Category Archives: The Masters of Cinema

The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse | Your heart might just miss a beat watching Fritz Lang’s thrilling cinematic swansong

From Eureka Entertainment comes The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse (Die 1000 Augun des Dr Mabuse), the final instalment in Fritz Lang’s trilogy and the director’s cinematic swansong on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK, as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

After enjoying success with 1959’s Indian Epic (AKA The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb), German producer Artur Brauner signed Fritz Lang to direct one more film back in his home country. The result would be a picture that brought Lang’s career full-circle and become his final celluloid testament.

Why does it hurt when my heart misses the beat?
The character of megalomaniac criminal mastermind Dr Mabuse (who I will always associate with Propaganda’s 1984 debut song – catch the music video below) was originally made famous by Lang in his pre-Hollywood years. First in the four+ hour long 1922 silent Dr Mabuse (based on the novel of the same name by Norbert Jacques), then in the 1933 sound crime thriller Testament of Dr Mabuse (based on Jacques’ unfinished novel, Mabuse’s Colony). Both films starred Rudolf Klein-Rogge as the titular villain and both were set in the period of the Weimar Republic.

The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse is set in 1960s at the start of the Cold War, and while it is not a direct sequel, it does exist in the same universe. When a TV journalist is killed in his car on his way to an important broadcast, Inspector Kras (Gert Frobe) gets a call from blind psychic informant Peter Cornelius (Lupo Prezzo), who had a vision of the crime but not the perpetrator.

Meanwhile, at the Luxor Hotel (where every room has been bugged), industrialist Henry Travers (Peter Van Eyck) comes to the aid of the mysterious Marian (Dawn Addams), when she attempts to commit suicide in a bid to escape her abusive. Meanwhile, salesman Hieronymus B Mistelzweig (Werner Peters) always seems to be lurking about. Together, these disparate characters come together to work out just who is channelling Mabuse (Wolfgang Preiss).

This is a thrilling, action-packed crime thriller where Nazi survellious tech, sex crimes, paranoia, psychic powers and classic car chases collide, and its undoubtedly Lang’s final film masterpiece – and your heart might just miss a beat watching it. It also a spawned six Mabuse films in competition with the poplular German Edgar Wallace Krimi films. A must see.

The Masters of Cinema Series Blu-ray is available to order from: Eureka Store and Amazon

SPECIAL FEATURES
* 1080p presentation on Blu-ray
* Original German soundtrack
* Optional English audio track, approved by Fritz Lang
* Optional English subtitles
* Feature-length audio commentary by film-scholar and Lang expert David Kalat
* 2002 interview with Wolfgang Preiss (this is a wonderfully informative piece, and quite poignant as it was filmed two weeks before Preiss’ death in November 2002)
* Alternate ending
* Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned and original poster artwork
* Collector’s booklet featuring a new essays; vintage reprints of writing by Lang; and notes by Lotte Eisner on Lang’s final, unrealised projects

The Old Dark House (1932) | James Whale’s macabre masterpiece restored and released at long last!

The Old Dark House (1932)

1932’s The Old Dark House is arguably director James Whale’s greatest cinematic feat, a macabre queer comedy disguised as a horror, delightfully acted (by lots of Brits abroad), and fused together with Whale’s stylistic, sardonic humour, well-knit scenario witty and insightful screenplay, and moody camerawork, lighting and production design. It is, quite possibly, the best British horror ever made – in Hollywood.

The Old Dark House (1932)

Taking its queues from JB Priestley’s 1927 novel, Benighted, and the ‘Old House’ chillers of stage and screen, Whale’s storm-driven adaptation finds five weary travellers becoming stranded at the ominous Welsh mansion of the reclusive and very strange Femm family, who are all quite possibly all insane. What follows is a wicked parody of the British class system, and one that features a performance from Ernest Thesiger that outshines even his iconic turn as Dr Pretorius in Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein a couple of years later.

The Old Dark House (1932)

Thesiger plays Horace Femm, a sniffy little man, who is probably wanted by the police (for crimes we can only imagine) and has seething contempt for everything and everyone. He owns the house along with his pious half-deaf sister Eva (beautifully played by Eva Moore), and their scenes together provide the film with its most memorable moments and best lines: like ‘Have a potato’ and ‘How reassuring’.

