Category Archives: Must-See

Criss Cross | Robert Siodmak’s must-see film noir classic on Blu-ray

Obsessive love, robbery and murder collide in Robert Siodmak’s classic 1949 film noir suspense tale. Burt Lancaster plays working-class armoured car driver Steve Thompson, who returns to Los Angeles after a few years away hoping to reunite with his ex-wife Anna (Yvonne DeCarlo) – but she’s now married to local mobster Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea).

Unable to stay away from each other, Steve and Anna begin an affair – only to be discovered by Dundee. But Steve manages to convince Dundee that he only wanted to get close to Anna to get his help in robbing an upcoming payroll shipment. Dundee falls for the ruse, which triggers a series of deadly events…

Packed with suspense, a tight script and direction, a sterling cast (especially DeCarlo), moody monochrome cinematography that makes effective use of the downtown Los Angeles locations, plus a rousing Miklós Rózsa score, this is film noir masterpiece that’s ripe for a revisit. Watch out for Tony Curtis making his screen debut (as Anthony Curtis) and prepare to be shocked by the very bleak ending.

Criss Cross gets a new 4K restoration for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK as part of Eureka Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series and includes the following features…

• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray, from a new 4K scan of the original nitrate negative
• Uncompressed LPCM 2.0 audio
• Audio commentary by film author Lee Gambin, and actress Rutanya Alda
• Video piece on the film by film scholar Adrian Martin
• Theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by film historian Kat Ellinger; an essay by Adam Batty; archival writing and imagery

A Foreign Affair | Billy Wilder’s postwar romantic comedy on Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment comes Billy Wilder’s Oscar-nominated postwar romantic comedy A Foreign Affair on Blu-ray as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

When a US congressional committee flies into occupied Berlin to monitor the morale of American troops, staunchly conservative Iowa congresswoman Phoebe Frost (Jean Arthur) is appalled by the lax attitudes exhibited by the troops. She then also starts her own investigation when she discovers that a popular cabaret singer Erika von Schlütow (Marlene Dietrich) was the former mistress of wanted ex-Gestapo agent Hans Otto Birgel (Peter von Zerneck) and is being protected by a mystery American officer. But when she enlists the services of fellow Iowan Captain John Pringle (John Lund) to root him out, she’s unaware that Pringle’s her man – and now he’s trying to cover his tracks by wooing her…

Shrewd, sharp with a whole lot of heart despite its cynical undertones, this is one of Wilder’s best-loved films, thanks to its winning combination of some amazing location footage of a decimated Berlin, delightful performances (especially Jean Arthur), and the divine Dietrich in sultry fine voice.

SPECIAL FEATURES
· 1080p presentation on Blu-ray
· Uncompressed LPCM 2.0 audio
· Audio commentary by film historian Joseph McBride
· From Berlin to Hollywood: Wilder and Dietrich’s Foreign Affair – A video essay by Kat Ellinger
· Two radio adaptations of A Foreign Affair, broadcast as part of the Screen Directors Playhouse in 1949 and 1951. Featuring Billy Wilder, Marlene Dietrich, Rosalind Russell, John Lund, and Lucille Ball
· Archival interview with Billy Wilder
· Theatrical trailer
· Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by film historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas; a new essay by critic Richard Combs; and archival material

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.

Fritz Lang’s epic Die Nibelungen is The Lord of the Rings of the silent era

Drawn from German myth, and the basis for Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle of operas, Fritz Lang‘s expressionistic five-hour 1924 epic Die Nibelungen is a must see. And in the lead up to Eureka Entertainment’s Blu-ray release of Lang’s final feature, The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse on 11 May 2020, I thought it timely to revisit his silent fantasy adventure.

The Story
In Part One, prince Siegfried (Germany’s answer to Arthur) acquires the power of invincibility after slaying a dragon and sets out to win the hand of the daughter of the king of Burgundy. But his marriage to Kriemhild is cut short when her brother Gunther conspires with a fierce warrior called Hagen to bring about his death. In Part Two, the grieving Kriemhild weds the mighty Attila the Hun in a bid to seek revenge against Hagen and the Burgundy knights, resulting in a terrifying apocalypse.

