Posts Tagged With: Indicator

Chippings From A Monument… Indicator’s JOHN FORD AT COLUMBIA Box Set Reviewed.

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BD. Indicator. Region B. PG.
Limited edition box set of 6,000 numbered units.

THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING (1935) UK BD premiere.
THE LONG GRAY LINE (1955) World BD premiere.
GIDEON’S DAY (1958) UK BD premiere.
THE LAST HURRAH (1958) UK BD premiere.

The pictures John Ford made on loan (from RKO, Fox, Argosy, wherever) at Columbia (over quite a period of time) are often considered minor, even aberrant fixtures in his monumental legacy but this Indicator box reveals consistent auteurist preoccupations alongside many incidental bits of fun.

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Given what he achieved in The Searchers just a year later, it’s intriguing to learn that Ford initially baulked at shooting The Long Gray Line in CinemaScope. Adding insult to injury, the picture was subsequently released States side in black and white… and cut! Such is the fate of “minor” films, even those of major directors. But this biopic of West Point stalwart Marty Maher (played by Tyrone Power), from “straight off the boat” eejit to pally audiences with President Eisenhower is thematically much of a piece with the recognised classics of the Ford canon… humour, humanity, sadness, stoicism, mortality, compassion… the passing parade of life and death.

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While not as outright anti as e.g. Jack Garfein’s The Strange One, The Long Gray Line evidences shadings of ambivalence towards the military and notions of patriotism, tradition and the like. A more personally felt battle, against the anti-Mick stuff, is only lightly touched upon here…

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… but more pointedly in The Last Hurrah, a story of old school paternalistic American politics (if, indeed, such a thing ever existed) being supplanted  by plastic personalities and PR spin (I was watching this one on the very day that the current occupant of the White House suggested shooting up disinfectant as a cure for Coronavirus).  The giants are leaving the stage here, and what screen presence could be more gigantic than that of Spencer Tracy as Frank Skeffington, standing for re-election as mayor of “a New England town”? Ranged against him are the vested interests of old money WASPs, represented by Basil Rathbone and John Carradine, the latter a J. Jonah Jameson type newspaper proprietor who harbours a historical grudge on account of an ancient run in with Skeffington’s mother. Ford himself wasn’t above pursuing such vendettas, as Donald Sinden has related in his memoirs concerning the making of Mogambo (1953).

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In our more cynical times, it’s easy to get snotty about sentiment verging on sentimentality but (just as with Spielberg, who learned so much from Ford) you see the big emotional punches coming, you know how much contrivance went into them and they still get you every time (even when, for instance,  Skeffington’s very last hurrah is signalled by some ripe old over acting from Jeffrey Hunter as his nephew…)

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The other two titles here are regarded as the real departures from “orthodoxy” but you don’t have to poke too far into them to find familiar Fordian concerns and anyway, the ways in which they do differ from more canonical material make for some of the most interesting and entertaining viewing on this set. Gideon’s Day (Gideon Of Scotland Yard in the States and released in the same year as The Last Hurrah) is a very English affair, adapted from the novel by John Creasey, written by T.E.B. Clarke (who also penned, among so many others, the Ealing classics Hue And Cry, Passport To Pimlico, The Titfield Thunderbolt and The Lavender Hill Mob), shot by David Lean’s favourite DP, Freddie Young and starring the redoubtable Jack Hawkins, whom Ford described as the best actor he ever worked with (what John Wayne thought of this is not recorded). For all its Englishness, that country’s upper classes don’t get away without the expected kicking. The story is pretty much “what it says on the tin” and beyond that I’m not going to say too much, as I’m meditating a separate posting devoted to this (and another) film.

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The Whole Town’s Talking is the earliest and probably most atypical of this bunch. Milquetoast office clerk Arthur Ferguson Jones (Edward G. Robinson) yearns hopelessly for sassy Wilhelmina (Jean Arthur) until he is mistaken for public enemy number one “Killer” Manion (Edward G. Robinson) with predictably riotous consequences. Robinson had of course established his crime kingpin credentials beyond debate in Mervyn LeRoy’s Little Caesar (1931) but proves here, if such proof were needed, his dramatic range (Robinson had already essayed a dual role in Archie Mayo’s distinctly odd The Man With Two Faces, the previous year) … kudos to for DP Joe August for split screen process shots, some of which have you wondering: “Hang on, how did they do that?”

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Nobody ever stole the show or so much as  a scene from Edward G. Robinson (let alone two Edward G. Robinsons) but Jean Arthur holds her own against both in the kind of feisty female role that provided the model for Daria Nicolodi’s performance as Gianna Brezzi in Deep Red (1975). Ford, having given Arthur her screen debut in Cameo Kirby (1923), here established her in the persona that would see her through several subsequent screwball comedies for Frank Capra.

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Extras on this box set

THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING

  • 4K restoration
  • Original mono audio
  • Cymbaline (2020): a new video essay by Tag Gallagher, author of John Ford: The Man and His Films
  • Leonard Maltin on ‘The Whole Town’s Talking’ (2014): archival appreciation by the film critic and historian
  • Sheldon Hall on ‘The Whole Town’s Talking’ (2020): new appreciation by the film historian
  • Pamela Hutchinson on Jean Arthur (2020): a look at the life and career of the acclaimed actor
  • Image gallery: promotional and publicity materials
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Farran Smith Nehme, an extract from the W R Burnett’s Jail Breaker, Edward G Robinson on The Whole Town’s Talking, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits
  • UK premiere on Blu-ray

THE LONG GRAY LINE

  • 4K restoration
  • Original mono audio
  • Audio commentary with film historians Diana Drumm, Glenn Kenny and Farran Smith Nehme
  • Living and Dead (2020): a new video essay by Tag Gallagher, author of John Ford: The Man and His Films
  • Leonard Maltin on ‘The Long Gray Line’ (2014): archival appreciation by the film critic and historian
  • The Red, White and Blue Line (1955): rare promotional film, featuring the principal cast of The Long Gray Line
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Image gallery: promotional and publicity materials
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Nick Pinkerton, archival interviews with John Ford, Maureen O’Hara on The Long Gray Line, an overview of contemporary critical responses, Anthony Nield on The Red, White and Blue Line, and film credits
  • World premiere on Blu-ray

GIDEON’S DAY

  • 4K restoration
  • Original mono audio
  • Alternative feature presentation with the US Gideon of Scotland Yard titles
  • Audio commentary with film historian Charles Barr (2020)
  • Milk and Sugar (2020): a new video essay by Tag Gallagher, author of John Ford: The Man and His Films
  • Leonard Maltin on ‘Gideon’s Day’ (2014): archival appreciation by the film critic and historian
  • John Ford’s London (2020): new appreciation by Adrian Wootton, Chief Executive of Film London
  • Interview with Elaine Schreyeck (2020): the continuity supervisor recollects her work on the set
  • John Ford and Lindsay Anderson at the NFT (1957): rare silent footage of Ford visiting London’s National Film Theatre during the production of Gideon’s Day
  • Original UK theatrical trailer
  • Image gallery: promotional and publicity materials
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Robert Murphy, an interview with producer Michael Killanin, Jack Hawkins on Gideon’s Day, Lindsay Anderson on John Ford, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits
  • UK premiere on Blu-ray

THE LAST HURRAH

  • 2K restoration
  • Original mono audio
  • True Blue (2020): a new video essay by Tag Gallagher, author of John Ford: The Man and His Films
  • Leonard Maltin on ‘The Last Hurrah’ (2014): archival appreciation by the film critic and historian
  • Super 8 version: original cut-down home cinema presentation
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Image gallery: promotional and publicity materials
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Imogen Sarah Smith, John Ford on Spencer Tracy and The Last Hurrah, screenwriter Frank S Nugent on John Ford, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits
  • UK premiere on Blu-ray.

Pity they couldn’t find room for the notoriously icky Sex Hygiene, the VD awareness film that Ford made for the US armed forces in 1942.

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The Long Gray Line’s Betsy Palmer is probably best remembered by our regular readers for her appearance in another film…

 

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Should I Stay Or Should Iago? THE STRANGE ONE Reviewed

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BD. Region B. Indicator. PG.
Limited edition (3,000 units). World BD premiere.

