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Showing Soon - Silents Are Golden… September 28, 2007

Posted by John Hodson in : DVD News & Info, Showing Soon , 3 comments

Showing Soon in R1

There’s some good stuff coming up in the U.S.A. for silent film fans; well, when I say good, I mean - potentially - real treasures.

Kino International is to offer what they call a ‘definitive’ restoration of Sergei Eisenstein’s hugely influential silent epic Battleship Potemkin late October. The blurb:

Kino International is proud to release on DVD a definitive and unprecedented restoration of one of the most important films of all time: Sergei Eisenstein’s BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (1925). Widely considered one the most influential silent film ever made, this undisputed masterpiece is now available in a cut as close as possible to Eisenstein’s original vision, which premiered in Moscow in December of 1925.Battleship Potemkin

With a gamut of exclusive special features, Kino’s BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN DVD offers a 42-minute documentary (”Tracing Battleship Potemkin”) on the making and restoration of the film, a photo gallery, and another presentation of the film with original Russian intertitles and optional English subtitles.

THE RESTORATION

The result of a twenty-year restoration project led by the Deutches Kinemathek in Germany and supported by Bundesarchiv (Berlin), Gosfilmofond (Moscow) and the British Film Institute (London), this definitive version of BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN restores all 1,374 of Eisenstein’s original shots. Setting this apart from previous re-issues of this Russian classic is the inclusion of never-before-seen segments cut from the original negative at the insistence of German censors in 1926 and 1928.

After Sergei Eisenstein supervised the cutting of the film’s original negative (prior to the Russian premiere in 1925), this material was sold to a German distribution company that became responsible for the foreign sales of Potemkin. Still in the throes of a crippling economic depression and concerned with Bolshevik agitation within its own borders, German officials ordered distributor Prometheus to cut the most incendiary shots from the original negative, forcing them to further re-edit the film in order to cover up those cuts. Even the famed Odessa steps scene was altered.

Kino’s BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN not only brings back all of the film’s original shots, rescued from early prints made from the untouched original negative, but also presents the film as close as possible to its original edit, when it premiered in Russia on December 21, 1925. Moreover, all of Eisenstein’s original titles have been put back in their original order, re-inserted into the film and retranslated into English. For instance, Kino’s version brings back a quote, originally placed at the beginning of the film, by the Ukrainian-born Bolshevik revolutionary and Marxist theorist by Leon Trotsky. Even though Trotsky wrote extensively on the 1905 revolution, Russian censors decided to replace this quote with a less ambiguous excerpt written by Lenin.

And while the 1925 Russian premiere of POTEMKIN was presented without an exclusive score, Eisenstein personally supervised Edmund Meisel’s composition in Germany before his film’s premiere in Berlin in 1926. As such, Kino’s DVD brings back to life the only official music track for Eisenstein’s masterpiece, now rendered by the 55-piece Deutches Filmorchestra in 5.1 Stereo Surround.

After 80 years since its world premiere, dozens of missing shots have been replaced, all 146 mistranslated and reordered titles have been restored to Eisenstein’s specifications and Potemkin’s iconic imagery has been re-mastered in High Definition.

BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN returns Eisenstein’s magnificent and revolutionary film to a form as close to its creator’s bold vision as we are ever likely to see.

Sounds terrific; the only potential fly in the ointment is Kino’s predilection for using PAL/NTSC converted transfers, which can lead to ghosting on some displays, as evidenced in their release of Lang’s Metropolis and in the new, otherwise excellent, DVD of the 1927 The Cat And The Canary. Still with Kino, and Silent DVD reveals that the Stateside outfit are also going to release Anthony Asquith’s A Cottage On Dartmoor, shown recently on BBC2 as part of their Summer of British Film, next month. One of the extras will be Silent Britain, an excellent 90 minute documentary commissioned by and shown on the increasingly impressive BBC4 last year - which should justify a purchase on it’s own. Kino is also prepping their own ‘definitive’ (again) release of Murnau’s Nosferatu for November, which looks like it should more or less replicate the mouth-watering R2 release by Eureka I mentioned recently:

A cornerstone of the horror film, F.W. Murnau s NOSFERATU is triumphantly reborn in this breathtaking new restoration by the F.W. Murnau Foundation. Backed by an orchestral performance of Hans Erdmann s 1922 score (recorded in 5.1 stereo surround), this Kino International edition presents Murnau s masterpiece with unprecedented clarity and faithfulness to the original release version. This double-disc collection presents the film with the original German intertitles as well as with newly-translated English intertitles. Accompanying the film is a 52-minute documentary by Luciano Berriatúa which provides a detailed account of the production and explores the filmmakers involvement in the occult.

Meanwhile, over at Image, October also sees the release of Wallace Worsley’s 1923 verison of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with it’s bravura, unforgettable performance by Lon Chaney. The press release says:

Lon Chaney stars as the gentle outcast Quasimodo in the first film version of Victor Hugo’s classic novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Paris of 1482 was meticulously recreated on the back lot of Universal Studios for this powerful drama that turned Chaney into a screen legend - now presented in the ultimate special edition of this timeless classic. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

  • Mastered in high definition from an original multi-tinted print.
  • New symphonic score compiled by Donald Hunsberger, adapted and conducted by Robert Israel. Recorded in Europe in digital stereo.
  • Insert essay and optional audio essay through the film, both by Michael F. Blake, author of two books on Lon Chaney.
  • Facsimile reproduction of original souvenir program.
  • Gallery of Original 3-D stills (3-D viewing glasses are included with this DVD).
  • Extensive gallery of 2-D stills including production shots, scenes and advertising materials.
  • Behind-the-scenes footage of Lon Chaney out of makeup on the set.

Yum. Finally in this section, the relatively new independent outfit Flicker Alley have had some good reviews for their 2-disc Valentino Collection, which I’m very pleased about. Flicker Alley, named after London’s Cecil Court, the heart of Britain’s silent film industry, is obviously run by enthusiasts who put together their offerings with a deal of care and affection. More power to them; their discs aren’t available at every etailer, but as you’ll see on their website they are making some good offers if you buy direct, and, I’m told they only charge $5 shipping to the U.K. For their efforts both to preserve and decently present these films, they deserve much support and success.

Showing Soon in the U.K.

A couple of U.K. snippets. Network seems to be sneaking them out these days; coming October, three horror titles:

The Shout (1978)

It’s a gorgeous Summer’s day and two teams play a cricket game with a difference. It’s the annual match between the local mental asylum and the villagers and, in the scoring hut, patients Crossley and Graves sit side-by-side recording every run, over and fallen wicket. To keep themselves entertained, Crossley recounts a terrifying story of how he came to possess supernatural powers that enable him to kill with a shout. It was, he claims, an ancient magic he learnt from spending many years with the Australian Aborigines. Although Graves dismisses the tale as an insane fantasy, as the match continues the proceedings take on an emphatically sinister turn…

Starring Oscar® nominated actor Alan Bates (Gosford Park) as the deranged Crossley, The Shout features strong performances from both Susannah York (We’ll Meet Again) and John Hurt (The Naked Civil Servant). The narrative style employed by Palm d’Or nominated director Jerzy Skolimowski (Deep End), lends depth and dimension to a film that is deeply engaging as well as terrifying. This film has been justly compared to Nicolas Roeg’s 70s classic Don’t Look Now. With an enigmatic opening sequence, fragments and flashbacks, this release will appeal not only to fans of the horror genre, but audiences who enjoy intelligent, unusual mysteries.

