A Dish Best Served With Spaghetti Sauce… Arrow’s VENGEANCE TRAILS Box Reviewed

BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

MASSACRE TIME (Lucio Fulci, 1966)
MY NAME IS PECOS (Maurizio Lucidi, 1966)
BANDIDOS (Massimo Dallamano, 1967)
AND GOD SAID TO CAIN (Antonio Margheriti, 1970)

Vengeance Trails, Arrow’s new Spaghetti Western roundup (hopefully the start of a series) kicks off in grand style with Lucio Fulci’s Massacre Time (aka Colt Concert / The Brute And The Beast)… time, then, to bin that ropey, grey market DVD that’s been place holding on my shelf for so many years. This film was a significant release for its principal participants. For Franco Nero it followed hot on the heels of Django (1966) and consolidated his success in that Sergio Corbucci landmark, both of those constituting baby steps in his ascension to Hollywood Stardom. It was also future giallo icon George Hilton’s first substantial role in Italy, after serving as stooge to the comedy stylings of Franco & Ciccio in Giorgio Simonelli’s Two Mafia Guys Against Goldginger, the previous year. For Fulci, this tough Spagwest represented his own ticket out of Franco & Ciccioville (though there remains ill-judged knockabout stuff in the on screen relationship between Nero and Hilton’s characters) and an opportunity to start exploring the dark personal preoccupations that would ignite (after some well documented personal tragedies) in his later gialli and horror opera. The seeds are all here… Massacre Time opens with a fugitive being hunted down by dogs (“Attack, Dicky, attack!)… elsewhere there’s a horsewhipping scene that prefigures massacre times in the likes of Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972) and The Beyond (1981)…. and is it going too far to identify the Scott brand that disfigures every landmark in Laramie Town as a precursor to the mark of Eibon? Probably is, yeah…

Prodigal prospector Tom Corbett (Nero), summoned back to his hometown by a cryptic note, finds the old family homestead occupied by the Scotts, a ranching dynasty nominally headed by Giuseppe Addobbati’s weak-willed Patriarch but effectively answerable to his deranged, sadistic son Jason aka Junior (a supremely twitchy Nino Castelnuovo). Tom’s brother Jeff aka Slim (Hilton), together with their childhood nurse Mercedes (Rina Franchetti), has been evicted into an adobe hovel where, despite his former sharp shooting prowess, he now spends his time getting drunk and hypnotising chickens (no, really!) Despite Slim’s active discouragement, Tom pops over to Mr S’s hacienda to query the current arrangements, arrives during a posh social do and is horsewhipped by Jr for his trouble. But it takes the murder of Mercedes to finally sober up Slim, setting up some fairly guessable family revelations before the climactic showdown…

Massacre Time’s screenplay (adapted by Fulci and Fernando Di Leo from the latter’s original story) is freighted with plot holes that wouldn’t hinder the passage of a speeding stagecoach (if, for one thing, Slim’s such an ace gunman, how did he allow the Scotts to spirit away his patrimony?), ostentatious and improbable displays of marksmanship and the aforementioned comedy hangovers (also involving a stereotypical Chinese undertaker / saloon pianist played by Tchang Yu) but Fulci handles everything with his accustomed technical proficiency and it’s becoming clear by this point that he’s a director with something to say. What he’s saying here is something about sibling rivalries, Oedipal angst and how corporations hijacked the American dream of rugged individualism. Another harbinger of Fulci things to come… if people are being whipped in the face (as here) or having sharp objects forced into their eyes (stay tuned), none of them ever seem to raise their hands in the most elementary and reflexive attempt at self-protection! 

Pecos… remember his name.

Massacre Time’s overwrought main theme and incidental music comes courtesy of Lallo Gori, who also scored Maurizio Lucidi’s My Name Is Pecos, the same year (and in doing so, flattered The Animals’ rendition of House Of The Rising Sun most sincerely). Lucidi, himself a director more than capable of psychological insights and social comment (witness his extraordinary giallo / Strangers On A Train knock off The Designated Victim, 1971) eschews any such approach here, outside of a perfunctory depiction of the casual racism which confronts protagonist Pecos Martinez (Robert Woods, his eyes contorted into pantomime ethnicity in a way that makes Lee Van Cleef look like Alexandra Daddario) as he sets out to hold the murderers of his family to account. The bad guys in his way dismiss him as a “greaser” (among other endearments) but he makes sure to tell them his name (hence the film’s title) just before or after gunning them down. This one’s a fair-to-middling Spagwest that did well enough in its day to spawn a sequel (Pecos Cleans Up, 1967, again with Lucidi directing and Woods in the title role). Watch out for versatile Umberto Raho’s great turn in the original as slimy preacher / gravedigger Morton.

Massimo Dallamano brought some serious Spaghetti Western pedigree to his fiction feature directing debut Bandidos (1967), having served as DP on the first two instalments of Sergio Leone’s legendary “Dollars Trilogy”. Expectations are inevitably high, which inevitably (and sadly) works against this film. There are innumerable beautiful widescreen shots in it, as you’d expect from a DP-turned-director collaborating closely with another classy cinematographer, Emilio Foriscot. Operator Fernando Guillot, likewise, renders sterling service in the realisation of Dallamano’s more imaginative camera moves. The screenplay (worked up by Romano Migliorini, Giambattista Mussetto and Juan Cobos, from Cobos and Luis Laso’s original story) picks up a plot point from Django and runs with it, but Dallamano wastes little time developing its broad brush themes, characterisations are thinly drawn and some of the performances distinctly run-of-the-mill. Enrico Maria Salerno is a stand out, honourable exception as protagonist Richard Martin, a renowned sharp shooter whose hands were shattered by his star pupil-turned-bad guy Billy Kane (Venantino Venantini). Reduced to MC-ing a travelling trick shot show, he thinks he’s hit upon the instrument of his vengeance when he discovers Ricky Shot (Terry Jenkins) but the obviously pseudonymous Mr Shot has motivations of his own. English actor Jenkins (debuting here) looks the part (and like everybody else on this box, has surprisingly good teeth for a denizen of the Wild West), though this never translates into actual screen presence. After some TV work and an appearance in Paint Your Wagon (1969), Terry’s screen career had run it course.

The box concludes in strong style with Antonio Margheriti’s And God Said To Cain (1970), in which the Wild West gets appreciably wilder. The film opens with Mr Acombar (Peter Carsten) and his clan lording it over a small town… but a storm’s coming. In fact two storms are coming, a literal tornado and the return of Gary Hamilton (Klaus Kinski), whom Acombar framed for the heist that made his fortune and who wants to pay his former partner back for ten years breaking rocks. He’ll probably want to have to have a quiet word with his former girlfriend Maria (Marcella Michelangeli)  too, concerning the role she played in fitting him up…

Acting on hints from Giulio Questi’s Django Kill, 1967 and Sergio Garrone’s Django The Bastard, 1969 (hints so heavy that they would still be resonating in Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter, 1973), producers Giovanni Addessi (who co-wrote AGSTC with its director) and Peter Carsten thought that it might be a good idea to press Margheriti’s impeccable Gothic Horror sensibility into the service of a Spaghetti Western… and hot dignity dang if they weren’t absolutely right! Reconciling the requirements of the two genres might seem like a tall order but trust Antonio Margheriti to deliver the goods. Casting Klaus Kinski as a sympathetic (ish), improbably named and even more improbably dubbed lead is a good start (he’s so supernaturally elusive, it makes you wonder how they managed to confine him in that quarry for a decade). Then obliterate all that Southern sunshine with stormy skylines, moodily shot by Margheriti’s go-to DP, the ill-fated Riccardo Pallottini (who also lit Massacre Time to beautiful effect). Throw in a Carlo Savina score that’s quite bonkers, even by the general standards of these things (and an anguished main theme emotively rendered by one Don Powell… not the former Slade drummer, I imagine)… all of this plus sinister organ music and bells that strike up of their own accord, a tunnel to an underground Indian burial place, and a climactic Cormanesque conflagration, into which Margheriti also manages to insert a “hall of mirrors” quote from Orson Welles’s The Lady From Shanghai (1947). Whatever your favourite genre, nobody’s going to come away from And God Said To Cain feeling they’ve been short-changed. 

This limited edition set is characteristically well packaged by Arrow and each film has been restored in 2K from the original 35mm camera negatives. Bandidos has sustained brief cuts for horse falls. Commentary tracks come courtesy of Howard Hughes, Kat Ellinger and C. Courtney Joyner (with Henry Parke on Massacre Time, Robert Woods on My Name Is Pecos). Italian film historian Fabio Melelli contextualises each film in a collection of featurettes. Interviewees include Franco Nero and George Hilton (interesting to hear their contrasting takes on each other), Pecos cinematographer Franco Villa, Bandidos assistant director Luigi Perelli and (audio only) Marcella Michelangeli (who seems to have been the Italian answer to Jane Fonda). The interview time allotted to “George Eastman” (Luigi Montefiori) seems more in proportion to his physical presence than the minimal screen time he gets in My Name Is Pecos, but this guy always gives value for money and here (when not being upstaged by his dog’s dick) he reminisces amusingly about that film in particular and his amazing career generally. Fellow cast member Lucia Modugno shares her own memories of the production and (among other things) being tricked into getting her norks out for a Norman J.Warren film. Gino Barbacane (Bandidos) adds to the our growing inventory of Lucio Fulci anecdotes and serenades us on accordion, while Antonio Cantafora  (And God Said To Cain) hints at the darkness in Klaus Kinski’s private life. Also included, an illustrated collector’s booklet including new writing from Howard Hughes, a fold out double sided poster and original / newly commissioned (from Gilles Vranckx) sleeve art options. 