If you’re expecting an uplifting tale of America’s Finest doing the right thing as they heroically uphold truth, justice and the ol’ Red, White and Blue here, you’ve got the wrong film, mister. Try An Officer And A Gentleman, instead. Actually, some of the characters in this one end up doing the right thing. Eventually. Sort of…

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“The Southern Military College” is an ostensibly upstanding institution, propagating a noble tradition. For many of its doughboys, though – certainly those within the orbit of junior officer Jocko De Paris (how’s that for an alpha male name?) – it’s a homoerotic hazing heirarchical hell hole (and that’s only the “H” words!) Jocko (as played by Ben Gazzara in his screen debut) is described on the film’s poster as “the most fascinating louse you ever met” though you’d undoubtedly be better off not meeting him, representing as he does the point on the graph where “evil Sgt. Bilko” meets “dime store Iago”.

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Motiveless malignity indeed, as Jocko’s Machiavellian machinations progress from humiliating uptight WASP weirdo Simmons (Arthur Storch) to getting star cadet George Avery (Geoffrey Horne) dishonourably discharged and goading Major Avery, George’s  father (Larry Gates) into slapping him, effectively terminating the military careers of two generations of Averys in one fell swoop. So why does Jocko have it in for this family? After puzzling over that one for a while, Robert Marquales (George Peppard, also in his first film appearance) works out that he doesn’t. He has it in for … everybody! “A man has to have a hobby” offers Jocko, when challenged. Should his peers blow the whistle? He’s taken pains to implicate most of them in some outrage or other and they’ve got a lot invested in their own careers. Will anyone have the moral courage / sheer balls to speak out?

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Calder Willingham adapted his own 1947 novel End As A Man to the stage, achieving  a Broadway run, no less, in 1953/4. Director Jack Garfein and most of the Broadway cast were retained for this screen adaptation (and Julie Wilson’s blousey character introduced to temper the otherwise overwhelmingly gay ambience), hence the strong ensemble playing. There’s inevitably a stagey feel about the film but it also derives much of its sheer power from the same source, much like Sidney Lumet’s almost exactly contemporaneous 12 Angry Men (Lumet would take The Strange One’s themes to their most brutal conclusion in his gruelling 1965 effort, The Hill).

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The film’s in b/w, BTW…

As well as the barely restrained sexual threat always simmering just below the surface at Southern Military College, plenty of other ugly American attitudes linger on. The racism is almost palpable, with several characters openly lamenting the Confederate States’ defeat in the Civil War. Quite the poisonous concoction and when somebody suggests that maybe Jocko is just a bad egg, Marquales develops the food metaphor by pointing out that mushrooms thrive best in a swamp. Tribal dynamics, a charismatic amoral leader, the acquiescence of underlings… what could poissibly go wrong? No surprise that this material was so interesting to Garfein, an Auschwitz survivor. Interviewed in the extras here, the late director recalls how producer Sam Spiegel (of all people) ordered him to remove any shots of black people, so that The Strange One would sell better in The South. Garfein disobeyed and Spiegel retaliated by soft-pedalling the picture, which promptly disappeared. Instead of going on to the Lumet-like career of which he was clearly capable, Garfein only directed one more feature (Something Wild in 1961, starring his then wife and future giallo queen Carroll Baker)… but hey, he’d done the right thing.

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Move along please, nothing remotely homoerotic to see here…

Additional extras include an interview with Gazzara, trailer and image gallery, collectors’ booklet and an audio commentary with critic Nick Pinkerton which alternates dry biographical detail with interesting observations on The Actor’s Studio, Bertolt Brecht and (believe it or not) the thoughts of Morrissey and Mark E. Smith. I’d hate to call Pinkerton a strange one, but Manchester? He’s clearly mad fer it…

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Thrilling To Gilling … Swashbuckling Matinee Madness On INDICATOR’S FIFTH HAMMER BD BOX SET

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Hammer Volume 5: Death & Deceit.
BD. Indicator. Region B. 12.

VISA TO CANTON (Michael Carreras, 1961) World BD premiere.
THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (John Gilling, 1962) UK BD premiere.
THE SCARLET BLADE (John Gilling, 1963) World BD premiere.
THE BRIGAND OF KANDAHAR (John Gilling, 1965) World BD premiere.

Although he’s better remembered for his Hammer Horror credits (notably the superior 1966 brace The Reptile and Plague Of The Zombies, less notably for the following year’s lack-lustre The Mummy’s Shroud or 1961’s The Shadow Of The Cat… though the latter is regarded as something of an underrated gem by Hammer aficionados) John Gilling directed a similar amount of Hammer’s swashbuckling adventure yarns (stirring tales of derring-do for boys of all ages), including the lion’s share of this latest limited edition Hammer box from Indicator, which easily maintains the high standards set by its predecessors.

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… and we’ll just gloss gently over Gilling’s Mother Riley Meets The Vampire (1952)

It’s received wisdom, in certain quarters, that Hammer kept the UK film industry afloat during the 1960s with its “lavish productions”, but anything more rigorous than a cursory squint at these films themselves  (never mind the cheese-paring anecdotes related in the supplementary materials here) reveals a modus operandi not too far removed from that of Jess Franco himself, with stock footage of crowd and battle scenes cheerfully filched from other pictures.

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Notoriously, the sea dogs in Gilling’s The Pirates Of Blood River (and I guess the clue was right there in that title) don’t even have a ship from which to fly their Jolly Roger, unless you count the stock footage galleon floating around under the film’s titles or a conspicuous model thereof, briefly glimpsed later in the picture. Instead, the dubiously accented Captain LaRoche (Christopher Lee, fresh off of Bava’s Hercules In The Haunted World but, four years after Dracula, still billed beneath Kerwin Mathews and TV actor Glenn Corbett) leads his posse of pretty and not so pretty boys through waterways populated by ravenous piranhas (for the purposes of the story) and (in real life) raw human sewage! Tall, dark and gruesome, Lee managed to keep his head above the scum line but if you study the relevant sequences diligently, you might be able to work out the precise moment at which Oliver Reed (as LaRoche’s sidekick Brocaire) contracted an eye infection.

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The Pirates of Poo Pond…

By all accounts Gilling was a martinet with little interest in endearing himself to his actors and about as much regard for Health & Safety as the people who put that cladding on Grenfell Tower. In The Scarlet (Crimson, States-side) Blade, we learn, only the threat of a walk out by the crew dissuaded him from staging a hanging stunt in such a way that the actor involved was in very real peril of asphyxiation. It’s interesting to see Michael Ripper (generously basted in Bisto as gypsy Pablo) in that film, “riding a horse” (but quite clearly not) against a blatant back projection, having witnessed another thespian coming an equestrian cropper under Gilling’s direction. Ripper, incidentally, gets much meatier roles in many of these adventure yarns than he could ever have hoped for in Hammer’s more celebrated Gothic Horrors… he’s also great as knife throwing Pirate Mack (get it?) in Blood River.

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While he was never going to be voted humanitarian of the year by his collaborators, Gilling was that rarest of commodities in early ’60s British Cinema, a writer / director and one with a real knack for moral ambivalence and character development. In POBR Mathews’ Jonathan Standing finds his good standing in an island community of stuffy Huguenots seriously undermined when his affair with another man’s wife is discovered. She tries to elude her shame by running into a piranha infested river (with predictable results) while he’s sentenced by a jury of elders (chaired by his emotionally torn father) to a spell in a particularly brutish labour camp. Liberated from this hell hole by those pirates, Standing throws his lot in with them, on condition that they treat the rest of the islanders (including a pre-pubescent Dennis Waterman) with clemency. When they laughingly renege on this undertaking, Standing has to reconsider his position all over again…

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Hammer never saddled up for any ostensible oaters but Pirates and its companion pieces are clearly crypto-Westerns. The obvious literary model, meanwhile, is the story of Coriolanus, as evoked by Shakespeare via Thomas North’s 1579 translation of Plutarch’s The Lives Of The Noble Grecians And Romans. Gilling continues to plunder this palimpsest with further not so simple minded thrills and spills in the aforementioned Scarlet Blade, wherein Olly Reed’s Roundhead Capt. Tom Sylvester oscillates between careerism (masquerading as the call of duty and devotion to Lionel Jeffries’ Col. Judd) and lust (masquerading as love) for Judd’s Royalist sympathising daughter Clare (June Thorburn) who secretly supports the fifth column activities of the Zorro-like title character, Edward Beverley, played by Jack Hedley. Maybe if I’d opened my pitch for a Hedley interview with this one rather than the scarlet blades he encountered in lucio fulci’s The New York Ripper (1982), I might have got somewhere…

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The film is simple-mindedly pro-Cavalier and freighted with anachronisms and inaccuracies but Gilling is clearly less interested in such stuff than he is in individual conscience and its attendant dilemmas. In distinct contrast to Reed’s character’s death in Pirates (“Ooh mama”, indeed!) Sylvester’s character contradictions ultimately explode in one of the the most scenery-chewing death scenes ever committed to celluloid.