Gloria Stuart and Raymond Massey play married socialite couple Margaret and Philip, while Melvyn Douglas is their playboy friend Roger. When a landslide forces them off the road, they seek shelter with the Femms; and are soon joined by Charles Laughton (making his screen debut and speaking his in native Yorkshire tongue) and Lilian Bond, who play the self-made businessman Sir William Porterhouse and chorus girl Gladys. But with no beds on offer, they are all forced to spend the evening huddle together around a fireplace after a frugal meal of roast, gravy and – yes- potatoes…

The Old Dark House (1932)

But it’s not long before the Femms skeletons starting coming out of the closet as the lights go out and the group are soon menaced by Boris Karloff’s mute butler Morgan, who hits the bottle and goes on a drunken rampage, which results in the release of Femm’s pyromaniac brother Saul (Brember Wills) from his locked attic room…

Whale’s shows off his perverse sense of humour through the stylistic, expressionistic camerawork (by Arthur Edeson, who also shot Frankenstein) in some very memorable scenes: like when Horace announces, ‘My sister was on the point of arranging these flowers’, then summarily throws them into the fireplace. Another is when Morgan makes his menacing entrance, and a particularly surreal funhouse mirror shot of Margaret and Rebecca, their features distorted in a vanity mirror. Then there’s the terrific trick shot of Morgan coming down the stairs only to reveal the hand on the banister is not his…

The Old Dark House (1932)

Packed to the rafters with morbid mirth and a sly wink at class and society, this is one of the most entertaining horror films of the 1930’s. The Masters of Cinema Series special dual format edition of James’s Whales’ queer comedy horror features a stunning 1080p presentation from the Cohen Media Group 4K restoration (with a progressive encode on the DVD), uncompressed LPCM audio (on the Blu-ray) and optional English subtitles; and includes a collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Philip Kemp, archival material and previously unseen imagery and ephemera; and Limited Edition O-Card (first run only) featuring artwork by Graham Humphreys, created especially for the 2018 UK theatrical release. The special extras (below), however, are the icing on the cake, making this a must-have for any classic film collection…

The Old Dark House (1932)

Meet the Femms This video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns is exceptionally executed, with loads of informative back stories on the production, cast and crew, super behind the scenes photos, incuding Whales’ own set designs, and I really enjoyed hearing actors Steven McNicoll and Angela Hardie voicing the various characters in Priestley’s novel, Benighted, as well as the author himself and Laughton’s wife Elsa Lanchester.

Daughter of Frankenstein Sara Karloff talks candidly about her father and his work on this production, and has a great story about how Boris and Charles Laughton did not see eye-to-eye.

Curtis Harrington Saves The Old Dark House This archival interview has the late-director (who became a close friend of Whale’s) recalling his efforts in rescing the film from oblivion back in 1968. Please, someone, give this man a posthumous medal for doing this!

Commentary by Kim Newman and Stephen Jones This is a great listen, with some interesting bits of trivia  like that fact that Karloff was dubbed, and Kim makes a very interesting link between the film’s structure (and its class-based ensemble) to disaster movies. This was made prior to Gloria Stuart’s death (aged 100) in 2010, as the duo talk about her in the present tense, and their comments are all based on viewing an inter-negative print.

Commentary by Gloria Stuart This is absolutely riveting. Stuart is a joy to listen to and she provides huge amounts of personal insight (the film was a real high point in her acting career): admiring Whales’ sardonic humour, the uncomfortable shooting for the actors, her regrets at being a young 22 upstart making her second film who was unaware of Eva Moore’s pedigree (a suffragette, one of Edward VI’s favourites and the mother of Laurence Olivier’s first wife, Jill Esmond), and shedding light on some truths about why Karloff and Whale weren’t on friendly terms during the shoot.

Commentary by James Whale biographer James Curtis This has lots of great insight into the film’s production, and I certainly learnt a few things. Did you know that Karloff’s mute butler Morgan became the model for the butler Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons? These were subsequently published as Drawn and Quartered, with a Foreward by Karloff and thus effectively the character became Lurch in The Addams Family. Curtis also examines the similarities and differences between Priestley’s novel and Whale’s screenplay – which makes for an interesting analysis.

