ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW, Robert Wise, director/BFI From his early days as a director of atmospheric horror films as part of producer Val Lewton’s team up to his mega-successes such as West Side Story, Robert Wise was long one of the most reliable (and frequently inspired) directors in Hollywood (a particular favourite of many Wise admirers is his subtle and allusive treatment of the Shirley Jackson novel filmed as The Haunting. And the taut and lean thriller Odds Against Tomorrow is another one of the director’s best regarded films, particularly as it manages to handle notions of racial prejudice (as in the clash between the characters played by Robert Ryan and Harry Belafonte ) while not vitiating the tension of the movie’s tense heist plot. The BFI’s second home entertainment release as part of the BFI Black Star season is available as a Dual Format Edition. This tale of an audacious robbery which goes wrong (as they so often do in movies) stars Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan and Shelley Winters. It was one of the key films of its era addressing issues of racism. A slew of special features include three interviews and a newly filmed appreciation by Adrian Wootton.
BECK – THE SERIES VOLUME TWO, various directors/Nordic Noir & Beyond It’s impossible – well, almost impossible – to review this latest box from Arrow of the much-loved Beck series without moving into spoiler territory. And I don’t think I can avoid that –except for this first paragraph, so it’s safe to read this paragraph. If you’ve heard the rumours that the show has lost its edge, any one of the individual episodes on this set will quickly disabuse you of that idea. All the elements that made the earlier Becks so winning are firmly in place, and one imagines that Maj Sjöwall (the remaining member of the Sjöwall/Wahlöö duo) has nothing to complain about in terms of the justice being done to her character, although the actual books were left behind as sources quite some time ago.
But here’s that second paragraph with revelations, so look away now if you don’t know the seismic thing that happens in this series. After our long acquaintance with the rule-breaking Gunvald Larsson as Beck’s partner in previous series, we have to get used (as Beck does) to the new one he acquires this time – a Norwegian copper (played by Game of Thrones’ quirky Kristofer Hivjul) whose long bushy beard make him look like a very anti-establishment figure. Interestingly enough, this series has several resonances with The Bridge: a new partner who has linguistic differences (not overstressed) with his new police allies and, again, like the last series of The Bridge, the notion of replacing a much-loved partner with someone who is so different and distinct that there is no sense that the same dynamic is being aimed for in the show. Beck admirers need not hesitate.
52 PICKUP, John Frankenheimer, director/Arrow Academy Generally considered to be one of the great masters in modern American noir fiction, the books of Elmore Leonard have something of a chequered history in film adaptations of his work. But given that this one was handled by John Frankenheimer, the director of The Manchurian Candidate (in something of a career lull at the time), this proved to be one of the more efficient and tense versions of the writer’s work. It was, of course, aided by a performance by the always reliable Roy Scheider as a businessman being blackmailed over uncompromising videotape of himself and his mistress. Leonard himself regarded this film as his own favourite adaptation of his works.
ONE MILLION YEARS B.C, Don Chaffey, director/StudioCanal Blu-ray Perhaps the best-known of Raquel Welch’s films (that image of the unfeasibly glossy prehistoric heroine in her fur bikini, much mocked, is nevertheless one of the iconic images of modern cinema), the real draw here is not necessarily the actress’s contours, but the superb stop-motion animation of the film’s dinosaurs by the great Ray Harryhausen, full of the kind of character that is rarely seen in modern CGI special effects, which lack the handmade charm of Harryhausen’s work (literally so, it was largely the animator’s own hands which were responsible for the monsters). The epic saga of man’s battle for survival at the dawn of civilisation (with its anachronistic co-existence of men and dinosaurs), rival tribes the Rock People and the Shell People battle not only the gigantic prehistoric monsters and each other, but the earth itself, still heaving, bubbling and boiling in its volcanic state. Billed as the 100th production from the legendary Hammer production house, the film was Hammer’s biggest commercial success, and the big screen’s most famous dinosaur epic right up until the release of Jurassic Park 26 years later.
THE INITIATION, Larry Stewart, director/Arrow Video Apart from its efficient direction, what raises this Halloween-style thriller above run-of-the-mill entries in an overcrowded genre is the presence of screen veterans Vera Miles and Clu Gulager in the cast. Recently, many of the films of this ilk have had a Blu-ray wash and rinse (quite a few of them, in fact, from Arrow Video, as is this one), but few stand up as well to the passing of the years. One thing is certain: The Initiation has never looked as impressive as it does in this new incarnation.
THE MAN FROM PLANET X, Edgar G. Ulmer, director/Fabulous Films Perhaps more than any other film in the history of the cinema, Edgar Ulmer’s much-loved zero budget SF classic is proof positive that an attenuated budget need not be a handicap for a director of imagination and flair. With virtually no resources to speak of (not to mention a singularly unthreatening, miniscule alien visitor), Ulmer created one of the most distinctive films of the 1950s science fiction boom, and it is beguiling as ever in this latest issue. When a new planet (unscientifically) appears in our solar system, and the a diminutive, blank-faced visitors pays a trip to earth, it’s controlled panic in Edar G. Ulmer’s micro-budget SF classic, which makes a virtue of its impoverishment. The director’s brilliant use of his resouces (including fog to conceal the non-existent sets). Is one of the reasons the film has such a cult following In this very early 1950’s space invasion flick, starring sci-fi stalwarts Robert Clarke and William Schallert, an alien from outer space strikes terror into the hearts of mankind. In 1950 producer/writer team Jack Pollexfen and Aubrey Wisberg sensed that alien invasions were going to be all the rage in 1951. With The Day The Earth Stood Still in pre-production and The Thing From Another World ready to start filming, when the much needed snow started falling, they decided to throw together a production company and quickly write a script.
THE HILLS HAVE EYES, Wes Craven, director/Arrow Blu-Ray This writer was one of those sitting in the National Film Theatre when Wes Craven’s tense, much-copied horror classic had its first British showing, and the impact of that event — for all the film’s limitations (such as some less than adequate acting) — survives to this day, as this handsome new Blu-ray transfer categorically proves. The Hills Have Eyes is one of the late, great Wes Craven’s seminal masterpieces, as well as one of the enduring classics of American horror. The film helped redefine what we think of as a horror movie and it’s presented here as never before in a stunning 4K restoration. Arrow Video’s new release of this genre mainstay sees it look better than ever before with a brand new restoration supervised by the film’s producer Peter Locke, and a host of extras and special features. This really is the definitive release of a film that has been often imitated but never bettered.
TWILIGHT’S LAST GLEAMING Robert Aldrich director/Eureka Blu-ray The reputation of Robert Aldrich’s nailbiting political thriller was established even before audiences had seen a complete print of the film (it had been subject to some injudicious pruning). With a top-notch cast including by Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark and Charles Durning (the latter as a kidnapped US president), it’s a film bristling with all director’s characteristic virtues: perfectly judged staging and cutting, an unsentimental masculine ethos and impeccable handling of its heavyweight veteran cast.
DEKALOG AND OTHER TV WORKS, Kzrysztof Kieslowski, director/Arrow Academy Now celebrated as a modern classic, this 10-part Polish television series was made under the most severe of financial restrictions (the director could only have a maximum of two takes of scenes, such was his limited access to film). But despite these limitations, it is now recognised as one of the classics of modern cinema, with a variety of stand-alone stories focusing on the consequences of ignoring one of the ten Commandments. As a humane and nuanced vision of the follies of mankind, the series remains as striking as ever – particularly in these handsome new transfers.