The Tragedy of Macbeth (1971) | Did Roman Polanski’s bloody adaptation inspire TV’s Game of Thrones
If ever there was a cinematic Shakespeare adaptation that would click with audiences today, it has to be Roman Polanski’s controversial 1971 interpretation of ‘the Scottish play’. Featuring hangings, bludgeonings, stabbings, rape, infanticide and decapitation, it’s certainly a bloody affair, but no more than you’d get in an episode of Game of Thrones. It also brings Shakespeare’s drama to vivid, believeable, life with its accessible, engaging translation of the Bard’s verse.
And this is thanks to Polanski and his co-writer, the London theatre critic, Kenneth Tynan, and a cast of young actors who speak the words in a totally naturalistic way. These include Jon Finch (whom John Gieglud praised for his delivery) as the power-hungry chieftain Macbeth, Francesca Annis as his co-conspirator Lady Macbeth, and Martin Shaw as Banquo, the one-time friend that Macbeth murders in order to keep his unsteady crown.
Adding to the film’s realism is Gilbert Taylor’s dramatic, moody photography and the striking use of the stark landscapes and real-life castles in Wales and Northumberland. Watching it today, you can’t help but compare it again with Games of Thrones, as the settings could easily be located anywhere in Westeros. And since Shakespeare’s The War of the Roses history plays are said to have been George RR Martin’s inspiration for his novels, Polanski’s masterpiece could very well have played a role in the look of the TV show.
While much of the film’s darkness could be read as Polanski’s way of dealing with the tragic murder of his wife Sharon Tate and his unborn child at the hands of the Manson Family, if his intention was to create an adaptation that captured the true essence of Shakespeare’s bleak classic tragedy then he certainly succeeded, and with an atmosphere as thick as the witches’ brew that features in one of the film’s most memorable scenes.
Boasting Anthony Mendleson’s Bafta-winning period costumes and a sparring, evocative score from Third Ear Band, this compelling modern interpretation is something very special indeed and should be required viewing for anyone studying the Bard. Thank heavens Hugh Hefner’s Playboy company came to the rescue when they did, as we’d never have this cinematic masterpiece to vent its sound and fury all over again on Blu-ray.
Roman Polanski’s The Tragedy of Macbeth is out on Blu-ray as part of the first wave of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s launch of The Criterion Collection in the UK.
The director-approved edition features the 4k digital restoration of the film transferred 35mm original camera negative and a new 3.0 surround soundtrack, that was created for the US Criterion release (and it looks absoultely fantastic) and it also includes the same bonus features:
• Toil and Trouble: Making Macbeth: This 60-minute 2014 documentary features Roman Polanski, producer Andrew Braunsberg, former Playboy executive Victor Lowner, and actors Martin Shaw and Francesca Annis discussing the film’s production history. Catch a sneak peek below.
• Polanski Meets Macbeth: Frank Simon’s 48-min 1971 documentary is a must-see as it features Polanski and the cast and crew at work and on location.
• Dick Cavett and Kenneth Tynan: An archive TV interview from 7 May, 1971.
• Two Macbeths: A 31-minute segment from Aquarius (27 January 1972) in which director Polanski explains talks about his inspiration for making the film.
Lee Marvin: Point Blank | The definitive portrait of the Hollywood heavyweight
As today marks the birthday of the late actor Lee Marvin, who was born in New York back in 1924, here’s a look at the fantastic biography that came out in 2014.
Lee Marvin: Point Blank is the first truly authoritative account of the iconic actor’s life to go beyond the sensational, moralising books that have appeared before. Written by Dwayne Epstein and topping The New York Times and Wall Street Journal’s bestseller lists, this acclaimed biography offers an intimate appreciation of the Hollywood heavyweight.
