Whatever next?

elvis4kStreaming, rather than disc releases, would seem to be where its ‘at’ this month, with a little, low-key fantasy thing from Amazon starting tomorrow and taking us through the Autumn (will I be able resist sharing my thoughts each week?). But there’s a few disc releases coming too. Next week the director’s cut of Star Trek: The Motion Picture hopefully arrives, something I’ve been looking forward to greatly, although bizarrely I’m perhaps more intrigued by the (surprisingly) bountiful extras than the new cut itself. Its so rare these days for an ‘older’ film released by a non-boutique label to have so many extras (just look at the 4K edition of Poltergeist coming this same month). For what’s its worth, I’m NOT buying the tat box edition (on that front, I’m still waiting for standard edition of the 4K Event Horizon to be announced).  So anyway, next week I expect to be writing a review of Robert Wise’s flawed (but possibly now improved?) Star Trek movie. Beyond that, September also holds the promise of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, a film my mom will be over to watch for a film night- I recall showing the trailer on my phone to my parents back when my Dad was ‘trapped’ upstairs due to his illness, thinking I’d be lending them the film someday in better circumstances (I’d often buy some films partly because I knew my folks would enjoy watching the Blu-ray copy). I never imagined that Dad wouldn’t be here to watch it, so everything about that film feels rather bittersweet now, just like that new Downton Abbey movie that came out on disc recently: I have little interest in it but my folks loved that show, particularly my Dad, funnily enough. Sometimes you just can’t figure what it is that people will connect to.

uninoirI still haven’t pre-ordered the (delayed, but now imminent) Indicator release of The Swimmer or their Madigan which is being released the same day. I own the Grindhouse edition of The Swimmer from Stateside so the film is one of those double-dips I try to avoid. As I’d have to keep that earlier disc anyway (because it has a lengthy doc that the Indicator doesn’t), I haven’t yet ordered it even though its a cult favourite of mine; its a situation where ideally I wait for one of Indicator’s sales and get to buy it at a reduced price.  I’ll be buying Indicators edition  for the inevitably better master/image quality, which is a good reason but hey, we’re heading for an Autumn/Winter of Discontent so yeah, more reason for my caution. I might just tag those two onto a pre-order for October’s Universal Noir set from Indicator that I likewise haven’t gotten around to yet, we’ll see. Beyond those, there’s the inevitable pre-order for Top Gun: Maverick because of just how damn good everyone tells me it is, even though I still haven’t managed to watch the first Top Gun (I actually tried several weeks back but gave up twenty minutes in, all it did was remind me of how much I hated Tom Cruise movies back when it originally came out – the idea of ever watching that Cocktail movie, for instance, ugh). Anyway, Tom seems to think we’re living back in the VHS era of waiting forever for home video releases, because he’s managed to hold back Maverick from physical home video for months longer than we’re used to, recently being confirmed for the end of October: crikey- that Tolkien thing on Amazon will be all done by then.

Meanwhile there is so much I already have on the shelf that I need to watch. More films in the Columbia Noir #5 box, and likewise the Alfred Hitchcock Classic Collection Volume 2 4K box which I succumbed to in a sale, of which Shadow of a Doubt was my first watch (there’s a few films in that set that I’ve never seen). Regards sales, I did (so far, anyway) manage to avoid buying the similarly-reduced 4K set of The Godfather; I know I will buy it someday, its as inevitable as MCU movies getting worse but… double/triple dipping? I think I had those films on VHS for goodness sake. Its a case of the price reducing enough to make it feel less of a guilty purchase (bit like that 4K of Heat that I’ve also avoided). Some of those 4K Kino titles, most notably Touch of Evil, are waiting to be watched.  Likewise the BFI’s Blu-ray of the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been waiting for too long. And that The Third Man Blu-ray….  The only thing worse than having discs not yet watched is seeing them being reduced for less than I paid for them, it just adds insult to injury. Well, either that or seeing an unwatched Blu-ray now being re-released on a 4K UHD. That hurts.

