Posts Tagged With: Indicator

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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The Family Politics Of Ecstasy… THE PEOPLE NEXT DOOR Reviewed.

BD. Indicator. Region B. 15.

To their neighbours, the Masons seem like a comfortably well off, smoothly functioning suburban New York family. OK, so Arthur (Eli Wallach) is a bit of a lush and Gerrie (Julia Harris) smokes like a chimney. Gershwin loving Arthur doesn’t really “get” the music and fashions embraced by his kids Artie (Stephen McHattie) and Maxie (Deborah Winters), but what parent ever did? The generational gap runs deeper than that, though, becoming a fully fledged chasm when Maxie is abruptly revealed as an acid gobbling sexual libertine. Artie unjustly cops the blame and is kicked out. What will the Hoffmans next door think of these ructions and the spectacle of Maxie running around the street, naked, literally hugging trees? How, moreover, will David (Hal Holbrook) and Tina (Cloris Leachman) Hoffman react when they discover that it’s their studious, apparently strait-laced yuppie son Sandy (Don Scardino) who’s been supplying gear to Maxie and the other neighbourhood kids?

Having completed the wonderful I Start Counting (1969), David Greene was back Stateside the following year for a feature film reworking of his 1968 CBS TV drama The People Next Door, which had ruffled sensibilities with its depiction of a nice, middle class family struggling to accommodate a disaffected, drug-dabbling (and seemingly doomed) daughter. Greene was clear that the serial killer subplot in I Start was nowhere near as interesting to him as the dynamics of the protagonist’s dysfunctional family and that’s pretty much what he focuses on here, with an established property and an even more crackerjack cast than the TV original, which boasted Lloyd Bridges, Robert Duvall, Fritz Weaver, Kim Hunter, et al. Don Scardino and Deborah Winters return in their respective roles as Sandy Hoffman and Maxie Mason. Wild eyed Winters is memorably intense even before she comes out as a card carrying dope fiend, a revelation that’s dropped, rather clanging, into JP Miller’s script (adapted from his own stage play). Similarly, some of the “down with the kids stuff” is a bit wince inducing but as always, Greene manages a memorable ensemble performance from the impressive thespian resources at his disposal.

My biggest reservations about The People Next Door concern the flimsiness of Maxie’s grounds for hating her parents and the death trip she subsequently embarks upon. I mean, Dad prefers I’ve Got Rhythm to Frank Zappa… so fucking what? He’s a little insensitive and opinionated but maybe she could find time out from energetically pursuing her angst to sympathise with him as he attempts to adjust to the societal paradigm shift from “I like Ike” to “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out”… it’s all a bit “Go Ask Alice meets Death Of A Salesman” for poor old Arthur. Even more deplorable is Maxie’s cold, casual hatred of her mother (above), who ultimately digs deep to try and turn things around by the films open ended conclusion. Maybe it’s just because I’ve become an irredeemable old fart myself but Maxie’s kindly, misunderstood brother Artie (Stephen McHattie) is the only character under 30 I had any time for in this film, whose sympathies reside, er, squarely on the side of the parents. Is this why Greene protested the edit and tried to get his name taken off The People Next Door?

Editor Brian Smedley-Aston, who cut that other psychedelic cautionary tale, Jeff Lieberman’s Blue Sunshine (and also produced Exposé and a couple of José Larraz movies) talks of his working relationship with Greene on TPND and various other pictures in one of this set’s bonus featurettes. In another, The Bead Game’s John Sheldon recalls his band’s musical contributions to the film, throwing up some fascinating classic rock family connections in the process. Deborah Winters, now working in real estate, reminisces engagingly, e.g. about the problems of shooting the loony bin scenes amid the inmates of a genuine psychiatric institution. Vic Pratt kicks in a useful overview of David Greene’s career and there’s an audio commentary with actor Rutanya Alda and film historian Lee Gambin, plus trailer and image gallery of promotional and publicity material. Restored in 4k from the original negative, the limited (to 3,000 copies) edition of this UK BD premiere boasts a 36-page booklet with new essay by Peter Tonguette, an account of the controversy generated by the TV version of The People Next Door, archival interview with actor Eli Wallach, a look at the film’s soundtrack album, a collection of contemporary critical responses and full film credits.

