Posts Tagged With: Crime

Watching The Detectives (& The Goddam Commies)… Indicator’s Fourth COLUMBIA NOIR Box Reviewed.

BD. Powerhouse. Region B. 12.

WALK A CROOKED MILE (Gordon Douglas, 1948)
WALK EAST ON BEACON! (Alfred Werker, 1952)
PUSHOVER (Richard Quine, 1954)
A BULLET IS WAITING (John Farrow, 1954)
CHICAGO SYNDICATE (Fred F Sears, 1955)
THE BROTHERS RICO (Phil Karlson, 1957)

And still they keep on coming… Indicator’s fourth sampling of Film Noir according to Harry Cohen’s Columbia kicks in at the point where the genre (though as previously discussed, there those who would dispute that “Noir” is a genre) became contaminated with Cold War paranoia (scant years after Hollywood was lionising Uncle Joe and our Russian allies in the War against Fascism). Shoring up an older alliance, as if in compensation, Walk A Crooked Mile prioritises America’s allegedly special relationship with the Brits, importing Scotland Yard man Philip “Scotty” Greyson (Louis Hayward) to help Federal Bureau Investigator Daniel F. O’Hara (Dennis O’Keefe) nail the source of atomic secrets leaking from the Lakeview Research Centre. Danny Boy (pictured above with Scotty and screaming broad) probably needs all the help he can get, given that one of his agents discounts one suspect as a possible spy / murderer because he was wearing a dog collar when bumping off one of their leads. Surely they can’t miss perpetual hovering heavy Raymond Burr in his cute little Lenin beard, though…

Released the same year as Jules Dassin’s The Naked City, Walk A Crooked Mile makes similarly telling use of its (San Francisco rather than New York) locations and also deploys a voice over narrator (in this case Reed Hadley) and “cast study”approach , devices that feature again in Walk East On Beacon! (and what better trajectory to take after you’ve walked that crooked mile?) The Commie sleeper cell in this one (who’ve kidnapped the son of missile scientist Finlay Currie) is located in Boston and Jim Belden (George Murphy) is the Fed charged with busting their nefarious activities wide open. The performances here are a little more pedestrian and veteran Alfred Werker’s direction is, er, workmanlike throughout (which is to say that his picture is a significantly less compelling proposition than Gordon Douglas’s) and over reliant on endless voice over / caption reminders that J. Edgar Hoover is the only thing standing between law abiding American patriots and the Reds under their beds. We even get stock footage of Hoover thrown in at apposite moments. Maybe it’s not Werker’s fault… I mean, who wrote this thing? (* checks IMDB *)… Jeez, Hoover even gets a co-writing credit. Maybe the filmmakers figured that, like LBJ, they’d be happier with ol’ J. Edgar “inside the tent pissing out rather than outside, pissing in”.

We’re back on more familiar, indeed textbook Noir turf with Pushover… nary a Bolshevik in sight but Kim Novak (in her first credited screen role, as Lona McLane) provides more than adequate recompense. Fred MacMurray has been here before, of course (in Billy Wilder’s classic Double Indemnity, 1944) but obviously didn’t learn his lesson… a pushover indeed, once again embarking upon the primrose path to perdition at the behest of a femme fatale. Oh what a tangled web Fred’s Detective Paul Sheridan weaves as he tries to make off with both Lona and the proceeds of a bungled bank heist. Philip Carey plays Rick McAllister, the cop colleague on his case. Moral ambiguity has always fuelled the finest Noir and Pushover provides it in spades. Roy Huggins’ screenplay was fashioned from two separate novels (Thomas Walsh’s The Night Watch and Bill S. Ballinger’s Rafferty) so hey, they didn’t even require any script input from J Edgar Hoover on this one.

The boundaries of Noir are again being tested in A Bullet Is Waiting, a film that deviates from the classic template in terms of its plotting, rural setting and most disoreintatingly, Franz Planer’s colour cinematography. We’re thrown straight into the action, the aftermath of a plane crash which strands Sheriff Munson (Stephen McNally) and Ed Stone (Rory Calhoun), the alleged murderer he was transporting to custody, in a remote wilderness. There they encounter sassy, androgynous Cally Canham (Jean Simmons), whose father David (absent for much of the picture but played, when he does turn up, by Brian Aherne) has brought her out here on some kind of Walden Pond kick. As the plot thickens, Cally’s struggle to work out whose side she should be on coincides with her blossoming from tom boy into beautiful young woman… you really couldn’t get away with stuff like that these days!

Things are firmly back in the Noir groove with Chicago Syndicate, with its hectoring voice over and city locations transplanted from The Naked City to the Windy City. Dennis O’Keefe is back (but this time with no plucky Limey sidekick) as mild mannered account Barry Amsterdam (!), whom the Feds want to help them bring down crime kingpin Arnie Valent in the same way they got Al Capone. Though initially reluctant, Bazza takes to his dangerous mission like a duck to water… I guess you can’t help being dynamic, growing up with a name like Barry Amsterdam! Allison (Fifty Foot Woman) Hayes and exotic nightclub chanteuse Abbe Lane (fronting Xavier Cugat’s hot mambo combo) keep things simmering nicely and Joseph Hoffman’s dialogue frequently crackles. If you think Jimmy Cagney’s Cody Jarrett in White Heat (1949) is the final cinematic word on mother-fixated gangsters, watch the climax of this one and think again. All it’s missing is Al Jolson singing Mammy…

Just two years later, director Fred Sears would be making The Giant Claw!

Richard Conte’s Eddie Rico (above, left) is another mob accountant (or formerly was), now living the straight life, only to be drawn back in by the exploits of his brothers Gino and Johnny (Paul Picerni and James Darren, above) in The Brothers Rico. It’s easy to see how the moral shadings of this one (its story courtesy of Georges “Maigret” Simenon) appealed so much to Martin Scorsese (who provides a brief introduction to the picture), also fascinating to observe how Karlson’s direction pushes at the limits of the Hays Code with its depictions of both violence and Eddie’s passion for his wife Alice (Dianne Foster)… conducted across separate beds! The film’s “happy”, righteous ending seems to indicate that Hays had the upper hand for the time being, though Otto Preminger was already in the process of demolishing it. Ace Noir cinematographer Burnett Guffey shot The Brothers Rico.