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James Whale’s The Old Dark House gets a 4k restoration cinema release in the UK and Ireland

The Old Dark House

Here’s the specially commissioned poster artwork by Graham Humphreys, aka Britain’s Quadfather, to accompany the new 4k restoration release of James Whale’s chilling 1932 classic The Old Dark House, which will get a nationwide cinema release in the UK & Ireland.

This atmospheric thriller, which adapts novel Benighted into a nerve-jangling tale that became the template for all spooky-house chillers to come, features an unforgettable post-Frankenstein horror role for Boris Karloff, as the hulking, disfigured butler Morgan. Also starring in early-career roles are Melvin Douglas, Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey and Gloria Stuart.

The Old Dark House lands in selected cinemas in the UK & Ireland on 27 April ahead of its dual format release on 21 May as part of Eureka!’s Masters of Cinema Series.

In the meantime, enjoy the brand-new trailer.

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The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) | Billy Wilder’s melancholic celebration of Conan Doyle’s great detective gets a first-time Blu-ray release

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

From Eureka Entertainment comes Billy Wilder’s underrated 1970 adventure comedy The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, as part of The Masters of Cinemas Series on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

Director Billy Wilder’s personal, melancholic celebration of Conan Doyle’s great detective was originally conceived as a three and a half hour extravaganza, and he never forgave the studio for hacking it to bits (with many of the deleted scenes now lost forever).

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

What remains is rewarding, but it leaves you begging for more, as the bored Baker Street sleuth (Robert Stephens) investigates a mystery that takes him and his faithful companion Doctor Watson (Colin Blakely) from London to Inverness, and involves an enigmatic amnesiac (Geneviève Page), Holmes’ conniving brother Mycroft (Christopher Lee), Queen Victoria and – yes – the Loch Ness Monster.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

Stephens plays Holmes with tortured, whimsical perfection, and both Blakely and Lee are perfectly cast in their respective roles, but it’s Irene Handl rather than the alluring Page who steals every scene she’s in. Her Mrs Hudson is a comic stand-out. Other familiar faces include the legendary Stanley Holloway, Clive Revill (The Legend of Hell House), Catherine Lacey (The Sorcerers) and Jenny Hanley (Scars of Dracula).

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

The film’s rich period detail and authentic locations is also matched by the witty script (one of 11 that Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond wrote together) and the whole affair sparkles like a well-polished (rough) diamond.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 1080p presentation
• Uncompressed PCM soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles
• A new video interview with film scholar Neil Sinyard
• The Missing Cases (50 mins): A presentation of deleted sequences, using script excerpts, production stills and surviving film footage.
• Deleted Epilogue Scene (audio only)
Christopher Lee: Mr. Holmes, Mr. Wilder – an archival interview with Christopher Lee about his experience working with Billy Wilder
• Interview with editor Ernest Walter
• Original theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet

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Fedora (1978) | Billy Wilder’s last great film shines a spotlight on the ugly face of Hollywood

Fedora (1978)

‘Youth had been a habit of hers for so long that she could not part with it’
When Fedora (Marthe Keller), the world’s most famous, ageless film star dies, having thrown herself in front of a train, her one-time lover, Hollywood has-been producer Dutch (William Holden), feels a sense of guilt about hounding her in starring in a new version of Anna Karenina. But, at her funeral, he learns a terrible truth…


Fedora (1978)

You’ll get a real sense of nostalgia watching Billy Wilder’s penultimate film, Fedora (1978), as it bookends his Oscar-winning 1950’s classic Sunset Boulevard, and – for all intents and purposes – this is his sun-drenched farewell to a Hollywood changed forever.