On screen, Marvin (1924-1987) was best known for his tough guy action man roles in such classic movies as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Dirty Dozen and The Big Red One, but except for many sensational tabloid reports on his boozing, brawling and broads very little is known of the complicated figure’s personal life, in particular the harrowing combat he witnessed in the Pacific during World War Two and the post-traumatic depression that blighted his life and fuelled his rage and alcoholism.
Now, with the support of family members, friends and colleagues, Epstein masterfully reconstructs Marvin’s complicated life to reveal the man behind the macho legend. Its a read that’s hard to put down once you start.
Lee Marvin: Point Blank is by Schaffner Press Inc (US) and released in the UK through Gazelle Books
Network (1976) | Sidney Lumet’s scathing television satire vents it fury on Blu-ray
Television is not the truth! Television is a God-damned amusement park!
In 1976, acclaimed American dramatist Paddy Chayefsky and film director Sidney Lumet, delivered a scathing attack on the medium in which they made their names, in the black satire Network.
Peter Finch won a posthumous Best Actor Oscar (he died while promoting the film in January 1977) as well as a Golden Globe and a Bafta, playing veteran anchorman Howard Beale, who, facing the axe, flips his lid and announces he is going to blow his brains out live on air – which sends his show’s ratings through the roof, giving ruthless suits, Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall, the perfect opportunity to exploit their ‘mad prophet of the airwaves’.
Chayefsky’s Oscar-winning script may have been an all-out rant against the power of TV media and those pulling the strings, but watching it today – especially in light of the News International phone hacking scandal and the recent Occupy Murdoch demonstration – it seems just as relevant, especially in regards to the lengths that media’s puppet masters will go to protect their shareholders.
Faye Dunaway also scored an Oscar for her forceful performance as one of the TV chiefs, as did Beatrice Straight for her tour de force turn as William Holden’s neglected wife; while Holden puts in one of his last truly solid performances in his later career.
Although Lumet missed out on an Oscar nomination, he did score a Golden Globe for his incendiary direction; which includes an electrifying scene in which Beale’s evangelised viewers head to their windows during a thunderstorm to scream out loud: ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’. So effective is this scene, you’ll find it hard to stop yourself from following in their wake…
AARON SORKIN ON NETWORK
‘If you put it in your DVD player today you’ll feel like it was written last week. The commoditisation of the news and the devaluing of truth are just a part of our way of life now. You wish Chayefsky could come back to life long enough to write The Internet.’ (Aaron Sorkin, The Newsroom)
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Network is available on Blu-ray release from Arrow Video, with a raft of new special features.
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the film, with uncompressed mono PCM audio and optional English subtitles.
• The Directors: Sidney Lumet – a 1999 documentary featuring interviews with Jack Lemmon, Rod Steiger and Christopher Walken.
• Tune in Next Tuesday – a visual essay by Dave Itzkoff, the author of Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies.
• Theatrical Trailer
• Reversible sleeve artwork by Chris Walker
• Collector’s booklet, featuring new and archive articles, original stills and artwork.
The Cat and the Canary (1939) | Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard are a class act in the creaky comedy chiller
‘Don’t big empty houses scare you?’ ‘Not me, I used to be in vaudeville!’
A slick mix of wisecracking comedy and spooky thrills, the 1939 classic comedy chiller, The Cat and the Canary, turned Bob Hope into a Hollywood star and won Paulette Goddard a 10-year contract with Paramount.
One of the earliest ‘old dark house’ mysteries, first filmed as a silent in 1927 (watch it below), it was tailored to Hope’s characteristic style, which he’d go onto hone in his buddy comedies with Bing Crosby, and gave Goddard the chance to shine as the spirited heroine. Together they play a radio actor and an heiress who turn up at a decrepit old mansion in a mist-shrouded Louisiana swamp for the reading of a will. Secret passages, a portrait with eyes that move, a valuable diamond necklace, and an escaped lunatic keep the couple and a cast of eccentric characters on their toes until the final act, in which Goddard’s spunky ‘canary’ is lured into an underground passage by the shadowy ‘Cat’.