All the films look and sound just spanky in their remastered World BD premieres. With the exception of Walk A Crooked Mile, they come with commentary tracks (from Frank Krutnik, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas / Josh Nelson, Barry Forshaw / Kim Newman, Toby Roan and Jason Ney respectively). Douglas’s film is complimented with the 1946 short Routine Job: A Story Of Scotland Yard (1946) and March of Time episodes have also been selected for their thematic links with the main features. Likewise the Three Stooges shorts that we have now come to expect in this series. If you’ve ever struggled to get your head around the concept of Fake Shempery, check out here how 1949s Dunked in the Deep mutated into Commotion On The Ocean, seven years later (makes those “Bela Lugosi” scenes in Plan Nine From Outer Space look like a smooth piece of work!) All of the films are complimented by image galleries and half of them (Pushover, A Bullet Is Waiting and The Brothers Rico) with their original theatrical trailers. In further featurettes, Glenn Kenny examines the collaborations of director Richard Quine and Kim Novak,
Josephine Botting discusses Jean Simmons’ transition from British actress to Hollywood Star and Nick Pinkerton appraises the two-fisted directorial style of Phil Karlson. The limited (to 6,000 numbered units) edition of this box packs an exclusive 120-page collector’s book comprising new essays by Beth Ann Gallagher, Bob Herzberg, Sophie Monks Kaufman, Omar Ahmed, Jen Johans, Monica Castillo and Jeff Billington, archival articles and interviews plus 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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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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“V” Is For… Charles Bronson In THE VALACHI PAPERS And THE VALDEZ HORSES.

The Valachi Papers. BD. Indicator. Region B. 18.
The Valdez Horses. BD. Indicator. Region B. 15.

Charles Bronson attained Stardom via a brace of John Sturges pictures, The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963) but it was Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West (1968) that recast him as an authentic Icon, the imposing rock solid landscape of Monument Valley melting into wobbly jelly when counterpoised with his craggy physiognomy. Bronson was back in Italy for Sergio Sollima’s Violent City (1970), where his fictional “hit man at odds with former employers” proved ideal preparation for his eponymous lead role in Terence Young’s The Valachi Papers (1972). Put together by legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis, the film was adapted (by Stephen Geller) from Peter Maas’s much litigated book of the same title, based on the memoirs of / interviews with the renegade Mafia soldier whose televised Senate testimony in 1963 confirmed for the first time the existence of an Italian-American organised crime syndicate, revealed much about its history, organisation and rituals and brought the expression Cosa Nostra into general usage.

Valachi’s version of events, as followed in the film, is an attempt to justify his breaking the oath of omertà, the rule of silence by which he had lived since becoming a made man in 1930. We see him, as played by Bronson, working his way up through the ranks from juvenile street gang stuff to serious involvement with the various heavyweight organised crime factions until internecine warfare between them (and in the case of Lucky Luciano, imprisonment) leads to Vito Genovese emerging as Supremo, with Valachi serving him as driver and assassin. He’s ultimately involved in the castration of Gap (Walter Chiari), a playboy gangster who’s become over friendly with Genovese’ s wife. In 1962 (while both are confined to Atlanta Federal Penitentiary on drugs charges) Genovese, believing that he’s been betrayed by Valachi, gives him “Il bacio della morte”. Valachi bludgeons to death a fellow inmate whom he suspects of trying to claim the bounty on him. Now serving life for murder, he decides to testify before John L. McClellan’s Senate Subcommittee in return for protective custody…

Bronson is supported here by a truly stellar cast including Lino Ventura as Genovese, Angelo Infanti (Luciano), Fausto Tozzi (as Albert Anastasia, the head of Murder Inc), Chiari, Joseph Wiseman, Amedeo Nazzari and inevitably Jill Ireland’s along for the (post-synched) ride as Valachi’s wife Maria. Mario Garbuglio’s production design and the film’s general fidelity to period accuracy (a jarringly anachronistic appearance by the Twin Towers of the WTC notwithstanding) also contribute to making The Valachi Papers an eminently watchable picture, perfectly complimented by the music of Riz Ortolani (and an uncredited Armando Trovajoli). The direction of Young (for whom Charlie had previously turned out in Cold Sweat, 1970 and Red Sun, 1971) is as slick as ever. As various collaborators (e.g. Geller and legendary make up FX man Giannetto De Rossi in the extras here) remember, Young prided himself on knocking out pictures quickly and efficiently.

In consequence The Valachi Papers, as engaging as it undoubtedly is, comes across as a superior “B” movie… a milieu in which Bronson would have felt comfortable, learning his trade as he had on the likes of Andre De Toth’s House Of Wax (1953, above), Roger Corman’s Machine-Gun Kelly (1958) and any amount of low budget war pictures and westerns. Therte’s no hint of the character depth and development that could have been attained if e.g. a Coppola or a Leone (to cite the obvious examples) had been calling the shots. Then again, they would have needed to be calling them to a Brando, a De Niro or a Pacino. Charlie Bronson, iconic as he was, was never exactly the most nuanced of performers. Horses for courses…

… which brings us, via the magic of clumsy segue, to The Valdez Horses (1973). When not typecast in Italian-American roles, Bronson (an ethnic Lithuanian, born Charles Dennis Buchinsky in 1921) often essayed Native Americans and here he’s Chino, a “half breed” horse trainer up against the competing land claims of cattle baron Maral (Marcel Bozzuffi on characteristically obnoxious form). He’d also like to be up against Maral’s sister Catherine (the miscast Ms Ireland), which only intensifies the aggro between the two men. As if this ongoing feud and the background buzz of everyday racism weren’t enough to contend with, Chino also finds himself responsible for the care of runaway kid Jamie (Vincent Van Patten).