I was drawn to the film not because of Wilder, but for William Holden, who hit his stride in the 1950s before becoming a veteran for hire in 1970s genre favourites like The Towering Inferno, Damien: Omen II and Network. His grizzled has-been Dutch is not unlike his down-at-heel screenwriter Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard, and he again uses on that fabulous smoky growl. And it’s his narration that drives the story, based on Tom Tyron’s novella, which begins as a mystery before the big reveal…

Fedora (1978)

You see, time has not been kind to the 67-year-old Fedora, who has a plastic surgeon (José Ferrer) on call 24-7 to keep her looking youthful, while the wheelchair-bound Countess (Hildegard Knef) relies on her servant (Frances Sternhagen) and chauffeur (Gottfried John) to keep Fedora out of the public eye and out of trouble. She also fears that the public will be mortified to learn that Fedora not only has a drug addiction – she also has an unhealthy obsession for the actor, Michael York…

Fedora (1978)

The other reason I was drawn to the film was because of Tom Tyron (1926-1991). Ever since he ditched acting in the late-1960s, he went on to craft some fascinating horror, mystery and sci-fi novels, some of which were adapted for the big and small screen, like the American Gothic chiller The Other (1971).

His original novella is all about an obsession with youth, and his Fedora is portrayed as an addict desperate for her latest fix from her surgeon. It’s a character that certainly belongs in the pantheon of Grande Dame Guignol – and a sense of that creeps into Wilder’s film, especially in the relationship between Fedora and the Countess (they reminded me of real-life sisters Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine).

Fedora (1978)

Taking Tyron’s premise, Wilder then weaves in his own in-jokes to shine his old-style Fresnel lanterns on the ugly face of Hollywood and its acquiescence to youth-orientated culture that has seen the old guard replaced by bearded pot-heads waving a camera around.

Golden Age aficionados, meanwhile, will be richly rewarded with references that pay homage to screen legends like Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford, music that evokes The Third Man; Euro horror settings and visuals; and campy colourful Douglas Sirk-styled melodramatics. Not to mention an OTT funeral that’s to die for. As the Countess says, it’s ‘Magic Time!’

The new high-definition presentation of Fedora on dual format (Blu-ray & DVD) from Eureka! includes English subtitles, deleted scenes, a restoration comparison and a collector’s booklet featuring essays on the film and archival images.

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Conversation Piece (1974) | Luchino Visconti’s meditation on family, beauty and decadence is a quiet achiever

Conversation Piece (1974)

Directed with operatic flare by Luchino Visconti (following his recovery from a stroke), 1974’s Conversation Piece is dominated by a finely controlled turn by Burt Lancaster as a retired American professor who has filled his apartment in Rome with 18th-century paintings of family groups known as ‘conversation pieces’.

Conversation Piece (1974)

But when the brash Countess Brumonti (Silvana Mangano) lures the professor into accepting her family and young German lover (Helmut Berger) as tenants, he finds his ordered life and self-composure increasingly disrupted by their presence…

Conversation Piece (1974)

Set inside the confines of a grand old palazzo, Visconti’s penultimate film (which was shot in English) is a sleek, sly critique of the decadent European jet set that gets better with age.

You’ll be hard-pressed to have little empathy for the self-absorbed Brumonti brood or Berger’s decadent lothario, but Lancaster’s professor is real softie who will melt your heart. And the way he deals with his life being turned upside down is a wonderful lesson in humility. This is a quiet achiever from a master director in his final years.

Conversation Piece (1974)

Conversation Piece gets a dual-format release following a brand new 2k restoration from Eureka! Entertainment as part of their Masters of Cinema Series. Extras include the Italian dub soundtrack, optional subtitles, an interview with screenwriter Alessandro Bencivenni, trailer and a collector’s booklet.

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Rocco and His Brothers (1960) | Lucino Visconti’s working class melodrama is a gritty, gripping masterpiece

Rocco and his Brothers (1960)

From Eureka Entertainment comes the worldwide Blu-ray release of Luchino Visconti’s melodramatic 1960 masterpiece Rocco and His Brothers.

In 1950s Italy, recently widowed Rosaria Parondi (Katina Paxinou) and her four sons, Simone (Renato Salvatori), Rocco (Alain Delon), Ciro (Max Cartier) and Luca (Rocco Vidolazzi), leave their impoverished home in Bari in the south for metropolitan Milan where they hope to lodge with their eldest brother Vincenzo (Spiros Focás). But, on discovering he is to be engaged to young Ginetta (Claudia Cardinale) without her consent, Rosario makes a scene that insults his potential in-laws.

