James Mason’s finest hour?

odd1Its always something of a surprise and marvel, that I still get to see for the first time so many ‘old’ movies that turn out to be very, very special- but markedly, how many of them are titles that I had simply never heard of before (which raises the question, what keeps them so secret?). Case in point- I finally watched Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out last night. I only learned of the very existence of the film from watching one of the special features on Indicator’s The Reckless Moment Blu-ray back in January. The Reckless Moment is one of my favourite films that I have seen this year and, as I wrote back at the time, its curious how one film leads to another- one of the docs on Indicators disc featured a clip of Odd Man Out which looked sufficiently intriguing to get me immediately ordering a copy of Network’s Blu-ray. But I hadn’t watched it until now.

I only just realised the reason why it took so long, and with it there’s a sudden appreciation of a before and an after. I think back to when I first watched The Reckless Moment and soon after ordered a copy of Odd Man Out and it seems like I was someone else,  something from another life. Which it really was: my Dad was still around, back then; it was just before the nightmarish whirlpool of events in February and March that led to the passing of my Dad, and all that has happened afterwards. Goodness knows what it will be like rewatching any of the films I watched back then, before everything that happened. Films have a way of becoming markers of time- when I first saw Jaws, say, or Alien…. I often mark the passing of years by the release dates of movies I watched, back at the time. Sadly, that’s for both good and bad, and this was one film caught up in that horrible period and which drifted out of sight and onto the shelf for a few months, waiting unseen.

Well, turns out that Odd Man Out is pretty extraordinary for reasons I don’t really have opportunity to dwell on here just yet. I’ll give the film a ‘proper’ review later, but suffice to say I was utterly amazed – quite devastated, in all honesty, by its ending. The cinematography, the locations, the script, the casting… what an amazing roster of character actors with such vivid, memorable faces, many of which looked life-worn and real in ways modern productions could never hope to match. There felt a kind of indisputable truth to it, even though the film overall had the sense of being more parable than drama, a rather adult fairy tale of one mans last few hours on Earth. There’s nothing particularly seasonal regards the film, but the later sections as the night takes hold and snow starts to fall nonetheless lent the film a feel of a Christmas Noir- a noir twist on Frank Capra’s Its A Wonderful Life, perhaps.

Was James Mason ever better? I don’t think so; his is an extraordinary performance, considering the limitations, physically, that the film put upon him. But the question lingers on- how do films such as this remain hidden for so long, so completely that I had never heard of it until at the beginning of this year? I’m sure that its well-regarded and popular amongst everyone that has seen it and its more a question of my own ignorance I suppose, but really, I can but hope that me posting about this film allows others to take heed and give it a punt. There are Great movies out there that I just haven’t had the pleasure of watching yet- its something rather life-affirming I suppose, so while when I think of this film and have feelings of regret regards the personal events that surround it, maybe there’s hope there, too.

Point Blank’s unreliable narrator

pointbcPoint Blank, 1967, 92 mins, Blu-ray

There is something very, very odd regards John Boorman’s crime drama Point Blank, mostly because it doesn’t make much sense at all. A (deliberately) disjointed prologue shows anti-hero Walker (Lee Marvin) being double-crossed by Mal Reece (John Vernon), shot at point blank range and  and left for dead in a cell in abandoned Alcatraz. We thereafter see Walker recover, wander as if in a daze around Alcatraz and then step into the waters of the bay to swim over to San Francisco. Its something frankly preposterous, especially for a man critically injured by gunshots.

Later, we see Walker half-undressed and he bears no scars of bullet-wounds at all. I commented to my wife regards this, questioning was it a continuity error, or a lack of attention to detail,  but I suppose all this leads to the question that has concerned viewers of the film for decades: did Walker actually die in that prison cell when he was shot, or perhaps did he drown in the bay? Is everything we witness post-shooting actually the fantasy of a dying man (I’m reminded of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, another film with an unreliable narrator, with many reading most of that film’s narrative as the opium- fuelled dream of Noodles (Robert de Niro)). Or instead is Walker, every time we see him after being shot, literally a vengeful ghost, the film a horror story dressed up as neo-noir? Indeed, a few times we see him advised/courted by Yost (Keenan Wyn) a mysterious character who weirdly drifts in and out of the proceedings; appearing and disappearing – we are led to believe he is a federal agent (at least, that was my first impression, Yost seeking Walker’s help in taking down ‘The Organisation’ protecting Reece) but Yost could perhaps be seen as a guardian Angel (or Demon?) guiding Walker on his path of supernatural revenge, feeding him information.

Its really a very peculiar film, quite disorientating even today- goodness knows what the response was back in 1967 (the film eventually proved a cult hit over the years and highly regarded but its odd structure and narrative concerned the studio and initial audiences). I’m pretty confident I’ll enjoy it more on subsequent viewings but this first time around, I was quite taken aback by its curious, almost Lynchian sense of time out of joint (some scenes are literally edited out of sequence, it seems) and being subject to an unreliable narrator who may be dead, or may be dreaming. I’m still not certain what to think. Its notable also just how, well, European-arthouse it looks, with all sorts of curious angles and camera set-ups that only intensify the sense of unreality that pervades the film.