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There’s more of the same in The Brigand Of Kandahar, with half-caste (as he would have been referred to in those days) British officer Case (Ronald Lewis) again falling from grace on account of an illicit affair (his peers disapproval here compounded by considerations of class and the taboo of miscegenation). He takes up arms against the British Empire with the dreaded Eli Khan (Reed getting to wear the boot blacking on his face this time) before the latter’s duplicity and casual cruelty make for second thoughts… further complicated bt the erotic attentions of Yvonne Romain’s “Ratina” (!?) Stay tuned for a “lust in the dust” styled denoument and plenty of other stuff subsequently lampooned in Carry On Up The Khyber (1968).

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Gilling went on to direct episodes of such iconic ITC television series as The Saint, The Champions and Department S and… after relocating to Spain (where he died in 1984), Cross Of The Devil, (1975)… a semi-canonical entry in the Blind Dead / Templars cycle.

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Michael Carreras’s Visa To Canton (“Passport To China” for the American market) is a significantly less sophisticated proposition than any of the above, in fact you could comfortably dismiss it as a pale Bond knock off… until you check your dates! Ian Fleming’s greatest creation first saw the light of the silver screen in Terence Young’s Dr. No, two years after Richard Basehart’s Don Benton used his Far East travel agency as a front to foil some fiendish Oriental insurgency (Hammer’s track record in this area doesn’t hold up well to PC scrutiny… Anthony Bushell’s Terror Of The Tongs was made back to back with Visa To Canton but Red Communism was clearly supplanting inscrutable supervillains as the “Yellow Peril”), wooing the dangerously glamorous Lisa Gastoni while doing so. It would be overstepping the mark to claim 007 as a Benton clone (Visa To Canton looks like it’s striving to set up a few sequels but presumably those were deemed surplus to requirement after international audiences had bonded with Bond) but the music’s another matter and it’s here that David Huckvale’s diverting bonus discourses on the OSTs to the films in this box proves most telling, pointing out the influence on Monty Norman’s 007 theme from the ostinatos that Edwin Astley (Pete Townshend’s father-in-law, BTW) fashioned for Visa To Canton.

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As on Indicator’s previous Hammer sets, this one is stuffed with extras. Horror author Stephen Laws provides well informed but pleasantly fannish introductions to each film, female critics profile their leading actresses (here it’s Josephine Botting on June Thornburn, Melanie Williams on Yvonne Romain and Virginie Sélavy on Lisa Gastoni, while Kat Ellinger handles  Marla Landi (great to learn that she became Lady Dashwood after marrying Sir Francis, whose namesake ancestor founded the Hellfire Club!) Audio commentaries come courtesy of Vic Pratt, Kevin Lyons and (for Pirates) screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, art director Don Mingaye and Hammer historian Marcus Hearn. You get the expected trailers, image galleries all and the “Collectors Booklet” stuff I never set eyes on.

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Strewn among the remaining extras, we find such treats as Stephen Laws interviewing Andrew Keir (who found Quatermass And The Pit director Roy Ward Baker about as likeable as everybody else here found John Gilling) at Manchester’s Festival Of Fantastic Films in 1993; Jonathan Rigby’s extensive personal reminiscences of top Hammer screenwriter Jimmy Sangster; appraisals of Gilling from Kim Newman and Neil Sinyard,  the latter likening him to Val Lewton, no less. Yes, We Have No Piranhas is an exhaustive video essay on Pirates of Blood River’s censorship travails, with split screen comparisons detailing every excised piranha bite. We also learn that the BBFC (whose John Trevelyan remembered TPOBR as the only film he ever busted down from an ‘X’ certificate to a ‘U’) insisted on the volume of whip cracks being reduced!

The Gilling stuff has been beautifully remastered and Visa To Canton looks OK. This is another cracking box set limited to 6,000 numbered units, so what are you waiting for? Grab yourself a piece of the action, right now…

 

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Murder Cadabra… THE MAD MAGICIAN Reviewed.

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BD. Region Free. Indicator. 12.

“I don’t want to miss your opening”, Police Lt Alan Bruce (Patrick O’Neal) tells cute Karen Lee (Mary Murphy) before her debut in a new stage production… and that’s a bit forward of him, if you ask me. And exactly what kind of a show is this, anyway? Actually it’s a magic show in which she’s the glamorous assistant to Gallico The Great (Don Gallico to his Mum), as played by Vincent Price. The show will climax with “The Lady And The Buzzsaw”, a variation on the old “sawing a woman in half” routine that GTG confidently expects to be his launchpad to a glittering Broadway run. Never mind the buzzsaw, Ross Ormond (Donald Randolph), Gallico’s killjoy boss in his day job at Illusions, Inc arrives with an injunction to stop this magical milestone being performed. Turns out that he’s got contractual dibs on anything his employees create and he’s saving the buzzsaw extravaganza for The Great Rinaldi (John Emery), a rival magician who’s been taking the plaudits for Don’s creations for years.

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The next time Gallico encounters his boss, the latter adds insult to injury by reminding him how he stole his wife. Mad? This magician’s bloody furious and responds by turning a radical revamp of that buzzsaw gag on his tormentor, then stashing the severed head in a Gladstone bag. He disposes of Ormond’s body on a bonfire but when an unfortunate bag mix up leads to that severed noggin being delivered to the cops he masks up, assumes his victim’s identity and goes on the lam. He rents a room but as luck (and Crane Wilbur’s delightfully barmy screenplay) would have it, his busy body landlady, Alice Prentiss (Lenita Lane) is a  crime novelist whose most recent best seller, Murder Is A Must, turns on the notion that once somebody’s carried out their first murder, they’ll be obliged to commit more and more of them to cover their tracks. Sticking her nose in where it’s not wanted, she engineers a reunion between “Ormond” (and Gallico)’s duplicitous former wife Claire (Eva Gabor), setting off a chain of events which neatly confirms the thesis of her novel, as Don is obliged to bump off more people, don more masks and adopt more identities, with exponentially compounding complications. Think “The Talented Mr Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!” meets Man Of A Thousand Faces.

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If Vincent Price’s career move from suave smoothy to Horror Icon (with those Corman collaborations, Phibes, Witchfinder General, et al to come) began in André De Toth’s House Of Wax (1953) it was sealed by this one, directed by John Brahm the following year … in fact Columbia were so keen to jump on Warner’s 3D bandwagon that they started shooting The Mad Magician before De Toth’s film was released. The stereoscopic gimmick isn’t even particularly well deployed. Instead of showcasing the shock / action / murder set pieces, it’s mostly frittered away on throwaway shots of playing cards, squirts of water and yo-yos being thrust in your face. Price, in stark contrast with all of these shenanigans, plays it admirably straight, though one might well speculate that he picked up his renowned subsequent hamming habit from John Emery’s ripe overperformance here as The Great Rinaldi.

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This is great goofball fun, for maximum enjoyment of which I would recommend that you screen The Mad Magician in a double bill with Herschell Gordon Lewis’s completely crazed The Wizard Of Gore (1970)… you won’t believe your eyes!

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Limited, as usual to 3,000 copies, Indicator’s The Mad Magician has been restored in 2K for its UK BD premiere and is presented in both two and three dimensional options. There’s a Jonathan Rigby commentary track as well as a featurette on ’50s cinematic 3D from archivist Tim Vincent and cinematographer Frank (Kubo and the Two Strings) Passingham for you to enjoy. As well as the expected trailer, image gallery and collector’s booklet (which I haven’t seen yet), you get not one but two cut-down Super 8 presentations of the film… and to put the tin hat on it, justifying the purchase price by themselves, a couple of stereoscopic shorts from the mighty Three Stooges, Spooks! and Pardon My Backfire (both 1953). Whaddya mean, you don’t dig The Stooges?!? College Boy, huh? If the spectacle of Mo, Larry and Shemp poking each other in the eye, sticking forks up each other’s noses, setting fire to each other’s pants, springing mouse traps on each other’s tongues and being attacked by a vampire bat that looks suspiciously like Curly Howard – all in glorious 3D – doesn’t significantly elevate your mood, then you’re already dead…

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Women Seem Wicked, When You’re Unwanted… Dennis Potter’s SECRET FRIENDS Reviewed

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BD. Region Free. Indicator. 15.