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Taking The Rough With The Smooth… JAGGED EDGE Reviewed.

BD. Indicator. Region B. 18.

Screen writer Joe Eszterhas has made a highly successful career for himself out of sexing up long established Hollywood formulae. Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct (1992) and Showgirls (1995) respectively pimp out the femme fatale-driven Noir and Busby Berkeley chorus line extravaganza with contemporary slick production values and enough schlocky smut and violence to set Will H. Hays rotating in his casket. Richard Marquand’s Jagged Edge (1985) takes the Courtroom Drama to places where Jimmy Stewart and Hank Fonda might have feared to tread, all prefaced with a scene of sexualised murder that, if not actually delivering the “blood and hair on the wall” promised / threatened by Eszterhas, would certainly look more at home in a giallo (or one of the many stalk’n’slash pictures delivered by Bava and Argento’s American indie disciples) than it does here in mainstream Tinseltown product.

Jack Forrester (Jeff Bridges) is a whizz kid newspaper executive but his wife Page (Maria Mayenzet) owns all the shares, so when she’s tied to her luxury bed and carved up by a balaclava wearing nutzoid, Golden Boy Jack becomes prime suspect. Effectively retired, for reasons that become apparent as the narrative progresses, ace Attorney Teddy Barnes (Glenn Close, who improbably became the Queen of ’80s Erotic Thrillers after her appearances in the likes of this and Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction, two years later) is persuaded, against her better judgement, to take on Forrester’s defence. It’s not long before she’s also sharing his bed. After all, nobody that blandly cute could perpetrate such a vicious murder, right? Right?

That’s the $64,000 question which Teddy and Prosecutor / former colleague Thomas Krasny (Peter Coyote) kick around in court for the balance of the picture, as a series of revelations (about the private and professional lives of not just Forrester, also Teddy and Krasny) and the introduction of another violently misogynistic candidate for the commission of the crime skilfully skew the viewer’s suspicions this way and that. A verdict is duly arrived at, but is it correct? Suffice to say that the individual who’s been sending out “helpful” typed clues had never watched Prick Up Your Ears. I know, I know, that film was only released after this one. They could / should have read the book, though…

And so to the climactic unveiling of the actual culprit, the face behind the balaclava revealed as… Forrester? The other, misogynist suspect I just mentioned? Some viewers have even suggested it’s Krasny… hey, maybe it’s that guy from the Go Compare ads? Now, Richard Marquand was an accomplished director… George Lucas entrusted him (below) with the megabucks invested in Return Of The Jedi (1983), no less. So how could it be that he fluffed the big reveal so clumsily? Or maybe he knew exactly what he was doing. Panned by critics, Jagged Edge became a substantial hit via word-of-mouth. Maybe Marquand actually intended people to keep talking up all this balaclava palaver and indeed here we are, 36 years after the event, still talking about Jagged Edge…

Eszterhas and editor Sean Barton also talk about it (and other aspects of their respective careers) among the fearutettes on this disc. There’s an hour of audio from Geoff Andrew’s interview with Bridges at the NFT in 1990 and David Huckvale digs deep into John Barry’s score. For this, its UK BD premiere, Marquand’s film has been remastered in HD with a choice of original stereo or 5.1 surround audio. The expected trailer, radio and image galley are present and correct. The limited (to 3,000 units) edition comes with an exclusive 36-page booklet comprising a new essay by Maitland McDonagh, extracts from archival interviews with director Richard Marquand, a look at the making of the film, an overview of contemporary critical responses and full film credits.

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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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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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All The Colours Of Chiaroscuro… Indicator’s COLUMBIA NOIR #2 Box Set Reviewed.

