Fragment of Fear (1970) | This baffling Blow-Up imitation starring David Hemmings is one helluva delirious ride
Before heading to cult-dom in Dario Argento’s Deep Red, David Hemmings was the hot ticket in Michelangelo Antonioni’s unfathomable but unquestionably hip 1966 arthouse classic Blow-Up. Four years later, 1970’s Fragment of Fear aimed to recapture the same magic, but ended up even more baffling – a delirious puzzle box that sets the nerves on edge, but leaves you screaming for answers.
Murder, mystery and paranoia are the order of the day in this adaptation the 1965 novel by former M15 spy John Bingham (John le Carré’s inspiration for George Smiley). Hemmings plays writer Tim Brett, who believes himself to being cured of his drug addiction.
When his philanthropist aunt (Dame Flora Robson) is found strangled while on holiday in Italy, Brett starts digging into her past, but soon starts receiving menacing threats warning him off the case. Investigating further, he is soon targeted by a shadowy government agency…
Frankly, it’s amazing that this British psychological thriller ever got finished, as it was made under the influence of lots of late-night drinking sessions by both the film’s crew and its star Hemmings. Which might also account for some truly offbeat scenes like one in which a group of bystanders casually watch a junkie shoot up in a London street (really?).
But while it may make for bewildering viewing, it does hold your gaze and interest throughout – thanks to Ossie Morris’ noirish cinematography – that makes atmospheric use of the Pompeii and London locations, and Hemmings’ genuinely convincing performance as the former-junkie battling to hold his own. And Indicator’s HD re-master is so pristine that it brings the excellent cinematography to the fore, while the sweat on Hemmings’ brow is so luminous, it practically drips off the screen.
While it certainly apes Blow-Up and bears a strong resemblance to Basil Dearden’s suited-and-booted dopplegänger cult classic The Man Who Haunted Himself (which came out the same year), there are a few other reasons to check it out. First up is the fantastic moody jazz score from the legendary Johnny Harris. It’s so cool, I’m desperately hunting down its supposed LP re-release.
Next comes the distinguished supporting cast playing the quirky, not-to-be-trusted characters including Mary Wimbush, Roland Culver, Daniel Massey, Wilfred Hyde White and Derek Newark, whose mysterious Sergeant Matthews sets Brett off on his ‘wild goose chase’. Playing Hemming’s love interest is his real-life wife, the gorgeous Gayle Hunnicutt, who apparently got the role as a condition to securing Hemmings’ involvement in the project.
The screenplay was by Paul Dehn, who had a knack for espionage, having penned The Spy Who Came In from the Cold and The Deadly Affair (both featuring le Carré’s George Smiley character – albeit in different guises); and he also wrote four of the original Planet of the Apes sequels. Check out the extra that accompanies the Indicator release for a very informative profile of Dehn.
Director Richard C Sarafian may not be a name you instantly recognise, but does he have some darn fine credits. Not only did he helm one of the most memorable Twilight Zone stories, 1963’s Living Doll, he also directed episodes of TV’s Batman and Wild Wild West; and followed this film with the bona fide cult classic, 1971’s Vanishing Point (now that’s one that deserves the HD treatment).
It might be a baffling Blow-Up imitation, but Fragment of Fear is still one helluva delirious ride.
The Indicator Limited Editon (3000 copies) Blu-ray (world premiere) features a HD re-master and original mono audio, with the following special features…
• The Writer as Auteur: an analysis of the life and work of screenwriter Paul Dehn
• First Assistant Director William P Cartlidge on Fragment of Fear
• Original radio spots & theatrical trailer
• Image gallery
• New and improved English subtitles
• Collector’s booklet with essay’s from Johnny Mains, composer Johnny Harris, critical responses, and historic articles
The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen: Volume One (1955-1960) | Three classic adventures get a glorious HD restoration
Powerhouse Films have released three fantasy classics from special effects titan Ray Harryhausen for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK as part of their Indicator series. Containing a wealth of new and archival extras – including exclusive new interviews with director Joe Dante, SFX maestro Dennis Muren, and Aardman Animation co-founders David Sproxton and Peter Lord – this Limited Dual Format Edition Box Set is a must-have for your cult film collection.
First up is 1954’s It Came from Beneath the Sea starring Faith Domergue, Kenneth Tobey and Donald Curtis. One of the first films to feature Harryhausen’s special effects puppet animation, this classic sci-fi thriller uses them most impressively, while creating a tangible atmosphere of fear and chaos when a giant octopus emerges from the Pacific to wreak havoc on San Francisco. The sci-fi is presented here in both the original black and white print and an authorised (and surprisingly effective) colourised version.
A fun offering from the height of the 1950s monster movie boom is the second feature, 20 Million Miles to Earth, starring William Hopper (from TV’s Perry Mason) and Joan Taylor. Directed by Nathan Juran (TV’s Lost in Space) it features a scaly, clawed alien from Venus which doubles its size every 24 hours… The sci-fi is also presented in the original black and white print and a director-approved colourised version.