Dennis Potter (1935-1994) was a prolific, idiosyncratic TV writer from 1960 onwards and a gratifyingly ongoing irritant to the Daily Mail tendency. The BBC production of his Brimstone And Treacle (directed by Barry Davis and broadcast in 1976) raised hackles by suggesting the therapeutic benefits of rape (by The Devil, no less). Despite bearing the unmistakable, er, influence of two 1968 films (Pasolini’s Theorem and a certain Roman Polanski effort), Brimstone was cited by supporters as definitive proof of Potter’s ferocious originality though one imagines that, in the post #MeToo era, it (and Richard Loncraine’s 1982 feature remake, in which the execrable Sting replaced Michael Kitchen as the demon lover) would invoke more hostility than ever.

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Potter peaked in 1978 with Piers Haggard’s six part BBC adaptation of his Pennies From Heaven, a narrative tour de force in which song and dance numbers are mimed at apposite points. It didn’t exactly hurt that a perfectly cast (as a romantically inclined but ill-fated sheet music salesman) Bob Hoskins was on superb form (when was he ever not on superb form?) throughout.

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13p?!? Pennies indeed…

“Ferociously original” as he may have been, Potter was never above recycling good ideas that had previously seemed to go over OK. His Blue Remembered Hills (directed by Brian Gibson as part of the Beeb’s Play For Today strand in 1979) revived the “children played by adult actors” gag he first tentatively deployed for Keith Barron’s character in Stand Up, Nigel Barton (a Wednesday Play, directed in 1965 by Gareth Davis). Sometimes, though, the revival of such devices was to distinctly diminishing returns…

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The Singing Detective (1986) shoe-horned Pennies From Heaven’s brilliant narrative conceit into a (rather dull, self-pitying) story where it didn’t really belong. The best thing about this one is that Mary Whitehouse proposed an ingenious, totally baseless theory about Potter’s inspiration for such “dirty” material, a proposal which resulted in her being successfully sued for libel by Dennis’s Mum… oh, how we laughed! Despite Mary’s moral and my aesthetic objections, The Singing Detective became a substantial success. Potter put his first foot seriously wrong, though, with the 1989 four parter Blackeyes, another racy BBC serial for which he insisted on directing his own script.

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Casting my mind back half a life time ago, I can’t pretend (not very convincingly, anyway) that I didn’t enjoy the spectacle of Gina Bellman (who had supplanted Joanne Whalley in the pantheon of Potter’s sexual obsessions) mincing around in various states of undress, but DP’s direction proved embarassingly ham-fisted and (for a writer who habitually took an oblique, allusive tack) sometimes shockingly on the nose.

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Monkeys about to be spanked on a pedestal in Dennis Potter’s Pantheon (caveat emptor, this is NOT a scene from any of the films discussed here)…

Potter’s sophomore and final stab at directing was Secret Friends (1991), a feature adaptation of his 1986 novel Ticket To Ride. Much of its action is set on a train (because it’s a journey of self realisation, right?), bringing to mind (“ferocious originality” notwithstanding) Return To Waterloo (1984), in which similarly over reaching director Ray Davies blotted his brilliant career escutcheon and its brightest adornment.

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Half way through dining on fish in First class, illustrator John (Alan Bates) finds himself in the throes of a profound amnesia attack. “As memories, fantasies and psychotic visions collide” (to quote the blurb), two straight edge businessmen sitting opposite John are drawn into his attempts to get a grip on his shifting “reality”, which notably involves them excitedly goggling at his assignation with an eye-scorchingly glamorous prostitute (Bellman) who, we eventually discover, is John’s wife (nudge, nudge) Helen. John can only, er, “function” in the context of this role-playing scenario but the fantasy is taking over and gradually killing their marriage. John’s whore / Madonna complex seems to stem from his father’s contempt for his mother. It’s also suggested that Dad might have sexually abused young John. Make of all this what you will…

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Limited, like most of the Indicator releases I get to see, to 3,000 copies, Secret Friends is looking good for its UK BD premiere in this HD remaster. Bonus materials include an appreciation of the film by Graham Fuller, the editor of Potter On Potter and a short interview with Ian McNeice, who plays one of those bewildered businessmen. You get the expected trailer and image gallery, plus a 36-page booklet (which I haven’t seen) including interviews with Potter, a new essay by Jeff Billington, full film credits and contemporary reviews. Gina Bellman, who (despite not reciprocating her director’s openly declared erotic fixation on her) has always previously spoken positively about her working relationship with Potter, is not interviewed here. Whether, in the fulness of time and the current climate, she decides that she was exploited, objectified or whatever by him, remains to be seen.

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The Witch Who Came From The Sea… Curtis Harrington’s Beguiling NIGHT TIDE Rewiewed.

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Virgil Finlay illustrates J G Ballard’s The Crystal World, 1966

BD. Indicator. Region Free. PG.

When asked to identify the greatest auteur in the field of Spaghetti Westerns, Sergio Leone would sidestep any potential offence to such friends as his fellow Sergios Corbucci and Sollima by identifying… Homer. The Blind Bard also dreamed up (or borrowed from earlier, nonextant epic tradition) a shedload of iconic monsters including, alongside the likes of Polyphemus, Scylla and Charybdis, one whose potential to convey the fascinating / forbidding duality of women (or of men’s desire for them) via the medium of Film has gone sadly (and rather mysteriously) underdeveloped… The Siren… The murderous Mermaid.

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The Siren, J W Waterhouse. 1900.

Sexy sirens have appeared in innumerable RomComs, ranging from Ken Annakin’s Miranda and Irving Pichel’s Mr Peabody And The Mermaid (both from the annus mirabilis of 1948) to Bill Forsythe’s Local Hero (1983) and of course Ron Howard’s Splash (1984). As recently as 2016, in Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid, such a creature is detailed with killing a playboy businessman but ends up falling in love with him. There have been conversely few cinematic weird tales featuring bona-fide weremaids… off the top of my head I could only come up with Amando De Ossorio’s determinedly shclocky The Loreley’s Grasp (1973), which boasted Helga Liné (below) as its eponymous fishy femme fatale.

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Well here’s another, Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide (1961) revived and restored in magnificent 4K by the good graces of Nicolas Winding Refn. I’ve touched, elsewhere in this blog, on my mixed feelings about great marginal cinema (as variously defined) being in thrall to the patronage of today’s hipster taste makers, who inevitably cop for themselves, in the process, some of the kudos for which their predecessors worked so hard.

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Under whatever auspices, we can only be grateful for the reemergence of Night Tide. Harrington (pictured below in a rather tasty shirt) was an extraordinary film maker, one who made the journey from low budget experimental Cinema to low budget commercial Cinema (and back), bringing his philosophical, sexual and occult preoccupations along with him.

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Born 17/09/26 in LA, the precocious Harrington made his first film at 14, a zero budgeted adaptation of Poe’s Fall Of The House Of Usher, in which he essayed two thirds of the roles. He subsequently attended UCLA and worked his way up through menial studio jobs which funded further experimental shorts through the ’40s and ’50s. Harrington shot Kenneth Anger’s Puce Moment (1949) and acted in Anger’s Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome (1954) and served as a production assistant on big budget pictures like the Mark Robson brace The Harder They Fall (1956) and Peyton Place (1957), also Martin Ritt’s The Long, Hot Summer (1958). After the impressive artifact under consideration here, Harrington pressed on with such Freudsteinian fare as Voyage To The Prehistoric Planet (1965), Queen of Blood (1966… pictured below and one of the many films cited as a precursor to Alien), the self-consciously postmodern Games (1967) and two decidedly camp thriller vehicles for Shelley Winters,  Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1971) and What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971).