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.

 

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.

Shockproof

Shockproof, 1949, 80 mins, Blu-ray

sam7The clue is in the credits: Written by…. with Helen Deutsch’s name above that of Samuel Fuller. Which I didn’t really question when first watching the film, but in retrospect, considering how greatly the film is derailed by its lousy ending (which I mentioned in an earlier post) I should have smelled a rat. Turns out the script was entirely written by Samuel Fuller but the studio got nervous about its original conclusion so hired Helen Deutsch to give them a happy ending, which spoils the film terribly, and then to add further ignominy to it all, credited Deutsch above Fuller (ensured by Deutsch nabbing a co-producer credit too, further reward for arguably ruining the picture – that’s Hollywood folks).

But it is a terrible shame, because Shockproof is a great dramatic noir and has such a lot going for it, not least of which is Patricia Knight, whose performance here is particularly nuanced and arresting, and actually astonishing when one realises she had no formal acting training, according to what I’ve read about her since. She plays ex-con Jenny Marsh, whose parole officer Griff Marat (Cornel Wilde (Leave Her to Heaven)) is instantly attracted to her and whose attempts to ensure she goes straight may not be entirely professional or decent. Jenny served five years for murdering a man while defending her shady gambler lover, Harry Wesson (John Baragrey) and remains romantically involved with Harry, who stayed in contact with her during her incarceration. Griff threatens Jenny that she’ll break her parole if she continues seeing Harry, but while that seems reasonable, it also fits in with his own attraction to her and his attempt to be with her himself- to the extent of finding her a job within his own home, something against regulations. Griff further compromises himself by intending to secretly marry her, again against regulations, which is something which Harry and his criminal associates see as a way of ruining Griff’s prospects for political office, from where he could be trouble for them.

The brilliance of Shockproof, and of Knights’ performance, is that there is subterfuge and lies from the start. It is no mistake that prior to her first parole meeting with Griff, the brunette Jenny is seen shopping on Hollywood Boulevard for new clothes and visits a salon to have her hair dyed platinum blonde. She’s obviously using her sex and beauty as a possible distraction against Griff, assuming a role of wounded beauty, manipulating him to give her special treatment. This is tested immediately, as soon after her first meeting with Griff she is arrested with Harry in a police raid on a bookie joint, contrary to Griff’s instructions to stay away from her old lover and the criminal fraternity. Returned to Griff’s office and a likely immediate return to prison, Griff instead sends her to a doctor on the pretence of checking out her twisted ankle. Rather than just the physical examination it pretends to be, this is actually a psychological test of Jenny’s character which she passes, saying all the right things to the doctor, but unknown to Griff, Jenny has sussed it was a test and her responses are all an act to ensure he gives her another chance. She has no intention of breaking up with Harry and knows Griff’s fascination/attraction to her leaves him open to manipulation.

So far, so very noir and typical femme fatale. But there’s all sorts of things going on here. Griff’s attraction towards Jenny increasingly forces him to break the rules, and when she can’t get a job because of her criminal record, he gives her a job at his house which enables him to keep her close and romance her, which makes one wonder who is manipulating who? His controlling influence of who she can see, where she can go, becomes something possibly dark and questionable. Dependant on him for a job and a roof over her head, and living with his family, it could be argued that Griff’s seduction finally works when Jenny starts to have feelings for him too.

sam8Or does she? Because she’s also still in contact with Harry, who knows that Griff is breaking all the rules of his profession and therefore encourages Jenny to go along with it and lead Griff to ruin.

Shockproof is a brilliant tale of subversion and possible perversion. What makes it all work is Knight’s excellent performance- very often the viewer just can’t be sure if what she’s doing and saying is real or just part of an act. Are her growing feelings for Griff real? Just when you think her loyalties lie with Harry, who is clearly no good for her and likely manipulating her himself, one starts to wonder if her loyalties are really with Griff and her love for him genuine. And of course in the background one has to wonder if Griff’s feelings for her are natural or from some dark obsession of his own, manipulating a woman he knows is dependant upon him keeping her out of prison?

