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.

 

The Killing 4K UHD

Kill4kI’ve come back to The Killing by way of its recent 4K upgrade from the folks at Kino over the pond. I last watched the film back in 2016. I have to confess, watching it again my memory of it was pretty fuzzy- I remembered the overall plot and some of the cast, but specifics, and indeed the ending, escaped me completely. To some extent it was rather like watching the film for the first time.

Which was nice, but worrying- I used to have such an excellent memory for films; I’d usually remember most everything. Maybe its just me getting older – hope this isn’t how dementia starts- but I rather suspect its a case of just watching too many films over the past few years. In some ways we’re living in a film buff’s paradise, the access we have to films these days, whether it be films we have collected on disc, or stream on the various platforms. Back in the 1970s we were at the whim of terrestrial schedulers on three networks so only watched films when we could, which increased the rarity and sense of occasion (I still recall the Jaws network premiere, and that of Star Wars and Alien, quite vividly, and movie seasons over Christmas holidays just made the festive seasons more special). Those were the bad old days, certainly, but nonetheless films seemed to have much more of a value back then. I suppose watching fewer films, they stuck in your memory more too.

But now, they almost seem to blur into each other- certainly some film noir, of which I have watched an awful lot of over the past few years. I suppose it inevitable when they share so many narrative and visual tropes and character archetypes. Alarming though, that I’d forgotten so much of this film. Maybe this blog should revert to its original purpose back from its Film Journal days, serving as a diary of viewing- not that this blog really ever diverted away from too much (though I have stopped compiling monthly/annual lists of the films). But whatever next? Index cards next to each disc on the shelf?

Because to be sure, someone who professes to be a film buff shouldn’t be forgetting details of films as exquisite as The Killing, one of the definitive heist movies and one of the best examples of a perfect film noir. Its a taut, gripping story about flawed characters, depicted by brilliant actors in memorable performances. Did I say memorable? Hmmm. Well, to be fair, while I’d forgotten so much of the film, I’d not forgotten the likes of Sterling Hayden here- what a gritty, convincing turn.

Kubrick’s third directorial effort and widely considered his first ‘proper’ film, The Killing is absolutely amazing and, dare I suggest, one of his best. Its certainly a film for people who don’t profess to like Kubrick’s filmography- it lacks his full ‘auteur’ stamp, as he didn’t have the complete control he would soon have following Paths of Glory and SpartacusThe Killing is more routine, more accessible compared to how inscrutable some of his films can seem.

That being said, its tricky to describe The Killing as routine- it certainly makes demands upon its audience, with a chronology-shifting narrative in which it moves forwards and backwards in time depending upon each characters involvement in the heist. It’s helped somewhat by a voice-over which is pretty wonderful but was, I suspect, possibly a studio-mandated element to help steer viewers along.

When I last watched The Killing in 2016, I hadn’t been aware even of the existence of Vince Edwards’ later noir, Murder by Contract, which I watched last year as part of Indicator’s Columbia Noir line of boxsets and which proved to be one of the best films I watched last year (so good was it, indeed, that I watched it twice). So anyway, back in 2016, Edwards was just another face- this time around, I immediately recognised him and enjoyed, again, another of his performances. Naturally Edwards will always be more remembered for his massively popular Ben Casey tv show of the 1960s but I think he’s brilliant in The Killing, Murder by Contract and City of Fear in which he has this weird charisma with the camera (and inevitably the on-screen ladies) that only certain actors destined to be stars have. So if my memory really does go south there will be index cards for Vince Edwards dotted around my shelves of Blu-rays.

killb4kRegards this 4K release of The Killing, it looks absolutely amazing. Lots of grain, detail and contrast- 4K with its HDR really suits these black and white films. Can’t believe I haven’t bought Citizen Kane on 4K yet (must be all those copies on DVD and Blu-ray making me already feel like a double/triple-dipping idiot). There is a lovely tactile quality to this film, in its detail evident in sets and clothing, and the HDR really improves the lighting which can be so intrinsic to the noir experience. The scene in which the guys sit around a small table lit by a lone bulb above them, their faces both brightly lit and masked in shadow, the cigarette smoke drifting about them- its like each frame is a painting and is one of the best film noir shots I’ve seen: in 4K its really something. While Kino doesn’t include booklets or anything at all like that, it does use original poster artwork which make its releases great collector pieces, in a similar way to the art direction on Indicator’s releases (this disc also has a reversible sleeve). Devoid of extras other than some trailers, the disc features a commentary track by Alan K. Rode which, from the twenty-thirty minutes I’ve heard, is absolutely terrific and which I look forward to listening to in its entirety. More on that in another post maybe.