The Lowdown
With the horrors of World War One still very much alive, Lang filmed the epic legend of Siegfried in a bid to bring a little pride back into a country suffering from pessimistic malaise. But this would be no re-staging of Wagner’s popular 19th-century operas. Instead, the visionary director created a totally new universe. Using massive sets and breakthrough visual effects, nature and myth collided in a highly stylised world that, although kitsch but today’s standards, was a revelation in its day.

Why the Nazis loved it?
The two films, which took nine months to make, were met with huge success in both Germany and wider Europe, and became hugely influential on filmmakers of the period, like Sergei Eisenstein, who drew on the film’s scale and look for 1938’s Aleksandr Nevsky. The film’s images and the epic poem it was based on were also ripe for another kind of appropriation. The rising National Socialists (the film was greatly admired by Hitler and Goebbels) would late re-cut Lang’s film, adding in new titles, dialogue and music by Wagner (also Hitler’s favourite) to give voice to the Nazi race-elimination doctrine.

The upshot
The inspiration for nearly every screen fantasy adventure from The Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones, Die Nibelungen is an extraordinarily ambitious visual piece of cinema history that is must-see for all cinephiles.

Die Nibelungen is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment!, featuring a HD restoration of the film by Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, with its original frame-rates and in its original aspect-ratio; newly translated optional English subtitles for the original German intertitles; a one-hour documentary on the film restoration, and collector’s booklet.

Kwaidan | Masaki Kobayashi’s supernatural compendium is simply stunning on Blu-ray

‘My main intention in the film was to explore the juxtaposition between man’s material nature and his spiritual nature, the realm of dream and aspiration’ (Masaki Kobayashi)

From Eureka Entertainment comes the 1965 supernatural compendium Kwaidan, directed by Masaki Kobayashi on Blu-ray as part of The Masters of Cinema Series, presented from a 2K digital restoration.

Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes, Kwaidan features four tales adapted from Lafcadio Hearn’s classic ghost stories about mortals caught up in forces beyond their comprehension when the supernatural world intervenes in their lives.

In the etheral, doom-laden The Black Hair (a popular theme in Japanese ghost stories), a faithless samurai abandons his loving wife to seek advancement and, many years later, is reunited with her — but there’s a terrible twist in the tale. Originally released as a stand-alone film, The Woman of the Snow, features another classic tragic popular culture figure: the ice witch. Here a woodcutter’s broken promise to a vampire causes him terrible heartache.

Hoichi the Earless concerns an apprentice monk who is forced by spirits to recite the tale of a tragic sea battle between the between the Taira and Minamoto clans. And in the eerie and reflective, In a Cup of Tea, a writer relates the story of a Lord’s attendant who is visited by an apparition – but no one believes him.

Kwaidan, which literally means Weird Tales, is a meditative tribute to Japanese folklore. Photographed entirely on hand-painted sets (built inside an old aircraft hangar), Kobayashi’s highly-stylised film draws on classic Japanese illustrations for its visual ideas, while the atmospheric lighting and camerawork recall the hallucinatory worlds of Mario Bava and Powell and Pressburger.

This was one of the most expensive film’s to be made in Japan at the time and ended up bankrupting the studio. But regardless of the expense, Kobayashi has crafted a work of true beauty – a sumptuous symphony that you’ll quickly find yourself immersed in. It’s long and leisurely, but can easily be watched in four parts.

Available to order from: Eureka Store and Amazon

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from Criterion’s 2K digital restoration of the original 183-minute director’s cut
• Original monaural Japanese soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles
Kim Newman on Kwaidan – the film critic and writer explores how the film become something of a template for subsequent Japanese ghost story films
Shadowings [35 mins] – David Cairns and Fiona Watson look at the film’s background, and provide a critical reading of each of the stories focusing on their themes and Kobayashi’s handling of them
• Original Japanese teasers and trailer
• Collector’s book featuring reprints of Lafcadio Hearn’s original ghost stories; a survey of the life and career of Masaki Kobayashi by Linda Hoaglund; and a wide ranging interview with the film maker – the last he’d ever give.

