Red River (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) – Howard Hawks’ 1948 ‘Mutiny on the Prairie’ is a frontier epic, the sweeping tale of a journey that can’t be made and the story of a son forced to battle the father he loves and adores. Monty Clift made his film debut opposite grand old icon John Wayne, playing the adopted son of the self-made cattle baron, and the opposition of acting styles is electric: laconic elder statesman Wayne wearing his character like buckskin, dominating the screen as upstart method actor Clift’s intensity burns a star right next to him.
Hawks’ style leans more to Wayne: measured and easy-going, he seems to let the characters take the story along with them, but behind that easy pace is a tale of madness, betrayal and vengeance that heats to a simmer under the sun of the parched prairie. “I never knew the big sonofabitch could act,” remarked Ford upon seeing Wayne’s performance, and he started casting Wayne in more complex and mature roles. But Clift was the real revelation and his internalized, psychologically-driven approach arguably pushed Wayne to reach for colors he’d never brought to a role before. The release was delayed while Hawks fought a legal battle with Howard Hughes, who claimed the film was similar to his own The Outlaw. Hughes lost but in the meantime Clift made The Search, which beat Red River to theaters and earned Clift his first Oscar nomination.
There are two versions of Red River and the longer pre-release version, which features “diary pages” of exposition between scenes and minute or two of additional footage, has been the version on previous home video releases. Hawks himself has said that he prefers the theatrical release, with runs 127 minutes (six minutes shorter than the pre-release cut) and features Walter Brennan narrating in place of the journal pages, and Criterion features a new 4K digital restoration of this version as well as a 2K restoration of the longer cut on both Blu-ray and DVD.
The four-disc combo release includes both films on Blu-ray and DVD plus new video interviews with Peter Bogdanovich (discussing the differences between the two cuts) and historian Lee Clark Mitchell (on the history of the western novel and the film’s debt to the literary tradition) and a video essay by Molly Haskell. Archival supplements include audio excerpts from Bogdanovich’s 1972 interview with Hawks and an interview with novelist and screenwriter Borden Chase. There’s a booklet featuring a new essay by Geoffrey O’Brien and a 1991 interview with Hawks’s longtime editor Christian Nyby, plus a new paperback edition of Chase’s original novel, previously out of print.
Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) (Shout Factory, Blu-ray), Werner Herzog’s eerie color remake of F.W. Murnau’s original vampire classic (itself an unauthorized version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula), is at once faithful to Murnau’s film and quintessentially Herzogian. Klaus Kinski, Herzog’s demon alter ego, is both hideous and haunting as the chalk-skinned gargoyle, a melancholy monster seeking an end to his eternal loneliness, and Isabelle Adjani’s dark eyes and alabaster skin give her the look of death’s bride. It’s the only remake that Herzog has ever directed and it is a natural subject for a filmmaker who focused on outcasts and obsessives and landscapes rich in natural grandeur and mythic power. Herzog named the vampire Dracula as in Bram Stoker’s novel but kept the title Nosferatu in tribute to Murnau, and he pays homage to many of Murnau’s memorable images with stunning recreations while creating a number of his own dreamy moments: the twilight hike of Bruno Ganz’s Jonathan Harker through the fog-ringed Carpathian Mountains, the ghostly aura of the deserted town, the surreal march of pallbearers parading caskets through the town square, all elevated by the ethereal music of Popul Vuh.
Herzog shot English and German versions simultaneously, with the actors performing the spoken scenes separately for each language, and edited them individually, resulting in subtle but palpable differences between the two seemingly identical editions. Herzog cuts the scenes in response to the variations in performance – some shots are held longer in the English version than in the German, and vice-versa – and even rearranges scenes, as if experimenting with variations. And he still ends up with two versions almost identical in running time. Herzog considered the German language edition more “culturally authentic” version and the Kinski and Ganz show a greater ease and confidence performing in German. Both are eerie and atmospheric takes on the legendary vampire tale.
Both versions are included on this release, produced from new HD masters produced by Herzog. It’s a marked improvement over the earlier DVD release but (according to the Blu-ray collector sites) apparently not as good as the recent BFI Blu-ray, which underwent further restoration work. I don’t have the import to compare. This also includes two commentary tracks featuring Werner Herzog, one in English originally recorded for the Anchor Bay release, the other in German and moderated by Dutch-German writer and producer Laurens Straub (subtitled in English). Both are recorded for the German-language version. Also included is an archival “The Making of Nosferatu” featurette with behind-the-scenes footage.
The Color of Lies (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD) a 1998 murder mystery, arrived forty years after Claude Chabrol’s debut feature, but the old man still had more than a decade filmmaking left in him. Chabrol had always been more interested in character than plot and psychology than suspense and The Color of Lies, which opens on the murder of a child, uses the mystery as the frame around a character study and social portrait of a small seaside community. Jacques Gamblin plays the prime suspect, a depressed artist making ends met giving art lessons to local kids, and Sandrine Bonnaire is his supportive but frustrated wife, the breadwinner of the two and a sunny optimist to his gloomy, self-defeating hermit. No wonder she’s attracted to local celebrity Germain-Roland Desmot (Antoine de Caunes), a confident, charming self-promoter that even the newly-posted police inspector (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) immediately pegs as “a snake.”