Special Features:

Audio commentary with horror experts Kim Newman and Stephen Jones
Introductory booklet from Kim Newman
Theatrical trailer
Image gallery
Information folder and original press material (PDF)

The Monster (AKA I Don’t Want to Be Born) (1975)

There’s something wrong with Lucy and Gino’s little boy - born with what seems to be an innate hatred of people it is not long before his strength has increased to almost super-human proportions. As he continues to inflict injury, doctors are baffled as to the cause but a nun is convinced that the baby is possessed. Initially dismissed by the medical establishment, the events take such a murderous turn that few can afford to ignore the nun’s warnings…

Starring Joan Collins (Footballer’s Wives) as the stripper cursed by a dwarf to give birth to a demonic child and Ralph Bates (Doctor Jekyll and Sister Hyde) as her husband, The Monster also features the always watchable Donald Pleasence (Hallowe’en) and cult favourite Caroline Munro (Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter) as a stripper. Peter Sasdy’s (Hands of the Ripper) direction ensures that this is one horror movie you don’t want to miss.

Special Features:

Original Theatrical Trailer
Image Gallery
Script PDF

The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972)

Academy award winning actress Shirley MacLaine stars in this gripping tale of witchcraft, possession, weird rites and gruesome murder.

Wealthy socialite Norah Benson (MacLaine) was forced to take sole charge of her brother Joel Delaney (Perry King - The Day After Tomorrow) in her early teens. She is shocked when, in adulthood, he begins acting out of character and, when his former girlfriend is found decapitated media speculation soon links the death to a series of unsolved killings. Joel becomes the obvious suspect and, when Norah sets out to prove his innocence, she stumbles across a strong link to Santeria - an occult religion. She begins to suspect that evil spirits are at play and attempts to exorcise the demons herself, only to become engulfed in a wave of spine-chilling terror.

An excellent example of the horror genre and one that predates The Exorcist by over a year, The Possession of Joel Delaney is a scary and compelling film. Ably directed by Golden Berlin Bear nominated director Waris Hussein, starring the ever reliable Shirley MacLaine and with a young Perry King turning in a powerhouse performance as Joel, this film will undoubtedly appeal not only to horror fans, but also fans of suspenseful, atmospheric thrillers.

Special Features:

Commentary and booklet by horror experts Kim Newman and Stephen Jones
Introductory booklet by Stephen Jones
Theatrical trailer
Image gallery

Fingers crossed for decent transfers. Meanwhile, as I mentioned a while back, Sony is trotting out some older titles, boxed as ‘In The Frame’ editions, and I now have details.

James Stewart: In The Frame features: You Can’t Take It With You, Mr Smith Goes To Washington, The Man From Laramie, Anatomy Of A Murder, Two Rode Together, and Bell, Book And Candle.

Humphrey Bogart: In The Frame features Sahara, Dead Reckoning, The Caine Mutiny, The Harder They Fall, Sirocco and In A Lonely Place.

Alec Guinness: In The Frame features The Bridge On The River Kwai, Our Man In Havana, The Prisoner, HMS Defiant, Cromwell and the comedy Murder By Death.

Anthony Hopkins: In The Frame contains 84 Charing Cross Road, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (coming soon as a Special Edition), The Looking Glass War, The Legend Of Zorro, Remains Of The Day and Legends Of The Fall.

Dustin Hoffman: In The Frame has Kramer Vs Kramer, Stranger Than Fiction, Papillon, Tootsie, Joan Of Arc and Accidental Hero.In The Frame

The Jack Nicholson: In The Frame set is the one that interests me most as I’ve held off most of the titles in the (vain) hope of some special editions. I’m not holding my breath so I may bag  As Good As It Gets, Easy RiderFive Easy Pieces, The Last Detail, A Few Good Men and, my favourite, The King Of Marvin Gardens.

Julia Roberts: In The Frame has Steel Magnolias, Erin Brokovich, My Best Friend’s Wedding, America’s Sweethearts, Mary Reilly and Stepmom.

Lastly, the In The Frame for Sidney Poitier boasts Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (coming to R1 and R2 shortly as a Special Edition and in a R1 ’Stanley Kramer’ box set) To Sir With Love, Raisin In The Sun, Buck And The Preacher, Little Nikita and The Bedford Incident.

The best bit, I suppose, seeing as there are no new to DVD titles here, is the price; each set can be found relatively cheaply at etailers - right now they are £14.99 each at HMV, so if you haven’t got these titles already, at just over £2 for each film, that’s a great bargain.

Finally, the R2 version of The Jazz Singer has been announced by Warners and as feared it’s lacking features found on the R1 equivalent - in fact a whole disc of features. Unlike the U.S. release the U.K. set is only two discs and not three; full story over at DVD Times. Shame.

A Peckinpah Idolator Writes… September 19, 2007

Posted by John Hodson in : Television, Film & DVD Reviews, Westerns , 9 comments

I was recently accused of being a Sam Peckinpah ‘idolator’. Stone me; accused. Like…this is a bad thing?

Being the internet, it’s not unknown for complete strangers to waft up to you and make what appear to be the most bizarre assertions, when in fact they’re only gently yanking your chain. Something I’m very well aware of myself; not being the most assiduous user of the ubiquitous ’smiley’ (the Luddite in me thinks the English language is a robust enough form of communication to illuminate without illustrations), my sometimes misplaced shafts of wit can be - have been - mistaken for declarations of war.

However, there was no doubt that this was an ‘accusation’, like being outed as a criminal - ‘YOU BOY! You’re a Peckinpah Fan!! SEIZE HIM!’ -  or having a small, er, member - ‘Look at the size of your tiny Peckinpah! HAHAHAHA’ - and, to me, quite baffling. Akin to being denounced as a lover of battered cod ’n chips out of the paper, Edward Elgar, The Beatles, dandelion and burdock, the sound of waves crashing on rocks and the smell of my wife’s skin. All perfectly scrumptious things, every single one of them guaranteed to press my buttons - guilty on all counts.

But it’s a puzzle. I mean, how can one not admire one of the cinematic giants of the last century? I’ll stand up and be counted, yelling to anyone within hearing: ‘I AM a Peckinpah idolator!’ It would make a perfectly good t-shirt slogan, well, that or ‘Peckinpah fans do it in slo-mo…’

So, yes; let’s go - Sam was, and remains, ’The Man’. In my (and many, many, others) opinion. And there’s the nub, for, gentle reader, I coudn’t give a trio of flying plaster ducks what anyone else thinks. You can’t see it? What’s all the fuss? You have my deepest sympathy, but, please, step away from the blog. Quickly now. Shoo.

Sam Peckinpah’s star shone relatively briefly, but oh so very brightly. In little more than a bare handful of films he served up tales that worked on many levels. Rattling good narratives, wonderfully photographed and edited, within which, should you choose to look, can be found the paradoxical nature of human beings, their perverse desires and emotions, ‘good’ co-existing on the same plain as ‘bad’. In truth, what we’re seeing is Peckinpah’s view of the world and his own bruised relationships with friends, colleagues, family, the women he treated so badly; the director stripped bare. It’s a sometimes romantic, sometimes charming or brutal, odd times shockingly painful auteurism, but Peckinpah’s great films are never less than fascinating and tremendously rewarding, even if the mirror that is thrust into our face makes us squirm and sweat. Finding out precisely why is what makes ‘Bloody Sam’ so bloody marvellous.

He was a genius with dialogue, could transform a banal sow’s ear of a script into a silk purse. His endless hours in the cutting room, sculpting down 1000s and 1000s of feet of film, trimming by a single frame here and there, produced unforgettable adrenaline fuelled, dizzying scenes, beautiful images that excite, enthrall and stir our emotions. That is, when he wasn’t mean drunk or drug addled, busy inflicting a death by a thousand cuts on that wiry, increasingly frail, body, or pushing everyone that mattered away from him. Some mistake his work for nihilism; his end makes the error understandable, but the great films are so damned…human.

Yes, I do kneel in awe; Ride The High Country, The Wild Bunch, Cross of Iron, Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (to name but a few of the few) are all works to astonish. I haven’t seen a film that bears him name that doesn’t have at least something to commend it, even such late autumnal frippery as Convoy. Well, that is, until now…

The Deadly Companions

This being a painful experience, I’ll try to keep this brief, so I’ll begin by summing up Sam Peckinpah’s first feature; what should have been a dazzling debut on the Hollywood stage, is a God-awful mess. Badly written, badly acted, clumsily directed and edited, the only fascination is waiting for some spark, some small sign, that this is a Peckinpah film. It never really comes. The Deadly Companions is so risible, it might have ended Sam’s career right there and then.

