland, Bob Calacello, Carl Epstein, Lesley Frowick, Sassy Johnson, Naeem Khan, John David Ridge | US Doc, 120′

Well known for his insightful portraits of the fashion world: Dior and I (2014); Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011), which he co-directed; and for Valentino: The Last Emperor, (2008), which he co-produced, Tcheng gets top marks for this exposé on Roy Halston Frowick the all American boy from De Moines, Iowa who put America in the frame with his flare for flattering the female form.

After the boxy styles and artificial fabrics of the Sixties, Halston’s voluptuous dresses enveloped and caressed curves and cleavages as they “danced around you” according to Liza Minelli, one of his biggest advocates and a firm friend. All this was in part thanks to his master tailor Gino Balsamo whose clever crafting created single-seam clothes that ‘freed the female body” and swirled and seduced due to the unique simplicity of their genius bias-cut.

Apart from its length the only slight criticism of this biopic is the gimmicky structure that sees actor Tavi Gevinson as an innocent bystander, sleuthing through the Halston company archives and VHS tapes to needlessly sex up the sinister nature of Halston’s final fall from grace. It’s a device that feels tacky and counterintuitive to the sophisticated slimline slinkiness of the designer’s raison d’être.

Born during the Depression in 1932, Halston was an ordinary gay man who instinctively knew how to re-invent himself as a suave mover and shaker. Starting out in the 60s as a milliner to Bergdorf Goodman famous clients (Jackie Onassis wore his pillbox hat), he rapidly moved on to create his own brand through celebrity endorsement in New York’s 70s and 80s. Sashaying onto the dance floor of Studio 54 with his beautiful entourage, known as the Halsonettes, he moved on with movie stars, and invented “hot pants”. Andy Warhol and Elizabeth Taylor were amongst his friends and clients. He also dressed the American athletes at the ’76 Olympics, the girl scout leaders, the NYPD and Avis car rental staff, as well as the Martha Graham dance troupe.

His all American freeform fashion parade at Paris’ Palace of Versailles in 1973 featured black American models and set the night alight with a fizzing floor show, despite French domination of the event. China was the next step and we sample previously unseen footage from NBC visiting a silk factory where workers got a chance to try on creations made from their own fabrics.

But Halston was to grow too big for his own boots. Soon he moved offices to the glamorous mirrored interiors of New York’s Olympic Tower. His keenness to develop the brand saw high signing a multi-million dollar deal with conglomerate Norton Simon. This took away his rights to his designs and name, while offering him continued creative control, allowing him to jump into bed with the likes of Max Factor, facilitating the launch of his first fragrance, Halston, with a bottle designed by longterm collaborator Elsa Peretti. The brand was soon on sheets, towels, even leather goods. But gradually new bosses with scant appreciation of fashion or design would take over, and one by the name of Jacob Epstein would be his nemesis.

Halston launched a worthy endeavour to dress mainstream America through a deal with JCPenney (a sort of US Marks & Spencer). Termed “From class to mass” the venture focused on volume rather than artistry, and did not go down with well with Bergdorf Goodman, or his high-net-worth clientele, many of whom cancelled orders.

By this time Halston’s lavish lifestyle was also becoming financially exhausting, along with his on-off Venezuelan lover Victor Hugo, who had arrived on the scene purely for his looks (“One night Halston dialed a dick”) and then became involved in the business, upsetting several members of his team. The final segment sees Halston re-connecting with his family and employing his niece, Lesley Frowick, who emotes on his HIV/AIDS demise rather too copiously.

Halston works best as a chronicle of his fashion design artistry with its eye-catching footage and fascinating characters of the era. The business side of things often feels over-laboured and detailed. But it’s still an entertaining biopic to watch. Clearly Halston was a force to be reckoned with, totally redefining the fashion world, and bringing America to the forefront with his fabulous legacy. MT

ON RELEASE On various platforms including Dogwoof.com

 

 

 

 

When a Stranger Calls (1979) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Fred Walton | Wri: Steve Feke | Cast: Carol Cane, Steve Beckley, Rachel Roberts, Charles Durning, Colleen Dewhurst | Thriller | US, 1979 | 97′

A sinister soundtrack, the camera playing on ordinary objects in a shadowy sitting room, a neurotic woman, and our own pavlovian response to a ringing phone all coalesce to inspire terror in WHEN A STRANGER CALLS. Fred Walton’s astute psychological thriller starts with a 20-minute scene that gradually develops into something altogether more horrific and a showcase showdown. The second act explores the criminal mind through two scary looking specialists in the shape of Rachel Roberts’ Dr Monk, who has let the killer escape from her mental asylum, and Charles Durning’s hard-eyed police investigator who has himself become unhinged in his determination to catch up with the felon. Infact, the entire cast of this urban thriller look pretty unsavoury – but Tony Beckley tops the bill as the psychopathic murderer who terrorises a lonely babysitter, savagely rips apart her two charges with his bare hands and then returns to menace her again, seven years later with the chilling phrase “have you checked the children?”.