The chemistry between Wilde and Knight is inevitably genuine because they were actually a married couple when the film was made. There is an added tension to it which may stem from the fact that Knight later claimed that Wilde was a controlling and dominating figure in their marriage, and increasingly jealous- they were divorced soon after, in 1951. So does this inform the elements of Shockproof that suggest Griff’s controlling attentions towards Jenny and how he uses his professional authority over her are unhealthy and obsessive? It certainly seems to suggest an added darkness to it all.

sam9Incredibly, Knight only appeared in five films and one television episode, her acting career curtailed upon divorcing Wilde, which to me seems such a loss, because I really think she’s terrific in Shockproof. I can understand the impact she made upon Griff because she made such an impact upon me too. She’s beautiful and dangerous but there’s a fragility there. Possibly her limitations as a non-trained actress would have been found out in other roles, maybe its just that this one particularly suited her, but I think she was really impressive here, a femme fatale with some depth.

Which yes, brings us to the ridiculous ending. If you haven’t seen the film and wish to remain unspoiled, stop reading this post here and maybe come back later. In the film Jenny becomes increasingly desperate, caught between and manipulated by the two men in her life, and she eventually turns upon Harry after he threatens to ruin Griff, shooting him dead in a bizarre repeat/twist of her original crime years before. There is at least a suggestion that Jenny actually wanted to flee from both men, knowing its all destined to end badly, but instead she and Griff go on the run together. In Fuller’s original script, which was titled The Lovers, an increasingly desperate Griff and Jenny get into a shootout with cops and come to an ill end. In this reading, Griff’s love for Jenny is genuine and, as director Douglas Sirk observed, “something had changed… something had started blooming in (Griff’s) soul!”, something forbidden by his profession and society.

Instead, we get a ridiculous revelation that Harry isn’t actually dead, and he has a sudden change of heart/pang of conscience and takes the blame for the shooting himself in order to allow the lovers a wildly sudden and inappropriate happy ending: as bad a ‘love conquers all’ ending as any. Its so jarring that it is like it has suddenly become entirely another movie in its last five minutes. It doesn’t work at all, unless you subscribe to the inherent darkness of Griff’s own obsession and his own schemes winning out, which is digging out a noir ending not intended at all, but hey, that’s perhaps me just trying to save what is, other than the ending, a pretty great film.

Adventure in Sahara

Adventure in Sahara – 1938, 57 mins, Blu-ray

My second review of a film included within Indicator’s tremendous Fuller at Columbia boxset, which was my Christmas-present highlight. This boxset is now sadly OOP, but thankfully the four individual discs are now available separately, albeit minus booklets. 

sam4Sadly, Adventure in Sahara is one of those films where the story behind it is better than anything in the film itself. The story goes, recounted in this set’s booklet, that Sam Fuller was approached by producer Sam Briskin if he had any ideas for a film- initially caught off-guard and at a loss, Fuller assured him that he did, buying time by lighting up a cigar before finally coming up with an idea- “William Bligh meets Victor Hugo!” he announced, much to Briskin’s bemusement. William Bligh, of course, was a reference to Mutiny on the Bounty, which had been a big hit starring Charles Laughton a few years prior, and Victor Hugo a reference to the novel Ninety-Three, another story of revolt which Fuller had read. Fuller was pitching a Mutiny on the Bounty set in the French Foreign Legion, and that’s pretty much summing up Adventure in Sahara entirely. The screenplay by Maxwell Shane based upon Fuller’s story lacks many details of Fuller’s idea, notably (albeit not surprisingly) a more downbeat ending inspired by the Victor Hugo novel, in which the nominal hero of the film and leader of the mutiny is, following an awarded act of gallantry in battle, is nonetheless sentenced to execution because of his part in the mutiny. Try selling THAT to audiences back in 1938; or 2022 for that matter. The final film would end with something much more traditional and consequently far less interesting.