Go get it, Floyd…

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Let’s Talk About Six, Baby… Indicator’s NIGHT SHADOWS Hammer BD Box Set Reviewed.

BD. INDICATOR. Region B. 12.

THE SHADOW OF THE CAT (John Gilling, 1961)
CAPTAIN CLEGG (Peter Graham Scott, 1962)
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Terence Fisher, 1962)
NIGHTMARE (Freddie Francis, 1964)

As Indicator continue to tidy up the disparate strands of Hammer’s eclectic filmography for another of their impressive blu-ray box sets, I imagine it will get increasingly difficult for them to dream up appropriate catch-all titles. Volume 6 (limited to 6,000 units) goes out under the handle “Night Shadows”, not bad for a collection comprising b/w efforts Shadow Of The Cat and Nightmare, plus the lushly colourful brace Captain Clegg (which you get the option of playing as “Night Creatures”, its US release title) and Phantom Of The Opera (the title character of which, I guess, spends a lot of time lurking in the shadows before whipping off that mask to reveal his problem complexion).

John Gilling’s Shadow Of The Cat is yet another twist on Edgar Allan Poe’s much adapted The Black Cat, albeit a more traditional one than a title recently reviewed in these pages, David Lowell Rich’s Eye Of The Cat (1969). In contrast to that one’s “Les Diaboliques goes swinging ‘60s” approach, Gilling’s film proceeds along more traditional “Old Dark House” gothique lines, with the eponymous feline witnessing its rich mistress, Ella Venable (Catherine Lacey) being bumped off by her acquisitive and irascible husband Walter (Andre Morell), in cahoots with a couple of their servants. Those guys are immediately installed on Tabitha’s death list and soon joined there by various other grasping relatives that Walter calls in to kill it off and locate any embarrassing wills that Ella might have secreted around the property. Also arriving is Ella’s blameless and beloved niece Beth (Barbara Shelley), true beneficiary of the old lady’s estate. Beth gets on just fine with Tabitha, and wonders what grudge it could possibly hold against the house’s other occupants…

One of the points I pondered in that Eye Of The Cat review was the impossibility of making cats look scary onscreen. Special visual FX ace Les Bowie contributes some effective feline POVs here but Tabitha mostly spares us the “menacing prowl” schtick and just cracks on with killing people, generally luring them into pursuits that conclude with heart attacks, immersion in swamps, tumbles down the stairs, falls from battlements, etc… suffice to say that everybody in this picture, including Beth, gets everything that’s coming to them. When all that’s been resolved, stay tuned for a blackly comic coda. The film is as compellingly directed as you’d expect from the veteran Gilling, with a screenplay by George Baxt, who had written additional (uncredited) dialogue for Hammer’s Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958) and also scripted Circus Of Horrors and City Of The Dead (both 1960). He subsequently wrote the 1962 brace Night Of The Eagle and Tower Of Evil. Ten years later he was also contributing (though once again uncredited by Hammer) to the screenplay of Vampire Circus. Hammer didn’t even see fit to credit themselves on Shadow Of The Cat, which went out as a BHP Production. There’s much discussion among the bonus materials here as to why this might be.

1961 proved to be something of a watershed year for Hammer with the release of two Jimmy Sangster scripted productions, Seth Holt’s Taste Of Fear following Anthony Bushell’s Terror Of The Tongs and signalling Sangster’s desire to move away from graphic physical horror and into psychological thriller territory, an approach that yielded the subsequent likes of Freddie Francis’s Paranoiac, Michael Carreras’s Maniac (both 1963) and by 1964, Francis’s Nightmare. Killer cats are out for this one but the spectre of Les Diaboliques is back and looming pretty large. Jennie Linden (who substituted for a Billy Liar-bound Julie Christie at the last minute, filling her shoes admirably) plays disturbed schoolgirl Janet, haunted by the legacy of her insane mother and tormented by nightmares of joining her at the funny farm. Things go from bad to worse when she’s returned to the bosom of her loving (?) family and starts to hallucinate terrifying apparitions involving a mysterious scar faced woman (Clytie Jessop). Already half out of her mind, when Janet is introduced by kindly guardian Henry Baxter (David Knight) to his wife, who turns out to be a dead ringer for the scar faced phantom, she totally loses it and stabs the unfortunate woman to death. Two major twists follow. Think Mission Impossible. Think gaslighters gaslit. It’s engaging stuff for thriller fans, though 25 year old Linden playing a schoolgirl is among the easier things to swallow in one of the most credulity-stretching plots ever derived from Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955). Thankfully, Hammer would go on to make much more feasibly plotted, kitchen sink dramas involving alien insect invasions, pitting cavemen and women against dinosaurs and portraying Reg Varney and Bob Grant as irresistible babe magnets.

Perhaps you enjoy having your credulity stretched (they can’t touch you for it, Missus)… but how do you feel about a protagonist who goes round slitting people’s ears and cutting out their tongues? How far can an anti-hero go before he becomes and out-and-out villain? Peter Cushing’s unassuming country parson Reverend Blyss was, in an earlier life, the eponymous Captain Clegg, another of Hammer’s patented, budget-cutting shipless pirates. Yeah, I know the script plays this as a surprise reveal but really, you’d have to be irredeemably dense not to spot it coming a nautical mile off. Having seen the light, the Rev has renounced his wicked ways (a tad too late for the benefit of the guy whose face he mutilated) and now mostly concerns himself with the souls of his parishioners, though as a sideline he does run a nice little earner smuggling spirits, his gang discouraging nosey intruders by dressing themselves and their horses in luminous skeleton suits… and they would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for meddling Revenue Man Captain Collier (Patrick Allen, backing up that official End Of The World voice with real beefy presence)! Meanwhile Michael Ripper chews the scenery as a rum running funeral director and Oliver Reed woos Yvonne Romain (who played his Mum in Terence Fisher’s Curse Of The Werewolf, 1961). Director Peter Graham Scott never made it onto the upper perch of the Hammer Pantheon alongside Fisher, Francis and Gilling (his subsequent successes were mostly in TV Land) but buckles some serious swash here with the gleeful assistance of Cushing, memorably dropping his hymnal, when required, to swing from a chandelier.

Peter Lom’s Professor Petrie also gets in a spot of chandelier swinging (which he combines with the mandatory and iconic mask dropping scene) during his titular turn in Fisher’s Phantom Of The Opera. This character emerges from Tony Hinds’ screenplay as a much more ambiguous figure than in previous screen adaptations of Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel, if not exactly a milquetoast kind of guy. Hinds adds a vertically challenged sidekick (played by Ian Wilson) to bump off the Phantom’s enemies for him and although the latter doesn’t seem overly concerned with stopping this kill spree, he’s significantly more focussed on coaching deputy diva Christine Charles (Heather Sears) into perfecting her performance in the opera that larcenous Lord Ambrose D’Arcy (a supremely slimy Michael Gough) has stolen from him. Legend has it (a legend examined and assessed in various extras on this disc) that Cary Grant himself was keen to appear as The Phantom (prompting some of the liberties Hinds took with Leroux’s text, the better to suit Grant’s Star persona), only for his agent to talk him out of it and the role to devolve to Lom. Director Fisher had little control over this kind of stuff (and had far more disagreeable studio demands to contend with in e.g. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, 1969), making it difficult to sustain the once popular argument for him being some kind of auteur. What he is, is a supreme craftsman, guiding his crew (notably DP Arthur Grant, makeup master Roy Ashton, production designer Bernard Robinson and composer Edwin Astley) through a rattling gothic romp, highlights of which include the aforementioned chandelier swinging mask drop and a hanged stage hand bursting through the scenery to alarm Liane Aukin in mid recitative.

These spanky restorations are ably supported by a stirring chorus line of extras, as follows…

THE SHADOW OF THE CAT (UK BD premiere).

Kim Newman’s introduction to the film. Audio commentary by Bruce G Hallenbeck. In-depth interview with Barbara Shelley, filmed shortly before the legendary and charming genre icon’s death. Assistant costume designer Yvonne Blake and Peter Allchorne from the property department reminisce. Short audio interview with assistant special effects artist Ian Scoones. Lucy Bolton profiles actress Freda Jackson. David Huckvale appraises Mikis Theodorakis’ score. An overview of the film by Hammer buffs lan Barnes, Marcus Hearn, Denis Meikle, Jason Morell and Jonathan Rigby. Double-bill TV spot (with Curse Of The Werewolf). Image galleries of promotional and publicity material. Limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet with a new essay by Craig Ian Mann, excerpts from original press material, an archival interview with Shelley, overview of contemporary critical responses and complete film credits.

CAPTAIN CLEGG.

Kim Newman introduction. Audio commentary from Constantine Nasr. The BEHP Interview with Peter Graham Scott. Josephine Botting profiles prolific Hammer wardrobe mistresses Molly Arbuthnot and Rosemary Burrows. In the featurette Peter Cushing: Perspectives, Derek Fowlds, Judy Matheson and Madeline Smith look back on their experiences acting alongside the great man. David Huckvale on Don Banks’ score and the influence of Hammer’s music honcho, Philip Martell. Actor John Carson and film historian Wayne Kinsey look back on the making of Captain Clegg. Kinsey discusses the contributions of transport historian and collector George Mossman to Hammer productions. Trailer and image galleries. Limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet with new essays by Frank Collins and Kieran Foster, extracts from original press materials, an overview of contemporary critical responses and full film credits.


THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.