After Beckley (the killer) has done time, he escapes the asylum and fetches up on the streets of Downtown Los Angeles where he chats up a confident woman (Colleen Dewhurst) in a bar, and is later duffed up by another barfly – he really strikes an unnerving chord in the scenes that follow. As much a portrait of social alienation and emotional disintegration in the seamier side of Los Angeles, as a spine-chilling thriller, this auteurish arthouse shocker is one of the best, and certainly the most atmospheric. Beckley brings out the pitiful humanity of his character who is both vulnerable and deeply hateful. It’s an astonishing performance and his last. He died six months after the film was released. MT 

Along with its recently released WHEN A STRANGER CALLS/WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK: LIMITED EDITION and the rarely seen, short THE SITTER. Brand new interviews; a 40-page perfect bound booklet; Original Soundtrack CD; reversible poster featuring new and original artwork; reversible sleeve featuring new and original artwork | 1 July 2019 |

 

The Holy Mountain (1933) Blu-ray release

Arnold Fanck’s THE HOLY MOUNTAIN, the greatest of the German ‘mountain films’ and the film which launched the career of Leni Riefenstahl, digitally restored in 2K and presented on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK as a part of The Masters of Cinemas Series from 17 June 2019.

German filmmaker Arnold Fanck made this beautifully photographed Bergfilm, or ‘mountain film’, in 1926. Written in three days and nights – especially for Leni RiefenstahlThe Holy Mountain took over a year to film in the Alps with an entourage of expert skiers and climbers.

Ostensibly a love triangle romance – between Riefenstahl’s young dancer and the two explorers she encounters – Fanck relishes the glorious Alpine landscape by filming death-defying climbing, avalanche dodging, and frenetic downhill ski racing.

THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (Masters of Cinema) New & Exclusive HD Trailer https://youtu.be/Ny47rsWx2GE

Available to order via the Eureka Store: http://bit.ly/2TUWZBd Amazon https://amzn.to/2VulzdN

Room at the Top (1959) Bfi Player

Dir.: Jack Clayton; Cast: Simone Signoret, Laurence Harvey, Heather Sears, Ambrose Phillipotts, Donald Wolfit, Allan Cuthbertson; UK 1959, 115. Min.

Jack Clayton (1927-1995) is one of the most underrated of British directors. He made his mark with only seven features – and it could have done more had some of his projects not been abandoned by circumstances beyond his control. We are left with the Henry James adaption of The Innocents, the equally eerie Our Mother’s House,  The Pumpkin Eater (scripted by Pinter) and Room at the Top, his debut film. 

Based on the novel by John Braine and adapted by Neil Peterson, Room at the Top won two Oscars: Simone Signoret for Best Actress (as she did in Cannes,) and Peterson – Best Adaption. Clayton was known as a middle-of-the-road director (and his name was not Tony Richardson or Karel Reisz), so he did not get the credit for the first “Kitchen Sink Drama” in British film history.

Joe Lampton (Harvey) a young man from a working-class back ground is determined to make it big. Working in the treasury department at Warnley, near Bradford in Yorkshire, he meets Susan Brown (Sears), the daughter of the local industrialist (a terrific Wolfit) and makes his mind up to marry her. But Susan’s parents send her abroad to avoid the bumptious social climber, and Lampton falls in love with Alice Aisgill (Signoret) whose husband George (Cuthbertson) treats her like a possession. When Susan returns Joe switches his attentions back to her, but after they consummate their relationship Joe swears eternal love to Alice. Furious, her husband threatens to ruin their life and when Susan gets pregnant Joe marries her. Alice is distraught and has a fatal car accident after getting drunk, and Joe is beaten up by a gang after making a pass at one of the girls. But he recovers in time to marry Susan, the girl of his dreams but not the love of his life. 

Room at the Top is full of the subtle inequalities of English provincial life and the film’s success at the box office was based on the premise that sex (even in the afternoon!) could be enjoyed in an industrial northern town, by mature adults. The locations were exactly right, and the display of sexual frankness was an eye-opener.

Born in Lithuania and bred in Sough Africa, Harvey was already a small star but this role as a glib social climber catapulted him to fame. But it was Simone Signoret who carried the feature, her smouldering sexuality was a first for British cinema. The great Freddie Francis photographed Bradford luminously as a post-war ruin, just before re-generation arrived. 

Jack Clayton’s unrealised projects include the Edna O’Brien adaption Sweet Autumns, John Le Carre’s The Looking Glass War, The Tenant, later directed by Polanski, and an early version of The Bourne Identity (1983). He never got the tributes his realised films deserved, and he withdrew into virtual silence. AS

NOW ON BFI PLAYER | SUBSCRIPTION | Also available to own in a BFI Dual Format Edition (Blu-ray & DVD) packaged with numerous extras including a new feature commentary and a selection of archive films of West Riding, Yorkshire, where the film is set.