Stylishly staged and filled with a suitably spooky atmosphere, it boasts wonderfully gloomy performances from George Zucco as a stiff lawyer and Gale Sondergaard as the sinister housekeeper. Following this film. Zucco and Sondergaard went on to play the villainous Moriarty and The Spider Woman in Universal’s big-screen Sherlock Holmes adventures opposite Basil Rathbone.
The success of the film led to Hope and Goddard re-teaming for The Ghost Breakers (1940), while John Willard’s classic story was later remade by erotic arthouse director Radley Metzer in 1979. The film was also the model for the Frankie Howerd comedy The House on Nightmare Park in 1970 (see my review here).
THE UK RELEASE
The Cat and the Canary is available on DVD from Fabulous Films in the UK and includes as extras, a trailer and three galleries.
THE 1927 SILENT IN FULL
The Thief of Bagdad (1940) | The dazzling fantasy classic takes a magical carpet ride onto Blu-ray
Three brave hearts, adventuring in a wonder world!
Imprisoned by the wicked Grand Vizier Jaffar (Conrad Veidt), Ahmad (John Justin), the rightful king of Bagdad, befriends a young thief called Abu (Sabu). When Ahmad falls for a beautiful princess (June Duprez) and is magically blinded by Jaffar, who wants the princess for his bride, the intrepid duo embark on a series of adventures in a bid to undo the spell and save the princess.
GIGANTIC! The Wonder Picture of All Time!
A triumph of filmmaking in its day and one of Alexander Korda‘s best-loved films, this Oscar-winning Arabian fantasy is a magical, atmospheric carpet ride that still dazzles thanks to its sensational sets and flamboyant art direction. John Justin turns on the matinee idol charm as the messiah-like Ahmad, while Sabu has boundless energy as the pocket-sized action man. But it’s Conrad Veidt’s briliiant, dastardly Jaffar who set the benchmark for the ultimate panto villain. The special effects may look dated now, but they were sensational back in 1940. Six directors ended up working on the film, including Michael Powell (Peeping Tom) and William Cameron Menzies (Invaders from Mars).
DID YOU KNOW?
Alexander Korda had to finish the movie in Hollywood when war broke out in Europe following director Tim Whelan’s location shooting at Tenby Harbour and Freshwater Beach in Pembrokeshire. This was where the iconic scene of Rex Ingram’s giant Djinn coming out of his magic bottle was filmed.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Released as part of Network’s The British Film collection, The Thief of Bagdad is presented in a HD transfer from original film elements, in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio, and includes an unrestored theatrical trailer and image galleries.
The original 1924 version of The Thief of Bagdad, which was produced and starred Douglas Fairbanks, was one of the costliest films made in Hollywood during the silent era. This vintage classic is also available in a restored version on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from Eureka! Entertainment. Part of their The Masters of Cinema Series, the release (which came out in November 2014) includes a new score by Carl Davies, audio commentary by Fairbanks biographer Jeffrey Vance, and a 40-page collectors booklet.
• A German Blu-ray of the 1940 version of The Thief of Bagdad was released back in November 2012 by Anolis Entertainment, which included audio commentary and a documentary on Sabu. There’s also an Italian-released version from 4k Studio. Criterion’s DVD release, which came out in 2008, features a host of extras, including a commentary with Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese.
His Kind of Woman (1951) | Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell and Vincent Price serve up a film noir like no other
THIS PLACE IS DANGEROUS. THE TIME RIGHT DEADLY. THE DRINKS ARE ON ME!
Professional gambler Dan Milner (Robert Mitchum) gets embroiled in an elaborate scheme to get deported gangland boss Nick Ferraro (Raymond Burr) back into the US. After receiving an offer of $50,000 from a mysterious benefactor to head to an exclusive resort south of the border, Milner encounters nightclub singer Lenore Brent (Jane Russell) and her narcissist Hollywood actor lover Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price). But as he settles into the rich playground of the Morro’s Lodge and starts falling for Lenore, Milner discovers he is being used as a patsy. With his life is placed in danger, Milner gets an unlikely rescuer – ham actor Cardigan…
WELL, WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE PICTURE?