For this film, De Laurentiis reunited Charlie with writer Geller and make up ace De Rossi, also with director John Sturges, whom he trusted to handle the star’s shyness, sensitivity, jealousy around Jill Ireland and (by general assent) outright eccentricity. Having expressed reservations about Terence Young as a director while remaining fond of him as a man, Geller and De Rossi (again featured in the extras on this disc) clearly feel no such ambivalence on the subject of Sturges. Giannetto remembers working with the director of Bad Day At Black Rock (1955) as the biggest disappointment of his professional life. Geller complains that Sturges chose to shoot in Almeria rather than The Rockies and that the director played down the the Indian stuff, which he personally had found the most intriguing element in Lee Hoffman’s source novel. Maybe he should have just taken the kid out, there seems no compelling reason for his character’s inclusion unless it’s as some kind of vague nod to George Stevens’ Shane (1953).

Things chug along efficiently enough under the direction of Sturges (until he left the production, by some accounts due to illness though others claim that he was lured away to prepare McQ, 1974, starring John Wayne in) and his replacement Duilio Coletti until the expected showdown, which turns into a puzzling climbdown on Chino’s part… it’s as though Spencer Tracy’s John Macreedy had just walked away from Black Rock, figuring that the murderers of his friend had suffered enough, or (more to the point) like Bronson’s Paul Kersey in Death Wish (1974) forgiving those who violated his family on the grounds that they must have suffered an underprivileged upbringing. I’m not currently in a position to tell you whether Hoffman’s book ends any differently. There’s a questionable scene in which Chino, being the ol’ Romantic that his is, comes on to Catherine while they’re watching horses copulating. She resists but then realises how much she likes Chino forcing himself on her. Last time I checked, a similar scene in Massimo Dallamano’s Venus In Furs (1969) had to be cut before certification, though of course if Sergio Leone could get away with it in Duck You Sucker (1969)…

Extras wise, both releases benefit strongly from those interviews with De Rossi and Geller. The former is a certified riot, never mincing words in his character assessments of those he’s worked with. He credits people for having big balls, great faces and strong personalities and is himself deficient in none of those categories. It’s a moving moment when he tears up paying tribute to his wife Mirella. Gerber’s another repository of great anecdotes, none more entertaining than the one where he’s persuaded to leave former capo Frank Costello out of the story by Costello himself (“I was shitting my pants!”). Other Valachi extras include an audio commentary with Bronson buff and author Paul Talbot, a short archival “making of documentary” including on-set interviews with Bronson and Terence Young, a further two minutes of “behind the scenes” stuff and the expected image gallery trailers, TV and radio spots. Most compelling of all is the 18 minutes extracted from Valachi’s televised testimony before that Senate Subcommittee. Get your skates on and you’ll receive an exclusive 36-page booklet comprising a new essay by Pasquale Iannone, newspaper reports on Joseph Valachi’s criminal career, excerpts from Maas’s book, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and full film credits. Yes, this is a limited (to 3,000 units) edition UK BD premiere…

… as is The Valdez Horses. Additional extras on that one include an alternative presentation with the Italian Valdez Il Mezzosangue (“Valdez The Half-Breed”) title sequence, another Paul Talbot audio commentary, alternative titles and credits, trailers, TV spots and image gallery. The 36-page booklet here boasts a new essay by Roberto Curti, an archival on-set report with contributions from Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, and John Sturges, extracts of interviews with Bronson and Ireland, an overview of contemporary critical responses and full film credits.

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You Never Can Tell What Will Walk Out Of The Fog… Indicator’s COLUMBIA NOIR #1 Box Reviewed

Foch & Wright’s brush with The Uncanny saves the world for Democracy…

BD. Indicator. Region B. 12.

ESCAPE IN THE FOG (Budd Boetticher, 1945)
THE UNDERCOVER MAN (Joseph H Lewis, 1949)
DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD (Richard Quine, 1954)
5 AGAINST THE HOUSE (Phil Karlson, 1955)
THE GARMENT JUNGLE (Vincent Sherman and Robert Aldrich, 1957)
THE LINEUP (Don Siegel, 1958)

Indicator’s characteristically lush inaugural trawl through Columbia’s Noir and Noirish output makes for an eclectic and immersive box set experience.

Escape In The Fog (directed by Budd Boetticher before he carved out a comfortable niche for himself in Western territory) is a “B” movie in the truest sense of the term, a second feature clocking in at scarcely more than an hour and consequently rattling along at a fair old lick so that Boetticher and writer Aubrey Wisberg can pack their tale of WWII espionage with nasty Nazis, snappy guys, sexy dames tied up in cellars, dirty double crosses and a surprise supernatural element…. all this plus a “blink and you’ll miss her” appearance by the young Shelley Winters.

The MacGuffin that drives this one along is an unspecified “special plan” to end hostilities early (and just four months after Boetticher’s film hit American cinemas, the Enola Gay released its payload over Hiroshima) but the plot turns on the ineffable moment in which recuperating army nurse Eileen Carr (Nina Foch), out for an insomniac stroll across the Golden Gate Bridge, witnesses Barry Malcolm (Willian Wright) being duffed up by some German agents, which turns out to be a (very fortuitous) premonition of something which hasn’t happened yet. As an inquisitive cop tells her: “You never can tell what will walk out of the fog”. What never emerges from that nebulous bridge, however, is any attempt at an explanation for this rum turn of events, which all the participants just seem to take in their stride. Perhaps we’re meant to infer that Divine Providence really was rooting for the Allies or maybe Boetticher was just copping himself a bit of the then-voguish “inner sanctum” action (a mystery series that has continued to exert its influence as recently and controversially as in Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale, 2002). EITF’s moody meditation on death and destiny, played out in San Francisco, might even have been on Hitchcock’s mind when he shot Vertigo in that city, 13 years later…

Nina Foch fanciers are further served in this box by the Dutch actress’s appearance in The Undercover Man. Here she’s Judith, devoted wife of dedicated IRS agent Frank Warren (Glenn Ford), who’s aiming to bring down Chicago’s “Big Fellow”, after all else has failed, by establishing tax evasion. Although the film never makes this explicit (beyond its vague prologue paean to the unsung heroes of crime cracking), the allusion to the real life and crime story of a certain Alphonse Capone is unmistakable. The principle obstacle to Warren and his tenacious team (below) getting at the truth, of course, is the understandable reluctance of those involved in the numbers, protection and various other rackets to break their silence but ultimately it’s a plucky little granny from the old country who speaks up to settle the crime lord’s hash.