Optional 1.66:1 and 1.85:1 presentations of the original theatrical version (85 mins). Alternative TV cut (99 mins)… extended version with unique scenes, presented open matte in Standard Definition. Kim Newman introduction. Audio commentaries by Steve Haberman / Constantine Nasr and Troy Howarth / Nathaniel Thompson. Special effects artist Brian Johnson’s memories of the production. Rachel Knightley profiles Liane Aukin. Richard Klemensen, editor and publisher of Little Shoppe of Horrors, revisits the career of Hammer giant Tony Hinds. David Huckvale on Edwin Astley’s score. C Courtney Joyner shares personal memories of time spent with Herbert Lom. Romantic lead Edward de Souza presents a featurette on the making of POTO, including interviews with film historian Richard Golen and sound recordist Alan Lavender. Original theatrical trailer with optional commentary by Brian Trenchard-Smith. Image galleries. Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Adam Scovell, Terence Fisher on The Phantom Of The Opera, extracts from original press materials, an overview of contemporary critical responses and full film credits.

NIGHTMARE.

Kim Newman introduction. Audio commentary by Jonathan Rigby and Kevin Lyons. The BEHP (audio) Interview with Freddie Francis. Jennie Linden interview. Pamela Hutchinson on Moira Redmond. David Huckvale on Don Banks’ score. Alan Barnes, John J Johnston, Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby revisit the production. Wayne Kinsey’s “Making Of” featurette includes interviews with Jennie Linden, Jimmy Sangster and art director Don Mingaye. Trailer and image galleries. Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Emma Westwood, extracts from original press materials, an overview of contemporary critical responses and complete film credits.

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Gent Lee Does It… A First Bite At Severin’s “THE EUROCRYPT OF CHRISTOPHER LEE” COLLECTION.

BD. Severin. Unrated. Region free (apart from Crypt Of The Vampire… Region A)

Long before his death in 2015, Christopher Lee had become a leading contender for the mantle of “Greatest Living Englishman”. In the early ’60s though, even after his dynamic impact in Hammer’s Curse Of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (58) and The Mummy (59), the British film industry didn’t know quiet what to do with him, if not cover him in scars and stitches or wrap him up in bandages. Even exposed as his handsome self in Dracula, the half-Italian (and intimidatingly tall) Lee was considered too “exotic” to be a British leading man, He didn’t even make it to second billing in a series of subsequent productions which often starred his pal Peter Cushing but whose credits privileged the names of e.g. André Morell, Anton Diffring, Paul Massie and Hazel Court (Lee’s Curse co-star) over his own. In response, like some young 18th Century gentleman embarking on a European Grand Tour to complete his English Aristo credentials, he undertook a series of EuroHorror assignments, many of them now collected and celebrated in yet another epic Severin box set (just when you thought your groaning shelves could take no more), The Eurocrypt Of Christopher Lee Collection. I’m currently penning a larger piece on Lee’s Euro credits that you’ll soon be able to read (should you wish to) in a certain esteemed Horror organ, but couldn’t let this splendid release go unmarked in these pages.

While Lee’s Bava brace, his turns as non PC krimi orientals and his bemused dalliances with Jess Franco have been extensively covered elsewhere, over these 9 discs the Sevsters focus on some of the less heralded but no less significant outings on Lee’s Satanic rite of Europassage. Things kick off entertainingly enough with Warren Keifer’s Castle Of The Living Dead (Italy / France, 1964) in which the great man plays the emaciated Count Drago… the Gunther Von Hagens of his day. Never satisfied with the amount of plastinated people and animals adorning his gothic pile, the Count welcomes an itinerant troupe of comedy performers (including sexy Gaia Germani and a young Philippe Leroy) to Castle Drago, engineers the “accidental” death of one of them and sets about petrifying the rest with the aid of sinister side-kick Mirko Valentin. The shades of Riccardo Freda, Mario Bava and Antonio Margheriti hang heavily over the proceedings but equally obvious is the debt owed to Roger Corman’s Poe cycle (even though Keifer had to do without the candy coloured cinematography to which Rog – and by this point Bava – had access). Indeed, Corman’s Masque Of The Red Death was released earlier the same year. Watch out for Donald Sutherland in the dual roles of the buffoonish Sergeant Paul and a gnarly old witch…. and yes, Warren Keifer did exist (why would Sutherland name his son after an imaginary person?) and did direct this picture, Italian film scholar Roberto Curti authoritatively quashing the claims made for other film makers (including Michael Reeves, who was still learning the ropes on this one) during an informative featurette.

Giuseppe Vegezzi’s Challenge The Devil aka Katarsis is a whole other bubbling kettle of ketamine, with the most laughable collection of hipster kids (notably Giorgio Ardisson) outside of Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster seeking a night of thrills in a dilapidated castle (where else?) and discovering Lee in gnarly old dude make up, claiming to have sold his soul to The Devil (though there are plentiful hints that he might actually be Old Nick himself). As the plastic beatniks navigate a succession of heav-y symbolic scenes in the castle’s cellars, it becomes apparent that the collective influence of Freda, Bava and Margheriti has been displaced here by the presiding spirit of Ed Wood Jr and the biggest challenge to The Devil might well be unravelling Vegezzi’s original vision from the series of re-edits and added footage with which panicking producers sought to save their investment. Presumably they kept all of Lee’s footage… all ten minutes of it. If Vegezzi had made a bunch of these things, all existing in multiple alternative versions, he might well have one day merited a box as sumptuous as Severin’s recent Al Adamson Masterpiece Collection, but instead he jumped out of a high window after the film’s star Lilli Parker rejected his romantic overtures, survived that and retired to Piacenza and a life of eccentric left wing activism (as related in another Curti featurette, which includes interview footage with the elusive Vegezzi himself).

Things take an upturn in quality with Crypt Of The Vampire (aka Crypt Of Horror, 1964), originally intended for Antonio Margheriti but ultimately handled (and very capably, too) by Camillo Mastrocinque (who also directed Barbara Steele in An Angel for Satan, 1966). Lee racks up significantly more screen time too as Count Ludwig Karnstein, who spends most of it fretting (in his own voice, for once) over daughter Laura (Adriana Ambesi), whom he fears is the threatened reincarnation of witchy ancestor Ciro (wot, no “Carmilla”?), seeking vengeance for her execution (conveyed via a nifty, Black Sunday-esque flashback). The Count calls in bibliographer Friedrich Klauss (José Campos) to scour the Karnstein archives and find a likeness of the witch, but what they eventually turn up takes everybody by surprise… It’s obvious that this Italo-Spanish production is trying to keep up with Hammer (the Iberian side of the enterprise is represented by “Hispamer films”!) but it ends up actually anticipating the turn that Carreras and co subsequently took for Sheridan Le Fanu, though the sapphic relationship between Laura and her pal Ljuba (Ursula Davis) crackles along in understated style, as opposed to all the heaving bosoms that bedeck Hammer’s Karnstein trilogy. Ah well, can’t have everything…

Lee gets a yet meatier role in West German-French-Italian co-production Sherlock Holmes And The Deadly Necklace (1962), which reunites him with Hammer legend Terence Fisher, who had directed him (as Sir Henry B) in Hammer’s Hound Of The Baskervilles three years earlier. Here Lee’s promoted to the titula Tec (which must have come as some consolation for the conspicuous false nose he’s required to wear) in an adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle’s Valley Of Fear, whose screenplay came courtesy of Universal veteran Curt Siodmak. The film’s an interesting amalgam of Fisher’s style and contemporary West German production / post production values. Its titles sequence, for example, must be one of the most boring ever committed to celluloid. No worries, though, things pick up as Lee’s Holmes (played like the prickly git that Doyle actually wrote… not much of a stretch for CL, by some accounts) dedicates himself (with the assistance of the ever dependable Thorley Walters’ Doctor Watson) to keeping Cleopatra’s necklace out of the clutches of Professor Moriarty (whose name seems to have grown an extra syllable here). Hans Shönker’s “Napoleon of Crime” might seem a tad underplayed for those brought up on the histrionics of Andrew Scott but works just fine here. The production’s apparently troubled circumstances thankfully don’t read on screen but to Lee’s ongoing chagrin, the rub (as it so often did) lies in the dub.

While he was still trying to establish himself back in Blighty, Lee was already sufficiently highly regarded in Europe for producers to shell out for one or two days of his box office-boosting presence. This series of nice little earners reached its cushy conclusion in the milieu of TV drama. For the 1971-2 Polish series Theatre Macabre (Film Polski’s adaptations of various dark literary classics, with episodes directed by the likes of Andrzejs Wajda and Zulawski) all that was required of him was to turn up at Columbia’s Wardour Street studio for a couple of days and film wraparound sequences (with director Ben Kadish) in the gallows humour style of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Boris Karloff’s Thriller. I vividly recall seeing a handful of these, randomly scattered through Granada TV’s graveyard slot at various points in the ‘70s and am looking forward to checking out all 24 surviving episodes (of 26) over discs 5 and 6 of the Severin set.