 

 

 

Dr. Strangelove (1964) *****

Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Dir: Stanley Kubrick   Writers: Terry Southern, Stanley Kubrick  Peter George: Novel | Cast: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens, Tracy Reed | UK/USA1963, 94 min.

Conflict was the theme that ran through all Stanley Kubrick’s works and he created three major anti-war films: Paths of Glory (1958), Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Dr. Strangelove: the latter being by far the most far reaching and most significant of the trio and was to have a profound political impact, with policy changes ensuring that the events depicted could never really occur in real life. Based on the novel “Red Alert” by Peter George, who co-wrote the script with Kubrick and Terry Southern, Dr. Strangelove is a biting satire centred on the reality of the nuclear deterrent, reflecting the fears of the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962, when a nuclear confrontation between the Super Powers was only just avoided.

Columbia Pictures insisted on Peter Sellers playing multiple roles – arguing that his performance in Kubrick’s Lolita had been the reason for the commercial success of the film. In the end, Sellers, who was in the middle of a divorce and could not leave England (Dr. Strangelove was filmed at Shepperton Studios), only played three parts, Slim Pickens taking the role of  Major TJ ‘King’ Kong, after Sellers sprained an ankle. He was paid over half the film’s budget – $1 million – for his role, Kubrick famously quipping “I got three for the price of six”.

General Jack D. Ripper (Hayden) believes that Russia is poisoning America’s water supply to meddle with the nation’s fitness. He orders the RAF Captain Mandrake (Sellers) to start a nuclear war without the permission of the Pentagon or the US President. General Turgidson (Scott), an ultra-nationalist, briefs the president and his aids in the War Room, obviously very happy that the Code to recall the nuclear bombers would take two days to recover, since the targets in Russia will be attacked in one hour. The Russian ambassador informs President Muffley (Sellers) and the Military that his country has developed a doomsday device which will bring an end to all life on the planet, in the event of Russia bing attacked. After being overpowered by troops loyal to the Pentagon, General Ripper kills himself, for fear of giving away the Recall-Code for the bombers. Finally, Mandrake can relay the code via pay phone to the SAC command, which succeeds in bringing back nearly all aircraft – apart from Major Kong’s whose communication system is disabled together with then release doors of the bomb doors – the Major solving this by straddling the nuclear bomb like a wild horse at a rodeo. Dr. Strangelove (Sellers) is an ex-Nazi scientist who is supposed to help to defuse the situation but when he suddenly jumps out of his wheelchair proclaiming proudly “Mein Fuhrer, I can walk” the nuclear arsenal of the Super Powers rain down on the planet, accompanied by Vera Lynn singing “We’ll meet Again”.

The original ending was supposed to be a pie-fight between all main protagonists, but Kubrick could not use the material as the cast were all laughing. The film’s test screening was supposed to be on November 22.11. 1963 – the day of Kennedy assassination. Its release was postponed to January 1964, some lines -“ you’ll have a pretty good weekend in Dallas” were changed to “..in Vegas”, out of respect, and one whole line “our young and gallant president has been struck down in his prime”, was cut in its entirety, even though Kubrick claimed later that it would have been cut anyway.

Apart from Sellers’ particularly impressive turn as Strangelove; Ken Adam’s production design, particularly of the War Room, has become a classic example of ingenuity and imagination. Kubrick always tried to show the absurdity of the slogans of “manageable survival” after a nuclear war: with politicians debating a post-war life underground, where ten women would each share each man in order to restart the rebirth of the species. AS

NOW SCREENING AS PART OF THE BFI’S KUBRICK RETROSPECTIVE during May 2019 | AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY 

 

 

Woman in the Window (1944) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Fritz Lang | Wri: Nunnally Johnson | Cast: Edward G Robinson, Joan Bennett, Raymond Massey | US Film Noir 107′

One of legendary director Fritz Lang‘s first noir films, The Woman in the Window is also rightfully considered one of the most important examples of the genre, a landmark movie that became one of the initial representations of noir first singled out by French critics after WWII. A triumph for Lang, legendary writer/producer Nunnally Johnson (The Grapes of Wrath), and leading man Edward G. Robinson (shedding his earlier gangster roles to portray a love-struck obsessive), the mysterious melodrama remains a classic American nail-biter.