The characterisations in Lewis’s morality play are perhaps more cut and dried, black and white, than is customary in this genre, but the art direction of Walter Holscher, Burnett Guffey’s compositions and low angle photography, plus the slick montages of editor Al Clark, are all out of the Classic Noir playbook. Just who is that “undercover man”, though? Warren whips his warrant card out and starts waving it around at the drop of a hat. Maybe the title character is actually “The Big Fellow”, who conducts his nefarious activities so clandestinely that we never get to see him or even hear his real name.

Glenn Ford played Frank Warren-type roles more times than Posh Spice has had hot dinners but in Drive A Crooked Road (co-written with director Quine by Blake Edwards) we find Mickey Rooney trying to bust out of his goofy nice guy straightjacket and succeeding admirably in the role of Eddie Shannon, a short arsed nobody of a car mechanic who just happens to drive like the clappers. Identifying him as the guy they need to beat police roadblocks after the bank heist they’re planning, cynical hipsters Steve Norris (Kevin McCarthy) and Harold Baker (Jack Kelly) lure the hapless schmuck into their scheme, using sexy Barbara Mathews (Dianne Foster) as the bait in their honey trap. When Babs’ conscience starts troubling her, murderous complications arise. Owing much to the plot of Robert Siodmak’s seminal The Killers (1946), DACR emerges as a strong slice of Noir in its own right and gets an enthusiastic introduction here from Martin Scorsese…

… presumably the director of Casino (1995) is also well aware of 5 Against The House. Phil Karlson’s heist movie features the oldest college students seen on cinema screens until Grease (hang on, they’re Korean War veterans studying on the G.I. Bill… still looking a bit to old to fit even that chronology though, if you ask me) including hunky Al Mercer (Guy Madison), his post traumatic stress-disordered former comrade in arms Brick (Brian Keith) and smart alec Ronnie (Kerwin Mathews), who comes up with the whimsical student wheeze of robbing a casino, just for the fun of it and returning the money. What could possibly go wrong? Enough, potentially, for Al to pull out but he tags along anyway so he can marry his girl Kay (Kim Novak, on the verge of the big time) in Reno. Unfortunately the increasingly deranged Brick won’t stand for anybody punking out and he has no intention of returning any money. Bang bang goes Al and Kay’s honeymoon…

The ensemble acting in this one is pretty strong, though the constant would-be wise cracks from debutant screen-writer Stirling Silliphant quickly wear out their welcome. Never mind (as we’ll shortly see), Silliphant went on to pen some sterling stuff. Kerwin Mathews also gets his first big screen credit, after an anonymous earlier 1955 appearance in Fred Sears’ Cell 2455, Death Row, a thinly veiled dramatisation of the notorious Caryl Chessman / “Red Light Bandit” case. Watch out for a pre-“Cannon” William Conrad too, handling the money in that casino.

Kerwin Mathews is back as Alan Mitchell (above left), another Korean War vet, in The Garment Jungle, returning to take his place in the family fashion business but finding it scarcely less of a battlefield. His father Walter (Lee J. Cobb) has become embroiled with the mob (personified by Richard Boone’s aptly named Artie Ravidge) in an attempt to keep the union out of his shop and takes an eternity to figure out that this attempted cure is actually way more harmful than the perceived illness. He doesn’t seem unduly concerned about union supporting employees being roughed up, organiser Tulio Renata (Robert Loggia) being murdered, nor even his partner / best mate dying in an elevator “accident” but Alan eventually… finally… opens his eyes and takes on the hoods while simultaneously romancing Renata’s widow Theresa (the silver screen’s sexiest Sicilian scouser, Gia Scala). This is another forceful effort, with exactly the level of performances you’d expect from such a standout cast. The script was adapted by Harry Kleiner from newspaper articles in which Lester Velie documented the real life struggles of sweatshop workers. As detailed by Tony Rayns in a bonus featurette, Robert Aldrich shot much of the picture but left it to be completed by Vincent Sherman when his desire to emphasise the Jewish experience in Manhattan’s rag trade was thwarted… by producer Harry Cohn (go figure!) As evidenced by the poster below, Columbia would ultimately take a very different tack in the marketing of the film…

Indicator save the best till last on this set, with the great Don Siegel’s The Lineup, on which the aforementioned Stirling Silliphant proved that he had developed into a film writing force to be reckoned with. The action kicks off at San Francisco International Airport, where an apparently bog standard luggage theft escalates into a shootout that leaves a cop and a taxi driver dead. The police discover that a statuette in the purloined case contains heroin, but recognising that its owner is an unwitting dupe, release it back to him, with an innocuous powder substituted for the skag, while they wait to see who tries to pick it up. Enter the intense Dancer (Eli Wallach), his cynical handler Julian (Robert Keith) and their alcoholic driver, collecting from their unwitting mules until they discover that a cute little girl has used all the dope secreted in her dolly as face powder for it, at which point the brown stuff really hits the fan…

As amply demonstrated here (and Anthony Hopkins, please take note) it’s not necessary to chew on the scenery when playing a psychopath. Wallach’s portrayal of the madness simmering away just below his character’s stone cold surface is masterly stuff and when he finally does blow… oh boy!

As underlined in a short accompanying video essay, Siegel’s film makes exemplary use of its locations (many still standing, some of them long gone). But again, why is it called The Lineup? There is a police lineup in it (more than one, actually) but also plenty more noteworthy stuff, including a climactic car chase that (even without the participation of Mickey Rooney) makes for truly thrilling stuff and predates the more celebrated one in Bullitt by a full decade.