Aside from that Polish series, the only colour production among the main features is Krimi kingpin Harald Reinl’s The Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism (1967). Also known as Die Schlangengrube Und Das Pendel and (for its UK theatrical release) Blood Demon, this West German production gets off to a lively start with the execution of “Count Regula” (guess who) for the blood sacrifices of twelve village maidens, by which he had hoped to secure eternal life. First, a spiked metal mask is hammered onto his face (Bava’s Black Sunday continuing to cast its long shadow over Eurohorror) then he’s torn limb-from-limb by galloping horses. 35 years later, Roger Mont Elise (Lex “Tarzan” Barker) turns up in town, seeking clues to his obscure family history. He soon wishes he hadn’t bothered, as he and his new love interest Baroness Lilian von Brabant (Natalie Wood look alike and Mrs Reinl, Karin Dor) are drawn into a plot to revive the Count, for whom the Baroness will make an ideal 13th victim in pursuit of his undying quest, conducted in an underground lair whose interior design owes much to Hieronymus Bosch. Meanwhile reckless Roger gets the full on “Pit and the Pendulum” treatment. All of this no doubt sounds distinctly sepulchral, but the overall tone is that of an enjoyably upbeat adventure romp, enhanced by the James Last-like score of Peter Thomas, possibly the most inappropriate musical accompaniment to a horror film since the closing moments of Erle C. Kenton’s Island Of Lost Souls (1932).

Disc 8, dubbed Relics From The Crypt, is a glorious grab bag of Lee-themed odds and sods, including a first release of any description for Horror!!!, the recently unearthed 20 minute Swiss TV documentary from 1964 which includes interviews with CL, his erstwhile co-star and next door neighbour Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Roy Ashton and Roger Corman, also boasting behind-the-scenes footage from The Gorgon and Masque Of The Red Death. Lee Remembers Karloff in Behind The Mask, a new edit of the Ian Rough documentary left unfinished in 1991. In another featurette, writer Ernesto Gastaldi, assistant director Tonino Valerii and film historian Fabio Melelli discuss the making of Crypt Of The Vampire. Colin Grimshaw interviews Lee in 1975 and from 10 years later there’s an audio interview by David Del Valle, accompanied by DDV’s video introduction and stills from his archive. Lee’s baritone vocal stylings are aired in video clips for his duets with Gary Curtis and we are also privy to his rapturously received appearance and Q/A session at University College, Dublin in 2011. The venerable Horror star discusses To The Devil A Daughter and Theatre Of Blood, among others, in outtakes from David Gregory’s 2001 interview sessions with him to promote the Blue Underground releases of those films. As if all this weren’t enough, we accompany Gregory’s co-honcho Carl Daft on a visit to the renowned critic Alan Frank, who I’d like to think of as Carl’s second favourite grizzled genre pundit.

The discs are scattered with the expected profusion of trailers, galleries and interviews, e.g. with legendary producer Paul Maslansky, Karin Dor (audio only) and Giorgio Ardisson. Grilled in 2009 and just before his death in 2014, the engaging Giorgio comes across as quite a character and has plenty of amusing anecdotes to relate. There are audio commentaries from the ubiquitous Kat Ellinger and the dynamic duos of Nathaniel Thompson / Troy Howarth and Kim Newman / Barry Forshaw. The films look more gorgeous than you had any right to expect B movies of this vintage to look, in 2K scans from their negatives (or a fine-grain 35mm master print in the case of Crypt Of The Vampire)… apart from Castle Of The Living Dead and Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism, which were scanned in 4K! TTCODS also comes with a restoration slideshow, not to mention not one but two Super 8 digest versions. The whole package is beautifully boxed and comes with Jonathan Rigby’s extensively researched and handsomely illustrated booklet, which you might well enjoy while listening to disc 9 (Angelo Lavagnino’s OST for Castle Of The Living Dead) and enjoying a glass of virgin’s blood… hm, probably better make that a full blooded red wine, eh?

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Pussy Riot… EYE OF THE CAT Reviewed.

BD. Indicator. Region B. 15.

It often occurs to me, while I’m removing the disease ridden excrement with which other people’s cats have kindly adorned the tomb-strewn garden of Oak Mansions, that there are two kinds of folk in this world. Those who adore these furry little psychopaths… and the sane ones among us who positively loathe them. Beats me why somebody feels comfortable sharing their living space with creatures that, they freely admit, would regard their owners as food if they were big enough to do do something about it. Luckily for our misguided feline admiring friends, they aren’t… and there lies the rub for film makers intent on scaring us with them. Jacques Tourneur came closest in his sublime Cat People (1942) by suggesting (with a miaow miaow here, a shadow there) the presence of some malevolent moggy but nobody in their right mind is going to be scared just by the appearance of some cat or cats.

Of course potential viewers who might be cat phobic aren’t exactly in their right minds, hence the allure of Ailurophobia for screenwriter Joseph Stefano, who penned Eye Of The Cat (1969) for director David Lowell Rich. Most of Rich’s 113 directing credits were racked up in TV, but here he deploys an admirable array of Cinematic techniques in attempting to render cats frightening, kicking off with the title sequence’s split screen shenanigans (this at a time when Brian de Palma, notably, was performing wonders with that particular gimmick), slow motion, extreme close ups, fish eye lenses (I guess if you were a fish you would find close ups of cats pretty frightening)… all to no avail. Scares the bejesus out of ailurophobic antihero drifter Wylie (Michael Sarrazin), though, when he’s recruited by conniving femme fatale Kassia Lancaster (Gayle Hunnicutt at the very apogee of her physical magnificence) to persuade his doting, ailing Aunt Danny (Eleanor Parker) to change her will in his favour (really pushing on an open door, here, as Aunty is already and quite inappropriately fond of the prodigal nephew) with the intention that they’ll both clean up after they’ve arranged her demise. A simple plan but needless to say, the complications soon start multiplying. What were the odds on the increasingly eccentric Danny having given over large sections of her mansion to a tribe of feral cats? Just what is Wylie’s brother Luke (Tim Henry) up to? And does Aunty have some warped agenda (over and above the blatantly incestuous one) of her own? Rich skilfully keeps you guessing throughout and although you’ll see some of the twists coming, the final one may well elude you… particularly as it doesn’t make a (cat’s) lick of sense.

Yep, we’re talking Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955), relocated to scenic San Francisco, with added cats. There’s obviously a touch of the Hitchcocks going on (Stefano had famously adapted Robert Bloch’s Psycho for Hitch almost a decade earlier) and the plot point of a preening, allegedly sexually provocative male being (re)introduced into a dysfunctional family set-up recalls Pasolini’s Theorem, released the previous year… even more so when you learn that Sarrazin was a late substitute for Terence Stamp in the lead role. Do we buy Michael Sarrazin as a substitute for Terence Stamp? Well, there are two kinds of folk in this world…

Extras: You won’t be surprised to learn that in this characteristically lavish limited edition (the film’s first UK outing on Blu), Indicator present both cuts of Rich’s film (the TV version compiled from understandably unpristine elements) and a featurette explicating the differences. The TV edit gains two new scenes which add little to the mix (aside from continuity errors) but which keep the running time close to the original 102 minutes after the excision of various sexual / druggy scenes and references. It also cuts the pack of cats down from their initial appearance to one measly moggy by the time the denouement rolls round. All of this plays up a supernatural element that gets almost entirely lost amid the screwing and scheming of the theatrical release and is, I suppose, actually more in keeping with the film’s title, so nothing like the swindle you’ll feel has been perpetrated after the paucity of pussies in e.g. René Cardona Jr’s Night Of A Thousand Cats (1972). You also get Kim Newman’s typically erudite take on this film and the whole feline fright flick fur ball, an audio commentary plus radio spot, trailer and image gallery of promotional and publicity material. Exclusive to the limited edition, there’s an exclusive 36-page booklet with a new essay by Kasandra O’Connell, extracts from the original press book, an archival interview with Gayle Hunnicutt, overview of contemporary critical responses and full film credits.

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Something For You To Watch Over Several Days… Indicator’s COLUMBIA NOIR #3 & SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME Reviewed.

COLUMBIA NOIR #3. BD. Indicator. Region B. 15. International BD Premiere
SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME. BD. Indicator. Region B. 15. UK BD Premiere

Indicator continue to dish up the Film Noir goodies with a third selection of Columbia’s finest hours in that field. The box kicks off with Robert Rossen’s directorial debut Johnny O’Clock (1947). Dick Powell in the title role demonstrates how far he had come since his juvenile lead days in Busby Berkeley musicals and his versatility serves him well in the role of a cynical gambling house operator, staying on just about the right side of The Law. The murder of hat check girl Harriet Hobson (Nina Foch) sparks in him a crisis of conscience / moral awakening comparable to that undergone by Bogart’s Rick in Casablanca (1942). It’s a nicely nuanced performance, in which Powell is solidly supported by an able cast… special mention for sexy Ellen Drew (below) as spurned gangster’s moll Nelle Marchettis. Hell hath no fury…

Nina Foch gets her turn as bad girl in Rudolph Maté’s The Dark Past (1948), a “home invasion” effort which anticipates the plot of William Wyler’s more celebrated The Desperate Hours (another Bogart vehicle), released seven years later. Psychotic prison escapee Al Walker (William Holden), his girl Betty (Foch) and criminal entourage billet themselves on unwilling hosts the Collins family. Unfortunately for Al (and anyone in the audience with an aversion to simplistic, would-be Freudian insights) Doctor Collins (Lee J. Cobb) is a pipe-sucking Professor of Psychiatry who adeptly diagnoses Walker’s personal problems and dilutes his threat by treating them… just like that! Similarly pat psychoanalytical conceits played a significant and regrettable part in the plot of Hitchcock’s Spellbound three years earlier, so we can’t lay all the blame at the door of erstwhile cinematographer Maté, who made his most impactful contribution to the Noir canon with the superior D.O.A. in ’49. Foch, who also appeared in Budd Boetticher’s Escape In The Fog (1945) among others, is the subject of an informative career appraisal by Pamela Hutchinson on this disc.