sam5Adventure in Sahara is a fairly limp, pedestrian adventure yarn with several troubling aspects, only one of which is its treatment of a black character (which considering current sensitivities would likely earn this film a warning prior to any network airing) and another its horribly irritating musical score which intrudes upon everything. The chief problem, with all deference towards Fuller, is its predictable and quite preposterous story, although I guess he could point an accusing finger at Shane’s screenplay. It begins with American pilot Jim Wilson (Paul Kelly) learning of his younger brother’s death in the French Foreign Legion, upon which he immediately volunteers for the service albeit on the proviso he is sent to the command of Commandant Savatt (C Henry Gordon) where his brother was based. Savatt is the William Bligh of the film, a sadistic and twisted military commander whose punishment of the men under his command is brutal and ultimately leads his desperate men to mutiny, led by Wilson who is seeking revenge for his brother’s death at Savatt’s punishment. Its almost remarkable how the films romantic interest is thrown into the film- Carla (Lorna Gray), an Amelia Earhart-like pilot who literally crashes into the desert near to the Fort where Wilson is based. It takes some nerve being as blatantly ridiculous as your film’s love-interest literally falling out of the sky mid-movie.

Perhaps the films biggest asset is its brevity- at 57 minutes it doesn’t linger too long; its clearly a b-movie supporting feature and nothing more than that.  C Henry Gordon as the dastardly villain is great value, but Paul Kelly is pretty bland- and Lorna Gray even worse than that- although to be fair to them the screenplay leaves them little to work with, and the shoot was likely very quick and very cheap: there’s no aspirations for greatness here, that’s for certain. Adventure in Sahara is far inferior to the first film in this set, but thankfully things improve greatly with the next film…

It Happened in Hollywood

It Happened in Hollywood -1937, 68 mins, Blu-ray

My first review of a film included within Indicator’s tremendous Fuller at Columbia boxset, which was my Christmas-present highlight. This boxset is now sadly OOP, but thankfully the four individual discs are now available separately, albeit minus booklets. 

sam3It Happened in Hollywood is a film based upon a treatment by Sam Fuller, which Fuller claimed was his first Hollywood credit, hence its inclusion in this set even though the final film likely bore little resemblance to the Fuller original. It Happened in Hollywood is a disarmingly delightful tale of silver-screen whimsy, which I actually thoroughly enjoyed – indeed anyone who loves Frank Capra’s films will find much to enjoy here.

Immediately throwing us back to much simpler times, its 1928, and silent-Western star Tim Bart (Richard Dix) is visiting a group of his youngest fans in a home for orphaned children, screening his latest picture for them and recruiting them to his fan-club . Bart is a star with a heart and a sense of responsibility to his young audience who simply adore him and his screen adventures. There is a sense of art and reality burring with regards Bart- he walks around wearing a cowboy costume at all times, so there’s always a suggestion that its not just the children confused with what’s real and what isn’t. This sense of the persistent dream-reality of Hollywood continues through the film, culminating in a bizarre party Bart holds for one of the children in which all the guests are the real-life doubles, stand-ins and imitators of Hollywood’s biggest stars- a dining table attended by in-costume Bart, Hollywood ‘stars’ Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, Harold Lloyd, Clark Gable, Mae West and Bill Crosby as well as many others. It’s oddly both magical and disturbing, an Alice in Wonderland tea-party twisted into something strangely Lynchian, somehow turning my mind to Mulholland Drive and its own examination of Hollywood fantasy. A very welcome featurette on this disc replays this section of the film with on-screen text highlighting both who the Hollywood star is being depicted (I could identify some, but others slipped me by as they have become quite obscure so many decades later) and also the double/imitator playing them, which is doubly nice if only for posterity’s sake as they are not actually credited in the film at all.

