Sorcerer (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD) – William Friedkin spent years trying to untangle the rights to his 1977 film, an expensive dream project that he made after hitting it big with The French Connection and The Exorcist, and after suing to force the studios to clear up the legal morass he supervised a restoration, mastered from a 4K scan of the original 35mm negative, that screened at the Venice Film Festival in 2013 and played around the country before making its Blu-ray debut in April.
It’s a remake of Henri George-Clouzot’s survival thriller The Wages of Fear, about four men hiding out in a grimy South American village who agree to drive two trucks with unstable dynamite in the back over 200 miles through the jungle, and apart from a lengthy prologue that introduces the men and the crimes that sent them into hiding, it’s a faithful remake with a very different feeling. Friedkin gives the jungle a primal quality, an aliveness that makes their journey feel like a trip through an alien world waiting to swallow them up, and makes the trucks themselves characters in the film (the title Sorcerer is actually the name of one of the old trucks, which are practically reconstructed by the drivers for the trip). In contrast, the men are oddly without dimension apart from Roy Scheider’s New Jersey mobster Jackie Scanlon, who takes the name Juan Dominguez in his underworld witness protection plan. A gangland wheelman in his former life, he’s the driving force (so to speak) in grinding through the challenges of the overgrown road: a fallen monster of a tree, a rotting suspension bridge, cliff roads almost washed away by monsoon rains, and a terrorist band hiding in the jungle. The score by German electronic outfit Tangerine Dream—their first soundtrack for an American film—helps set the otherworldly tone. Their music is actually used sparingly through the film but their slow but insistent rhythm and electronic tones (unique at the time and still quite effective) is the film’s defining sound.
Though Friedkin hinted that the release would feature new commentary and other supplements via his Facebook page back in 2013, there disc features no supplements beyond a letter from Friedkin and the 40-page booklet in the Blu-ray Book package, featuring photos, art and an excerpt from Friedkin’s autobiography. The disc looks and sounds superb (the greens of the jungle look unnaturally overbright though it gives the ordeal a hallucinatory quality) but beware that Warner botched the DVD, producing it from an unrestored master, and Friedkin himself has warned buyers to wait until Warner comes out with a remastered DVD on June 10.
Trouble Every Day (KimStim / Oscilloscope, DVD), Claire Denis’ wigged-out 2001 take on the vampire film, makes it stateside disc debut more than a decade after its theatrical debut. It’s about time. While it had its boosters, the film was lambasted on its original release (look at Rotten Tomatoes and you’ll see the majority of its positive reviews from the 2013 revival) for its utterly insane portrait of a madwoman (Béatrice Dalle, but of course) who is locked in a basement because of her propensity to devour her lovers. And I mean literally devour them.
It’s a cannibal film, but in the Cronenberg sense—horror as biology and disease and psychological transformation—with Denis’s weird mix of too much intimacy and observational distance. The tangle of sex and death is obvious but no less visceral: Dahl giggles and coos and barks in pleasure as moves from caresses and kissing to eating her lover come dinner. She’s never sadistic; it’s more like playing with her food. Vincent Gallo, Tricia Vassey and Alex Descas co-star. The disc features an audio introduction by director of photography Agnès Godard and a booklet with an essay by Melissa Anderson.
The Pawnbroker (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD), the Sidney Lumet-directed 1964 film based on the novel by Edward Lewis, is a real time capsule. It’s the first American film to really take on the legacy of the Holocaust on a personal level set, and it’s in a Harlem pawnshop where a stream of slum stereotypes wander in and out with items to pawn and desperation to ooze. Rod Steiger was nominated for an Academy Award for his controlled, internalized performance—one of the best performances of his career and far more powerful than the one that earned him his Oscar a couple of years later—as Sol Nazerman, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps that killed his wife and child.
The scenes in his shop (which he manages as a front for a Harlem gangster played by Brock Peters) resembles an off-Broadway play with its social commentary on its sleeve, but when Lumet leaves the shop for the streets, the noise and bustle of the Harlem streets energizes the screen. It’s dynamic and alive, a magnificent piece of location photography by the great Boris Kaufman and an early glimpse of the Lumet who will become one of the great chroniclers of New York City life. The rest is well-meaning but dated take on race and crime in the slums elevated by Steiger’s superb performance. Jaime Sánchez (The Wild Bunch) co-stars as Sol’s garrulous, ambitious assistant and Geraldine Fitzgerald is an insistent social worker who gently tries to break through Sol’s shell, and Quincy Jones wrote and produced the terrific score, one of his first film soundtracks. As a curious trivia note, this was also the first American film with female nudity to get a Production Code seal of approval. The film has been beautifully mastered and looks superb on Blu-ray. No supplements.
The Inspector Lavardin Collection (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD) promises two “suspense classics” from Claude Chabrol. While I might differ with their definition of “classic” (I find Chicken with Vinegar, 1985, and Inspector Lavardin, 1986, fun but minor Chabrol), the two-disc set includes two additional Chabrol rarities: The Black Snail, 1988, and Danger Lies in the World, 1989, both made for French TV. All four star Jean Poiret as Police Inspector Jean Lavardin, an eccentric lone wolf of an investigator who bends protocol, breaks the law, beats suspects, and generally follows his instincts with a single minded ferocity, all behind the easy-going demeanor of an elegant, silver-haired veteran cop.