If you start experiencing a pronounced sense of deja vu while watching Henry Levin’s Convicted (1950), that’s because this is yet another Columbia screen adaptation of Martin Flavin’s stage play The Criminal Code, perhaps most notably filmed under that title by Howard Hawks in 1930 (from which Levin has recycled budget-saving footage of discontent among the yardbirds). A useful featurette deploys split screen techniques to point up the similarities and discrepancies between several film renderings of the Flavin yarn. This time out Glenn Ford takes the role of the inadvertent Homicide bunged up in jail, trying to keep his nose clean and win the heart of Dorothy Malone, daughter of warden Broderick Crawford, before his dreams of rehabilitation are clouded by the murder of a snitch and his unwillingness to break the criminals’ code of silence. The strength of Flavin’s source material and sheer calibre of the cast assembled here make for a pretty compelling picture, though it suffers in comparison with the Hawks version from 20 years earlier, for which Phillips Holmes, Constance Cummings and Walter Huston just seem like better casting choices… Jeez, Hawks even had Boris Karloff in a scene stealing supporting role!

The term Film Noir only caught on widely, of course, after the style had largely run its course. These films were categorised in their day as “Crime Melodramas”, a description which certainly fits Between Midnight And Dawn, directed by Gordon Douglas in 1950. During a bonus appreciation of Douglas’s variable career on this disc, Kim Newman claims that his James Cagney vehicle Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye from the same year is only marginally inferior to Raoul Walsh’s White Heat (1949)… high praise indeed! BM&D certainly can’t be bracketed with those but it’s solid, entertaining stuff. Wisecracking patrol car duo Dan Purvis (Edmond O’Brien) and Rocky Barnes (Mark Stevens) compete for the affections of radio operative Kate Mallory (Gale Storm) but Kate, remembering how her Mom was widowed, doesn’t fancy a relationship with either of them or any other cop. When she does finally fall for Rocky, her darkest misgivings turn out to be all too well founded. Thereafter she and Dan are on the trail of his killer, the unhinged hood Ritchie Garris (Donald Buka)…

Director Edward Dmytryk was one of the Hollywood Ten, threatened with jail on account of their non co-operation with Joe McCarthy’s Senate Committee on Un-American Activities. He subsequently flip-flopped and fingered several former Lefty associates, ultimately queering his pitch on both sides of the argument. Nevertheless his The Sniper (1952) is highly regarded in certain quarters, not least by Martin Scorsese who gives it an enthusiastic introduction here. Aside from a few oblique hints, neither Dmytryk nor co-writers Harry Brown and Edna and Edward Anhalt waste much time on explaining the misogyny of title character Edward Miller (Arthur Franz), sidesztepping the kind of wannabe psychological profunidty that hamstrings e.g. The Dark Past. Franz gives a strong central performance as a serial killer who desperately wants the police to stop him from further venting his irrational obsessions and Dmytryk handles the film’s suspenseful set pieces with aplomb. This is yet another Noir that makes the most of San Francisco’s unique cityscape… and you might well think that Hitchcock saw it and took note of its extraordinary closing shots before discussing the title sequence for Vertigo (1958) with Saul Bass.

Snipers and spree shooters provoke urban anxieties to this day, though dwarfed now by existential threats such as the one at the centre of Irving Lerner’s City Of Fear (1959), which closes the box with a bang. Psychotic San Quentin escapee Vince Ryker (Vince Edwards from Lerner’s Murder By Contract, 1958 and Kubrick’s The Killing, 1956) thinks he’s made off with a pound of “snow” (here signifying heroin) but is frustrated by his inability to open the canister that contains it… a lucky break for everybody else in LA because, as a freaked out nuclear scientist explains, that canister is actually stuff to the brim with “Cobalt 60 in granular form… the deadliest thing in existence!” As Ryker physically degenerates under the accelerating effects of radiation poisoning, the authorities desperately attempt to track him down before he can unleash the contents of Pandora’s box on The City of Angels. No doubt you’re thinking that this one would make a great double bill with Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and you’d be right. As an extra treat, Jerry Goldsmith racked up one of his earliest OST credits here.

All of the films have been restored / remastered in Hi-Def and in addition to the extras we’ve already mentioned there are audio commentaries from the likes of Jim Hemphill, Eloise Ross, Bryan Reesman, Eddie Muller, Adrian Martin and the dynamic duo of Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson. Complimenting these are shorts made by the core crew of many a Columbia Noir, a radio adaptation of the James Warwick play upon which The Dark Past is based and Christopher Nolan on the abiding influence of Noir plus the mandatory trailers and image galleries. A limited edition, exclusive 120-page collectors’ book comprises new essays by Peter Stanfield, David Cairns, Michał Oleszczyk, Adam Scovell, Fintan McDonagh, Andrew Nette, Jeff Billington and Ramsey Campbell, plus archival articles / interviews and full film credits…

… all this plus the Stooges shorts we’ve come to expect with these sets: Curly, Larry and Moe in Whoops, I’m An Indian (1936), So Long Mr. Chumps (1941), Dizzy Detectives (1943) and Three Pests In A Mess (1945); 1948’s Shivering Sherlocks (with Shemp replacing Curly) and Oil’s Well That Ends Well, a 1958 effort featuring Joe Besser as third man. N’yuk, n’yuk, n’yuk!

Larry, Moe and co get a most unexpected mention in Ridley Scott’s Someone To Watch Over Me (1987), the film where that director reacted against the FX-heavy orientation of Alien (1979), Legend (1985) and indeed the most neon infused (and biggest money losing) Neo Noir of them all, Blade Runner (1982). His stated intention was for the actors rather than the technicians to be vying for Oscars. Said thesps include Tom Berenger as the Queens cop detailed to protect Manhattan socialite Mimi Rogers (the only witness to a murder) and Lorraine Bracco as his wife, who’s not too impressed by the developing relationship between the uptown, uptempo woman and her downtown, down beat guy. Scott’s faith in his cast is repaid in spades with some fine ensemble playing but inevitably it’s once again the technical stuff that lingers in the mind as, between them, Scott, DP Steven Poster and production designer Jim Bissell contrive a 106 minute Chanel commercial vision of Noir (looking fine here in a 2K restoration) for the same studio celebrated in the above mentioned box set, making a fascinating exercise in compare and contrast with the classic Noir look so often rendered by Burnett Guffey.


Poster discusses how closely he collaborated with Scott in a bonus featurette disc and there’s another one in which we hear from screen writer Howard Franklin. Jim Hemphill kicks in with an audio commentary, you get the original theatrical trailer plus an image gallery of promotional and publicity materials, plus a limited edition exclusive 32-page booklet comprising new essay by Jamie Graham, archival interviews with Steven Poster and actor Mimi Rogers, an overview of contemporary critical responses and film credits.


One of the things I most enjoyed about STWOM is that Scott managed to coax a cameo appearance out of the legendary Nina Simone. Elsewhere the Gershwin standard that gave this film its name is performed by Sting. Talk about “from the sublime to the ridiculous”…

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Little Sister Is Watching You… I START COUNTING Reviewed.

BD. BFI Flipside. Region B. 15

“Terror Grows Like Weeds In The Lollipop World Of Wynne…” (Original trailer).

Coming of age in a suburban backwater, under the heavy, dead hand of the Catholic Church, can be a crushingly dreary affair. Neither I Start Counting (1969) director David Greene, screenwriter Richard Harris nor Audrey Erskine Lindop, author of the original novel, would get any argument out of me on that score. Schoolgirl Wynne Kinch (Jenny Agutter, then 17, playing slightly younger) carries a torch that sustains her through the diurnal dullness of Dalstead (actually Bracknell) New Town. Like Calamity Jane, she nurtures a secret love, specifically a massive crush on her older stepbrother George (Bryan Marshall). Something else that “adds colour” (in the words of the film’s sensational publicity copy) to the drudgery of what passes for life in a New Town (not quite the hell hole depicted in the Slits track of that title, but getting there) is “a little blood”. Enter local serial killer (of young women), “The Dalstead Strangler”…

Imaginatively connecting a collection of circumstantial clues, Wynne concludes that George is the culprit and weaves his guilt into her increasingly elabourate fantasies. If anything, this conviction only increases her ardour. She fancies herself the only one who understands George (though in truth she understands precious little and when a measure of comprehension is later forced upon her, she suffers much on account of it), the only one who can protect and ultimately save him.

There’s got to be a good reason for what he’s doing, right? Little Jesuit Jenny even rationalises her shaky moral stance during internal discourses with JC himself.

JA and JC. Morbid religiosity…

As far as the neutral viewer is concerned, George is far from the only contender for Stranglerhood. Winsome Wynn’s other brother, Len (Gregory Phillips) is a budding libertine, dabbling in drugs and secretly salivating over his collection of Dalstead Strangler press clippings… and Simon Ward’s creepy “jack the lad” bus conductor (below) would be handed his P45 (and probably worse) today for the way he “flirts” with Wynne and her precociously provocative school pal Corinne (Clare Sutcliffe, who was actually about 25 when this was shot).

Some might take retroactive offence at the fact that the adventurous Corinne falls victim to the strangler while virginal Wynne survives, but as well trained Catholics, both of them would have known only too well that it’s possible to sin (and reap the wages thereof) in thought, word and deed. Wynne is only virtuous in the sense indicated by Plato and Freud, i.e. content to dream (and she daydreams plenty) about what the wicked actually put into practice. And when she gets sloshed, she attempts to step over that line with the alarmed George, to cringe-inducing effect.

‘”Who you getten, bratty? The Heaven Seventeen? Luke Sterne? Goggly Gogol?”

