Tough French Crime from Arrow, Rediscovered Gems from Eureka

Braquo Season 3BRAQUO: COMPLETE SERIES 3 Olivier Marchal, director/Arrow  If you consider yourself an aficionado of the most uncompromising crime series on TV — and you haven’t yet watched Braquo — you’re missing something. This flint-edged, dyspeptic and utterly compelling series (often described as the French The Wire) is so uncompromising — even nihilistic — in its view of French police work that it makes such gritty rivals as Spiral look positively rose-coloured. Apart from its impeccable ensemble playing (with Jean Hugues-Anglade mesmerising as ever — and stoking down his customary easy charm — as a compromised Parisian cop finding himself drawn ever deeper into realms of corruption and violence after the suicide of the leader of his squad), the really provocative aspect of the series lies not so much in the visceral impact of the filmmaking but in the uneasy dialectic it orchestrates with the viewer. As the team is drawn into ever more brutal territory in pursuit of a variety of criminals, with an internal affairs team (presented in highly unsympathetic fashion) hard on their heels, it’s hard to decide how much director Olivier Marchal wants us to sympathise with the beleaguered maverick heroes. And it’s a measure of the sheer skill of Braquo that most viewers will spend their time veering between being on the side of the French cops as they perform another outrageous, ill-advised stunt (including armed robbery) or shouting at the screen: ‘What are you doing?’ Never comfortable viewing, the series is essential for those who favour the equation: crime drama=strong meat.

THE MAD GHOUL John Hogan director/Odeon  It’s nice to see a crisp, sharp print of this vintage Universal Films horror effort being made available from Odeon, with its zombified young victim being forced to perform alfresco heart surgery (don’t ask) by a hypnotically controlling mad scientist. Absurd though the plot is, everything moves at a lick (it has too, as the film lasts only a little over an hour) and we are once again given the chance to relish the villainy of the great George Zucco as the homicidal doctor. Like other well-spoken British actors such as Basil Rathbone and Henry Daniell, Zucco brought a distinct touch of class to the material he was handed – which is very much the case with this enjoyable if absurd melodrama.

TOO LATE BLUES John Cassavetes, director/Eureka Blu-Ray Bobby Darin is the problem here. Despite his undeniable skills, having an actor with an unsympathetic persona playing an unsympathetic jazz musician is a recipe for alienating an audience, a recipe not avoided here – unless, of course, that was the director’s intention. But this is still a film worth your attention. Eureka have releasedthe second film by the legendary American director and founder of the independent film movement, John Cassavetes, Too Late Blues starring the singer and actor Darin, is released for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK. Cassavetes followed up his 1959 debut Shadows with this, his first directorial effort for a major studio. Positioned somewhere between Cassavetes’ improvised independent productions and the Hollywood fare of the early 1960s, Too Late Blues suggests an avenue not taken by the director himself, nor by mainstream American cinema in the era of the studio system’s collapse. Darin plays the leader of a jazz group who encounters a singer (Stella Stevens) with whom he falls in love (Stevens is dubbed with on odd, reedy melismata when she sings; we are surprised at everyone’s expressions of instant admiration). Crisis follows when the volatile Darin’s masculinity is thrown into question following a violent brawl. Given the jazz orientation of Cassavetes’ TV work (playing the pianist/detective Johnny Staccato, with a jazzy score), the conspicuous lack of such music in the film is perhaps a sign of studio meddling.

THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT Michael Cimino, director/ Second Sight Films Blu-Ray Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges star in the debut film of Michael Cimino (later of Heaven’s Gate), Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, which makes its Blu-ray bow looking like it was made yesterday. Eastwood is a retired thief, who has the perfect plan to recover his lost loot with the help of his old gang. The idea is to steal the money, hide it in an old schoolhouse, lay low and collect it when the heat is off. But things don’t go to plan and while trying to escape a gunman he has a chance encounter with drifter Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges). Strong support from a brutal George Kennedy, and a surprisingly poignant finale.  No hint of the indulgence that was to be the hallmark of Cimino’s later career.