Johnson’s loose adaptation of J H Wallis’ novel Once Off Guard sees Robinson as Richard Wanley, a successful psychiatrist biding his time while his wife and children are on vacation. Lamenting the loss of his salad days, along with his drinking pals Raymond Massey and Dan Duryea, he is surprised and delighted to be picked up in the street by a foxy femme fatale in the shape of Alice (an alluring Joan Bennett dressed by Vogue illustrator and couturier Muriel King), who bears an uncanny resemblance to the subject of a portrait he had just admired in a gallery window. When Richard and Alice retire to her home, her wealthy, jealous boyfriend intrudes, and is killed after a struggle. Alice convinces Richard to cover up the crime, but as Richard’s district attorney friend (Raymond Massey) investigates and the boyfriend’s bodyguard (Dan Duryea) begins to apply pressure to Richard, the walls begin to close in…

With a darkly drôle climax years ahead of its time, The Woman in the Window is suspenseful film noir at its most seductive, elegantly captured and lit by Milton Krasner (who would go on to win the Oscar for Three Coins in a Fountain in 1955), the thriller also serves as an excellent companion piece to the following year’s Scarlet Street, which reunited Lang with Robinson, Bennett, and Duryea in strikingly similar roles.

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (Masters of Cinema) | 20 May 2019 

 

 

 

How I Won the War (1967) *** Blu-ray release

Dir: Richard Lester | Writer: Charles Wood | Cast: John Lennon, Roy Kinnear, Michael Crawford, Michael Hordern, Jack MacGowran | UK Comedy 109′

In 1967 John Lennon took a break from the band and travelled down to Almeria in Southern Spain where he still managed to write the lyrics for Strawberry Fields Forever while starring in Richard Lester’s surreal comedy. Aside from its merits, the film was always going to be a talking point and would ultimately become a cult classic and one of the most appealing anti-war satires. Based on Patrick Ryan’s book, Charles Wood’s script sends up the British Army in a way that is both harmless and enjoyable.

John Lennon exudes an easy charisma as the bespectacled Private Gripweed, eclipsing Michael Crawford in his role as the incompetent Lieutenant Goodbody leading his troupe of hapless soldiers into active service in Europe and North Africa during the Second World War. Roy Kinnear, Michael Hordern and Jack MacGowran complete the wonderfully witty and watchable cast. MacGowran also polished off another dark comedy role that year starring in Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers. Lester’s direction often misfires but in a way that is retrospectively endearing given the nostalgic nature of the subject matter – cricket. A lovely, amusing walk down memory lane. MT

AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY from 20 May 2019 COURTESY OF THE BFI

 

Night of the Generals (1967) ****

Dir.: Anatole Litvak; Cast: Peter O’Toole, Oma Sharif, Tom Courtenay, Donald Pleasence, Philip Noiret, Charles Gray, Joanna Pettet, Christopher Plummer; France/UK 1967, 148 Min.

Based on the novel by popular West German author Hans Hellmuth Kirst and adapted by resistance authors Joseph Kessel and Paul Dehn, Anatole Litvak’s penultimate feature is a monumental historical portrait of WWII and the aftermath, stretching from 1942 to the mid 1950s. Litvak poured his own experiences into the action thriller, having left the Soviet Union for Berlin in the 1920s, before escaping from the Nazis via France to Hollywood in the following decade.

Paris under German occupation in 1942: A sex-worker is brutally murdered, and a frightened witness tells German MP Major Grau (Sharif) that he has seen a man wearing the uniform of a German General leaving the house of the crime. Grau is keen to know the alibis of three suspects: General Tanz (O’Toole), a vicious SS commander, General Kahlenberg (Pleasance), who will be one of the supporters of the 20th July 1944 plot against Hitler, and the careerist Von Seydlitz-Gabler (Charles Gray), who hedges his bets when it comes to resisting Hitler. Whilst his investigation in Paris is unsuccessful, Grau meets all suspects in Warsaw, finally being able to interview them. Tanz is destroying parts of Warsaw single-handed with his tanks, but the other two are not too keen to help Grau. The action returns to Paris in July 1944, just before the plot. Grau works with the French inspector Morand (Noiret), who is also a member of the resistance. He warns Grau to be aware of Tanz, but Grau corners the SS General, who shoots him in cold blood on the 20th of July, claiming that Grau is one of the conspirators.

More than a decade later, Morand visits Germany to take up the case. Tanz has just been released from prison for war crimes. Meanwhile the other two generals are making a good living as civilians, particularly Von Seydltz-Gabler, who is writing his memoirs. But his daughter Ulrike (Pettet) and her husband, ex-corporal Hartmann (Courtnenay) (who started their affair in Paris when Hartmann was an adjutant of Tanz) are the key witnesses for Morand.

Litvak (1902-1974), worked in Soviet cinema before becoming assistant to GW Pabst for Freudlose Gasse (1925) in Berlin. He directed popular features such as Dolly Macht Karriere (1930) for the Ufa, and fled the III. Reich to direct his first French feature Maylering, before settling in Hollywood where he shot, among others, All this And Heaven Too and Snake Pit (1948), a feature about outdated psychiatric methods. In 1949 he returned to France, where he directed Aimez-vous Brahms, based on Françoise Sagan’s novel.