The plot of It Happened in Hollywood is pretty simple- talking pictures are suddenly the new rage of Hollywood, and all the silent movie stars of old are being screen-tested to see if they can fit in with the new world of talkies. A screentest for Tim and his regular Western co-star, Gloria Gay (Fay Way) goes well for Gloria but not for Tim, who comes across as awkward and stilted, uncomfortable with reciting dialogue. Gloria is offered a part in a Talking Picture, but Tim is let go.

Its pretty clear that Gloria is in love with Tim, and Tim in love with Gloria, but their feelings remain unspoken. Tim acts relaxed regards his career implosion and encourages Gloria to move on without him. Little seems to faze Tim- he loses the ranch he was buying and struggles to find any work at all, while his colleagues from his Westerns move on to bit-parts and working in real-world positions as chauffeurs or cooks to get by, but Tim’s calm never wavers. He’s a genuinely nice guy, his Western-persona of all-American hero not an act at all, or at least one that has so totally bled into his real-life that its one and the same (imagine what Lynch could do with that). Time passes: broke and wandering around in his cowboy outfit, Tim is convinced into playing a gangster in one of Gloria’s films, but when he balks at shooting a scene which requires him to shoot a police officer because of how that would look to his young fanbase, he walks off the shoot and his chance of rekindling his career is over.

I’m not at all familiar with Richard Dix, who worked on stage and in Hollywood from the days of silent movies through to the late ‘forties until his death at just 56 years of age in 1949, so I’m unaware if It Happened in Hollywood simply reflects his usual screen persona. If it doesn’t, then this is a remarkable performance from Dix, as his warm, affable good-guy here is wholly convincing and natural. Its a surprisingly difficult role to pull off without seeming unintentionally ridiculous or cornball, or even creepy or deranged (I mean the guy walks around in his cowboy outfit all the time, its either endearing or unnerving). Tim Bart is the kind of role that would have suited someone like Tom Hanks or Jimmy Stewart; one of the ‘good guys’ with an inherent sense of nobility, and its a testament to Dix being so good here that it certainly places him in such noble Hollywood company.

Fay Wray of course needs little introduction, the scream queen of the original (and best) King Kong from 1933. To my mind she’s probably better here than in that more famous film- notwithstanding her ability to convince when playing against a giant gorilla/stop-motion puppet, here she is able to demonstrate a quiet and natural warmth that suggests she was much better actress than I gave her credit for and likely deserved better roles than she actually got. Perhaps I shall have to make a point of looking up some more of her films in 2022.

sam2I absolutely adored It Happened in Hollywood; its a decidedly old-fashioned picture that I found truly endearing in the same way Frank Capra’s Its a Wonderful Life is. It slots so much narrative within its mere 68 mins that it never drags, proving to be something of a lesson in concise film-making, and the cast is very fine indeed- the two leads excellent. A few twists and turns stretch credibility, particularly towards the end when Tim is so desperate that he is on the brink of committing a crime, only instead finding himself foiling a bank raid which leads to his redemption and the happy ending we’re hoping for. This kind of film is more a fable than a realistic drama, in just the same way as Capra’s classic, and as that it works very well indeed.  It may lack the true mark of Samuel Fuller, but its inclusion within this boxset is very welcome as I would never have encountered it otherwise- a very pleasant surprise.

Corruption (1968)

corrupt4I came to Corruption rather blind- indeed until a few months ago when Indicator put it’s new Blu-ray edition up for pre-order I didn’t even know it existed (this is its first release on home video in the UK), but as its a horror film starring Peter Cushing, one of my all-time favourite actors, it was an inevitable purchase, particularly when I learned that Peter Cushing pretty much disowned the film, embarrassed by it and refusing to ever talk about it afterwards. Like the same years The Blood Beast Terror, the film was a means to an end- Cushing needed the work to pay his beloved wife Helen’s medical bills, and while, as ever, he gave everything to the film (he lived by the credo that his audience always deserved at the very least that he make every effort in every project, refusing to phone-in a performance (Bruce Willis take note)), its clear Corruption wasn’t a very pleasant experience. The Blood Beast Terror is far inferior film, and far less interesting to watch now, but it was clearly a more positive, fun experience for the actor. 