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.

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.

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.

Scandal Sheet (1952)

ScandalshI loved this. Right from the gritty, opening location shoot outside a tenement building to its inevitable, perfect end, I just loved it. A case of watching the right film at the right time, or a film just ticking all the right boxes. The cast- Broderick Crawford (who I’d recently seen in Indicator editions of Convicted and The Mob, but was much better here), the lovely Donna Reed (whoever didn’t have a crush on her from watching It’s A Wonderful Life must be dead inside), Griff Barnett who really impressed in little more than a cameo, and some other familiar faces like John Derek and Harry Morgan – are all great, the script based on Samuel Fuller’s (supposedly semi-autobiographical) novel is full of twists and turns… Phil Karlson’s direction is exemplary… its a great film and one of those great discoveries one sometimes makes, trying a film on a whim (Amazon Prime’s algorithm brought me to it based upon me watching Crossfire a few nights before). Such discoveries tend to give me such a buzz.

Indeed, watching this on the not-so-great stream on Amazon Prime, as the film ended I looked online to see if the film was ever released on DVD or Blu-ray. You know how it is when you see a film you really, really enjoy, so often you just want to own a copy in order to re-experience it, in better quality and possibly (thanks to many DVD/Blu-rays) learn more about it from featurettes etc. Anyway, I was quite surprised to discover that Scandal Sheet had actually been included on Indicator’s Sam Fuller boxset a few years back, since OOP and now available on one of their standard releases in a double-bill with Shockproof, a film that like Scandal Sheet I had never heard of only a week ago. Well I nearly went for the standard release but I managed to find a sealed copy on eBay of the original box-set for a little less than its original retail price (some of the other listed prices were the usual eye-watering ones), and Claire suggested getting it for my Christmas present, so there you go- looks like I’ll be investigating the charms of Sam Fuller’s work in 2021, as a divergence from my noir preoccupation. 

So while I would usually press on with a review of the film here, I’ll just summarise that I really enjoyed it and that I intend to write a proper post about it when I get to re-watch in decent quality on Indicator’s Blu-ray, presumably early next year (where did 2021 go?). Consider this post a teaser for a forthcoming attraction, be still your beating hearts, eh?

Devil’s work…

devils men bluI have the distinct, and very strange feeling, that I’m being trolled by a boutique label- the fine folks at Indicator have announced that in February next year they are releasing on Blu-ray disc The Devil’s Men, a film which regular readers here (or anyone clicking the link in the title) may recall I saw last month and deemed it the worst film featuring Peter Cushing that I have ever had the misfortune to see. When I saw this announcement in my inbox I did such a double-take, I couldn’t believe my eyes: its is such a strange world sometimes.

As usual, Indicator is being generous with attention and quality- a 2K remaster from the original negative, two versions of the film (the ‘uncut’ version I watched and the edited-down American cut carrying the alternate Land of the Minotaur title) and plenty of extras including a commentary track and an archival interview/lecture with Peter Cushing at the National Film Theatre in 1973. Now, their release a few months ago of another horror film, Corruption featuring Cushing  compelled me into a blind-buy because it had an audio recording of a Cushing lecture from 1986 at the NFT (shamefully, I haven’t heard it yet- damn all these distracting noir). Certainly compared to The Devil’s MenCorruption is a far better film no matter Cushing’s own distaste for it, so was a worthy blind-buy and a lovely package with rigid slipbox and substantial softcover book with essays etc. but the idea that Indicator deem The Devil’s Men even worthy of any release at all, never mind one of their bells-and-whistles numbers…

As a Cushing fan, these archival audio pieces are tremendously tempting to me for obvious reasons. the actor unfortunately passed away before any enterprising laserdisc or DVD producer could enlist him into commentaries for some of his films, so any material of him discussing his work at length is priceless. But this time, its like Indicator are just daring me. The Devil’s Men is a horrible film, clumsily directed and poorly scripted, bizarrely carrying a Brian Eno score and also starring fellow horror-movie legend Donald Pleasance. I can read Indicator’s announcement imagining them stifling a guffaw as they write “this offbeat horror film… an eccentric, bloody cult shocker” as if the words ‘offbeat’ and ‘eccentric’ are euphemisms for ‘shite’ and ‘diabolical.’ Ha ha, its like they watched a different movie or are just testing me with some ghastly jest: they know, they KNOW that I’ve credit enough at their shop from past purchases to cash it in and get this film for ‘free’ but really, I’ve got more self-respect than that, haven’t I? Extraordinary move, Indicator- you are the Devil’s Men indeed.