There is definitely an impression that this is a film distinctly of its time- back when Old Hollywood, under the continuing threat of television, was changing into what would become the American Cinema of the 1970s, the rather auteur, sometimes quite radical movies such as Taxi Driver, Klute, The Exorcist, The Godfather, and Apocalypse Now and so many others, before that itself began to transform into the corporate Hollywood we are living with today. Watching Point Blank‘s rather surreal narrative I found myself thinking of The Swimmer, released just a year later. Both are so strange one cannot imagine them being made the decade before or the decade after.

Point Blank was based on a book “Hunter” by Richard Stark that also served as inspiration for the Mel Gibson-starring Payback from 1999, a film I really enjoyed (especially in its directors Cut version)- Payback has a more routine, dare I say reliable, narrative and I really must get that Blu-ray out for a rewatch sometime soon. It will be fascinating to compare the two very different approaches to the same revenge story. I also find obvious similarities between Point Blank and Get Carter from 1971 that I watched a short time ago, another more routine revenge tale when compared to John Boorman’s film.

Artwork’s getting ugly- would you like to know more?

STARSHIP4KWell as if horrible remakes, reboots and wrecking favourite franchises isn’t bad enough (nervous glance towards Amazon’s LOTR show coming September), it seems the studios are letting the talentless cretins with those devils-own typewriters loose on creating the artwork for physical releases of old movies now- anyone would think they deliberately want to sabotage physical disc sales to further excuse the continued push towards streaming/eventual PPV. Its a conspiracy worthy of an X-File: you can imagine some suit in six months saying “we released this fan-favourite movie on disc and no-one bought it! Physical media is dead etc etc!”

Just look at this steelbook release of Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers– surely one of the ugliest covers yet? You’d have to be a pretty hardcore fan to part with hard-earned for this. The unfortunate ‘twist’ for some will be that this re-release of an old 4K disc has Dolby Vision (the original ‘just’ has standard HDR10) which in theory could result in a better picture quality depending upon one’s set-up, but if a cover like this is intended to sway fans into a double-dip for said DV…. Well, I guess the hardcore could buy this and switch the disc into the case from the old release, maintain their self-respect that way…

lawrence4kIt seems that Blade Runner inexplicably NOT getting a physical re-release to celebrate its 40th Anniversary this year possibly has some consolation – at least we’re not getting some ugly art to pour salt on the wound of no new special features/all the cuts in 4K, no Dangerous Days doc finally in HD etc. 

Its like there is a parallel universe in the physical media community, in which Kino use original artwork for its covers and folks like Indicator likewise, with lovely books and packaging etc, and meanwhile the major studios are doing, er, THIS to some of the finest films ever made. I suppose the issue from their perspective is that some of these old, old favourites from those distant shores of the ancient 1980s/1990s (never mind the prehistory of the 1960s) is that they have been released several times over different formats and the artwork must be pretty tired by now. I don’t agree at all with that, I’m a huge fan of original artwork (I still grimace at that most recent release of Alien in 4K) but its clear that, whatever the boutique labels are doing, the studios have some problem these days with original artwork.

 

Bumper Round-up

Quick reviews for recent stuff (Dead Reckoning! Get Carter! The Sandman!) and to misquote a Spielberg movie, I’m gonna need a bigger shelf unless I stop buying 4K discs…

In lieu of writing ‘proper’ posts, here’s a summary of where things are at lately. Hopefully genuine review posts will follow, but time being what it is lately (Einstein reckoned time is relative, and here its pretty short of late), I thought I’d get something out there.

P1110377 (2)First of all, I’ve had a bit of a mad splurge over the last few weeks on some Kino 4K titles on import (joining The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and For A Few Dollars More which I bought months ago). This bunch are mostly noir titles; the three-disc Touch of Evil, Kubrick’s dabbles in noir The Killing and Killer’s Kiss, with the Billy Wilder classic Some Like It Hot. These are all upgrades, double-dips (dear God, the Wilder is a triple dip, I had it on DVD too) of various Blu-rays bought over the past several years, something I’m increasingly wary of these days. But aren’t those slips gorgeous? Currently box-art seems something of a lost art so its especially lovely to see original artwork being used (The Killing actually has a reversible cover in the disc case, as I showed on my recent review). As well as The Killing, I’ve watched Some Like It Hot, and yes it too looks damn fine in 4K- its surprising how good these b&w titles look in the 4K format (as if we needed further proof how gorgeous Marilyn Monroe was). The contrast, grain management, improved gray scale, all impress, and Kino seem to have gone nuts on the bitrates, way over the top (compare that to Disney releasing the near-three hour Heat on 4K using a BD66).