The saving grace is that this isn’t a Sam Peckinpah film…

The Deadly Companions

Set in the late 1860s, ‘Yellowleg’ (Brian Keith), a former sergeant in the Union army, takes up with a couple of villains - Turk (Chill Wills) and Billy (Steve Cochran) - and together they plan a bank robbery. In a shoot-out, Yellowleg accidentally kills Mead (Billy Vaughan), the nine-year-old son of dance-hall hostess Kit Tilden (Maureen O’Hara). Riddled with guilt, Yellowleg seeks redemption by escorting the woman through Apache territory to the long abandoned gravesite of Kit’s husband, to bury her son next to him.

Now, come on; this is deep into Peckinpah territory (Tommy Lee Jones’s The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada provides the obvious echo), and all the elements are in place - children playing in the street, the preacher in the saloon (Strother Martin), Wills bad, mad ’Turk’ (a version of the character fleshed out properly in Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid), betrayal, loss, remorse. None of it comes together; everyone seems to be acting in a different film. Only Keith, familiar with his director from their work together on television, appears to find anywhere near the right rhythm.

The characters, burdoned with clumsy dialogue, seem to be barely sketched in; Wills and Keith are occasionally interesting, but nothing is carried through to a proper conclusion. Poor Steve Cochran, resplendent in a slightly bizarre, pristine, gunfighter’s garb, is simply surplus to requirements and Lord knows what O’Hara is supposed to be. Kit is clearly meant to be a woman forced to do anything to make ends meet, and thus a town pariah; like Yellowleg, she’s an outsider. But dressed to the nines in immaculate make-up, even in the most harrowing circumstances, there’s not a hint of that in O’Hara’s performance, it’s all so…bland; a jigsaw puzzle where none of the pieces fit.

I didn’t care about Kit’s loss, about whether they’d make it or not, about who was going to live and who was going to die, there was no suspension of belief. What was fascinating was the fact I was watching A Very Poor Film bearing the name of A Very Great Director…and thus an absolute must see for Peckinpah completists.

The direction is barely adequate, the odd flash, nothing more, no-one paying any great attention to the continuity, the cutaways or editing. The frankly irritating score by Marlin Skiles would have disgraced a TV movie, the whole topped and tailed by la O’Hara warbling some pastiche of a melancholy ‘oirish’ ballad, penned by Skiles and the multi-talented ’Charles B. FitzSimons’.

Oh, yes. Not a Peckinpah film.

Rewind. Having given Sam an ultimatum to soften his approach on his hard-hitting, critically acclaimed television series The Westerner - and Sam being Sam, told them where to shove it - the next big step for Peckinpah was into film. His star in The Westerner, Brian Keith, had just had a huge hit with the sugary pap that was The Parent Trap with Maureen O’Hara and was offered the lead role in what was a pet project of O’Hara and her producer brother Charles FitzSimons.

Keith, who saw a ‘pretty bad’ script, was in; providing Sam Peckinpah was sat in the director’s chair. Sam would fix The Deadly Companions, no problem; it was the sort of challenge he relished.

Except. FitzSimons had laboured three years on that piece of crap, with the author of the novel ‘The Deadly Companions’ A.S. Fleischman, and believed that the film was destined for greatness. He had to take Peckinpah to get Keith, but that didn’t mean he had to use him. When Sam turned up with 20 pages of rewrites, according to David Weddle, author of Sam Peckinpah; If They Move Kill ‘Em, FitzSimons promptly stuffed them in the waste bin and told the stunned director that he’d been hired to direct, not write. If only.

The film has pretensions that it can’t hope to fulfill given the circumstances. Shot in Panavision - with a handful of glorious shots cobbled together by Sam and his veteran cinematographer Bill Clothier - the credits proclaim ‘Filmed in it’s entirity in THE STATE OF ARIZONA and at the town of OLD TUCSON’. Even the use of Clothier, who had worked with Ford, is a statement of sorts.

FitzSimons and O’Hara clearly wanted ‘greatness’ on the cheap. Their budget was a miserly $530,000, their schedule a bare 21 days. FitzSimons stood over Peckinpah every one of those days, ordering him, like a callow rookie, how to stage and shoot scenes. He also forbade - forbade - Peckinpah from giving his sister direction. Having been ordered about the set by Ford, O’Hara clearly felt herself too grand to submit to entreaties from this movie whelp.

Naturally, in her tedious autobiography, ‘Tis Herself, Ms O’Hara has a rather different version of events, recalling that it was a ‘fiasco’ because Peckinpah hadn’t got a clue how to direct a movie. “He was oblivious to the fact that he was missing shots that were necessary to cut together a cohesive story in the editing room” says Maureen of one of cinema’s great editors, adding that ‘Charlie’ had to come in each day to tell him which reaction and cutaway shots were needed. The final film was ‘too artsy’ because Sam wouldn’t shoot the big action scene in which our merry band fight off those pesky injuns. Oh, if only he’d have listened to his leading lady and her producer brother, but obviously our debutant director just would not be told…

When shooting was over, FitzSimons kicked Sam out of the cutting room and edited this patchwork melodrama together himself. The Deadly Companions was quickly seen for what it was, dumped into a few flea-pits and promptly disappeared. It was subsequently reissued in the States on the back of Sam’s later hits as Trigger Happy. So much for ‘greatness’. I would have paid good money to see the look on the faces of O’Hara and FitzSimons when Ride The High Country came romping home.

Optimum’s UK R2 disc of The Deadly Companions has no extras, not even a trailer. But the transfer is really very good, colourful and true and there’s barely a mark to be seen in this anamorphic ’scope presentation. The mono English soundtrack (the only option) occasionally goes in and out of synchronisation; this could be a disc / player related problem, but I’m not completely positive, the problems (not huge) reoccuring in the same places on multiple viewings. There are no subtitles. The menus are backed by O’Hara belting out that incongruous theme song, which is truly annoying; she has a decent voice, but what were you thinking Charlie? 

Despite my very large reservations over the film, I’m really glad to have The Deadly Companions and to have seen it, at last, in it’s original aspect ratio.

All the more in view of what arrived in the post - thank you Dave - only a few days later…

The Westerner: Jeff

If The Deadly Companions gives the impression that Sam Peckinpah went on a directorial crash course between that and his next project, the sublime Ride The High Country, then watching the 30 minute gem that is Jeff, the first jaw-dropping episode of 13 he made for Dick Powell’s Four Star Productions of The Westerner, will quickly reassure that this visionary’s talent was already very firmly in place.

Let’s rewind again, a year or so before FitzSimons needed a patsy. Peckinpah had come off a successful run of TV’s The Rifleman, nevertheless slightly disillusioned; he wanted to fashion something grittier, something over which he had absolute control - writing, editing, dubbing, the works. Powell gave him that freedom and Sam came up with the goods - The Westerner. Thirteen half hour episodes, starring Brian Keith as the eponymous drifter ‘Dave Blassingame’, produced by the finest talent Peckinpah could assemble, and at the top of the pecking order with final say, honing scripts, cajoling, yelling at his team, encouraging them to aim higher - Sam himself.

Opening the series was Jeff, an astonishingly tight (like the rest, shot in a mere three days), intelligent and gripping half-hour playlet that comes on like a short movie rather than production line television. Directed, like five other The Westerner episodes, by Sam and co-written by him with Robert Heverley, Jeff was photographed by Lucien Ballard, in stark, high contrast monochrome, beginning a partnership that would continue through five feature films together.