So, what we got here… the sexual awakening of teenage girls, the murder of teenage girls, a wannabe accessory to murder (after the fact), (kind of) incest… it’s a good job David Greene (whose feature debut was the 1967 Lovecraft effort The Shuttered Room and who later found success in American TV productions) rather than a less tasteful director (and there’s never been any shortage of them) was entrusted with this material which, thus recounted, approximates a random sampling of subject matter from Homeric epics and the Attic Tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides… which is, I rather suspect, central to what Greene is trying to say here. Despite the promise of a new start and a new life in a New Town, Wynne and her dysfunctional family are no more free from the ghosts of their past (it’s in what remains of their dilapidated former home that Corinne ultimately contracts her fatal liaison and Wynne has her own encounter with the killer) than any of us are free from the consequences of fallen human nature. As it was in the palace of Agamemnon, so it is in Dalstead / Bracknell’s Point Royal…

… which is pretty much the point that Peter Shaffer and Sidney Lumet were labouring in Equus (1977), another film graced by Agutter’s presence. I Start Counting pitches its tone somewhere between the High Art of that one and the out and out Exploitation of Sidney Hayers’ Assault (1971).

Of course Blaise Pascal took a dissenting view of human history, arguing that it might have followed a completely different course had, e.g. Cleopatra’s nose described an alternative trajectory to the one it actually took. Had that eminent French philosopher lived to witness the cute cut of Ms Agutter’s pert proboscis, I’m certain he would have recast that particular aphorism.

This most captivating of British actresses has given so many splendid performances in so many quality films (see also our appraisals of Walkabout and An American Werewolf in London) that I can’t even bring myself to begrudge her the easy money she’s currently making in the BBC’s awful Call The Midwife. Agutter’s adeptly nuanced turn in I Start Counting (a picture which, with no disrespect intended to the rest of an admirable cast, she effectively carries), delivered at such a tender age, lays down an unmistakable marker for cinematic and stage glories to come (lovingly documented in Ian Taylor’s All Sorts Of Things Might Happen). Kudos, as ever, to the BFI for unearthing and reactivating this lost little gem of a thriller, scanned and restored in 2k from the 35mm interpositive.

Newly commissioned sleeve artwork by Matt Needle

Extras include (alongside the expected trailer and generous image gallery) an audio commentary by Samm Deighan and an interview with Agutter, in which she vividly recalls the film’s making and confesses to being a bit of a compulsive counter herself. In addition you get 40 minutes of writer Richard Harris reflecting on his long running career in cinema and TV and Chris O’Neill’s video essay Loss Of Innocence. The Children’s Film Foundation’s Danger On Dartmoor (1980), directed by David Eady and written by Audrey Erskine Lindop, shares some of the main feature’s thematic concerns and plot devices, as well as warning its audience of the perils inherent in foggy moors and remote natural splendour (subject on which Jenny Agutter would have been eminently well qualified to lecture its protagonists). There’s also a bunch of archive shorts bigging up the New Towns project and the jaw dropping cautionary tale Don’t Be Like Brenda (i.e. pregnant and abandoned)… it’s amazing that they were still making stuff like this in 1973! With the first pressing only comes a fully illustrated collector’s booklet comprising new writing on the film by the BFI’s Jo Botting and its cast and director by Jon Dear. Finally Johnny Trunk (of Trunk Records fame) profiles composer Basil Kirchin and readers of a certain age will remember the 1972 cover of ISC’s main theme by the divine Dusty (who’d already, memorably, closed her eyes and counted to 10).

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Welcome To The Jungles… Jules Dassin’s BRUTE FORCE & THE NAKED CITY Reviewed

TALES FROM THE URBAN JUNGLE: BRUTE FORCE (1947) & THE NAKED CITY (1948)
BD. Arrow Academy. Region B. 12.

“High heels on wet pavements…” Cons yearn for the women outside in Brute Force.

“Sometimes I think this whole world is made up of nothing but dirty feet!” A weary scrub woman in The Naked City.

Overcrowded Westgate Penitentiary is nominally run by Warden Barnes (Roman Bohnen), a weakling who has, in reality, ceded authority to Captain Munsey, a power hungry sadist (played, believe it or not, by Hume Cronyn) delighting in the physical and psychological abuse of its inmates.

The men squeezed into Cell R17, typically enough, divide their daydreams between the women who are (possibly) waiting for them on the outside (or whose conniving put them there in the first place), fantasies of parole… and getting even with Munsey. Dreaming won’t cut it, though, for tough Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster in a truly galvanising performance). “Nothing’s OK… he tells his roomies: “… it never was and it never will be until we’re out! Got that?”

Burt’s determined to see his ailing girl (Ann Blyth) before she dies and pieces together an audacious escape plan that hinges on him and his cell mates being conscripted to the dreaded drainpipe detail. As Munsey minces around in a singlet, attempting to beat the poop on what’s brewing out of a Collins confidant (while Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture blares from his record player!) the jailbreak erupts in an Apocalyptic climax…

It’s instructive to compare and contrast Jules Dassin’s Brute Force with Howard Hawks’ 1930 prison melodrama The Criminal Code, recently reviewed in these pages. In the latter, for example, Boris Karloff’s dispatch of a snitch, in compliance with one interpretation of the phrase “criminal code”, is effectively but suggestively rendered. Dassin’s film, although ostensibly hampered by another code (the one named after Will Hays) depicts one of Munsey’s abandoned pigeons being summarily executed in altogether more, well, brutal fashion (pulverised in workshop machinery), showcases all manner of other incidental nastiness and concludes in riotous scenes of charnel house intensity… how did he get away with it?

You suspect that Dassin’s searing critique of The American Way was too artfully cloaked in allegory for the assorted Watch Committees and Legions of Decency to grasp. Plus (SPOILER ALERT) the aspiring escapees and their supporting cast of rioting cons are violently suppressed. Sure, the big authority figure also gets his well deserved and spectacular comeuppance but (and I’m being ironic here, just in case anybody needs that spelling out) he’s such an obvious fag, he probably had it coming, right? Perhaps the calypso commentary of Sir Lancelot (a familiar figure from those wonderful Val Lewton films) convinced the censorious that what they were watching was a “mere” piece of entertainment. The one thing Dassin couldn’t get away with indefinitely was his brief (terminated by the Hitler / Stalin pact of 1939) membership of the American Communist Party. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

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… before those little red chickens came home to roost, Dassin reassembled his principal Brute Force crew collaborators (Art director John DeCuir, DP William H. Daniels, Miklós Rózsa scoring) for a bravura 180 degree stylistic shift with The Naked City. This one kicks off in classic Noir style, as we view (through the tilted venetian blind slats of her apartment) a blonde being strangled then drowned in her bath tub. Thereafter Dassin eschews elaborate sound stages, within the likes of which the pressure cooker plotting of Brute Force was brought to the boil, in favour of the cityscape of New York itself. I’m not totally convinced by the claim that this film contains no studio set ups at all, but the lion’s share of its (fairly routine) forensic crime storyline unfolds over a hundred Big Apple locations as gently ironic Irish cop Barry Fitzgerald and his Jimmy Stewart-alike rookie sidekick (Don Taylor) pursue their principal person of interest (a harmonica playing wrestler) through its streets, markets, offices, fire escapes, gyms, hairdressers, jewellery stores, lunch counters, building sites, bridges, construction sites, subways, tram cars, offices, wharfs, police precincts, tenement blocks and all the rest of it. NYC is both the film’s story and its main, hyperforceful character (perhaps nothing else could have have followed Lancaster!)

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If Brute Force can be said to have strongly influenced individual films (most obviously Sidney Lumet’s 1965 effort The Hill, with which it would make a splendid double bill), The Naked City’s stylistic innovations exerted enormous influence over the whole crime film genre. Hitchcock, who recognised Dassin’s promise when the latter assisted him on Mr. And Mrs. Smith (1941), clearly owed something to him for Vertigo (1958) and the debt is also apparent in another film from the same year, Don Siegel’s The Lineup, though both of those are (at least in part) hymns to San Francisco rather than NYC.

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Whether the voice over by “colourful” producer / sometime journalist Mark Hellinger enhances or works against Dassin’s design remains debatable. It would be interesting to watch The Naked City with his narration deleted, as Harrison Ford’s eventually was from Blade Runner (1982)

This is Noir shot under the influence of Italian Neorealism rather than German Expressionism and Neorealism, of course, is but a wisp of capellini away from social realism… not to mention (ulp!) Socialist realism. Refusing to rat his friends out before Joe McCarthy’s Senate sub committee, Dassin was blacklisted, becoming persona non grata in Hollywood… which, gratifyingly, didn’t cramp his style one jot. Relocating to Europe, he plied his trade successfully in France (effectively inventing the heist genre with Riffifi, 1955) and Greece (where he married Melina Mercouri).

Melina, I think you're losing your Marbles...
Melina, baby, I think you’re losing your Marbles…

As an added “fuck you” to McCarthy, Dassin returned to Hollywood when red-baiting had abated somewhat and resumed making successful movies (notably Topkapi, another heist effort, in 1964). Like Rocky Graziano, somebody up there must have liked him…

For this limited edition set, both films have been painstakingly (it took two years!) restored in 4k (from miserably conserved elements) by TLE, also recently responsible for that much misunderstood and maligned Suspiria restoration. Both films look and sound marvellous though, in each, visuals and soundtracks aren’t always in perfect synch… not on the discs I watched, anyway.

