RIVIERA in September from Sony

Golden Globe® nominee Julia Stiles, Oscar nominee Lena Olin, Adrian Lester and Iwan Rheon lead the cast in the intense TV thriller RIVIERA, coming to Digital Download, Blu-ray & DVD September 25 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Created and co-written by Academy Award winner Neil Jordan, Sky Original Production Riviera follows the story of Georgina Clios (Stiles), the smart and resourceful second wife of a billionaire banker who dies in a yacht explosion – a catastrophe that sets in motion a dramatic chain of events that exposes the darker flipside to the Riviera’s glitz and glamour. It’s an enthralling and powerful story set against the visually stunning backdrop of the South of France.

My Beautiful Laundrette: New BFI Blu-Ray

Stephen Frears’ My Beautiful Laundrette is to be issued in a new Dual Format Edition (DVD/Blu-ray) on 21 August. Written by Hanif Kureishi (The Buddha of Suburbia), My Beautiful Laundrette’s bold exploration of issues of sexuality, race, class and generational difference is compassionate, humorous and entertaining. The new edition will have extensive special features and a booklet containing a variety of new essays by writers including Sarfraz Manzoor and Sukhdev Sandhu. In director Stephen Frears’ groundbreaking and hugely successful drama, Omar (Gordon Warnecke), the son of a Pakistani immigrant, embarks on a venture to renovate his uncle’s laundrette with the help of his childhood friend, ex-National Front member Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis)..The film is being released as part of the BFI’s activity (from June onwards) to mark the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967. This includes a major two month film and TV season, Gross Indecency, and a one month Joe Orton season at BFI Southbank, a new online BFI Player collection – LGBT Britain on Film, a UK-wide touring programme of archive film and an international touring programme of classic LGBT shorts from directors including Derek Jarman, Isaac Julien and Terence Davies.

New Blu-rays from Eureka, Arrow, Cult Films Barry Forshaw

THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE (André Øvredal, director) Arrow Blu-ray  The very fact that this acclaimed chiller features – with nothing spared — the virtually complete autopsy that is promised in its title marks it out as not for the squeamish. But those of hardier disposition should find themselves encountering an unusual experience in the genre. An ordinary autopsy turns into a nightmarish ordeal for father and son morticians, played by Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch, in a macabre horror thriller that delivers the goods. Experienced coroner Tommy Tilden and his son Austin run a family-owned morgue and crematorium in Virginia. When the local Sheriff brings in an emergency case – an unknown female corpse nicknamed ‘Jane Doe’, found in the basement of a home where a multiple homicide took place – it seems like just another open-and-shut case. But as the autopsy proceeds, these seasoned professionals are left reeling as each layer of their inspection brings frightening new revelations. Perfectly preserved on the outside, Jane Doe’s insides have been scarred, charred and dismembered – seemingly the victim of a horrific yet mysterious ritualistic torture. As Tommy and Austin begin to piece together these gruesome discoveries, an unnatural force takes hold of the crematorium. While a violent storm rages above ground, it seems the real horrors lie on the inside… Director André Øvredal burst onto the scene in 2010 with his extraordinary cult horror comedy Trollhunter and his follow-up film is very different(but equally persuasive) fare.

THE FABULOUS BARON MUNCHAUSEN (Karel Zeman, director), Second Run  Terry Gilliam may have failed in his attempt to make his Baron Munchausen film, but here we can see at last one of his key inspirations that a film that has been virtually impossible to view for many years in the West, although its reputation continued to grow. It is in fact a remarkable piece of work, as visually stunning as we have heard it was, and this new Blu-ray and DVD release proves that the recognition was overdue. The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (Baron Prášil, 1961) is released on both Blu-Ray and DVD. Often described as the ‘Czech Méliès’, visionary filmmaker Karel Zeman has been a profound influence on whole generations of film artists from Jan Švankmajer to Tim Burton, the Quay Brothers to Terry Gilliam, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Wes Anderson. His ground-breaking innovations in the use of live-action and animation mark him as one of the great masters of 20th Century fantasy cinema, ranking alongside his more celebrated Western counterparts Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen. The Fabulous Baron Munchausen is perhaps Zeman’s most beloved achievement.

BOCCACCIO ’70 (Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, Vittorio de Sica, Mario Monicelli, directors) Cult Films Blu-ray  A very welcome Blu-ray from the new label Cult Films. As I noted in Italian Cinema, when the film first appeared, many were enticed by the publicity for Boccaccio 70, anticipating a generous helping of cleavage from Anita Ekberg, Sophia Loren and Romy Schneider, which they got, although the contributions of the distinguished directors  were less obvious. The three sizable segments of this promising anthology were directed by Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti and Vittorio De Sica. Fellini’s episode, ‘The Temptation of Dr Antonio’, was unpretentious and agreeable enough, but the satirical squib seemed like a watered down version of La Dolce Vita’s derisive onslaughts. Visconti was his usually impressive visual self (and provided the most serious entry), but the sombre mood of his sketch struck the wrong note in what was essentially a film of satirical squibs. And, alas, De Sica seemed to have been drained of all that made his work impressive, and ‘The Raffle’, while being superficially absorbing, was somewhat arid. However, the final effect of the film was agreeable enough, and notably diverting in the Fellini episode. After some strikingly designed credits, Boccaccio 70 opens with Fellini’s ‘The Temptation of Dr Antonio’, which features Ekberg in an unlikely tale which devolves on narrow-mindedness and puritanical bigotry. Antonio (amusingly portrayed by Peppino De Filippo) is a vehemently radical self-appointed censor who objects to anything that conveys the suggestion that sex can be an enjoyable experience. His protests are generally ineffectual but cause much chaos. Antonio’s moral indignations are inflamed when a massive hording depicting Anita Ekberg is constructed outside his apartment. Ekberg is seductively encouraging the public to ‘drink more milk’ (the lactation joke is similar to the one made by Frank Tashlin with Jane Mansfield in The Girl Can’t Help It) and the episode concludes with a 40-foot Ekberg stepping out of the poster and clutching the terrified Antonio to her breast, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman-style. The second episode is set in surroundings of velvety opulence and elegantly suffocating décor. This is Visconti’s episode, ‘The Job’, which tells of a pampered young countess who discovers that her husband is involved in a call girl scandal. Visconti accentuates the heavy, oppressive beauty of the countess’s cloistered existence. He shows how her every need is satisfied by hovering servants and how she has become incapable of any profession in the world but prostitution, which she despairingly takes to at the end of the episode. Visconti’s characters are dwarfed by the lushness of their surroundings, forever drifting through doors that lead to yet more lavishly furnished rooms, and their suffocating comfortable cages are impregnable. Fine performances by Schneider and Tomas Milian fail to give the episode more significance. De Sica’s colourful sequence with Sophia Loren as a fairground girl who raffles her body to drooling admirers is rewarding, but is a long distance from Bicycle Thieves. Parcelled together, the three episodes are a pleasant enough divertimento, with several incidental voyeuristic frissons. Ironically, the final effect of the film is less erotic than the more reigned-in sensuality of more serious movies, such as those of Antonioni. The Cult Films issue features new special features a previously unseen documentary Sophia, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, a candid, intimate interview with Loren with exclusive contributions from Woody Allen, Giorgio Armani and other close friends and collaborators.
THE VISION (Norman Stone, director) Network  This once-acclaimed television drama has completely dropped from sight, and deserves re-evaluation — particularly as the religious right (the theme here) is on the march again in America. Dirk Bogarde, Lee Remick and Eileen Atkins head an impressive cast in this TV drama from William Nicholson and the creative team behind Shadowlands. Originally screened as part of BBC2’s Screen Two strand and featuring an early TV role for Helena Bonham Carter, The Vision is a disturbing reflection of an era of televangelists, burgeoning satellite channels and ruthless media manipulation. Bogarde plays James Marriner, a faded, unhappily married former TV presenter who is persuaded to front the People Channel – a right-wing, evangelical satellite network poised to launch in Europe; determined to recruit “Gentle Jim” as a reassuringly familiar anchorman, the network’s steely, seductive boss Grace Gardner (Remick) proves hard to refuse. As the network’s first live transmission looms, Marriner, whose personal life is now under surveillance, has become deeply uneasy about its aims. But Gardner makes it clear that any attempt to alert viewers to her organisation’s true agenda will bring about a devastating retribution.

FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS (Sam Wood, Director) Fabulous Films  The finest screen version of the Hemingway classic, For Whom The Bell Tolls stars a stolid but charismatic Gary Cooper and a luminous Ingrid Bergman. This newly restored version includes footage that was cut after the original theatrical premiere in 1943.The title of the book and the film is, of course, taken from a passage by John Donne: “No man is an island, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; … therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” Within three days of the book’s publication, Paramount bought the screen rights for $150,000. For Whom The Bell Tolls became the top box-office hit of 1943, earning $7.1 million. It was nominated for nine Oscars, winning one (Katina Paxinou for Best Actress in a Supporting Role). Victor Young’s film soundtrack for the film was the first complete score from an American film to be issued on record. The film is far more politically neutral than the book. The studio depoliticized most of the film’s content probably to avoid box-office boycotts, rendering it more or less like a generic adventure story. Nowhere is General Franco mentioned, although he leads the Fascist movement depicted in the story. Director Sam Wood explained “It is a love story against a brutal background. It would be the same story if they were on the other side.”

THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, Dario Argento, director/Arrow Blu-ray  Readers will, I hope, forgive me quoting once again from my own Italian Cinema. Usually to the throbbing, high-decibel accompaniment of the music of Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin (his long-time collaborator), the early and mid-period films of the energetic Italian Dario Argento were once breath-stopping rollercoaster rides of painterly visuals and graphic horror. Argento’s feature film debut, the poetically titled The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L’Uccello dalle Piume di Cristallo, 1970), augured well for his career – a commercial success in 1970, it looks a fascinating dry run for many ideas to be more fully developed in later films. Tony Musante plays an American writer in Italy who witnesses a murderous assault through glass (prefiguring David Hemmings in the later Deep Red (Profondo Rosso, 1976); he is trapped between sliding glass doors while attempting to aid the bleeding victim (Eva Renzi) – and this sequence seems to be the one people remember over the years – probably because Musante’s subsequent tracking down of the black leather-clad murderer is handled with rather less panache than Argento was to develop in subsequent films. There are of course visual delights galore – a marvellously Hitchcockian chase of a yellow-jacketed hired killer (one of several loose ends not really tied up) that ends with a joke worthy of North by Northwest: a murder by razor that utilises sound as chillingly as Polanski did in Repulsion (a word would be in order here about Ennio Morricone’s mesmeric score, cleverly used throughout) and the suspenseful siege of Musante’s girlfriend (Suzy Kendall) in her flat – the murderer’s knife cutting through the door invites another comparison: the demolition job done on a similar door in Hitchcock’s The Birds – but this doesn’t prevent the sequence from being claustrophobically pulse-racing. Quibbles apart, the film is essential viewing for admirers of the director – but I would suggest only after seeing his later, more assured features. Deep Red is stunning evidence that Dario Argento’s delirious visual talents have been consistently in evidence from his earliest films to Inferno (1980). A tortuous Hitchcockian thriller (with a relatively unguessable denouement), it is better constructed than Suspiria (1977) – the film it has most in common with – and the plot-spinning between the big, operatic set-pieces is better throughout. However, it is obvious that the director’s real interests lie in the heady exploration of baroque architecture in front of which his characters are gorily dispatched. David Hemmings, in a nod to his Blow Up persona, is almost witness to a murder, and, with the ambiguous aid of a young newswoman, threads his way through several menacing expressionist settings before, inevitably, confronting the deranged killer. The murders along the way are highly imaginatively staged – the death-by-boiling-water makes the similar sequence in Halloween II look thin stuff indeed. Several frissons are provided by Carlo Rambaldi’s effects – the most shocking being decapitation by necklace and lift (not exactly a hackneyed demise.) Argento’s debut is released here in a striking, brand new 4K restoration from the camera negative in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio,

ONE-EYED JACKS, Marlon Brando, director/Arrow Blu-ray  Over the years, many well-thought-of but elusive films have been difficult to see in decent versions, but few have been so hard to catch as this remarkable, deeply flawed film, the sole directorial credit of the temperamental actor Marlon Brando. Those who have only seen washed-out, panned-and scanned versions of Brando’s leisurely revenge Western may be very surprised just how amazing it looks in this splendid widescreen restoration. The film itself, while not entirely free of actorly indulgences, demonstrates that Brando had the talent and vision to bring off such a project had it not been for his indecisiveness – his typical dilatoriness (going massively over-budget) unsurprisingly ensuring that he never made another film as a director. One-Eyed Jacks (whose other assets including Karl Malden’s threatening performance and Hugo Friedhofers’s orchestral score) is presented here in a beautiful 4K restoration so that the film may be seen as Marlon Brando originally intended, and with a wealth of special features delivering new and fascinating insight into this unusual, baroque Western.

DOBERMAN COP, Kinji Fukasaku, director/Arrow Blu-ray  Those who have seen and enjoyed the operatically violent ‘Streetfighter’ series of films starring Sonny Chiba may be tempted by this one, but be warned: it is a very different kettle of fish, and much more comic (in a fashion that will not be to more sophisticated Western tastes). In fact, the film has a lot in common with early Bruce Lee movies, inasmuch as the martial arts-dispensing hero is initially presented as a naive country bumpkin, and Chiba is even saddled with a ludicrous pet pig — a crass decision by the filmmakers that the film barely recovers from. But Chiba fans will still be interested, and aficionados of bizarre Japanese cinema will find the release of Kinji Fukasaku’s film intriguing. Never before released on video outside Japan, this oddity is based on a popular manga and was released just as the popularity of the yakuza movie was waning.

HITLER: THE LAST 10 DAYS (Ennio De Concino, director) Fabulous Films  There is one key reason for seeing this film: the redoubtable Alec Guinness, who gives a masterly performance in the title role, even triumphing over what appeared to be an almost impossible task — making his Hitler persuasive, even though at times his performance suggests some of the many parodies we have seen over the years (and inevitably, it suffers in comparison with that of Bruno Ganz in Downfall). The other problem is that the film is a bit of a multi-national Euro-pudding, with several of the foreign actors unconvincingly dubbed –.Adolfo Celli, with that famously thick Italian accent, never spoke English as impeccably as he does here. Hitler: The Last 10 Days is based on the book Hitler’s Last Days: An Eye-Witness Account written by German Army Officer Gerhard Boldt. Boldt was in the Führerbunker for 8 of the last 10 days with Hitler. Boldt was the production technical advisor for the film. Guinness worked closely with Boldt perfecting his portrayal of the dictator: “He showed me–and most beautifully– Hitler’s behaviour and idiosyncrasies during those last days. His mannerisms, the sound of his voice, every gesture and stance was described to me.” An accurate replica of the Führerbunker was constructed at Shepperton Studios, with the rooms designed to their original dimensions.

THE FOUR MARX BROS various directors Arrow Blu-ray  Four classic Marx Bros movies from the earlier days of their success, showcasing – to hilarious effect – everything from the brothers’ perfectly timed slapstick to Groucho’s sardonic wit and impeccable delivery. Many of the great set pieces are to be found here, and the Blu-ray spruce-up admirably enhances all of the films.

MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE (Vittorio De Sica, director) Cult Film Blu-ray  Marriage Italian Style reunites Italian screen giants Sophia Loren & Marcello Mastroianni in a new HD transfer of a now-neglected film. Director Vittorio De Sica examines the Italian marriage with Mastroianni playing Domenico, a businessman who is used to being in control until he meets former prostitute Filumena (Loren). Sparks fly and she becomes both his mistress and the manager of his pastry shop. All is well until Domenico begins courting another, younger woman, and flaunts his new relationship in front of her… Adapted from a stage play by Eduardo de Filippo, this Italian melodrama was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actress at the 1964 Academy Awards the same year for Best Foreign Film. This release also features Vittorio D, a tribute to the multi-awarded maestro filmmaker De Sica, with contributions from Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach.

TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN (Joseph H. Lewis, director), Arrow Blu-ray  if you have in your mind an image of Sterling Hayden, striding towards a gunfight with a whaling harpoon slung across his shoulder, then you will have seen Joseph H Lewis’s highly unusual, Western, as this is its most memorable image. Lewis was not as consistent as other cult directors such as Don Siegel and Anthony Mann, but could deliver the goods when required. Another plus here is the self-loathing, black-clad villain played by Nedrick Young.