When it comes to film noir, RKO’s His Kind of Woman (which had its US premiere on August 29 1951) is definitely one of a kind. While the first third of this Howard Hughes-produced movie sticks closely to classic noir tropes, complete with archetypal noir characterisation, dialogue and atmospheric cinematography, the film becomes increasingly comedic as it veers between satire, a battle of the sexes comedy and hard-boiled thriller. There’s even some slapstick thrown amongst the action, courtesy of the mock-heroics of Vincent Price’s flamboyant Cardigan (the scene where he sinks a boat load of local Mexican volunteers being one of film’s comic highlights). But it’s this crazy mixed-up brew that makes the film stand out from more faithful, now long forgotten, noirs of the era.
The film was originally shot under the title Smiler With a Gun in May 1950 under the direction of John Farrow. But on viewing the rushes, Hughes brought in Richard Fleischer to add in some new scenes, many featuring Vincent Price’s Cardigan (Hughes favourite character), and to re-shoot all of the Ferraro scenes with Raymond Burr taking over the role from Lee Van Cleef. The end result was a coup for Price, who ends up getting almost as much screen time as Mitchum, while also showing off his innate comic skills. There’s also a hint of the campy persona he’d go on to become known for. Interestingly, he also gets to quote Shakespeare, something he’d do on a much grander scale in his 1973 magnum opus, Theatre of Blood.
The films ‘stars’, however, fared less well than Price. As Milner, the laconic anti-hero loner, Mitchum is typical noir and certainly plays up to his hard man image, but his scenes alongside Russell’s heart of gold chanteuse lack the frisson that Louella Parsons called ‘the hottest combination to ever hit the screen’. And apart from some clever quips, singing two songs (excellently, I might add) and showing off her ample assets (again most excellently), Russell is practically left in the closet (Cardigan locks her up during the film’s crucial scenes). And speaking of closets, what’s with Burr’s frightening Ferraro? That look of suppressed ecstasy on his face as a sweaty, shirtless Milner is whipped is a very ‘telling’ sight, and makes you wonder if he wants a lot more from Milner than just his face (which is the reason, we learn in the climax, why he engaged Milner in the first place).
WHAT THE REVIEWERS SAID
‘Both Mitchum and Russell score strongly. Russell’s full charms are fetchingly displayed in smart costumes that offer the minimum of protection’ Variety, 1951
‘…the best part of the picture, as far as we are concerned is Vincent Price. He is deliciously funny…’ Los Angeles Daily News, 1951
His Kind of Woman was released on DVD in the UK in 2011 from Odeon Entertainment, as part of the Hollywood Studio Collection, featuring an unrestored print in its 1.33:1 aspect ratio and Dolby Digital mono audio. Region Free. You can purchase a copy here from Play.com
DID YOU KNOW?
Clips from His Kind of Woman featuring Vincent Price were used in A Time For Hyacinths, an episode of the popular US TV series Mod Squad, and played a crucial role in the story which guest starred Price as a Hollywood film star who stages his death after witnessing a murder.
Lauren Bacall (1924 – 2014) | The passing of a Hollywood legend
As the world mourns the passing of Hollywood screen icon Lauren Bacall, we recall the 1944 movie that launched her career and began her legendary on and off-screen partnership with Humphrey Bogart – Howard Hawks’ hugely entertaining Caribbean thriller To Have and Have Not.
