Category Archives: Classic
The Singing Ringing Tree (1957) | The surreal East German Brothers Grimm fantasy that traumatised a generation
If you happen to have grown up in the UK in the 1960s, then you will most likely recall The Singing Ringing Tree – an East German import whose transmission in three parts on the BBC in November and December 1964 caused an entire generation of children to have nightmares.
The surreal fairy tale adventure, which was originally released in 1957 in East Germany, is a variation of the Hurleburlebutz story by The Brothers Grimm. It centres on a self-centred princess (Christel Bodenstein) and the wealthy prince (Eckart Dux) who desires to win her love by bringing to her the mythical titular tree as a gift.
He finds it in a magical garden ruled over by a malevolent dwarf (Richard Krüger, AKA Hermann Emmrich), but when the princess again rejects him on his return, he loses a bet with the dwarf and is turned into a bear.
The princess, however, still wants her tree so she forces her father, the King, to fetch it. But he too loses a bet with the dwarf who places an ugly spell on the princess. The bear then tells her that the only way to break the spell is if she mends her ways. Will she?
Having grown up in Australia (in the 1970s), I missed out on this classic children’s fantasy – but British friends of mine have very vivid memories – especially the dwarf and the weird giant fish that the Princess befriends. Seeing it now for the first time, I can see why it must have been disturbing for young minds of the era. But it’s also a cinematic gem. I call it East Germany’s answer to the Wizard of Oz. The production design and sets are truly magical. No wonder it was such a hit in his home country, and still fascinates today. Its themes, of course, remain universal – even for the woke generation.
Presented in high definition for the first time, this Network release includes the fullscreen English narrated soundtrack (which was the one shown on the BBC back in the day), as well as the widescreen theatrical version with the original German audio. You can also choose the alternative music-only soundtrack as well as alternative French and Spanish soundtracks. The other special features include a 2003 interview with Christel Bodenstein, an image gallery and a booklet containing an essay by cultural historian Tim Worthington.
Order from Network: https://bit.ly/3yRgVJy
Hot on the heels of Eureka Entertainment’s 4k Blu-ray release of Paul Leni’s The Man Who Laughs comes the German director’s seminal 1924 anthology, Waxworks, presented in a new 2K restoration print on Blu-ray as a part of The Masters of Cinema Series.
This was Leni’s final directorial effort in Germany before he moved to Hollywood where he would helm not only The Man Who Laughs in 1928 but also The Cat and the Canary, The Chinese Parrot and The Last Warning before his premature death, aged just 44, in 1929.
Waxworks is expressionism in its purest form, featuring highly-stylised sets (all designed by Leni), chiaroscuro lighting, and stunning, early performances from future legends: William Dieterle, Emil Jannings and Conrad Veidt.
Leni’s silent (Das Wachsfigurenkabinett) centres on a writer (Dieterle) who is hired by the owner of an amusement park wax museum (John Gottowt) to pen some backstories of his key exhibits: Caliph Harun al-Rashid (Jannings), Ivan the Terrible (Veidt), and Jack the Ripper/Spring Heeled Jack (Wener Krauss). Adventure, history and horror then unfold, with the writer and the museum owner’s daughter (Olga Belajeff) also becoming characters within each ‘startling’ tale.
As there is no surviving original negative of the German print of Waxworks, this newly-restored presentation is composed of the 1926 British print from the BFI and additional film materials (all scanned in 4K and restored in 2K). It’s amazing how much effort has gone into this 2019 restoration, and the end result is truly stunning.
There are also two soundtrack options: a traditional silent movie piano score by composer Richard Siedhoff, or an avant-garde instrumental one by the Ensemble Musikfabrik (which is the one I prefer, check it out in the trailer below).
Amongst Eureka’s special features is Leni’s short films Rebus-Film Nr. 1 (1925-1926). These were animated crossword puzzles originally shown in German cinemas before the main feature. The one presented here comes with English translations, so you can try them out yourself.
BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES:
- 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a new 2K restoration, with stereo and 5.1 surround sound options
- Audio commentary with film critic Adrian Martin (this scholarly presentation is a perfect primer for students studying Weimar cinema)
- Paul Leni’s Rebus-Film Nr. 1
- In search of the original version of Paul Leni’s ‘Das Wachsfigurenkabinett’ – An informative interview with Julia Wallmüller (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna 2020), who looks at the film’s production and restoration
- Kim Newman on Waxworks: The film critic and fiction writer explores the legacy of Waxworks within cinema history
- Booklet featuring new essays, notes on the restoration process, production photographs and promotional material
In 2019, Scream Factory’s first Universal Horror Collection included the all-time 1930s classics The Black Cat and The Raven – two of my favourites – plus The Invisible Ray (another fave) and Black Friday (not so) – starring the kings of horror Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. The box-set was a must-buy for me as they included some stunning Blu-ray presentations, plus a stack of extras, including the fantastic documentary Dreams Within A Dream: The Classic Cinema of Edgar Allan Poe by Steve Haberman.
Now, I try to avoid double-dipping as best I can, but when I heard that the 1932 Pre-Code chiller Murders in the Rue Morgue was going to be released along withThe Black Cat and The Raven on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK as part of Eureka’s The Masters of Cinema Series, I just had to check it out.