BD. Indicator. Region B. PG.
Limited Edition (6,000 units)

FRAMED (Richard Wallace, 1947) UK BD Premiere
711 OCEAN DRIVE (Joseph M Newman, 1950) UK BD Premiere
THE MOB (Robert Parrish, 1951) World BD Premiere
AFFAIR IN TRINIDAD (Vincent Sherman, 1952) UK BD Premiere
TIGHT SPOT (Phil Karlson, 1955) World BD Premiere
MURDER BY CONTRACT (Irving Lerner, 1958) World BD Premiere

Following hard on the shit heels (*) of Indicator’s Columbia Noir #1 set, what we have here (predictably enough but no less welcome for that) is another six disc sampling of deadpan dicks, duplicitous dames, deadly frames, double crosses, crime bosses, relative morality and all the rest of it. So don your trench coat, light up a Lucky Strike, set your venetian blinds to maximum Expressionist effect and let’s check out the lineup…

(* “Shit heel”: pulp fictional variant on the term “gum shoe”, denoting a private investigator… but you knew that, right?)

Mike Lambert (Glenn Ford) makes one hell of an entrance in Richard Wallace’s Framed (aka Paula, 1947), the brakes on a crappy lorry supplied to him by his stop gap employers having failed. If he looks more like a mining engineer than a truck driver that’s because he is a mining engineer, looking for an opportunity to ply his trade. As luck would have it, old prospector Jeff Cunningham (Edgar Buchanan) is looking for a mining engineer to help him work a new seam of silver he’s just discovered. Just to make it unanimous, blonde bombshell Paula Craig (Janis Carter) is looking for a sap whose charred remains will pass for those of her smoothy boyfriend Steve Price (Barry Sullivan) after they’ve cleaned out the Savings & Loans where Steve works. Lambert’s exactly what she’s been looking for and although he wonders what such a swell broad is doing behind the bar in a shabby drinking dive (Jeez, this burg could do with a decent careers office!) he’s too dazzled by her alleged beauty to join up the dots. But can Paula follow through with the plan when she starts falling for Mike? And could he stand to see an innocent man take the fall for her ? It’s taken as read that Ford is irresistible to the opposite sex but there are plenty of other plot contrivances (courtesy of Ben Maddow, who adapted John Patrick’s original story to the screen) that will require you to spend your disbelief from a great height… if you can manage that, you’ll enjoy Framed just fine.

Gorgeous Glenn’s back (as Steve Emery) in Vincent Sherman’s Affair In Trinidad (1952) but he’s barely off the plane before he’s walked into another frame-up. The brother he came to visit has “committed suicide” and Chris, the sister-in-law he never knew he had (Rita Hayworth, previously romantically teamed with Ford in Charles Vidor’s The Lady In Question, 1940, Gilda, 1946 and The Loves of Carmen, 1948) hasn’t allowed so much as a respectful interlude to pass before she’s cozying up to smarmy socialite Max Fabian (Alexander Scourby). Steve’s a much brusquer fella than Mike Lambert was and responds to this breach of etiquette by handing Chris a slap.

What she’s not allowed to tell him, unfortunately, is that she’s been working undercover for the cops to dig up dirt on Fabian and his connections with sinister foreign agents (though every so often she takes time out of from this important mission to perform a sexy song and dance routine). Nor does Chris feel at liberty to convey to Steve (you guessed) her growing feelings for him. No prizes for guessing that all these romantic complications are ultimately resolved along with that sinister foreign agents’ fiendish plot… which turns out to be an alarming anticipation of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a full decade before it actually unfolded!

Edmond O’Brien’s Noir star eclipses even that of Ford, given his appearances in the likes of Robert Siodmak’s The Killers (1946), Rudolph Maté’s D.O.A. and (alongside Jimmy Cagney) Raoul Walsh’s astonishing White Heat (both 1949). In Joseph M Newman’s gripping 711 Ocean Drive (1950) his character Mal Granger makes the transition, via his telecommunication skills, from a working stiff who enjoys placing an illegal bet here and there to a big wheel in a horse racing racket. His story, told in flashback by a member of Uncle Sam’s “Gangster Squad”, demonstrates in no uncertain terms the slippery slope that inexorably led him from minor peccadilloes to brutal amorality and begins with a caption claiming that the actors and crew needed police protection from gangland elements intent on disrupting this film’s shoot. That must have taken some doing during the dramatic Boulder Dam finale (a sequence worthy of Hitchcock) where Mal finally succumbs to his fatal character flaw, a fondness for a rival mobster’s woman. Femmes fatales inevitably spell doom for would be wise guys, a motif we see again and again in annals of Noir and elsewhere on this box set.