DEATH IN THE GARDEN/La mort en ce jardin (Luis Bunuel, director) Eureka  Death in the Garden [La mort en ce jardin] is atypical Luis Buñuel – more in the nature of an adventure film, but is unmissable for aficionados of the director. It is now released as part of The Masters of Cinema Series in a definitive Dual-format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition. After the relatively commercial Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Luis Buñuel returned to the surrealist and political style of his earlier works with Death in the Garden [La mort en ce jardin] the middle film in what has been described as his “revolutionary triptych”, a trilogy of films that “study in the morality and tactics of armed revolution against a right-wing dictatorship” Filmed in stunning Eastmancolor, Death in the Garden is both a rousing adventure film, and a surrealist tour de force. This hard-to see film appears here for the first time r on Blu-ray in a new Dual Format edition.

PULSE (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, director) Arrow  The director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, once again proves why he deserved his award-winning status with this unsettling entry in the j-horror cycle of films which uses as a background the burgeoning Internet and social media scene in Japan. As well as delivering the requisites tension, the film make some keen societal points.

PUBLIC ENEMY (Mathieu Frances & Gary Seghers, directors) Nordic Noir & Beyond  How often does a new crime series from abroad sample elements fairly shamelessly from several of its predecessors? In the Belgian Public Enemy, we are given the sociopathic heroine who finds it difficult to interact with her colleagues (shades of both and The Bridge and The Killing), a highly intelligent, hyper-manipulative serial killer who is able to get inside the minds of his those he encounters (Hannibal Lecter, anyone?) and a variety of situations which will be familiar to any aficionado of Scandi and Eurocrime. In fact, we are able to forgive Public Enemy. these cheeky borrowings, as the results here are comprehensively gripping – and the central performance as the damaged copper by Stéphanie Blanchoud completely holds the attention. After 20 years in prison Guy Béranger (an ice-cold Angelo Bison), a dangerous child murderer, is released on parole to the custody of the monks at Vielsart Abbey. This leads to an outcry from the small village nearby and to the rest of the country. When a young girl disappears on the outskirts of the abbey, the entire village is in uproar. Chloé Muller (Blanchoud), a young inspector based in Brussels, is assigned to the investigation to protect the despised Béranger. Her investigation brings her face-to-face with the fears and secrets of the seemingly peaceful local community. The Nordic Noir & Beyond’s DVD Box Set release of the Belgian thriller has crisp, well-defined picture quality.

STORMY MONDAY, Mike Figgis, director/Arrow  As I wrote in British Crime Film, Newcastle was to prove a useful locale for the British crime narrative. After Get Carter, Mike Figgis’ ambitious first feature, Stormy Monday (1988), is a deftly constructed crime thriller on the perils of associating with criminals (familiar territory, yes, but given a certain shaking up). Adroitly mixing gangsters, seductive women and jazz, and relocated piquantly to Figgis’ native Northeast (perhaps the film’s most successful strategy), Stormy Monday cannily balances innovation and social commentary with a loving homage to film noir. The singer Sting (coaxed, for once, into something that actually resembles a performance) stars as Finney, a laconic Newcastle jazz-club owner who crosses the path of crass American entrepreneur Cosmo (the ever-reliable Tommy Lee Jones). Cosmo wants to involve Finney in a land development deal – if only he’ll give up his club. Entering into this increasingly dangerous game of brinkmanship is Kate (Melanie Griffith), a part-time upscale prostitute trying to put her past behind her. Could a relationship with the club’s innocent young apprentice (Sean Bean) offer a shot at redemption? With striking cinematography by Roger Deakins, Stormy Monday makes one willingly forgive its frequent missteps.

 

 

Visiting Hours from Final Cut

VISITING HOURS is to be issued on dual-format Blu-ray/DVD by Final Cut in September. Sarring Michael Ironside, William Shatner and Lee Grant, Linda Purl, the film is directed by Jean Claude Lord. Deborah Ballin is a controversial middle-aged TV journalist, who is campaigning on air on behalf of a battered woman who murdered her abusive husband, claiming justifiable defence against the so-called victim. But her outspoken views championing women’s rights incense one of the studio’s cleaning staff, closet homicidal psycho (and misogynist) Colt Hawker whose deep seated despising all all things female occurred from seeing his Mother throwing boiling oil in the face of his abusive Father when he was a small child (and who’s M.O. is to photograph victims he stabs as they’re dying ).  The set has copious extras.

 

New Recording for Tiomkin’s Duel in the Sun

Tiomkin: Duel in the Sun (complete score): Speaking to the film composer Jerry Goldsmith at the National film Theatre some years ago, he pointed out to me that he had just seen the Hitchcock film I Confess with its Dimitri Tiomkin score. ‘Not the way I score films!’, he said. ‘Tiomkin did not allow a moment of the film to go by unscored — and silence gives contrast!’ One wonders what Goldsmith would have made of Tiomkin’s score for the King Vidor film Duel in the Sun, for which Prometheus CDs have now given us the world premiere recording of the complete score — at nearly two hours, over two discs. As the disapproving Goldsmith would note, there is hardly a moment that goes unscored in the film, and your reaction to this may depend on whether you agree with the new set’s producer James Fitzpatrick. That’s to say: Fitzpatrick as a young man or Fitzpatrick today, as he has changed his views. In refreshingly frank liner notes, he admits that he has long had a love/hate relationship with Tiomkin’s music but now has clearly come down on the ‘love’ side of that dichotomy. And for those who admire the rich orchestral scoring of the golden age of film music, this score is pretty hard to resist. It is full-throated, romantic fare with the orchestra used exuberantly throughout (Tiomkin was a master orchestrator, although he had help on this score). In fact, the composer’s approach is rather similar to that of Korngold – treating the entire film as an opera without words and underlining the dramatic points with maximum impact. The final effect is of a glorious wallow, particularly in the committed and full-blooded performance it is given by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and chorus, conducted by the ever dependable Nick Raine, non-pareil in music such as this.

Tiomkin: Duel in the Sun (complete score)/Prometheus XPCD180

New Discs from Arrow, Screenbound, Eureka & BFI

THE LEGACY SEASONS 1-3 BOX SET, Various directors/NORDIC NOIR & BEYOND DVD & Blu-ray Box  While some Scandinavian crime dramas accrued an instant audience in the UK, others seem destined for a slightly more specialised following. The Legacy, of course, is not really a crime drama, but when I’ve spoken to writers, directors and actors associating the show, I found that nobody was reluctant to be slotted into that category, particularly if it increased the reach of the show. At the core of this modern-day Dickensian drama is its impeccable acting, and that remains the case with Season Three, assembled here with the earlier series in a collectable box. The Legacy first aired on Sky Arts. Signe (Marie Bach Hansen) has big visions and plans to expand her farm with a neighbouring farmer. Emil (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) has moved into Grønnegaard where he among other things takes care of Thomas’ and Isa’s daughter Melody (Smilla My Dahl Hougaard). Gro (Trine Dyrholm) challenges the Art Centre’s conventional thinking and discovers new sides of herself. Frederik (Carsten Bjørnlund) is a success abroad and is hardly ever home, until he has to dive into a complicated investigation filled with emotions. The Legacy is produced by DR Fiktion – the production house that also created The Killing and Borgen. The critically acclaimed drama was developed by Palm D’Or winner Pernilla August, who also directed Episode 9, and created by author Maya Ilsøe.

SCREENBOUND INAUGURATES TWO NEW EURO CULT LABELS WITH FEMALE VAMPIRE AND ZOMBIE LAKE  It might be argued that there are three kinds of audiences for films: the mass cinema audience for the blockbusters, the arthouse aficionados (where directors such as Bergman & Co. reign supreme) and the dedicated enthusiasts for low-budget exploitation films loaded with copious amounts of sex and violence. Personally, I find myself happily belonging in all three, but I have to confess that there is a peculiarly illicit charge from sampling the sleazy delights of films at the lower end of the market. And if you share my taste for this disreputable fare, I have some good news. Screenbound has launched two brand new Euro cult film labels, with Maison Rouge concentrating on Euro Sleaze and Black House Films focusing on Euro Horror. Maison Rouge’s initial releases include one from master of Euro Sleaze Jess Franco – the maladroit but watchable Female Vampire (aka Bare Breasted Countess), followed by two Patrice Rhomm outings, Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg and Elsa Fraulein SS. The first release from Black House Films is the zombie epic Zombie Lake from French horror maestro Jean Rollin. Both imprints boast multiple poster art cards inside for collectors. In The Female Vampire, Franco’s innamorata Lina Romay is Irina, the beautiful last descendant of a family of vampires from distant Bohemia. When she takes Austrian writer, Baron von Rathony (Jack Taylor), as her lover, his fate is sealed. She Wolf of; Elsa Fraulein is the equally ramshackle 1970s women’s prison film set in South America, taking its cue from Don Edmond’s much tougher exploitation outing Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. Stillberg is an ominous fortress turned detention camp for political prisoners and under the command of Helga Stiver, an ardent follower of the party in power, she brutalises the female prisoners.

