You can thank The Film Noir Foundation for the rediscovery of Cry Danger (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD), the independently-produced 1951 film noir developed by star Dick Powell as a follow-up to Pitfall (1948). Like a lot of films made outside of the studio system, it fell through the cracks and was only recently restored by UCLA and The Film Noir Foundation, who searched for the best materials available and created a new negative and 35mm prints for screening. That restoration is the basis of this disc debut.
Dick Powell is in fine sardonic form as Rocky, a guy released from prison after serving five years for a bank heist he didn’t commit, thanks to a witness who verifies his alibi, and goes in search of the real criminal to spring his buddy, who is still serving time. Richard Erdman is the witness Delong, a Navy vet just off his last tour of duty, and he hitches himself to Rocky to see if he’ll find the loot. Rhonda Fleming is the buddy’s wife, but before that she was Rocky’s girl. Her affections are rekindled but there is more rapport between the low-key, unflappable Powell and Erdman, whose injured vet is a drunk and makes no bones about it. Erdman is even funnier and drier than Powell and has an inspired courtship with a blonde pickpocket in the trailer park, a young cutie who keeps robbing him as if theft was a form of flirtation.
Robert Parrish made his directorial debut with this film and it is terrific: efficient, tight, well-paced and full of attitude and dry humor. He shoots most of it on location in Los Angeles and the key location, a dumpy little trailer park on a hill that looks down upon the city, gives the film a great sense of character and location: they can see the dream below them as they mark time in their cramped trailers. There’s a dark heart under the snappy surface like the best low-budget noirs. William Conrad co-stars as the signature heavy, a gang leader by the name of Louis Castro that Rocky believes is the real mastermind behind the heist, and Regis Toomey is the tough cop with a wary respect for Rocky.
Olive doesn’t go in for supplements—they offer well-mastered discs at low prices—but this is one disc I’d love to see get the special edition treatment. Co-star Richard Erdman is still alive and well and sharp as a tack (he’s the world’s oldest college student in the TV sitcom Community) and Film Noir Foundation founder Eddie Muller has provided a lot of commentary tracks and interviews for other film noir releases on disc. A little background on the film and its production would have been very nice, but when it comes down to it, it is all about the film and the quality of presentation and this is top notch given the rescue job performed by UCLA.
Used Cars (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) – Robert Zemeckis made some of the most famous blasts of American pop culture cinema—Back to the Future and Forrest Gump among them—but none has his films root about the cynical underside of the American dream with the gleeful anarchic pleasure of this satirical cult classic from 1980. Kurt Russell is the epitome of the smiling mercenary selling lemons to suckers with dirty tricks and phony promises, aided ably by his superstitious buddy Gerrit Graham. The outrageous stunts (such as illegally jamming the Superbowl with a guerrilla commercial and hiring strippers to bump and grind on the cars like a Vegas sideshow) are more than simply high concept gags: Zemeckis and Bob Gale squeeze the limits of bad taste out of these lemons for a deliciously tart cinematic lemonade. The R rating is for foul mouthed tirades and nudity that would be at home in a risqué burlesque farce. Jack Warden has a field day playing twin brothers and Frank McRae is hilarious as the giant adrenaline-pumped mechanic. The crotch-grabbing Mexican junk car wholesaler is none other than Alfonso Arau, the ubiquitous character actor and director of Like Water for Chocolate.
The Blu-ray debut includes the commentary recorded for the earlier DVD release and the talk from director Zemeckis, co-writer and producer Bob Gale, and star Kurt Russell is almost as much fun as the film itself. “We wanted Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life, except he’s totally corrupt,” is how Zemeckis explains the genesis of the story. Kurt Russell laughs back: “So you cast me!” These guys are having a blast laughing their way through their remembrances, but they manage to stay on track and keep the production stories coming. Also features four minutes of outtakes and along with Twilight Time’s trademark isolated musical score is a bonus score track with the unused score. Also includes an eight-page booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo. Limited to 3000 copies, available exclusively from Screen Archives and TCM.
Men in War (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD) – “Tell me the story of the foot soldier and I will tell you the story of all wars.” One of the best platoon movies from Hollywood’s classic age, this 1957 Korean War drama stars Robert Ryan as a commander caught behind enemy lines and Aldo Ray as a gruff, field-tested sergeant who is reluctantly commandeered into helping him get his men to safety. The platoon is exhausted, men reaching the breaking point or already broken, and the unseen enemy surrounds them, picking them off in the silence.
Director Anthony Mann sets it all in an almost abstract landscape of dry woods and scrub hills and presents the enemy as disembodied weapons poking out from the brush or camouflaged shapes crawling through the foliage. Ryan delivers one of his most understated portraits of strength and experience as the commanding officer, bringing warm but firm leadership and calm authority to a desperate situation, and Ray, a real-life World War II veteran who saw action on Iwo Jima, is completely convincing as the brutally effective soldier whose superior skills and soldiering instincts are essential to keeping the platoon alive. This is a portrait of war from the grunt’s-eye view that eschews patriotism and sentimentality to show the harrowing, grueling experience of survival in the hostile landscape of an enemy battlefield. Newly mastered in HD for DVD and Blu-ray debut.