Directed by Robert Florey as a consolation prize for losing out on Frankenstein, Universal’s third horror outing drew on Edgar Allan Poe’s famous 1841 story which introduced his fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin (played somewhat anemically here by Leon Waycoff – later Leon Ames). More Caligari than Poe, the twisted tale sees Lugosi’s mad scientist Dr Mirakle obsessed with creating a new human being by mating his carnival sideshow gorilla Eric (Charles Gemora) with Dupin’s fiancée Camille (Sidney Fox).
Lugosi is terrifically bonkers as the insane genius, cinematographer Karl Freund brings a nightmarish German Expressionist touch to Charles Hall’s Parisian sets (which include twisted buildings, narrow alleyways and a suitably macabre lab), and there are some genuinely unsettling sequences – especially when Lugosi experiments on one of his female victims. Magnificient!
In The Black Cat, Karloff (heading the bill as just Karloff) and Bela Lugosi (in second billing) paired up for the first time (they would go on to make eight pictures together). It has little to do with Poe or his original 1843 story but is fantastically original in both story and design, and directed with feverish flair by Edgar G Ulmer (who also created the wonderful modernist sets and costumes).
Cat-fearing Lugosi is respected Hungarian scientist, Dr Vitus Werdegast, out for revenge against his former friend, Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), who betrayed him during a bloody conflict and stole his wife while he was in prison. David Manners and Julie Bishop are the newlyweds who get caught up in the deadly game, which involves a cult of Satanists, dead women in glass cabinets, necrophilia, Karloff being skinned alive and a dynamite-filled cellar – all set to a soundtrack of classics by Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Bach and Brahms. Just wonderful.
With its ghoulish brew of lust, revenge and torture 1935’s The Raven was deemed so grotesque by the British censor that all American horror films were banned for two years. Lugosi (credited second as just Lugosi here) gives his definitive mad scientist performance as the crazed Poe-obsessed plastic surgeon Dr Richard Vollin, whose unrequited love for his latest patient, interpretive dancer Jean (Irene Ware) drives him to madness.
Luring Jean, her fiancé Jerry (Lester Matthews), who is also Vollin’s assistant, and her father, Judge Thatcher (Samuel Hinds), to his home along with some other dinner guests, he exacts his revenge with some devilish torture contraptions including a pendulum and a shrinking room. Karloff is the unfortunate murderer on the run, Bateman, whose face is purposely disfigured by Vollin so that he does his bidding – but ends up the hero of the piece.
While lacking the fantastical atmosphere of The Black Cat, this Universal outing is packed with thrills and has the look and feel of the popular action serials that director Lew Landers helmed around the same time. A timeless classic.
Eureka Entertainment’s two-disc Limited Edition Blu-ray set includes the following special content…
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations, with The Raven presented from a 2K scan
• Uncompressed LPCM monaural audio tracks
• Optional English SDH subtitles
• Murders in the Rue Morgue – Audio commentary by Gregory William Mank
• The Black Cat audio commentaries by Gregory William Mank (carried over from the Scream Factory release) and Amy Simmons
• The Raven audio commentaries by Gary D Rhodes (carried over from the Scream Factory release) and Samm Deighan
• Cats In Horror – a video essay by Lee Gambin
• American Gothic – a video essay by Kat Ellinger
• The Black Cat episode of radio series Mystery In The Air, starring Peter Lorre
• The Tell-Tale Heart episode of radio series Inner Sanctum Mysteries, starring Boris Karloff
• Bela Lugosi reads The Tell-Tale Heart (carried over from the Scream Factory release)
• Vintage footage (of Karloff and Lugosi inspecting black cats in a publicity stunt)
• New interview with author Kim Newman
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by film critic and writer Jon Towlson; a new essay by film critic and writer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas; and rare archival imagery and ephemera
Rio Grande (1950) | Jeremy Isaac revisits John Ford’s final entry in his Cavalry Trilogy as it hits the Blu-ray trail
Rio Grande is the third entry in director John Ford’s Western ‘Cavalry Trilogy’ (the first two are Fort Apache and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, released in 1948 and 1949 respectively), and features all the Fordian obsessions found in the earlier films: duty, community, the loneliness of command, career versus family, savagery versus civilisation, the ‘romance’ of the Confederacy, Irish stereotypes, fist fights, and Ford’s customary heavy humour and rollicking adventure scenes. Yet the film eschews both the prickly intensity of Fort Apache and the aching nostalgia of Yellow Ribbon to emphasise the troubled romantic relationship between its two principals, played by John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.
Based on James Warner Bellah’s short story Mission With No Record, the tale is a simple one: young trooper Jeff Yorke (Claude Jarman of The Yearling fame) arrives at a remote cavalry outpost to find the command headed by no-nonsense Lieutenant Colonel Kirby Yorke (Wayne), who also happens to be his estranged father. Yorke has been separated from the boy’s mother Kathleen (O’Hara) since duty to the Union led him to burn her Southern estate during the Civil War 15 years earlier.
Shortly afterwards Kathleen also arrives at the post with the intention of buying Jeff out of his commitment to the army, to which both son and father are vehemently opposed. As the trio struggles over this issue, Yorke and Kathleen try to rekindle their shattered love, something they both want but which they wrestle with because of their tragic past.
