The Blue Dahlia (1945) | Raymond Chandler’s only original screenplay is a hard-boiled film noir classic must-see
The classic 1940s noir thriller, The Blue Dahlia, stars Alan Ladd as discharged naval flier Johnny Morrison who returns home to Los Angeles to discover his wife Helen (Doris Dowling) has been unfaithful. When she is found murdered, Johnny becomes the prime suspect and promptly goes on the run.
The always gorgeous Veronica Lake then turns up as Joyce, the wife of nightclub owner Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva) – who was Helen’s lover – and with the help of Johnny’s army pals, Buzz (William Bendix) and George (Hugh Beaumont), tries to clear his name…
Crime writer Raymond Chandler scored an Oscar nomination for his lean and mean original screenplay. It was the only one he ever wrote specifically for a movie and one in which he completed while ‘drunk’ when production was speeded up on the film because Paramount studio bosses feared Ladd would be re-inducted into the real-life US army.
The film, which was directed by George Marshall (of Destry Rides Again fame), also marked the third pairing of Ladd and Veronica Lake following 1942’s This Gun for Hire (which made Ladd a star) and The Glass Key (also available from Arrow Academy). It was released to great acclaim and has since become a must-see film noir classic.
William Bendix is a standout as Ladd’s shell-shocked war buddy who keeps complaining of ‘monkey-music’ in his head and the complicated story – all set in Hollywood’s decadent night club strip – keeps twisting brilliantly until the final cop-out ending (that was also done to placate the US war office).
A radio play version of the film was broadcast on 21 April 1949 as part of the The Screen Guild Theater, starring Ladd and Lake in their original film roles.
The Blue Dahlia is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy in the UK. The extras include selected scene commentary and an introduction from author Frank Krutnik, the 1949 radio play, original trailer, gallery and promotional materials. Plus, a collector’s booklet (first pressing only).
Conversation Piece (1974) | Luchino Visconti’s meditation on family, beauty and decadence is a quiet achiever
Directed with operatic flare by Luchino Visconti (following his recovery from a stroke), 1974’s Conversation Piece is dominated by a finely controlled turn by Burt Lancaster as a retired American professor who has filled his apartment in Rome with 18th-century paintings of family groups known as ‘conversation pieces’.
But when the brash Countess Brumonti (Silvana Mangano) lures the professor into accepting her family and young German lover (Helmut Berger) as tenants, he finds his ordered life and self-composure increasingly disrupted by their presence…
Set inside the confines of a grand old palazzo, Visconti’s penultimate film (which was shot in English) is a sleek, sly critique of the decadent European jet set that gets better with age.
You’ll be hard-pressed to have little empathy for the self-absorbed Brumonti brood or Berger’s decadent lothario, but Lancaster’s professor is real softie who will melt your heart. And the way he deals with his life being turned upside down is a wonderful lesson in humility. This is a quiet achiever from a master director in his final years.
Conversation Piece gets a dual-format release following a brand new 2k restoration from Eureka! Entertainment as part of their Masters of Cinema Series. Extras include the Italian dub soundtrack, optional subtitles, an interview with screenwriter Alessandro Bencivenni, trailer and a collector’s booklet.
In an apocalyptic Australia, where lawlessness prevails, outcasts and misfits are being secretly herded into concentration camps disguised as drive-in movie theatres. When young petrolhead Crabs (Neil Manning) takes Carmen (Natalie McCurry) to the local drives in his brother’s ’56 Chevy, they soon face the terrible realisation that they have become the latest inmates of this bizarre social experiment. Can they escape before becoming resigned to a hellish existence of all-day parties, round-the-clock movie shows, and all the radioactive junk food they can eat?
Dead-End Drive-In is a prime slice of crazed Ozploitation from Brian Trenchard-Smith (aka Australia’s answer Roger Corman), who was responsible for Australia’s first martial arts thriller The Man From Hong Kong and the cult prison actioner Turkey Shoot. When it was released Down Under in 1986, it was written off as a bargain bin Mad Max rip-off, while its unconvincing cast of day-glo punks, freaks and loons looked like they had stepped out of an issue of the era’s über-trendy i-D magazine.
But it does have its fans, including this (Australian-born) writer, especially as it popularised German Bundeswehr vests and featured some rocking new wave tunes from those legendary Aussie alternative bands, Hunters + Collectors and Kids in the Kitchen. It’s also a great reminder of the now lost Australia tradition of going to the Drives.
Originally put out under the ArrowDrome label on DVD in 2013, Dead-End Drive-In is now out on Blu-ray, featuring a 2k restoration print, and packed with new extras, including an audio commentary from Trenchard-Smith and a documentary by the director on Australian stuntman Grant Page. Which only makes this the perfect excuse to revisit the much-maligned futuristic thriller.