Both films came about as horror films were changing- the days of the traditional Hammer gothic horror were waning, and horror films were becoming more explicit, with more violence, gore and nudity. Even though Hammer had often troubled the censor with its films, the boundaries were moving and leaving Hammer behind (Hammer would soon react in the 1970s with films like The Vampire Lovers, Twins of Evil and Hands of the Ripper but the studio would always be behind the curve). Corruption reflected those changes, indeed, embraced them, and its really quite shocking to witness dear old Peter Cushing in the starring role in a film as thoroughly nasty and exploitive as this one. 

Corruption is not a very good film, but its is an absolutely fascinating one, and rather disturbing too, if only for the fact of seeing Peter Cushing in it. For my first viewing, I threw caution to the wind and watched the continental version, which was more graphic than the more restrained UK edit (the Indicator disc contains three presentations, the UK, US and continental, which was retitled Laser Killer but retains the original Corruption title here). It proved rather a shock, seeing Peter Cushing wrestling with a topless woman, stabbing her to death and wiping his bloodied hand on her breast before graphically cutting her head off. It doesn’t make the film any better, but it does make it more notorious and unpleasant (the UK version has a different actress playing the victim, and she keeps her top on). 

Peter Cushing plays a gifted surgeon, Sir John Rowan, whose unlikely, younger girlfriend, Lynn (Sue Lloyd) is a successful model who is scarred by an accident partly caused by Rowan when he is caught in a jealous fight with Lynn’s photographer, Mike (Anthony Booth channelling Andy Warhol). Rowan’s guilt over Lynn’s disfigurement drives him to drastic measures to restore her face and beauty. Initially this finds him visiting the morgue and interfering with the corpse of a beautiful woman, cutting out the bodies pituitary gland for its fluids, but the subsequent operation on Lynn, while a success, is only a temporary one. It becomes clear to Rowan that for longer results he needs to use the female pituitary gland of living subjects, and therefore is forced to go on something of a killing spree, his first victim being a prostitute in what is perhaps a grim nod to Jack the Ripper. Rowan’s horror at what he is doing brings him to a halt but Lynn become manic about maintaining her beauty and drives Rowan on.

corrup2Cushing, as ever, is quite brilliant. His repugnance at his own actions, as his initial guilt pushes him into increasingly despicable acts, is palpable; possibly a reflection of the actors own distaste for the project. I’d actually suggest its one of his better performances, but part of that may be the shudder one feels at the  bizarre sight of him in something so… exploitive, at least in the continental version I saw. Sue Lloyd is the real surprise- she’s absolutely superb. I only remember her from her role in the TV soap Crossroads when I was growing up- this film suggests that she was capable of far more, and her character’s madness and evil is quite convincing as she manipulates and ultimately betrays Rowan. The rest of the supporting cast is also very good- Kate O’Mara, Noel Trevarthen, Vanessa Howard and  Wendy Varnals give very good performances (I wasn’t so enamoured by Anthony Booth). The colourful 1960s fashions are delirious madness, although the attempt to depict the swinging sixties flounders terribly – its obvious the middle-aged film-makers didn’t have a clue regards youth culture, in just the same way as Hammer blundered in films like Dracula  AD 1972.