There’s crime film Royalty (Ford, O’Brien et al) and then there’s Edward G. Robinson… from chewing the scenery as Mervyn LeRoy’s Little Caesar (1931) to pursuing a dodgy insurance claim with proto-Columbo doggedness in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944), Robinson’s impact on this genre has probably only ever been surpassed by that of Cagney himself. In Phil Karlson’s Tight Spot (1955) he’s District Attorney Lloyd Hallett, trying to convince flibbertigibbet jailbird Sherry Conley (Ginger Rogers) to take the stand against Benjamin Costaine (Lorne Greene) her Mr Big former boyfriend… all this based, by some accounts, on Senator Estes Kefauver’s efforts to secure Virginia Hill’s testimony against her mob associates. Sherry’s going to take a lot of convincing, given the recent heavy lead intake of other prospective witnesses. Maybe the romantic attentions of her protection detail Vince Striker (Brian Keith, living up to that hunky handle) will prevail where the DA’s civic duty lectures failed? But Vince is concealing a thing or two himself… Proving (as if their wasn’t abundant other proof on her resume) that she wasn’t “just” Hollywood’s greatest female Hoofer, Rogers steals the show here with a sassy, spirited screwball performance.

Johnny Damico: he uncovers the waterfront…

Robert Parrish’s compelling The Mob (1951) begins with off duty cop Johnny Damico (Broderick Crawford) trying to buy a wedding ring for his girl when he stumbles onto a crime scene and makes a complete hash of it, allowing a murderer posing as another cop to get away scot free. Johnny’s suspended from the force, only to be secretly deployed (under a new alias) on NYC’s docks, to gather info on gangland interests in that crucial economic sector. Mean streets, mean docks… Johnny can’t trust anyone, the existential angst and all pervading paranoia hitting Philip K. Dicklike levels when the Mob hires Johnny to carry out a hit on himself! The ultimate revelation of the big cheese’s identity is kind of “corny” (to quote the character himself) but the suspenseful, hospital based climax concludes things in satisfying style. There’s a great supporting cast in this one, including up-and-comers Ernest Borgnine and Neville Brand… Charles Bronson (who gets a couple of lines but no screen credit)… and Jean Alexander (no, not THAT Jean Alexander!) The Mob and Affair in Trinidad were both shot by multiple Oscar nominee Joseph Walker. Two time Academy Award winner (for From Here To Eternity, 1953 and Bonnie And Clyde (1967) Burnett Guffey served as Cinematographer on Framed, Tight Spot and Joseph H. Lewis’s The Undercover Man (1949) and perusal of their collected work across existing and pending Columbia boxes (which also highlight the OST contributions of George Dunning) provide useful insights into the essence (which had always been more about a vibe than an adherence to any hard and fast rules) of High Noir…

By 1958 the movement was dissolving in waves of cross-genre contamination and few films illustrate this tendency better than Irving Lerner’s Murder By Contract (1958). Vince Edwards plays Claude, an upwardly mobile dude who covets a des res and calmly figures that the quickest way to accumulate the necessary readies is to become a hit man. We follow his monastic preparation and rapid rise through the ranks, until he is flown to LA to rub out a heavily guarded witness on the eve of a major trial. His Zen-like approach to the job winds up Marc (Phillip Pine) and amuses George (Herschel Bernardi) but Claude, who has flipped from taciturnity to rambling expositions of his Nietzschean personal philosophy, completely loses his cool when he learns that his target is a woman. He rationalises his reservations along “deadlier than the male” lines but when obliged to see the job through, he bungles it via apparently Oedipal apprehensions and (spoiler alert!) dies in a drain. Memorable for a nifty jazz guitar accompaniment (courtesy of Bing Crosby’s long time musical director, Perry Botkin) and a firm favourite of Martin Scorsese, Murder By Contract is nicely posed on the cusps of Noir and Nouvelle Vague, anticipating much American “underground” Cinema of the 1960s with its satire on the American business ethic and the blunt black comedic edge to its violence…