All six films are handsomely presented here, for the first time on UK Blu-ray (with The Undercover Man and Drive a Crooked Road making their world Blu-ray premieres). This set also boasts a 120-page book, and is strictly limited to 6,000 numbered units. There are audio commentaries from the likes of Pamela Hutchinson, Tony Rayns, Nick Pinkerton and David Jenkins. On The Lineup you get a choice of two commentary tracks (or you could spoil yourself and listen to both), one courtesy of legendary crime writer James Ellroy with the Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller and a more recent one featuring film historian David Del Valle and author / screenwriter C Courtney Joyner. Supporting the main feature on each disc you’ll find apposite bonus materials such as Boetticher’s The Fleet That Came To Stay, compiled from original combat footage captured during the Battle of Okinawa and released shortly after Escape in the Fog; Joseph H Lewis’s 1945 short Man on a Bus, a PR job for the fledgling state of Israel starring Walter Brennan, Broderick Crawford, Ruth Roman and yes, Lassie. There are also archival interviews of various vintage with Kim Novak, Robert Loggia and Mickey Rooney (also a brief bit of publicity puff in which Rooney watches an earlier bit of publicity puff, featuring his childhood self, with a couple of his Columbia pals!) Director and Noir buff Christopher Nolan delivers a quickfire appreciation of the genre. You also get three half hour episodes of the early fifties radio series The Lineup: The Case Of Frankie And Joyce, The Candy Store Murder (written by Blake Edwards) and The Harrowing Haggada Handball Case (co-written by Edwards and Richard Quine).

The expected Image galleries and trailers are present and correct but what really puts the cherry on this cake is that Indicator have taken it as the pretext to trot out a bunch of their Three Stooges acquisitions from the Columbia vault, each amusingly reflecting the subject matter of the main feature whose disc they share. Titles are You Nazty Spy (1940), Higher Than A Kite (1943), Rip, Sew And Stitch and Tricky Dicks (both 1953), Income Tax Sappy (1954) and the decidedly odd (atypically so) Sweet And Hot (1958). Plenty there for fans of Larry, Moe, Curly, Shemp and, er, Joe.

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JD Sports… COSH BOY Reviewed.

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“Boys like you are bad, through and through…”

BD / DVD Dual Format. Regions B / 2. BFI. 12.

Starting Big School is a challenge at the best of times, but I remember my first few weeks of Secondary Education (circa 1970) being haunted by spectres considerably more troubling than such run-of-the-mill anxieties as making new friends and keeping on the right side of teachers given to doling out beatings as readily as snarky put downs. Playground gossip played up the constant threat we were under from… The Green Jackets! The desperadoes in question were a gang of disaffected black youths (though I imagine they were referred to by a more politically incorrect collective noun back in those days) who would swoop on random unsuspecting schools (especially those considered a bit posh) and form a double line outside the gates at kicking out time. One by one, hapless school kids were forced to run a gauntlet of blows and insults from green jacketed assailants until they reached the end of the line, where a leading proponent of verdant violence would ask them… if their Mum could sew. When a kid replied in the affirmative he’d be dismissed, his face carved with a Stanley knife, to ask her to “sew that up, then!” Those who denied any such needle and thread expertise on the part of their maternal relatives fared no better… they too got slashed up a treat and advised to “get her to practise on that, then!” History doesn’t record whether those who professed ignorance of their Mum’s tailoring skills escaped, or what fate befell anyone sassy enough to question The Green Jackets’ right to pry into their family’s domestic arrangements. Probably just as well…

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You’d better believe we were paralysed by fear of them Green Jackets, despite the complete absence of any corroborative reportage in local TV, radio or print news. Nor did we stop to ask ourselves why no staff members at any of these educational establishments had ever intervened or why the police were so tardy in arriving to break up the alleged gauntlets and subsequent Q&A sessions, allowing the culprits to repair back to whatever urban sink hole they hailed from and plot new outrages. Clearly The Green Jackets were a particularly colourful urban legend, an especially f*cked up figment of somebody’s fevered imagination and you’re probably thinking my peers and I were dopes to fall for it. C’mon, we were 11 years old! Furthermore successive, allegedly more savvy generations have continued to fall for this kind of baloney and social media, in supplanting playground chit-chat, has only made matters worse. It’s not so long, I seem to recall, since we endured a mass panic about killer clowns planning school yard massacres… The extent to which such grass roots memes influence or are influenced by mass media is an argument that will go on long after we’re all dead (slashed to ribbons by Green Jackets or massacred by Killer Clowns, only time will tell). Suffice to say, cinematic exploitation of juvenile delinquency (the JD genre) has never let any sense of perspective hamper the depiction of yoof running wild as box office bait.

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Groovy Juvies have regularly wrecked havoc in Hollywood, ever since the first zoot-suited reefer addict flipped out, daddyo. Marlin Brando rebelled against anything you got, James Dean tore himself apart and bikers rioted on Sunset Strip, anticipating more recent offenders such as the perpetrators of the Purge phenom.

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Here in Blighty, ill informed moral panic over youth cults has been reflected and indeed festered in, e.g. the bizarre depiction of Teddy Boys in Joe Losey’s (These Are) The Damned (1962) and Nicky Henson‘s plastic Angels, dabbling with the occult in Don Sharp’s Psychomania (1973, above). The depiction of edgy youth in Michael Reeves’ (otherwise excellent) The Sorcerers (1967) has to be seen to be believed. Franc Roddam’s Quadrophenia (1979) celebrated the spiritually uplifitng aspect of Mods and Rockers kicking the shit out of each other on Brighton beach. More recently, the prospect of machete mayhem at screenings of Andrew Onwubolu’s gang saga Blue Story have had tabloid editors drooling, while the intolerable TV twaddle of Peaky Blinders continues to exercise its mystifying grip on the nation’s imagination.