The Night of the Generals is innovatively photographed by Henri Decaë, midwife to the French Nouvelle Vague with features like Les Cousins (Chabrol), Ascenseur pour l’echafaud (Malle), Bob Le Flambeur (Melville) and Les Quatre cents coups (Truffaut). The film is carried by Peter O’Toole’s manic psychopath Tanz, who is in love with violence and “entartete Kunst”; nearly fainting in Paris in front of Van Gogh’s self-portrait, whilst visiting an exhibition of paintings destined to be shipped to Germany for leading Nazis. O’Toole portrays Tanz as a member of the master race and is only able to express himself through violence, torn apart by the fascination of murder and suicide. AS

Eureka Entertainment to release THE NIGHT OF THE GENERALS, a suspenseful WWII thriller starring Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, and a star-studded cast, presented for the first time ever on Blu-ray in the UK, taken from a stunning 4K restoration, as part of the Eureka Classics range from 13 May 2019, featuring a Limited Edition Collector’s booklet [2000 copies ONLY].

https://youtu.be/7uZsJHFmNlk

Full Metal Jacket (1987) **** Kubrick Retrospective 2019

Dir: Stanley Kubrick | Writers: Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, Gustav Hasford | Cast: Matthew Modine, R Lee Emey, Vincent D’Onofrio, Adam Baldwin, Dorian Harewood | US Action thriller 116′

The last film to be released during Kubrick’s lifetime is a bleak and violent look at the Vietnam war through the eyes of recruits moving from the brutal US Marine training bootcamp into the nightmare of active service overseas. Pessimism combined with dark cynicism gives us a flavour of what came before in Paths of Glory and Dr. Strangelove.

The first half of the film is extremely loud and shouty, focusing on the recruits’ dehumanising and draconian training programme. Although it makes for grim viewing there’s a certain visual symmetry at work here echoing Leni Riefenstal’s Olympia (1938), although the dialogue is coarse and sweary, and full of racist bigotry as you might expect given the all-male environment where the men are toughened up and whipped into shape. There then follows a brutal and melodramatic baptism of fire before the men head to Vietnam, where top recruit and military journalist Pvt Joker (Modine) decides to try his hand in the front line: “a day without blood, is like a day without sunshine”. Kubrick maintains a cold-eyed distance throughout the mayhem and hard-edged horror. There is no attempt to bring out the humanity of these men who are now reduced to killing machines, murdering anything that moves as they fight for their own survival in the dog eat dog delirium. Kubrick’s message is clear: War is no place for decency. You come away not knowing or caring about any of the characters. Stunned and saddened by the senselessness of it all. No pity or poetry here. MT

BFI STANLEY KUBRICK RETROSPECTIVE | APRIL-MAY 2019 at BFI Southbank 

Terminus (1960) Talking Pictures

Dir.: John Schlesinger; Documentary, UK 1961, 33 min.

This was John Schlesinger’s last documentary, having started his career as a TV director for ‘Monitor’. His first feature A Kind of Loving (1962) was part of the New British Cinema, but Schlesinger would soon find a place in Hollywood, where he would cast Julie Christie in the classic Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) and go on to secure an Oscar for Midnight Cowboy (1969), amongst other successes in a muscular body of work that encompassed 50 years of the 20th century. Schlesinger’s gift to cinema was his varied depiction of gender relations and his ability to convey complex emotions sensitively and eloquently through multi-layered characterisations. And this is picked up here in the passengers’ comings and goings, their greetings and goodbyes, their anticipation, elation and anguish, in particular, seen through the little boy who gets separated from his mother, a situation that resonates for everyone. Set to Ron Grainer’s mellow original score there is a rhythmic quality to Kenneth HIggins’ black and white camerawork.

Terminus was shot in one day in Waterloo Station in the style of the cinema verité, and won him a BAFTA and the Golden Lion at Venice. Ken Higgin’s black-and-white images are grainy, but even today have lost none of their poignant meaning; together with the direct sound (and no-commentary or voice-over) they encapsulate British society at large on its way into a decade of technology, youth culture and liberation. Other little stories emerge – the woman who’s lost her umbrella – the camera often ‘finds’ different people again, before losing them in the turmoil. The three-class system in carriages had been reduced to two after nationalisation, but nevertheless, the rigid segregation is still visible. The stories of marriage, work and petit crime allow a kaleidoscopic view. Train journeys, in life and in the cinema can be a real life changer, as in Schlesinger’s second feature Billy Liar. There is a seriousness in Schlesinger’s approach, which can be seen on the faces of the travellers: the close-ups say very much about those involved. Schlesinger never objectifies his protagonists, always leaving them in control.

Terminus was one of 140 short documentaries produced by Edgar Anstey, a protégé of the great John Grieson. Anstey not only worked, like in this case, for the British Transport Film, but also for the BBC.

ONE OF THE BRITISH TRANSPORT FILMS now on TALKING PICTURES | Blu-ray FROM THE BFI

British Transport Films | Blu-ray release 2019

What could be more romantic than a train journey? Even if it feels more like a boys own adventure, as many of these British Transport films do. Escaping into the unknown with a promise of excitement and discovery – or just a trip back in time to revisit childhood holidays in the 1960s and 1970s, where the English landscape stretched far and wide from the window of the pullman out of Waterloo, or even Paddington, and not an anorak in sight! 