… speaking of which, Indicator continue the admirable practice here of beefing up their Columbia boxes with Three Stooges mayhem… and that’s got to be better than a poke in the eye. Each disc contains a Stooges short, selected for some affinity to the film it supports. Violent Is the Word for Curly (1938), for instance, affords an early DP credit to the prolific Lucien Ballard, who later shot Murder by Contract. Nor is it too hard to work out the thematic pertinence of Three Sappy People, Saved by the Belle (both 1939), Idiots Deluxe (1945), Up in Daisy’s Penthouse (1953) and Hot Stuff (1956) to their respective main features. Any chance, I wonder, of a Stooges box (or series of boxes) from Indicator?

While we’re waiting and hoping for that, let’s consider the other extras on this set. Alongside the expected trailers and image galleries, audio commentaries come courtesy of Imogen Sara Smith, Glenn Kenny, Gina Telaroli, Lee Gambin, Nora Fiore and Farran Smith Nehme. The Steps of Age is a short 1951 docudrama written and directed by Framed writer Ben Maddow, depicting the challenges of ageing through of the eyes of a retired widow. Joseph M Newman’s 1945 short Diary of a Sergeant tells the story of Harold Russell, a soldier who lost his hands during World War II and subsequently won an Oscar for his performance in William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). You get two interviews with Ernest Borgnine and one in which Peter Ford discusses the life and career of his father Glenn. Caribbean (1951) is a Crown Film Unit short depicting life and culture in the West Indies, British Guiana, and British Honduras. Irving Lerner’s Oscar-nominated Swedes In America (1943), presented by Ingrid Bergman, concerns the life of… well, work it out for yourself. Martin Scorsese contributes an enthusiastic review to Murder By Contract. If you enjoyed the excerpts from Joe Valachi’s Senate subcommittee testimony on Indicator’s recent release of The Valachi Papers, no doubt you’ll appreciate (on the Tight Spot disc) an hour or so’s worth of extracts from unedited telerecordings of another (1951) Senate hearing into organised crime, originally compiled by the British Film Institute and presented in four parts, including footage of the aforementioned Virginia Hill. Limited edition includes a 120 page book.

Like its predecessor, this box showcases many different aspects of the multi-faceted Film Noir phenomenon… and box 3 is in preparation! Bring it on.

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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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“Non Ho Sonno”… Paul Schrader’s LIGHT SLEEPER Reviewed.

BD. Indicator. Region B. 15.

His intense Calvinist visions having inspired the likes of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) and John Flynn’s Rolling Thunder (1977) then a run of self-directed efforts from Blue Collar (1978) to Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters (1985), Paul Schrader knocked off a few pictures as a hired gun before returning to a more personal style of film making with Light Sleeper (1992). He envisaged this neat Neo Noir as his “midlife movie”, in which the protagonist would gain some self insight, turn his life around and attain a degree of transcendence. Nobody familiar with the director’s earlier work will be surprised to learn that the protagonist is a coke dealer, nor that his moment of transcendence is achieved during a bloody shoot out rather than in any moment of meditative reflection. Perhaps Schrader wanted to show up-and-comers like Abel Ferrara (whose Bad Lieutenant was released in the same year) that they still had a thing or two to learn about absolution and atonement, fate, free will and the whole ethical nine yards…

Although his literary pretensions are going nowhere, John LeTour (Willem Dafoe) seems to living a pretty sweet life. Having kicked his own coke habit, he spends his time supplying to various upmarket addled losers (memorably including David Spade as “Theological Cokehead”, droning on about the Ontological argument for the existence of God) and raking in their cash for himself and his narco partners Ann (Susan Sarandon) and Robert (David Clennon). He’s long accepted that coke wasn’t doing him any good but the penny is starting to drop that it’s not doing any of his customers much good either and when his activities connect his ex-wife Marianne (another apparently reformed addict played by Dana Delany) and Victor Garber’s smoothy scumbag Tis, the clock’s ticking down on that climactic bullet fest…

This picture was built around a suite of five songs by Bob Dylan, for whom Schrader had directed the video clip Tight Connection To My Heart in 1985. Dylan (and I’m cutting a long story short here) subsequently let him down about the tracks so he commissioned five similarish songs on similar themes from the Christian rocker Michael Been (not to be confused with the actor Michael Biehn) and the new numbers do work pretty well, though perhaps recalling the work of Leonard “Chuckles” Cohen more than that of Bobby the Zee.