Clearly the decent thing to do if ever someone from Indicator reads this is to respond by sending me a copy gratis..

Columbia Noir: A Bullet is Waiting (1954)

abulletOh this was cheeky, Indicator slipping this modern-day (well, modern in the 1950s) Western into a film noir boxset. Okay, there is some excuse for some noir undertones but really, its just spectacularly flimsy nonsense that doesn’t really validate its inclusion here: noir is a notoriously debatable style that can be seen in all sorts of widely different films, but this film… noir? Naughty, Indicator. That said, I suppose I’m thankful that it was included in this noir box, because there’s simply no way I’d probably encounter this film otherwise, and I’m always glad of experiencing something I might otherwise have never seen. I mean, when is this film ever next going to get shown on television, and when indeed was it ever aired on any network here in the UK in the past? This is a film that simply screams obscure.

My chief interest in the film is seeing a young Jean Simmons in an unlikely and rewarding role (I think she was a very good actress generally denied the roles she really deserved) and the way the film weaves the general plot of Shakespeare’s The Tempest into a 1950s-set Western. It was something done, albeit with a science-fiction bent, not long after by MGMs Forbidden Planet (1956). To be honest, Forbidden Planet did it much more successfully- the unhealthy dynamic of a daughter on the brink of sexual maturity having lived too close to her father and remote from other people, when young males come upon the scene threatening to break up the status quo, is one that is clearly ripe for drama. Heaven only knows what either David Lynch or Lars von Trier could make of Shakespeare’s The Tempest in a film, set either in some dim period or present-day. Obviously you couldn’t expect something like that from a studio film in the 1950s, but oddly enough some of the social mores of the day can be decidedly troubling. There is a scene in which Rory Calhoun and Jean Simmons get caught in a romantic clinch that’s uncomfortably more akin to rape than anything particularly romantic, but I guess audiences didn’t mind their heroes getting a little rough with their romantic interests back then? It certainly felt an uncomfortable watch from the vantage point of 2021.

Its clearly not a noir, no matter what tenuous claim some might make about one character’s actions/motivations in particular, and really, its also not a film I’ll rush to return to, but I’m glad I own it and that I can return to it someday. I’m not familiar with Rory Calhoun but he’s very good here with considerable screen presence, and I understand he had a long career particularly in Westerns, so I figure he might become a familiar face if I watch a few Westerns over on TNT. The disc’s commentary, and a short featurette, both cast some light on Jean Simmons’ life and career that I was quite ignorant of- its actually rather alarming how the studio system and its old contract system (Simmons running foul of a contract with Howard Hughes’ RKO Pictures) harmed some careers, and Simmons’ marriage with Stewart Granger seems to have been shockingly dysfunctional, frankly. Likely my view on the latter is unfair but goodness me, in some ways it reflects the subject of A Bullet is Waiting in some curious way, as Simmons apparent tendency to look for something of a father figure in her love life (both Granger and her second husband Richard Brooks were rather older than she) seems to mirror an uncomfortable subtext of Shakespeare’s tale, dimly as it may have been transferred to a Western and a science fiction film over sixty years ago.  It adds a certain element to whenever I do return to the film, anyway.

Columbia Noir: Walk A Crooked Mile (1948)

walk1Not, as the title might suggest to our more sequel/prequel/reboot-cynical eyes, a prequel to Columbia’s 1954 noir Drive A Crooked Road, this is a pretty mundane espionage thriller that’s shot in a semi-documentary style, as if its a dramatic re-enactment of contemporary events. Unfortunately that documentary style, peppering the film with a distracting, incessant narration, dilutes the film of any actual drama – it simply doesn’t work properly as a dramatic film. Indeed when watching the film I wondered how this would work on its original theatrical release, regards whether audiences back then more readily accepted being preached at and warned/informed of a horrible Red Menace. I guess its just a case of a film being of its time.