SPOTLIGHT ON A MURDERER, Georges Franju, director/Arrow Blu-ray  Here, encapsulated in one cherishable issue, is the absolute justification for the Blu-ray medium: dusting off and restoring films which have been immensely hard to see and which have built up a great anticipation among viewers. This is Franju’s first film after the poetic horror classic Eyes Without a Face, featuring (albeit briefly) the charismatic character actor from that film, Pierre Brasseur. While the film is as visually striking as we would expect this director, there might be some initial disappointment that the whole thing turns out to be a rather slight Agatha Christiesque murder mystery rather than something as powerful and striking as its predecessor. But it is a particular pleasure to be able to finally encounter the film, and it is given the best possible presentation here, as one would expect from Arrow Films.

RITA, SUE AND BOB TOO, Alan Clarke, director/BFI Dual Format Edition Blu-ray/DVD  While many films strive to be likeable (with varying degrees of success), some achieve that admirable status without really trying – and that’s very much the case with Alan Clark’s raunchy and well-observed comedy drama. All the various elements (writing, directing, acting) coalesce here to pleasing effect. Following an acclaimed career in TV drama (much of which was made available in last year’s BFI box set release, Dissent and Disruption: Alan Clarke at the BBC 1969-1989), director Alan Clarke achieved a box-office hit with the much loved raunchy comedy Rita, Sue and Bob Too. Adapted by Andrea Dunbar from her own play, based on her upbringing on Bradford’s Buttershaw estate, Rita, Sue and Bob Too contrasts bawdy laughs with astute social commentary. 30 years on and newly restored by the BFI, the film is released on Blu-ray for the first time in a Dual Format Edition.

BORN FREE, James Hill, director/Eureka Entertainment  Let’s be frank: there are those who will be immune to the charms of this family-friendly film, and it’s perhaps a legitimate complaint that the relationship between the human protagonists might have benefited from a touch more astringency. But there’s no denying the charm of the film and its various lions – along with its much-loved John Barry score (which is one of the key components). James Hill’s adaptation of Joy Adamson’s best-selling book starring Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers is on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK in a special Dual-format edition. Joy Adamson raised a lioness and eventually set her free, and the film is beautifully photographed on the vast, golden savannas of central Africa. When game warden George Adamson (Bill Travers) is forced to kill a menacing lion and lioness, he and his wife Joy (Virginia McKenna) adopt their three cubs. Two are sent off to zoos, but the third is kept – a female they name Elsa – to which they have become particularly attached. When Elsa becomes a full grown lioness, the Adamsons realise that she must be set free and taught to survive on her own.

THE CITY OF THE DEAD. John Moxey, director/Arrow Blu-ray  It is perhaps hard these days to remember just how eagerly awaited each new anthology horror film from the Amicus studio was awaited — and such films as Asylum and Tales from the Crypt played to packed, delighted houses. The primary force behind Amicus was, of course producer/writer Milton Subotsky, and this Christopher Lee-starring effort, while not an anthology, is a harbinger of the things that were to come, most notably for making a very an atmospheric and impressive film on a low budget. City of the Dead is also interesting for its anticipation of one of the strategies of Hitchcock’s Psycho – the films were made at the same time so there is little possibility of inspiration (unless Subotsky had read Robert Bloch’s original novel?).

EDWARD AND CAROLINE (UK premiere), CASQUE D’OR, TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI, Jacques Becker, director/ Studiocanal  Some years ago, any recitation of the names of key modern French film directors would not necessarily have included that of Jacques Becker — but how things have changed! His former reputation is now restored beyond doubt, and this opportunity to see some of his key films is welcome indeed. Following on from the Becker season at the BFI. Studiocanal celebrates one of the great unsung heroes of French cinema with the release of four classic Becker titles: Casque d’or, Touchez pas au Grisbi, the UK premiere of Edward and Caroline, and his final masterpiece Le Trou, in a pristine new 4k restoration. Each title features brand new extras. Becker made only thirteen feature films in a relatively short period of time but his body of work contains some of the acknowledged masterpieces of French cinema in the post-war period. Born in Paris in 1906, he began his career as principal assistant to the great Jean Renoir during the 1930s. After surviving a year in a German POW camp in 1942, he started to direct his own films during the Occupation. His mentor’s fondness for realism and an unwavering sense of human decency greatly imbued his work. His films were eclectic and he tackled a variety of different genres putting his own unique spin on comedy, film noir and social drama. A creator of unmatchable, intense atmospheres, Becker practiced impressionism and realism equally, paying as much attention to the historical periods of his tales as he did to the psychology of his characters. Sadly, full appreciation of his work came after his death, and it was his technical and artistic mastery that soon earned him the ‘auteur’ accolade and particularly garnered the admiration of the Nouvelle Vague and its exponents such as Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Claude Chabrol and Eric Rohmer.

THE ENTITY, Sydney Furie, director/Eureka Blu-ray  The director Sidney Furie’s career encompasses both classics (such as his film of Len Deighton’s The Ipcress File) and notably less successful ventures (such as the underwhelming Superman IV, which put that particular franchise in traction until its recent revival. The Entity is one of his most celebrated films, a supernatural drama with a remarkable performance by Barbara Hershey as a woman repeatedly assaulted by an invisible demon. For those who have only encountered the film on VHS, this Blu-ray is an absolute revelation, with both sound and image doing full justice to Furie’s vision.

12 ANGRY MEN, Sydney Lumet, director/Criterion/Sony Blu-ray  This celebrated drama (with its absolutely impeccable all-male cast led by Henry Fonda as the one genre arguing for the innocence of a Puerto Rican murder suspect) is a reminder of the days of truly adult drama – it is based on a famous TV version of the 1950s — and Sydney Lumet’s impressive film has been waiting for a transfer as impeccable as this. The above recommendation was, frankly, not really necessary.

PHENOMENA Dario Argento, director/Arrow Blu-ray. Even Dario Argento’s keenest admirers would not claim that Phenomena is the Italian director’s most impressive work, but having said that, it’s still a film from the period when his remarkable visual talents were in full flower, and there are certain sequences here (amidst the undeniable silliness) which remind the viewer just what Argento was capable of. When the sleepwalking Jennifer (played by Jennifer Connelly) arrives at a girls school in the ‘Swiss Transylvania’, gruesome happenings are in store when she encounters paraplegic entomologist Donald Pleasance. The real selling point here is here is the new 4K restoration of the film with its hybrid English/Italian audio track of the full-length version.

WE ARE X, Stephen Kijak, director/Mondo Edition Blu-ray & DVD/MANGA  Personally, I have to confess to no great enthusiasm for heavy metal, but the visuals on offer in this delirious extravaganza are (one has to admit) winning. From the Oscar-winning producers of Searching For Sugar Man, the film has been described as “The Japanese Guns N’ Roses… revolutionising metal in their own distinctive manner”

TERRAHAWKS: VOL 3, Various directors/Network  Gerry Anderson, creator of Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet, made a return to puppet animation in the early 1980s with a new series produced with Christopher Burr. Appealing to yet another generation of children, Terrahawks introduced a new elite force to defend 21st century Earth against a host of alien invaders.