I only saw Killer’s Kiss on Blu-ray a few months back. The film was made prior to The Killing and being less than seventy minutes long, it was included as a special feature on Arrow’s The Killing Blu-ray which I bought back in 2016, but I never actually watched it. I think I was misinformed by Internet opinion that it was lesser-tier Kubrick not worth bothering with, that The Killing was widely considered Kubrick’s first ‘proper’ film and first worthy of note: I suppose Killer’s Kiss being relegated to the special features menu only reinforced this view. Anyway, I finally got around to it; I knew there was a boxing element and was pointed back in the film’s direction after enjoying Robert Wise’s The Set-Up a few months back.  Well, diminished expectations and all that, but I absolutely loved it, probably for all the reasons so many disparaged it. Raw, low-budget, with a brisk (for Kubrick, positively frantic) pace, a bare-bones story shot like a docudrama with amazing footage of a lost New York, foreshadowing stuff like Taxi Driver. The only thing holding me back from a gushing review post here back when I watched that Blu-ray was suddenly learning only days later that Kino was releasing the film on 4K, so I decided to wait and will continue to wait until I’ve seen it again on this 4K disc. I’m really looking forward to it, but just waiting for the perfect time.

Which is a bit of a sour point: the best time to watch these noir (especially in 4K) is late at night when its dark and these long hot summer days are not conducive to that. What’s that line in a film about mood – ah yes, Gurney Halleck in Dune; “Mood? What’s mood to do with it?”, but its true about movie watching (if not fighting); one has to be in the correct mood for a particular kind of film and bright summer days/evenings- well, unless you’re watching something like Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat,  which was made for hot summer nights. Besides, by the time its late/dark enough, I’m usually too tired to watch a demanding film, and noir ARE demanding, usually quite complex and nuanced and narratively pretty dense for their usually short running-time. Case in point, I recently tried watching John Reinhardt’s The Guilty a few weeks back and damn near fell asleep near the end – my wife actually did fall asleep, missing its last fifteen minutes and I’ve ribbed her endlessly ever since regards her missing its major twist. “You’ll never guess!” I’ve teased her. There’s a film that deserves a proper rewatch soon as possible.

P1110379 (2)Hmm, yeah, some more purchases. Here’s me claiming to reign it all in regards buying discs, and sure, I’ve (mostly) stopped the blind-buys but of late that’s only transferred my wallet’s woes to the upgrades/double dips: here another Billy Wilder classic upgraded to 4K (this time courtesy of Criterion) and Flicker Alley’s The Guilty/High Tide double-bill (in the latter’s case, I’ve elected to use the original art on the reversible cover). Criterion’s Double Indemnity rather annoyed me- not the disc or the film, but because over here in the UK, presumably due to licensing issues (or the duplication costs?) Criterion only released it on Blu-ray (I have the old Eureka edition).  So in order to get the 4K edition released in the States  that everyone was raving about I had to grudgingly import it, complete with two Blu-ray discs locked to Region One that I can’t watch (so I’m keeping that Eureka set for some of the extras, but that true of Arrow’s The Killing disc and my Blu-ray of Some Like It Hot). Goodness, no wonder my shelves are filling up, I’m buying new upgrades and keeping the old discs too- madness.

Anyway, enough of my foolish financial woes, I’m just partying before the recession and Autumn of Discontent (see what I did there?) puts paid to my collecting. On with some quick reviews.

Dead Reckoning (John Cromwell, 1947) – first film from Indicator’s Columbia Noir #5 set, and allegedly one of the few genuine noir films in the set. Bit alarming, that. I never warmed to Humphrey Bogart, so haven’t seen many of his films. In fact, I can only name a few films of his I actually liked; In A Lonely Place for one, and another that I first saw on television decades ago, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which is a Blu-ray gathering dust on the shelf that I keep meaning to watch, but… Anyway, something about Bogie just rattles me. Maybe this box set’s contents will feature a film that will warm me to his charms more, but Dead Reckoning isn’t it – unless of course this is another example regards mood. Maybe it was just the wrong film on a warm summer night. Shame, its a great title for a noir. I was especially disappointed in Lizabeth Scott, who I’ve seen and been impressed by before. Here she was ill-served by an underwritten character (likely deliberately underwritten to enable/underscore the surprise twist) leaving her with little to work with- I suppose someone like Rita Hayworth (originally conceived of for the role) would have gotten by better from sheer screen charisma and presence, but Scott just doesn’t have that. Also, I just couldn’t see any chemistry between Bogie and Scott, and a film whose success largely depends upon the romantic tryst between two characters is in trouble from the start when the chemistry seems lacking. Is it wrong of me to note that I thought I would have enjoyed it more had it featured Glenn Ford (no stranger to this kind of noir) in the lead role?

Get Carter (Mike Hodges, 1971) – No casting issues with this film. Don’t ask me how/why I never saw this film before, but we all have these oversights/black holes in our moviegoing street-cred. Release by BFI in a simply gorgeous 4K edition that is so tactile you feel you can reach into the screen and touch it, and smell the beer and aftershave, sweat and cigarette smoke- it’s excellent; its another case of a film likely looking better than it did even when it first came out. This is such a film of its time, its like some kind of time machine physically taking us back, and who’d really want to go back to Newcastle circa 1971? What a cast (Ian Hendry brilliant yet again, and what a shocker seeing Michael Caine chucking that bloke from Coronation Street off the carpark roof), and what a  gorgeous jazzy score (that main title sequence is sublime). Here’s a film that I was ready to rewatch as soon as it finished.

