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The Old Dark House (PG.)
Directed by James Whale. 1933.
Starring Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Boris Karloff, Ernest Thesiger, Eva Moore, Lilian Bond and Gloria Stuart. Out on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Eureka's Masters Of Cinema series. Black and white. 69 mins.
It was a dark and stormy night. In Wales. With the road washed away, a group of weary travellers try to find shelter in a … well, take a guess. Inside are a ghoulish collection of weirdoes, the Femm family, who are less than welcoming. You could probably have guessed that as well.
Directed by Edgar Reitz. 1984
Starring Marlita Breuer, Kurt Wagner, Rudiger Weigang, Marliese Assman, Helga Bender, Gabriele Blum, Roland Bongard. In German with subtitles 889 mins. The Restored version on a Limited Edition six disc blu-ray box set. Out April 30th.
Heimat is one of the cinema's most monumental works - it's a TV programme really, but no masterwork is perfect. Over 11 episodes Reitz tracks the course of 20th century German history, from 1918 to 1982, through the story of the inhabitants of the village of Schabbach in the Hunsrück region in the Rhineland. It focuses in particular on the extended Simon family, and Maria (Breuer) the woman who marries into them only for her husband, Paul, to walk off at the end of the first episode. Other than its extreme length what is most striking thing about Reitz's film is the way it switches between colour and black and white.
McCabe and Mrs Miller (15.)
Directed by RA Prairie Home Companionobert Altman. 1971.
Starring Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Rene Auberjonois, William Devane, Shelley Duvall, Keith Carradine and Michael Murphy. 121 mins. Out now, released by Warners on their Premium Collection, containing the film on Blu-ray, DVD or download.
All great Altman films have something of the miraculous about them, but I don't think any of them are quite as miraculous as this western. As a hit-and-hope director, one who seemed to go into projects with rather vague aims as to what he wanted to achieve and simply trusted his ability to bring the best out of his collaboratorsme up with something special, the finished result must always have been something of surprise and often not a very pleasant one. But surely, when he came to look over McCabe and Mrs Miller the results must have been beyond his best hopes. McCabe and Mrs Miller is like a fluky trick shot, something you couldn't do again even if you tried it another hundred times. It's a comedy western that breaks your heart.
The Avengers - Tunnel of Fear (PG.)
Directed by Guy Verney. 1961
Starring Ian Hendry, Patrick Macnee, Ingrid Hafner, Anthony Bate, Miranda Connell, Hazel Coppen. Black and white. 52 mins. Available on DVD from Studiocanal, August 9th.
In its 8 years of existence The Avengers went through as much change and evolution as Doctor Who or the big screen James Bond have managed in over five decades. The frothy, frivolous entertainment of the Diana Rigg/ Linda Thorson era started off as a much more downbeat affair in which Mr John Steed (Macnee) was partnered by a Dr David Keel (Hendry.) Because they were often shot and broadcast live most of the series has been lost. This, one of only three surviving episodes, was discovered in 2016.
Directed by Robert Altman. 1974.
Starring Susannah York, René Auberjonois, Marcel Bozzuffi, Cathryn Harrison, Hugh Millais, John Morley. 102 mins. Out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy.
Though he is one of the giants of American cinema, a man who made thirty-four features plus numerous TV productions over a four-decade career, his reputation largely rests on a phenomenal five-year burst of creativity connecting his two big hits, MASH in 1970, and Nashville in 1975. In between, he turned out classics like McCabe and Mrs Miller (to be reviewed soon), The Long Goodbye, Thieves Like Us and California Split, glorious freewheeling deconstructions of genre and filmmaking convention. In amongst those six he made oddball satire Brewster McCloud, and this. I'd always presumed Images to be one of his misfires, but this beautiful Arrow Blu-ray release reveals it be every bit extraordinary as his other films of this period. You may have issues with it, not entirely see eye to eye with it, but it is a genuinely unnerving portrait of a woman haunting herself.
The Square. (15.)
Directed by Ruben Östlund.
Starring Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West, Terry Notary, Christopher Læssø, Marina Schiptjenko. In Swedish, English and Danish with subtitles. Available on Blu-ray and DVD from Curzon Artifcial Eye on May 14th. 151 mins.
Östlund's Barn D'Or winner at last year's Cannes Film Festival is a profoundly simple movie, despite all its dry humour and complex set pieces. It addresses big ideas like herd mentality, the bystander effect and the lose of trust in society, and does so directly. You won't need to spend days afterwards wondering what it was really about, though you may have to decide the degree to which it is profound or simple minded. Its bluntness is its best feature I think. It's a film about modern art that is hugely sophisticated yet cuts through all the highblown pretension to get straight to the point. Are we sure this won at Cannes?
The Awful Truth. (U.)
Directed by Leo McCarey. 1937.
Starring Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Ralph Bellamy, Alexander D'Arcy, Cecil Cunningham, Molly Lamont, Esther Dale and Joyce Compton. Black and white. 88 mins. Out on Blu-ray as part of the Criterion Collection.
Screwball comedy is the term used to describe The Awful Truth, which seems somehow misleading. There are moments of farce, moments of slapstick, it moves at a phenomenal lick and it is wildly funny, funnier perhaps than any other talkie Hollywood has made over the last century, but it is never frantic. It's a busy little film and not a moment of the hour and a half is wasted, but what you take away from it is a marvellous sense of calm. It's the happy serenity of watching people doing something they are so naturally assured at, that they are totally relaxed, even as they are doing it at a hundred miles per hour. I don't know if this is Hollywood's funniest ever comedy but it breezes past in a happy blur of sheer joy.
Sleeping Dogs (15.)
Directed by Roger Donaldson. 1977
Starring Sam Neill, Nevan Rowe, Ian Mune, Warren Oates, Ian Watkin, Clyde Scott, Donna Akersten. 100 mins. Out on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy.
My MO in reviewing new releases has always been to know as little about the film going in as possible. So, when a disc drops through my letterbox with a title I'd never heard of, and a press release about an entirely different film, I just knew I had to stick it in the blu-ray player as quickly as possible. Whatever it was, I would watch it until I had worked out what kind of film it was, and then until I lost interest. And I made it all the way to the end because I never really got a fix on what exactly this film was all about.
Directed by Terrence Malick.
Starring Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates, Alan Vint. (1973.) 94 mins. Released by Warners on their Premium Collection, containing the film on Blu-ray, DVD or download.
Nature; Bored Killers. Terence Malick's first film is a tale of senseless youth violence, an aimless killing spree across the badlands of Dakota in the 1950s that takes you to a place no other tale of senseless violence has found. As the end credits roll you are left with a feeling of oddly serene nihilism. This story of a James Dean look-alike and his teen girlfriend going on a killing spree in the Midwest in the late fifties slips by like a fairy tale Natural Born Killers, complete with Jackanory style narration.
The Barefoot Contessa (PG.)
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. 1954
Starring Ava Gardner, Humphrey Bogart, Edmond O'Brien, Marius Goring, Rossano Brazzi, Elizabeth Sellars and Warren Stevens. 127 mins. Released as part of Eureka's Masters Of Cinema series.
It's a deceptively strong title. Doesn't sound like much but it's still the case that when it comes to Contessas, you're barefoot or you're nothing. Even so, I was so completely ignorant of this film that as I slipped the review disc into the player I was expecting it to be in black and white. It's not just in colour, but in the best colour there can be: Jack Cardiff photographed Technicolor. That was a terrific surprise, but one that would be followed by a series of disappointments.