Jeff opens with a shot of Warren Oates, one of a gaggle of boozy cowhands, getting liquored up in a dingy little fly-blown border bar. It’s Oates first time with Peckinpah, certainly not his last, and he doesn’t utter a coherent word. On The Westerner, Peckinpah would begin to assemble his stock company.

The Westerner; Jeff

The drunks have their lascivious eyes on Jeff (Diana Millay), the bar’s ‘hostess’, there to serve more than just drinks at the behest of owner Denny Lipp (wonderfully played by Geoffrey Toone). Denny is an English bare-knuckle fighter, still in good shape, and not averse to using his meaty fists on the girl. His girl.

Into this God-forsaken town, on a dead beat horse, rides a weary Dave Blassingame (Brian Keith). Dave is accosted by an older woman, the light of God in her mad eyes, a copy of the scriptures for sale in her outstretched hands. Blassingame sees a charity case, pays the woman, and stomps off purposefully into the bar with his dog ‘Brown’.

Blassingame has come into town to rescue Jeff, a girl he knows from way back, from her nightmare existence. However, Denny returns to the bar with his cronies. Of course they fight, but the kicker is that Denny has a desperate need for the girl who has become his slave. Bested and humiliated, he yells at Blassingame to take her and get out…but she simply can’t leave her pimp and this abusive relationship; ‘You want something that isn’t here’ Jeff tells Dave sadly ‘You want something that maybe never was.’

The director / writer, whose own marriage was fast falling apart, gives voice to his own disillusionment, his own bitterness. As Dave goes to leave and Jeff tries to console him, Blassingame tells her softly:  ‘Why should I worry about you?’ while at the same time, oh, so gently unknotting a ribbon from her hair and palming it into his heart’s pocket. Pure Peckinpah.

‘My dad used to tell me women must be God’s favourites ‘cos He made ‘em finer than anything else in creation’ Blassingame informs a triumphant Denny, ‘Well He must hate your guts for what you’ve done to ‘em.’ The fighter retorts that Dave is a sore loser. ‘I sure am’ says Blassingame quietly before laying out Denny with a haymaker, an empty victory.

As he leaves town, Dave once again meets the grubby religious woman (modelled certainly on Peckinpah’s mother, Fern) who asks him if he did in fact find salvation? Blassingame shakes his head; ‘And you?’ he replies. ‘I surely have’ she says smiling a lunatic smile, and behind her, scrawled on an adobe wall, we can see the words: ‘Tonight a soul is lost / He wonders the wide earth / But he finds only emptiness.’

The piece is a joy and must have hit 1960s America like a slap across the kisser; the dour, downbeat set, sawdust scattered on the floorboards, the vicious fistfights, the noir-like lighting, the glowering, deadly indian bartender, the whole seedy setting for this tale of romance, a love triangle. The script is finely tuned, the dialogue is clearly Peckinpah; the whole cast, but Denny’s preening pimp, dressed shabbily, their faces dirty, clothes torn and dusty, even - especially - the girl. And all, I’ll remind you, in just 30 blissful minutes, several years before Leone’s own western triumphs.

Weddle describes Jeff as a ‘minor masterpiece’, and it’s so far from Peckinpah’s work on The Deadly Companions that it’s impossible to reconcile Sam as author of both…but then, as described, he wasn’t.

Showing Soon - Snippets For October / November September 17, 2007

Posted by John Hodson in : DVD News & Info, Showing Soon , add a comment

An update to what’s coming your way in the UK during October and November…

In the first Showing Soon, I mentioned three film noirs upcoming from the BFI and conjectured that extras would only consist of trailers and booklets; the reliable Zeta Minor has published full details, and the discs are not quite as bare as feared.

Night And The City has an ‘interview with Jules Dassin, a feature commentary by film noir specialist Paul Duncan, a short film comparing the US and British versions of the film (the studio produced a second edit for the British market with a different music track). Plus the DVD also contains a fully illustrated 18-page booklet – whose cover features the original film poster artwork – with essays by author Lee Server and Paul Duncan; cast and credit details.’

Cry Of The City has the ‘original theatrical trailer. The DVD also contains a fully illustrated 10-page booklet – whose cover features the original film poster artwork – with an essay by author Lee Server and cast and credit details.’

Kiss of Death has an ‘interview with Richard Widmark, original theatrical trailer, presented by famed commentator Walter Winchell. The DVD also contains a fully illustrated 14-page booklet – whose cover features the original film poster artwork – with an essay by Lee Server, author of Ava Gardner and Robert Mitchum: Baby, I Don’t Care; Henry Hathaway’s comments on the closing scenes of Kiss of Death; cast and credit details.’

HMV is also showing several more interesting releases coming from the BFI; at the end of October; Franz Osten’s 1929 silent Prapancha Pash (A Throw Of The Dice), and in November the famous British short documentary Night Mail. They’re also showing a Mikio Naruse Collection for November, no detail, but from the price I’d say a three film set.

Still at Zeta Minor, terrible news on Universal’s forthcoming R2 release of the original Invasion of The Body Snatchers. And I quote Zeta Minor’s Julian Knott:

I’ve seen Universal’s forthcoming Invasion of the Body Snatchers disc, and, as feared, it’s a complete mess.

The disc actually features two versions of the film: a letterboxed black-and-white version, and a colorized version (which wasn’t mentioned in the press release - understandable, since it’s nothing to be proud of).

The colorized version, from 1988, is a 4:3 presentation, with horrible, horrible colours, and distracting NTSC conversion artefacts.

The black-and-white version is presented in 1.81:1 widescreen format, but without anamorphic enhancement! Amazing to think that a video label of any repute would release a non-anamorphic widescreen disc ten years after DVD made its debut. It, too, displays signs of being sourced from an NTSC master….

…Menu screens, and screen grabs comparing the colorized and black-and-white versions are available here.

Ouch! For more on this debacle, visit the Zeta Minor news page.

MovieMail has that rehash of the John Wayne boxset Universal first unleashed on an unsuspecting UK a couple of years back. It contains (deep breath) Angel And The Badman, Back To Bataan, Dakota, Dark Command, Flame Of The Barbary Coast, Flying Tigers, Fort Apache, In Old California, Baby From Louisiana, Rio Grande, Sands Of Iwo Jima, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Tall In The Saddle, The Flying Kentuckian, The Fighting Seabees, The First Rebel, Flying Leathernecks, The Quiet Man, Three Faces West, Tycoon, Wake Of The Red Witch, War Of The Wildcat, Stagecoach, The Hellfighters, Pittsburgh, Reap The Wild Wind, Rooster Cogburn, Seven Sinners, The Spoilers, The War Wagon, Jet Pilot, The Conqueror, Lady For A Night, and Shepherd Of The Hills. If it’s just a repackage, as it looks to be, then it’s the usual Universal R2 mix of the good, the bad and downright slipshod (not to mention the non-anamorphic), some of which has been bettered by far in R1; coming November.

As is, allegedly - it’s been bounced around the schedules - that 10-disc Universal W.C. Fields Collection with The Big Broadcast Of 1938, The Bank Dick, You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man, My Little Chickadee, Man on the Flying Trapeze, Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, The Old Fashioned Way, You’re Telling Me!, Six of a Kind, International House, Million Dollar Legs, If I Had A Million, Mississippi, Poppy, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, It’s A Gift, Alice in Wonderland and Tillie and Gus.

Rewinding to the end of October, and Universal also boxes Doris Day: Young at Heart, That Touch of Mink, Lover Come Back, Pillow Talk, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Send Me No Flowers, The Thrill Of It All, The Ballad Of Josie, Midnight Lace.

MovieMail seems to confirm the November release of the Paul Robeson Collection (Sanders Of The River/Song Of Freedom/King Solomon’s Mines/Big Fella), from Network, though it’s yet to appear on their own site.