 

New Treasures from Titan Books

Flash Gordon: The Lost Continent by Dan Barry  While the celebrated EC science fiction comics of the 1950s, Weird Science, Weird Fantasy, Weird Science-Fantasy and the short-lived Incredible Science Fiction are generally held to be the high water mark of the genre, they do have their rivals – there is the equally short-lived Jack Kirby title Race for the Moon, of course, and the books that in terms of narrative invention and artistic achievement rival the impressive entries listed above: DC’s SF comics, Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures. Interestingly enough, although one artist worked only infrequently for the latter duo, he was in many ways the most important name behind them. And the name of that artist – and the answer to this paradox? It’s the multitalented Dan Barry, with his remarkable decades-long career. And the reason for his importance? Barry’s clean, efficient style — with its impeccable figure drawing and particularly notable use of design — was held up for DC artists as an exemplar for the company’s house style, a style that they were encouraged to adopt. While some artists (such as Gil Kane) found this restricting, he and others nevertheless produced some of their very best work in this period, and the Dan Barry template was highly influential. However, the artist’s own work was not primarily to be found in these books, but in his remarkable long-running stint on the most celebrated of all space heroes, Flash Gordon. And the latest volume in Titan’s splendid release of all the Barry strips of the earth-born space adventurer, The Lost Continent, is an absolutely essential purchase for anyone interested in the best illustrated science-fiction. As before, the production values of Titan’s Flash ‘dailies’ series are nonpareil in this large format, beautifully produced volume. These deceptively straightforward adventures are actually rather complex SF tales with Flash, Dale Arden (and, of course, Dr Zarkov) encountering a variety of menaces on beautifully drawn alien worlds (the planet Mongo – perhaps through overuse – has been retired in these tales). If the individual strips might have profited from being reproduced here at a larger size (as in earlier reissues of this material), that’s a small caveat, given the exemplary reproduction we are given here. What’s more, the strips are so well drawn and written that one even forgives the appearance of occasional boy companions for the hero, with little of the cosy sentimentality that one might expect. Those who have been eagerly consuming this series need not hesitate.

Titan books have also put admirers of the best graphic work in their debt with other volumes, such as a new addition to the Tarzan series in its celebrated Burne Hogarth period. Volume 4 is Tarzan and the Lost Tribes, with Hogarth’s art (admittedly not to every taste) splendidly showcased; the artist at his most stylised and individual. And from a Titan-related imprint, Quirk Books, comes two enjoyable collections put together with a marked sense of humour: John Morris’ The Legion of Regrettable Villains and Hope Nicholson’s The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen, both exploring the more quirky byways of the superhero world. Production values, as in the Dan Barry book discussed above, are exemplary, and the writing in these two volumes has a nice balance of scholarship and sardonic wit.

Flash Gordon: The Lost Continent by Dan Barry, Titan Books

Tarzan and the Lost Tribes by with Burne Hogarth, Titan Books

The Legion of Regrettable Villains by John Morris, Quirk Books

The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen by Hope Nicholson, Quirk Books

New Blu-Rays from Acorn, Cult, Arrow & Fabulous Films

PHANTASM COLLECTION, Don Coscarelli et al, directors/ Arrow Video  Everybody remembers the flying metal sphere with the claws that dug into the cranium of anyone unfortunate enough to be in their path, but there are other ideas in this lively film and its successors. The whole enterprise is ridiculous, of course, but Coscarelli and his associates nevertheless give their material all they’ve got. Re-appearing in a limited edition dual format release form Arrow Video, this is the first time all five Phantasm films have been brought together on Blu-ray — including a new 4K restoration of the 1979 original (still the best of the hunch); the first film is overseen by Star Wars and Star Trek helmer J.J. Abrams, no less. Spanning 37 years, Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm series is as iconic as it is entertaining. With its killer flying spheres, undead dwarf minions and The Tall Man himself, it’s both absurd and packed full of memorable images and moments that have made it a cult horror series. It’s rare to find a horror franchise that not only deftly blends gothic horror traditions with science fiction and mind-blowing special effects.

DECLINE AND FALL, Guillem Morales, director/ Acorn/RLJ Entertainment  This diverting Evelyn Waugh adaption was shown – to great success — on BBC One. There were those who felt that the novel with its bitter black comedy simply couldn’t be filmed (and an earlier cinema adaptation sank without trace), and some of Waugh’s more caustic jokes don’t survive the transition, but, that said, this is a highly entertaining take on a classic English comic novel. Adapted for the first time on TV, Decline is cast from strength, with Jack Whitehall (Bad Education), Hollywood’s favourite Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and one of Britain’s greatest stage and screen actors David Suchet (Agatha Christie’s Poirot). Set for a quiet life of contemplation as a priest, Paul Pennyfeather (Whitehall), is shocked when he is unceremoniously expelled from Oxford University through no fault of his own. Without a private fortune to fall back on, Paul is forced to take up a teaching position at a substandard boarding school in rural Wales. But it soon becomes apparent that Paul is not a natural disciplinarian and he finds scant comfort in drinking – to excess – with the other teachers. When Paul meets Margot Beste-Chetwynde (Longoria), a wealthy widow and mother of one of his pupils, things start to look up. Disaster, of course, follows.

UMBERTO D, Vittorio de Sica, director/Cult Films  I wrote of de Sica’s masterpiece in Italian Cinema: After Shoeshine and Bicycle Thieves, De Sica presented his other great neorealist testament in Umberto D (1952). This was the director’s own favourite film, which he financed himself, and its box office failure was a tremendous disappointment to him. At the time, it was viewed as sentimental and a falling off from the ideals of neorealism. But its reputation has subsequently grown considerably, and it is now regarded as one of his great works. Pensioner Umberto (Carlo Battisti) is living a quiet and uneventful life until the series of disastrous events that we are shown in the course of the film. In a remarkable performance, Battisti presents the old man’s life in a series of well-observed tableaux with both his pet dog and a youthful maid who lives in the same apartment.  Battisti was a Florentine who had been a university professor, but such is De Sica’s direction of this non-professional that it is impossible to think of him as a non-actor. The theme of the film is the position of the old in modern society, and it remains as pertinent in the 21st century as when it was made – particularly as De Sica keeps in check the sentimentality that occasionally creeps into his films. This strategy is most marked in the presentation of Umberto D himself, who is often unsympathetic and bad-tempered character.

NAKED CITY – THE COMPLETE SEASONS ONE AND TWO, Various directors/Acorn Digital  If, like me, you have long wanted to catch up with this iconic series, we are now given the chance — although I have to admit that its digital-only format is restricting. Nevertheless, here is one of the most famous and influential of American crime shows. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Dianne Ladd, Dennis Hopper and many more — and released exclusively on Digital — Naked City – The Complete Seasons One and Two, is now available download-to-own on iTunes and Amazon courtesy of Acorn Media International. “There are eight million stories in the naked city…” this will be 71 of them. Yes, with Season One running a whopping 39 half-hour episodes from 1958 to 1959, and Season Two following hard on its heels with a further 32 hour-long episodes from 1960 to 1961, these great collections offer an exciting and unmissable look back in time to a place where the streets were hot and your blood ran cold. Inspired by Jules Dassin’s 1948 movie The Naked City, these semi-documentary TV dramas, filmed both in the studio and on the gritty streets of New York, ran on the ABC network to great acclaim, enticing a host of unparalleled guest stars in these seasons including Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Dianne Ladd, Dennis Hopper, Jack Klugman, Vic Morrow, Rocky Graziano, Eli Wallach, Peter Falk, Al Lewis, Leslie Nielsen, Claude Rains, Telly Savalas, Walter Matthau, James Caan, Bruce Dern, Robert Duvall, Ed Asner, Sylvia Miles, Roddy McDowall and many more.

LUDWIG, Luchino Visconti, director/Arrow Films – DVD + Blu-ray  In an era of short attention spans (Nordic Noir TV notwithstanding), it will be interesting to see what modern audiences make of this lengthy and demanding peace. Will its extravagant beauty and strong performances compensate for the close attention required – not to mention the extremely stately pace? With a string of masterpieces behind him – including Ossessione, Senso, The Leopard and Death in Venice – the great Italian director Luchino Visconti turned his attentions to the life and death of King Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1972, resulting in an epic of 19th century decadence. Dominated by Helmut Berger (The Damned, The Bloodstained Butterfly) in the title role, Ludwig nevertheless manages to find room for an impressive cast list: Romy Schneider (reprising her Elisabeth of Austria characterisation from the Sissi trilogy), Silvana Mangano, Gert Fröbe and Trevor Howard as a definitive Richard Wagner. As opulent as any of Visconti’s epics – Piero Tosi’s costume design was nominated for an Academy Award – Ludwig is presented here in its complete form in accordance with the director’s wishes.