The murder and investigation is largely in the background. This isn’t like the recent Broadchurch, where the shadow of a child murder hangs over every conversation and meeting; the reverberations are more insidious, the suspicions of Gamblin sneaking into scenes and tipping him into martyrdom. In fact, a rash of robberies of artworks and artifacts is as big a priority for the stymied inspector as the murder investigation, which grinds to a halt for lack of clues and evidence. Chabrol could do the traditional murder mystery and detective procedural as well as anyone (just see the recent Inspector Lavardin releases) but this is something else, a low-key study in suspicion, mistrust and small-town gossip where the details are suggested more than stated.
Previously released on DVD by Kino, the new Cohen edition features a new HD transfer and is a huge improvement in quality. Features commentary by film critics Wade Major and Andy Klein and a booklet with film stills (but no notes). Note that the film is actually 113 minutes, not 103 minutes as listed on the case.
William Friedkin made an auspicious debut with The People vs. Paul Crump (Facets, DVD), a documentary produced for TV in 1962 but never broadcast and seen only in film festivals and special screenings, but those screenings had an impact. Friedkin profiles Paul Crump, an African American Chicago man convicted of murdering a security guard during the robbery of a meatpacking plant and sentenced to death in 1953. He had faced 14 stays of execution during his nine years on death row. The prison warden proclaimed him rehabilitated. His attorney maintained that the Chicago police had beaten and tortured a confession out of him. And Friedkin anchors the hour-long production with Crump himself, making his case and describing his ordeal. This is activist filmmaking and Friedkin uses the camera to tell Crump’s story, using recreations of the robbery, arrest and interrogation to illustrate Crump’s testimony. The mix of cinema vérité style, with the handheld camera in the middle of the action and uncomfortably close to the bodies and faces in the frame, and hard-hitting crime expose out of a late fifties film noir is effective and accomplished. The roots of The French Connection can be seen in those dramatic recreations. And the public pressure to have Crump’s sentence commuted has been attributed in large part to this film, which was never broadcast (the reasons are complicated and discussed in the accompanying booklet) but was give press screenings.
The film was shot on 16mm and Facets put a lot of effort into making a new digital master. It’s a rough-and-ready production and a grainy film with a soft picture, but it looks remarkably good thanks to the high-quality master and digital clean-up. No video extras but it includes a Cine-Notes booklet with an essay by film studies professor Susan Doll (also one of TCM’s Movie Morlocks), script excerpts, and notes on Friedkin’s career.
Kino continues their revival of the films of Alain Robbe-Grillet with two more home video debuts. From 1968 comes The Man Who Lies (Kino / Redemption, Blu-ray, DVD), starring regular Robbe-Grillet collaborator Jean-Louis Trintignant as wanted man who takes refuge in a small village and spins tales of his work as a resistance fighter that twist around in contradictory claims. It’s another of the director’s takes on stories and storytelling and identity and his final black and white production. He jumped into color in 1970 with his next film, Eden and After (Kino / Redemption, Blu-ray, DVD), an erotic fantasy about French students indulging in psychological and sexual games with the help of “fear powder” that sends them on hallucinatory odysseys. Robbe-Grillet made an alternate version of the film for French TV called N. Took the Dice (1972), using alternate takes and reordered scenes. Both versions are presented on the disc.
Both films are newly mastered in HD from original 35mm elements and presented in French with English subtitles, and both include lengthy video interviews with Robbe-Grille that were conducted a few years ago.
Also new and notable:
Sleepaway Camp: Collector’s Edition (Shout Factory, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) presents the Blu-ray debut of the cult slasher film from a new 2K digital transfer of the original camera negative, with two new commentary tracks and a new featurette plus the original commentary track from the earlier disc release.
McLintock! (Paramount, Blu-ray), the film that launched a string of boisterous John Wayne western comedies, comes to Blu-ray in a special edition that calls it’s the “Authentic Collector’s Edition” to set itself apart from the earlier Olive release. This one is newly mastered from original film elements and features commentary, a featurette, and an introduction by Leonard Maltin among the supplements.
John Wayne: The Epic Collection (Warner, DVD) boxes up 40 John Wayne films from Warner Bros. and Paramount, from early B-westerns dating back to 1932 to his final film The Shootist (1976), on 38 DVDs. Features commentary tracks, featurettes and vintage shorts among the supplements and comes with a coffee-table book and collectibles.
The Max Linder Collection (Kino, DVD) collects three silent features by the legendary French comedy star – The Three Must-Get-Theres (1922), Seven Years Bad Luck (1921) and Be My Wife (1921) – plus the 1917 short Max Wants a Divorce, all from the Hollywood period of his career. The review copy was delayed so I’ll be reviewing this in a future column.
Two Blu-ray collections also released this week to mark Memorial Day: Invasion Europe (World War II Collection) (Warner, Blu-ray), with three features (The Big Red One, The Dirty Dozen and Where Eagles Dare) and a documentary, and True Stories of WWII (World War II Collection) (Warner, Blu-ray), featuring Battle of the Bulge, Memphis Belle and Defiance plus a bonus DVD of supplements. Review to come this weekend.
Gang War in Milan (Raro, Blu-ray, DVD)
Weekend of a Champion (MPI, DVD)
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Criterion, Blu-ray)
How to Train Your Dragon: Collector’s Edition (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD)
Journey to the West (Magnolia, Blu-ray, DVD)
Dracula (1974) (MPI, Blu-ray)
Death Spa (MPI Gorgon, Blu-ray)
Blue Movie (Raro, DVD)
The Revengers (Paramount, DVD)
Martial Arts Movie Marathon (Shout Factory, DVD)
Viva Max (Cheezy Flicks, DVD)