Category Archives: Drama
Phew! Horror Channel FrightFest is over for another year and it was probably one of the best ever that I have attended with some great thrills and surprises amongst the 64 film shown over the Bank Holiday weekend at the Cineworld Leicester Square and The Prince Charles Cinema. Now, while I didn’t get to see all of them, I did rather burn out my retinas catching quite a few. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my Top 10, plus a couple pf runner-up faves.
THE TOP 10
• Tragedy Girls
• Cult of Chucky
• Better Watch Out
• King Cohen
• The Bar
• Victor Crowley
• 68 Kill
• Death Note
• Attack of the Adult Babies
Director: Tyler MacIntyre. US. 2017. 93 mins.
If you are a fan of TV’s Scream Queens, then you will certainly LOVE this gleefully camp Heathers meets Scream slasher in which two vain high school besties (played by Deadpool’s Brianna Hildebrand and X-Men: Apocalypse’s Alexandra Shipp) go on a killing spree just to increase their social media standing. With stylish cinematography, charismatic performances, and a smart script (with lots of 1980s horror movie references), this was a real winner at Frightfest.
CULT OF CHUCKY
Director: Don Mancini. US. 2017. 91 mins.
Following a great Twilight Zone-homage from Hatchet’s Adam Green and Joe Lynch, FrightFesters were treated to the World Premiere of the seventh entry in the 30-year-old Killer Doll franchise – and it did not disappoint. This time round, Chucky continues to terrorise poor Mica (Fiona Dourif), who was found guilty of the murders in 2013’s Curse of Chucky. But is she just imagining things because Chuck’s old nemesis Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) seems to have Chucky’s head locked up in a safe? If you want to read more (CLICK HERE). This one will be getting a Halloween release in the UK.
BETTER WATCH OUT
Director: Chris Peckover. Australia/USA 2016. 88 mins.
It’s Christmas, and parents Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen go out for the evening leaving 12-year-old Luke (Pan’s Levi Miller) in the care of his favourite babysitter, 17-year-old Ashley (The Visit’s Olivia DeJonge). But when a brick crashes through the window reading ‘You Leave, You Die’, it sets in motion a series of events that you will not expect. This Yuletide home invasion horror is enormous fun, but also very dark, featuring an intelligent, genre-bending script, and great performances from the young leads – especially Miller. It’s due out in the US on 6 October, and I do hope it gets a UK release soon.
Director: Steve Mitchell. USA 2017. 110 mins
I really enjoyed this fantastic appreciation of maverick US film auteur Larry Cohen, the writer/producer/director behind TV’s The Invaders and genre fare like It’s Alive and The Stuff. Featuring interviews with his former stars like Yaphet (Alien) Kotto and Eric Robert, and admirers like Martin Scorsese, JJ Abrams and John Landis, plus with the legend himself (and boy, can he talk!), this is a real must-see. If you want to know more, check out my full review (CLICK HERE).
Director: Alex de la Iglesia. Spain 2017. 104 mins.
This latest effort from the director of Day of the Beast and Witching and Bitching was one of the festival’s big highlights. It’s life as usual at Amparo’s bar in central Madrid until a group of regular customers – including hipster Nacho (Mario Casas), snooty Elena (Blanca Suárez), businessman Andrés (Joaquín Climent) and homeless beggar Israel (Jaime Ordonez) – witness two men being fatally shot as they try to leave. Who is responsible? Why aren’t the police doing anything? And why are there people wearing Hazmat suits in the square? Alex de la Iglesia’s black comic chiller puts human nature under the microscope, and it’s not a pretty picture. Death, selfishness, survival and hypocrisy are all treated with great wit and dark humour.
Director: Dominic Bridges. UK. 2017. 79 mins.