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Occasioning even more outrage and unease among the habitually concerned than John Clowes’ universally reviled No Orchids For Miss Blandish (1948), Lewis Gilbert’s Cosh Boy (1953)  was one of the first British productions deemed worthy an ‘X’ Certificate, a device first introduced something like two years previously. Adapted from Bruce Walker’s orginal stage play Master Crook (which had enjoyed a successful run in the West End), Gilbert’s film reaped the bonus publicity / censorship hassles attendant on its release coinciding with the notorious real life Christopher Craig and Derek Bentley murder case. In response and underlining the film’s moralistic (and arguably cop out conclusion), producer Daniel M.Angel appended a rolling prologue caption deploring  “the post war tragedy of juvenile delinquency”, expressing the pious hope that Cosh Boy could do its little bit to help stamp out “this social evil”. Unimpressed, several local authorities ignored the BBFC’s ‘X’ and banned screenings of the film in their bailiwicks.

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“Roy Walsh” and “Alfie Collins” (played respectively by James Kenney and Ian Whittaker, the only cast holdovers from the story’s stage incarnation) do indeed present eerie parallels with (respectively) Craig and the doomed Bentley. The latter in each coupling is a mentally underdeveloped loser, easily manipulated by his sawn-off psychopathic “mate”. The film opens with Walshy slipping a cosh to Alfie and sending him to beat some money out of an unfortunate old biddy, staggering home, blind drunk from the pub.

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Anticipating the way Malcolm McDowell controls his “droogs” in Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange (1971), this guy likes to load the bullets for others to fire (literally, by the time his petty crime spree has escalated to armed robbery). It’s easy to see how he could control the half-witted Alfie, but what about the rest of his gang (at least one of whom seems conspicuously too old for this JD lark)? Walshy’s about as charismatic as a piece of plasticine, nevertheless he manages to lure the succulent Rene (Joan Collins, on loan from Rank) away from her goody two shoes boyfriend, knock her up and abandon her. Will she go for a risky back street abortion or is she doomed to continue the cycle of delinquent degeneracy with yet another latch key kid?

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Throughout the film, authority figures are presented as powerless to curb Roy’s amoral roving, relying on the improving effects of youth clubs and credulously swallowing his vows to mend his ways. The police struggle to pin anything on him and when he is nabbed, magistrates hand out laughable sanctions. HIs weak, well-meaning mother Elsie (Betty Ann Davies) buries her head in the sand and there’s no moderating paternal influence (perhaps Dad was lost in the War). When the rozzers finally finally arrive to collar Walsh for murder, his new stepfather Bob Stevens (Robert Ayres) pleads for time out to whip off his belt and give the kid a good leathering (a gag revived in Robert A. Endelson’s 1977 “video nasty”, Fight For Your Life)… and no matter how Woke you consider yourself, it’s hard to begrudge Roy this long postponed reckoning.

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“Beat him step-daddy, eight to the bar!”

The expected compliment of interesting extras on this BFI Flipside release includes Johnny On The Run, a 68 minute Children’s Film Foundation production that Gilbert directed in the same year as Cosh Boy. In this charming effort, orphaned Polish refugee Janek (Eugeniusz Chylek) gets up to all sorts of adventures in the Scottish Highlands after finding himself not welcome in Edinburgh. Speaking of which, I wonder if – in the absence of those ludicrous Brexit bongs – the Tories will dig up Gilbert’s Harmony Lane (also on this set) for their sad assed Festival Of Brexit. Originally filmed in 3D and screened at the Festival Of Britain in 1951, this 24 minutes (it seems longer) collision of variety acts includes the Beverley Sisters, assorted hoofers, trick skaters, fire-eaters and a performing dog, alongside the comedy stylings of Max Bygraves (don’t worry, Deck Of Cards is conspicuous by its absence). Anybody mourning the death of Variety should be forced to sit down and actually watch this thing. Gilbert’s illustrious career kicked off even earlier and more obscurely than this, with the likes of The Ten Year Plan (1945), a Public Information Film announcing postwar plans to end homelessness, which are even less convincing than ace reporter Charles Hawtrey’s asides about trying to get some lovin’ out of his girlfriend. Sure thing, Charlie! Stranger in the City (1961) is Robert Hartford-Davis’s 22 minute guided tour through the tawdry glamour of 1960s Soho… could that be a young Paul Gadd (= “Gary Glitter”) caught loitering at one point? Looks horribly like him… Teddy Boys is a short excerpt from a 1956 episode of ITV’s current affairs strand This Week (from a time when ITV involved itself with more elevated material than glorified talent shows and relentless ropey “reality” programming) that actually manages to elicits a little pathos from its gormless subject. Speaking of gormless, There’s a brief 2019 interview with Ian “Alfie” Whittaker, reflecting on his participation in the film (no mention of his subsequent success as a set-dresser on films as varied Alien and Under A Cherry Moon… four times Oscar-nominated, he actually won one for Howard’s End in 1992). You also get the US opening sequence (as “The Slasher”), with a more explicit rendering of the baboochka’s coshing and, in the first pressing only, a fully illustrated glossy booklet stuffed with new writing about the film, its troubled time at the BBFC, Teddy Boy fashion, the contemporary Soho jazz scene and full film credits.

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Dunno about you, but I’m bricking it…

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The Poughkeepsie Shuffle, Reshuffled. BADGE 373 Reviewed.

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Sonny Grosso (l), Eddie Egan (r).

BD. Indicator. Region B. 15.

In 1962, New York cops Sonny Grosso and Eddie Egan masterminded a massive drugs bust, seizing a (then) record haul of 112lbs of heroin. How they got it was chronicled in a 1969 book by Robin Moore, entitled The French Connection. William Friedkin read the book and was very impressed, especially with the maverick figure cut by Egan, reimagined as Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and played by Gene Hackman in the subsequent Academy Award winning film of the same title (1971). Egan himself played “Doyle”s superior officer and there was also a small role for Grosso. Both were credited as technical advisors and, obviously feeling that films about cops walking the mean streets of NYC were a cushier career option than actually walking them, proceeded to advise on / appear in several subsequent movies. Grosso took a small part in the following year’s Ocar winner, The Godfather, as one of the guys who assassinates Sonny Corleone (alongside Randy Jürgensen, another former cop who followed a similar career trajectory, clocking up roles in The French Connection, Friedkin’s Cruising with Grosso again,  Philip D’Antoni’s The Seven-Ups and the film under consideration here).