This year celebrates the 70th anniversary of the British Transport Films with twenty one films representing the cream of the celebrated BTF collection.

Classics including John Schlesinger’s Terminus (1961)and Railways forever! (1970) John Betjeman’s eulogy to his favourite form of transport, have been newly digitally remastered on 2k, while Geoffrey Jones’s legendary homage to progress, Rail (1967), has been restored in 4K by the BFI National Archive.

British Transport Films was established in 1949 to focus a spotlight on transport as a nationalised undertaking. Over a period of more than 35 years, BTF produced an unrivalled documentary film legacy for generations of film and transport enthusiasts.

The Films (disc 1)

Farmer Moving South (1952)

Train Time (1952)

This is York  (1953)

Elizabethan Express (1954)

Snowdrift at Bleath Gill (1955)

Any Man’s Kingdom (1956)

Fully Fitted Freight (1957)

Every Valley (1957)

A Future on the Rail (1957)

Between the Tides (1958)

Disc 2

A Letter for Wales (1960)

They Take the High Road (1960)

Blue Pullman (1960)

Terminus (1961)

The Third Sam (1962)

Rail (1967)

Railways For Ever! (1970)

The Scene from Melbury House (1972)

Wires Over the Border (1974)

Locomotion (1975)

Overture: One-Two-Five (1978)

This collection will be launched with a special screening at BFI Southbank. Moving Millions: British Transport Films Blu-ray Launch + Q&A takes place on Tuesday 14 May at 18:00 in NFT1. It will be introduced by BFI Curator of Non-Fiction, Steve Foxon and followed by a Q&A with special guests. This event is also part of the Department for Transport’s Centenary.

https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/Online/movingmillionsbritishtransportplusqanda

 

 

November (2017) ****

Dir/Writer: Rainer Sarnet | Cast: Rea Lest, Jorgen Liik, Arvo Kukumagi, Katariina Unt, Taavi Eelmaa, Dieter Laser, Jette Loona Hermanis | Fantasy Horror | 115′

Rainer Sarnet’s wickedly weird adaptation of an Estonian folklore infused fairy tale is flawed but enthralling and full of magic moments of ethereal black&white beauty.

This is a film that wears its Baltic credentials proudly on its delicate fashioned sleeve – set in the deepest, creepiest snowbound forest in a remote region it features the Devil, ghosts and all kinds of mysterious and often mischievious characters. Adapted from Andrus Kivirahk’s best-seller ‘Rehepapp’, NOVEMBER is an endlessly fascinating film that has you gawping in terror and disbelief despite its rather enigmatic narrative that scratches at the edges of horror, fantasy and dark comedy. At it’s core NOVEMBER is a love story based on the premise of human survival in hard times.

The inhabitants of a distant Estonian village desperately eek out a living in frosty and threadbare poverty. The fantasy element strikes fearfully from the opening sequence that pictures a spiky mechanical creature flies through the air and into a stable where a slumbering calf is transfixed with fear as the creature, called a ‘Kratt’, lassoos it with a sturdy steel chain, transporting it through the night sky and into the barn of a nearby farm. And this is how the inhabitants survive by robbing and cheating each other with their supernatural robotic aids.

In this legendary land of dour and often demonic doings where characters often come back from the dead to join the living, young Liina (Rea Lest) is hoping to marry her sweetheart Hans (Jorgen Liik) while desperately avoiding the clutches of a gruesome farmer. Meanwhile Hans is in thrall to a newcomer to the village in the shape of a gorgeous German baroness (Jette Loona Hermanis), whose beauty is unrivalled and unsullied by hardship. But there’s a secret going on with both these women, and caught in a love triangle, they seek out magical ways to capture the hearts of the one the desire.

The only criticism here is that NOVEMBER is chockfull of strange and outlandish characters that fail to serve the central narrative robbing the drama of much of its delicious tension and often detracting from Sarnet’s dark humour. There’s simple too much going on. But Jacaszek sinister score provides just the right note of chilling concern to keep us waiting, and fearing that there may not be a happy ending. NOVEMBER is an arthouse gem that begs to be seen, along with Sarnet’s 2011 adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. MT 

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MONTAGE | https://amzn.to/2CiMCB3

BEST FILM; RIGA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2017  | BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2017

 

The Blue Angel (1930) ***** Bluray

Dir.: Josef von Sternberg; Cast: Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich, Kurt Gerron, Hans Albers; Germany 1930, 106 min.

One of many Germans who would later emigrate to Hollywood, UFA boss Erich Pommer wanted to raise the profile of German cinema, feeling it had not adapted well to sound. So he  engaged Hollywood director Josef von Sternberg (Undeworld) to direct Heinrich Mann’s 1905 novel Professor Unrat at Babelsberg. 