Fox is to release The Marlon Brando Collection in November, titles are: The Fugitive Kind, The Young Lions, Viva Zapata and Morituri; typical of Fox to drop in that previously unavailable Lumet title. Same month, Tartan release the Victor Sjostrom 1921 silent The Phantom Carriage - KTL Edition: ‘Created by pioneering Swedish film-maker Victor Sjöström, The Phantom Carriage is arguably the most influential and enduring horror film of all time. Its all-pervasive tone and the groundbreaking use of trick photography lend it an otherworldly atmosphere not since matched in modern cinema. Now, nearly 90 years since audiences were first chilled by its evocation of dead souls lost in the land of the living, leading sonic innovators KTL (the powerhouse collaboration between Stephen O’Malley and Peter Rehberg, aka Pita) have created a dense and darkly atmospheric score which compliments and blends with the original imagery to devastating effect. This collision between one of history’s greatest masters of the cinematic arts and two of today¿s most challenging and unclassifiable musicians is totally unprecedented and truly inspired.’

Tartan also offer up Sergei Eisenstein: Volume 2 - ‘A collection of seminal films by the Russian master Sergei Eisenstein. ‘Brezhin Meadow’ (1937) is based on the life of Pavik Morosov, a pioneer who was killed by his ‘Old Russia’ father for being an enemy of the people. ‘Alexander Nevsky’ (1938) was Eisenstein’s first sound film and tells the story of a legendary hero who led the Russian Army against a German invasion in the 13th century. The film was made just before World War 2 and the inevitable onslaught between Russia and Hitler’s Germany. The authenticity of the battle scenes was vouchsafed by Eisenstein being allowed unlimited access to the real Russian army. In Eisenstein’s epic production of ‘Ivan The Terrible Part 1′ (1944), he tells the story of one of Russia’s greatest and most ruthless leaders. The first part chronicles his childhood, coronation, marriage and illness. Eisenstein juxtaposes striking imagery with a stirring score by Prokofiev. In ‘Ivan The Terrible: Part 2 (The Boyars Plot)’ (1958), Ivan is feeling isolated and lonely after his attempts to establish a united Russia have left him without a wife (poisoned), and the defection to the Poles of his most trusted fighter. In an effort to build bridges he appoints a monk, Philip, to be Bishop of Moscow, but his plan backfires when Philip tries to bring Ivan under the Churches influence. Ivan’s response is swift and brutal, sending in his own secret police, the Oprichniks, against the Boyars. Eisenstein’s complex storyline reflects the bloody events of the time, and is full of political in-fighting, family betrayal, assassinations and murder.’

MGM/Fox are to release  The Elvis Presley Box Set (Wild In The Country, Love Me Tender, Flaming Star, and Follow That Dream), plus Warners release The Jazz Singer: Special Edition on November 12; will it contain the same extras as the R1 edition? If it does, the offer price at several etailers would seem to suggest a bargain. However, past experience tells me to be extremely cautious - we’ll see.

Because their quality can be, shall we say, variable, I very rarely point folks at titles from minor labels, but to be honest, I’m not familiar with the output of an outfit called Showbox Media, save to say that they normally seem to specialise in titles of an, er, adult nature. However, they are releasing a Long Lost Comedy Classics Box Set, containing British comedy titles they’ve released singly previously: The Love Match, Make Me An Offer, Orders Are Orders, Time Gentlemen Please, John And Julie and Miss Robin Hood. Looks like they’re also going to responsible for the two Hammer films coming out next month as well in the UK; The Evil of Frankenstein and Brides of Dracula, plus a two film Peter Cushing set (no titles, but no prizes for guessing). They were given such beautiful transfers by Universal in R1 - here’s hoping.

I mentioned the Kenneth More Collection from ITV DVD in the last Showing Soon and the confusion over what’s included. Looks like it will be a five disc set (originally it was eight) with Genevieve, Reach for the Sky, A Night to Remember, North West Frontier, Chance of a Lifetime - only one previously unreleased title. Disappointing.

Finally, you might be wondering what happened to Fox’s UK release of 1900, scehduled for earlier in the year, then bumped. The full version of Bertolucci’s film, aka Novocento, was released by Paramount some months ago in R1. I wasn’t aware of any problem until I read on the Fox UK website: “Our intention is to re-release this title, once we are in receipt of a new and revised master. We are currently working to access a new master and will hopefully be in a position to confirm our next steps and anticipated timing of the re-release very shortly.”

Got to end with a bargain: scoot over to Play.com and tap ‘Cinema Reserve’ into their search engine and you’ll see a host of those tinned special editions at a bargain £7.99; one word of warning, Fox have been a little shy at including original mono soundtracks on those titles that should have one, but I can tell you that on Lifeboat, for instance, it’s almost impossible to discern it’s a remix (thank God), and the trade-off is that Hitchcock interview not available on the equivalent R1 Fox disc.  Play.com have been undercut on one ‘Cinema Reserve’ title - Kagemusha is £4.89 at Sendit.com or part of their four for £15 sale.

Get ‘em while they’re hot…

Showing Soon - First Edition… September 12, 2007

Posted by John Hodson in : DVD News & Info, Books - News and Reviews, Showing Soon , 7 comments

As much for my own benefit as anyone’s (my apologies if that appears to be ever so slightly selfish), I think it might be useful to start a regular - optimistic, but that’s the plan - round-up of new DVD announcements, rumours, and what’s popped up, unheralded, for pre-order at various etailers; Showing Soon, cornball but that’s the kind of hairpin I am (well, that and I couldn’t think of anything else…)

I won’t be attempting to cover everything - which would be foolish as well as tedious - just what piques my interest, so, mainly classic releases, and I’ll chuck in the odd bit of news pertaining to books, screenings and special events. As usual, comments and contributions are most welcome.

Showing Soon in the U.K.

First up, in this piece, we’ll have a look at what happening in the U.K., and initially, what distributor Network has on the table. Possibly their most spectacular release of the year is released October 1. In fact, The Prisoner: 40th Anniversary Special Edition promises to be the best release worldwide of Patrick McGoohan’s idiosyncratic television series. You’ll find most details on Network’s dedicated web page here including some impressive screenshots. I say ‘most’ because, aside from a minor comment on their home page, they don’t highlight what threatens to be one of the set’s best features. Author and TV historian Andrew Pixley has written a book, of around 135,000 words, to accompany the release which threatens to be the definitive word on the production if previous meticulously researched works from the pen of Mr Pixley are anything to go by.

Still with Network: HMV is showing Lindsay Anderson’s This Sporting Life coming September 24, the whisper is that this is being presented full-frame and extras free (the long-awaited Criterion version is as yet still just a rumour), but it’s yet to pop up on the official Network website, which may, or may not indicate a hold-up. Meanwhile MovieMail has a boxset of Three Films by Somerset Maugham: Trio, Encore and Quartet that were released by Network singly earlier in the year, coming October 1. Rene Clair’s The Ghost Goes West is released November 5 and, another former Carlton release, David Lean’s This Happy Breed is on the shelves a week later. MovieMail is also showing David Greene’s Madame Sin (Bette Davis, Gordon Jackson, Denholm Elliott, Robert Wagner) as coming October 1, but it doesn’t seem to be scheduled elsewhere. Again, only one etailer is showing Network releasing a three-disc Paul Robeson Collection November, so we’ll await official news with interest. As usual with Network, any of these titles could suddenly appear on sale, or disappear into limbo, without explanation.

In TV, Network also have the excellent Fox: The Complete Series, a four disc set of the 1980 show, coming October 8.

Released recently in R1, Warners UK have From Beyond The Grave on their R2 schedule for October 15. Blade RunnerWarners have also scheduled a five-disc Blade Runner: The Final Cut - Ultimate Collector’s Edition for early December which looks to have all the extras of the best of the R1 versions, including the director’s workprint, without the extra luggage (you know what I mean…) Nice price as well; discounted to £17.99 at a couple of etailers.

Arrow films have Christopher Miles The Virgin and the Gypsy slated for the same date. Believed to be thin on extras, save trailers and booklets, the BFI has three noir titles on the books for October 15 - Kiss of Death, Cry of The City and Night and The City.

