New DVDs from Fabulous Films, Acorn, Eureka et al

Hitchcock

ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS Alfred Hitchcock et al, directors/Fabulous Films, multi-disc set He is generally acknowledged as the greatest director the British cinema ever produced. While virtually all of Alfred Hitchcock’s cinematic output has found its way onto DVD (and even Blu-ray), the director’s aficionados have long sought a particular Holy Grail – the long-running American television series that made a director a household name. But the celebrity was more due to the droll introductions that he gave to these tales of murder and mystery rather than the fact that he directed them himself – his own contributions in this regard are fewer than admirers would wish. (A fact totally lost on 1950s TV viewers, who no doubt thought that Hitchcock was responsible for everything – a fact, he was always quick to propagate). After the success of the half-hour films (available separately from Fabulous Films), the succeeding hour-long ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ shows were equally successful, and even though Hitchcock himself only helmed a few of the episodes, some of the cream of American directing talent was brought on board, ensuring the standard of workmanship on offer here is high. And even those episodes not directed by The Master often look somewhat like his work; take the second episode in this box featuring Hitch’s star Vera Miles and a hidden murderer on an American campus. There is also the pleasure of spotting future stars early in their careers, such as Robert Redford in the first episode in this set. If you are a diehard Hitchcock devotee and have acquired all the films, I’m afraid you are now obliged to shell out for this extremely tempting box.

THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE Peter Yates, director/EUREKA Blu-ray After the success of Steve McQueen’s Bullitt for British director Peter Yates, other thrillers in the US followed, such as The Rock (known in Britain as How to Steal a Diamond in Four Uneasy lessons), but critical opinion was beginning to harden against the director, as it was felt that such unambitious thrillers as Mother, Jugs and Speed (1976), constructed largely as a showcase for Raquel Welch’s pneumatic superstructure, were demonstrating that his promise was now in evidence more fitfully. But that assessment is to reckon without the splendid The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), a beautifully understated version of the classic George V. Higgins novel, with a perfectly judged, world-weary performance by Robert Mitchum as an ageing gunrunner. Other estimable films would follow, such as the charming Breaking Away in 1979, but later work by the director was more hit-or-miss, with only the Irish set The Rugby Country in 1995 showing continuing evidence of the director’s considerable skills. Based on the acclaimed novel by Higgins, the film follows an ageing gunrunner’s troubles at the peripheries of the local mob once he finds his options split disastrously between the threat of a fresh prison sentence or police cooperation. One of most offbeat gangster films of the 1970s, this is a gripping tale of low-lives and loyalties, presented with the director’s trademark authenticity and naturalism, and an extraordinary array of performances, led by the superb Mitchum.

LOVE ON THE DOLE, John Baxter, director/BFI Blu-ray This is a fascinating slice of cinema history and demonstrates that the British film industry’s attempts to present an authentic picture of working class life did not begin with such films as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning in the 1960s; John Baxter’s once-controversial film did it first. Another element that makes the film so striking is the excellent performance by Deborah Kerr as a compromised working-class girl who does she has to do (in the teeth of moral disapproval ) for the survival of her family. Kerr is much better known for her subsequent middle-class roles, but delivers a truly affecting performance. The film was initially banned by the censors for being deemed a ‘very sordid story in very sordid surroundings’. This tale of a working class family trying to survive through the Great Depression of the 1930s in Salford still resonates today.

WAKE UP AND KILL, directed by Carlo Lizzani’s/Arrow Blu-ray After the recent release of Requiescant, Arrow Video have made available another neglected film directed by Carlo Lizzani, the crime movie Wake Up And Kill, on Blu-ray and DVD in a new 2K transfer taken from the film’s original negative. Prefiguring the ‘polizioteschi’ wave (and featuring many of the genre’s fingerprints) and scored in characteristically edgy fashion by Ennio Morricone Wake Up & Kill finesses (and alters) a true story, that of the notorious Italian bank-robber Luciano Lutring, who, during the 1960s, committed over a hundred armed robberies in Italy and on the French Riviera. The media dubbed him the ‘machine gun soloist’, a name he’d earned as he kept his weapon in a violin case. To the public, he was a romanticised Robin Hood figure, one who only targeted the wealthy, stealing more than 35 billion lire during his criminal career, but Lizzani tell a different tale: that of a none-too-bright but charismatic thug and his equally unperceptive singer girlfriend, both child-like in their behaviour. Wake Up And Kill was the first (but not the last) feature to commit Lutring’s story to film, shooting having begun mere months after his eventual arrest. Capitalising on the success of his performance in French television’s The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Robert Hoffmann is efficient (if one-dimensional) as Lutring, neither he nor his director attempting to invite sympathy for the character. Written by the future screenwriter of Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (and featuring that film’s star, Gian Maria Volonté, as a slightly colourless policeman on Lutring’s trail), Wake Up and Kill is overlong in the original Italian version (with one too many last-minute escapes from the police), tightened up in the shortened English version, but at the cost of the original Italian soundtrack – too high a price to pay.