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Games

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Subsequent efforts ranged from the disturbing The Killing Kind (1973) to the possession hokum of 1977’s Ruby (briefly the most profitable indie film of all time, until knocked off its perch by John Carpenter’s Halloween the following year). Even Harrington’s “hired gun” TV movies, e.g. 1975’s The Dead Don’t Die (below) frequently contain truly startling imagery.

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Harrington also directed episodes of such TV staples as The Twilight Zone, Dynasty, The Colbys and Wonder Woman.  His two Charlie’s Angels episodes came in Season 2, after Charlie’s contemporary configuration of Kate Jackson (who’d appeared in Harrington’s The Killer Bees, 1974), Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd  decreed that they would only work with female or gay directors. Harrington is often cited as one of the heralds of “The New Queer Cinema”, if indeed such a thing existed.

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Adapted from Harrington’s own short story, The Secrets Of The Sea, Night Tide follows AWOL sailor Johnny Drake (Dennis Hopper), bumming around Venice Beach, LA. A couple of years later he might well have encountered Jim Morrison, mooching around Venice and mistaking himself for A Poet. As it happens, he goes into a beatnik bar, finds Mora (Linda Lawson) and is instantly smitten. Well, why wouldn’t he be?

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Locals warn him that Mora’s last two boyfriends drowned under mysterious circumstances. Well, she earns a living by putting on mermaid drag for an end-of-the-pier show but nobody can seriously believe that she’s a shape shifter who kills off her bed mates in phase with the cycle of the Moon… can they? But who’s the mystery woman played by (Marjorie) Cameron and what’s the nature of the hold she seems to exert over Mora? Or are her problems rooted in a rather more banal source, her questionable relationship with father figure Captain Murdock (Gavin Muir), who took on Mora when he discovered her as an abandoned child on Mykonos (which will have its own resonance for anyone who’s ever seen Island Of Death)? The only way for Johnny to find out is to pursue his infatuation to whatever conclusion awaits…

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If all that sounds a bit Cat People (1942), Harrington did nothing to dispel the shades of Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur with his 1973 TV Movie The Cat Creature. Night Tide is an atmospheric enigma, eminently fit to be mentioned in such august company. For all its obvious bugetary limitations, Harrington charmed everybody in his cast and crew into making great contributions. Hopper, at this point still seriously playing roles rather than the ongoing role of Dennis Hopper, is genuinely endearing. OST composer David Raksin rises to the occasion alongside DPs Vilis Lapenieks and the uncredited Floyd (father of David) Crosby. The lure of  Night Tide is irresistible. At the risk of repeating myself, Harrington was an extraordinary film maker, whose autobiography is well worth seeking out.

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Aside from the expected trailer and image gallery, disc 1 on this set includes two illuminating audio commentaries, one from Harrington and Hopper (1998), the second courtesy of writer and film programmer Tony Rayns (2020). Harrington and Raynes are in agreement that the film’s conclusion is clear cut, but I’m with Hopper, who didn’t quite get it (and I wouldn’t attribute that entirely to his epic drug consumption in the meantime). Ah well, there’s my excuse to watch and enjoy Night Tide all over again. You also get no less than three career-spanning interviews with the director, two of them being episodes from David Del Valle’s Sinister Image public access TV series. All good…

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… and there are plenty more bonus goodies on Disc 2, comprising a generous sampling of Harrington’s indie shorts. The 1942 Fall of the House of Usher is technically crude but give the guy a break, he was 14! Fragment of Seeking (1946) mixes surrealist and expressionist tropes in an exploration of sexual unease. Picnic (1948) treads similar thematic ground while On the Edge (1949) and The Assignation (shot in the other Venice during 1953) are fraught with intimations of mortality. In The Wormwood Star (another colour effort from 1956) the aforementioned Cameron seems to achieve an elevated state of consciousness via working on her paintings and ritual. Harrison even manages to work his magickal concerns into The Four Elements, a 13 minute industrial film from 1966 ostensibly extolling the virtues of American capitalism and its capacity to deliver eternal economic expansion from finite resources (not among Greta Thunberg’s favourite flicks, this one, I would imagine). Bringing things full circle, Harrington (increasingly frustrated by the lack of opportunities to mount the kind of Artistic statements that he wanted) sold a signed edition of Aleister Crowley to finance his 37 minute rendering of Usher, completed in 2002 (five years before his death in Hollywood). As in the version from 60 years earlier, the director plays both Roderick and Madeleine Usher. Auteurists and their obsessions, eh?

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Un-American Activities… Joe Losey’s TIME WITHOUT PITY And SECRET CEREMONY Reviewed

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Secret Ceremony. BD. Indicator. Region B. 15.

Indicator have been fair rattling out Joseph Losey titles recently, including The Damned aka These Are The Damned (1962) as part of their fourth Hammer BD box. Losey’s filmography is a notoriously uneven one, inevitably compromised by his Hollywood exile (for standing up to McCarthyite witch hunters) and subsequent search for a more convivial environment in which to make movies, scarcely less by his continuing adherence to Brechtian notions of alienation after he did settle in the UK.

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Like any Lefty worth his salt, Losey was fascinated by the power relations within social groups. In These Are / The Damned his scrutiny ranged from Clockwork Orange before their time biker gangs to deep state bigwigs dictating the fates of nations. Time Without Pity (1957) concerns itself with the plight of the individual in conflict with The State / Society (a pretty extreme / capital case thereof), which is inextricably connected to the state of that individual’s relationship with his father. Secret Ceremony (1968) zones straight in on the treacherous terrain of power and corruption within one family.

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In TWP David Graham (Michael Redgrave) is a failed writer and an even worse excuse for a father. The only field in which he excels is alcoholism. He ends up attempting to dry out in Canada, in a joint so strict that he’s not allowed any mail whatsoever, even mail informing him that his son Alec (Alec McCowen) has been convicted of murdering his girlfriend Jennie (Christina Lubicz) and condemned to hang. Discharged from Rehab (but still drinking like a fish), Graham arrives back in Blighty on the eve of the execution and embarks on a frantic mission to stay the hangman’s hand, with the aid of his solicitor Jeremy Clayton (Peter Cushing). Alec seems resigned to his fate and is contemptuous of his deadbeat Dad’s sudden concern for his welfare but convinced of junior’s innocence, Graham begins to focus his suspicions on brash industrialist Robert Stanford (Leo McKern), at whose property the murder took place

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Watching TWP, I was reminded of Jorge Grau’s lesser known 1974 effort Pena De Muerte (= “The Death Penalty” but ludicrously retitled “Violent Bloodbath” in Anglo territories), a film which debates the rationale of capital punishment in any country whose judicial system is seriously skewed along class lines. In Losey’s picture Leo McKern gives a driving (in every sense of the term) portrayal of precisely the kind of swashbuckling, feckless entrepreneurial psychopath we are encouraged to worship these days, yay, even unto bailing them out for their fuck ups and financial car crashes.

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I’ve suggested elsewhere on this blog that some of the awkward characterisations and conspicuous miscasting in other Losey films might be intentionally connected with his fixation on Brechtian alienation but there’s no need for any such get out clauses here, with a great cast doing their stuff impeccably. Jeremy Clayton was Cushing’s last role before Trence Fisher’s The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957) transformed his career and the face of cinematic Horror forever. Redgrave’s Graham finally redeems himself in a barnstorming final twist which has a touch of the Sydney Cartons about it. Tis a far, far better thing he does…

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This cracking British noir was the first film that Losey made in exile which was released back in The States with his real name on it. From one Joe to another… up yours!

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Secret Ceremony, on the other hand, does have more than a smidgeon of Bertolt B. polemics about it. Mia Farrow (fresh off of Rosemary’s Baby) is Cenci, a childlike and plainly disturbed young woman who lives alone in an improbably opulent mansion in Holland Park. She encounters Leonora (Liz Taylor) on the top deck of a bus and becomes fixated on her on account of her resemblance to her late mother. As chance (and screenwriter George Tabori, adapting Marco Denevi’s short story) would have it, Taylor is also mourning a dead daughter whom Cenci resembles. Accepting her offer to move in (which sure beats living as a homeless prostitute), Leonora finds herself in a scathing battle of wits with the deranged girl.