This plays out against the backdrop of an Indian rebellion involving several gripping action scenes and the kidnapping by Apaches of the post’s children (one of which is played by 10-year-old Karolyn Grimes, best remembered as George Bailey’s youngest daughter Zuzu in It’s A Wonderful Life; the Apaches are played by members of the Navajo tribe employed by Ford in most of his ‘Indian’ Westerns). Can Yorke and his trusty troopers succeed in rescuing the beleaguered youngsters?
As always, the director’s preoccupations are accompanied by his famous use of the ‘John Ford Stock Company’: Wayne was a longtime favourite of Ford’s; O’Hara had appeared in his Oscar-winning How Green Was My Valley, and would later join him and Wayne for The Quiet Man, as well as appearing in Ford’s The Long Grey Line and Wings Of Eagles in 1955 and 1957. Other Ford regulars include the boozy Victor McLaglen as Irish Sergeant Quincannon, Ken Curtis (lead singer of featured vocal group the Sons of the Pioneers, originally founded in the 1930s by Roy Rogers), former silent actor Jack Pennick, who appeared in all bar two of Ford’s 14 sound Westerns, and – importantly – lifelong Tinseltown pals Harry Carey Jr and Ben Johnson.
Harry Carey Jr’s father had been Ford’s biggest Western star during the silent era. Following his dad’s death the previous year, the director gave the young Harry an early movie break by casting him with Wayne and Mexican actor Pedro Armendariz in his allegorical 1948 oater 3 Godfathers, the opening titles of which dedicated the film ‘To the Memory of Harry Carey, bright star of the Western sky…’. Carey Jr went on to appear in dozens of movies over the next 60 years, many for John Ford, until his death in 2012 aged 91.
Raised on an Oklahoma ranch, Ben Johnson was a gen-u-ine cowboy and rodeo rider who was hired by producer Howard Hughes to ship horses to the West Coast for his controversial 1943 Western The Outlaw starring Jane Russell. In Hollywood Johnson worked as a stunt man in Westerns, and it was while working on Ford’s Fort Apache, the first in the Cavalry Trilogy, that he caught the director’s eye. During shooting, a horse team pulling a wagon bolted with three extras aboard. Seasoned horseman Johnson reacted immediately, racing after the wagon, reining in the team and saving the men’s lives.
Ford cast him as former Confederate officer-turned-US Cavalry Sergeant Travis Tyree in She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. Not only did the role give Johnson a chance to exercise his acting skills, it also allowed him to show off his superb horsemanship, filling the film’s action sequences with scenes of unparalleled equestrian pyrotechnics. His career with Ford seemed set, and he was cast in the lead in the director’s next venture, Wagon Master, in 1950. However, the film failed to make Johnson a star in the John Wayne mould and he returned in Rio Grande, this time as Trooper Tyree, as though demoted for his failure. He continued to make movies (mostly Westerns such as George Stevens’ Shane) for the next 40 years, winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his iconic portrayal of Sam The Lion in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show in 1971, before passing away in 1996 aged 77.
Harry Carey Jr was no mean horseman himself, as he (as Trooper Sandy Boone) and Johnson demonstrated in Rio Grande in a series of breathtaking scenes, notably one in which the pair rode ‘like them ancient Romans’, that is to say, standing upright atop two horses and straddling the gap between them with one foot on the back of each horse, racing and even jumping fences. However, it wasn’t all bareback for Johnson and Carey Jr, as the pair also played a crucial role as ever-present comedic guardians and protectors of the young Jeff.
Filmed in wild majestic locations in Moab, Utah, Rio Grande is not as intense as its predecessors Fort Apache or Yellow Ribbon. Certainly, it lacks the stress and tension surrounding Henry Fonda’s unyielding Colonel Owen Thursday of the first film, who pays the ultimate price for his relentless adherence to duty and the rituals of social convention, or the sense of mission failure and emasculation by being put out to pasture through retirement as experienced by Wayne’s Captain Nathan Brittles in the second.
Instead, Rio Grande‘s lower-key approach chronicles the angst-ridden contradictions of love, parenthood, family commitment and responsibility. The chemistry between the popular Wayne and O’Hara pairing is engaging and beautifully played as Kirby woos Kathleen all over again; the family is healed and reunited and, amid much galloping, massed war whoops and rapid gunfire, the rebellion providing the action-adventure background is put down, bringing peace to the frontier. It may not be John Ford’s best Western (no pun intended), but it’s still one of his finest, and a more-than-worthy closing volume to the classic Cavalry Trilogy.
[Editor’s note]: This piece was written by Jeremy Isaac, whose knowledge of the Western genre is unsurpassed. A brilliant features writer and sub-editor, Jeremy can be contacted via the following links for any possible freelance work: uk.linkedin.com/in/jerryjourno1 and jerryjourno58.wordpress.com/
Rio Grande is out now on Blu-ray in the UK from Eureka Entertainment as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.
BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
- Limited Edition O-Card (2000 units only)
- 1080p presentation on Blu-ray, from a new transfer completed by Paramount’s preservation department in 2019
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Brand new and exclusive feature-length audio commentary by western authority Stephen Prince
- Scene specific audio commentary with Maureen O’Hara
- A video essay on the film by John Ford expert and scholar Tag Gallagher
- Along the Rio Grande with Maureen O’Hara – archival documentary
- The Making of Rio Grande – archival featurette
- Theatrical trailer
- PLUS: a collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by western expert Howard Hughes; a new essay by film writer Phil Hoad; transcript of an interview with John Ford; excerpts from a conversation with Harry Carey, Jr.
Buster Keaton: 3 Films (Volume 2) | The Navigator, Seven Chances and Battling Butler get a 4K restoration on Blu-ray
From Eureka Entertainment comes a second collection of essential films from silent comedy genuis Buster Keaton, presented as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.
Between 1920 and 1929, Buster Keaton created a peerless run of feature films that established him as ‘arguably the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies’. Collected here are three further films from that era; The Navigator (1924), Seven Chances (1925) and Battling Butler (1926), and each one is presented in 4K restorations.
The Navigator (1924, dir. Buster Keaton & Donald Crisp) – Wealthy Rollo Treadway – a character who forms one of Keaton’s gallery of rich nitwits and was first seen in his first feature The Saphead (1920) – suddenly decides to propose to his neighbour across the street, Betsy (Kathryn McGuire), and sends his servant to book passage for a honeymoon sea cruise to Honolulu. When Betsy rejects his sudden offer, he decides to go on the trip anyway, boarding without delay that night. Because the pier number is partially covered, he ends up on the wrong ship, which Betsy’s rich father has just sold to a small country at war.
When 1924’s Sherlock Jr bombed with critics and public alike, Keaton endeavoured to make a follow-up that was both exciting and successful and so provided himself with the biggest prop he could lay his hands on to show off his comic mastery: an ocean liner. The result was the biggest hit of his career, with glowing reviews – The New York Times called it ‘an excellent panacea for melancholia or lethargy, as it is filled with ludicrous and intensely humorous situations’. It is now widely rated as Keaton’s finest feature apart from The General.
Seven Chances (1925, dir. Buster Keaton) – Jimmy Shannon (Keaton) learns he is to inherit $7million, with a catch. He will only get the money if he is married by 7pm on his 27th birthday, which happens to be that same day! What follows is an incredible series of escalating set-pieces. This one did big business at the box office and includes one of the best chase sequences of any Keaton movie.
Battling Butler (1926, dir. Buster Keaton). Keaton’s character, Rollo Treadway, resurfaces here and this time his dandy pretends to be a champion boxer keen to impress the family of the girl he loves. But when the real champ shows up, he decided to humiliate the imposter by having him fight the ‘Alabama Murderer’! Battling Butler actually did better box-office business than The General, and was one of Keaton’s personal favourites (although the critics were in two minds). It was also one of Martin Scorsese’s inspirations when he was making 1980’s Raging Bull, especially Butler’s final, uncomic fight.
Eureka Entertainment’s limited edition (3000) 3-disc Blu-ray release includes the following special features…
• 1080p presentations from the Cohen Film Collection’s 4K restorations, with musical scores composed and conducted by Robert Israel
• The Navigator: audio commentary by silent film historians Robert Arkus and Yair Solan
• Seven Chances: audio commentary by film historian Bruce Lawton
• Video essay by David Cairns covering all three films
• The Navigator: documentary on the making of the film by Bruce Lawton
• Buster Keaton & Irwin Allen audio interview (1945, 6min)
• Buster Keaton & Arthur Friedman audio interview (1956, 32min)
• Buster Keaton & Robert Franklin audio interview (1958, 56min)
• Buster Keaton & Herbert Feinstein audio interview from 1960 [1960, 48min)
• Buster Keaton & Studs Terkel audio interview from 1960 [1960, 38min)
• What! No Spinach? (1926, dir. Harry Sweet, 19min): Comedy short by US actor/director Harry Sweet, that riffs elements from Seven Chances
• Collector’s book featuring new writing and archival writing and imagery
From Eureka Entertainment comes Paul Wegener and Carl Boese’s iconic silent German horror masterpiece, Der Golem (1920), as part of The Masters of Cinema Series for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK, from a brand new 4K restoration on 18 November 2019.
In the Jewish ghetto in 16th century Prague, Rabbi Low (Albert Streinruck) creates a clay Golem (Wegener) to protect his people from tyrannical Emperor Luhois (Otto Gebuhr). Brought to life with an arcane incantation to the demonic spirit Astaroth and an amulet placed in the centre of the creature’s chest, the Golem begins performing acts of great heroism. But when the Rabbi’s assistant (Ernst Deutsch) attempts to control the Golem for selfish gain, it becomes a terrifying force of destruction…
A landmark film in the horror canon, influencing most notably James Whale’s 1931 adaptation of Frankenstein, Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (aka The Golem: How He Came into the World) as Paul Wegener’s third attempt at adapting the Golem character for the big screen, the other two being The Golem (1915) and the short comedy The Golem and the Dancing Girl (1917).
Based on Gustav Meyrink’s 1915 novel, it serves as prequel to the lost 1915 film and is an important contribution to the golden age of Weimar Cinema. The film’s Plastic Expressionist interpretation of Prague’s labyrinthine medieval Jewish ghetto (after the shapes and textures used in the sets) was designed by famed architect Hans Poelzig, while the interiors were executed by Poelzig’s future wife, sculptor Marelen Moeschke.