Endless Night | Sidney Gilliat’s 1972 Agatha Christie thriller on Blu-ray

The final feature by Sidney Gilliat, 1972’s Endless Night capped a career that encompassed screenplays for Alfred Hitchcock and Carol Reed, the anarchic St Trinian’s comedies, and his own directorial gems such as mystery-thriller Green for Danger.

Told in flashback, the thriller centres on 20-something chauffeur Michael (Hywel Bennett) who gets the chance to build his dream home when he falls in love with wealthy American heiress Ellie (Hayley Mills). But following their marriage (in secret), a series of bizarre events begin to upset their new life on Gypsy’s Acre… Could they have something to do with the land being cursed or could Ellie’s greedy relatives and interfering best friend be causing them?

Adapting Agatha Christie’s 1967 novel of the same name (one of her favourites), the 1972 thriller reunites some of of the team of 1968’s Twisted Nerve, including co-stars Bennett and Mills, cinematographer Harry Waxman, and composer Bernard Herrmann (who conjures up another impressive score), and boasts a great supporting cast including Britt Ekland (as Ellie’s suspect friend), George Sanders (who was making Pyschomania at the same time), Ann Way (fantastic as an old gypsy woman) and Lois Maxwell (playing a right bitch). Plus, there’s a host of familiar faces from classic British TV, including Peter Bowles, Windsor Davies and Nicholas Courtney. Uncredited is Shirley Jones (yes, of The Partridge Family fame) who dubs Hayley Mills’ singing voice, while character actor Leo Glenn plays the psychiatrist.

DID YOU KNOW? The ultra modernist house that is also one of the major characters in the film, was designed by the film’s production designer Wilfred Shingleton, but was not actually real: just a clever combination of matte paintings and a pre-fabricated front for the exteriors (which took place on Brighstone Down in the Isle of Wight), while the interiors were all created on a set at Shepparton Studios. Still it looks fantastic and worthy of being a Bond villain’s lair (especially the moveable floor that reveals a swimming pool)! Meanwhile, the house that stands in for the mental hospital and a restaurant is actually Grim’s Dyke in North London, the former home of the dramatist WS Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan fame that was used in the late-1960s horrors, Cry of the Banshee and Curse of the Crimson Altar.

Filled with lots of Hitchcockian elements (especially that score), mysterious, untrustful characters, and an unsettling twist ending, Endless Night is a great little mystery thriller to revisit and it’s out now on Blu-ray from Indicator with the following special features (most of which lovingly concentrate on Bernard Herrmann)…

• New restoration from a 4K scan (from StudioCanal)
• Original mono audio
• The BEHP Interview with Sidney Gilliat (1990, 100 mins): archival audio recording
• The John Player Lecture with Bernard Herrmann (1972, 53 mins)
A Full House (2020, 8 mins): interview with Hayley Mills (this was my highlight)
Endless Notes (2020, 13 mins): composer Howard Blake recalls working with Herrmann
Emotional Turbulence (2020, 16 mins): Author and historian Neil Sinyard explore Herrmann’s late career and his enduring legacy
• Image gallery
• Original theatrical trailer
• New and improved English subtitles
• Collector’s booklet with a new essay by Anne Billson, Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat on Endless Night, an archival interview with Gilliat, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits

 

Under the Shadow | Babak Anvari’s 2016 Sundance hit gets a UK Blu-ray release

Iranian director Babak Anvari’s 2016 Sundance hit Under the Shadow is loved by audiences and critics alike. Part ghost story, part social thriller with cutting political commentary, the film is already considered a genre classic and now gets a UK Blu-ray debut in a feature packed Limited Edition box set, courtesy of Second Sight.

Making his feature debut, Anvari has crafted an outstanding piece of work. It follows mother Sideh (Narges Rashidi) struggling to cope in a post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980s. After being blacklisted by the authorities from continuing with her medical studies, Sideh finds herself reduced to playing housewife and exercising to Jane Fonda work-out videos on a contraband VHS machine.