158_BADGE_373_BD_2D_packshot_72dpi_1000px_transp_720x.pngHoward W. Koch’s Badge 373 is another highly fictionalised account of Eddie Egan’s “exploits” (as they are styled in his writing credit). This time Robert Duvall plays the Egan character (“Eddie Ryan“) and Egan himself plays his boss Scanlon, who spends most of his time trying, in vain, to get Ryan to toe the line. Ooh, the irony…

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We first make Ryan’s acquaintance during an attempted sting at a Puerto Rican night spot, where he pursues a runaway suspect to the roof, only for the latter to fall to his death. Ryan is is handed a disciplinary suspension but when his partner is bumped off while continuing their investigations into hispanic crime lord Sweet William (Henry Darrow), Ryan disregards Scanlon’s order to stay on the sidelines and goes after his man. Among many other scrapes, this involves him in an epic vehicular chase that is clearly intended to invoke the one in The French Connection but with the twist of Ryan driving a commandeered bus. At the end of this sequence the bad guys make a point of smashing his gun hand after which he pushes himself, Django-style, in preparation for the ultimate showdown with Sweet William (who’s shipping guns to a projected armed uprising in Puerto Rico), a showdown given added urgency after Ryan’s girlfriend Maureen (Verna Bloom) has also been offed.

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Pete Hamill’s screenplay doesn’t do Egan any favours, making no bones about his casual racism. At the same time, the hispanic characters and their daily struggles are sympathetically presented and although Sweet William (below) is a palpable bastard, he gets a final soliloquy in which he rails about the white “justice” system that turned him into one, making some valid points that Ryan can only answer with bullets. J. J. Jackson’s smoky salza score compliments DP Arthur Ornitz’s sweeping Manhattan vistas beautifully.

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Indicators limited (to 3,000 copies) edition UK Blu-ray Premiere comes with a 36 page collectors’ booklet, trailers, TV and radio spots and image galleries. In the featurette Welcome to Fear City, Randy Jürgensen remembers the life and career of Eddie Egan and discusses their experiences in the film industry. In Lethal Enforcers, film critic Glenn Kenny contributes a useful guide to the American maverick cop genre of the ’70s, which I found particularly enjoyable when combined in a double bill with Mike Malloy’s Eurocrime! documentary.

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Move Like Jagger… THE ANNIHILATORS Reviewed

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This is what you want…

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… this is what you get. Try not to shoot each other, boys.

BD. Arrow. Region B. TBC.

While Joe Zito was filming Invasion U.S.A. for Cannon in Atlanta, with a $10 million budget and Chuck Norris in the starring role, another action film was being made just down the block… Charles E. Sellier Jr was shooting The Annihilators (1985) for Roger Corman’s New World outfit, with a considerably less starry (albeit interesting) cast and predictably meaner financial resources at his disposal. Zito’s film made something in the region of seven and a half million dollars profit and was, until 2007, MGM’s second highest selling home video title (only Gone With The Wind kept it off the top spot). As for The Annihilators, well…

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The action commences with a crack team of American special forces operatives socking it to the slopes in Vietnam. Apparently nobody questioned this kind of thing back in 1985… nobody at New World, anyway. It definitely occurred to somebody that the local park setting of these shenanigans wasn’t entirely convincing, so we also get a bit of actual ‘Nam stock footage, some of it looking suspiciously similar to that used in the title sequence of Antonio Margheriti’s Cannibal Apocalypse (1980).

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The Atlantan cannibal outbreak depicted in that classic has thankfully now subsided,  only to be replaced by the scourge of gangs such as The Scorpions, The Turks, and The Rollers. It’s the latter, led by (I kid you not) Roy Boy Jagger (as played by Paul Koslo, arguably the oldest and bushiest coiffed gang banger in Cinema history) who enter the grocery store of Joe Nace (Dennis Redfield), one of the special forces guys we saw in the film’s opening but now confined to a wheelchair, to have a word with him about the resistance he’s been organising to their protection racket. This involves groping and fatally stabbing one of his female customers and beating his head in with a steak tenderiser. Perhaps Charlie Bukowski and his buddies are, after all, still living and dining in the area? Whatever, Dekalb County has definitely seen better days…

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Swept aside by the simple act of annihilation… murder! (Nice hair, Roy Boy.)

Obviously a fan of such Vet Vigilante opuses as James Glickenhaus’s The Exterminator (1980) and Patrick G. Donahue’s Kill Squad (1982), Colonel Bill (Christopher Stone) decides to reconvene his crack ‘Nam team to seek justice for their buddy. Ray Track (Gerrit Graham) is now a successful yuppy but years behind a desk have left him just itchin’ for action. Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs (as martial arts ace Garrett Floyd) is a happily married man, possibly seeking atonement for the part he played in Death Wish (“Mugger in Park #2… uncredited”). Woody (Andy Wood) has been fighting a losing battle with the bottle since being demobbed, but a mission to clear the scum off the streets (plus the prospective love of a good woman) is exactly the kind of motivation he needs to turn himself around.

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Like a cut-price Seven Samurai, the gang conduct crash courses in martial arts for the besieged citizenry and – even more crucially – teach them to knock three times on the nearest worktop, drainpipe or whatever, whenever threatened by bad guys. Sorry, I couldn’t resist it…

 

These tactics are improbably successful in degrading The Rollers’ power base but Colonel Bill ups the ante by hijacking their latest drug shipment, prompting Roy Boy to walk up and down the high street with a flame thrower, demanding his dope back. Faced down by a bit of a drainpipe tapping, he commandeers a school bus a la Scorpio in Dirty Harry (1971) at which point the kids he’s been grooming as future Rollers turn on him… jolly good thing, too. During the narrative wrap up, the ongoing mystery concerning the identity of the squad’s intelligence handler in Vietnam is finally revealed… as if you could give an actual rat’s ass!