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Suggesting that Losey had been boning up on his R.D. Laing (both men were former philosophy students), Secret Ceremony locates the source of Cenci’s malaise squarely in the family matrix. Leonora soon encounters and has to contend with her covetous Aunts (Peggy Ashcroft and Pamela Brown) then along rolls Albert (Robert Mitchum), the sleazy step father who’s been molesting Cenci since childhood (not too difficult a bombshell to have anticipated, given the naming of Farrow’s character). Rough justice, of a sort, is finally served, though the final scene is open to a variety of interpretations.

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Taylor takes a lot of stick for many of her performances and this one is often singled out for particular derision, unjustly so in my opinion. Mitchum slides into the role of the cynical nonce with his accustomed louche alacrity and Farrow could have been born to play Cenci (though in fact she only got the part when Julie Christie turned it down). It says a lot for the quality of the cast that actresses of Ashcroft and Brown’s calibre are restricted to such minor roles. Much more fuss is made of Mike Nichols’ Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966) but this neglected oddity is every bit as compelling.

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If only all films of this vintage looked this good on Blu-ray. Indicator have managed a beautiful rendering of Gerry Fisher’s cinematography. Thankfully this is the unadulterated Secret Ceremony, minus the extra (non-Losey) scenes that Universal tacked on in an act of vandalism that they hoped would make the film more agreeable to American TV networks. You want to know about the special features on these discs? Of course you do and here, by the miracle of cut and paste, they are…

Time Without Pity, HD remaster

  • Original mono audio
  • The John Player Lecture with Joseph Losey (1973, 80 mins): the celebrated filmmaker in conversation with film critic Dilys Powell at London’s National Film Theatre
  • New and exclusive audio commentary with Neil Sinyard, co-author of British Cinema in the 1950s: A Celebration
  • The Sins of the Father (2019, 16 mins): filmmaker Gavrik Losey, son of Joseph Losey, discusses Time Without Pity
  • Horlicks: Steven Turner (1960, 1 min): vintage commercial for the malted milk drink, directed by Joseph Losey
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Robert Murphy, Joseph Losey on Time Without Pity, Jeff Billington on the MacMahonists and Time Without Pity, an overview of critical responses, and film credits
  • World premiere on Blu-ray
  • Limited edition of 3,000 copies

Secret Ceremony, HD remaster

  • Original mono audio
  • Audio commentary with authors and critics Dean Brandum and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (2019)
  • Archival Interview with Joseph Losey(1969, 15 mins): extract from the French television programme Cinéma critique, featuring the celebrated director promoting the release of Secret Ceremony and an appreciation by critic Michel Mourlet
  • The Beholder’s Share (2019, 25 mins): interview with Gavrik Losey, son of Joseph Losey
  • TV version: additional scenes (1971, 18 mins): unique epilogue and prologue produced for US television screenings, with Robert Douglas and Michael Strong
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Larry Karaszewski trailer commentary (2015, 3 mins): short critical appreciation
  • Image gallery: promotional and publicity material
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Neil Sinyard, an archival location report, Joseph Losey onSecret Ceremony, a look at the source novella, an overview of contemporary reviews, and film credits
  • World premiere on Blu-ray
  • Limited edition of 3,000 copies
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It’s Hammer (Horror) Time! Indicator’s HAMMER VOLUME FOUR: FACES OF FEAR Box Reviewed

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BD. Indicator. Region Free. 15.

Indicators limited (to 6,000 numbered units) edition Hammer Volume Four: Faces Of Fear box set trawls through that legendary studio’s repertoire in similarly promiscuous style to its three predecessors, yielding four UK Blu-ray premieres. First up is possibly the most undervalued jewel in Hammer’s Gothic crown, Terence Fisher’s The Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958). Although it’s generally acknowledged that, in the previous Universal cycle, James Whale outdid even the splendours of his Frankenstein (1931) when he made The Bride Of Frankenstein in 1935, Fisher’s second Frankenstein flick tends to get undeservedly short shrift relative to the big break through picture he helmed for Hammer, The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957).

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TROF takes up exactly where the original left off in 1860, as the Baron (Peter Cushing) is led out to his assignation with the guillotine. His deformed assistant Carl having greased the executioner’s palm, the attending priest affords the Baron more solace than he could possibly have imagined by going under the blade in his place. Three years later, Dr Stein has relocated to Carlsbrück, where he’s maintaining a very successful medical practice. His lucrative work on the town’s neurotic young ladies and their matchmaking mothers underwrites his free clinic for this burg’s unwashed social marginals who in, their turn keep the Baron in body parts for his sophomore crack at creating a new creature. Carl will be repaid by having his superfine mind relocated to a more salubrious body (that of Michael Gwynne) and everybody will be happy ever after. That’s the idea, anyway…

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Ambitious young doctor Hans Kleve (Francis “future voice of Captain Scarlet” Mathews) is Klever enough to figure out the doc’s true identity and volunteers to assist him. As the alternative is to be turned in to the police, “Doctor Stein” graciously accepts this kind offer. The big operation turns out successfully but the intervention of well-off do gooder Margaret (Eunice Gayson) sparks off an unfortunate sequence of events resulting in the handsome young creature degenerating physically and turning cannibal (!) The hoity-toity local medical board aren’t best pleased with these developments, but their response pales into insignificance compared to the reaction of the unwashed paupers / unwitting organ donors, leading to a twist ending which sets up the Baron nicely for the rest of the series as a proper self made man.

 

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Did I mention the fab cameos from Michael Ripper and Lionel Jeffries?

Among the expected plethora of extras attending this 4K restoration there’s that cracking trailer with Cushing’s baron ‘fessing up to his escape from Madame Guillotine and his plans for new outrages. In the featurette Back from the Dead Jonathan Rigby, Alan Barnes and Kevin Lyons devote their collective attention to the film. The consensus emerges that Eunice Gayson’s character was a bit of a waste of screen space. Pamela Hutchinson makes the pro-Eunice case in her featurette then Kat Ellinger gets the casting vote in a visual essay directed by Dima Ballin. I don’t know if Kat’s the first critic to discern a connection between Cushing’s Frankenstein and Dennis Price’s character in Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949), but the comparison is very well drawn.

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There are two audio commentaries from duos of genre pundits, Marcus Hearn / Jonathan Rigby and Kim Newman / Stephen Jones. David Huckvale (author of Hammer Film Scores And The Musical Avant Garde) dissects Salzedo’s score and you get 12 soundless minutes of on-set outtakes plus the 8 minute long Super 8 presentation and image gallery. As with all the other films on this set, there’s a trailer with optional audio commentary (in this case by Joe Dante). There’ll also be a limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet including a new Marcus Hearn essay and Kieran Foster on Hammer’s unrealised Tales of Frankenstein TV series, Jimmy Sangster on The Revenge of Frankenstein, a selection of promotional materials, an overview of contemporary reviews and comprehensive film credits.

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At the point in my life where it was beginning to dawn on me that Horror Films might actually be worth writing about rather than just casually consuming, Mario Bava, Roger Corman and Terence Fisher were generally regarded as the holy trinity of auteurs among Horror directors in the critical texts I started reading. Producer Val Lewton was afforded similar status. Subsequent waves of pro and fanzine publications have only boosted Bava’s credentials but these days Corman is more highly regarded for the talent he brought along rather than his own directorial efforts and Lewton has just about disappeared off the radar which Fisher vacated long ago.

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Wolf Mankowitz seemed to have precious little respect for Fisher even in 1960, when he was called upon to impart an air of “respectability” to the director’s The Two Faces Of Dr Jekyll. His screenplay, freighted with throwaway Freud and Nietzsche, displays similarly scant regard for Robert Louis Stevenson (and to make it unanimous, Hammer deny Stevenson a writing credit for a classic  story that had slipped into the public domain), introducing a new character, Paul Allen (Christoper Lee) who turns an infernal triangle (also involving Dawn Addams as the doc’s flighty wife) into a right raunchy rectangle.

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Paul Massie takes on the title role(s), tweedy and dull in a joke shop beard (Hammer make up maestro Roy Ashton sparing every expense) as Dr J, clean shaven, wild eyed and overacting furiously as Paul Allen gives Mr H. a guided tour of the most vanilla debauchery London has to offer. Composer Monty Norman (yes, the Bond guy) and DP Jack Asher impart the requisitely lush sound and visuals (beautifully rendered in this HD remaster) to keep a golden era Hammer romp rattling along. By the close of proceedings Dr J is confronted with the real life fall out from his abstract philosophical theories about “authentic” manhood. This one would make an interesting double bill with Walerian Borowczyk’s The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Miss Osbourne (1981), which wrestles with similar ethical concerns and takes similar liberties with the narrative of RLS’s venerable yarn.