Russian spies have somehow infiltrated atomic research facility Lakeview Labs, the FBI stumbling upon a nefarious scheme stealing crucial atomic formulas out of the country, shipping them to London (and then onwards to Eastern Bloc locations unknown) hidden inside oil paintings. Thanks to the London link, Scotland Yard ‘exchange agent’ Scotty Grayson (Louis Hayward) has come to America to assist his colleagues in the F.B.I. in bringing down their common Red enemy. Partnered with F.B.I. agent Dan O’Hara (Dennis O’Keefe), Grayson works to uncover and bring down the spy network before it can steal all Lakeview Labs research and possibly use its formulas against the Free World. 

As you can possibly imagine, there is a lot of preaching in this film- its practically a propaganda piece and full of paranoia; audiences likely lapped it all up back then but it feels very forced and more than a little unpalatable now. That said, though, one has to remember here in the UK we recently had the situation of the Salisbury poisonings so maybe films like this are a timely reminder of how little has actually changed for the better. I can only imagine how the high-tensions of this films era would have reacted to such events back then (American citizens actually poisoned by chemical warfare? Yikes!).

How much this film qualifies as noir is debatable. It has some visual noir references and naturally all the subversive menace it accounts is a typical noir staple. What I always get from films like this is a great appreciation from seeing what is essentially a Lost World, especially with this films semi-documentary style allowing us here a pretty candid, realistic look at San Francisco’s 1940s streets, decor and fashion. I just have an endless fascination with the Time Machine aspects of films like this- the mood and tensions of the era, the ‘look’ of the world back then. Walk A Crooked Mile may not work as a film as films should, but its does give me a glimpse of another world that is quite enthralling and seductive. Also, spotting locations from other films is always a bit thrilling- I believe I glimpsed the apartment building from which Scottie tails Madeleine Elster in Hitchcock’s Vertigo (Brocklebank Apartments, 1000 Mason Street on Nob Hill) through a car window in one fleeting shot.

Even better then, is that Indicator’s new release (this film first up in its latest Columbia Noir boxset) features an intriguing documentary short Routine Job: A Story of Scotland Yard (1946) portraying the routine work of detectives in the London of its day, a world as much science fiction now as anything in a James Cameron Avatar movie.  Filmed in real London locations and featuring what does seem to be real people its a more rewarding watch, to me, than the main feature, and one of those cases of special features outweighing what should have been the main draw. And hey, you can even watch it here for free on good old YouTube if you have no interest in the noir box. I’m dubious that I’ll be rewatching Walk A Crooked Mile very often, but this short feature will likely pull me back with its hypnotic window to the past and its own long-gone city and people. 

Another Murder By Contract

murder2Its becoming clear to me that August has been a largely a month of re-watching movies, whether it be because of new 4K editions (True Romance), revisiting films that perplexed me first time around (Tenet), or just revisiting old favourites, as in the case of this film, the noir classic Murder By Contract, which came out as part of the second of Indicator’s Columbia Noir boxsets and which I first watched back in March. The fact that I have returned to it within the space of six months hopefully indicates the high regard in which I hold this film. Its really quite extraordinary. There probably isn’t anything more I can say about the film that I didn’t when I first reviewed it, but it is a remarkably cool film, from the catchy guitar score by Perry Botkin (which so good its unfathomable that Tarantino hasn’t used it in one of his films somewhere), to the deadpan performances of its cast, particularly that of Vince Edwards as psychopath assassin/amateur philosopher Claude, a character who will haunt me for years. Part genius, part idiot, a handsome dude who is horribly detached and casual in his violence until he finally, incredibly comes undone by his final target. It’d be a bit akin to casting a young Harrison Ford as Jack the Ripper or Scorpio; you want to be with Claude as he seems so cool but you know you’d be much safer in another country.

Released in 1958 (with such a low budget it was allegedly shot in just eight days), Murder By Contract was made at the tail end of the ‘classic’ American noir period, nodding towards the stylistic changes that the 1960s would bring (and the eventual advent of neo-noir). As much as it is a richly bleak noir it is a very, very black comedy. In some moments, its a little like the Wile E Coyote/Road Runner cartoon hijinks transported into a noir movie and really quite unlike any other film I have seen, other than Kiss Me Deadly and Taxi Driver, two examples which hopefully indicate just how odd a film this really is. Its a work of some crazy genius, one of the best films I will have watched this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I give it another watch before the end of the year. Some films really make a connection and this one did with me.