From Eureka Entertainment comes the first-ever Blu-ray release in the UK of Sergio Corbucci’s 1968 revisionist Spaghetti Western, The Great Silence, as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.
The year is 1898, the year of the Great Blizzard, and a group of outlaws are hiding out in the mountains of Snow Hill, Utah after corrupt banker Henry Pollicut (Luigi Pistilli) puts a price on their heads. Now they are being hunted down and killed by a gang of bounty hunters led by the determined, yet vicious Loco (Klaus Kinski).
The outlaws hire Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a mute gunfighter, who kills his targets – always in self-defence – for a price. When Loco murders outlaw James Middleton, his widow Pauline (Vonetta McGee) offers Silence $1,000 to avenge her husband’s death, which sets him on his own path of personal revenge.
Corbucci’s bleak, brilliant and violent vision of an immoral, honour-less West, is widely considered to be among the best and most influential Westerns ever made. The second in his ‘Mud and Blood’ trilogy, which also includes Django (1966) and The Specialists (1969), it is also the Italian director’s Western masterpiece.
But it has taken decades since the film’s release to be regarded so – mainly due to its bleak and pessimistic tone and the devastating climax (spoiler alert: Loco wins big time) which resulted in the producers insisting on Corbucci filming a ‘happy ending’.
This version played well in Middle Eastern countries, while the original version did mediocre business throughout Europe, and never played in the UK until 1990 (as part of Alex Cox’s Moviedrome) and 2001 in the US. It’s only since its theatrical re-release in 2012 and 2017 that the film has attracted renewed interest – mainly over how Corbucci brilliantly subverts Western genre conventions and adds his own political subtext under the surface.
This Masters of Cinema Series features a 2K restoration print on Blu-ray and it’s a terrific way to see Corbucci’s masterpiece. Boasting terrific turns from Kinski (at his most restrained here), Trintignant (whose character was made mute because he had no command of English) and McGee (in a breakout debut that set her on the path to blaxploitation success); stunning landscapes (with Cortina d’Ampezzo, Veneto and San Cassiano in Badia, South Tyrol standing in for Utah); and Ennio Morricone’s lush, melancholic score (which he regarded as his personal favourite) conducted by Bruno Nicolai, you are in for a wild ride. There’s also a host of extras to savour – with my favourites being the Alex Cox audio commentary and the inclusion of 1968 documentary, Western, Italian Style. Plus, there’s that alternate ‘happy’ ending, which makes for a rather interesting debate.
Available to order from: Eureka Store https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/the-great-silence-il-grande-silenzio-limited-edition/
LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY CONTAINS
- Limited Edition (3000 Copies Only)
- O-Card Slipcase
- Reversible Poster featuring the film’s original artwork
- Set of 4 facsimile lobby cards
- 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 2K restoration undertaken and completed for the 50th anniversary of the film’s original release
- English and Italian audio options
- Optional English Subtitles
- Brand new audio commentary with author Howard Hughes and filmmaker Richard Knew
- Brand new audio commentary by filmmaker Mike Siegel
- Audio commentary by director and Spaghetti Western aficionado Alex Cox, recorded live at the Hollywood Theatre, Portland in 2021.
- Brand new interview with Austin Fisher, author of Radical Frontiers in the Spaghetti Western: Politics, Violence and Popular Italian Cinema
- Cox on Corbucci – filmmaker Alex Cox talks about Sergio Corbucci [15 mins]
- Western, Italian Style – 1968 documentary [38 mins]
- Two Alternate Endings (both fully restored in 2K), with optional audio commentaries
- Stills Galleries
- PLUS: A Collector’s Booklet featuring new writing by Western expert Howard Hughes
When his wealthy lesbian wife Helen (Margaret Lee) dies in a car crash, businessman John Alexander (Klaus Kinski) finds himself under a police investigation when they discover the car had been tampered with. But when he discovers a recently-shot pornographic movie which appears to feature Helen, her suspects she staged her own death and begins his own investigation. Can he get to the bottom of the mystery before police lock him in handcuffs?
In the post-war years, the proliferation of transnational European co-productions gave rise to a cross-pollination of film genres, with the same films sold in different markets as belonging to different movements. Among these, director Riccardo Freda’s Double Face from 1969 was marketed in West Germany as an Edgar Wallace ‘Krimi’, while in Italy it was sold as a Giallo.
It’s certainly a visually-atmospheric Giallo with a terrific score from Nora Orlandi (who also sings), and Kinski does give an uncharacteristically subtle performance. But it’s a bit too subtle at times. He moves from one gorgeously-lit scene to another just staring – but then so does the audience.