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Bonus wise you get an audio commentary with film historians Josephine Botting and Jonathan Rigby, the latter also popping up alongside his usual cohorts in the overview featurette Identity Crisis. Academic Laura Mayne profiles Dawn Addams and we get the additional benefit of a fan’s audio interview with Paul Massie (who reassures his interlocutor that the sex films in his films were actually staged) and an archive interview with Wolf Mankowitz. In Mauve Decadence, David Huckvale supplements his discussion of Monty Norman’s score with observations on the film’s colour schemes. Plus all the expected stuff and the booklet will feature a new essay by Kat Ellinger, a selection of promotional materials, an overview of contemporary reviews and full film credits.

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Not wanting to be typecast as… well, tall, dark and gruesome, Christopher Lee declined the lead role(s) in TTFODJ in favour of one that prefigures several he subsequently took in certain of Jess Franco’s better budgeted De Sade adaptations a decade or so later… and of course in 1971 he took the “Jekyll / Hyde” (actually Marlowe / Blake) roles in Stephen Weeks’ even looser Amicus adaptation I, Monster. So go figure.

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Lee wasn’t the only one worried about flogging the goose that laid the golden egg to death, either. Michael Carreras and the other Hammer bigwigs were more worried about that than I clearly am about mixing metaphors and for Taste Of Fear (1961), Jimmy Sangster was tasked with writing an hommage to a French film that was released in 1955 and whose influence, though apparently rapidly eclipsed by Hammer’s more overtly explosive efforts, subsequently pervaded some of Hitchcock’s finest screen achievements (notably Vertigo and Psycho) and later the gialli with which it has, on numerous occasions, been associated in this blog. I’m talking, of course, about Henri George Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (below). Underlining this attempted shift in style Taste Of Fear, directed in 1961 by Seth Holt (heading up only his second feature film) was shot in moody monochrome (rather than Fisher’s favoured gaudy colour schemes) by Douglas Slocombe.

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Wheelchair bound Penny Appleby (Susan Strasberg) visits her estranged father’s cliff top mansion in the South of France, only to be told that he’s away. So why does what appears to be his corpse (below) keep turning up in the conservatory, swimming pool and elsewhere? Looks like her step mother Jane (Ann Todd) and the family doctor Pierre Gerrard Lee again) are attempting to gaslight Penny out of her inheritance. Luckily Ann’s hunky chauffeur Robert (Ronald Lewis) seems to be rooting for our girl… but there are plenty of twists to come.

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Nearly 60 years after its initial release, Taste Of Fear remains an effective shocker, from its gloomy opening to the satisfying poetic irony of its conclusion, with twists piling upon twists along the way. You’ve got to give Holt, Sangster and co credit for something fresh because the template of Les Diaboliques had not, at this point, been thrashed into the ground by so many late ’60s and subsequent gialli (most of them written by Ernesto Gastaldi). Don’t get me wrong, I love those pictures but Clouzot’s original remains superior to them and indeed Taste Of Fear, because… well, I think it’s something to do with the fact that its protagonists are struggling to survive in a drab, unforgiving environment, as opposed to the louche playboys and girls who came later. Does that make me sound “classist”? I’m not sure that’s even a real word…

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Together with two presentations of the main feature (including the US version Scream Of Fear) we’re treated to a particularly bumper slate of supplementary materials on this disc including a commentary track from Kevin Lyons, who joins Jonathan Rigby and Alan Barnes in the featurette Body Horror. Expect lots of anecdotes about director Holt having to contend with Strasberg’s formidable mother on set. Melanie Williams profiles Ann Todd and there are not one but two (one video, one audio) interviews with Jimmy Sangster. Joining Jimmy in the British Entertainment History Project archive, Douglas Slocombe talks about working for Hammer and Steven Spielberg and camera operator Desmond Davis and assistant sound editor John Crome chip in with their reminiscenses.  You get the Super 8 version of Scream of Fear and the booklet will contain an essay by Marcus Hearn, Jimmy Sangster on the film, an archival on-set report, selection of promotional materials and an overview of contemporary reviews.

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The Damned (1962… “These Are The Damned” in the US) would fit just as comfortably (or uncomfortably) on any other Hammer box. This eclectic effort could have been (and at various points was) hyped as both juvenile delinquency and sci-fi saga, the latter slant enhanced no end by its more than passing resemblance to Wolf Rilla’s Village Of The Damned (1960 and pictured below, mainly because it’s such a groovy graphic!)

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Middle-aged yank Simon Wells (Macdonald Carey) sails into Weymouth and begins his holiday by falling foul of a honey trap involving attractive young Joan (Shirley Anne Field) and run by her brother (Oliver Reed, who appears briefly in Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll and was last seen ripping off seaside tourists on this blog in Michael Winner’s The System). Beaten up by King’s “Teddy Boys” (clearly a gang of actual Rockers, drilled by King in a foreshadowing of Alex’s handling of his droogs in A Clockwork Orange), Wells continues his pursuit of Joan and by various clumsy script contrivances the dramatis personae find themselves in a secret base on an island where irradiated children are being prepared for a post-Apocalyptic future…

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A likely story, with awkward characterisations exacerbated by some conspicuous miscasting, The Damned is nevertheless well worth watching due to the profusion of challenging ideas throws out by Joseph Losey (several of whose films have been recently released by Indicator). On the lam from McCarythyite witch hunting (and originally pencilled in to direct Hammer’s X – The Unknown, 1956, until its Commie-phobic star Dean Jagger objected and Leslie Norman replaced him), Losey was always fascinated by the power dynamics between social groupings, be they biker gangs or deep state bigwigs dictating the fates of nations. He’d studied with  Bertolt Brecht so maybe we can give him the benefit of the doubt and conclude that if the characterisations and miscastings in this film have an alienating effect, they were supposed to. Maybe.

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This one will also be accompanied by an exclusive 36-page booklet comprising a new essay by Richard Combs, Losey’s reminiscences, the US pressbook, contemporary reviews and all the rest of it. The 2K restoration is presented in two 96-minute versions, as either The Damned or These Are the Damned. Rigby, Barnes, Lyons and in this case Nick Riddle present an overview of the film and there’s a commentary track courtesy of Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan. You get alternative appraisals from Neil Sinyard and I Q HunterFilm plus an interview with filmmaker Gavrik Losey, son of the director and always an acute analyst of his father’s work. Film historian Lindsay Hallam profiles Viveca Lindfors. There are interviews with first time screen writer Evan Jones, brought in by Losey to  improve the screenplay (so God knows what kind of shape it was originally in) and camera operator Anthony Heller. Possibly the most engaging interviews of all are with grown up radioactive munchkins David Palmer, Kit Williams and Christopher Witty, who all seem to have developed juvenile crushes on Shirley Anne Field (and why on Earth wouldn’t they?), who is also interviewed. Here at THOF we’ve never knowingly spurned an opportunity to run a picture of SAF looking lurvely and why should this posting be any different?

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The Poughkeepsie Shuffle, Reshuffled. BADGE 373 Reviewed.

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

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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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Signs Of The Times… A Round Up Of Recent INDICATOR Releases

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They Made Me A Fugitive. BD. Indicator. Region Free. PG.
The System. BD. Indicator. Region Free. 12.
90º In The Shade. BD. Indicator. Region Free. 12.
Hussy. Indicator. Region Free. 18.

Over the course of three short years Indicator has become a label to be reckoned with, boasting a track record of quality restorations, beautifully packaged and loaded with niche extras rivalling the kind of stuff you’d expect to find on releases from the BFI (with whom Indicator seem to work in close cahoots). This latest batch of limited (to 3,000 units each) editions comprises telling snapshots of developing social and sexual mores in the UK (and Prague!) over some thirty odd years.

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Alberto Cavalcanti’s They Made Me A Fugitive (1947) is part of what is now perceived as a Golden Age of British Cinema, though received in its day as residing very much on the seamy underside of that glittering era… not exactly St. John L. Clowes’ No Orchids For Miss Blandish (1948) in terms of notoriety, but definitely not a very nice film. How could it be, when it deals with the morally distorting fallout of the Second World War (with similar forensic intensity to Carol Reed’s The Third Man, 1949)?