Schrader rarely gets sufficient credit for the performances he almost invariably get out of his actors, though of course casting thesps as accomplished the ones assembled here is half the battle. Dafoe keeps you on side right through his redemptive journey (and it’s nigh on impossible, as usual, to take your eyes off Sarandon), even if the script (as Schrader freely admits in the bonus materials) gets a bit heavy handed at times, littered with clumsy taking out the trash metaphors and falls from grace. The director has confessed to watching a lot of Antonioni before making Light Sleeper, though it looks like DP Ed Lachman was bingeing on other Italian auteurs, saturating The Big Apple in Bavian / Argentoesque gels. The niche architectural nooks and crannies of New York City have never looked this infernal since… well, since Inferno (1980).

Another UK Blu-ray premiere for Indicator, limited to 3,000 copies, this disc also packs the expected slew of extras, including Schrader’s audio commentary and 18 minutes worth of Dafoe and Sarandon commenting on selected scenes. Schrader (pictured above) talks about the film and its place in his CV during an 18 minute interview. I’m always glad to hear him acknowledge Cat People from 1982, a big favourite here at THOF but often overlooked by snottier assessors of his oeuvre on account of it being a (shudder) Horror Film. In fact its Noirish urban vibe jibes beautifully with that of Light Sleeper. We’re also privy to an interview that Schrader (mostly) and Lachman gave on-stage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, after a screening of the film. There’s an archival audio recording of Dafoe in conversation with Guardian critic Jonathan Romney at the NFT. I suspect that “Dear Paul Schrader, Thank You for Light Sleeper” , a new ten minute short from Mark Cousins will prove to be a Marmite proposition, which is to say that you might like it a whole lot more than I did. As well as the obligatory trailer and image galleries, if you buy quickly enough, you’ll get a 36-page booklet including a new essay by Christina Newland, Kevin Jackson’s archival on-set report for Sight and Sound, an overview of contemporary critical responses and full credits.

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Not Quite Hitchcock (*), Not Quite Hammett… ROADGAMES And DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS Reviewed

Roadgames. BD. Indicator. Region B. 15.

(* Well, it was either that or “North By New South Wales”…)

Typically of his film making generation, Richard Franklin (1948-2007) grew up (in Melbourne) in the thrall of Hitchcock, Psycho (1960) and the TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-61) leaving particularly vivid impressions on his precocious creativity. He was directing his own 8mm efforts, aged 10 and subsequently worked as an assistant cameraman on TV commercials. In 1967, Franklin relocated to The States to study film at the University of Southern California. To paraphrase the immortal words of Homer J. Simpson, he was tired of being a wannabe Hitchcock acolyte… he wanted to be a Hitchcock acolyte! To this end he invited the great man to introduce a screening of Rope (1948) and answer questions from an audience of fellow students. Sir Alfred reciprocated by hosting Franklin on the sets of Topaz (1969) and his swan song feature, Family Plot (1976). RF’s “Hitchcock acolyte” status would be clinched when he directed Psycho II in 1983 and turned a property with high fiasco potential into a witty and worthwhile effort that riffed cleverly on its illustrious predecessor and certainly did it no harm at all (showing the fruit cellar door to Robert Bloch’s then recent and identically titled literary attempt to continue the franchise). But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