The feature debut from commercials director Dom Bridges and written by Outpost’s Rae Brunton is a twisted fusion of claustrophobic black comedy and urban morality tale, but with a bizarre spin on the home invasion premise. Contortionist Orlan (Javier Botet) secretly moves into the flat of slimy real estate agent Hussein (Mim Shaikh) by occupying the hidden spaces of his flat (like his cupboards and wardrobe). It’s all part of the master of concealment’s plan to slowly unravel Hussein’s life and drive him insane. But does he succeed? Well, hopefully Bridges’ searing comment on race, the house market (and Brexit) will get a proper UK release soon so you can find that out for yourself. Cleverly scripted and with strong performances (especially the double-jointed Botet – whose face is usually hidden behind loads of make-up in films like the new It, The Mummy and Crimson Peak), this is a cracker of a debut from Bridges.
Director: Adam Green. US. 2017.
The big surprise at FrightFest was Adam Green unveiling the world premiere of his fourth entry in the Hatchet series with the film’s star Kane Hodder in attendance. Hatchet 3 survivor Andrew Long (Parry Shen), is now a minor celebrity who ends up back on Crowley’s swamp turf (which has been turned into a tourist attraction) when he agrees to a $1million fee to participate in a TV documentary. But when the crew’s plane crashes and wannabe filmmaker Chloe (Katie Booth) invokes Crowley’s spirit (via clips on the internet), the slaughter begins all over again. Made in secret over two years, this gory fun ride is packed with inventive, and very bloody, kills and some LOL campy humour. It also earned Green a standing ovation following the screening. Green dedicated the film to two masters of the genre – the late George A Romero and Tobe Hooper, who actually passed away on the same day as the screening (26 August).
Director: Trent Haaga. USA. 2017. 93mins
Chip (Criminal Minds’ Matthew Gray Gubler) is a hapless nice guy who pumps sewage for a living and is completely infatuated with his trailer park ex-stripper girlfriend Liza (AnnaLynne McCord). But she turns out be crazier than he first imagined when her plan to rob her sugar daddy goes horrible wrong. This fast-paced thriller is full of surprises, great fun and boasts some quite extreme violence.
Dir Adam Wingard. US. 2017. 101 mins.
This Netflix-produced take on the Japanese manga comes from director Adam Wingard (You’re Next) and follows high school student Light Turner (Nat Wolff) who turns self-appointed judge, jury and executioner when he comes across a supernatural notebook in which you write the name of someone you wish to die. When he begins to kill all those he deems unworthy of life, a reclusive detective (Lakeith Stanfield) sets out to end his reign of terror. Featuring great Final Destination-style set pieces, excellent performances, superb John Carpenter-inspired synth score from Atticus Ross and Leopold Ross, and Willem Dafoe voicing Ryuk, the death god who becomes Light’s moral compass, this is not to be missed. Catch it on Netflix now.
ATTACK OF THE ADULT BABIES
Director: Dominic Brunt. UK 2017. 80 mins.
Dominic Brunt is best known as bumbling vet Paddy Kirk in Emmerdale, but he’s also a film director who has shared his passion for all things horror with his writer/actress wife Joanne Mitchell in films like Before Dawn, Bait and now this perverted shocker. A home invasion forces a mother (Kate Coogan) and two teenagers (Kurtis Lowe and Mica Proctor) to break into a country manor to steal some secret documents. Little do they know the stately pile – which is presided over by the mysterious Margaret (Sally Dexter) – is also where high-powered middle-aged men take refuge from daily life by dressing in nappies and having young women in nurses uniforms indulge them in their every perverse nursery whim. But these rich bastards also have another very sick agenda and it involves something quite monstrous in the basement. Brunt’s blunt, bloody and bonkers satire is a gleefully grotesque carnival of bad taste, over the top gore and gross-out scatological humour. It’s like Lindsay Anderson re-making Downton Abbey as a Pete Walker horror with added Benny Hill comedy touches. Just throw in some crazy claymation (courtesy of Lee Hardcastle) and some psychedelic chat with the God of Shit (voiced by Brunt) and you’ve got one of the weirdest British comedies ever made.