Praised by Quentin Tarantino and George Lucas, Wizards is an epic sci-fi fantasy adventure created by the legendary animator Ralph Bakshi in 1977, and it’s now available on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK featuring a new high definition print.
Millions of years after a nuclear holocaust, the Earth is divided between the Badlands, where goblins and demons dwell, and the Goodlands, which is home to fairies and elves. During a violent storm, the queen of Montagar gives birth to two wizards– Avatar and Blackwolf, who are fated to enter into a deadly battle between magic and technology.
‘A cross between Tolkien’s Hobbit, Mel Brooks’ 2000 Year Old Man, and Marvel Comics’ Howard the Duck’ according to Tarantino, Wizards is without doubt a fantastical animated adventure from a master craftsman, but it also works as a none-to-subtle allegory on the creation of the state of Israel in the wake of the Holocaust.
Featuring the vocal talents of Bob Holt (Hong Kong Phooey), Jesse Welles (The Return of Count Yorga), and a pre-Star Wars Mark Hamill, this was the subversive cartoonist’s boldest gamble following his adult-themed flicks Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic. But it is also became a trailblazing calling card for his next foray into animated fantasy, 1978’s The Lord of the Rings.
The 2016 Fabulous Films region 2 DVD and Blu-ray release includes a new high-definition transfer, audio commentary from Bakshi, isolated music and effect audio track, a featurette on Bakshi, trailers and a gallery including conceptual drawings.
‘We all can dance when we find music that we love’
There’s a moment in this honest and affectionate film about Gary Numan that captures perfectly the gentle soul behind the cold robotic image that the synth pioneer became famous for – albeit very briefly – in the late 1970s and early 1980s – when he crafted the electro-pop classics Are ‘Friends’ Electric? and Cars.
Gary is reading to his daughter Raven from a children’s book about a lonely giraffe called Gerald who learns to embrace his brilliance. It’s a story that matches Numan’s own outsider journey, one that has seen him battle years of rejection and mental illness with drive and determination and, most significantly, with the help of the love of a good woman. In Gary’s case, it is his wife Gemma, who has not only given him a loving family (daughters Raven Persia and Echo), but has supported him through all the highs and lows (including stage fright, depression, and a fall out with his parents).
Their tight-knit relationship, which started out when Gemma was a teenage fan girl, is core to the film’s unapologetic honesty (and her detractors should take note). The film also allows audiences to get inside the creative mind of the Godfather of electronic pop music as he moves the family from the UK to California to put the final touches to Splinter, his first album since 1983. As played out in the film, this labour of love would eventually reach the UK Top 20 on its release in October 2013 – earning Numan the praise and accolades from the very people who had for so long belittled his career.
You certainly do not need to be a fan of Gary Numan’s music to get totally absorbed in this captivating film, which can also be read as a real-life fairy tale, one in which a self-confessed geek and loner conquered his demons to recognise his own brilliance. But once you’ve seen it, you’ll be wanting to track down Numan’s back catalogue… and be hankering to see him live on stage.
Gary Numan: Android in La La Land is screening in selected UK cinemas throughout September. Check out the website for more details: http://www.numandroid.com/
First broadcast in the UK in the 1955, and repeated on Granada TV in 1969, this will be the first time to catch the series in its entirety on TV.
Based on the John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson collection of short stories, from the 1940 collection The Queer Complaints, the 26-episode series was ITV’s first home-grown police series and starred Boris Karloff in the title role of Colonel March, who headed up a division responsible for the investigation of cases which had baffled the regular officers.
The urbane one-eyed March was quite a unique sleuth, as his investigations often involved the supernatural. While popular on both sides of the Atlantic, the series, which was filmed at Southall Studios in Middlesex, was never been commercially released (hence why all the DVD releases have been of questionable quality).
Directors Arthur Crabtree (Fiend Without a Face) and Bernard Knowles (The 39 Steps) helmed many of the episodes, with Hammer stalwart Terence Fisher directing The Invisible Knife. The guest stars included Christopher Lee (At Night All Cats Are Grey), Anton Diffring (The Silent Vow), Patricia Owens (The New Invisible Man) and Anthony Newley (The Case of the Misguided Missal).
The episodes Hot Money, Death In The Dressing Room and The New Invisible Man were released as a theatrical release, and while only 12 episodes still exist as 35mm monochrome prints, the entire series has been made available by the Multicom Entertainment Group.