Set in 1924, Emil Jannings played the anti-hero, Professor Rath, who is a strict teacher, and a very repressed man. When is comes to his attention that his High School students are visiting a rather notorious establishment called Der Blaue Engel, to meet the well-known singer LoLa-Lola (Dietrich), he is hell bent on destroying their fun. But instead, he falls in love for the first time in his life. After a night with Lola, he asks for her hand, and is immediately dismissed from his position. With his new wife, he tours small towns, and even takes part in the stage acts: the cabaret owner Kiepert (Gerron) asking him to crow like a cockerel. But Lola is not the faithful type, preferring the young and athletic Mazeppa (Albers) and Rath soon becomes disillusioned and turns to alcohol. When the troupe arrives in his home town, where a large crowd awaits his appearance on stage, Rath has a nervous breakdown. And after trying to strangle Lola, he runs off to his old school to meet his maker.

Dietrich’s songs: “Ich bin die fesche Lola”, dominate the feature: Von Sternberg took her to Hollywood, where she starred in six of his films, becoming an American citizen in 1939, and, for a while, an international star. Siegfried Kracauer, for whom Fritz Lang’s M and The Blue Angel were the most significant German films of the the Weimarer Republic, called the feature “sadistic”. And it is true: Rath is tortured in every way possible after he sets eyes on Lola – he is no match for her, or the milieu he has chosen to live in. He is a victim of what Kacauer called the “Street films”, where the middle class man attempts to follow his passion, but is brutally punished. Rath is one of many tragic screen heroes who can only function in a restricted lower middle-class environment due to his emotional regression. For Kracauer, the majority of German men fell into this category.

Dietrich’s casting proved to be a turning point in the life of two German actors – just six months apart by birth – who aspired to convince Von Sternberg to cast them. The other was Leni Riefenstahl was already an established film star who had had great success in ‘Mountain’ films, a popular sub-genre in Germany. Dietrich on the other hand, was not much more than a singing extra both in films and on stage. Riefenstahl dined with Von Sternberg hoping to get a part in The Blue Angel, but after she heard that he had plumped for Dietrich, she told the newspapers that she had recommended her rival, in order to save face. But according to a another version she shouted “Okay, let the whore play the whore, who cares”. The rest, as they say, is history – and much more than film history. AS

Eureka and The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to bring The Blue Angel back to big screen once again from 31 May 2019, when it is released in selected cinemas nationwide (UK and Ireland) to coincide with the centenary of the Weimar Republic and the BFI Southbank’s major two-month season Beyond Your Wildest Dreams: Weimar Cinema 1919-1933                      

The Caretaker (1963) **** Bfi Flipside

Dir.: Clive Donner; Cast: Alan Bates, Donald Pleasence, Robert Shaw; UK 1963, 105 min.

A play that changed the face of modern theatre and made Harold Pinter’s name, The Caretaker remains one of Pinter’s most famous works. Featuring original production cast members Donald Pleasence and Alan Bates, the film adaptation is sensitively directed by Clive Donner (Rogue Male) and was shot by Nicolas Roeg. It will be released by the BFI in a Dual Format Edition on 15 April 2019, presented with a variety of extras, and on iTunes on 29 April.

The Caretaker was also an early version of celebrity crowdfunding, with Elisabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Noel Coward among the co-producers. With clear echoes of Joseph Losey’s The Servant from the same year (Pinter also scripted, based on a novel by Robin Maugham), The Caretaker is a power play as well as a psychological menage-a-trois. But whilst the titular servant in the Loosey film wins the battle with his master and his fiancée, the title character in The Caretaker looses out against the alliance of two brothers.

Hobo Mac Davies aka Bernhard Jenkins (Pleasence) is picked up from the street by Aston (Shaw), who takes pity on him on a frosty night, and invites him into the dilapidated home he , shares with his brother Mick (Bates). But having set foot in his bedsitter room, which has been used as a dumping ground for broken domestic appliances, Davies turns out to be opportunistic and aggressive at the same time: bullying the hyper-sensitive Aston, who has been the victim of electro-shock treatment during his teenage years. Davies also spins him a porkie about having to get to  Sidcup, to retrieve his ‘papers’ – a bogus excuse which provides a rich vein of humour. Despite being a tramp with no possessions or any way of financing him life, he has a high opinion of himself, and is extremely demanding and choosy finding fault in Aston’s generous attempts to accommodate him: particularly with regards to footwear. Alan Bates plays Aston’s cocky older brother Mick (Bates), who dreams about tuning the ramshackle house into a luxury penthouse – whilst Aston had mentioned a much more realistic project to Davis: the building of a shed in the garden, where Aston could use as a workshop. But Davis soon enthrals Aston with his stories of follies de grandeur – and the need to get to Sidcup to fetch his ‘references’. Private Eye’s column ‘Great Bores of Today’ could have been based on Pinter’s hilarious road references.