The Arrow Video Blu-ray (originally released June 2019) includes the following special edition contents…
• 2K restoration of the full-length Italian version of the film from the original 35mm camera negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Uncompressed mono 1.0 LPCM audio
• Original English and Italian soundtracks, titles and credits
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles
• Audio commentary by author and critic Tim Lucas
• Interview with composer Nora Orlandi (This was my favourite extra, – Nora and her scores so deserve renewed appreciation)
• The Many Faces of Nora Orlandi, a new appreciation of the varied career of the film’s composer by musician and soundtrack collector Lovely Jon (this guy really knows his stuff)
• The Terrifying Dr Freda, Video essay on Riccardo Freda’s gialli by author and critic Amy Simmons (very informative and well worth checking out)
• Extensive image gallery from the collection of Christian Ostermeier, including the original German pressbook and lobby cards, and the complete Italian cineromanzo adaptation
• Original Italian and English theatrical trailers
• Reversible sleeve featuring original artwork by Graham Humphreys
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Neill Mitchell
With its enticing mix of black magic, bad science, vengeful ghost, murder, incest and voyeurism tied to a story inspired by Sheridan La Fanu’s Carmilla and the dark imaginings of Edgar Allan Poe, 1973’s Death Smiles on a Murderer (aka La morte ha sorriso all’assassino) is a beguiling Italian Gothic horror that owes as much to its mesmerising musical score as it does to its surreal, dreamlike imagery. But its also a twisted supernatural puzzle that will leave most viewers (including myself) scratching their heads.
Set in early 1900s Austria, and told in flashback, it centres on the enigmatic Greta (played by Swedish startlet Ewa Aulin of Candy fame), who dies in childbirth by her lover, Dr von Ravensbrück (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) and is then reanimated by her hunchback brother Franz (Luciano Rossi). Killing Franz, who subjected her to years of sexual abuse, Greta inveigles her way into the home of Ravensbrück’s son Walter (Sergio Doria) and his wife Eva (Angelo Bo), where she uses her charisma and beauty to win their hearts before seeking her revenge…
Now that all sounds simple enough, but I haven’t mentioned all the other sub-plots taking place, including the very odd presence of Klaus Kinski, who plays a perverted physician experimenting on a secret formula to bring the dead back to life – who suddenly gets killed off mid-way through. Frankly, his scenes are a bit of an obstruction to the haunting tale which was co-written and lensed by its director, Aristide Massaccesi (aka Italy’s legendary horror and sleaze exponent, Joe D’Amato).
The surreal nature of the narrative might be disorientating, but Massaccesi uses that to effectively capture the dread and terror of his source material, and these all play out in scenes which reference Poe’s The Black Cat, The Cask of Amontillado, Ligeia and The Masque of the Red Death, as well as La Fanu’s Carmilla.
Massaccesi also has great fun with the genre. Not only does he pay homage to Roger Corman’s Poe chillers (Walter’s attire is so Vincent Price), Hammer horror, and Mario Bava’s Kill, Baby Kill! (which also starred Giacamo Rossi Stuart); he adds in lots of softcore sex (more than Hammer were attempting at the time), hints of giallo and some pre-splatter OTT gore (just witness Franz’s very bloody, very long death scene where he gets his eyes gouged out by a cat). But what will haunt me forever is composer Bert Pisano’s hypnotic score, that’s mournful and playful in equal measures. I just can’t get it out of my head.
Arrow’s 2K restoration is simply gorgeous and contains an illuminating audio commentary from Tim Lucas, whose research and indepth knowledge really pays off, as he puts all the pieces of Massaccesi’s Gothic horror puzzle together with a shot-by-shot appreciation and analysis. The other must-sees are Kat Ellinger’s excellent video essay which covers the full breadth of the director’s work (and its truly mind-boggling how much he has done) and the 40minute-plus interview with Ewa Aulin. Thanks Arrow for another keeper…
• Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original Italian and English soundtracks
• Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the English soundtrack
• New audio commentary by Tim Lucas
• D’Amato Smiles on Death: archival interview with the director
• All About Ewa: Newly-filmed interview with the Swedish star
• Smiling on the Taboo: Sex, Death and Transgression in the horror films of Joe D’Amato, new video essay by critic Kat Ellinger
• Original trailers
• Stills and collections gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by critic Stephen Thrower and film historian Roberto Curti
Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972) | Werner Herzog’s mad masterpiece is a savage, hallucinatory beauty to behold
ON THIS RIVER, GOD NEVER FINISHED HIS CREATION
Having failed in its quest for El Dorado, the fabled City of Gold, the 1560 expedition of Spanish conquistador Gonzalo Pizarro comes to a halt in the impenetrable jungles of Peru, where Pizarro then elects three nobles to continue with the search. Travelling down river on a raft, the explorers face treacherous waters, near starvation and hostile indigenous communities. In his own thirst for glory, nobleman soldier Don Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) commandeers the raft and begins slaughtering anyone who dares oppose him…
A BREATHTAKING JOURNEY INTO THE HEART OF DARKNESS
Werner Herzog’s visionary voyage into the heart of 16th-century colonial darkness, Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972), is without doubt one of the director’s most accomplished works: a visceral, ambitious exploration of megalomania and savage beauty.
