Blu-Ray Review: Panic in the Streets

Director: Elia Kazan
Screenplay: Richard Murphy, Daniel Fuchs, John Lee Mahin (uncredited), Philip Yordan (uncredited)
Based on a story by: Edna Anhalt, Edward Anhalt
Starring: Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes, Jack Palance, Zero Mostel
Country: USA
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 1950
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve long been a bit of a hypochondriac/germophobe. If anyone’s ill in my circle of family or friends I’m always terrified of catching something and try everything in my power to avoid contact or obsessively clean my hands any time I get close to them. As such, I’ve always found films about disease particularly disturbing. So a film like Elia Kazan’s Panic in the Streets plays into my fear as the best thrillers do.

The film opens with a group of unsavoury characters playing cards in a New Orleans bar. One of them looks rather unwell and wants to leave, but the others, including tough guy Blackie (Jack Palance) and his nervous accomplice Raymond Fitch (Zero Mostel), think he’s putting it on to avoid paying what he owes. They chase him down when he does leave and end up killing the man and dumping him in the docks.

The authorities find the body the next morning and perform an autopsy. It seems pretty clear the man died of a gunshot wound, but the doctor discovers he actually had pneumonic plague. This is a highly infectious and fatal disease, so Lt. Commander Clint Reed (Richard Widmark), a doctor with the U.S. Public Health Service, is called in to handle the situation. He believes that the murderer is key to containing the situation as he was obviously in contact with the dead man and must have got his blood on him as he carried the body to the docks. So Reed figures he and the police have got 48 hours to figure out who the killer is before the plague spreads out of their control. Reed also believes the outbreak should be kept from public knowledge as they don’t want the murder to leave New Orleans in a panic. This controversial decision has some repercussions down the line though as Reed and the lead police officer on the case, Capt. Tom Warren (Paul Douglas) begin to crack the case.

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Blu-Ray Review: Certain Women – Criterion Collection

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Screenplay: Kelly Reichardt
Based on short stories by: Maile Meloy
Starring: Lily Gladstone, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Jared Harris, James Le Gros
Country: USA
Running Time: 107 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 12


Kelly Reichardt enjoys much acclaim for her films among mainstream critics, but she can be an acquired taste among bloggers and general audiences. You only have to compare the quotes and ratings from critics reviewing her work to her IMDb or Amazon star ratings to see there’s a bit of a gulf between intellectual appreciation and public opinion. Being what I’d consider part of the ‘slow cinema’ movement (which isn’t clearly defined, but includes similar films that are low on plot and action), her work isn’t particularly exciting or as attention-grabbing as more digestible auteurs making films in the 21st Century. Knowing this, I don’t rush to watch Reichardt’s films as I worry I’ll be in for a tedious slog, not helped by some less than enthusiastic opinions of her films I’ve heard expressed by a couple of friends. I did see Meek’s Cutoff a couple of years ago though and was very impressed, so my apprehension has dampened somewhat since then and strong reviews lead me to accept an offer of reviewing her latest film, Certain Women. Whilst I’m happy to watch the film now though, I’m still rather apprehensive about critiquing it. I consider myself quite a ‘nuts and bolts’ reviewer, who likes to list clear elements of the film that work or don’t work rather than waffle on about what a filmmaker is trying to ‘say’. So I find slow, quiet, thoughtful films like this difficult to analyse in my usual fashion. I’ll give it my best shot though.

Certain Women takes several short stories by Maile Meloy and uses them to create three only very loosely connected narratives, which are presented one by one through the bulk of the film, before revisiting them all briefly in the finale. The first story features Laura Dern as Laura, a lawyer troubled by a client (Jared Harris) that won’t accept the fact he doesn’t have a case. He seems to have a fondness for Laura too and won’t leave her alone, asking for her help when he cracks and takes someone hostage at gunpoint.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Wonderful Worlds Of Ray Harryhausen, Volume One: 1955-1960

Indicator continue their Blu-Ray re-releases of the great Ray Harryhausen’s work with this volume containing three of the films he made between 1955 and 1960. It includes glorious HD prints of It Came From Beneath the Sea, 20 Million Miles to Earth and The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, curiously skipping Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (which has previously been made available on DVD in a set with the first two titles). In my earlier review of the Sinbad Trilogy, I professed my love for Harryhausen’s stop motion creations and how they played a key part in my cinematic upbringing, so I was thrilled to be offered another set of his films to review, particularly since I’d only seen one of them previously (It Came From Beneath the Sea). My thoughts on the three films are below:

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Blu-Ray Review: The Red Turtle

Director: Michael Dudok de Wit
Screenplay: Michael Dudok de Wit, Pascale Ferran
Starring: Emmanuel Garijo, Tom Hudson, Baptiste Goy
Country: France, Belgium, Japan
Running Time: 80 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 12