The Sandman: Season One (Ten Episodes, 2022) – I don’t know what’s more shocking- that someone actually managed to make a decent live-action adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s comicbook classic or that somehow its on Netflix, but then again, it is the home of Stranger Things…  Its been well over a decade since I last read Gaiman’s opus (I bought the graphic novel paperbacks so long ago it was from a genuine bookstore) and a lot of my memory of it is burry, which was rather curious seeing it onscreen thinking “oh yeah, they actually did that…” or “I don’t remember that at all” so I can’t comment regards how authentic it was.  It wasn’t perfect though, I have to confess I was bit bothered by some of the casting choices- it was a great cast and I’ve no complaints, but John Constantine is now Johanna Constantine, played by Jenna Coleman? And I had a bit of a hard time keeping a straight face watching Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer, of all things. Maybe they’ll prove me wrong in subsequent seasons or the inevitable Johanna Constantine spin-off (call me a cynic, but the writing/casting for that episode had “pilot for a spin-off” written all over it). Those caveats aside,  I did enjoy the series; even the music was good (shades of BR2049 in places and ‘nowt wrong with that). Inevitably the highlight of the show (and if you only watch one episode of it, make it this one, its pretty standalone) was The Sound of Her Wings, the sixth episode and an adaption of likely most readers favourite issue of the comic. Should have been retitled The Sound of An Emmy, because it surely deserves a nomination at least.

Nineteen Eighty-Four (Rudolph Carter, 1954) – this BBC adaptation has always been on my radar if only because it starred Peter Cushing, one of my very favourite actors (my unofficial quest to watch everything he ever did continues slowly apace). I bought this new Blu-ray edition (from the BFI folks) a few months back but watched it just a week or so ago… I intended to write a proper post about it, even tried, but… goodness this was so depressing. Its through no fault of the adaptation (by Nigel Kneale, of Quatermass fame) its limited production values (mostly a live performance thankfully recorded for posterity), or its cast, but more the horrible inescapable fact that George Orwell’s cautionary tale is as timely now than ever- perhaps more so. Real-life events of the past several years, just how the world has slowly changed largely for the worse, makes something like this all the more prescient and important. Its horrible, like a warning from a future that just feels just more plausible than ever.

And while on the subject of warnings of the future, it looks like Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall is coming to Amazon Prime on Friday. I can hardly wait. Its got such a crazy, ridiculous premise, I’ve so wanted to subject myself to its cheesy silly horrors while avoiding spoilerific trailers. There’s a thought: am I the only person alive actually avoiding spoilers for Moonfall? Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow is one of my favourite bad movies, it was all I could do to refrain from buying it on Blu-ray disc when it was released a few months back (maybe if had been on 4K over here in the UK, I would have given in to its despicable allure, but it was limited to DVD/Blu-ray). Anyway, that’s my Friday (or Saturday) night sorted then, and possibly will be my next posting here; yes, be afraid, its Moonfall next, unless I get some time to sit at this laptop again beforehand.

Star Trek: The Definitive Tat Box Edition

sttat

Here was I a few posts ago moaning about the dreaded tat box editions muscling in on my wallet (its not the price of petrol we film-lovers are getting stressed about, its the bloody tat boxes) and now just days later this got announced.

We knew a disc release of the new Directors Cut of Star Trek: The Motion Picture was coming later this year, but we never thought that Paramount would be ambitious enough to market a tat box edition. Who thought there was enough love for this film to warrant one? Goodness knows that Paramount’s reticence regards upgrading the old 2001 DVD of the DC didn’t seem to indicate any interest in the film at all, but hey, I guess this is what launching your own streaming service does for you; you end up scouring all your content/franchises etc and making the most of them because there’s gold in dem der hills they deserve it.

Anyway, thank goodness there is a non-tat box edition available (more than I can currently say of their 4K Event Horizon release) as that’s where I’m heading. The DC on a 4K disc with a Blu-ray of new and legacy extras will be just fine for me. So yeah, I’m not really complaining, some will enjoy the tat box no doubt, but I’m just buzzing from the idea that I’ll be watching the DC in 4K, what, two months from now- it’ll be like an early Christmas. Then of course the moaning starts about the changes/fixes I don’t enjoy, but hey-ho, I’m only human (cue Spock raising his eyebrow).

All those Moments once lost in time…

momentsMoments, 1974, 93 mins, Blu-ray

Final film of the excellent Pemini Organisation boxset from Indicator is their swansong, the strange and dreamlike Moments– and again, another rather bleak piece. Maybe it was Britain in the 1970s, but its curious how Hunted was pretty grim (depressed middle-aged man threatens woman with shotgun in order to force the police kill him), Assassin was even grimmer (depressed middle-aged man weary of killing for money suffers midlife crisis) and now we have Moments, in which Peter Samuelson (Keith Michell), a depressed middle-aged man revisits a coastal town of happy childhood memories before intending to commit suicide. Pemini weren’t doing comedies, were they? Its rather odd that they thought there would be a market for such stuff, although I gather from the supplements included that they were making films they wanted to make rather than considering how commercial their projects might be. On the one hand, that’s a rather endearing approach, I think all film enthusiasts would wish it were like that with all films, but its obviously not the reality of film-making today, and probably hardly the case even back then.