When her husband (Bobby Naderi) is called away on military service, Sideh refuses to take her daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) to her in-laws despite the very real threat of a bomb attack on the city. And when one such bomb crashes through the family’s apartment block, it doesn’t so much as detonate, as bring with it something far more deadly – malevolent spirits called djinn that begin to haunt her home.

Many critics have compared Anvari’s thriller with 2014’s The Babadook, but its a very different entity indeed. While writer/director Jennifer Kent’s Aussie howler was about how grief, guilt and loneliness can manifest the monster inside us all, Under the Shadow is much more subtle affair – but one that’s not lacking in two seriously unnerving sequences.

The ‘monster’ in question in this Tehran-set chiller (that was – unsurprisingly – shot in Jordan) is an unseen malevolent force that is felt not only by Sideh and little Dorsa, but also their neighbours. But we see little of that, as everything happens behind closed doors. It’s all very much a metaphor for the country’s new world order under the Khomeini regime. And Amvari is certainly using his ghost story for some social subtext – especially with regards to the role of women following the revolution that toppled the country’s more liberal monarchy and replaced its with an Islamist republic.

Rashidi brings a wide range of emotions to her role as an educated young woman at war with her own internal demons  – she wants to rage against the machine and motherhood. And once her husband leaves, we are left pretty much with a two-hander, as Rashidi and Manshadi’s Dorsa soon come to blows over a missing doll and VHS tapes. And its their chemistry together that makes the film so engrossing to watch. I won’t reveal anything about the ending here, but I must admit I was begging to know what happens next. One final point is the Farsi language spoken throughout – it’s a wonderfully clear and melodious delight to the ear.

If you haven’t seen it yet, then do check out Second Sight’s new UK Blu-ray release, which is packed with some fantastic extras…

SPECIAL FEATURES
Two & Two: Babak Anvari’s BAFTA Award nominated short film
Escaping The Shadow: a new interview with director Babak Anvari
Within the Shadow: a new interview with actor Narges Rashidi
Forming the Shadow: a new interview with producers Lucan Toh and Oliver Roskill
Shaping the Shadow: a new interview with cinematographer Kit Fraser
• A new audio commentary with Babak Anvari and Jamie Graham

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
• Limited Edition of 2,000
• Rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Christopher Shy
• Soft cover book with new essays by Jon Towlson and Daniel Bird plus behind-the-scenes photos and concept
illustrations
• Poster featuring new artwork

Night Tide | Curtis Harrington’s cult fantasy feature debut and eight rarely-seen experimental shorts get a luminous UK release on Blu-ray

Presented by Nicolas Winding Refn in a new 4K restoration, Curtis Harrington’s 1961 fantasy thriller Night Tide is an offbeat classic of American independent cinema, and it makes its UK Blu-ray debut with this must-have box-set from Powerhouse Films.

Night Tide sees Dennis Hopper (in his first starring role) playing a sailor on shore leave in San Diego, where he meets a young woman called Mora (Linda Lawson) who not only works in a sideshow as a mermaid, but actually believes she is one of the mythical Sirens, who lure young men to their deaths…

A dream-like fusion of arthouse, expressionism and the surreal, dominated by high-contrast lighting and deep shadows, Harrington’s first feature pays homage Val Lewton (one of Harrington’s heroes) and his classic 1942 chiller Cat People – and cements the young film-maker’s poetic cinematic vision that was born out of his earlier experimental shorts. This new restoration is simply luminous and one that I can happily watch over and over again.

Exclusive to this two-disc region free set is a bonus Blu-ray devoted to eight of Harrington’s short films. Previously released by Flicker Alley and Drag City in the US following painstaking restoration by the Academy Film Archive (that was carried out between 2003 and 2007 – the year of Harrington’s death, aged 80), these shorts (also making their UK Blu-ray debut) are a key insight into Harrington’s development as a film-maker…

The Fall of the House of Usher (1942, 10 mins): Inspired to become a film-maker after reading Paul Rotha’s The Film Till Now: A Survey of World Cinema, Harrington was just 16 when he crafted this hallucingenic and campy homemade short in which he plays both Roderick and Madeline Usher. It might be very low budget is bursting with style that would later inform his cinematic vision.