In 1960’s The Three Worlds of Gulliver, Kerwin Mathews gets to be a big man in a little world and a little man in a big world in this appealing version of Jonathan Swift’s classic. While it’s light on action, Mathews makes for an engaging hero, while Harryhausen conjures up some cute special effects for the little Lilliput and big Brobdingnag sequences (though the squirrel sequences is a bit of a disappointment). The film also makes great use of the location scenes set in Avila and Segovia in Spain.
INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES:
• HD restorations of It Came from Beneath the Sea and 20 Million Miles to Earth
• 4K restoration from the original camera negative of The 3 Worlds of Gulliver
• Original black and white and alternative, authorised colourised versions of It Came from Beneath the Sea and 20 Million Miles to Earth
• Mono and 5.1 surround sound audio options
• It Came from Beneath the Sea and 20 Million Miles to Earth audio commentaries about the colourised versions with Ray Harryhausen (which are both excellent and hugely entertaining).
• The 3 Worlds of Gulliver audio commentary with film historians Randall Cook, C Courtney Joyner and Steven C Smith (this one is heavy on the creation of the musical score and lots of bios of the cast and crew).
• New interview with filmmaker Joe Dante
• New interview with SFX maestro Dennis Muren
• New interviews with Aardman Animation’s David Sproxton, Peter Lord and Dave Alex Riddett
• Archival documentaries, interviews and featurettes
• Original trailers and promotional films
• Isolated score on The 3 Worlds of Gulliver by Bernard Herrmann (I forgot how good this was)
• Promotional and on-set photography, poster art and archive materials
• Booklet with essays from Kim Newman, Dan Whitehead and Charlie Brigden, and film credits
Oh my Lordy, Sydney Pollack’s Castle Keep is a revelation. First thing is the magical Michel Legrand score; second is the gorgeous winter imagery – shot with Panavision perfection by French New Wave legend Henri Decaë; and thirdly, the sterling cast of Hollywood heavyweights, including Burt Lancaster, Peter Falk, Patrick O’Neal and a very nutty Bruce Dern.
Shot in Novi Sab, Serbia using a Disney-like castle (supposedly made out of Styrofoam) as its centrepiece, this dreamlike anti-war satire takes a brave stab at adapting William Eastlake’s offbeat 1965 novel of the same name, which drew on the author’s experiences at the Battle of Bulge.
Burt Lancaster heads the cast as the mercurial one-eyed Major Falcone billeting his remaining soldiers at the Ardennes castle of the Count and Countess of Maldorais (Jean-Pierre Aumont and Astrid Heeren).
With the castle’s position in the direct line of the German advance, Falcone prepares the castle for an assault; much to the concern of Captain Beckman (Patrick O’Neal), an art historian who is using the long waiting time to do an inventory of the castle’s art treasures which he wants saved.
While Beckman and Falcone debate the castle’s fate, the war-weary ragtag squad consisting of a ‘22-gold carat Indian’, cowboy, cook, baker, and minister occupy their free time at a local whorehouse, which is being picketed by Bruce Dern’s band of hymn-singing conscientious objectors.
Although Castle Keep preceded Robert Altman’s groundbreaking M*A*S*H* by a mere five months, it bears much the same style of black comedy, albeit with a strong dose surrealism added in. And this comes from the fact that the film is being told from the perspective of Private Benjamin (Al Freeman Jr), whose wartime experiences have been turned into a book called – yep, you guessed it! Castle Keep.
Among the visual highlights is the Red Queen brothel which, under Altman and Decaë’s visual eye, is turned into a dazzling jewel box hued in Bava-esque colours, and a comical scene in which a Volkswagen racing Beetle seems to have a mind of its own (ala Herbie The Love Bug) and refuses to sink after two soldiers try to shoot holes in it.
Altman peppers the film with imagery that really bangs home his nihilistic anti-war message – best represented in a sequence in which Dern’s fundamentalist Lieutenant leads shell-shocked soldiers Pied Piper-liked through a street under attack – and an underlying theme about class: which bubbles through a sub-plot involving the castle’s aristocratic owners wanting to continue their bloodline by getting the young Countess (symbolising old Europe) to mate with the Major (aka the New World).
Unlike M*A*S*H* however, Castle Keep was a flop on its release – probably on account of the film’s surreal, arthouse approach, and the dialogue – which comes off a little pretentious at times – penned by Daniel Taradash (From Here to Eternity) and Altman’s frequent collaborator David Rayfiel.
Thankfully, however, Powerhouse Films have dragged Castle Keep out the shadows to present a region-free Dual Format Edition as part of the Indicator series so that cult film fans can reappraise this underrated cinematic gem. Now, if only I can find that score….
• High Definition re-master
• Original mono audio
• Alternative 4.0 Surround sound track
• The John Player Lecture with Burt Lancaster (1972, 100 mins): audio recording of an interview conducted by Joan Bakewell at the National Film Theatre, London
• The Lullaby of War (2017, 18 mins): a new interview with actor Tony Bill, who played Lieutenant Amberjack, about his experiences making Castle Keep
• Eastlake at USD (1968, 29 mins): an archival, videotaped interview with author William Eastlake
• Original theatrical trailer
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Limited edition booklet with a new essay by Brad Stevens, archival interviews with Sydney Pollack and Burt Lancaster, and original pressbook material