The funny thing is though, that quite often its the uncommercial films that stand the test of time, long after the trendy stuff has become largely forgotten and these three Pemini films in this boxset likewise have something a little ‘off’ about them that fosters some interest, and I’ve spent the last few days mulling over them endlessly: these films stay with you. 

Moments is a strange one though, and one has to stick with it. Initially some plot developments seem terribly contrived but subsequent reveals and twists actually explain themselves, while a final revelation proves so disorientating it could almost be described as Lynchian in how it pulls the rug from under viewers. I’m not entirely certain that last one entirely works, it endangers frustrating viewers as they are rendered confused, reconsidering everything they have just seen even as the titles start to roll. Intellectually it works but I’m not certain its actually fulfilling in any way, which rather counters a film being entertaining. Maybe its little wonder the simple life-affirming pleasures of Star Wars so shook cinema up in 1977.

Moments went on release in 1974 alongside Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, a curiously fitting double-bill and I’ve been considering how THAT double-whammy might have been digested on a cold Autumn evening in my local ABC cinema. Not that many took the opportunity of that curious experience, as IRA bombings in Birmingham during the same week in November that the films opened ensured that few people risked public spaces, and cinema takings for weeks fell through the floor (another nail in the Pemini coffin). Well, someday I’ll have to try recreate that pairing of Moments and The Conversation at home, and see what kind of sleep I get afterwards. 

So anyway, as regards what Moments is about- its tricky to get into it very much without slipping into spoiler territory, which I’m loathe to do especially with such slow-burn films as this that are possibly defined by the first-time viewing experience. Suffice to say that Peter Samuelson, for reasons that eventually become clear, has returned to The Grand Hotel at Eastbourne, location of pleasant childhood holidays, to reflect on happier times before shooting himself in the head (were guns easier to obtain in 1970s Britain, they appear in each of the three Pemini films?). Just as Peter is about to squeeze the trigger, he is interrupted by another of the few other hotel guests, Chrissy (Angharad Rees) a beautiful and vivaciously energetic young woman who proceeds to latch onto Peter. They strike up an unlikely friendship and bond over the next day or so, the film slipping into a pleasant character/relationship piece that films just did so much better back then.

Rees is marvellous, I was really taken by her bubbly, energetic performance as Chrissy which counters the deliberately stiff, understated Peter so well; she’s as uninhibited as he is inhibited, and while it feels a little ‘off’ how she seems attracted to a strange older man, subsequent reveals as I have noted tend to reassure and nullify most any disbelief. I thought she was marvellous, frankly- the heart and soul of the film and likely one of the reasons this film will get future watches. It strikes me as particularly sad that a film as lost as this one has become contains such a lovely performance – I’m used to writing about film immortality, performances frozen in time to be savoured and enjoyed by everyone for decades, but some films really do fall into obscurity, and many are lost. Moments only survives in a 35mm distribution print held at the BFI National Archive (from which this restoration has been made) and SD tape copies owned by Peter Crane and Michael Sloan which were used to substitute badly damaged frames in the 35mm print. To consider nobody has seen this film in decades? 

peminiWhich might be the enduring legacy of this Indicator boxset, that it returns to public viewing three lost British films which so richly deserve attention. I’ve really enjoyed this set; the 80-page book is a very good read, and as I work my way through the commentaries and featurettes/interviews my appreciation only gets greater. Indicator has achieved something really special here; I guess I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff but all the same, I’m sure most who take a punt on it will find it satisfying. This might be one of the very best boutique releases of the year; sure, there are bigger names, more popular films getting luxury home video releases this year, but this one does feel special, particularly as we move further into a diminishing physical media market.  Not for the first (or surely last) time I have to say, bravo Indicator.

Assassin

P1110342 (2)Assassin, 1973, 82 mins, Blu-ray

There is something very British, and 1970s, about a film depicting its titular character as a balding, sweaty, past-his-prime, middle-aged bloke who smokes and drinks too much, has probably never seen the inside of a gym, and almost reluctantly allows himself picked up by a lonely young woman looking for some male company and awkward sex. Full of self-loathing, we first see him as he wanders alleys at night looking for a fight, if only to prove to himself he’s still got what it takes, or perhaps out of some deep-seated desire to be punished for whatever he’s done in the past that he can’t quite live with. Gone is the sharp-looking, confident, womanising hero/killer he might once have been, or that we’d recognise as typical of those James Bond flicks- this is a very different kind of spy caper. This guy is burnt-out, depressed, suffering either PTSD or a mid-life crisis, and looking for a way out.