Chicken with Vinegar (aka Cop au Vin) is a lightfingered little mystery set in a village of poisonous personalities and nasty little conspiracies, starring Stephan Audran as a hate-fueled invalid who sends her son (Lucas Belvaux) to spy on a cabal of conspirators plotting to evict them from their house. Inspector Lavardin reunites Chabrol with Jean-Claude Brialy and Bernadette Lafont, the stars of his debut feature Le Beau Serge, who play a brother and sister suspected in the murder of a Catholic author with a morally corrupt secret life. Both are Chabrol lite, more in line with the British TV murder mystery style than Chabrol’s usual psychologically sharp portraits of guilt and desire. The TV films are even more easy-going, but being a fan of British TV murder mysteries myself, I quite enjoyed seeing Chabrol play with what seems to be a purely commercial assignment. Chabrol was more like the Hollywood studio directors he loved so much than any of his fellow nouvelle vague filmmakers; he made his projects when he could and commercial films when he had to, and he always put a little of his own style and sensibility into those assignments.
The feature films looks great and the TV films (which are in the old TV aspect ratio of 1.33:1) look just fine. All are in French with English subtitles. Film critics Wade Majors and Andy Klein provide commentary for the theatrical films and there’s a booklet with an essay by Peter Tonguette.
There are three Criterion debuts as well, which I will cover separately in a later piece: Carl Dreyer’s beautiful and tender 1925 silent drama Master of the House (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, DVD), Don Seigel’s incendiary prison thriller Riot in Cell Block 11 (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, DVD), and Dino Risi’s 1962 Italian road movie Il Sorpasso (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, DVD) with Vittorio Gassman and Jean-Louis Trintignant. All are newly remastered and feature supplements.
Mr. Magoo Theatrical Collection 1949-1959 (Shout Factory, DVD) presents all 53 animated shorts featuring the nearsighted Magoo (voiced by Jim Backus) produced for theaters, plus the 1959 feature film 1001 Arabian Nights, with Magoo as the uncle of Aladdin (voiced by Dwayne Hickman). Two of the shorts in the collection won Academy Awards—When Magoo Flew (1955) and Magoo’s Puddle Jumper (1956)—and 12 are CinemaScope productions presented in full widescreen. Also includes the featurette “A Princess for Magoo: The Making of 1001 Nights.” Four discs in a box set. Oh Magoo, you’ve done it again!
Betty Boop: The Essential Collection Volume 3 (1932-1938) (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD) features 12 cartoons made between 1932 and 1938, including Minnie the Moocher (guest starring Cab Calloway) and I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You (with guest star Louis Armstrong), all remastered in HD from 4K scans of original negatives and finegrain prints.
Stranger on the Prowl (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD) stars Paul Muni as a vagrant on the run in a devastated post-war village in Italy. The 1953 film was a European production from two blacklisted American filmmakers: director Joseph Losey and screenwriter Ben Barzman.
Seven Warriors (Well Go USA, Blu-ray, DVD) is the 1989 Hong Kong take on The Seven Samurai with Jacky Cheung, Max Mok, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and martial arts movie legend Lo Lieh, and fight choreography by Sammo Hung (who also co-stars). Cantonese with English subtitles.
The Lost Empire (MVD, DVD) is the 1985 directorial debut of Jim Wynorski, the B-movie maven who directed more than 90 low-budget, often direct-to-video movie in the years since. It features commentary and a slideshow of stills. It arrives along with Gila (MVD, DVD), his 2012 remake of the 1959 drive-in film The Giant Gila Monster.
Gamera 4 Movie Collection: Volume 1 (Mill Creek, Blu-ray) and Gamera 4 Movie Collection: Volume 2 (Mill Creek, Blu-ray) collect eight original Gamera films of the 1960s between the two of them.
Harry Potter Hogwarts Collection (Warner, Blu-ray) is basically a repackaging of the Wizard’s Collection, with every film and disc supplement previously available but without the elaborate dollhouse box and draws full of goodies.
The Five Obstructions (Kino Lorber, DVD)
Sophie’s Choice (Shout Factory, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)
Hallucination Strip (Raro, Blu-ray, DVD)
Demons (Kino / Redemption, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Black Torment (Kino / Redemption, Blu-ray, DVD)
Lady Whirlwind / Hapkido – Double Feature (Shout Factory, DVD)
The Strange Woman (Film Chest, DVD)
Up the Junction (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Get Carter (1971) (Warner, Blu-ray)
Get Carter (2000) (Warner, Blu-ray)
Conspiracy Theory (Warner, Blu-ray)
Exit Wounds (Warner, Blu-ray)
Torque (Warner, Blu-ray)
Chances Are: 25th Anniversary Edition (Image, Blu-ray)
The Ripening Seed (Pathfinder, DVD)
Julia (Pathfinder, DVD)