I ALSO LIKED…
• Freddy/Eddy – Tini Tuellman’s spine-chilling psycho suspense thriller
• Leatherface – Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s stunning prequel to Texas Chain Saw Massacre
• Canaries – Peter Stray’s alien-invading black comedy
• Veronica – Carlos Algara and Alejandro Martinez-Beltran’s gripping psychological twister
• To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story – a moving documentary about everyone’s favourite Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th series (expect my full review soon, but here’s a pic of the legendary stuntman with one of his fans – me!)
Finally, a big thanks to Greg Day (Clout Communications) and the Horror Channel for inviting me back this year.
Destiny (Der müde Tod) (1921) | Fritz Lang’s expressionist fable of life… and death gets a definitive restored release
Before dazzling audiences with Metropolis, M, and Spione, German director Fritz Lang dabbled with bending cinematic conventions in his 1921 German folksong in six verses, Der müde Tod (literally, The Weary Death).
A young woman (Lil Dagover) confronts the personification of Death (Bernhard Goetzke), in an effort to save the life of her fiancé (Walter Janssen). Death then weaves three romantic tragedies set in Persia, Quattrocento Venice and ancient China, and offers to unite the girl with her lover, if she can prevent the death of the lovers in at least one of the episodes…
Fusing German Romanticism, Orientalism, and Expressionism with evocative expressionist imagery and featuring special effects work never seen before, Der müde Tod has often been overlooked amongst Lang’s early work, but was the springboard for the über-stylised filmmaking that would culminate in such genre-defining masterpieces as Die Nibelungen and Metropolis.
Now in a new 2k restoration, this new presentation of the lost classic preserves the original German intertitles and simulates the historic colour tinting and toning of its initial release, and is accompanied by a newly-composed score by Cornelius Schwehr, which was originally performed by the 70-member Berlin Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra.
Eureka Entertainment is proud present Lang’s classic as part of their Masters of Cinema Series in a definitive Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition, available from 17 July 2017.
ORDER HERE: http://amzn.to/2kV2YsC
WHAT THE PRESS SAID – IN 1921
‘Based on inwardness and intellectual mastery, this work by author / director Fritz Lang veers off the beaten track of your average movie. It does not seek to stun the senses of the viewer with a huge contingent of people and material, but provides real, inspired art. Individual images surprise us with their picturesque beauty, capturing the essence of the German folk song in its simple sincerity.’ Abendblatt (October 7, 1921)
‘Fact and fiction skilfully interwoven, cheerful and serious moments, much bitter truth, sometimes literature, sometimes Karl May or Munchausen. Just like life itself. And above all love. Only death is more powerful.’ Wolfgang Fischer, Neue Zeit Charlottenburg (October 5, 1921)
‘A new, interesting style of film: the sweeping ballad. Half fairy-tale dream, half reality, carefully crafted.’ Erich Effler, Film und Presse no. 37/38 (1921)
Death in the Garden (1956) | Luis Buñuel’s rebellious rumble in the jungle is a surrealist tour de force
From Eureka Entertainment comes Death in the Garden, Luis Buñuel’s surreal adventure film, as part of The Masters of Cinema Series, in a Dual-format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition.
After his colourful 1954 rumble in the jungle with Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (which scored star Dan O’Herlihy a Best Actor Oscar nod), Luis Buñuel adapted José-André Lacour’s novel La mort en ce jardin for the second in his revolutionary triptych exploring the morality and tactics of armed revolution against a right-wing dictatorship. The first was 1956’s Cela s’appelle l’aurore and the last being 1959’s La Fièvre Monte à El Pao.
The action takes place in an unspecified South American outpost where martial law is declared following a miners revolt. Fearing for their lives, rugged adventurer Shark (Georges Marchal), French prostitute Djin (Simone Signoret), dedicated priest Father Lizardi (Michel Piccoli), veteran diamond miner Castin (Charles Vanel), and his deaf-mute daughter Maria (Michèle Girardon), flee into the jungle – but they are unprepared for the dangers that lay ahead…
Death in the Garden is a game of two halves: the first (running around an hour) is pure adventure as the fugitives escape the bloodshed, while the second half sees Buñuel let loose his surreal imaginings and political constructs.