Finding temporary housing in the basement of an unheated block of flats, the family struggles to fit into a city where southerners are treated with the utmost disdain. Simone and Rocco soon begin to train as boxers, while Ciro sets about studying, and Vincenzo begins a family with Ginetta. Over time, however, Rosaria finds her southern values challenged, while her sons’ tight-knit bond becomes sorely tested…

Rocco and his Brothers (1960)

Taking inspiration from the novel Il Ponte della Ghisolfa by Giovanni Testori, Lucino Visconti weaves a working class melodrama that might seem grim, grey and angry on the surface, but it’s full of intensity and energy borne out by the sublime performances of Alain Delon, Renato Salvatori and Annie Girardot, whose characters are at the heart of this powerful, often violent tale of love, passion and morality.

Rocco and his Brothers (1960)

Delon delivers one of his finest roles as the noble Rocco, a gentle soul who will go to the ends of the Earth to save his boxer brother Simone from the moral abyss that confronts him. Playing Caine to Delon’s Abel, Salvatori is a standout: raw, rough and the epitome of wounded pride; and as the spirited prostitute in love with both brothers, Girardot is totally captivating and makes for a truly tragic screen heroine. (Incidentally, Girardot and Salvatori married two years later).

But watch out for Katina Paxinou, her protective matriarch Rosario is the Italian mother personified. Her scene unleashing her wrath (complete with southern dialect profanties and gestures) on Girardot’s Nadia is one of the film’s most memorable, and identifiable, moments.

Rocco and his Brothers (1960)

The film’s social statements may walk a thin line at times, but Visconti brings a neo-realist eye and an operatic sensibility to his episodic epic that grips you until the bittersweet end. But kudos go to cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno’s film for bringing Visconti’s powerful imagery to luminous life. From the framing of the film’s four male stars in all their masculine beauty to the sweeping city vistas; and from the dark side-streets and shadow-lit boxing ring to Milan’s deserted Ravizza park where the film’s most violent scenes play out, Rotunno’s monochrome camerawork is breathtaking, while Nina Rota’s hypnotic jazz score is an atmospheric highlight.

Eureka’s Blu-ray, released as part of The Masters of Cinema series, features a HD presentation of the film (which reinstates two scenes cut by the censors) from a new 4k restoration, which also feature the following extras…

  • Optional English subtitles
  • Two audio choices; the original Italian, and the French dub
  • Les coulisses du tournage, a 2003 French documentary about the film
  • 1999 interview with cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno
  • Interview with actress Claudia Cardinale
  • 2002 interview with actress Annie Girardot
  • Luchino Visconti: A 60min documentary about the director’s life and career
  • Two vintage newsreels
  • Original Italian trailer

Fellini-Satyricon (1969) | This ‘far-out’ Roman orgy is an intoxicating visual feast in 4K HD

Satyricon (1969) Blu-rayThis picture will be a science fiction… a trip back in time… into an unknown dimension’. ‘There is no end, no beginning. There is only the infinite passion of life. Everything is divine… if one looks with innocent eyes’.

Rome. Before Christ. After Fellini.
Fellini-Satyricon isn’t about some crazy cosplay convention for mythical goat-like creatures, but a visionary 1960s satire in which the legendary Italian director was at his most Fellini-esque. Having played a Dantesque pilgrim exploring Rome (aka his ‘city of illusion’) in his septimal 1960’s masterpiece La Dolce Vita, and going all self-reflexive and avant-garde in 1963’s , Fellini’s next Rome epic went back into a distant age, a time when excess was the ‘piatto del giorno’. Visionary, vulgar, phantasmagorical, and very queer indeed, Fellini-Satyricon is a fantastical spectacle that brings to exuberant existence the kind of frescos that would be unearthed (ever so briefly) in Fellini’s 1972 surreal travelogue, Roma and indeed appear in Satyricon‘s closing scenes.