BIRD ON A WIRE, John Badham, director/Fabulous Films  One of the pleasures of the DVD industry is the opportunity to revisit films we perhaps did not pay sufficient attention to the first time round. It’s fascinating to see how well (or ill) time has treated them – and here’s another opportunity for a reassessment. Double Oscar winner (not for this, obviously) Mel Gibson and Academy & Golden Globe winner Goldie Hawn team up in this non-stop-action comedy directed by John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, WarGames). The picture debuted in the No.1 spot at the American box-office in 1990 and went on to gross over $138.6 million in theatres worldwide. The 10 minute climax to the movie throws the stars into an indoor zoo, constructed at a cost of $1.3 million. The zoo houses among others a lioness, one baboon, an iguana, a seven foot monitor lizard, a twelve foot python, three jaguars, four alligators, six tigers, six chimpanzees, twenty-five kinds of parrots and pools of piranhas both real and robotic. Hiding under the FBI Witness Protection Program, Rick Jarmin (Gibson) gets nervous when old flame Marianne Graves (Hawn) recognises him. But before he can assume a new identity, the man he put in jail is released and comes to pay his respects. Rick and Marianne find themselves thrown together on an exhilarating cross-country scramble, barely evading the gangsters, police and an amorous veterinarian. Their whirlwind travels eventually lead to a climax in an elaborate zoo exhibit.

DEAD OR ALIVE TRILOGY, Takashi Miike, director/Arrow Films- DVD and Blu-ray  If you’ve ever seen a film directed by Takashi Miike before, you’ll know exactly what to expect. It goes without saying the squeamish need not apply. But those with a taste for visceral, kinetic cinema and safely get on board. Beginning with an explosive, six-minute montage of sex, drugs and violence, and ending with a phallus-headed battle robot taking flight, Takashi Miike’s unforgettable Dead or Alive Trilogy features many of the director’s most outrageous moments set alongside some of his most dramatically moving scenes. Made between 1999 and 2002, the Dead or Alive films cemented Miike’s reputation overseas as one of the most provocative enfants terrible of Japanese cinema, yet also one of its most talented and innovative filmmakers. In Dead or Alive, tough gangster Ryuichi (Riki Takeuchi) and his ethnically Chinese gang make a play to take over the drug trade in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district by massacring the competition. But he meets his match in detective Jojima (Show Aikawa), who will do everything to stop them. Dead or Alive 2: Birds casts Aikawa and Takeuchi together again, but as new characters, a pair of rival yakuza assassins who turn out to be childhood friends; after a botched hit, they flee together to the island where they grew up, and decide to devote their deadly skills to a more humanitarian cause. And in Dead or Alive: Final, Takeuchi and Aikawa are catapulted into a future Yokohama ruled by multilingual gangs and cyborg soldiers, where they once again butt heads in the action-packed and cyberpunk-tinged finale to the trilogy.

WE STILL STEAL THE OLD WAY, Sacha Bennett, director/Platform  It’s hard to remember at this juncture how well Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was received as the subsequent flood of Mockney movies pretty well put paid to this jokey strand of East End gangster films. Your tolerance for that idiom will dictate whether to pick up We Still Steal the Old Way, which is diverting enough, but clearly falls into the Mockney idiom — even having the impeccably upper-middle-class actor Ian Ogilvy play East End, much as the similarly middle-class director of Lock, Stock, Guy Ritchie, tried to present himself as a Cockney ‘Diamond Geezer.’ The Archer gang return in this follow-up to We Still Kill The Old Way, as Ian Ogilvy and an all-star cast of old school criminals attempt to pull off an audacious robbery… in order to get themselves thrown into prison. The old school Archer gang are back, led by the charismatic Richie Archer, who hatches a plan to pull off an audacious robbery. Halfway through the heist, the gang get caught, and they’re sent down. So far, so good – now they’re in prison they can put into motion their plot to spring fellow inmate George, who desperately needs to get out before his wife dies. Trouble arises when Richie’s arch enemy Vic Farrow gets himself transferred into the prison, wanting to settle some old scores.

THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN, Joe McGrath, director/Fabulous Films  Terry Southern’s satirical novels have been less lucky on film than his contribution to such superb screenplays as Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove. The film of his erotic parody Candy was a celebrated debacle, but still oddly fascinating – and that verdict applies equally well to this bizarre take on his novel about a demented philanthropist, transplanted from the US to the UK with Peter Sellers as the eccentric Sir Guy Grand. Ringo Starr’s performance is every bit as toe-curling as the one he gave in the other Southern adaptation Candy, and there is evidence (as on so many later Sellers films) of his ill-advised tampering with the screenplay. But having said that, there is still much to enjoy among the wreckage here, not least a cameo from Christopher Lee as ‘Ship’s vampire.’

FOLLOW THE MONEY Season 2, Various directors/Nordic Noir & Beyond  Even its most dedicated admirers could not claim that Follow the Money is in the upper echelons of Nordic noir thrillers, but it is certainly made with efficiency and intelligence. The complete second season of the Danish financial crime thriller premiered on British television on BBC Four. In the second season, a seemingly insignificant investigation into a small carpentry business that went bankrupt under mysterious circumstances catches Mads’ (Thomas Bo Larsen) attention, and soon he gets wind of a huge case involving a major bank. Claudia (Natalie Madueño), who has paid dearly for her involvement in Energreen, is now given an opportunity to atone for all the wrong choices she made, whilst Nicky’s (Esben Smed Jensen) unique skills earn him an exciting job, albeit at a high price. Follow the Money is sturdy — if strictly non-innovative — fare.

CALTIKI: THE IMMORTAL MONSTER, Riccardo Freda & Mario Bava, directors/Arrow Blu-ray  Initiated by Riccardo Freda and completed by his protégé Mario Bava, this is a superb transfer of a fascinating, little-seem curio. This Italian take on The Quatermass Xperiment (and other gelatinous monster films) has never looked better – and for all its many flaws, it is a fascinating, difficult-to find link in genre cinema. Bava’s classic Black Sunday was just around the corner – and there are copious hints here of where it came from.

C.S I. CYBER, Various directors/DVD/Entertainment One The CSI sequence is now so prolific that there must be an episode playing somewhere in the world at any moment of the day. This set undoubtedly has an interest in that it is the final season of the crime thriller, starring Academy Award winner Patricia Arquette, James Van Der Beek and Ted Danson and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. This show is based on the real-life work of pioneering cyber-psychologist Mary Aiken, and brings criminal forensics into the 21st Century and beyond… CSI: Cyber follows the work of Avery Ryan (Arquette), as she and the team welcome D.B. Russell (Danson), a Las Vegas veteran Crime Scene Investigator recruited by Ryan to direct the FBI’s Next Generation Cyber Forensics Division. Still grieving the loss of his best friend, and following a recent divorce, Russell decides to take on new challenges by studying how crimes play out in the real world, combining old school forensics with new school tech. The second and final season of CSI: Cyber is a five disc box-set with many extras.

THE INNOCENT/ L’INNOCENTE Luchino Visconti, director/Arrow  More Visconti, and to some degree, the remarks I made above about the director apply once again; the film is visually stunning, but demands viewer patience. This is Visconti’s grand finale; the sensual and epic portrayal of a diabolical marriage is finally restored and released in HD on Blu-ray.

THERE WAS A CROOKED MAN, Stuart Burge, director/Network  One can’t really call Norman Wisdom a prophet without honour in his own country, as his films were very popular among undemanding audiences, even though they were (and are) dismissed by the more sophisticated. But there are parts of the world where the comedian is still revered, and this DVD of a typical Wisdom film (playing a naive explosive experts) will appeal to his fans. The most curious thing in the film is the sight of the diminutive Norman kissing a very young Susannah York — but then all the up-the=social-scale actresses Norman was invariably paired with in his films provoked the question: why are they interested in this maladroit figure?