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Trevor Howard is demobbed RAF man Clem Morgan, trying to make sense of “peacetime” in bleak ol’ Blighty. A sense of existential ennui drives him into common criminal cause with the psychotic Narcy (Griffith Jones). That’s “Narcy”, as in narcissistic, nasty, Nazi… and narcotics. When Clem refuses to get involved in the dope trade, Narcy frames him for the murder of a copper and he ends up breaking rocks on Dartmoor… only to escape and home in on his nemesis, embarking upon an odyssey through an ethically empty terrain where he encounters a seemingly respectable woman planning to murder her husband and hitches a lift from a sinister, sadistic lorry driver. These moral distortions run parallel with alarming visual outbreaks for which much credit must go to cinematographer Otto Heller but which also remind us that  Cavalcanti directed the deeply unsettling “Ventriloquist’s Dummy” episode in 1945’s Horror portmanteau classic Dead Of Night. One of the problems contemporary critics had with TMMAF was its stylishly shot misogyny (gialloesque before its time?)… “What’s England Coming To?”

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This UK Blu-ray premiere is a 2K restoration by the British Film Institute, whose Kieron Webb outlines all the work that went into that on one of the bonus featurettes. Film historian Neil Sinyard delivers an illuminating appreciation of TMMAF in another. Trevor Howard features in two bonus shorts, 1941’s Squaring The Circle (a dramatised Royal Air Force training film in which he makes his first screen appearance) and The Aircraft Rocket (1944), an extract from a multi-part RAF technical film. There are image galleries and an archival audio recording of the John Player Lecture with Cavalcanti from 1970, when nobody apparently had any qualms about sponsorship by tobacco companies. There’ll be an accompanying booklet stuffed with essays too, but (and this also goes for everything reviewed below), I haven’t seen that yet.

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There’s more misogyny, albeit expressed (for the most part) via utterances and attitudes in The System (1964, U.S. title The Girl Getters), a drama of social and sexual manners whose guiding existential ennui is generated by ’60s Affluence rather than post-war Austerity. The eponymous “system” refers to the modus operandi of girl-hunting buckos on the make in Devon at the height of the holiday season rather than any crack at British class arrangements, though the film does kind of mutate into that as its story develops.  Oliver Reed is the philosophical beach bum (taking sunbathers’ photos, unsolicited, then asking them for money? Try that now and see where it gets you) who, for all his macho front, finds himself getting hooked on upper crust model Nicola (Jane Merrow, a late replacement for Julie Christie).

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The film which started getting attention for its director Michael Winner, The System contrasts very favourably with e.g. Ken Russell’s unwatchable (despite the presence of Marisa Mell in its cast) French Dressing, shot and released at virtually the same points in 1964. At that time your money would have been on Winner emerging as the more interesting director (a bet you’d obviously have lost). Then again, Winner is leaning heavily here on writer Peter Draper and his DP Nic Roeg. Why wouldn’t he? Roeg turns in some characteristically extraordinary shots in what is a fairly ordinary picture and there’s plenty of testimony in the supplementary interviews regarding how much Winner deferred to his judgement.

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By the time he penned his unreliable memoir, 2004’s Winner Takes All (relevant fragments of which, I’m reliably informed, will appear in the booklet accompanying this release) the director had become altogether less modest and suggested that The System (specifically the scenes of larking around on a train) preceded A Hard Day’s Night (a quick glmpse at IMDB confirms that the opposite is true) and that Epstein wanted him to direct the Beatles’ flick… sure thing, Mike. No Fabs here, so Winner makes do with The Marauders, The Rocking Berries and the Searchers, who contribute an annoying ear worm of a title song (co-written by by Bobby Richards and Mike “Jeff Randall” Pratt). He did benefit from the services of a strong cast of up’n’comers… John Alderton… Julia Foster… a curiously underused David Hemmings, just two years away from Antonioni’s Blow Up. The bonus interviews on this HD remastered BD world premiere include predictable tales of Reed Rowdysim, though by all accounts Ollie was very reluctant to strike Merrow for real and ultimately bullied into it by Winner, whose non-fan club will no doubt receive a posthumous boost in membership on account of that and other anecdotes on this disc… What’s England coming to? Cast members Merrow, John Porter-Davison and Jeremy Burnham reminisce to good effect, there’s an audio commentary from film historians Thirza Wakefield and Melanie Williams, plus image gallery. Haunted England  is Winner’s woefully unfunny 1961 travelogue about British stately homes and their ghostly inhabitants, hosted by an embarrassed looking David Jacobs, which you might find yourself wishing had remained interred.

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What was Czechoslovakia coming to in 1965? Jiří Weiss’s 90º In The Shade portrays a Prague not overly troubled with the problems of Affluence but still seething with troublesome social and sexual politics. Anne Heywood (from The Killer Is On The Phone, et al) is convenience store worker Alena, who’s having an unsatisfying clandestine affair with her married manager Vorell (James Booth from Zulu), a jack the lad who’s drinking / appropriating his way through the store’s non-selling stock of expensive spirits. Enter the auditor Rudolf Kurka (Lucio Fulci lookalike Rudolf Hrusinsky from Juraj Herz’s Cremator, 1969) and the jig might well be up. Cue a mad night for Vorrell and Alena, scrambling all over the city in an attempt to drum up replacement booze and the money to buy it. Their efforts are in vain and I’ll give you three guesses as to who ends up carrying the, er, can. Meanwhile the stuffy auditor, himself trapped in an unhappy family situation, goes through a humanising experience due to his involvement with Alena. Not exactly a happy ending, though. Is it all an allegory of the build up to the coming Dubcek thaw? It would take a greater expert in Czech politics and culture than me to tell you…

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“Lucio who?”

… which is why it’s a good reason that Michael Brooke supplies the audio commentary to this Blu-ray world premiere. One of the fascinating things about this English / Czech co-production is that the English and Czech language versions, quite aside from there significantly different running times (the English language version, at 91 minutes, running longer than the Třicet Jedna Ve Stínu cut by a full 8 minutes) frequently feature alternative shots and takes. Both versions appear (as 2K and HD restorations, respectively) here and Brooke details their differences in one of the disc’s bonus featurettes. Other bonus goodies include an archival audio review with director Jiří Weiss and three of his WWII propaganda shorts, supporting Czech and Norwegian resistance to the invading Nazis and bigging up the Soviet airforce. Stirring stuff.

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After all those Angry Young Men, it’s time to turn the spotlight onto a Tart With A Heart… Mathew Chapman’s Hussy (1980) stars Helen Mirren as Beaty, an escort / single mum seeking  a better life for her and her son. Can she find it with American drifter Emory (John Shea) or will compromising past entanglements (in which Emory himself becomes increasingly entangled) frustrate their developing love story and her longed for escape from seedy pick up joints?

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Neither as raunchy as Caligula (1979) nor as gritty as The Long Good Friday (1980), between which it sits equidistantly poised on Mirren’s illustrious resumé, Hussy is a romantic melodrama involving people who make their living in the down market smut milieu, rather than a piece of down market smut. Inevitably, the latter is how it was presented in the UK media, as regretfully conceded in the supplementary featurettes by producer Don Boyd, among others. Maybe that’s why Mirren couldn’t be persuaded to associate herself with this release. John Shea, the ever fascinating Jenny Runacre (below with Dame HM) and OST composer George Fenton do get to have their say… sad that the ill-fated Sandy Ratcliff is no longer around to do so.

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Very much of its time (there are some casual references to sex tourism that wouldn’t go down very well today) Hussy is a beautifully vivid evocation of life in late ’70s London, more properly (after all, how would I know?) of London life as it was lived on the likes of The Sweeney and Minder… I’m surprised it hasn’t turned up on ITV 4 recently. Then again, now that we have this HD remastered UK BD premiere, there’s no need for that. After all the misogyny soaked up by the female leads of the other three films in this batch, Hussy’s upbeat conclusion comes as a welcome relief.

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The real hidden gem here is an archival audio micro interview (all 4 minutes of it) with Hussy’s poster artist Sam Peff (1921-2014), whose distinguished career illustrating pulp paperback covers, quad posters and video boxes (Peff’s iconic / notorious work on Go Video’s release of Cannibal Holocaust is just one of his contributions to this field) deserve a more expansive featurette… Severin, I’m looking at you!

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