Tartan has a Paul Morrissey Box Set for October 8: Madame Wings, Women in Revolt, Mixed Blood, the same day Saturday Night Fever: 30th Anniversary Edition is piped on board and Paramount (they purely love an anniversary) is also re-releasing Funny Face as a 50th Anniversary Edition. Paramount also release that not so special Chinatown SE; surely the film deserves a spectacular extras packed set rather than this half-hearted effort? The same month, The Kenneth More Collection comes from ITVDVD: Appointment with Venus, Stop Press Girl, Chance of a Lifetime, Genevieve, A Night to Remember, The Galloping Major, North West Frontier and Reach for the Sky (one big caveat; some etailers say seven films, others say eight, some say five!)

Word has is that the trade think box sets are the way to go; with an RRP a penny shy of £50, Warners are releasing Superman: The Ultimate Collectors Edition; 13 Disc Tin Boxset. If boxes are the way to go, tin appears the way for boxes…

Indeed, gearing up for the Christmas market and there are box sets a plenty coming out, including several reissues with added goodies; a three disc The Young Ones: 25th Anniversary Complete Series 1 and 2, a 14-disc Dad’s Army: Complete Series & Specials, and another 14-discer, Steptoe & Son: Complete Box Set. Also look out for Hancock’s Half Hour 50th Anniversary Complete Collection (8-discs apparently; no other detail) and Father Ted - The Definitive Collection, a four disc set featuring ‘Father Ted Comedy Connections Documentary; Comic Relief With Ted And Dougal; US Interviews With Graham Lineham And Arthur Mathews; Tedfest 2007: A Very Ted Weekend; Tedfest 2007: Two Tribes Go To War; Audio commentary for Series 3 by creators Graham Lineham and Arthur Mathews; Craggy Island Memories; Dougal’s Favourite Memories; Dougal’s Favourite Sound Effects’ (all from 2|entertain in October).

Determined to wring every last penny out of discs already released, Fox wheels out a Battle Of Britain - Limited Edition Gift Set, and I quote: “This limited Edition Gift set features the 2 disc special edition of The Battle of Britain, with the book by Stephen Bungay, entitled The Most Dangerous Enemy: A History Of The Battle Of Britain and a specialised colour picture print.” I should add, all in a humongous box. Hold that thought because Fox also releases The Longest Day - Gift Set: “This gift set features the 2 disc special edition of The Longest Day, combined with the biopic account written by Cornelius Ryan and a specialised colour print.” In November Fox markets The Great Fox War Movies (The Longest Day / Patton / Tora Tora Tora), three films, plus a book.

October 22 and Metrodome has a six disc Berlin Alexanderplatz set, complete with ‘Bonus footage, Trailers, ‘Making of’ documentary, Other documentaries (’A Mega-Movie and its Story’, ‘The Restoration’ ‘The Restoration - Before And After’,'The Original Recaps’), Image gallery’. The same date and Yume Pictures releases Kurosawa’s The Silent Duel.

Eureka’s excellent Masters of Cinema range expands October with Edvard Munch (’New director-approved high-definition restoration of the longer TV version, newly translated optional English subtitles, optional SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing, 112-page book with a Peter Watkins self-interview, writing by Joseph Gomez, and a timeline of Munch’s life.’), and Gandahar (’New high-definition restoration of the original Laloux version in original aspect ratio, newly translated optional English subtitles, Laloux short film La Prisonnière, 16-page booklet with Laloux interviews and artwork.’)

Possibly most exciting is the November release of what Eureka is calling a ‘definitive’ double disc set of Murnau’s seminal Nosferatuhorror classic Nosteratu featuring: ‘New 2007 F.W. Murnau-Stiftung restoration with the original score, audio commentary by Brad Stevens and R. Dixon Smith, 53-minute German documentary about Murnau and the making of Nosferatu complete with fascinating footage of the film’s locations today, restoration demonstration, a 96-page book containing articles by David Skal (author of Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen); Thomas Elsaesser (author of Weimar Cinema and After: Germany’s Historical Imaginary); Gilberto Perez and more…’

Also November Sansho Dayu + Gion Bayashi (Two Films by Mizoguchi), and, according to one etailer at least, Murnau’s final film Tabu: A Story of the South Seas. Eureka say they are considering a Murnau box set, but not for some time yet.

To whet the appetite (as if the specs aren’t enough), there are some screengrabs of the upcoming Nosferatu in this Criterion forum thread here.

Second Sight has Lugosi and Karloff in The Black Cat and The Raven (no extras) in time for Hallowe’en, there’s a raft of PD titles in a new line ‘Cinema Legends’, but please don’t expect anything other than PD quality from the Quantum Leap Group, Sony releases Scarface: 1932 / 1983 - Slim Line Packaging (2 Discs), and another new line (highly likely mostly re-releases) called ‘In The Frame’ featuring Alec Guinness, James Stewart, Julia Roberts, Sidney Poitier, Anthony Hopkins, Dustin Hoffman, Humphrey Bogart and Jack Nicholson. UCA may finally spring those Screen Goddess Box sets featuring Jean Simmons and Jane Russell, which have been bouncing round the schedules, the same goes for the R2 Blood Simple: Director’s Cut from Universal.

October’s Classic Sci-Fi Box Set from Universal features Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Thing from Another World (1951), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), This Island Earth (1955), The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954), It Came From Outer Space (1953) and Tarantula (1955). Early review copies show, that unlike the current R1 release, This Island Earth is presented in anamorphic widescreen.

Universal also releases a Film Noir Box Set with The Killers (Siodmak, 1946), Double Indemnity (Wilder, 1944), The Big Steal (Siegel, 1949), Crossfire (Dmytryk, 1947), Out of the Past (Tourneur, 1947), The Blue Dahlia (Marshall, 1946), The Glass Key (Heisler, 1942), This Gun For Hire (Tuttle, 1942) and Farewell My Lovely (Dmytryk, 1944). Bearing in mind the generally low standard of Universal’s RKO transfers, some of these no exception, caveat emptor.

In early November, Paramount has another crack at Cy Endfield and Stanley Baker’s Zulu with a 2-disc ‘Special Collectors Edition’. No announcement of extras as yet, and I’m really quite intrigued. I recently finished Sheldon Hall’s wonderfully well researched and beautifully presented Zulu: With Some Guts Behind It, The Making of the Epic Movie and while I’m longing for more, the last DVD edition was quite decent. I wonder if they’ve found the six-track stereo tracks for this iteration?

On to Optimum and the movable feast that is their schedule: October sees the release of the Dirk Bogarde vehicle Mind Benders, a John Mills Screen Icons Collection: The Baby And The Battleship, The Family Way, The Gentle Gunman, It’s Great To Be Young! Some sites are still carrying that second Comic Icons set for George Formby, but my bet is that it will be stalled again, meanwhile look out for an Alec Guinness Screen Legends Collection: Last Holiday, Kind Hearts And Coronets, The Man In The White Suit, Captain’s Paradise, and Barnacle Bill.

More Ealing from Optimum, Charles Crichton’s Against The Wind and Basil Dearden’s The Captive Heart, the horror Rosemary’s Killer (aka The Prowler), a three disc (it was originally to be four, Dandy Dick was dropped alas) Comic Icons set for Will Hay: Radio Parade of 1935, Ghost Of St Michaels, Black Sheep Of Whitehall and a five disc Alastair Sim Comic Icons Collection - The Green Man, Folly To Be Wise, Geordie, Left Right and Centre, Laughter in Paradise. By the way, still no sign that the mooted 16 disc Will Hay set will arrive any time soon; shame.

Optimum have a slate of thrillers in November: Fear Is The Key, Chase A Crooked Shadow, Payroll, The Long Arm. Benny Hill’s first film, Who Done It, and Norman Wisdom’s One Good Turn, provide more laughs.