Make no mistake, this is indeed a spy-caper, it’s just not the kind we’ve become used to. We’re in London, and someone in the Air Ministry is leaking secrets- the mysterious Control (Edward Judd) is ordered by his superiors to immediately arrange the murder of John Stacy (Frank Windsor), a senior official identified as the leak. It needs to be done quickly, and by Control’s best man- so Control bypasses his usual operatives (unlikely two-man pairing of Matthew (Mike Pratt) and Luke (Frank Duncan), curiously reminiscent of the hitmen of Don Siegel’s The Lineup) and summons the Assassin.

P1110346 (2)Effortlessly played by the brilliant Ian Hendry, it could well be argued that it was a role almost tailored for him- himself at the time being an actor whose career was unravelling, “a man with demons,” as director Peter Crane reflects on the disc’s candid commentary. His reputation for alcoholism affecting his work, damaging what was once a hugely promising career- and he wore that demon on his face and in the pores of his cracked, lined skin, perfectly capturing the worn-out, falling-apart physique of the character he plays. We never know his name, or where he is from, or what he’s done (other than a glimpse in flashbacks of a prior job, or a comment he makes to the woman who picks him up), but he’s a fascinating character and a performance that we could probably only ever see in a 1970s British film.  Or maybe an episode of The Sweeney.

For fans of Ian Hendry, I’m certain Assassin will be considered a gem rescued from oblivion. What a talent that man was, what charisma and presence he had, even in what was his career-twilight days. Another of those what-might-have-been, bar for the menace of drink; its clear from his wavering gait that he’s under the influence in most scenes of the film. A few years after appearing in Assassin, he would be declared bankrupt and his failing health result in his too-early death on Christmas Eve, 1984 at just 53 years old. That’s younger than I am now.

Unseen for decades, Assassin looks pretty damn fine here on Indicator’s Blu-ray, probably better than it even looked in cinemas in 1973, and hopefully it will get something of a new following and a reappraisal (it has cult written all over it). It isn’t perfect; some of the direction is overly-artistic, framing characters in windows, or through mirrors, or odd low angles, high angles, really quite complex compositions for scenes that don’t really require it. So some of the rather distracting camera set-ups draw attention to themselves too much, rather than serving the narrative, but it could be argued that’s evidence of youthful ambition trying to push what could/should be done, and reminds me of early Scorsese, some of his shots in Taxi Driver.

Like with Hunted, there is a lingering sense that perhaps the storyline is a little too slim for the running-time, but on the whole its clearly a more ambitious and successful effort- this is, after all, a movie, rather than a short, and its cast is impressive (alongside Hendry, Ray Brooks, Frank Windsor, Edward Judd and Mike Pratt are all fine). Considering its practically non-existent budget and shooting schedule, its remarkable that its as good as it is, but most of this is due to Hendry’s performance and haunted, fascinating character. One of those situations where life bleeds into film, Hendry’s condition informing that of the character he’s playing, and the sense of tragedy, in narrative and reality, that hangs over all.

Hunted

huntedHunted, 1972, 42 mins, Blu-ray

The first of the three films from the Pemini Organisation, and Indicator’s tremendous boxset, Hunted feels less like a film and more like a television play from one of those anthology shows that were endlessly  popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Which isn’t a bad thing, really; indeed its best to consider Hunted for what it was- a supporting short feature screened in cinemas immediately before the main presentation, a throwback to what it was like for us in cinemas in the 1970s and 1980s. Continuous programming being what it was in those more enlightened days, when I cheekily stayed in Screen One of the ABC having just seen Blade Runner in order to watch it again for ‘nowt, but had to watch the supporting feature -some drama about a wedding, if I recall correctly- a second time which proved horribly interminable. But that’s just how things were done back then, and I’m sure its likely that some of those supporting features were memorable for other reasons than being an irritating inconvenience in pursuit of revisiting LA2019.

So anyway, Hunted is slim, at just 42 minutes, but even then it feels a little long; it could probably lose another twelve minutes and be the better for it. That being said, the sheer bravura of what the Pemini boys were doing- director Peter Crane never having worked with actors before, finding himself in a one-room set directing Edward Woodward and June Ritchie, no less, over a brisk ten-day shoot with no money, is astonishing really. The blind confidence and enthusiasm of youth, eh? Guys, I salute you in awe.

As it is, sure, it could be a little tighter, but the performances are very good -having grown up knowing him only from The Equaliser TV show, I’m always amazed when I see Woodward actually in something worthy of him, realising he was a very good character actor, and he is excellent here. Its testament to his character and professionalism (and the same is true of June Ritchie) that he gave a very fine performance in something which was so zero-budget that, one must remember, he didn’t actually get paid anything, working with guys just out of film school on their first film project. Again, one has to salute those Pemini boys for their nerve.

peminiThe main course of this Pemini Organisation set from Indicator is yet to come – the brilliant Ian Hendry in Assassin– but even though they were never really intended this way, I think one could screen Hunted and follow it immediately after with Assassin (both films feature on the same Blu-ray disc) replicating at least a taster for how we watched films back when they first came out. I wasn’t able to do that, I only managed to squeeze Hunted onto the end of a long night of tennis, leaving the rest for another night, but I think the two films would compliment each other well for two hours-plus of British 1970s film-making.