Shot under arduous conditions in the high Andes near Machu Picchu, Herzog’s mad masterpiece is a film rich in wonders. There’s the exciting, cautionary tale: ruthless, pious invaders come a cropper while plundering the riches of Peru and enslaving its indigenous dwellers; the epic grandeur of the alien landscape, that’s both beautiful and dangerous (and looks fantastic in HD); and the legendary volatile Klaus Kinski giving a career-best performance.
Taking his cue from the legend that the Incas invented El Dorado in order to lure the Spanish to the deadly Amazon swamplands and drawing on the real-life journals of Dominican missionary Gaspar de Carvajal, Herzog uses the historical adventure to vent against colonialism, imperialist politics, slavery and religion. But he does so with a sharp eye, creating some truly haunting images (the raft swarming with monkeys is cinema sublime), and a keen ear (courtesy of Popol Vuh‘s unearthly music). If there is one criticism, its hearing the actors speaking German/English rather than Spanish, as befits their characters. While disconcerting, it does however put emphasis on their ‘fish out of water’ relationship with the indifferent landscape. With no way out of this jungle, its best to just sit back and soak in Herzog’s haunting vision…
WHAT MAKES HERZOG TICK?
One of the reasons why Werner Herzog remains an important figure in world cinema is that, throughout his career, he has always remained true to his own ideas, interests and obsessions. His ‘truth’ is his center and rather than making a career in film, it’s life’s mysteries that have drawn him to each project, usually in some inhospitable part of the planet – from the jungles of the Amazon to the caves of southern France. Blessed with an unusually observant eye, a sensitive ear and the ability to conjure up a great story, Herzog’s films invite us on voyages in search of the ‘spirit’ of life.
THE BFI RELEASE
The BFI Limited Edition Steelbook features a restored 1080p presentation of 93-minute film in its original aspect ratio 1.33:1 with original PCM 1.0 mono audio (German and English) and alternative 5.1 surround audio (German) in German, plus optional English subtitles. It also includes four early Herzog shorts (see list below), trailer and stills gallery, two audio commentaries with Werner Herzog, and a collector’s booklet.
• The Unprecedented Defence of the Fortress Deutschkreuz (1967, 16 mins). This satirical drama concerns four young men hiding from an imagined enemy, and became a dry-run for Herzog’s first feature, Signs of Life (1968)
• Last Words (1968, 13 mins). This short, about the last man to leave a former leper colony, is an absurdist look at human communication.
• Precautions Against Fanatics (1969, 11 mins). In this faux documentary (which has a Pythonesque tone about it) a group of animal lovers go to the defence of the horses at the Munich racecourse who are under threat from mysterious ‘fanatics’.
• Fata Morgana (1971, 77 mins). This is one of Herzog’s first cinematic masterpieces, an imaginative variation on traditional creation myths. Shot in the debris-strewn Sahara and set to music by The Third Ear Band and Blind Faith, a heroic voice-over by Lotte Eisner (taken from the Quiché book Popol Vuh) is counter-pointed by images of poverty, pollution, decay and bizarre humanity.
• The BFI’s Werner Herzog Collection box set, which spans 20 years of the director’s career, from 1967-1987, is released on 21 July on Blu-ray (8 discs) and DVD (7 discs).
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).
American playboy Bob Mitchell (Robert Cummings) arrives in Hong Kong, where he is given a message, found on the body of a dead man. The message reads: ‘Five Golden Dragons’. It is Bob’s introduction to an illicit gold-trafficking operation, run by a secretive global crime syndicate who plan to sell out to the Mafia to the tune of $50million.