Gorgeously shot in Eastmancolor and making painterly use of the exotic Catemaco and Cosamaloapan locations in Veracruz, Mexico, the film really comes into its own in the jungle with each character undergoing an existential crisis, while Buñuel’s master stroke is the discovery of the wreckage of a passenger plane – the contents of which become symbolic of the bourgeois trappings that our exiles have left behind.
Michel Piccoli (in one of his earliest feature film roles) gets my vote as the film’s stand-out character. His Catholic priest is devout, but also very human; while Georges Marchal makes for a pretty fit action hero, and Simone Signoret is one helluva rough diamond.
This little-seen Buñuel is certainly ripe for rediscovery and a surrealist tour de force.
Available to order from: Amazon http://amzn.to/2oBDNt0
DUAL FORMAT SPECIAL FEATURES:
· 1080p presentation (Blu-ray)
· Uncompressed PCM soundtrack (Blu-ray)
· Optional English subtitles
· Interview with Tony Rayns
· Interview with actor Michel Piccoli
· Interview with film scholar Victor Fuentes
· Masters of Cinema exclusive trailer
· PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by Philip Kemp, and archival imagery
Boccaccio ’70 (1962) | Italian sexual mores as seen through the eyes of Fellini, Visconti, De Sica and Monicelli
Italy’s greatest directors bring four stories of Italian post-war sexual mores and morality to cinematic life in the 1962 big-screen anthology Boccaccio ’70, which gets a brand-new remaster on Blu-ray, DVD and digital from CultFilms in the UK.
Federico Fellini directs his first colour work, the wild fantasy, Le tentazioni del dottor Antonio, which perfectly illustrates why Fellini is Fellini. Starring Anita Ekberg, who beguiled cinema audiences as the lady in the Trevi Fountain in 1960’s La Dolce Vita, Fellini’s surreal play sees a prudish man driven insane when a giant billboard featuring the ravishing Ekberg comes to life.
Luchino Visconti provides some serious melodrama with Il lavoro, a play in which Romy Schneider’s aristocratic housewife shows her independent side when her husband’s affairs make front page news. This one features what Time Magazine described as ‘surely one of the most provocative stripteases to be recorded on film’.
Vittorio De Sica’s story, La riffa, sees screen siren Sophia Loren putting her sexual favours up for auction in a bid a to pay off her taxes. While the portraits conclude with director Mario Monicelli’s once lost segment, Renzo e Luciana – a sweet, funny play about two working class lovers (Marisa Solinas and Germano Gilioli) who keep their impending marriage a secret in order to keep their jobs.
With an exciting soundtrack from the legendary Nino Rota and Armando Trovaili and outstanding camerawork, Boccaccio ’70 is a slice of cinematic history past that deserves multiple viewings.
For the first-time ever, the film is presented here in both its original language with new, improved, English subtitles and alternatively with an English audio track. The new Blu-ray release also features previously the unseen documentary, Sophia, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, a candid, intimate interview with Sophia Loren with contributions from Woody Allen, Giorgio Armani and other close friends and collaborators.
Boccaccio ’70 is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital from CultFilms in the UK from 26 June 2017
In director Fred Schepisi’s 2011 adaptation of the acclaimed 1973 novel by Australian author Patrick White (who was born on this day, 28 May, in 1912), Charlotte Rampling, plays dying Sydney matriarch Elizabeth Hunter, whose final days are being spent in the care of a dotty housekeeper and two no-nonsense nurses.
When her uptight French socialite daughter Dorothy (Judy Davis) and struggling London-based actor son Basil (Geoffrey Rush) arrive and make plans to put her in a home, Elizabeth’s iron will comes to the fore, causing her children to take stock of their lives…
Boasting three captivating performances from Rampling, Rush and Davis and one incredibly poignant one from Helen Morse Lotte, this is a faithful and stylish adaptation of one of White’s most-admired literary works.
Strip away the trappings of wealth and privilege and you’ll find a universal theme here about family and death as Rush and Davis’ siblings desperately seek closure with their mother before she expires, only to discover a hidden depth in the woman whom they blame for their barren lives.