Special mention though, for Indicator, who should be hugely applauded for rescuing the three long-lost films presented here in this box-set for us to discover them now. A restoration featurette demonstrates some of the considerable work involved and its more than commendable that such largely unknown and forgotten films could be treated with such reverence, from the film restorations to the 80-page book and on-disc special features (interviews, commentaries, you name it).  This is what physical media is all about.

Pre-Orders/Incoming

In lieu of being actually able to watch anything, I thought I might take this opportunity to look at what I’ve got pre-ordered or coming my way over the next few months-

POGuiltyThe Guilty & High Tide (Flicker Alley)

First (maybe) is a pair of noir just recently released on region-free Blu-ray/DVD in the States by Flicker Alley, who seem on a par with Indicator regards supplemental material and rescuing obscure titles. Unfortunately as they are based in the States, these releases don’t come cheap, even via Amazon, and there are a few other noir films from them that are on my radar. I’m dipping my toes with this one as its a double-bill but if its as good as early reviews suggest and I do go for some other Flicker alley releases it might become an expensive series of additions to my noir collection. Probably a few weeks before my copy reaches here, certainly no sign of it being dispatched yet.

PONorthThe Northman 4K UHD

Released July 18th comes Robert Egger’s The Northman, one of those films I’ve been sufficiently curious about to pre-order the 4K disc. Although it must be said, Eggers is the guy behind The Witch (a disturbing period horror which I really quite enjoyed) and The Lighthouse (a film I detested, not ‘getting it’ at all) so even now my thumb tends to hover over the ‘cancel pre-order’ button. Eggers involvement would seem to indicate this film has Marmite slapped all over it, so I’m wary about it: in theory with its setting etc it could be right up my street but you just never know- these days I have increasingly little patience with ‘pretentious’ when it interferes with storytelling. Then again, that’s a charge aimed at The Green Knight by many, a film I enjoyed and one stylistically similar to John Boorman’s Excalibur, a film which I’ve seen mentioned in the same sentence as The Northman in some circles. So who knows? Sometimes staying spoiler-free to enable watching a film ‘blind’ can be a dangerous thing though; I can understand some renting first.

POGetCarterGet Carter 4K UHD (BFI)

The week following The Northman sees the BFI release their next 4K disc following The Proposition, which was a good film in a very good package, and they seem to have followed a similar format regards releasing this British crime classic. Well, I say ‘classic’ but I’ve never seen it. It figures that if its as good as they say it is, I might as well watch it in the best presentation that I can, so this 4K remaster it is. I tend to avoid these ‘tat’ editions which seem to have sneaked into the physical market as some kind of ‘last hurrah’ but if it allows these disc releases to stay financially viable I guess I can stomach one or two where I have to (thankfully the pre-order prices have dropped recently to something less eye-watering). While mentioning these ‘tat’ editions, a 4K release of Event Horizon due in August tempts me endlessly. That film is a guilty favourite of mine and I would dearly love to fix some of the current Blu-ray disc issues (stretched ratio for one) but goodness me, can’t they drop the tat for once? Can’t see a bare-bones just-the-bloody-film-no posters or badges or scarfs edition available for pre-order yet. Added complication is I’ve got my Blu-ray sitting in my glorious elaborate Event Horizon DVD case (some of the fanciest packaging I own) which will do me fine to house the 4K if only I could buy the 4K at a reasonable non-tat price, drokk it.

I suppose most everyone reading this though is busy tutting at the revelation that I have somehow never seen Get Carter, but as I’ve mentioned before, its weird how some films, even the established ‘classics’  just pass us by. Part of me hopes it leaves me nonplussed, because it could get just even more expensive if it turns out its soundtrack is as cool as I’ve heard say.

POFlatlinersFlatliners 4K UHD (Arrow)

Here’s where my credibility really takes a fall. I think the week after Get Carter comes out, Arrow releases Joel Schumacher’s original Flatliners in a 4K edition. My only defence is that I haven’t seen this film in decades, not since the VHS rental days, and back then I really enjoyed this film immensely; as I recall, rather a cheeky poor-man’s rehash of Brainstorm (not that Doug Trumbull’s film is a particular classic). Part of my enjoyment of the film was that I was really taken by the film’s soundtrack at the time; by James Newton Howard, a composer unknown to me back then but who has since become a household name in film score circles. Indeed, just as I had done with Vangelis’ Blade Runner, I remember I would search for the soundtrack album for months in vain- it was never released, as far as I know. As for the film, I don’t know what I’ll think of it now, and I appreciate this pre-order has mindless self-indulgence all over it, but as I never owned it on DVD or Blu-ray its hardly like wasting money on a double-dip- which is a curious justification, but there you go. We’ll see if I hold my nerve/come to my senses.