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE Craig Viveiros, director/Acorn Agatha Christie aficionados are sadly aware that most TV versions of her work are subtle (or not-so-subtle) parodies of the original novels; even the immensely popular Poirot and Marple series usually wore a tongue-in-cheek mien. The more clued-in Christie fans were hoping that this much-trumpeted BBC adaptation with its stellar cast would have the courage to use the writer’s original bleak (usually softened) ending .if you’re already watched it, you’ll know the answer to that one, but the uninitiated should certainly give this one a try – the ensemble cast (notably Charles Dance) is top-notch, with only one actor thinking that he’s in one of the more parodic Christie adaptations (you’ll have watch to see exactly who I mean). One of the best-selling crime novels of all time, And Then There Were None aired on BBC One on Boxing Day, and nowmakes a welcome DVD debut from RLJ Entertainment’s Acorn label. With a cast including Douglas Booth (Great Expectations), Charles Dance (Game of Thrones), Sam Neill (Peaky Blinders), Miranda Richardson (Mapp & Lucia) and Aidan Turner (Poldark), the drama set in 1939 follows ten strangers who are drawn to a mysterious mansion on a remote island. As the weather turns, they find themselves stranded and their hosts mysteriously absent. They soon discover they are each accused of a terrible crime for which a price must now be paid. When members of the party start to mysteriously die; brutally slaughtered one by one, the ill-fated guests realise they may be harbouring the murderer among them. For if all are destined to die, who can their executioner be?

THE TECKMAN MYSTERY Wendy Toye, director/Network Those who know the writings of Francis Durbridge only through the Paul Temple radio adaptations may find this intriguing. In many ways, The Teckman Mystery inhabits the same light world, and the film (though no undiscovered masterpiece) is an intriguing curio from a vanished age of British cinema. OSCAR-nominee Margaret Leighton (The Go-Between), John Justin (The Thief Of Bagdad), Roland Culver (Thunderball) and Michael Medwin (Scrooge) star in this Brit-noir Cold War thriller involving another intriguing case for Philip Chance, the fictional crime writer created by Durbridge. The Teckman Mystery is part of Network’s ‘The British Film’ collection. Co-scripted by Durbridge and directed by the award-winning Wendy Toye (On The Twelfth Day…), The Teckman Mystery has enjoyed a brand-new transfer from the original film elements, with its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio. Crime novelist Philip Chance is commissioned by his publisher to write the biography of Martin Teckman, a young airman who crashed and died whilst testing a new plane. From the moment he arrives home, however, Chance is beset by a series of ‘accidents’ – leaving him in no doubt that there are people who do not want Teckman’s past investigated. ‘The British Film’ collection was launched by Network Distributing in April 2013 as part of a five-year plan to release over 450 vintage British films through a deal with Studiocanal.

MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS Jack Arnold, director/Screenbound Few would dispute the fact that the most creative and intelligent director of science-fiction horror films of the 1950s was the late Jack Arnold, responsible for such classics as The Incredible Shrinking Man. Those who have fallen under the spell of this most imaginative of directors tend to seek out everything on his filmic CD, and even though Monster on the Campus is very much a lesser piece, it still has some of the authority that might be found in his masterpieces. Fans of cinematic trivia, note: the film also includes an early performance by that blond icon of the era Troy Donahue.

MEDIUM COOL Haskell Wexler director Eureka Blu-ray The very apotheosis of American cult cinema, this stringent look at America’s obsession with violence and the media reporting of the same is a welcome addition to Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series, and makes the viewer regret that cinematographer Haskel Wexler didn’t fturn to directing films more often.

 

Five Unusual Films from Simply Media

Simply Media are releasing five unusual feature films, all due for release in the UK for the very first time. These include three world cinema feature films, The Cinema Hold Up, The Ways of Wine and Clash, and two imaginative fantasy features, From Other Worlds and Heyday!

New TV Titles from Network

In collaboration with Fremantle, Network are releasing several new TV-related titles. The
Sky One sitcom Trollied – The Complete Series 5 (12) is out on 11 January , while the BBC3 sitcom Cuckoo – The Complete Second Series (15), is issued on 25 January 2.
Network have more current TV titles coming up, including Michael Portillo’s Great British Railway Journeys – Series 6 and Birds of a Feather –The Complete ITV Series 3.

Upsetting the Moralists: From the Romantics to Grand Guignol

grand_guignol_skull

Gruesome films using themes from Mary Shelley & co., while pleasing mass audiences (and upsetting self-styled moral guardians), were quickly lionised by the more unorthodox aesthetic commentators (notably, as so often, the French) and celebrated for their reinvigoration of a long moribund Gothic tradition. The nation which gave birth to the gushing blood of Grand Guignol in a Pigalle theatre (with discreet boxes for those patrons erotically aroused by the horrors onstage) was quick to acknowledge the surprising fact that the staid British had found the perfect cinematic expression of this subversive branch of literature. What made the genre so intriguing was its surreal concatenation of moral values: Christianity traditionally supplied the necessary accoutrements for the destruction of supernatural evil, while less noble instincts were stimulated by violent death and generous displays of female cleavage. Hammer Films (and the genre in general) proffered the kind of erotic display that was otherwise unavailable in the British cinema. Interestingly, the British Board of Film Censors nourished one particular shibboleth which invariably produced the scissors: the sight of blood on breasts (almost de rigueur in many a Hammer product – the company was first to spot the ineluctable link between vampirism and displaced sexuality).

From Brtish Gothic Cinema (Palgrave Macmillan)