Even though, Mick throws a few coins at Davies feet, which the in the room is a small Buddha statue, which Aston cherishes. Trying to get to grips with Davies, Mick smashes the stature, whilst the former tries to get Aston to give him control over the household, relegating his brother. A knife suddenly turns up, but slowly the brothers form an alliance against Davies. Aston throws him out of the house, but even though Mick picks him up in the morning, after a Davies is shivering from the cold, Aston turns his back literally on Davies, who has returned to the house: Aston keeps out the light blocking from the window and condemns Davis to the darkness he came from.

Richard Donner (Here we go around the Mulberry Bush) directs the sparse action with great sensitivity, but DoP Nicolas Roeg steals the show, using all tricks in the trade to conjure up always new light and shadow games, in which the three protagonists are caught like in a spider’s web. Pleasance is really creepy as the ever-changing Davis, and Bates acts out his his psychotic tendencies with menace. But Robert Shaw makes the strongest impression, as the permanently tortured victim of intrusive medical treatment, which has robbed him of any idenity. AS

Dual Format Edition (DVD/Blu-ray) release on 15 April 2019, and on iTunes on 29 April

   

One, Two Three (1961) **** Bluray

Dir: Billy Wilder | Wri: I.A.L Diamond | Cast: James Cagney, Pamela Tiffin, Arlene Francis, Comedy | US,

One of director Billy Wilder‘s most frenetic comedies, the madcap Cold War and corporate politics satire One, Two, Three has to be one of the only films almost capable of making its Wilder predecessors Some Like It Hot and The Apartment seem sedately paced in comparison. Featuring a hilarious lead performance by James CagneyOne, Two, Three hasn’t always been as famous as Wilder’s other comedies, but it’s among his best.

Cagney is C.R. “Mac” MacNamara, a top soft drinks company executive shipped off to (then West) Berlin and told to keep an eye on his boss’ 17-year-old Atlanta socialite daughter Scarlett (Pamela Tiffin) while she visits Germany. Scarlett’s tour seems endless, and Mac discovers she’s fallen for a (then East) Berlin communist agitator and the young couple are bound for Moscow! Mac has to bust up the burgeoning romance before his boss learns the truth, all the while dealing with his wife Phyllis (Arlene Francis) and her own impatience with German living.

With One, Two, Three, Wilder set out to make “the fastest picture in the world.” Mission accomplished, so hang on and try not to miss too many gags if this is your first viewing of this knockabout comedy penned by Wilder’s long-time screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond. The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present yet another Billy Wilder masterpiece on Blu-ray for the first time ever in the UK.

Billy Wilder’s ONE, TWO, THREE, a witty and energetic comedic showpiece starring James Cagney, presented on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK as a part of The Masters of Cinemas Series from 15 April 2019, featuring a Limited Edition slipcase [2000 copies ONLY]  https://amzn.to/2IfCLl5

Edvard Munch (1974)

Writer|Director: Peter Watkins | Biopic | Norway /Sweden | 210min | Drama

In the ultimate biopic of Norway’s most famous artist, Peter Watkins sketches a profoundly atmospheric cinéma vérité portrait of 19th century Kristiania (now Oslo) where the expressionist painter (Geir Westby) grew up in a protestant middle class family with two brothers and three sisters in 1863.

His mother was to die when he was five, inauspiciously shaping his introspective life in a society where sickness and death were prevalent amongst the young. Munch himself nearly died of a haemorrhage aged 13  and legalised prostitution and child labour were the norm offering the artist plenty of scope to draw on for his iconic paintings. “Illness, insanity and death were the black angels that watched over my cradle and accompanied me every day of my life”. It seemed inevitable that this milieu of grief and nihilism would culminated in his ultimate expression of anxiety ‘The Scream’ thirty years later.

A fly on the wall camera introduces the Munch family, Watkins’ slow and deliberately didactic narration presents their lives in a factually informative way, making use of the painter’s own diaries and key historical events of the era. Peter Watkins is well known for his dispassionate treatment of often inflammatory subjects and his biopic is a leisurely two-hour affair that immerses us in the era and the artist’s own world which ran contrary to the establishment, his work being described as ‘ugly and deranged’ in a critical assault that continued for most of his career. Munch was simply expressing his feelings in a visual way using a “nervous, dissolving treatment of colour”.

The scenes of his love affair with Mrs Heiberg (a graceful Gro Fraas), a married woman without children, are sensually rendered in the romantic fashions of the era and provide a welcome counterpoint to those featuring Munch’s sombre childhood marked by grief and illness: “Sex is the only human pleasure that spares man from ultimate loneliness”: Munch describes his relationship with Mrs Heiberg as making him feel much calmer although the affair was not to last.

From then on Munch’s brushstrokes are shown scratching and scraping at the canvas as his work becomes more impressionistic, and Watkins cuts back to scenes of him weeping pitifully. Watkins’ treatme