POHeatHeat 4K UHD

The releases keep on coming, week after week- seven days after Flatliners possibly sullies my letterbox, comes one of those films we’ve been waiting for AGES to come to 4K UHD; Michael Mann’s Heat (after this, surely The Abyss can’t be far behind?). Shame about the lazy-looking cover though- they clearly seem to be almost reluctantly dumping this out on physical media. Remember when studios were interested and made some effort? I have a mind to dig my fancy VHS copy of Heat from out of the loft- the VHS case came in a fancy cardboard box (with the ‘proper’ film poster art)  to signify the importance of its release in Widescreen (anybody remember when those VHS Widescreen releases were such a Big Deal?). Its clearly a film which deserves the Indicator treatment, its almost a shame Warner (or whoever owns this now) couldn’t hire those good folks at Indicator to produce the proper special edition which this film deserves. I suppose we’ll be lucky if it just looks as good as it should; Mann is infamous for tinkering with home releases of his films, so maybe my pre-order needs a watchful eye for early reviews.

PODogDog Soldiers 4K UHD (Second Sight)

I haven’t seen this film in so many years. My mate Andy absolutely loved this film when it came out and always seemed to be watching it on DVD, repeatedly listening to its cast & crew commentary (which inexplicably isn’t included on this release). I’m sure Second Sight will be adding new special features but that commentary track was legendary according to Andy. Also, I’m not sure about that cover art; for some unfathomable reason they’re going for Ugliest Cover Award 2022, right? But anyway, another one of those films that I’ve not seen in ages, not since the DVD era in this case, so I’m as much curious regards what I think of it as how good it looks in 4K. After this film, Neil Marshall, who back then seemed to be a British John Carpenter, went on to direct The Descent, another horror film I loved- I’d be keen to see that one in 4K someday too.

The Police Story Trilogy 4K UHD (Eureka)

POPoliceFinally in September comes this mighty box, not certain why this seemed to somehow catch my eye- I’ve not seen anything of these films, other than a mouth-watering stunt sequence on YouTube that blew my mind and had me pressing that pre-order button. I’m a sucker for good action movies, especially as they seem to just get rarer as the years roll on. We’ll see if my courage holds up regards a boxset blind-buy like this one though. I’ve seen a few Jackie Chan films and enjoyed them so it may be a safe bet- this seems to be loaded with extras too, multiple commentaries on each film, different versions, a 100-page book, so plenty to get my teeth into assuming I enjoy the films themselves (indeed its so stacked it could be a contender for release of the year if Eureka can pull it off). Am I right in thinking that when Eureka gets into the 4K game with this release we can suggest the format is finally niche no longer? Imagine Indicator getting into 4K disc sets- what? They are? Oh my wallet.

Anyway, while on the subject of my poor wallet, that’s about it regards what I’ve actually pre-ordered right now. I’ve my eye on a few other releases but avoided succumbing just yet, particularly some of those 4K releases out in America like Kino’s Touch of Evil. There are other releases coming, for instance from Indicator (that Universal Noir box in September, and in October both a rumoured Dracula (1979) and another Hammer set). There’s also talk of Arrow releasing Videodrome in 4K – that’s one of my old favourites but I’ll likely resist that one, the Blu-ray seems fine enough to me. But who knows? The Abyss might come before year-end yet.

Recent Additions

P1110328 (2)My first package of 2022 from Indicator Films arrived late last week- the latest in their excellent Columbia Noir collections, this time devoted to Humphrey Bogart, and The Pemini Organisation, a set that was released in May which caught my interest but had to wait until I could bundle it with something else to qualify for the free postage (and use the reward points I’d accumulated last year). These releases are, as usual, limited editions, and if the numbers I received are anything to go by, the noir is as successful as ever (1150 of 6000, and only officially out today) but the Pemini set (719 of 6000) seems to be a sign Indicator could be finding it a struggle shifting them- expect it to be around for the Autumn sale.

I suppose the latter is predictable- who remembered Pemini these days, or had even heard of the three films it produced, let alone seen them? Pemini was a  film production company set up by three freinds (Peter Crane, Michael Sloan and Nigel Hodgson, the company name constructed from their first names) who wanted to work in film, so decided to be devilishly proactive: Pemini only operated between 1972 and 1974, producing just three films that pretty much disappeared when the company disbanded. All those points, of course, are why I found it so intriguing, and as ever for Indicator, its a remarkable set, the films restored and lavishly presented with an in-depth book and a bounty of on-disc extras- there’s plenty more prestigious and famous films that would be envious of such treatment. Its like a little film school in box.

I’m not familiar with the contents of the Bogart set, as I haven’t seen any of them before (I was never much of a fan of Bogart), and I understand some of them are a bit of a stretch regards defining them as noir. As usual though its a beauty of a package and a welcome companion to sets 1 to 4. The next noir box is the first of a new series, leaving Columbia behind in favour of noir from Universal Pictures, which looks fantastic but isn’t out until mid-September.

Alas, I could be awhile getting around to watching these new arrivals. After a weekend with the television hijacked for Glastonbury, its now restricted to two weeks of Wimbledon tennis: regular readers will know that during this fortnight I become a Wimbledon Widower every year, and getting to watch anything that isn’t tennis is pretty tricky. We’ll see how that goes, but its important to keep the wife happy, obviously.