Schepisi’s tauntly constructed drama is a biting yet witty exploration of that journey of redemption and forgiveness, and once you have seen it, it will only make you reach out for the original source novel again.
Out on DVD in the UK from Munro Films
The Naked Civil Servant (1975) | John Hurt’s Bafta-winning turn as gay icon Quentin Crisp restored in HD
Originally broadcast on UK TV in December 1975, this Bafta-winning adaptation of Quentin Crisp’s best-selling autobiography, The Naked Civil Servant, boasts a career-best performance by the late John Hurt as Crisp – a flamboyant south London engineer’s tracer turned artist’s model living an openly gay lifestyle during the intolerant pre-war years, where he proudly challenges the authorities that seek to suppress him and his kind.
Blackly comic, poignant and yet also life-affirming, this courageous story about a very unconventional British eccentric is masterfully directed by Jack Gold (The Medusa Touch, Escape from Sobibor), from a screenplay by Philip Mackie (TV’s Raffles), and executive produced by Doctor Who’s Verity Lambert.
It also boasts some colourful turns from the likes of Shane Briant as a cross dressing male prostitute called Norma and Patricia Hodge as an Isadora Duncan-styled ballet teacher. But kudos go to Stanley Lebor as the tragic Mr Pole (his descent into madness will have you reaching for some tissues).
One of the most significant LGBT British-made TV dramas of all time, the Thames Television production gave Hurt his first Best Actor Bafta and turned Crisp into an instant international celebrity and a gay icon.
The self-proclaimed ‘Stately Homo’ was hailed as a modern-day Oscar Wilde due to his aphoristic witticisms which led him into creating a successful one-man show and publishing further works including 1996’s Resident Alien (which inspired 2009’s An Englishman in New York, also with John Hurt). Crisp died, aged 91, in 1999.
Check out his archives here: http://www.crisperanto.org/index1.html
Voted fourth in BFI’s Top 100 TV programmes of 20th Century, The Naked Civil Servant has been restored in high-definition from the original film elements.
With 2017 marking the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, it’s the perfect time time revisit the film, which also gets a special cinema screening on 28 May at a number of selected venues nationwide part of Picturehouse Cinemas’ Criminal Acts season. For more information go to: https://www.picturehouses.com/film/the-naked-civil-servant
THE NETWORK RELEASE
• HD feature version (HD Blu-ray exclusive), restored from the original film elements and presented in its original 1:33:1 picture ratio with the ad-breaks removed
• Commentary with John Hurt, director Jack Gold and executive producer Verity Lambert
• Seven Men: Quentin Crisp – a Granada profile from 1971
• Mavis Catches Up with Quentin Crisp: an interview from 1989
• Image gallery
• Philip Mackie’s original script (PDF)
ALSO… CHECK OUT THIS UNRESTORED VIDEO OF QUENTIN CRISP’S ONE-MAN SHOW
Melody (1971) | This enchanting tale of first love and youthful rebellion is no longer a forgotten gem
‘A forgotten, inspiring gem’ Wes Anderson
Set against the backdrop of a 1970s south London comprehensive school, Melody was director Alan Parker’s debut screenplay and his first film collaboration with producer David Puttnam, and it reunited Mark Lester and Jack Wild, who starred in the 1968 musical film adaptation of Oliver!, alongside 11-year-old Tracy Hyde making her acting debut.
Quiet, well-behaved Daniel (Lester) and cheeky troublemaker Ornshaw (Wild) could not be more different but they become the best of friends. That is, until Daniel spots Melody (Tracy Hyde) at the school disco.
The boys’ friendship becomes jeopardised, as Ornshaw grows jealous when his Daniel seems more interested in a hanging out with a girl. Initially embarrassed by the attention, Melody comes to return Daniel’s feelings, and the couple announce to their parents, teachers and friends that they want to get married and now.