Its hard to qualify Corruption as a good film- frankly, it isn’t, but it is something of a morbid fascination. It is just so bizarre and strange and unpleasant. The film takes a very odd turn towards the end, when Rowan and Lynn are accosted by criminals who are clearly burgling the wrong summer house, and concludes in a frankly astonishing climax of mass murder enacted by a wildly out of control surgical laser, which censors would never allowed just a few years before. Its a crazy finale which is followed by a curious coda that is either a total cop-out or possibly an apologetic reaction to the films previous excess. 

corrIndicator’s Blu-ray is possibly far more than such a film deserves: a genuine special edition, with an 80-page book and replica production skills accompanying the disc inside a handsome slip-box. The book is excellent, with really informative essays that I found thoroughly engrossing after having watched the film. Its a lovely package which feels like total overkill for a film of such dubious quality (although the very fact that a film such as this can get such treatment is an almost endearingly lovely thing, even if Peter Cushing would be aghast, no doubt). The disc itself, alongside the three versions of the film, contains a commentary track, numerous interviews and featurettes and a 72-minute audio interview from 1986 with Peter Cushing himself which I can’t wait to settle down with. Its a typical Indicator triumph. Bravo.

 

The Blood Beast Terror (1968)

bloodbeastHorror fans might think a film with a title like The Blood Beast Terror simply cannot fail, but even reliable horror favourite Peter Cushing can’t save this lacklustre effort.

Part of the problem is that its not particularly clear what’s going on or what exactly is the threat. Cushing plays Inspector Quenne, investigating a series of murders in which victims are bled dry by some bizarre assailant, leaving the police at a loss. We see odd glimpses of what is evidently some supernatural creature (the Blood Beast of the title), and it soon becomes clear that the mystery involves a scientist, Dr Mallinger (Robert Flemyng) whose daughter Claire (Wanda Ventham) behaves rather suspiciously. Its an odd horror film, a low-budget hybrid of Frankenstein and Vampire movies that unfortunately feels particularly weak-bloodied (sic) – a Tigon British Film, it’s so low-rent it makes Hammer films look luxurious.

Most frustratingly, the film leaves many questions unanswered at the end of the film, suggesting it really wasn’t thought-out: for instance we don’t how or why Mallinger created the monster. During the film I assumed it was a curse or affliction suffered by his daughter for which he was trying to find a cure but I’ve since been led to believe that Clare was his creation (like Frankenstein’s monster) and not his ‘real’ daughter at all.

Cushing of course is as dependable as ever and as usual is the best thing about the film- he’s obviously having some fun but the script is hardly stretching him. While its clearly routine he was never one to simply phone-in a performance no matter how silly the material, which is one of the reasons we fans of his adore him. He deserved much better films than this, but I understand that he was taking pretty much any gig at the time in order to pay for his wife’s medical bills as her health deteriorated.

Curiously, the actress who plays his daughter Meg in this film, Vanessa Howard, turns up in another Peter Cushing film from 1968, Corruption, which I’ve never seen and have on pre-order from Indicator (will be arriving with their Columbia Noir #4 box towards the end of September). There are often so many such curious connections between British films of this period: small world I guess. 

The 2021 List: January

I’m back. Well, I’ve not really been away, just side-lined by work and life. I’m sure anyone reading this appreciates just how strange life is getting, and how we’re getting worn down. Its really quite relentless, and most nights now I’m so tired in the evenings I don’t have energy to concentrate enough to even watch a film, let alone write about it. Maybe I just need a holiday (ha, ha) – ain’t that the truth/sick joke (delete as appropriate). Its been  more than two years since my last holiday anywhere, and my booked holiday in May (which was deferred from May last year, for reasons obvious to everyone) is looking as unlikely as Vangelis releasing an anthology of his unreleased soundtracks headlined by a complete Blade Runner. Or him ever releasing that Juno to Jupiter album.