Artificial Eye offer two collections by Rainer Werner Fassbinder October and November, while Arrow Films have The R.W. Fassbinder Collection: Commemorative Edition (1969-1972) and The R.W. Fassbinder Collection: Commemorative Edition (1973-1982) November 5. Arrow also release Lewis Milestone’s Of Mice And Men this month, which features not only wonderful performances from Lon Chaney Jr. and Burgess Meredith but also gave rise to one of my favourite cartoon catch phrases - ‘I’m goin’ to hug him and keep him and call him George…’ - here’s hoping for a scintillating transfer.

The Printed Page

From HammerWeb: The 50th anniversary celebrations of Hammer Horror continue with the revised, fully updated edition of authorised history The Hammer Story by Marcus Hearn and Alan Barnes.

Hammer has given active backing to this fully-authorised history of the company. Compiled with unlimited access to the Hammer archives The Hammer Story provides a film-by-film dissection of the history of Hammer Films, dripping with rare promotional material and previously unpublished photographs.

The Hammer Story features an exclusive foreword by Sir Christopher Lee and is lavishly illustrated with movie stills, behind-the-scenes images, and memorabilia including rare posters and press clippings.

The first edition was published by Titan in 1997 to great acclaim and has long been out of print. Marcus Hearn was previously editor of Hammer Horror magazine, for which co-author Alan Barnes wrote features. Together they have co-authored Tarantino A-Zed, The Cinema of George Lucas and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. This new edition is guaranteed to delight and is a must for all Hammer fans.

This definitive guide throws open the crypt doors to provide the ultimate collector’s item for any fan, and will be published by Titan Books on 26 October 2007, priced £24.99.

Odd and Sods

More Hammer: poster collectors might want to pop over to Posters and Stuff to check out their new Hammer Film Poster Collection.Hammer Posters

The blurb: The posters are litho printed in the UK on 170gsm paper. Each title in the series has been scanned from an original poster at a very high resolution. They are then digitally restored. All the creases and fold marks are removed along with any pin holes, tears, dirty marks, etc.. This restoration process takes several days to complete, but once done the poster artwork is the same as when it was originally printed. The posters are fully licensed by Hammer Film Productions Ltd and each restored poster has been approved by Hammer Films.

There will be 12 posters in the first series, one per month, starting with The Curse Of Frankenstein to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year and ending with Dracula in its 50th anniversary year 2008. These posters are available to buy individually, or there is a subscription offer with a free double bill Hammer quad for all subscribers and a specially designed box will be available to purchase which will be able to hold all 12 poster tubes.

I’ll finish this Showing Soon with some recent price reductions; pop over to BlahDVD where you’ll find some good prices on Optimum’s Screen Icons sets, £17.19 for the James Mason and Jean Paul Belmondo sets and £17.99 for the Dirk Bogarde box. They also have Louis Malle Collection - Vol. 2 for £14.69. Over at DVD.co.uk, the Catherine Deneuve Screen Icon Collection is £15.95, while both Jean-Luc Godard Collection Vol.1 and Vol 2 are £16.95, and The Louis Malle Collection - Vol. 1 is £17.95. These offers seem to come and go in a hurry, so I wouldn’t hang about…

Teddington’s Lost & Found, And A Tale Of Two TCMs… September 10, 2007

Posted by John Hodson in : Television, DVD News & Info, British Film , 3 comments

Visitors to the Filmjournal site will already know that the ever excellent clydefro is making a weekly effort to point you at the best of the output from the Stateside Turner Classic Movies cable station, so I hope he won’t mind me gently treading on his territory.

It’s in a good cause; I want to highlight a season of Warner Bros. First National films made at Teddington Studios. On Mondays September 17 and September 24, film fans in the U.S. will see a variety of very rare ’quota quickies’ from the British studio. And I quote:

The second installment of TCM’s remarkable “Lost and Found” series is comprised of films made at London’s famed Teddington Studios by Warner Bros. First National during the period 1932-1943. The series includes the U.S. premieres of two early works from director Michael Powell of The Red Shoes (1948) fame – the drama Something Always Happens (1934) starring Ian Hunter, and the crime thriller Crown vs. Stevens (1936) starring Beatrix Thompson. The other premieres are Crime Unlimited (1935) starring Lilli Palmer, Man of the Moment (1935) starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., The Peterville Diamond (1942) starring Anne Crawford and The Dark Tower(1943) starring David Farrar…

Known as “quota quickies,” these films were shot at a fast pace on low budgets to meet the demands of the Cinematograph Films Act of 1927, created by the United Kingdom Parliament to require a yearly quota of British-made movies and hopefully counter Hollywood’s dominance of the cinema world. (Never considered a success, the Act was modified over the years and repealed in 1960.) The films made at Teddington during its Warner Bros. era were strictly for the U.K. market, and most were never seen on this side of the Atlantic. Of more than 100 such films, only 33 are known to survive.

Many distinguished actors worked at Teddington during its Warner Bros. period; also represented in the TCM series are Michael Redgrave in Sons of the Sea (1941), Richard Greene in Flying Fortress (1942) and John Gielgud in The Prime Minster (1941). Among those films considered permanently lost, one of the most historically significant is 1934’s Murder in Monte Carlo, in which a young actor named Errol Flynn so impressed Warner Bros. executives that they dispatched him to Hollywood.

Teddington Studios has a long and interesting history dating to the 1880s. It became a production center for feature films in 1916 and was leased, then purchased, by Warner Bros. in the early 1930s. In 1944, during the dwindling days of World War II, a German rocket exploded on the property, causing extensive damage. Eventually reconstructed, the studios would become home to Thames Television, and today the facility remains an important media center.

The link above takes you to the TCM website and from there, the programme details, including full synopses of each film, plus video snippets. Good stuff. But the even better news is, apparently, ads being broadcast for the season say that the films will be transferred to DVD and are going to be available ‘before Christmas’. Be nice if it comes to pass.

While I’m here, I’ll use this as an opportunity to vent my spleen, in a very small way, at TCM’s U.K. output - a quick look at the website shows immediately that the Brit station is, by comparison, the American version’s impoverished cousin, both online and on air. Not only that, while there are some real gems to be found over here, they pale by comparison with the rich output of TCM U.S. For a start, it’s highly unlikely we’ll get a version of the Teddington Studios season broadcast in the country from which the films actually emanated. Bonkers.

TCM U.K.’s films are shown usually (but not always) in the correct aspect ratio, but never anamorphically (widescreen TVs being, apparently, the domain of those permanently tuned to Big Brother). We also have to put with showings broken up by ad breaks, something even Murdoch’s Sky Movies channels do not stoop to.

I get the distinct impression that, in close association with Warners savvy classic home entertainment arm, TCM U.S. is a station aimed at legions of film buffs and cineastes of all ages. While TCM U.K. - it’s myriad commercials zeroing in on those nearing the front of the queue in God’s waiting room - is targeted at those wrinkly and technophobic old film fans who think Brad Pitt was at the heart of the mighty conflict between Arthur Scargill and Maggie Thatcher. And who appreciate being prodded every half hour to get ready for the next big adventure in life. Which is death.

Don’t get me wrong, the fact that TCM U.K. exists at all is something of a triumph when you consider television’s overall output. But as you can see, it could be so much better…

What Price John Ford? September 5, 2007

Posted by John Hodson in : DVD News & Info, About John Ford , 2 comments

The news broke in New York Times columnist Dave Kehr’s blog some while ago; across ‘The Pond’, Fox is planning a quite spectacular film box set in tribute to one of the 20th century’s true giants of cinema, titled The Ford at Fox Collection.

Ford at Fox

Fox has taken a leaf out of Warners ‘Big Book of Marketing’ and began this drip feed of information back in June, a month later and at the new Fox Studio Classics site, up popped a review of The Iron Horse, one of the crown jewels of the set, which will apparently boast a score by Christopher Caliendo, the chap responsible for rescoring Peckinpah’s Major Dundee for Sony.