Behind the camera, meanwhile, was Karl Freund, who would go on to lens Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), before emigrating to the US, where he would famously helm Universal’s 1930s horror classics, Dracula, The Mummy and Mad Love (which all benefit from a touch of German Expressionism).
The Masters of Cinema Series presents the film in its UK debut on Blu-ray from a brand new 4K restoration, with the following special feartures…
• Limited Edition O-Card Slipcase (First 2000 copies)
• Presented in 1080p from a stunning 4K digital restoration of the original film negatives, completed by FWMS in 2017
• Original German intertitles with optional English subtitles
• Option of three scores, by composer Stephen Horne; electronic music producer Wudec; and musician and film-score composer Admir Shkurtaj
• Brand new and exclusive audio commentary by Scott Harrison
• Brand new and exclusive video essays by critic David Cairns and filmmaker Jon Spira (Elstree 1976)
• The Golem [60 mins]– The US version of the film, also fully restored, and featuring a score by Cordula Heth
• A video piece highlighting the differences between the domestic and export negatives of the film [22 mins]
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Scott Harrison; and reprints of illustrations from the original 1915 novel
Marlene Dietrich & Josef von Sternberg at Paramount (1930-1935) | Six stunning classics from Hollywood’s Golden Age
The collaboration between filmmaker Josef von Sternberg and actress Marlene Dietrich is one of the most enduring in all Hollywood cinema.
Tasked by Paramount bosses to find ‘the next big thing’, director von Sternberg lighted upon German silent star Dietrich and brought her to Hollywood. Successfully transitioning from the silent to the sound era, together they crafted a series of remarkable features that expressed a previously hitherto unbridled ecstasy in the process of filmmaking itself – Morocco (1930), Dishonored (1931), Shanghai Express (1932), Blonde Venus (1932), The Scarlet Empress (1934), and The Devil Is a Woman (1935).
Marked by striking cinematography, beautiful design and elaborate camerawork these vibrantly sensuous films redefined cinema of the time, while Dietrich’s sexually ambiguous on-screen personas caused a sensation and turned her from actor to superstar and icon.
Lavish, lascivious and wildly eccentric, the films Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich made for Paramount Pictures in the 1930s provide a unique testimony to Hollywood’s Golden Age.
The six films that von Sternberg made with Dietrich in Hollywood are presented here in new restorations on Blu-ray for the very first time in the UK. Containing a wealth of new and archival extras – including new appreciations, interviews, audio commentaries, rare films, outtakes and deleted audio, documentaries… and more!
Indicator/Powerhouse Film’s Limited Blu-ray Edition Box Set (6,000 units), which includes a 120-page collector’s book, is out on 26 August 2019
Marlene Dietrich’s first American film cast her as the singer and adventuress Amy Jolly, ensnaring then being ensnared by legionnaire Gary Cooper. Brilliantly shot by Lee Garmes, whose work was nominated for an Oscar, Morocco is a film of shadows and shimmering heat, painstakingly directed for maximum effect. Marlene never looked more alluring, and sings three songs, including When Love Dies, in which she plants a kiss on a female club patron while dressed in a man’s top hat, white tie and tails. A trailblazing box-office success.
• 2K restoration
• Original mono audio
• Morocco audio commentary with Daughters of Darkness’ Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger
• Introduction by Nicholas von Sternberg, son of Josef von Sternberg
• The Art of Josef von Sternberg (2019): Nicholas von Sternbergon his father’s works in painting and sculpture
• The Legionnaire and the Lady (1936): Lux Radio Theatre adaptation featuring Dietrich and Clark Gable
• Image gallery
This spy film, based loosely on the Mata Hari story, is probably the least distinguished of Dietrich and von Sternberg’s collaborations, but its camp plot and extravagant central performance along with the director’s impressive visual style (look out for his trademark and ever-present veils, nets, smoke and fog between actors and the camera) mark it down as an offbeat gem. Victor McLaglen is badly miscast as Dietrich’s lover (and his constant teeth gritting is really annoying), but Dietrich (as the alluring agent X-27, who breaks codes with piano music) is the whole picture, and she looks truly radiant, even in her first ever non-glamorous scenes where she plays a peasant girl with her hair scraped back and totally devoid of make-up.
• 4K restoration
• Original mono audio
• Introduction by Nicholas von Sternberg, son of Josef von Sternberg
• Josef von Sternberg, a Retrospective (1969): feature-length television documentary by the acclaimed Belgian director Harry Kümel
• I Did Why He Told Me To Do: New video essay by film historian Tag Gallagher on the Hollywood collaborations of Dietrich and von Sternberg
• Image gallery
Shanghai Express (1932)
‘It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily,’ drawls Marlene Dietrich in one of cinema’s classic lines, and so the scene is set for an atmospheric adventure that’s like Grand Hotel on rails. Lee Garmes’ amazing photography won an Oscar and Dietrich’s sultry siren is enough to make even army doctor Clive Brook’s stiff upper lip quiver and put Warner Oland’s fiendish rebel leader Henry Chang off his chow mein. My other favourite line is: ‘I wouldn’t trust you from here to the door’.