Satyricon (1969) Blu-ray

Man standing alone before the fascinating mystery of life, all its terror, its beauty, and its passion’ is at the heart of Fellini’s episodic dream tapesty, loosely based on Gauis Petronius’ late 1st-century AD Roman novel. The story, for what its worth, follows student Encolpio (Martin Potter) and his lover Ascilto (Hiram Keller) encountering a series misadventures involving a pirate ship packed with attractive young men, the disastrous abduction of a hermaphrodite demi-god, and a gladiatorial fight with a minotaur – in between our strapping heroes bedding prostitutes in local brothels and getting drunk at bacchanalian orgies.

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Fellini combines Petronius’ fragmentary novel with other mythical tales to weave an allegorical satire about the world in which he himself was becoming an outsider – Rome in the 1960s. One that was as degenerate and crazy as the Roman world described by Suetonius in his twelve Caesars biographies, and one that was also in revolt from the youth of day. For Encolpio and Ascilto, who are hippies from out of time and space, this was a world where total self-fullfilment was the Roman way under the reign of Nero.

Satyricon (1969)

Fellini’s free-flowing, hallucinatory myth restored is a film that is to be experienced rather than understood. Indeed, early-1970s audiences found Fellini’s far-out Roman feast a weird and wonderful acid trip and a stoner favourite. The dialogue, for the most part, maybe gibberish, but the visuals are simply intoxticating, with Fellini making full use of the ‘Scope frame (as he did with La Dolce Vita) by filling the screen with a richly textured colour palette and superb composition. In fact, looking at his grand operatic set pieces, you can see how Derek Jarman and Peter Greenaway were influenced by Fellini’s most Fellini-esque of films. And what better way to watch it, than in glorious full widescreen HD.

satyricon_wide-3

THE MASTERS OF CINEMA RELEASE
Featuring a brand new 4K restoration, provided by Hollywood Classics/Criterion Collection, Fellini-Satyricon gets its first-time UK Blu-ray release from Eureka! as part of their Masters of Cinema Series. The special features include the following…
• Optional English dub track (If you choose this, you’ll notice that the English actors speak in their tongue – but don’t worry if it looks out of synch, as that’s how Fellini wanted it to be).
• Optional Italian track without subtitles.
• Theatrical trailer.
• Collector’s booklet featuring the 1968 Federico Fellini essay, Preface to the Treatment, about the mythic aspects of the director’s film (fascinating!); Sabrina Marques’ 2015 essay Fellini: Subversion by Excess (which I didn’t understand); Pasquale Iannone’s 2015 essay, Fellinscope, on the director’s use of widescreen (hugely informative); and the 1968 Vogue article Fellini-Satyricon-Dossier, again with Fellini (also very interesting).

Did You Know?
There was another film called Satyricon, by director Gian Luigi Polidoro, that was also released in 1969, but the producers claimed the title first – hence the use of Fellini’s name to distinguish between the two.

Trailer

Harold and Maude (1971) | Hal Ashby’s life-affirming cult black comedy just gets better with age

Harold and Maude blu-ray

They met at the funeral of a perfect stranger. From then on, things got perfectly stranger
Feeling trapped and emotionally dead by his wealthy surroundings, 20-year-old Harold (Bud Cort) repeatedly stages his suicide in elaborate ways to annoy his society-conscious mother (Vivian Pickles), while attending other people’s funerals in a custom-built hearse.

Meeting Maude (Ruth Gordon), who is about to turn 80, at one of the services, Harold finds himself drawn to the free-spirit whose zest for life awakens something inside of him, and it is through her love that Harold begins to see life as something to be lived…

Harold and Maude

If you want to sing out… sing out
Like Ruth Gordon’s sprightly 79-year-old character, director Hal Ashby and screenwriter Colin Higgins’ life-affirming black comedy Harold and Maude just gets better with age. There’s a hugely uplifting quality to the film as well as wonderful sense of anarchic rebellion that speaks as much now as it did on its original release, where it became a cause célèbre among North American college audiences and enjoyed extended runs (some going for years like one cinema in Minneapolis where it ran for three years, much to the chagrin of the locals).