Sleep My Love (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD), a romantic thriller in the Gaslight vein, stars Claudette Colbert as an heiress who seems to be losing her grip – the film opens with her waking up in a panic on a train to Boston with no memory of how she got there – and Robert Cummings as the witty bachelor who appoints himself her champion. The script tips its hand early on, revealing an elaborate piece of theater secretly being staged around Colbert, and soon enough we discover that her seemingly protective husband (Don Ameche) is behind the plot. It’s a familiar story elevated by engaging characters and offbeat detours, like a visit to a Chinese wedding where Cummings is the best man and honorary brother to the groom (Keye Luke). Director Douglas Sirk became famous as a director of colorful melodramas with social commentary around the edges and he’s not particularly gifted when it comes to suspense or mystery, but he is very good with the actors and dramatic engagement. It is fun watching these characters interact. Sirk makes the mystery work by focusing on Ameche and his mind-games, and Ameche is surprisingly effective, never overplaying his hand performing his piece of theater within the film. The print shows some wear (the credits are notably rough) but the image is good and the disc well mastered, bringing out the best in the image.
Broadway Danny Rose (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) is another of Allen’s bittersweet comedies of modern romance in Manhattan, this one in the lower rungs of show business. Allen plays the title character, a sad sack show-biz agent whose shot at the big time with a rising crooner (Nick Apollo Forte) gets complicated when he escorts the married singer’s dizzy mistress (Mia Farrow) and lands in a wacky screwball chase through New York. The shaggy dog story may seem slight, but Allen’s warm delight in his characters and the wondrous romantic charm of ending make it one of his most endearing pictures. With isolated musical score and an eight-page booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo. Limited to 3000 copies, available exclusively from Screen Archives and TCM.
A pair of Audrey Hepburn classics debut on Blu-ray.
In the 1954 Sabrina (Warner, Blu-ray), the astringent Billy Wilder takes on a Cinderella tale with a cynical twist and a fairy tale ending and adds just a little more of his patented conniving, cool nastiness before letting it all dissolve in unconvincing romantic abandon. But then Audrey Hepburn’s pixie elegance and sweet sincerity can’t help but mellow Wilder’s bitter tone and make us wish so desperately for that fantasy climax. Humphrey Bogart is a revelation as a workaholic Wall Street wolf, the kind of role producers never realize he is perfect for, and William Holden is a charmingly impulsive cad deluded by his very irresponsibility. It features six featurettes.
Hepburn gets top billing over the aging Fred Astaire in Funny Face (Warner, Blu-ray), playing a drab Greenwich Village bookseller who is transformed into a chic fashion model by photographer Astaire (a part modeled on Richard Avedon). Stanley Donen directs the 1957 feature, which whisks audiences from New York to Paris. With five featurettes.
Wild at Heart (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) – “This whole world is weird on top and wild at heart.” Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern are Sailor and Lulu, crazy-in-love rebels in a dangerous, explosively violent world and crime, fantasy, and rock and roll, in David Lynch’s cult road movie adapted from the novel by Barry Gifford. Along with the usual Twilight Time supplements, this features archival featurettes from the earlier DVD release: 30 minute documentary “Love, Death, Elvis and Oz: The Making of Wild At Heart,” the interview featurettes “Specific Spontaneity: Focus on David Lynch” (the cast and crew comment on working with Lynch) and “David Lynch: On the DVD” (the director talks about transferring the film to disc), extended interviews with the cast and the original promotional featurette.
Also from Twilight Time: Rita, Sue, and Bob Too (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), Alan Clarke’s 1987 social satire from Britain (with commentary by film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman), and Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), the family comedy with James Stewart, Maureen O’Hara and Fabian. All feature Twilight Time’s trademark isolated musical score and an eight-page booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo. Limited to 3000 copies, available exclusively from Screen Archives and TCM.
Also new and notable:
Black Jack (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD), adapted from the dark British children’s novel by Leon Garfield, is a 1978 feature from Ken Loach, largely forgotten (at least in the U.S.) but noted as an inspiration for Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. It’s stateside debut on Blu-ray and DD features commentary by Loach and a booklet with an essay by Peter Tonguette.
Touch of Evil (Universal, Blu-ray) features three different cuts of Orson Welles’ film noir classic, including the recut in the 1990s based on the notes Welles gave the studio in his legendary memo, plus supplements. Double Indemnity (Universal, Blu-ray), starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray and directed by Billy Wilder, is one of the defining film noirs. Bot debut on Blu-ray this week (no review copies were made available so I haven’t seen the quality or the supplements).
Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) gets its Criterion debut in a special edition mastered from a new 4K digital restoration and featuring select-scene commentary, interviews, deleted and extended scenes, and other supplements.
Previously available in both DVD and Blu-ray editions from Criterion, Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) and Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter (Criterion, Blu-ray) get new editions.
Also debuting on Blu-ray from Olive: the romantic drama Young At Heart (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD) with Doris Day and Frank Sinatra, spy spoof Bang! Bang! You’re Dead! (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD) with Tony Randall and Senta Berger and Cold War drama The Bamboo Saucer (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD) with Dan Duryea.
The Henry Jaglom Collection Vol. 3: The Women’s Quartet (Breaking Glass, DVD) boxes up four previously-available films on DVD: Eating (1990), Babyfever (1994), Going Shopping (2005) and Irene in Time (2009).
Alice (1989) (First Run, Blu-ray)
Mallrats (Universal, Blu-ray)
Reality Bites (Universal, Blu-ray)
Heart Like a Wheel: 30th Anniversary Edition (Anchor Bay, DVD)
The Lucio Fulci Collection (Severin, DVD)
Breeding Farm (Troma, DVD)
Bikini Swamp Girl Massacre (Troma, DVD)
Chillers / Space Preachers (Troma, DVD)
Marilyn and the Senator (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
Jekyll & Hyde Portfolio / A Clockwork Blue (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
Lust for Freedom (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)