The adults attempt to dissuade them, but Daniel and Melody’s determination leads Ornshaw to have a change of heart. He and their classmates gather together at one of the children’s hideouts to ‘marry’ the couple, with their discovery leading to a final riotous, no-holds-barred showdown where the children stick it to the grown-ups…
The film was the brainchild of Puttnam, who had secured the rights to five Bee Gees songs and wanted to craft a movie around it. Drawing on the lyrics of those songs, as well as the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young hit ‘Teach Your Children’, Parker’s script captured what it was like to be a kid on the brink of adolescence in 1970s Britain, drawing inspiration from his and Puttnam’s own school experiences, and these are brought to vivid life by Warris Hussein (Doctor Who) and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky (A History of Violence), who make excellent use of the Lambeth and Soho locations.
While it scored huge success in Japan and South America when it was released in 1971, Melody – which would not have been made if not for some unlikely support in the guise of Joan Collins – got a lukewarm reception both at home and in the US (mostly on account of its poor promotion and being given the awkward title of S.W.A.L.K. (aka Sealed With A Loving Kiss).
But it has since grown into something of a cult, with director Wes Anderson using it as the inspiration for his film, Moonrise Kingdom, while Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron cites the film as the inspiration for him going into film-making.
Having finally watched in myself, I can guarantee that your heart will swell and you’ll have tears in your eyes as you see the world again through the eyes of these youngsters. It might paint a rosy view of inner city London life in the 1970s, but it will nevertheless bring much joy and contemplation about a much more innocent time. And the songs are so catchy, I went out and hunted down the original soundtrack.
Melody is available now on DVD, Blu-ray and EST as part of Studiocanal’s Vintage Classics Collection, and includes as special features, interviews with Lord David Puttnam, Sir Alan Parker, Waris Hussein and Mark Lester; plus a stills gallery.
In 1864, 18-year-old Ludwig II (Helmut Berger) ascends the throne of Bavaria. Following a scandal involving Richard Wagner (Trevor Howard) and his mistress Cosima von Bulow (Silvana Mangano), Ludwig is forced to expel them from Munich. Under pressure to marry, the latently homosexual king, who is having an intense relationship with Hungarian actor Josef Kainz (Folker Bohnet, agrees to an arranged wedding with his cousin Sophie (Sonia Petrovna). But the strain of this relationship, the war with Prussia, and fears of a conspiracy brewing his court play havoc on his mental state…
With a string of masterpieces behind him – including Ossessione, Senso, The Leopard and Death in Venice – director Luchino Visconti turned his attentions to King Ludwig II of Bavaria with this lavish 1972 historical drama that traces his bizarre 22-year reign, ending with his mysterious death in June 1886.
Sporting a sickly countenance and redden eyelids, Helmut Berger’s Ludwig cuts a miserable figure, who sinks further into despair and madness as he moves from one overly ornate palace and castle to another, which soon become gilded prisons, made all the more claustrophobic by the incessant rain and snow showers.
Featuring Armando Nannuzzi’s sumptuous cinematography and Piero Tosi’s Oscar-nominated costume design, Visconti mounts his epic of 19th century decadence on such an opulent scale – and in the very locations that the real king lived (*) – that it needs to be seen in its entirety to admire its dazzling operatic stature. And this new Arrow Academy release presents the film in its completed form in accordance with the director’s wishes, and – for the first time on home video – includes the English-language soundtrack.
Berger dominates every scene, but he does get some excellent support from the ever-reliable Trevor Howard, who is the spitting image of Wagner, and The House That Screamed’s John Moulder-Brown, as his mentally-unstable brother, Prince Otto, while Romy Schneider reprises her Elisabeth of Austria characterisation from the classic Sissi trilogy. The music includes Richard Wagner’s last original composition for piano, as well as works by Offenbach and Shuman. A melancholy masterpiece deserving of a revisit.