ALAIN ROBBE-GRILLET SIX FILMS 1963-1974 Alain Robbe-Grillet, director BFI Blu-Ray Difficult to see for decades, Alain Robbe-Grillet’s films are collected together for the first time, beautifully remastered in High Definition from the BFI. The six films included here are from his most productive period of filmmaking and include Trans-Europ-Express and The Immortal One (L’Immortelle). Robbe-Grillet, one of the literary progenitors of the Nouveau Roman ,demonstrated a readiness to engage more directly with the erotic and even relished sex scenes. He had included sado-masochistic elements in his early work (including Marie-France Pisier in a basque and stockings, tied to a bed before being strangled in Trans-Europ Express (1967); the same film, a parody of crime/espionage thrillers, ended with a striptease in a night club leaving a girl with only a tiny cache-sexe to preserve her modesty; strong stuff for 1967). The director’s later Eden and After (1970) dealt with a group of vaguely disinterested students in search of diversion who try out simulated gang rape, black masses and a variety of unorthodox sexual practices at a cafe called ‘Eden’. In narrative terms, the film is all over the place, and one might be forgiven for thinking the director is too distracted by the youthfully attractive nudity (as was Antonioni in Zabriskie Point) to channel the experimental rigour of his earlier films such as L’Immortelle (1963) and the above-mentioned Trans-Europ Express. Another problem with the film is its writer/director’s obvious infatuation with his leading lady; attractive though Catherine Jourdan is, she is not called upon to do a great deal more than wander around in a vaguely confused state, just about wearing an extremely abbreviated dress (the viewer becomes extremely familiar with her red knickers); Catherine Robbe-Grillet, closely involved in the making of his films, has said that her husband had an affair with Jourdan for the duration of the film, and the fact that Eden and After is demonstrably a love letter vitiates any more complex intentions the director may have nurtured. There is a great deal of tying up and binding with ropes and chains in the films of Alain Robbe-Grillet, and it is possible to speculate that the director (an admirer of comic strips) may have been familiar with the creation of the psychologist William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman, who spent a great deal of time being tied up in her adventures (a fact not lost on the more censorious 1950s scrutinisers of popular culture).

FEMALE ON THE BEACH Joseph Pevney, director/Odeon  Steamy (for the day) 1950s melodrama, delivered at full throttle by the always-watchable Joan Crawford. She plays Lynn Markham, recently widowed, who moves into a beach house where the former owner fell to her death. What seemed like an accident turns to suspicion of murder as Lynn finds herself drawn into a torrid affair with a handsome beachcomber (Jeff Chandler). Great fun for Crawford aficionados.

RAPTURE John Guillermin, director/Eureka Blu-Ray  After the rediscovered Wake in Fright, another find from Eureka. Set against the rugged beauty of the Brittany seacoast, Rapture, directed by John Guillermin, appears for the first time on home video in the UK in a new high-definition restoration, a Blu-ray presentation as part of a Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition . An international co-production made on location along the Brittany coastline this is a striking coming-of-age drama, and with a carefully evoked atmosphere. Three years after her appearance in the memorable Sundays and Cybele, Patricia Gozzi gives a remarkable performance as the young girl whose isolated existence under her overbearing father, Melvyn Douglas is turned on its head with the sudden arrival of a seductive fugitive from the law, played by Dean Stockwell. And with no less than Bergman actress Gunnel Lindblom in support, this is another gem for Eureka.

ABSENTIA Mike Flanagan, director/ Second Sight Films  One of the most intelligent horror efforts of recent years, Absentia is the award-winning breakthrough film from Mike Flanagan, making its UK Blu-ray debut courtesy of Second Sight Films. Tricia’s (Courtney Bell) husband Daniel has been missing for seven years and with the help of her sister Callie (Katie Parker),she finally declares him legally dead ‘in absentia’. As Tricia tries to move on with her life she becomes haunted by terrifying visions, while Callie is strangely drawn to an ominous tunnel near the house, with links to other unexplained disappearances. Does the key to Daniel’s fate lie in the cold darkness of the tunnel and could the truth be something far worse than death? Absentia spots a bushel of new special features.

Raoul Walsh: A New Study

Raoul Walsh: The Adventures of Hollywood’s Legendary Director  Marilyn Ann Moss

 

It seems amazing that one of the most reliable of the Hollywood professionals –- responsible for (among many other films) the best of the James Cagney crime movies, White Heat — has not enjoyed a full-length study of his career before. But Marilyn Ann Moss fills the gap with this sizeable volume, just the kind of thorough study that was required. Moss deals with all of the director’s lengthy filmography (which also includes such memorable films as The Roaring Twenties), but Walsh’s own personal life is colourful enough to be covered in the kind of detail it is given here. An asset to any film buff’s shelf.

Raoul Walsh: The Adventures of Hollywood’s Legendary Director by Marilyn Ann Moss is publisged by The University Press of Kentucky