• Catch the first episode again tonight Monday 5 September then every night at 7.30pm on Talking Pictures TV (Sky 343, Freeview 81, YouView 81, Feesat 306)
To mark the 40th anniversary of the UK release of director Nicolas Roeg’s iconic sci-fi, The Man Who Fell to Earth, a new director’s approved 4k restoration is being released into London cinemas on 9 September, with a Collector’s Edition Blu-ray and DVD following on 24 October.
Featuring a career defining lead performance from David Bowie and based on the cult novel by Walter Tevis, The Man Who Fell to Earth endures as, not only a bitingly caustic indictment of the modern world but, also, a poignant commentary on the loneliness of the outsider.
Friday 9 September has been declared a one-off David Bowie day by Curzon Soho as part of their campaign to save the cinema from demolition. After a special Save Curzon Soho edition of David Bowie Is Walking In Soho tour of the Thin White Duke’s locations, you can enjoy a special screening of The Man Who Fell to Earth introduced by its costume designer May Routh. Book tickets here.
Meanwhile, over in Hackney on the same night, Oscar-winning Director Danny Boyle introduces a special screening at Hackney Picturehouse. This is one of his favourite films and he has often sited Nicolas Roeg as a key influence on his career (he even referred to the film in the London Olympic opening ceremony). Book tickets here.
For more on the Collector’s Edition release, check out: www.facebook.com/vintageclassicsfilm
And there’s more… The original soundtrack album will be released for first time on CD on 9 September and on vinyl on 28 October; while the musical Lazarus, inspired by Walter Tevis’ novel, debuts at the Kings Cross Theatre, London from 25 October. Check it out here: lazarusmusical.com. Plus, a book on the making of the film, limited to just 1000 copies, is available for pre-order from 27 August: www.themanwhofelltoearth.co.uk
At the height of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, four German exiles in Hollywood – director Fritz Lang, playwright Bertolt Brecht (earning his only US credit here as Bert Brecht), composer Hanns Eisler and actor Hans Heinrich von Twardowski – pooled their efforts into Hangmen Also Die!, an important historical film from 1943 about the Czech resistance, which gets a 2k restoration release from Arrow in the UK from 29 August.
Taking as its starting point, the assassination of the real-life Nazi ‘Reich-Protector’ of Czechoslovakia, Reinhard Heydrich (Twardowski), Lang’s studio-bound suspenser sees an act of kindness by the courageous Marsha (Anna Lee) – hiding the culprit (a deadpan Brian Donlevy) from the Gestapo – result in her professor father (Walter Brennan) and 400 Czech compatriots facing execution unless Donlevy’s resistance fighter is turned over…
Shot in atmospheric black and white by the legendary James Wong Howe, and featuring a Oscar-nominated score from Eisler, Lang’s anti-Nazi gift to wartime American cinemagoers is a masterful blend of war picture, film noir and political thriller. It may loose points for its overly melodramatic Hollywood treatment of the story (all the non-Nazi’s have American accents and Twardowski’s Heydrich comes off like Colonel Klink in Hogan’s Heroes), but its revolutionary spirit shines through.
Eagle-eyed cinephiles can watch out for Dracula‘s Dwight Frye as one of the hostages (it was his last film role before a heart attack cut short his life aged 44 in 1943), and hear the unmistakable growl of Cul-de-sac‘s Lionel Stander as the getaway driver.
The Arrow release features a 2012 2k restored print by Pinewood from the Cohen Film Collection, and includes an audio commentary by film historian Richard Peña, along with an interview with author Robert Gerwarth on Reinhard Heydrich, plus newsreel footage, restoration comparison anda trailer. The first pressing of this release comes with a collector’s booklet.
A must-have for fans of Fritz Lang fans and lovers of wartime cinema.
Now here’s something to add to anyone’s horror reference library, and it comes from FAB Press and FrightFest’s Alan Jones…. The Dark Heart of Cinema – FrightFest Guide to Exploitation.
Featuring eye-popping posters, lurid lobby cards, OTT advertising, and witty editorial on 200 wonderfully trashy titles covering all manner of X-ploitation subgenres from 1935 to 1985, this A-Z volume is the first in what could become an annual publication – and I for one hope so. It’s a great size and length (unlike FAB’s weighty but equally covetable An Act of Seeing), and even boasts an intro from Combat Shock director Buddy Giovinazzo.
Ahead of its proper release on 16 September, you can bag yourself a copy if you pop into the Shepherd’s Bush Vue cinema where FrightFest is now underway over the Bank Holiday weekend. And if you can catch him between screenings, you can even get Alan to sign it for you.
In the meantime, here’s a sample of what lurks beneath the covers….