Brute Force extras include Josh Nelson’s commentary track and a visual essay (“Nothing’s Okay”), courtesy of David Cairns & Fiona Watson. Josh Olson, Oscar winning winning screenwriter on Cronenberg’s A History of Violence (2005) talks about the life-changing impact on him of a youthful exposure to this movie. Kate Buford, author of Burt Lancaster: An American Life, takes a look at the star’s Noir-heavy early career. Plus theatrical trailers and image gallery.

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For The Naked City, David Cairns has collaborated on an audio commentary with actors Steven McNicoll and Francesca Dymond, while Eloise Ross kicks in with an original visual essay. New York and The Naked City is an analysis of the film’s influence on subsequent cinematic portrayals of New York, in efforts ranging from the mainstream to indie / underground / avant garde, delivered by Amy Taubin (somebody who “was there”). The Hollywood Ten is a 1950 documentary short arguing the case for free speech and against the blacklisting and imprisonment of 10 filmmakers who refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, including The Naked City’s screenwriter Albert Maltz. In a 2004 personal appearance at LA’s County Museum of Art, Dassin (pictured above) proves himself a winning and waspish raconteur, taking time out to compare America post-9/11 with the McCarthy era. Plus trailer and a gallery of production stills by renowned photojournalist Weegee, whose work was so influential on the look of The Naked City.

An illustrated collector’s booklet includes writing on the films by Alastair Philips, Barry Salt, Sergio Angelini, Andrew Graves, Richard Brooks and Frank Krutnik. The reversible sleeve offers the options of featuring original and newly commissioned artwork.

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All The Colours Of Bleakness… Sergio Martino’s SILENT ACTION Reviewed.

… but violent!

BD. Fractured Visions. Region Free. 15.
Buy direct

A succession of Italian military bigwigs die in a series of suspicious “accidents / suicides” (notably a spectacular train decapitation), investigated by feisty femme journalist Maria (Delia Boccardo). Her boyfriend, maverick Police Inspector Giorgio Solmi (Luc Merenda) discovers a connection between these high profile deaths and the case of a man whose brains were apparently beaten out by a call girl at his luxury crib. “I want to know how a whore-mongering electrician can afford to live like an oil sheikh”, straight talking Giorgio tells his assistants. When they rescue the call girl in question (Paola Tedesco) from another staged suicide, an alternative narrative begins to emerge, one of sedition in high places. Solmi shoots from the lip (“Hawking pussy is one business that never goes into recession”), don’t take no shit and can’t be intimidated into dropping his investigation, but the closer he gets to the unbelievable truth, the faster the bodies keep piling up…

Two years on from his seminal The Violent Professionals (Milano Trema: La Polizia Vuole Giustizia, 1973), one of the films that imparted real box office momentum to the Poliziotteschi / Crime Slime band wagon, Sergio Martino amplifies its hints that the criminal and political violence which characterised Italy’s “Years of Lead” were intimately and conspiratorially connected, in Silent Action (La Polizia Accusa: Il Servizio Segreto Uccide). This theme is more frankly handled in the Italian dub / English subtitles, which explicitly allude to preparations for an upcoming right wing coup. The English language version more vaguely references a gun running operation’s connections to Establishment figures. As early as the opening montage, in which career slime criminal Antonio Casale and heavy pals stage the suicides of some inconvenient Generals, Luciano Michelini’s relentlessly staccato minor key march brings to mind Ennio Morricone’s score for Elio Petri’s Investigation Of Citizen Above Suspicion (1970) and suggests that the film you’re about to watch has more in common with that kind of pointed political comment than with any amount of those “guns and gurning” Umberto Lenzi efforts in which Maurizio Merli mercilessly slaps down the scumbags.

Don’t get me wrong, Silent Action emerged from the same Martino family stable as many of those pictures and has no qualms whatsoever about packing in such crowd pleasing exploitation elements as punch ups, shoot outs, double crosses, a swaggering, indecently handsome male lead, judicious helpings of gratuitous female nudity, a prison riot, Rémy Julienne’s car crashes… all very enjoyable, as is the helicopter attack on a paramilitary camp which (though skilfully executed and featuring a memorable micro cameo from director Sergio) could probably have been omitted without any perceivable damage to the narrative.

It does, however evidence levels of sophistication and pessimism inaccessible to a director like Lenzi who, by his own contention, was weaned on the films of Edgar Ulmer, Robert Siodmak and Raoul Walsh. Martino’s message is summarised, at the conclusion of Eugenio Ercolani’s impressive supplementary featurette, The Age of Lead – 1970s Italy, as: “American films are very concentrated on defending a system, a way of life. Terrible things might happen but eventually things work out, the system still works whereas in Italian cinema it’s about the system not existing, it’s not really there. It’s just a hologram, an illusion… we don’t really know what’s happening to us. There are powers we can’t even grasp and ultimately even a police officer, a Commissario or whatever, is just a victim, as are all Italians. That’s really the difference between Italian and American films. We’re not defending anything. It’s all darkness, all bleak”.

Gorgeously remastered in 2K (Giancarlo Ferrando’s crisp cinematography has never looked better) and representing a world BD debut to boot, this nicely packaged 2 disc set (you get Michelini’s OST as a bonus CD) is limited to 3,000 units and comes armed to the teeth with nifty extras. In addition to Ercolani’s documentary, you get interviews with Martino and Michelini (each socially distanced in a public spaces) plus two conversations (one archival and another more recent one) with Luc Merenda… wow, what a silver fox he’s turned into! During all of these anecdote rich interviews, much is made of how the film makers had to pussy foot around Tomas Milian, who appears in a pivotal albeit very brief role (said brevity just as well, perhaps, given the career worst haircut somebody has inflicted on him here).

Tomas’s fragile ego is further dissected in archival featurette The Milian Connection. In a special collector’s booklet there are essays by Ercolani (elaborating the argument of his documentary) and Francesco Massaccesi, assessing Mel Ferrer’s career in Italy (like Milian, Ferrer appears only briefly in the film as Solmi’s superior, a suave, detached and deeply ambiguous character). I’ve left the best till last. The audio commentary from “tough-guy film expert” Mike Malloy (director of Eurocrime! The Italian Cop And Gangster Films That Ruled The ’70s) touches lightly on the actual feature, focussing instead on personal reminiscences of growing up fanboy and as such, will strike some serious chords with the target audience. It’s witty and engaging stuff, one of the most enjoyable commentary tracks I’ve heard in a long time… so much so, I can even bring myself to forgive Mr Malloy for his self-declared indifference towards gialli!

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A Bloodstained Walk In Nat Cohen’s Shoes… HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM Reviewed.

DVD. Network. Region 2. 15.

“Making films is no different from the manufacture of shoes or any other product…” opined larger than life British film mogul Nat Cohen (1905-88): “My job is to entertain the public… I have to remember they have other means of entertainment and a limited amount of money. Films are a pure gamble and I always try to bet with the odds in my favour.” In other words, give the public what they want… and what they wanted on the cusp of the 1950s and ’60s was, by Cohen’s reckoning, the kind of salacious thrills conveyed (and ultimately critiqued) in what came to be known as Anglo-Amalgamated’s “Sadean trilogy”, comprising Sidney Hayer’s hysterical Circus Of Horrors, Michael Powell’s harrowing Peeping Tom (both 1960) and, from the previous year, the astonishing artefact under consideration here, one of the earliest CinemaScope efforts to emerge from Merton Park Studios.

Cohen’s populist philosophy is effortlessly embodied in Arthur Crabtree’s Horrors Of The Black Museum. Crabtree had proved his aptitude for such material with those slimy, stop-motion brain invaders in Fiend Without A Face (1958). Writers Aben Kandel and Herman Cohen had recently penned (and the latter also produced) I was A Teenage Werewolf, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (both 1957) and How To Make A Monster (1958). For their male lead, Cohen and Crabtree were gifted Michael Gough, an actor who wouldn’t be out of place in any of the Universal horror classics, the kind of trouper who never played any of his roles as though they were beneath his dignity and performed with as much conviction in e.g. Freddie Francis’ They Came From Beyond Space (1967) as he did in the Ralph Richardson / Vivien Leigh Anna Karenina (1948).

HOTBM opens with a pair of opera glasses being delivered to a young woman, presumably courtesy of some mystery admirer. Way to a woman’s heart, eh? In fact it turns out to be the way to her brain via her eyeballs… no doubt Giannetto De Rossi would have rendered this opening murder way more explicitly but the bloodied spikes protruding from the binoculars after their victim has dropped them on the floor tell us all we need to know. Before you can say “Un Chien Andalou”, before the viewer has had a chance to digest the semiotic significance of this orb-shattering demise, yellow journalist Edmond Bancroft (Gough) is visiting Superintendent Graham (Geoffrey Keen) and Inspector Lodge (John Warwick) at Scotland Yard to hector them about their tardiness in cracking a series of grisly killings, of which this is merely the latest, based on gory exhibits in The Yard’s famed “Black Museum”. The cops question his journalistic ethics but he counters, in a warped reflection of Nat Cohen’s own philosophy: “I don’t enjoy being sordid, but they pay me a great deal of money to write about crime.” That’s not the whole truth about Bancroft, though. In fact he curates his own private Black Museum (superior to The Yard’s, in his own smirking estimation) and despite the handicap of a gammy leg, it’s actually he who’s responsible for the crop of outlandishly contrived killings, which are carried out by his long suffering, hypnotised side-kick Rick (Graham Curnow)… try and imagine a tawdry, sexed-up remake of Robert Wien’s The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari (1920) and you’ll get the gist.