• 4K restoration
• Original mono audio
• Introduction by Nicholas von Sternberg
• Audio commentary with critic and film historian David Thompson
• Trouble in Hollywood: Interview with Jasper Sharp, writer and filmmaker, on the life and career of Anna May Wong
• Image gallery
Blonde Venus (1932)
Shimmeringly photographed by Bert Glennon, Dietrich plays a German café singer whose search for money to pay for her husband’s medical bills leads her into adultery in this this soapy and rather camp melodrama. One particularly memorable scene has Dietrich attired in a gorilla suit to sing Hot Voodoo, while another sees her drag up in a white tuxedo to sing I Couldn’t Be Annoyed. Herbert Marshall (The Fly) plays her estranged chemist husband, while Cary Grant is the millionaire third man who turns out to have a real heart of gold, and little Dickie Moore (Our Gang) plays her naive, but adorable son.
• 4K restoration
• Original mono audio
• Introduction by Nicholas von Sternberg
• Audio commentary with film and arts critic Adrian Martin
• Dietrich, A Queer Icon: Interview with So Mayer, author of Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema, on the queer iconography and legacy of Dietrich and von Sternberg’s films
• Image gallery
The Scarlet Empress (1934)
Dietrich scorches the screen as the 18th-century Empress of Russia, Catherine the Great in this dazzling display of style. Costume, spectacle and camerawork is the order of the day here, with Bert Glennon excelling in this last department. Watch out for Sam Jaffe, who is quite amazing as the ‘mad’ Grand Duke Peter.
• 4K restoration
• Original mono audio
• Introduction by Nicholas von Sternberg
• Audio commentary with writer and film programmer Tony Rayns
• The Twilight of an Angel (2012): Dominique Leeb’s acclaimed French TV documentary on Dietrich’s final years
• Image gallery
The Devil Is a Woman (1935)
This is von Sternberg’s ultimate tribute to the Marlene Dietrich mystique that he himself helped to create. Dietrich’s personal favourite, the sumptuous, steamy melodrama, set in 1890s Spain, sees her playing a seductive femme fatale bewitching a string of men, including Lionel Atwill and Cesar Romero (who replaced Joel McCrea after one day’s filming). The same story was the basis for Luis Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire.
• 4K restoration
• Original mono audio
• Introduction by Nicholas von Sternberg
• The Fashion Side of Hollywood (1935): a short compilation film of lighting and costume tests from Paramount productions, and featuring costume designer Travis Banton
• Styling the Stars: New interview with Nathalie Morris, film historian and senior curator of the BFI National Archive’s Special Collections, on the costume designs of Travis Banton
• If It Isn’t Pain (1935, 3 mins): excised audio of the deleted musical number from The Devil Is a Woman
Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker | Clive Donner’s spellbinding film adaptation gets a newly restored BFI release
The Caretaker remains one of Harold Pinter’s most famous works. This study of shared illusion, tragic dispossession and the fraternal bond of unspoken love, combines the magic of Pinter’s dialogue with some mesmerising performances from Alan Bates, Donald Pleasence and Robert Shaw into a spellbinding film, sensitively directed by Clive Donner and shot by Nicolas Roeg, which is now out in a dual format release from the BFI, presented in a newly-restored print and with a host of extras (check them out at the end of this post).
Here, guest reviewer Ali Pye gives her low down on Pinter, the play, the film and the BFI release…
Harold Pinter was in the right place at the wrong time. A schoolboy witness to the World War II carpet-bombing of London’s East End, his response to such violence placed him as one of the angrier young men on the writing spectrum. By the late 1950’s he was well on the way to blowing the bloody doors off.
The Caretaker was his first commercial theatrical success. Burrowing upwards through inner city post-war debris like a weed, spare, sparse, resilient, it debuted in April 1960 and was feted first off the Charing Cross Road later transferring to Broadway. Regardless however of such glittering cosmopolitan acclaim, the blunt 3 hander set in a single cluttered room remained very much grounded among the bricks and bric-a-brac of down-at-heel Hackney. It was in this borough, where Pinter was born and schooled, that Clive Donner assembled an artist/actor collective and camera crew in late 1962, filming during the coldest winter on record.
Underwritten with donations from British stars of stage and screen, the project was an early GoFundMe fifty years before the concept existed. Each benefactor supplied £1000. Twice that could get you a fourth floor bedsit in Islington within thieving distance of the library. There is little imagination required to explain the empathy behind Peter Sellers’ backing, solitary child of a nomadic theatre family whose shallow roots had dug into the similarly bleak soil of East Finchley. Noel Coward and Elizabeth Taylor’s subscriptions suggest some less personal forces at work.
Shot entirely on location around Clapton, the outer parameters of The Caretaker are the distance a man could trudge from Mare Street in ill-fitting shoes. And no further. Despite the freedoms allowed by film at a time when it was not possible to get a van on stage at the Arts Club, even if had Pinter written one in, the piece remains chillingly claustrophobic. Three men, most usually in dual combinations and head-on, shuffle about the confined space of the upstairs bolt hole arguing status, standing, sheds, Sidcup and seagrass, never more than a few feet apart.
It is a tale full of sound and fury. And in part seemingly told by a madman.