Fragment of Seeking (1946, 14 mins): This ‘examination of youthful narcissism’ was heavily influenced by Maya Deren’s influential Meshes of the Afternoon and is very much a companion piece to Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks in its exploration of homosexuality. In fact, when the two friends first screened their ‘erotic dream pieces’ to an LA art group, they were deemed ‘very sick boys’. Good on them!

Picnic (1948, 23 mins): Harrington persuaded his own parents to star in this ‘satire of middle-class life’, in which an angry young man chases false love and desires to escape authoritive control. Acclaimed French director and film critic Jacques Rivette praised the film’s poetic expression.

On the Edge (1949, 6 mins): Surrealism comes to the fore in this powerful short about youthful dissatisfaction and human frailty, which uses the wild and desolate landscape of Salton Sea (near Brawley, California) to great effect.

The Assignation (1953, 8 mins): In this love letter to Venice and in his first short in colour that was long deemed lost until it was rediscovered in the vaults of the Cinematheque Française, Harrington explores themes of ‘fleeting human connection’ while also showcasing the city’s brooding architecture.

The Wormwood Star (1956, 10 mins): This is my personal favourite and comes with a very interesting history. Entranced by the LA artist Marjorie Cameron, a magnetic and alluring woman whom he had met while appearing in Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and who makes a witchy cameo in Night Tide, Harrington crafted this arty occult short to ‘present Cameron/the artist as alchemist who, through her creative work, becomes herself transmuted into gold’.

Very much part of the occult milieu of Southern California at the time, Cameron was a unique and troubled soul whose lovers included rocket scientist and Aleister Crowley follower Jack Parsons (who developed a belief system that was later appropriated by Ron L Hubbard — guess what that was?) and psychedelic artist Burt Shonberg (who was commissioned to create the ancestor paintings in Roger Corman’s House of Usher). Cameron later burned most of the pieces that appear in the short (which was filmed in the home of surrealist collector Edward James), so this is only record of her unique artistry.

The Four Elements (1966, 13 mins): Commissioned by the United States Information Agency, Harrington was tasked to make this propaganda film to show off the might of American industry. He does so, but with his distinctive flair. Following this short, Harrington went on to craft a host of psychological thrillers like Games (1967) and Who Slew Auntie Roo? (1971) that have now attracted cult status, and TV movies like Cat Creature (1973) and Killer Bees (1974), then ended up helming episodes of the biggest and campest soaps of the 19870s, Dynasty and The Colbys.

Usher (2002, 37 mins): This final inclusion sees Harrington return to what made him become a film-maker in the first place: ‘the art of it’. Filmed at his home with a crew made up of friends (and Church of Satan members, Nikolas and Zeena Schreck), its an atmospheric and humourous take on the same Poe tale that began his cinematic journey.

This box-set is currently my No.1 home entertainment release of 2020, and could only be bettered by seeing all of Harrington’s features and TV movies in another box-set or two. In the meantime, here are the complete specs on Powerhouse/Indictator’s fabulous release.

SPECIAL FEATURES:
DISC ONE: NIGHT TIDE
• New 4K restoration
• Original mono audio
• Audio commentary (from 1998) with writer-director Curtis Harrington and actor Dennis Hopper (This is a must-listen and very informative on the making of the film – also a piece of cinema history as both of them are no longer with us)
• New audio commentary with writer and film programmer Tony Rayns (excellent as always)
Harrington on Harrington (2018, 25 mins): wide-ranging archival interview with the filmmaker
The Sinister Image: Curtis Harrington (1987, 57 mins): two episodes from David Del Valle’s public access series devoted to cult cinematic figures (It was fantastic to finally see this)
• Original theatrical trailer
• Image gallery: publicity and promotional material
• New and improved English subtitles

