ST VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE, Roger Corman, director/Powerhouse/Indicator Blu-ray A declaration of interest: I supplied one of the Blu-ray extras for this definitive gangster movie from Roger: Corman. But even if I hadn’t, I’d be extolling the virtues of this violent and kinetic piece as one of the director’s best and most ambitious movies. The film — as well as being one of the liveliest crime movies you are likely to see — carries out its various levels of ambition with great panache. While the story of Al Capone’s most famous crime (the wiping out of his rival’s gang) is dispassionately told in documentary fashion, the visceral impact of the film (not least the copious bloodshed — something Roger Corman was never one to shy away from), it has the impact and intelligence of a far less sophisticated piece of work. The slim Jason Robards Jr may not resemble the portly Al Capone, but he provides a persuasively operatic turn as the most famous of Mafiosi, and it’s fascinating to spot such actors as George Segal, Bruce Dern and Jack Nicholson in small roles before they achieved stardom
THE TOUCH, Ingmar Bergman, director/BFI dual format The initial response to Bergman’s first (partly) English-language film was lukewarm, and it was felt that the most impressive aspects of the film did not involve its American star Elliott Gould, but Bergman stalwarts Bibi Andersson and Max von Sydow. And while it’s true that the latter are at their most impressive (but when were they ever less than superlative?), it must be conceded that Gould — as a damaged, self-loathing Jewish American — acquits himself very creditably. That initial reaction to the film may have been due to the audience responding in disbelief that Gould’s petulant, unattractive figure would lead the Bibi Andersson to destroy her dull but happy home life for an amour fou. The BFI have made available The Touch for the first time on Blu-ray and DVD worldwide, starring, along with its strong main cast, Sheila Reid in a telling cameo. Bergman’s first film made with an established Hollywood star was originally an entirely English-language release. This presentation of the film, restored by the Swedish Film Institute from the original negative, is of Bergman’s preferred Swedish-English version. It is available in a Dual Format Edition, alongside the BFI’s release of Bergman’s The Magic Flute (see below). Extras include new interviews with actors Liv Ullmann and Sheila Reid. Happily married mother Karin (Andersson) surprises herself by responding in kind to a sudden profession of love from David (Gould), an archaeologist visiting Sweden, whom her doctor husband (von Sydow) has befriended. But however exhilarating, love is seldom simple and deceit – and David’s volatile temperament – take their toll.
BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, Takashi Miike, director/Arrow Blu-ray The director Takashi Miike has long been known for both his blazing imagination and unfettered bloodletting – and both qualities are fully in evidence in this remarkable film based on the manga series of the same name. The central character Manji is a massively skilled samurai who finds himself cursed with immortality after a legendary battle. After the savage killing of his sister, he realises that a life of conflict is the only fashion which you can regain his soul. The staging of the martial arts scenes here is non-pareil, and Blade of the Immortal adds lustre to the director’s already successful career.
MARTY, Delbert Mann, director/Eureka Blu-Ray The golden age of American television (when such dramas as Paddy Chayefsky’s Marty achieved massive audiences as well as critical plaudits) is long gone, but fortunately many of the plays were transferred very successfully to film — as in this case. What’s more, this very welcome Eureka release gives us a chance to compare the original television broadcast with Rod Steiger set against Ernest Borgnine’s superb performance in the film. A beloved classic of American cinema, Delbert Mann’s Marty was the first ever recipient of the Palme d’Or at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival, as well as the winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, one of only two films to ever win both organisations’ grand prizes (the second being Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend). “I’ve been looking for a girl every Saturday night of my life,” says Marty Piletti (Borgnine). Yet, despite all his efforts, this 34-year old Bronx butcher remains as shy and uncomfortable around women today as on the day he was born. So when he meets Clara (Betsy Blair), a lonely schoolteacher who’s just as smitten with him as he is with her, Marty’s on top of the world. But not everyone around him shares his joy. And when his friends and family continually find fault with Clara, even Marty begins to question his newfound love… until he discovers, in an extraordinary way, the strength and courage to follow his heart. Adapted from an earlier teleplay written by renowned screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky (Network), the Special Features include the aforementioned teleplay broadcast on NBC in 1953, also directed by Delbert Mann and starring Rod Steiger in the title role.
SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER Joseph L. Mankiewicz, director/Powerhouse/Indicator Blu-ray There was a period when Tennessee Williams’ full-blooded, once-scandalous dramas fell from favour, with the notion that their view of repressed sexuality had come to seem overheated and melodramatic. But with the passage of time, such Williams plays as Suddenly Last Summer are achieving renewed critical acclaim once again, and this Powerhouse Blu-ray of Williams’ powerful treatment of homosexuality and suppressed secrets is given the best possible showcase here.
THE MAGIC FLUTE, Ingmar Bergman, director/BFI dual Format There are many critics – including this writer – who consider that the best filmed operas ever made were Michael Powell’s Tales of Hoffmann and this charming Bergman take on Mozart’s imperishable masterpiece. While the music is given the best possible advocacy (even if some of the young singers are vocally unpolished – Bergman’s specific wish), it is very much a Bergman film, both in terms of its conception and execution. What’s more, it comes up as fresh as paint in this splendid BFI Blu-ray edition.
KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE, Stephan Chiodo, director/Arrow Blu-ray In the VHS days of yore, this was a film that acquired an accumulating cult following – principally for the bizarre, surreal imagination that had gone into this tale of a murderous invasion from outer space. The subject, of course, is one that has been done to death, but the Chiodo brothers managed to come up with some truly off-the-wall imaginings for their alien monsters that take the form of earthly clowns. In the new transfer, it looks better than it ever did when we first encountered this curio.
THE EFFECT OF GAMMA RAYS ON MAN-IN-THE MOON MARIGOLDS, Paul Newman, director/Powerhouse/Indicator Blu-ray If you’ve heard of this film, then you are clearly a cineaste. Only real film buffs know just how good this drama is, as history has drawn a veil over its achievements (the unwieldy title, no doubt, didn’t help). In the 21st-century, it’s a reminder that Paul Newman could (like Clint Eastwood) have enjoyed a highly successful career as director had he so chosen. The performances here – as one would expect from an actor-turned-director – are top notch, not least Newman’s wife Joanne Woodward, superb as sluttish mother with aspirations for her daughters.
THEY CAME TO A CITY, Basil Dearden, director/ BFI dual Format Ironically, the very aspects of this period piece that have unquestionably dated now give it a certain charm – even if its optimism seems misplaced in a contemporary Britain in which (for instance) class divisions remain as apropos as ever. Nevertheless, as it’s a film that few modern viewers will have seen, and it remains provocative – particularly in this spruced-up edition. Written by (and even featuring, uncomfortably) JB Priestley, this is a rarely seen classic of British cinema, Ealing Studios’ They Came to a City was directed by Basil Dearden (The Captive Heart, Victim) and stars John Clements, Googie Withers and Raymond Huntley. This is a new 2K transfer from the best surviving 35mm element. Special features include complementary films preserved in the BFI National Archive and an audio NFT Lecture by producer Michael Balcon.
CURE, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, director/Eureka Blu-ray Enjoying considerable acclaim from its first appearance onwards, this was the breakthrough film for director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, a psychological thriller that exerts a considerable grip. After a series of killings are committed by ordinary people with no apparent control over their actions, detective Koji Yakusho begins to track down a sinister stranger who had contact with each killer. While the film’s reputation grew, it has had zero availability – a situation thankfully remedied by Eureka.
INTIMATE LIGHTING, Ivan Passer, director/Second Run Blu-ray In the annals of arthouse cinema, Ivan Passer’s name is highly thought of, and Intimate Lighting is generally regarded as one of his most approachable pieces. Here is the perfect opportunity to view it afresh, and see just why this reputation was acquired. Presented from a new 4K transfer, Second Run Passer’s subtle comedy of provincial life, one of the key works of the Czech New Wave. This edition also features Ivan Passer’s short film A Boring Afternoon (Fádní odpoledne, 1964) presented from a new HD transfer from original materials.
NIGHT WALKER, William Castle director/Media Sales Powerhouse Indicator is readying an impressive roster of the films of the much-loved 1950s/1960s huckster William Castle, but in the meantime, here’s a highly diverting example of the director’s approach to the horror genre, one little seen compared to such films as House on Haunted Hill and The Tingler, with the advantage here of two heavyweight (if fading) stars in Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor. It’s essential viewing for fans of William Castle.