One bitter winter evening, the homeless and dispossessed Davis is saved from a good kicking by a taciturn stranger, Aston and taken into his home. Initially disconcerted by the kindness, the tramp sets about negotiating residency in the rambling, ramshackle property in which, if care is taken, he may find permanent refuge. The garrulous and distracting Mick, Aston’s brother appears to offer alternative terms, although it’s a word game with much the same end.
Amid the chaotic and haphazardly piled junk hoarded by Aston, an ice-cold stove dominates the room. Even if the window were not open, at times with the snow flurrying down outside, diffusing the stench from the unwashed vagrant, there is no possibility of warmth or comfort.
“It’s not connected.” Explains Aston when pressed for a cup of tea.
A lack of connection pervades. Very much more than the cooker appears isolated and without purpose. Aston has entirely withdrawn following a non-specific institutionalisation. The blistering details of his shock therapy are recalled in an uncomfortably invasive single shot. Actor Robert Shaw’s eyelids twitch as he stumbles over the violation at the hospital somewhere “outside London”. For a film in which site-specific references come along more regularly than the #30 bus (via Highbury Corner), with journeys “down the Essex Road to Dalston Junction” taking on a mythic quality and Micks’ knowledge of hump backed bridges on the A2 almost encyclopaedic, there is no safe travelling outside the room resulting in terminus nor arrival nor completion. An offer to drive to Sidcup and collect finally ”the papers” that underpin Davis’ inconstant grasp of identity sees Mick’s van swerving pointlessly around a circular layby, depositing the old man back at the bench from which he started out some half a minute earlier.
Where the film can free itself from the immediate physical confines of the attic, Donner does so with a delicate poignancy. On the page the brothers share only two brief scenes together tight amid clutter under the steeple eaves. On the screen they are granted a soundless and affecting moment of reflection above a frozen pond in a winter garden, seen from a distance, indistinct, and tellingly through glass, the sacking-draped top storey window serving to emphasise we look through a camera lens and not straight at a stage.
The music too suggests an inhospitable landscape. Ron Grainer’s disconcerting soundtrack is high pitched scratching, screeching and oddly resonant metallic drips into a tin bucket tied to the ceiling. An echo of the bitter cold outside and in, there is barely a scene not underscored by grating electronic slides as if thin ice were cracking underfoot.
Davis’ obsession with bags and boots, the detritus of a wandering street life calls to mind, inevitably, other tramps from drama of the period. But the nifty pace of Donner’s film, despite long low shots across bedsteads and pipes and years’ worth of newspapers bound in carefully knotted string, ensures we never focus merely on the hiatus. This is much more than a wait between pauses. Donner’s low angles, the splintered lighting and unflinching close-ups are suggestive of a thriller.
Of the three actors, Pleasence, Bates and Shaw, the two former had developed their characters in The Arts Theatre in 1960 and taken them right across the Atlantic. The film-set off Lower Clapton Road must have felt like a homecoming. Pleasence, at forty-four some thirty years younger than the vagrant he portrays, is bundled in patchwork layers of castoffs and coats. Davis resembles nothing more than a tatterdemalion onion, the peeling of which may lead to a concrete identity thus saving the bother of schlepping to Sidcup.
Fear of the foreign, fear of the other and fear of each other all collide in The Caretaker. The film is an unsettling watch catching an unsettled time. The 60’s were not yet swinging but the oddly visionary consortium backing the production, Peter Hall and Richard Burton by no means the least likely pairing, suggest a pendulum movement starting to oscillate. Grainer, the composer of the shard-shattering and unsettling falls was already tinkering with the theme for a forthcoming BBC series. The pilot show in autumn 1963 would feature another ungrounded senior gentleman of dubious provenance and a box smaller on the outside.
Shuffling through freezing early dusk, passing the time that would have passed anyway, Davis is illuminated in the doorway of the Hackney Empire theatre, a welcome blaze of light in a feature lit for the best part by a single bulb on a wire. The back bar where some years earlier an out of work writer named Milligan had encountered a barely in work radio actor named Sellers and comedy history began a gestation.
The Caretaker formed in this crucible, penned by the master of the theatre of menace, part financed by a Goon, scored by the genius who could hear the sound of a TARDIS barrelling through time. Director Donner’s brief was to run with it. He didn’t go far. Balls Pond Road was the outer limit.
This glorious restoration reminds us that expansion need not be dilution. In the hands of an inventive creative (and there were enough involved as a stills photo of Noel Coward hemmed between lighting gaffers on the set sofa bed during production reminds us) a piece so static and rooted and constrained can soar with effortless flight well beyond the derelict geography. An early and brilliant example of thinking outside the box (room).
THE BFI DUAL FORMAT RELEASE
• Newly restored from the original camera negative by the BFI, and presented here in High Definition and Standard Definition
• Audio commentary by actor Alan Bates, director Clive Donner and producer Michael Birkett (2002)
• Introduction by critic and author Michael Billington (2002, 6 mins)
• On Location with The Caretaker (1962, 4 mins): an extract from the TV series This Week in Britain
• The Caretaker: From Play Into Film (2002, 17 mins):a video essay by Michael Billington, using materials donated by Clive Donner to the BFI National Archive
• US opening titles (1963, 2 mins): the opening title sequence from the US where the film was released as The Guest
• Last To Go (1969, 6 mins): the last of five animated shorts directed by Gerald Potterton for Pinter People, voiced by Harold Pinter and Donald Pleasence
• Harold Pinter’s Play Discussed by Clive Donner (1973, 47 mins): the BAFTA-winning director discusses his adaptation of The Caretaker
• Ilustrated booklet with new essay by critic and author Amy Simmons, writing by Michael Billington and Clive Donner and full film credits (first pressing only)
Director Otto Preminger’s Laura is one of the greatest and most essential film noirs of all time, and now the deliciously well-crafted murder mystery is heading to Blu-ray as part of Eureka Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series from 14 January 2019.