ARROW ACADEMY RELEASE
• 4K restoration from the original film negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Two viewing options: the full-length theatrical cut (1hr:15min) or as five individual parts (with the full pisodes 1-3 are on disc 2)
• Original Italian soundtrack with optional English subtitles
• Original English soundtrack available with optional English subtitles (This version also includes the Italian soundtrack where no English track was recorded… which makes for any interesting experience. But if you are familiar with Italian, then it works quite smoothly)
• Interview with actor Helmut Berger (OMG! Be afraid! Be very afraid! Helmut is very candid and very eccentric)
• Interview with producer Dieter Geissler (who also did Short Night of the Glass Dolls, Without Warning and The Neverending Story)
• Luchino Visconti: an hour-long documentary portrait of the director by Carlo Lizzani (Requiescant) containing interviews with Burt Lancaster, Vittorio Gassman, Francesco Rosi, Claudia Cardinale and others
• Speaking with Suso Cecchi d’Amico: an interview with the screenwriter
• Silvana Mangano – The Scent Of A Primrose: a portrait of the actress (30min)
• Theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet containing new writing by Peter Cowie (first pressing only)
DID YOU KNOW?
(*) The film was shot on location in Munich and Bavaria, including Roseninsel, Berg Castle, Lake Starnberg, Castle Herrenchiemsee, Castle Hohenschwangau, Linderhof Palace, Cuvilliés Theatre, Nymphenburg Palace, Ettal, Kaiservilla and Neuschwanstein Castle.
Mildred Pierce (1945) | The mother of all melodramas starring Joan Crawford joins The Criterion Collection
When it comes to high camp melodrama, director Michael Curtiz’s Mildred Pierce must be the mother of them all! Giving her best-ever performance, Joan Crawford plays the eponymous single mum who walks out on her husband Bert (Bruce Bennett aka cinema’s original Tarzan) so she can build a new life for her two daughters and ends up creating a restaurant chain empire that gives her fame and fortune but leaves her personal life in tatters – and murder…
Nominated for six Academy Awards and scoring Crawford her only Best Actress Oscar, 1945’s Mildred Pierce transformed James M Cain’s 1941 psychological novel into a film noir murder mystery fused with a 1940s women’s picture. Maternal sacrifice never looked so melodramatic as played by Crawford, who is genuinely convincing as the unflappable Mildred who will do anything to achieve the American dream for the sake of her children – especially Veda, who causes her no end of grief.
Ann Blyth scored an Oscar nomination playing the deliciously mean-spirited spoiled brat, and became one of cinema’s all-time great villains as a result. And playing Mildred’s second husband Monte, Zachary Scott is the epitome of the worthless playboy who reminded me of Clifton Webb’s Waldo Lydecker in 1944’s Laura. Then there’s Eve Arden in the supporting role as Mildred’s loveable sidekick Ida, who provides the film with some truly quotable lines like: ‘Personally, Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young’.
But this film belongs to Crawford, who looks fantastic bathed in Ernest Haller’s expressionistic camerawork (he’d done wonders with Crawford’s nemesis Bette Davis in Jezebel and would lens them both in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?). And if you watch the feature-length documentary that accompanies the Criterion release, you’ll see that’s there’s quite a lot of Joan in her character – though probably not the mothering side.
Famously, Crawford didn’t attend the Oscars when she won the Best Actress award – instead, feigning sickness, the press were summoned to her home to see her accept the statuette. That’s our Joanie!
THE CRITERION COLLECTION RELEASE
• New 4K digital restoration
• New conversation about Mildred Pierce with critics Molly Haskell and Robert Polito (watch a clip above)
• Excerpt from a 1970 episode of The David Frost Show, featuring Joan Crawford
• Q&A with Ann Blyth from 2002
• Segment from a 1969 episode of The Today Show, featuring novelist James M Cain
• An essay by critic Imogen Sara Smith
• Also included is Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star: a fascinating Turner Classic documentary from 2002, narrated by Angelica Huston, that’s longer than the movie, but just as gripping and melodramatic. It traces Crawford’s entire life and career, beginning as a dancer from a impoverished background who learned her craft from an unlikely source (the legendary Lon Chaney) to the creation of the Crawford image as the reigning Queen of the Movies in the 1930s, before a drop in popularity forced her to reinvent herself. Her marriages, affairs and catfights with the likes of Bette Davis and Mercedes McCambridge are legend, as is her association with Pepsi-Cola and her struggles in later life taking on roles in B-movie shockers like Berserk and Trog that were well beneath her. Of course, since the publication of her adopted daughter Christina’s 1978 memoir Mommie Dearest, Crawford’s reputation has been forever tarnished. But this documentary sets out to reminds us that, despite all of her failings, Crawford was one of a kind – and someone who was the creation of her own indomitable will. Catch a clip here…
Varieté (1925) | Roll up for a gripping story of jealousy and hell with Emil Jannings and – The Tiger Lillies?