FORTHCOMING:

Chilling supernatural drama THE ENTITY from EUREKA

Documentary: IT WAS FIFTY YEARS AGO TODAY! THE BEATLES: SGT. PEPPER & BEYOND from VIRGIN MEDIA

Criterion Collection: 12 ANGRY MEN from Sony

Network, Arrow, Eureka: New Blu-rays & DVDS

HELL DRIVERS, Cy Endfield, director/Network Blu-Ray  The maverick is very often a criminal – or an ex-criminal. Looking at Hell Drivers (1957) today (particularly in this splendid Blu-Ray transfer) is a reminder that the House Unamerican Activities committee did British cinema a favour by consigning left-leaning directors such as Joseph Losey to professional exile in the UK in the 1950s. As I noted in British Crime Film, another casualty of the communist witch-hunt was Cy Endfield, who similarly produced excellent work when exiled to Britain – as with Hell Drivers, one of the most incisive Britcrime movies ever made – Endfield’s lean, taut movie about corruption among truck drivers, as aficionados will know, is clearly indebted to Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear, with its truck-drivers-in-peril scenario (here matched to criminality and cruelty) but so what? Endfield (whose symbiotic professional relationship with blue-collar actor Stanley Baker was to result in the memorable Zulu) rings the changes very satisfyingly – and there’s the matchless cast (one that would not have been affordable a decade or so later): Baker as the ex-con protagonist, Patrick McGoohan as a sadistic, cigarette-chewing heavy, a pre-007 Sean Connery, Peggy Cummins, Sidney James, Herbert Lom et al…While the in-your-face ethos of Hell Drivers may present most of its characters in bright primary colours, there is no gainsaying its ambition (or, for that matter, its achievement). Not least the palm-sweating action sequences with recklessly speeding lorries. One expects the central character – the quiet ex-con struggling to keep his head down – to be fashioned with Stanley Baker’s characteristic assurance, but there are also several sharply delineated subsidiary characters, such as the sensitive, pious Italian lorry driver played by Herbert Lom (like fellow character actor Warren Mitchell, Lom was able to provide whatever ethnicity was required by any project he was hired for – a skill that assured him of a long and varied acting career). To some degree, Lom is the kind of ‘sacrificial lamb’ character to be found in so many James Bond films, whose function, essentially, is to die and provide a visceral impetus for the hero (here, Baker’s truck driver) in the latter’s final inevitable confrontation with the heavies. Interestingly, in an era when religion was rarely questioned, Cy Endfield treats the Roman Catholic Lom character’s belief (as evinced by the shrine he prays to) as a naive response to the hard realities of the world he lives in – a response, what’s more, which doesn’t save his life.

STORY OF SIN, Walerian Borowczyk, director/Arrow Blu-ray  The films of Walerian Borowczyk are something of an acquired taste, but there is no disputing that his frequently bizarre, frequently erotic work is that of an artist with a singularly individual vision — even if his admirers have been forced to concede that a coarsening of his vision was evident over the years. Not in this film, however, which is rich with the kind of off-kilter surrealistic vision that informs all of his best work, along with its customary hypercharged sexual content. The life of a beautiful, young and pious woman is thrown into chaos when her parents takes in a dashingly handsome lodger. Having embarked on a torrid affair, the lodger goes off to Rome to seek a divorce from his estranged wife. Unable to live apart from her beloved, the girl leaves home only to fall prey to the infatuations and lusts of a band of noble admirers, unsavoury criminals and utopian do-gooders… The only feature Walerian Borowczyk made in his native Poland, Story of Sin transforms Stefan Zeromski’s classic melodrama into a deliriously surrealistic meditation on l’amour fou

JACK THE RIPPER David Wickes, director/Network Blu-Ray  David Wickes’ take on the most famous of British serial killers had British television viewers glued to their TVs on its first broadcast, but here is a chance to catch it again in a strikingly detailed Blu-ray transfer. Wickes’ theory as to the identity of Saucy Jack is contentious (despite its adduced sources), but one can ignore the program maker’s protestations that this is the definitive solution to the mystery of the Whitechapel murderer — after all, there are many contrasting theories, not least the Patricia Cornwell theory — in which she controversially names the painter Walter Sickert as The Ripper. Wickes’ multi-parter is stuffed to the gills with some of Britain’s best character actors, not least Michael Caine as the beleaguered detective Abbeline (although Lewis Collins is out of his depth with the talent he is surrounded with as Caine’s colleague) As was remarked at the time of the first showing, the gruesomeness of the killings is distinctly played down for a television audience, although there is a very brief shot of the bloody results of Jack’s only indoor killing; I suspect a few hands may be hovering over the pause button.

Network are also releasing the Margi Clarke/Frank Clarke comedy-drama BLONDE FIST, set largely in the actress’s native Liverpool.

THE TEAM, Various directors, Arrow  Is this another entry in the Scandinavian crime stakes? With its multinational accoutrements, it’s more a piece of Euro Noir rather than Nordic Noir, but is delivered with considerable efficiency, if a certain lack of individuality. When three prostitutes are murdered by being shot through the left eye in Antwerp, Berlin and Copenhagen, Europol sets up a Joint Investigations Team under the lead of Harald Bjørn (Lars Mikkelsen) from Denmark, Jackie Mueller (Jasmin Gerat) from Germany und Alicia Verbeek (Veerle Baetens) from Belgium. During their investigation ‘The Team’ unravels an unscrupulous criminal organization operating across Europe. ‘The Team’ an is international production for the Danish DR, the German ZDF, the Belgian vtm, the Austrian ORF and the Swiss SRF.

TWO RODE TOGETHER, John Ford, director/Eureka Blu-Ray  As I’ve mentioned before, John Ford’s reputation as the pre-eminent director of Westerns in Hollywood has been challenged of late by such talented filmmakers as Anthony Mann, but there is no denying Ford’s mastery. That mastery is particularly evident in this somewhat neglected piece, looking splendid in this new transfer. Two Rode Together stars James Stewart, Shirley Jones and Richard Widmark, and is part of Eureka’s part of the Masters of Cinema Series in a special Dual Format edition. The first collaboration between James Stewart and director John Ford produced this thrilling and darkly complex Western that easily ranks among Ford’s best work, yet remains one of his most overlooked. Stewart plays gloriously against type as Marshal Guthrie McCabe, a cynical and amoral U.S. Marshal assigned to trade guns with the fearsome Comanche in exchange for hostages, with the promise of a large reward if he is successful.

THE HALCYON, Various directors, Sony  Canny casting is the reason for the success of this show, with two of the UK’s most acclaimed actors, Steven Mackintosh (Luther, The Sweeney, Inside Men) and Olivia Williams (Anna Karenina, Hyde Park On Hudson, The Sixth Sense) delivering performances that are understated but perfectly calculated in their effect. And these performances are enshrined in a production where visual qualities are always striking. A lavish 1940s drama, The Halcyon, is produced by the award-winning independent production company Left Bank Pictures. The eight-part series, which aired on ITV, tells of a bustling five-star hotel at the centre of London society and a world at war. The series shows London life through the prism of war and the impact it has on families, politics, relationships and work across every social strata with a soundtrack of music from the era.
LUDWIG, Luchino Visconti, director/Arrow Blu-Ray  In the Indian summer of his career, Visconti was able to make precisely the kind of films that he wanted, and the results were always visually striking. That is very much the case with this take on Richard Wagner’s favourite nobleman, the Bavarian prince who allowed him to fulfil his grandiose operatic dreams. Presented here in its full-length version (in accordance with the director’s wishes) as well as an episodic format, this release of Ludwig is a chance for film fans to see the sumptuous epic as intended, and in all its glory.

 

New Blu-Rays from Eureka, Arrow, Network & Second Sight

APPLE TREE YARD, Jessica Hobbs, director/Arrow Blu-Ray  When Louise Doughty’s novel first appeared, it was not treated as a study of mature female sexuality – but that has undoubtedly been the case with Amanda Coe’s well-crafted television adaptation with Emily Watson’s 50-ish scientist engaging in what turned out to be a dangerous affair with an enigmatic stranger. In fact, the erotic element of the drama is handled with some sensitivity (despite it being mostly hurried vertical encounters in public places), although it might be argued that there is a tacit assumption reminiscent of 1940s Hays-Code Hollywood movies: any sexual dalliances that leads a woman (or a man, for that matter) away from the marital bed is going to end badly. But thankfully, such tendentious morality is not stressed here, and we are invited to identify with the beleaguered Watson character (which we most certainly do, not least for Watson’s exemplary playing). The four episodes of the psychological thriller based on Doughty’s best-selling novel garnered 7 million viewers on BBC One, and the impressive cast also includes Ben Chaplin and Mark Bonnar.