After graduating USC in 1969, Franklin returned down under to direct 11 episodes of Oz cop show Homicide (197) and the 1973 short …And His Ghost May Be Heard, the latter included among the bonus materials on this set. Bawdy comedies The True Story Of Eskimo Nell (aka Dick Down Under) and Fantasm (directed under the pseudonym “Richard Bruce”) followed in 1975 and 1976 respectively. Franklin really started to get noticed with the Avoriaz and Sitges garlanded Patrick (1978), in which Robert Thompson’s comatose title character uses his telekinetic powers to do away with troublesome medics and pursue sexy nurse Susan Penhaligon. Quickly but skilfully assembled to cash in on Jack Gold’s The Medusa Touch from earlier that year, Patrick did particularly well (with Brian May’s OST replaced by Goblin outtakes and a couple of original themes from Simonetti and co) at Italian box offices, predictably inspiring a mini wave of spaghetti knock offs. Nobody who’s ever seen Mario Landi’s truly hysterical Patrick Still Lives (1980) is ever likely to forget it, although Lucio Fulci’s Aenigma (1987) is among the less memorable entries on that particular Horror maestro’s increasingly variable filmography.

It was Roadgames (1981), though, that earned Franklin his stab at Psycho II. The film is at once a meditation on the awe-inspiring landscape of the Australian continent (c.f. Nic Roeg’s Walkabout, 1971 and Peter Weir’s Picnic At Hanging Rock, 1975), a road movie and, you guessed, an hommage to Hitchcock. Specifically, it emerged from co-director Everett De Roche’s musings about a kind of anti-Rear Window (1954), in which the protagonist who thinks he’s seen a murder is not stuck in his apartment, rather ranging freely across the Australian desert even while he’s confined to the cab of his HGV, the windscreen dimensions of which approximate those of Jimmy Stewart’s rear window and generate similar reflections on the experience of immersing oneself in a thriller on the big screen. Or you can choose to see it as “that moment” in North By Northwest (1959) magnified to feature length. Either way is good.

Franklin and De Roche wrote the part of eccentric loner Pat Quid (catchphrase: “Just because I drive trucks doesn’t make me a truck driver”) for Sean Connery but although Roadgames became the biggest budgeted Australian film of the early 80s, that proposed casting would have amounted to a wage bill too far and ultimately they settled for Stacy Keach (still possibly choking on the memory of how human flesh tasted in Sergio Martino’s Prisoner Of The Cannibal God, 1978). As the hiker he picks up, whose boring secret identity is revealed towards the film’s conclusion, but whom Quid dubs (d’oh!) “Hitch”, we get Jamie Lee Curtis, keen by that point to climb out of what she perceived as the “scream queen” ghetto but crucially for Franklin, carrying some of her mother Janet Leigh’s Psycho cachet (she also offers oblique observations about her Dad, Tony Curtis, during Road Games).

Their cat and mouse games with suspected sex killer “Smith or Jones” (Grant Page from Mad Max, among many other credits, who also co-ordinated the stunts on Roadgames) makes for suspensful stuff, plentiful plot twists and a handful of satisfying hi-tech action set-pieces… all this plus a coda that “owes much” to the closing frames of Friday The 13th (1980). Franklin’s film, consequently, did tidy domestic and international business, though not everybody involved in the contemporary renaissance of the Australian film industry was pleased about that. There were predictable quibbles about the casting of American rather than Aussie leads, regardless of how well the obvious chemistry between Keach and Curtis enhances its pleasing mix of adventure, suspense, romance and comedy. Nor was it felt, in certain rarified quarters, that such a commercially orientated production was quite the done thing. So much for Mad Max (whose director George Miller was a major supporter and champion of Franklin’s endeavours). So much, indeed, for Hitchcock. Because you’re reading House Of Freudstein rather than Cahiers Du Cinema (or its Australian equivalent), I assume that you’ll take Roadgames for the rollicking good thriller fun it undoubtedly is, even more appealing in this brand new 4k restoration by Powerhouse Films, the limited edition running to 5,000 copies for its UK BD Premiere.