When stewardess Ingrid (Maria Rohm) is kidnapped by gangsters out to get their hands on the cash, Bob is forced to impersonate one of the five Dragons in order to steal the money and save the girl. But the gang are unaware that Bob is also working with District Commissioner Sanders (Rupert Davies), who is out to nab the lot of them…
This 1967 adaptation of one of Edgar Wallace’s District Commissioner Sanders stories is a breezy comic affair from director Jeremy Summers and legendary B-movie producer Harry Alan Towers, who together made also The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (with Christopher Lee) and House of a 1000 Dolls (with Vincent Price) the same year.
Robert Cummings is perfectly cast as the joker playboy, even though he’s past his prime here. If this weren’t a Bond-esque spoof then he’d come off as rather sleazy trying to pick up the likes of Maria Perschy, Maria Rohm and Margaret Lee with his corny pick-up lines and dodgy dance moves (check out his Chinese Watsui). But he plays the hapless humorist with his tongue firmly in his cheek.
And as for the rest of the cast, well Rupert Davies’s Sanders is a Shakespeare-quoting buffoon with chronic indigestion, and Roy Chiao, who’d go on to appear opposite Bruce Lee in Game of Death (1978), does his best to flesh out his character, as Sanders’ much more capable assistant Inspector Chiao. As sadistic hitman Gert, Klaus Kinski gets to do very little except look über cool, while the film’s big name stars, George Raft, Christopher Lee and Brain Donlevy who, together with Dan Dureya, make up four of the five Golden Dragons, only get two scenes together. But, then again, they probably only agreed to appear in the film so they could head for the greens at Hong Kong Golf Club or in Donlevy’s case the nearest bar.
Shot entirely in Hong Kong, the film makes great use of the locations (before the skyscraper boom), with its chase scenes taking place in the harbour on a flotilla of Chinese junks, a pagoda and the brand new Hilton (which was demolished in 1995).
The film’s interiors, however, which were all shot at the Shaw Brother’s Hong Kong studio, look like they were borrowed from TV’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E or Batman, two shows that were big business at the time of the film’s release. There’s even a powder pink dressing room with a secret passage like the one that Barbara Gordon uses to hide her Batgirl outfit. In another Batman connection, and again in 1967, George Raft also popped up in the Tallulah Bankhead episode, Black Widow Strikes Again
But the highlight of this comic retro adventure is the music. Malcolm Lockyer’s score is a jazzy cocktail of bongos, brass and Hammond organ served up with an oriental twist, while Margaret Lee gets to sing the catchy theme song and famed Japanese actress/singer Yukari Itô guests with a song that will have you searching for her on YouTube.
THE UK DVD RELEASE
The Network Distributing DVD presents the film in a brand-new transfer from original elements, in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio, and includes an hour-long audio interview from 2001 with director Jeremy Summers, trailer and gallery.
ROLL UP! ROLL UP!
Following a bank robbery in central London, Scotland Yard Inspector Elliott (Leo Glenn) tracks down some of the stolen banknotes to a circus stationed near Windsor. When one of the crooks turns up dead, the mystery deepens and Elliott’s suspects include a hooded lion tamer (Christopher Lee), a blackmailing dwarf (Skip Martin), a jealous knife-thrower (Maurice Kaufmann), and a philandering showgirl (Margaret Lee). But with his superior (Cecil Parker) breathing down his neck and a killer stalking the suspects, Elliott has his work cut out for him in finding the stolen loot and the criminal mastermind behind it.
THE GEEK BIT
After making six episodes of The Edgar Wallace Mysteries for UK TV, director John Llewellyn Moxley (who would go on to helm everything from Kung Fu to Magnum PI and Murder She Wrote in the 1970s and 1980s), was hired by exploitation maestro Harry Alan Towers to lens this big-screen adaptation of Wallace’s novel, The Three Just Man, in a bid to compete with Berserk, the Joan Crawford shocker which was also released in the winter of 1967.
Starting off with an exciting bank robbery sequence staged around Tower Bridge, the film settles down into a standard whodunit littered with the usual red herrings (Klaus Kinski’s menacing Manfred being one of them). But thanks to the fine turns from the cast, that also includes future giallo screen queen Suzi Kendall, and Johnny Douglas’s catchy big band soundtrack that gives the film its distinctly 1960s British feel, Circus of Fear makes for an ideal rainy afternoon vintage treat to revisit. Not the greatest show on Earth, but a memorable one.
This re-mastered Network DVD release includes both the long and short versions in their as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio; alternative German ending (in black and white); UK and foreign trailers; image gallery and PDF material.
A might see, for Chris Lee completists and fans of 1960s British thrillers.