Bacall was only 18 when Hawks signed her up after his wife spotted the teenage model on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. A year later Hawks cast her as footloose American Slim in his loose adaptation of an Ernest Hemingway tale in which a cynical boat captain – played, of course, by Bogey – gets drawn into the French Resistance. “You know how to whistle, don’t you?” Bacall’s Slim famously taunts Bogart’s skipper Steve. “You just put your lips together and blow.” Bacall later admitted that her smouldering upward glances at her co-star were a happy accident, as she was so nervous on the set that she had to tuck her chin into her chest to stop it from shaking. The duo’s chemistry in the film is so smouldering that it’s hardly surprising that they married in 1945.[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXy3tF5uD6A%5D
Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) | The rats are coming! Werner Herzog’s haunting horror is here in HD!
DEATH IS NOT THE WORST
In spite of grim omens from his wife Lucy Harker (Isabelle Adjani), estate agent Jonathan (Bruno Ganz) leaves his hometown of Wismar behind to venture deep into the Carpathian Mountains to close a property deal. But on meeting Count Dracula (Klaus Kinski), Harker discovers the sickly, wraith-like creature is a centuries-old vampire intent on bringing death in the form of an army of plague-carrying rats to Harker’s idyllic town…
TIME IS AN ABYSS – BUT NOT FOR HERZOG’S HAUNTING HORROR
1979 was a great year for vampires on the big screen and as a 15-year-old already weaned on reruns of the classic Universal and Hammer horrors on TV, I was spoilt for choice. There was Frank Langella’s charming lady killer in the big-budget Dracula, Reggie Nalder’s frightening albino vampire Kurt Barlow in Salem’s Lot (it was on the big screen in Australia), and even George Hamilton’s silly dispossessed Count in Love at First Bite.
I loved them all, so it’s not surprising then that I found Werner Herzog’s arty Euro-horror Nosferatu the Vampyre, which was, in effect, a colour remake of FW Murnau’s 1922 silent classic, one of the most boring films ever: slow-moving, with no action and practically no dialogue to speak of, and a constant drone for a soundtrack. Even the legendary Klaus Kinski’s portrayal of the bald, bat-eared, rodent-toothed vampire wasn’t half as enjoyable as Nalder’s Barlow, which also drew its inspiration from Max Schreck’s Orlok in Murnau’s original.
Fast-forward 35 years and as my cinema tastes have developed so has my eagerness to revisit Herzog’s wholly original take on the Dracula story. Thankfully, the BFI’s Blu-ray release – a tantalising taster for their bigger, bolder Herzog box-set release in July – was the perfect excuse.
Rather than retelling Bram Stoker’s novel, Nosferatu the Vampyre is a neo-expressionist restaging of Murnau’s silent classic. Critics of the day called Herzog’s imagining ‘a magnificent miscalculation’, but age has proven it to be a masterful contribution to the vampire canon.
In Herzog’s dread-filled tale, Dracula (Kinski) is an immortal phantom longing for death. When Harker (Ganz) enters his ghostly realm, embodied by a castle ruin that may ‘only exist in the imagination of men’, Dracula is able to cross over, bringing with him his instruments of death: the plague rats and a now infected Harker.
The film is rich in references to expressionist cinema – shadowy camera work, dramatic lighting effects, affected gestures – but its use is not just to pay homage. It’s all about breathing cinematic life into Herzog’s vision of a waking nightmare and the film’s key theme, the danger of ghostly dreams that ‘steal life and spread death, whether in the form of vermin, monsters or men’ (*). The castle scenes are genuinely creepy: its broken windows and bats hanging about lending it an authentic haunted air. It’s here that Kinski also gets full reign to bring depth and empathy to his melancholy Count. It’s an exquisite nuanced performance that shows the actor at his height and became his most iconic role.
Expressionism aside, the film is also pure Herzog. The location scenes set in Slovakia’s High Tatra mountains (standing in for the Carpathians), where Ganz’s Harker encounters (real) local gypsies, are hugely impressive, while Popul Vuh’s ethereal music enhances the film’s naturalistic qualities. It makes for a perfect counterpoint to Dracula’s artificial nocturnal realm.