A key work of German silent cinema and an international smash on its release in 1925 and 1926, director EA Dupont’s Varieté is a visually arresting melodrama in which jealousy drives a man to murder.
When carnival concessionaire Boss Huller (Emil Jannings) meets young émigré Berta-Marie (Lya De Putti), it kindles his desire to relaunch his career as a trapeze artist. Deserting his wife (Maly Delschaft) and infant son, he sets out with Berta-Marie to Berlin where the two are soon hired by famed aerialist Artinelli (Warwick Ward) to headline the city’s premier circus attraction at the famed Wintergarten theatre. But while Boss rejoices in his new-found fame, Artinelli begins an illicit affair with Berta-Marie, which – when uncovered – drives Boss to plot his revenge…
This German silent masterpiece, which is told in flashback as an imprisoned Boss tells his tale to win his freedom, was instrumental in bringing its director Ewald André Dupont to the attentions of Carl Laemmle at Universal, who brought him to Hollywood.
But while Dupont never quite achieved the level of success in the US as he did in his native Germany (he was reduced to B-movie’s and genre fare like 1953’s The Neanderthal Man), his cameraman was the legendary Karl Freund, one of the pioneers of German Expressionism, who lensed The Golem (1920) and Metropolis (1927), and whose lustrous monochrome cinematography flair turned Universal’s Dracula (1931) and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) into genre classics alongside his directorial efforts, The Mummy (1932) and Mad Love (1935).
Varieté’s success is quite simply down to Freund’s visuals, and the brooding central performances from Emil Jannings and Lya De Putti. The camerawork is hugely inventive here. It ranges from the use of a handheld camera to mimic the movements of acrobats – which culminates in a spectacular scene involving a blindfolded triple somersault; imaginative shots like a close-up of an ear dissolving into high heels walking along a corridor to capture the characters’ pent-up passions; and the use of cinema verite – horse shit on marble steps, the sad faces on fairground pageant girls in states of undress, drunk revellers dancing on tables, heavily made-up circus patrons – to give the melodrama its subtle social commentary.
Freund’s close-ups also capture the artistry of Jannings – a master of controlled emotion, who can turn his Boss from alpha male to wounded lover in a single glance; as well as the cold beauty of De Putti, who looks every inch the femme fatale, and the wonderfully villainous turn from Warwick Ward, who looks a dead ringer for Basil Rathbone and Conrad Veidt.
As part of Eureka!’s The Master of Cinema Series, Varieté is presented here in a new restoration by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation of the original German 1:34:28 version, with PCM audio on the Blu-ray and optional English subtitles.
The special features include a choice of three scores, from Stephen Horne, Johannes Contag and The Tiger Lillies, plus the complete American version of the film that was released on 27 June 1926 which tightens up the story by juggling scenes and cutting some out altogether, including one that was disapproved by the US censor (de Putti disrobing). A booklet featuring new writing and archival images is also included.
When I heard that The Tiger Lillies would be composing one of the three scores on this release, I thought this tale of jealousy and hell and ultimate redemption was the perfect match for the avant-garde British musical trio’s dark cabaret sound. And it most certainly is, working best when the group whip up a frenzy of accordion, band saw and Theremin, while lead singer Martyn Jacques uses a host of different vocal tones to utter the word ‘Variety’, as the film’s moves inexorably towards its heated climax. Now that I’ve hear their score, I can’t wait to revisit this little gem again to hear the other two scores.