DISC TWO: DREAM LOGIC – THE SHORT FILMS OF CURTIS HARRINGTON
• High Definition remasters
• Original mono audio
• Eight short films: The Fall of the House of Usher (1942, 10 mins); Fragment of Seeking (1946, 14 mins); Picnic (1948, 23 mins); On the Edge (1949, 6 mins); The Assignation (1953, 8 mins); The Wormwood Star (1956, 10 mins); The Four Elements (1966, 13 mins); Usher (2002, 37 mins)
• Image gallery: production photography and a rare selection from Harrington’s personal collection
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• 80-page collector’s book featuring new writing on Night Tide by Paul Duane, Curtis Harrington on Night Tide and the short films, archival articles by Harrington on horror cinema, experimental films and the making of Picnic, an overview of critical responses, Peter Conheim on the restoration of Night Tide, and film credits
• Limited edition exclusive set of five facsimile lobby cards

Secret Ceremony | Joseph Losey’s darkly decadent 1968 psychological thriller dazzles on Blu-ray

A young girl, Cenci (Mia Farrow), sees Leonora (Elizabeth Taylor), a middle-aged prostitute, visiting the grave of her child in a London cemetery. Struck by the resemblance to her own dead mother, Cenci takes Leonora to the opulent mansion where she lives alone and installs her in her mother’s old bedroom, dressing her in the dead woman’s clothes.

Leonora, in turn, humours the neurotic girl by adapting to her fantasies and rituals. But their private masquerade is interrupted by two strange aunts, Hannah (Peggy Ashcroft) and Hilda (Pamela Brown), and Cenci’s abusive stepfather Albert (Robert Mitchum)…

In between his collaborations with Harold Pinter – 1963’s The Servant, 1967’s Accident (both starring Dirk Bogarde) and 1971’s The Go-Between, UK-based American director Joseph Losey helmed a trio of cinematic curiosities – the campy 1966 cartoon strip spy thriller Modesty Blaise (again with Bogarde), the spectacular bomb that was 1968’s Boom! (based on Tennessee Williams’ play The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore) and the baffling ritualistic 1968 psychological thriller, Secret Ceremony, which is now getting a world Blu-ray premiere release from Indicator.

Having already worked with her on Boom!, Losey felt Elizabeth Taylor was ideal for role of Leonora. She ended up not only being a dream to work with (unlike Mitchum, who was somewhat a handful), she also took a vulnerable young Mia Farrow under her wing. Farrow had just completed Rosemary’s Baby, which had yet to be released, and had Frank Sinatra’s minders watching her every move as they went through their messy split.

Interestingly, Farrow wasn’t Losey’s original choice for the role. He wanted Vanessa Redgrave, but she proved too expensive, and his other choice, Marianne Faithfull, was unavailable. But it was Viveca Lindfors, the wife of the film’s screenwriter George Tabori, who recommended Farrow. But Farrow is a great choice as she brings a genuine amount of fragile vulnerability to her role as the disturbed girl trapped in her own imaginings. And she and Taylor make for a winning combination.

Boasting exquisite production design (by Richard MacDonald), opulent cinematography (from Gerry Fisher), an elegant Victorian music box inspired score (Richard Rodney Bennett) and some wonderful gowns for Taylor (by Marc Bohan, the chief designer for Christian Dior, who based his palette on the mansion’s colourful mosaics and Taylor’s own iconic violet eyes), Losey’s psycho-thriller is a darkly decadent offering from the normally naturalistic director that’s so hypnotic that even the most baffled viewer will be left dazzled.

DID YOU KNOW?
The mansion used in the film is Debenham House in Addison Road, Holland Park. Also known as Peacock House, this extraordinary romantic stew of sensual, Victorian oriental fantasy built in the Arts and Crafts Style by architect Halsey Ricardo (in 1905) was chosen by Losey because he had walked past it every day while taking his young son Gavrik to school.