THE IDEALIST, Christina Rosendahl, director/Arrow Films.  Over my years of writing about and talking to Danish writers, directors and actors in the Nordic Noir genre, I’ve encountered one recurrent theme: a certain wry attitude on the part of the Danes to the fact that they are often considered smug or regard themselves as ‘blessed’. It’s a theme that has surfaced in Danish fiction, and is given a thoroughgoing treatment here. In January 21st 1968, an American B-52 bomber carrying nuclear warheads crashed on the polar ice near the US military Air Base in Danish controlled Thule, Greenland. A few days later, responsible governments classified the crash as a ‘Broken Arrow’ scenario (i.e., a nuclear accident) but proclaimed the situation being under control. No cause for concern in relation to radioactive contamination or violation of foreign power’s sovereignty, nuclear policy. Hundreds of Thule workers are set to work, helping in the gigantic clean-up operation. After eight months, all traces of the crashed aircraft and the plutonium-contaminated snow are gone. The case is closed. But18 years later, while covering a local workers compensation story, reporter Poul Brink suddenly runs into suspicious circumstance linking back to the concealed 68’ nuclear accident. Apparently the full and true story about the crash lies under the Thule Bay’s ice cap and deep down in the classified archives in the US. The reporter launches an uncompromising investigation. Christina Rosendahl’s film stars Peter Plaugborg (with Søren Malling and Thomas Bo Larsen, among other familiar faces), and it’s very much territory that viewers have been taken to before, with the reporter characterised only economically. But the director marshals her material rigorously, carefully excluding any extraneous sentiment.

EMPEROR OF THE NORTH, Robert Aldrich, director/Network  Sometimes a film director can achieve both popular success and respectable auteur credentials. The great action filmmaker Don Siegel pulled off the trick, as did his single-minded colleague Robert Aldrich – and films such as the latter’s impressive Emperor of the North, now handsomely reissued by Network, show just why. Set among the railroads of the depression era, Aldrich’s tough film pits two of his most iconic actors against each other: Lee Marvin as a dogged rider of the rails, and Ernest Borgnine as his nemesis, a brutal train guard. The film works on a variety of levels, principally as an action thriller, but also as an intriguing commentary about divisions in society – as relevant today as in the era in which the film was set.

WOODY ALLEN: SEVEN FILMS: 1986 – 1991, Woody Allen, director/Arrow Films Blu-Ray  There was a time when film buffs such as this writer would routinely go to each new Woody Allen film as a matter of course, until we all began to uneasily sense that he had, sadly, lost his Mojo (it’s now a cliché to say with every other new Woody Allen film that he’s got it back – and then query that judgement). Perhaps the ideal way to experience the director’s films these days is on Blu-ray box sets such as this one, which give us a chance to see a batch of the films in context – and which make it easier to judge the difference in levels of achievement. Arrow Films continue their love affair with Allen as they celebrate the release of their third collection, Woody Allen: Seven Films – 1986 – 1991. The Blu-ray box set includes seven of Allen’s most acclaimed films, all of which feature Mia Farrow. Hannah and Her Sisters is a family drama that returns to Allen’s beloved Manhattan, with scene-stealing turns from Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest –– who were both awarded Oscars for their roles. Radio Days, meanwhile, is a nostalgic look back at the golden era of radio that defined Allen’s childhood. September and Another Woman, offer a more serious outlook from the auteur, while Crimes and Misdemeanors, is probably his greatest work, a multi-layered and almost Dostoyevskian reflection on guilt that also finds room for some of his funniest one-liners. Finally, the box includes two of his more controversially received films, Alice and Shadows and Fog.

THE RIVER, Mark Rydell, director/Final Cut Blu-Ray  Mark Rydell was one of the most underrated directors in Hollywood history with a creditable string of movies to his credit. The River may not have been amongst his most distinguished, but it’s still a very solid and engaging piece of work. Struggling East Tennessee farmer Tom Garvey (Mel Gibson) is forced to break a picket line to earn extra money as a scab labourer. Reviled by the striking workers, Tom has to rekindle a sense of community spirit when all their livelihoods are subjected to a twin threat: the speculations of an unscrupulous property developer (Scott Glenn) and a river that is about to burst its banks. Sissy Spacek co-stars.

A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, Fred Zinnemann, director/Eureka Blu-Ray  For those who have not seen the original stage versions of Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons and Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus, it is sometimes a shock to see (on acquaintance with them) how structurally different they are from the subsequent films. But let’s face it, most people will know Robert Bolt’s play from its glorious cinematic incarnation, and it was (and is) hard to see how much more justice can be done to it, not least in the impeccable casting. Winner of six Academy Awards, and starring a legendary cast that includes Paul Scofield and Orson Welles, the film is now on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK in a special Dual-format edition as part of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series. Ranked as one of the finest British films of all time, director Fred Zinnemann’s film was lavished with awards and critical praise upon release for its opulent mise en scène and the distinctive performances from its cast. Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield), England’s Roman Catholic Chancellor, is forced into a difficult position when King Henry VIII ( a flamboyant Robert Shaw) demands his approval to divorce his wife and marry his mistress. Torn between his conscience and duty to the crown, Sir Thomas chooses to say nothing, sparking the rage of the king. What unfolds is a battle of wills packed with palace intrigue, political brinkmanship and the fate of man, church and country.

MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, John Ford, director/ Arrow Academy Blu-ray  There was a time when John Ford was incontrovertibly regarded as the greatest of all Western directors, but of late there has been something of a reaction against the attitudes behind his work, and the edgy, neurotic quality of the Westerns of Anthony Mann seem more in tune with the 21st-century. The latter’s signature films with the actor James Stewart have now achieved pole position. Nevertheless, such films as Ford’s My Darling Clementine justify their classic status with every frame. This new Blu-ray rooms special edition showcases Ford’s first Western since Stagecoach and starred Henry Fonda in a nigh- definitive performance as Wyatt Earp. This release showcases the film in a striking 4K digital restoration, as well as hosting an array of special features such as a documentary on Ford’s love affair with Monument Valley, and a 1988 episode of Channel 4’s Movie Masterclass, dedicated to My Darling Clementine.

COVER GIRL, Charles Vidor, director/Eureka Blu-Ray  It’s interesting to note that Rita Hayworth is top-billed in this classic musical, still mesmerising today (in an impressively colourful Blu-ray transfer). However, most viewers will be watching the film for the contributions of Gene Kelly, now seen as one of the two greatest dancers that the cinema ever produced (you don’t need me to tell you who the other one is) Charles Vidor’s dazzling 1944 Technicolor film was one of the most lavish and successful Hollywood musicals of the 1940s. Nightclub dancer Rusty (Hayworth) has a happy life performing at her boyfriend Danny’s (Kelly) club in Brooklyn, but her whole world changes once she wins a prestigious Cover Girl contest arranged by a wealthy magazine editor (Otto Kruger). Rusty soon becomes a Broadway sensation, but is fame and fortune a substitute for true love? Needless to say, the implicit message here is very much of its time. Also starring Sergeant Bilko himself, Phil Silvers and the recipient of 5 Academy Award nominations (winning for Best Musical Scoring), Cover Girl was Columbia studio’s first Technicolor musical.

ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, John Kent Harrison, director/Second Sight  This children’s favourite has enjoyed a variety of adaptations over the years, but most viewers will find LN Montgomery’s enduring novel efficiently served by this workmanlike adaptation, with Ella Ballantine making a good fist of the doughty heroine. Sterling support is provided by Martin Sheen, as reliable as ever.

WE ARE THE FLESH, Emiliano Rocha Minter, director/Arrow Blu-Ray  Not for every taste – and certainly not for the shockable — We Are the Flesh is a bizarre Mexican arthouse film which plunges the viewer into a surrealistic post-apocalyptic world. Although I’m not among the shockable, its indulgences didn’t work for me, but it’s a challenging film that will find an audience.  Outrageous and explicit, it sees a brother and sister taken in by a strange hermit who uses them as he acts out his own depraved fantasies. The longer they stay, the more they find themselves slipping into the darkness, despite their better judgement. A visionary and bizarre slice of Mexican art house cinema, We Are The Flesh is an unsettling film experience, a sexually charged and nightmarish journey into an otherworldly dimension of carnal excess, as well as an allegory on the corrupting power of human desire.