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Despite its magpie borrowings from all of them, The Annihilators is no Seven Samurai, it’s no Assault On Precinct 13… it’s not even The Exterminator… but it is a cheesey urban Western, so very cheesey that its elements probably have to be stored at or below 35 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. From those elemental chunks of emmental, Arrow have fashioned a nice 2K restoration, whose extras include an in-depth examination (a little too in-depth, probably) of the boobs’n’blood stabbing scene that the BBFC excised from previous editions, new Graham Humphreys art work and interviews with Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs and David O’Malley, an erstwhile collaborator of the late Chuck Sellier (below).

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O’Malley talks about Sellier’s unlikely involvement in the Grizzly Adams movies and a series of “Chariots of The Gods” type speculative schlockumentaries and suggests that he didn’t really like introducing any element of confrontation into his films. Those viewers for whom The Annihilators doesn’t really live up to its title (we’re promised “heat on the street” but those sidewalks barely get tepid) might well see the justice of this observation… Sellier must certainly have got out of the wrong side of the bed when he dreamed up the Daddy of all the Killer Santa flicks, the ultra mean-spirited Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984).

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Rules Is Rules… Teruo Ishii Addresses A Significant Gender Gap In YAKUZA LAW

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BD. Region B. Arrow. Cert 18.

Although a perennial, prolific and promiscuous genre-jumper, Teruo Ishii is undoubtedly most famous… nay, notorious… in the West for the series of “pinky violence” epics he initiated in 1968 with Tokugawa Onna Keibatsi-Shi (The Joy Of Torture / Shogun’s Joy Of Torture) and we’ve already covered his Zankoku Ijô Gyakutai Monogatari: Genroku Onna Keizu (Orgies Of Edo, 1969). Constrained by contemporary domestic censorship restrictions on images of the naked female form, these films routinely doubled (and indeed tripled) down on imagery of women’s BDSM debasement, to increasingly delirious and (from today’s vantage point… “the Sadism inherent in The Male Gaze” and all that) decidedly troubling effect.

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Although women are routinely insulted, groped and slapped around for getting uppity in 1969’s Yakuza Law (original title Yakuza Keibatsu-Shi: Rinchi!), it’s main thrust is the dire punishments handed out to (male) Yakuza members who break the code of the underworld (give or take the moll who ends up in a cement block with her gangster boyfriend)… and it’s unrelentingly grisly stuff, at levels consistently way above and beyond the well known scene in Sydney Pollack’s The Yakuza (1974) where Robert Mitchum cuts off one of his finger as honourable atonement for a misdeed.

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After a mind bogglingly gruesome opening compendium of tortures that don’t even occur in the main body of the feature, Yakuza Law begins to unfold, like Orgies Of Edo, as a portmanteau movie told in three instalments though, unlike that film, they play out over discrete historical eras. In that Edo Period, various samurais plot against and double cross each other for advancement in the organisation. I must admit that I found the plot of this section quite difficult to follow (Jasper Sharp’s commentary track helped a bit) but the outcome was clear enough – a stack of mutilated corpses. Fast forward to the Meiji Period, where Ogata (Minoru Oki, later one of the dreaded Masters Of Death in Shogun Assassin) comes out of the slammer, having taken the fall to protect his Yakuza master. No gratitude or payback is forthcoming and when Ogata sees how his allegedly honourable brethren mistreat the locals, he relinquishes his vows, resulting in another predictable pile of mutilated corpses. Stand out moments include somebody hacking out his own eyeball and throwing it in the face of the guy to whom he owed a debt of honour. A word of advice to Mino (Ryôta Minowada), whose criminal colleagues beat and piss on him for some misdemeanour… probably best to register your protests over this treatment with your mouth closed, dude!

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Finally, the action is brought bang up to date (ish) with another tale of internecine gang conflict, headlined by Teruo Yoshida (who plays the idealistic doctor Gentatsu in Orgies of Edo). Technological advances mean that in the late ’60s, traditional swordplay has been replaced by guns, faces are burned with cigarette lighters and renegade yakuza can be locked in cars that are then crushed into cubes. The “guy dangled out of helicopter” sequence and casino scene are straight out of the James Bond franchise (which had visited Japan two years previously with Lewis Gilbert’s You Only Live Twice) and the unlikely feats of marksmanship, eccentric whistling henchmen and prominent poignant poinging of a jew’s harp on Masao Yagi’s soundtrack, not to mention the plot device of a maverick / Ronin playing two factions off against each other, suggest a desire to cop a dollop of Spaghetti Western box office…

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… and yes, I know that virtually the whole of Leone’s A Fistful Of Dollars (1964) was an outrageous pinch from Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) but Ishii was undoubtedly oblivious to such niceties, more concerned instead to pack a plethora of audience attracting elements into these portmanteau pictures to tempt contemporary viewers away from their beloved TV sets. Sharp points out that like contemporary Amicus releases, these films ran on narrative patterns more in tune with people’s telly watching habits, while simultaneously serving up stuff that couldn’t possibly be broadcast on the box.

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Ishii always was a commercial film maker rather than auteur with any kind of message, as he is at great, er, pains to point out in the bonus interview here. The late director was not without a social conscience though, explaining that he stopped directing episodes in the ongoing Supergiants franchise (below) after reports that kids wearing capes were jumping out of windows  and injuring themselves.

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Tom Mes contributes new writing to a collector’s booklet that will appear in the first pressing only. Jasper Sharp’s commentary track, as previously mentioned, is useful in maintaining a running score card on who’s doing what to whom and periodically drawing our attention away from the ongoing outrages to e.g. a particularly painterly piece of composition or the merits of Yagi’s score. He also name checks Morihei Magatani’s Girl Divers At Spook Mansion (1959, below) whose IMDB synopsis makes it sound like an especially deranged episode of Scoby Doo. Any chance of releasing that one, Arrow?

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It’s indicative of this film’s severe imagery that Mr Sharp can introduce its second episode with the observation that it’s the least violent of the three, his comment coinciding with Ogata storming into a rival gang leader’s place and chopping his arm off… that’s  Yakuza Law for you!

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“Hardboiled eggs and NUTS! Huh…”

 

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