Losey also makes excellent use of some other London locations, including Kensal Green’s All Souls Cemetery (which was extensively used in 1973’s Theatre of Blood0, the streets around Chepstow Road, W2 (and St Mary Magdalene church), and the historic Grand Hotel Huis ter Duin in Noordwijk aan Zee in the Netherlands (a favourite of the Dutch royals, and also of Taylor and Burton).

AND ALSO…
NBC TV paid US$1.5m for the TV rights, and without consulting the film makers, Universal fatally edited 18 minutes of the film for its showing on TV in September 1970. They cut some footage to substitute a discussion between Robert Douglas and Michael Strong playing a lawyer and psychiatrist who analyse the motivation of the film’s characters. In doing so, they bizarrely changed Leonora from being a prostitute to being an assistant in a wig shop. Losey was so incensed that he demanded that his name be struck from the credits of the edited TV version. These sequences are included as an extra on the Indicator release.

INDICATOR’S SPECIAL FEATURES
• High Definition re-master
• Original mono audio
• Audio commentary with author/critics Dean Brandum and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (2019)
• Archival Interview with Joseph Losey (1969, 15 mins): extract from the French television programme Cinéma critique
The Beholder’s Share (2019, 25 mins): interview with Gavrik Losey
• TV version: additional scenes (1971, 18 mins): the epilogue and prologue produced for US television screenings
• Original theatrical trailer
• Larry Karaszewski trailer commentary (2015, 3 mins): short critical appreciation
• Image gallery
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Collectors booklet with a new essay by Neil Sinyard, an archival location report, Joseph Losey on Secret Ceremony, a look at the source novella, an overview of contemporary reviews, and film credits

The System (1964) | Michael Winner’s dark drama starring Oliver Reed on Blu-ray

From Indicator comes the limited edition World Blu-ray premiere of Michael Winner’s 1964 drama, The System.

The first film on which star Oliver Reed and director Michael Winner collaborated (they later made The Jokers, I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Is Name and Hannibal Brooks ), this is a bitter little essay on class and youth that deserves more recognition.

Reed plays Tinker, a photographer based in the fictional Devon seaside town of Roxham who, each summer, passes on the names of holidaymakers and local lasses to his out-of-towner mates – for a fee, of course. It’s all a bit of harmless fun, but his system turns sour when he tries to woo Nicola (Jane Merrow), the daughter of a wealthy local businessman…

Making great use of the coastal locations (including Brixham Harbour, Paignton Beach and Torquay) and gloriously shot (in black and white) by Nicolas Roeg, The System features a plethora of embryonic British talent, including John Alderton, Derek Nimmo and David Hemmings – who all looking incredibly slim and youthful, while Harry Andrews turns in a powerful character study as a surly photo-shop owner. Reed is perfectly cast here as the ‘Girl-Getters’ leader, and imbues his Tinker with great depth (plus a bit of own notoriously wild personality); while Jane Merrow brings an icy coolness to her fiercely independent heroine that will make you sit up a take notice.

On a trivia note, it was this film that first popularised the word ‘grockle’ – West Country slang for a tourist; and ‘boy!’ do screenwriter Peter Draper and director Michael Winner have great fun taking the mickey out of the stereotypes of the day (who favoured baggy clothing with handkerchiefs on their heads). Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)’s Mike Pratt wrote the catchy theme tune, which is sung by the Merseybeat combo, The Searchers. Winner’s previous film before this was West 11 (read my review here).

SPECIAL FEATURES:
• High Definition remaster
• Original mono audio
• Audio commentary with film historians Thirza Wakefield and Melanie Williams
Getting the Girl (2019, 18 mins): interview with actor Jane Merrow
Drinking and Dancing (2019, 6 mins): interview with actor John Porter-Davison
Fun and Games (2019, 4 mins): interview with actor Jeremy Burnham
Haunted England (1961, 24 mins): Winner’s Eastmancolor travelogue about stately homes and other famous places with ghostly tales to tell, hosted by broadcaster David Jacobs
• Image gallery
• New and improved English subtitles
• Collector’s booklet with essays on the film and Haunted England, contemporary critical responses, and film credits.

 

 

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