Additional extras include not one but three audio commentaries, one by Franklin and film historian Perry Martin, another with film pundits Anna Bogutskaya and Olivia Howe and yet another involving cinematographer Vincent Monton, costume designer Aphrodite Kondos, production secretary Helen Watts and filmmaker Mark Hartley. There’s over an hour of interview out takes (with Franklin, Keach, Curtis, Grant Page, De Roche and assistant director Tom Burstall) from Hartley’s Not Quite Hollywood documentary and separate interviews (some of them in audio format) with Franklin, Keach and Page. Kangaroo Hitchcock is a 20 minute mini doc on the making of the film and there’s over two hours of a college lecture given by Franklin, co-producer Barbi Taylor and composer Brian May. You also get nearly two hours of pre-production read-through from Franklin, Keach and Marion Edward… even five minutes of May’s music demos, alongside the expected trailers and image galleries. Neil Sinyard’s appraisal of the film is a predictable standout… if this guy had a rugged profile, quiffy hair do and fashionable clothes he’d be all over TV, even if he was nowhere near as good as he invariably is. The limited edition also packs an exclusive 80-page book with original essay by Lee Gambin, archival interviews with Franklin, Keach and Curtis, Franklin’s Hitchcock obituary, an overview of contemporary critical responses, Mark Hartley on …And His Ghost May Be Heard, full film credits and an exclusive double-sided poster.

Quid’s in…

Devil In A Blue Dress. BD. Indicator. Region B. 15.

Writer / director Carl Franklin learned a thing or two about Genre, coming up in the school of Roger Corman. His Devil In A Blue Dress (1995) typifies that strain of Neo Noir which eschews the original article’s reliance on German Expressionism’s bag of visual tricks (forced perspective, broken up black and white, Dutch angles, et al) to play up the sunshine, swimming pools and orange groves found in the pages of Raymond Chandler and his hard boiled buddies. Adapted (in cahoots with the author) from a novel by Walter Mosley (Bill Clinton’s favourite writer, apparently) DIABD also filters its vision of post-WWII LA through the experience of its black characters. It’s a perfectly honourable undertaking to shift paradigm along racial lines, though recently it hasn’t always reaped the artistic dividends that might have been expected. I’m thinking of Warner TV’s Lovecraft Country (which started strongly but collapsed into incoherence) and Jordan Peele’s disappointing Twilight Zone reboot.

Franklin’s film, by contrast, is a very assured piece of work indeed (the school of Corman never did turn out too many duds), which regrettably didn’t stop it from underperforming in box office terms. Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins (Denzel Washington) is a black guy with aspirations to something more than American society has allotted him but after being laid off from the aircraft factory, he’s struggling to pay his mortgage. Against his better judgement, he accepts a job from the slick (and as becomes increasingly evident, psychopathic) Dewitt Albright (Tom Sizemore), who wants him to track down the missing Daphne Monet (Jennifer Beals), runaway fiancee of Todd Carter (Terry Kinney), who has just pulled out of the LA Mayoral race. Daphne has an unfortunate, for some, penchant for the company of gentlemen of colour and it doesn’t take much sniffing around Central Avenue’s juke joints for Easy to pick up her trail. But who’s really tying to track her down and why? And as the plot uglifies (casual racism is the least of Easy’s worries as he struggles to stay out of the frame for the multiplying murders that pepper his investigation) our man attempts to square his conscience with the much needed nice little earner he’s signed up to.

Franklin’s accomplished direction throughout is nicely complimented by an Elmer Bernstein score. The casting of Beals makes sense in terms of the secret that her character’s concealing (though frankly that’s not particularly difficult to guess) but as a femme fatale? Well, she hardly lives up to her billing in the film’s title… Washington’s every bit as good as you’d expect but Don Cheadle as Raymond “Mouse” Alexander, the rather “excitable” friend Easy is obliged to call on, steals every scene that they share. One quibble… how long could the recklessly violent Mouse realistically remain free / alive in an America that has always been and continues to be (as a cursory glance at current headlines would confirm) unrelentingly harsh on its black offenders?

Cheadle’s screen test is the jewel in the crown of extras adorning this limited (to 3,000 units) edition UK BD Premiere, a 2K restoration with 5.1 surround and stereo audio options. Accompanying it there’s an audio commentary from Franklin and and an archival interview with the writer / director, conducted by the Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller at a screening of Devil in a Blue Dress. Yeah, you get image galleries and a trailer plus, if you’re quick enough, an exclusive 36-page booklet with new essay by Keith M Harris, archival interview with Carl Franklin from Positif magazine, extract from Walter Mosley’s source novel, an overview of contemporary critical responses and full film credits.



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