Meanwhile, the scenes in Wismar (actually Delft in The Netherlands), where Adjani comes into her own as the self-sacrificing Lucy, are painterly and surreal. And it’s here that Herzog’s other key theme, how bourgeois society collapses under assault from the unconventional (a theme also at the crux of Hammer’s 1958 Dracula), is captured most deftly in the scenes of the townspeople dining outdoors as the plague-carrying rats swarm around them. Those scenes, and the ones of Kinski’s wraith suckling on Lucy remain forever haunting.
Strangely, after watching Herzog’s hypnotic horror recently, I had the most vivid of nightmares. A dark shadow crept into my room, then laid beside me in my bed, waiting for me to fall asleep so as to suck the life force out of me. Could it have been Herzog’s cinematic alchemy at work or just those years of watching Dracula movies finally impressing upon me?
THE BFI UK RELEASE
The limited edition Blu-ray Steelbook features the re-mastered 1080p presentations of the English and German versions in the original aspect ratio 1.85:1 with original PCM 1.0 mono audio (German and English) and alternative 5.1 Surround audio (German) with optional subtitles. The special features include audio commentary with Werner Herzog, on-set promotional film featuring interviews with Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski (1979, 13 mins), trailer, stills gallery and illustrated booklet featuring a new essay by Laurie Johnson (*).
• The BFI’s Werner Herzog Collection box sets, which span 20 years of the director’s career, from 1967 – 1987, will be released on 21 July on Blu-ray (8 discs) and DVD (7 discs).[youtube:http://youtu.be/S1Rachk7ipI%5D
Lifeboat (1944) | Alfred Hitchcock’s wartime classic continues to resonate
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Party’s Over (1963) | Watch Oliver Reed’s mercurial performance in Guy Hamilton’s corrosive tale of Chelsea beatniks
‘Life is a cocktail all ready to mix… Live for the moment and drain every drop. When you’re really living, who knows when to stop‘. So sings Annie Ross over the closing credits of 1963’s The Party’s Over, part of the BFI’s Flipside collection, which is now also available to stream on BFI Player (£3.50/£2.98).
What’s not to like about Bond director Guy Hamilton’s once hard-to-find gem: the hip Chelsea locations, the cool John Barry jazz score, a script littered with juicy one liners about youth, rebellion, politics and revolution; and Oliver Reed doing what he always does best – drink, smoke and act so goddam cool. Oh, those were the days.
The film also famously earned the wrath of the British censor over its supposed corrosive impact on youth and was denied a certificate. Rank ended up selling the film, which was then re-cut (in 1965) as a crude exploitation thriller that the filmmakers disowned as a ‘a nasty, smutty tale with no point or purpose.’ The BFI’s Flipside release, however, is the original theatrical release.
Future Days of Our Lives soap star Louise Sorel plays chic American Melina, who falls in with Oliver Reed’s wild partying beatnik gang (all upper middle class layabouts) to escape her wealthy controlling father (Eddie Albert). When her fiancé Carson (Clifford David) arrives from the US, she refuses to see him.
Undeterred by her cat and mouse antics, Carson moves into the gang’s digs (the famed Pheasantry at 152 King’s Road) to wait it out. But when it looks as though Melina has skipped town, Carson soon finds himself falling for the charms of Nina (one-time Star Trek actress Katherine Woodville).
The sudden suicide of one of the gang and the arrival of Melina’s father sparks a dark turn, but the party really is over when the shocking, awful truth about what happened to Melina is slowly revealed (Its a twist that, even now, is truly disturbing).
For a nostalgic trip into the dark side of Swinging 1960s London, The Party’s Over is a definite must-have, and a forgotten classic that so deserves to be elevated to the status it rightfully deserves.
Rent The Party’s Over now on BFI Player (click here) or purchase the BFI Flipside (dual format release) (click here)