So what have I been watching? Not included on the list waiting for your perusal below as its not finished until next Wednesday, is Season Five of The Expanse, which has been quite brilliant. As someone who championed this series way back when I had to import the Blu-rays to watch it, its great to see the show having some critical success before it ends next year. Amazon saving The Expanse from its third-season cancellation is the rescue Farscape deserved but never got. Anyway, more on that next week/month/when I get to write about it.

toastJanuary is a hell of a bleak month, and Lockdown is just making it all the bleaker. I’ve been retreating to sitcoms, mostly Toast of London, a show from a few years back that I vaguely recall noticing but never watching. Finally watching it thanks to the Netflix algorithm bringing it back to my attention,  its quite funny and quirky and I enjoyed it enough to binge all three seasons of it, but not enough to write a post about it. There’s that energy-sapping thing again. I don’t know. There was a feeling of biding time watching it; I knew I should be watching something more worthwhile but it was low-effort, making little demand of me. I’ve just moved on to another feast courtesy of the Netflix algorithm, an American sitcom titled Superstore, currently watching season one. There’s five seasons of this show and I never knew it even existed until I started watching it last week. I think this is what’s called Sitcom Hell. I need to find some escape.

Television

Most ill-conceived reboot of the month:

2. Black Narcissus (BBC Miniseries)

Sitcom ‘comfort food of the month’ (lockdown special):

6) Toast of London Season One

7) Toast of London Season Two

11) Toast of London Season Three

Sexed-up Downton Abbey of the month:

15) Bridgerton Season One

Female Space Messiah Award:

9) Star Trek: Discovery Season Three 

Films:

The Good, and the even Better:

3) Proxima (2019)

4. Hidden Figures (2016)

5) The Garment Jungle

8) The Lineup (1958)

16) The Wages of Fear (1953)

The Distinctly Average:

10) The Gentlemen (2019)

12) Sputnik (2020)

14) The Wackiest Ship in the Navy (1961)

The Utterly Woeful:

1) The Midnight Sky (2020)

13) Outside the Wire (2021)

So that’s sixteen titles, split between six seasons of TV shows and ten films. Regards re-watching stuff, apart from the fantastic Millennium Actress that I did actually post about, I did re-watch The Two Towers, the second film of the LOTR trilogy, part of the 4K UHD boxset that came out late last year and which I seem to be struggling to get to actually watch, never mind actually writing about. I watched The Fellowship of the Ring over the Christmas period, and while its proving a struggle, strangely, to get around to watching all three films (possibly its because they are the extended versions which makes it awkward to schedule, in all honesty, with everything else going on) its been very interesting, returning to what is quite possibly the last genuinely great blockbuster trilogy ever made, and seeing how well they have aged (or not).  I intend to possibly expand upon this in a future post once I’ve managed to watch The Return of the King, which, on my apparently monthly schedule will happen in February. Some people managed marathons of the LOTR in a single day, or over three consecutive days- I haven’t even managed it over three weekends.

It has occurred to me that the sheer bravura of shooting all three films back-to-back might be something we never see again, considering the state of theatrical exhibition in this Covid World. We are in a situation now in which traditional blockbusters are not economically viable and are being delayed one or even two years waiting for some kind of stability regards exhibition. Where this leaves Villenueve’s Dune and its ‘will-they-won’t-they’ second film completing its story is anyone’s guess. At some point if things don’t change, more of these films will end up relegated to streaming premieres such as those Warner have announced for HBO Max in America, and what that means for studios cutting their losses and plans for 2023, 2024 etc is really a concern.

So anyway, that’s January. Looking towards February, well, its anyone’s guess how that month will likely turn out. Indicator’s second Columbia Noir set is due out so I look forward to getting into that, having so enjoyed the first set. And I have a pile of unwatched films on the Tivo etc and waiting on Netflix and Amazon, if I can ever muster the enthusiasm to watch any of it. Or indeed the time, due to working at home proving particularly problematic of late. We’ll just have to see. Oh, and its possibly going to include my biggest non-event of a birthday in all my 55 revolutions of the sun. That should be curious, although as a bonus it sees me jump up a group on the Vaccination schedule. Life. Is. So. Strange. Now.

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