Now, today, we found out more details, courtesy of Movies Unlimited:

FORD HAD A BETTER IDEA: The diverse works of the great John Ford are on view in an incredible schedule of releases from Fox Video called The Ford At Fox Collection. This celebration of the master director’s labors for the studio will bring us many flicks from his folio that have never before surfaced in any home video format, much less on DVD.Most people know John Ford as the director behind such John Wayne classics as Stagecoach, Fort Apache, The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. But “Pappy’s” career encompassed several decades, beginning in the silent era. He worked on all sorts of films in all genres, which is evidenced in this impressive collection.

The Essential John Ford includes the currently available The Grapes Of Wrath, How Green Was My Valley, My Darling Clementine, and Drums Along The Mohawk, as well as the new documentary Becoming John Ford.

John Ford’s American Comedies includes Doctor Bull (1933), with Will Rogers as a country doctor whose affair with a widow causes waves in the area; and Judge Priest (1934), with Will as a judge trying to help his nephew find a girl and preside over a big case at the same time. When Willie Comes Marching Home(1950) offers Dan Dailey as a war hero whose reassignment to his hometown cause problems; and the prison break comedy-drama Up The River (1930) offers very early career showcases for Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart. The previously available What Price Glory? and Steamboat ‘Round The Bend are also included.

John Ford’s Silent Epics includes Four Sons (1928), about how war affects a Bavarian mother and her quartet of boys; The Iron Horse (1924), a thrilling tale of building a railroad and a son’s vengeance for his father’s murder; 3 Bad Men (1926), where a trio of outlaws help a young woman when her father is killed; Hangman’s House (1928), a tale of a no-nonsense judge who meddles in his family’s affairs (look closely for John Wayne!); and Just Pals (1920), with cowboy star Buck Jones in a change-of-pace role as a ne’er-do-well who befriends a young boy who has been thrown off a freight train.

When Willie Comes Marching Home, The Iron Horse, Hangman’s House, 3 Bad Men, and Up The River will be available individually, as well as The Prisoner Of Shark Island (1936), centering on the doctor (Warner Baxter) who treated Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth, and his ordeals in prison; Pilgrimage (1933), in which a mother who disapproves of her son’s marriage enlists him in the army with disastrous results; and Born Reckless (1930), starring Edmund Lowe as the gangster who takes military service over a jail term and becomes a war hero.

The big shebang, however, is the voluminous Ford At Fox: Gift Set. ALL of the aforementioned Ford films are included, PLUS the following: The currently available Young Mr. Lincoln; Tobacco Road (1941), Erskine Caldwell’s rustic satire; the Shirley Temple vehicle Wee Willie Winkie (1937); the Madeleine Carroll costumer The World Moves On (1934); the WWI submarine saga Seas Beneath (1931); and the Loretta Young-David Niven adventure Four Men And A Prayer (1938). For good measure, you’ll be able to compare My Darling Clementine to Frontier Marshal (1939), Allan Dwan’s take on the Wyatt Earp legend starring Randolph Scott. These 25 films are contained on 20 DVDs in their own screw-bound folder. You’ll also get a hardback 172-page book, reproductions of souvenir books for The Iron Horse and Four Sons, and a separately packaged Becoming John Ford documentary, all packaged in a heavy duty vinyl box. This is easily one of the most impressive DVD packages of the year, if not ever!

I suspect that there are still many more goodies to be uncovered as Fox very sensibly, and cleverly, stokes up the anticipation of a legion of Ford fans; here’s hoping the reality meets those expectations. Ever the optimist, I’m willing to bet that Nick Redman’s feature length documentary, Becoming John Ford, will more than make up for his impoverished efforts in last year’s Sam Peckinpah boxset as Fox strives to set a new benchmark for quality, and we are sure to hear of more extra features in the coming weeks. Make no bones, though no official word has come on a final price for any of these titles (Dave Kehr reported the full box to be $299.98, but that could change), this will be an expensive set, relatively speaking, should the ‘big shebang’ be your choice. But while it involves duplicating several titles already sitting proudly on my shelves, this Ford fan is salivating at the prospect. It’s a gamble by Fox (offset by their decision to market the whole in subsets and single releases), should it pay off, there’s the dizzying prospect of other high end, cineaste targeted sets to come.

I’m saving my pennies even as I type…what price John Ford indeed?

Meanwhile for fans in the U.K., rights and other issues will no doubt mean that this set as announced above will not be making its way over here. In meagre compensation, Fox U.K. has announced a new line of film box sets - ‘Studio Stars’ - one of which will be devoted to Gene Tierney, inside the box will be Ford’s Tobacco Road, plus Thunder Birds, Laura, Leave Her To Heaven and The Ghost and Mrs Muir. By the way, other ‘Studio Stars’ sets will apparently be devoted to Gregory Peck and Tyrone Power, John Wayne, Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley and Annette Funicello, though I would hazard a guess that each will involve a deal of double-dipping to get at the one or two titles that have been previously unreleased.

On October first in the U.K. Fox will release a John Ford Collection, comprising of three previously released titles The Grapes of Wrath, My Darling Clementine and The Horse Soldiers, the latter included under Fox’s marketing deal with MGM. And Universal jumps in on the act on November 5 with the John Ford Director’s Collection: The Informer, The Fugitive, Mary Of Scotland, and Wagon Master.

Whoa, you might (or might not) say, The Fugitive and Wagon Master? However, dear reader, I would remind you that this is Universal U.K. we are talking about, whose every single R2 release of films held and released by Warners in R1 has been outshone by their U.S. equivalents (don’t expect transfers to equal the R1 The Informer or Mary of Scotland), and to whom quality can sometimes be a stranger. Oddly, and frustratingly, enough in the U.S., Universal is becoming one of the more reliable distributors of film on DVD with some quite excellent transfers in the last couple of years. While we should not prejudge, my money is on the U.K. leopard simply not changing it’s spots. We do, though, live in hope. Don’t expect any worthwhile extras in either box.

*September 6 update; full details on The Ford At Fox Collection have now been posted at the Fox Studio Classics website here.

More Things To Come?

A couple of snippets while I’m here; Criterion has admitted officially that they now hold the rights to such Alexander Korda titles as Things to Come, Rembrandt, The Private Life of Henry VIII, The Lion Has Wings and Lady Hamilton and will be getting to them ‘at some point’. As much as I admired Network’s recent R2 Things To Come SE, with it’s much improved transfer over the previous DDHE edition, and excellent extras, I can’t help wondering what else can be teased out by Criterion, especially with a view to the soundtrack and Arthur Bliss’s wonderful score.

One Korda film that is definitely coming from Criterion however is the sumptuous The Thief of Bagdad which is on their 2008 schedule; now that is a truly lip-smacking prospect.

I understand that there’s good news for fans of the aforementioned DD Home Entertainment; the company went into administration recently just as their titles from the licensing deal with Sony / Columbia - including the Special Edition of Night of The Demon and that slate of Hammer films I mentioned earlier in the year - were going into production. DDHE has since been rescued by the Simply Media Group and hopes to be back up and running at the end of this month as Simply Home Entertainment. What is still uncertain is the status of that now stalled licensing deal, and the deal DDHE held with Granada Ventures, which is thought to have ended the moment administrators took over.

I’m keeping both fingers and toes crossed, if only for Ford’s Gideon’s Day.

Finally, it’s probably apt I leave you with a John Ford bargain. They’ve also been rather troubled recently, but the signs are good that they are getting back on an even keel - CD Wow is selling the excellent Masters of Cinema disc of John Ford’s The Prisoner of Shark Island for only £6.99 if you use the DVD Forums affiliated link I’ve provided; a beautiful transfer with excellent extras, it’s well worth it, even if the film is part of that humongous Fox box. In fact, use the link and type ‘Masters of Cinema’ into their search box, up will pop a whole raft of bargains. Happy hunting!

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