While Bancroft is not above electrocuting interfering medics when they’re unwise enough to stand between the poles of a handy electrocuting device in his Black Museum, nor choking little old ladies with pincers when they’re reckless enough to turn their backs on him after threatening blackmail, his favoured modus operandi affords him the pleasure of taunting the police, provides material for his sensational books and newspaper columns and also allows him to settle personal scores, e.g. with the mistress Joan (June Cunningham) who had mocked and dumped him. As a sequel to her mean treatment of Bancroft we find her dancing a risible mambo routine in a pub and swearing that she’s going to live life to the full from now on, only to return home and (ooh, the irony) not notice that Rick has constructed an ingenious guillotine at the head of her bed. Those who see the culprit running away with her severed noggin in a sports bag report that he was a hideous old man “… with the strength and speed of the unholy!” The confusion into which this aspect of the case throws the police is echoed by a similar device that was excised from the original draft screenplay of Lucio Fulci’s 1982 giallo The New York Ripper (which copped a pretty Sadean rep of its own), only to turn up in Ruggero Deodato’s Off Balance / Phantom Of Death (1988). In Horrors Of The Black Museum it begs two burning questions… 1) Why does being hypnotised make Rick look like an old man? 2) Why is having shit rubbed all over somebody’s face supposed to make them look like an old man?

A boring dude explains Hypnovista. Yesterday.

Crabtree has such a jolly time with thie mesmerism motif, it was even suggested in the film’s marketing that it would be “presented in Hypnovista”, a mysterious film making process that never caught on in quite the same way as, e.g. Ray Harryhausen’s SuperDynaMation. I’m not quite sure how this cinematic boon was conveyed on the film’s original release (when I was otherwise engaged, sucking down my momma’s milk) but I imagine the boring documentary short included on Network’s DVD release, in which an annoying know-all blathers interminably about the mysteries of mesmerism, was run as a support film. However HOTBM subjects its viewers to Hypnovista, I can’t honestly say that I entertained any overpowering urges after watching it, other than eminently predictable ones ocasioned by the always agreeable spectacle of Shirley Anne Field.

The only time we see Bancroft actually administering his hypnotic drug to poor Rick, he also delivers a pep talk that includes the hackneyed line “one day, all this will be yours”… “all this” being The Black Museum and his academic papers. Tempting as this prospect no doubt is, you can see why a red blooded young dude like Rick might well prefer the perky breasted charms of Angela Banks (Ms Field) but unfortunately Bancroft, wanting to eliminate this distracting influence over his protege, programs him to stab her at a fun fair (well, that’ll certainly conclude things in discreet fashion!)

Sure enough, the dastardly deed done, Rick scales a ferris wheel and starts remonstrating with the watching Bancroft that he’s carried out his orders. The cops are understandably interested in the contents of his confession, while an increasingly agitated Bancroft urges them to “Shoot him! What are you waiting for? He’s a maniac!” Hm, bit of a giveaway, there. Rick punctuates his invective by hurling himself from the wheel and plunging a dagger into Bancroft’s chest. Rolling him over to reveal that the shitface / hypnotic effect is terminated, the police announce the case of “the monster murderer” closed and the excited crowd that had gathered breaks up, as the credits roll, to wander around the fairground looking for new spectacles to distract them from the never ending encroachment of ennui…

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Watching The Hawks… THE CRIMINAL CODE And TWENTIETH CENTURY reviewed

THE CRIMINAL CODE BD Limited Edition. Indicator. Region B. PG. World blu-ray premiere.
TWENTIETH CENTURY. BD Limited Edition. Indicator. Region B. U. World blu-ray premiere.

Peter Bogdanovich, in the bonus materials for the release of Twentieth Century under consideration here, argues convincingly that its director introduced many of the cinematic innovations subsequently credited to Orson Welles. Though recognised by the cognoscenti, his peers and many of the significant artists who followed him (try shutting John Carpenter up on this subject), Howard Winchester Hawks received scant acknowledgement from the Hollywood Establishment during his lifetime. He was nominated for the “best director” Oscar only once and had to wait until 1974 for an honorary Academy Award. Disrespect had dogged him since early days… he doesn’t even get a director’s credit (!) on The Criminal Code, the first picture he made (in 1930) for Columbia.

A guy could get old waiting for his Oscar
Flapper contemplates murder weapon…

In this adaptation of Martin Flavin’s stage melodrama, young Robert Graham (the ill-fated Phillips Holmes) is interrogated by D.A. Mark Brady (Walter Huston) after accidentally killing a man who initiated a stupid bar room brawl. Brady recognises the mitigating factors in the case and has empathy for the plight of a young man whose life is about to go pointlessly down the tubes (with the aid of an inept defence attorney), but successfully prosecutes him anyway. Brady’s an exemplary professional, his motto: “The criminal code is my Bible!” Six years working in a prison jute mill (I never realised that jute mills were such bad places!) have brought Graham to breaking point by the time Brady turns up as the new Warden of the joint in which he’s incarcerated. Laying down a marker, Brady goes into the exercise yard, alone and unarmed (I bet the trigger fingers of the machine gun toting guards on the walls were twitching away, though) and faces down a crowd of angry men whom he put there (nor does he hesitate to employ a cut throat murderer as his personal barber). He’s hard as nails but there’s a tacit admission from the cons that he’s scrupulously fair as well.

Brady doesn’t even remember Graham (he has, after all, sent so many men down) but, out of plain decency, plucks him from that jute mill to work as a valet to himself and his daughter Mary (Constance Cummings, in her screen debut). Graham rediscovers his humanity while falling in love with Mary, but when he witnesses cell mate Ned Galloway (Boris Karloff) silencing a stool pigeon, his adherence to the the inmates’ parallel criminal code puts him in the frame and his dreams of redemption in jeapourdy…

Karloff’s small but crucial role was played with sufficient conviction to persuade James Whale that he had found his Frankenstein (1931) Monster.

I’m unaware if Whale ever saw Hawks’ sophomore Columbia outing, Twentieth Century (1934) but if he did, it’s safe to say that John Barrymore’s performance would have left an indelible impression on him. Sending himself up so high he’s nearly in orbit (even defacing, in the process, his “great profile”), rattling out Ben Hecht’s witty lines like machine gun bullets and generally chewing the scenery, Barrymore plays theatrical impressario Oscar Jaffe, whose greatest triumphs overlapped his partnership with his very own Trilby, Lily Garland (Carole Lombard). Now they’re professionally and romantically sundered, she’s very much the snotty star and he’s down on his uppers when their paths cross again aboard the locomotive known as The Twentieth Century. Jaffe goes full tilt at the reconciliation he protests he doesn’t want, nor can Lily resist the magnetism of the Svengali who formed her from the unpromising raw material of Mildred Plotka. Possibly the most fascinating thing about Twentieth Century is the way that the early scenes in which Jaffe bullies / seduces Mildred into becoming the actress she could be (“The diamond was there, I merely applied a little polish”) mirror the job that Barrymore (and Hawks) did on the initially stiff Lombard (or Jane Alice Peters, as she had been born). If this seems like an unreconstructured patriarchal take on what happened during the making of Twentieth Century, it’s the account to which Lombard herself consistently adhered.

By the time the journey ends, Jaffe and Garland have had about enough of each other but remain inextricably connected, while the viewer can heave a sigh of relief and walk away from the wreckage. This film’s title ostensibly refers to a train but it’s obviously a comment on the Century of Celebrity (or what must have seemed like it at the time… God knows what Hawks and his stalwart screenwriter, Hecht would make of the first quarter of the Century that followed).

Stacked against The Criminal Code, Twentieth Century (one of the seminal works of what became Screwball Comedy) illustrates the sheer versatility of Howard Hawks, consummate story teller and character developer, who stamped his signature on everything he ever made. After watching these two, I was trying to work out from which director Hawks pinched the device of wise-cracking subsidiary characters commenting on the unfolding action… until the penny dropped that it’s straight out of Shakespeare. Nice company to keep, if you can keep up…

Extras wise, The Criminal Code boasts Nora Fiore’s audio commentary, a Kim Newman featurette on Karloff’s non-Horror credits and a new video essay by Jonathan Bygraves on the numerous adaptations of Marvin Flavin’s original play. Speak of the devil, here’s the Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of it starring Edward G Robinson, Beverly Roberts and Paul Guilfoyle. “The Howard Hawks Masterclass with John Carpenter” is an archival audio recording of that director’s presentation at the NFT’s Hawks retrospective in 1997. It suffers somewhat from the non-visibilty of the clips to which JC refers but come on, people, use your imaginations. The expected image galleries include on-set and promotional photography from not only Hawks’ The Criminal Code but also the lost Spanish-language version, El Código Penal, which was shot simultaneously. The 36-page collectors’ booklet in this one comprises a new essay by Philip Kemp, Hawks own comments on The Criminal Code, an archival feature on the director by Henri Langlois, contemporary critical responses and full film credits.

Twentieth Century (which has been restored in 4K) comes with an audio commentary from Farran Smith Nehme, the aforementioned short big up for the film from Peter Bogdanovich and Lucy Bolton’s appreciation of Carole Lombard. You get another radio presentation, courtesy of The Campbell Playhouse and starring Orson Welles alongside Elissa Landi, also a condensed (not by Campbells, unfortunately) Super 8 version. There’s a trailer put together for the film’s presentation at the Austin Film Society in 2016 and an image gallery of on-set and promotional photography. The (32 page) booklet includes a new essay by Pamela Hutchinson, Howard Hawks’ thoughts on the film, contemporary crits and full film credits.

Constance Cummings, Screen Goddess.

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