Key to the film’s longevity are its universal themes of life, death and resurrection (Maude sees death only as part of the life cycle and wants to return as a sunflower) and the unique chemistry between the two leads, whose characters’ 50-year age gap romance shocked audiences of the day. Bud Cort is quietly effective as the manchild Harold, while Ruth Gordon brings a subtle sense of sadness behind Maude’s wrinkly smiles.

Harold and Maude

While not a laugh out loud comedy, the film is packed with hilarious moments (Maude giving Tom Skerritt’s motorcycle cop the runaround is a highlight, while Charles Tyner‘s one-armed army captain Uncle Victor is a hoot) and the script is a quotable delight, with the best quips coming from Maude: ‘Aim above morality. If you apply that to life, then you’re bound to live life fully’; ‘A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They’re just backing away from life’, and my favourite: ‘Oh my, how the world still dearly loves a cage.’

Also uplifting is Cat Steven’s hippie folk tunes and John Alonzo’s cinematography, which finds beauty in the most unlikely of places: a concrete Californian highway bathed in a gorgeous sunset, a picnic in a scrap yard, and the dilapidated railway carriage in which Maude resides, which looks like a bohemian gypsy caravan.

Harold and Maude

Alzono later scored an Oscar nomination for his work on Polanksi’s Chinatown in 1974, while Ashby (certainly one of Hollywood’s most underrated directors) would go on to helm the Oscar nominated Coming Home (1978) and Being There (1979), probably Peter Sellers’ finest performance on screen. Writer Higgins, meanwhile, ended up directing the comedy hits Foul Play and Nine to Five, before tragically succumbing to AIDS in 1988, aged 47. Ashby died the same year, from cancer, aged 59. Their legacy, however, is this unforgettable cult comedy. So, if you’re ever feeling down or at odds with the world, just let Harold and Maude in your life to make it that little bit better.

Harold and Maude

THE MASTERS OF CINEMA SERIES RELEASE
This is the first time in the UK that the cult black comedy has been made available on Blu-ray and features a newly restored 1080p high-definition master in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio, with a choice of original mono audio or stereo track and optional English subtitles. The extras include audio commentary by Hal Ashby biographer Nick Dawson and producer Charles B Mulvehill and a video discussion by critic David Cairns. The booklet accompanying the release features archival interviews with Ashby, Higgins and Gordon alongside vintage imagery.

Lifeboat (1944) | Alfred Hitchcock’s wartime classic continues to resonate

Lifeboat (1944)

Alfred Hitchcock has long been regarded as the Master of Suspense, but he was also pretty good at propaganda judging from 1944’s Lifeboat, which was his direct response to the ongoing war in Europe.

Six men and three women – against the sea and each other
After their ship is torpedoed in the North Atlantic, a handful of survivors await rescue aboard a lifeboat. But when the captain of a downed German U-boat is pulled from the sea, the survivors fall out with each over his fate and the direction their boat should be heading.

Lifeboat (1944)

Not many directors would dare to make an entire suspense film set on board a lifeboat, but Hitchcock, of course, does it masterfully. Thanks to his superb storyboarding skills, you quickly forget it’s all been shot in a Hollywood studio, while the performances of the terrific cast soon draw you into the unfolding drama. Tallulah Bankhead is just marvellous as a mink-coated journalist falling for the dubious charms of John Hodiak’s tough sailor, while Walter Slezak shines as the cagey German officer. But it’s William Bendix as the patriotic German-American suffering from gangrene who really brings a tear to the eye.

Lifeboat (1944)

While Lifeboat is unashamedly wartime propaganda and its views are very much of the period (especially the racial stereotyping), it does ask profound questions about war that continue to resonate. Its Oscar-nominated cinematography, meanwhile, is superb – especially considering the staged conditions in which they were created.

Lifeboat (1944)In 2012, Lifeboat got a dual format release as part of Eureka Entertainment’s Masters of Cinema Series, featuring a new HD master of the film along with Hitchcock’s French language shorts, Bon voyage and Aventure malgache, which the director also made in 1944 to promote the cause of the French Resistance.

In the UK, Sky customers can watch Lifeboat via Sky On Demand and on Sky Movies (Sky 312/340, Virgin 412/442), with the next screening on Thursday 15 May at 4.25am. The film is also available to view on YouTube from Fox International.

 

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