Police detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is drawn into Manhattan high society as he investigates the death of career girl Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), apparently gunned down in her own apartment. The suspects are numerous, led by effete, snobbish columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), and Laura’s philandering fiancé Shelby (Vincent Price), who’s also been cavorting with Laura’s wealthy aunt (Judith Anderson). McPherson begins to fall in love with Laura through a portrait in her home and the memories relayed by those who knew her… just as it becomes apparent that even the basic facts of the case might not be what they seemed.
This 1944 murder mystery classic from director Otto Preminger (replacing Rouben Mamoulian) has grown in stature over the years, with its hypnotic mixture of doomed romantic obsession, dizzying intrigue, and fatalistic cynicism marking it as essential noir.
Peppered with eternally quotable dialogue (“I should be sincerely sorry to see my neighbours’ children devoured by wolves.”), sumptuous, Oscar-winning cinematography by Joseph LaShelle and David Raksin’s haunting theme music, Laura is an undeniable American masterpiece.
- 1080p presentation on Blu-ray of both the extended and original theatrical versions of the film
- LPCM mono Audio
- Optional English SDH subtitles
- Audio commentary by composer David Raksin and film professor Jeanine Basinger
- Audio commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer
- Laura: The Lux Radio Theater broadcasts Two radio adaptations of Laura from 1945 [59 mins] and 1954 [57 mins], starring Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and Vincent Price in the 1945 version, and Gene Tierney and Victor Mature in the 1954 version
- Laura: The Screen Guild Theater broadcast Adaptation of Laura from radio anthology series, The Screen Guild Theater, originally aired in 1945 [30 mins], starring Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb
- Laura: The Ford Theater broadcast A further radio adaptation of Laura from 1948, starring Virginia Gilmore and John Larkin
- A Tune for Laura: David Raksin Remembers an archival interview with the renowned composer
- The Obsession an archival featurette on Laura
- Deleted Scene
- PLUS: A collector s booklet featuring a new essay by Phil Hoad, alongside a selection of rare archival imagery
As today (10 August) marks the 58th anniversary of the Italian release of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (aka La maschera del demonio) back in 1960, what better way to celebrate than by re-visiting the 2013 Arrow Video Blu-ray.
In 17th-century Moldavia, princess Asa (Barbara Steele) is sentenced to a cruel death for sorcery and adultery – a spiked mask is driven into her face. Two centuries later, Asa and her devil-worshipping lover Igor rise from their crypts to destroy the descendants of Asa’s cursed family…
1960’s Black Sunday (aka The Mask of Satan) is one of the most significant films in the annals of horror cinema. It was Mario Bava’s directorial debut and launched Barbara Steele‘s career as the decade’s queen of horror. Evoking the Universal horrors of the 1930s and 1940s, while still offering the modern shocks found in Hammer films like The Curse of Frankenstein, Black Sunday gave Bava the chance to hone the romantic style that he had fashioned co-directing Riccardo Freda’s 1957 horror, I Vampiri.
The result is a hauntingly-beautiful gothic chiller, with a host of classic sequences – from Asa’s grisly execution (which resulted in the film being banned in the UK for eight years) to Igor’s frightening resurrection – that have become staples of the horror genre, influencing a host of film-makers, from Roger Corman to Tim Burton. And behind the fake cobwebs and fog-shrouded sets, the gothic horror also contained a key theme that would recur in later Bava films: the eradication of desire by men fearful of female sexuality. But that’s another story…
THE ARROW RELEASE
Vintage horror completists will certainly want to add Arrow Video’s dual format (Blu-ray/DVD) 2013 release to their collection as it greatly improves on the 1999 DVD version.
While that did contain the director’s cut (aka The Mask of Satan), Arrow’s release allows you the choice of either the English or Italian soundtrack. And, in a must-have first, it also includes the US theatrical cut of Black Sunday, featuring a score by exotica maestro Les Baxter, and dubbing that is marginally better than the director’s cut.
First up is the European (Mask of Satan) Director’s Cut with the option of either Italian with subtitles or English audio, next is the big-one (and unique to this release): the US AIP theatrical cut (under the title Black Sunday) with the option of either Italian with English subtitles or the English dub (which is different – and marginally better – to the European cut). It also features the US score by exotica maestro Les Baxter.
The extras maybe the same as the 1999 release (an 8-minute interview with Barbara Steele, and the excellent Tim Lucas audio commentary), but also included is the rarely-seen 1957 Italian horror, I Vampiri (in Standard Definition, but looks great), which was directed by Riccardo Freda but completed Bava. Topping it all is the suitably atmospheric artwork from British illustrator extraordinaire Graham Humphreys.