I‘m an absolute sucker for animated films, so watch and enjoy a great deal of them. My favourite director has long been Hayao Miyazaki and the work he does, as well as that of Studio Ghibli, the production company he co-founded, is always classed as ‘must see’ in my household as I consider their output some of the best of the format. Michael Dudok de Wit’s The Red Turtle is only partly produced by Studio Ghibli, but its strong reviews have kept it firmly at the top of my ‘to watch’ list ever since I became aware of it. I frustratingly missed a couple of opportunities to see it on the big screen, but finally my chance came to watch the film when I was offered a screener to review, so I cranked up my projector and settled down, trying but failing to dampen my expectations in case of disappointment.

The Red Turtle opens with a nameless man struggling to keep hold of a capsized boat during a terrible storm, before later waking up on a desert island, the shattered remnants of his boat largely washed away. He survives as best he can and soon attempts to leave the island, stringing bamboo trunks together to form a small raft. This gets smashed by an unknown force under the water, so he swims back to shore and later tries again. His second raft gets destroyed again by a similar unseen underwater attacker. Then, on his third attempt, he catches his assailant in the act. It’s a large red turtle, who follows the man back to the island. In his anger and frustration, the man takes a large piece of wood and beats the turtle, then flips it on its back to die in the baking sunlight. After a while, the man realises what he’s done though and tries to nurse the animal back to life. Instead what happens takes the film in a fantastical direction, as the turtle turns into a woman. She can’t speak and still has some turtle-like characteristics, but the man falls in love with her and the pair decide to stay put, prompting the film to shift forward in time a couple of years to reveal they now have a young son. We then follow their lives as a family and watch the development of the boy into a man, who sets his sights beyond the island.

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Blu-Ray Review: Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

Director: Henry Levin
Screenplay: Walter Reisch, Charles Brackett
Based on a Novel by: Jules Verne
Starring: James Mason, Pat Boone, Arlene Dahl, Diane Baker, Thayer David, Peter Ronson
Country: USA
Running Time: 129 min
Year: 1959
BBFC Certificate: U


Some films, like some music, work best or sometimes only work when watched in certain situations. ‘Bad’ movies for instance, are only fun when watched with a group of like minded friends and helped by the consumption of alcohol. Horror movies, with few exceptions, need to be watched at night when it’s nice and dark and you feel isolated and vulnerable. Comedies are best in a packed cinema or at home with a group of people willing to laugh along at the jokes. These are fairly obvious examples, but another genre (if you can call it that) I’d add to the list are old family-friendly adventure movies. Maybe it’s just me, but lightly enjoyable romps made back in the 40s or 50s work so much better when watched on a lazy, preferably rainy Sunday afternoon when you’ve got nothing better to do. The looser pace and dated elements don’t trouble you like they might when watched before bed on a weekday, when the troubles of the day are still on your mind and you need a bit more excitement or food for thought to keep you awake. Journey to the Center of the Earth (the 1959 version) is such a film and I watched it under near perfect circumstances. Last Saturday, my youngest daughter was a bit under the weather, my wife was at work, my dad was looking after my eldest daughter, and it was chucking it down. So I settled down on the sofa that afternoon, put out some toys for the little ‘un and took a charming journey through Jules Verne’s imagination without a care in the world (other than taking notes for this review).

The title to Journey to the Center of the Earth makes its plot pretty clear, although there are further details I can describe here, many of which were added by the screenwriters Walter Reisch and Charles Brackett to add some more contemporary excitement to the original story.

Respected professor Sir Oliver S. Lindenbrook (James Mason) is given the gift of an unusual piece of volcanic rock from a student, Alec McEwan (Pat Boone), to celebrate his being knighted. Finding some unusual properties to the rock, he runs some tests on it and discovers it contains a message from an Icelandic scientist named Arne Saknussemm, who went missing on a quest to reach the centre of the Earth. The rock is proof that Saknussemm had discovered something close to it, so Lindenbrook becomes obsessed with picking up where Saknussemm left off. When he treks up to Iceland to do so however, he finds himself in a race for the prize against two other scientists, the Swedish Professor Göteborg (Ivan Triesault) and Count Saknussemm (Thayer David), a descendant of the scientist who wants the glory for himself. When the Count kills off Göteborg, the Swede’s wife Carla (Arlene Dahl) joins Lindenbrook, McEwan, a giant local Icelander called Hans (Pétur Ronson), and his pet duck Gertrud, on the titular trip down a rather convenient passage to the city of Atlantis, near the Earth’s core.

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Blu-Ray Review: Don’t Torture a Duckling

Director: Lucio Fulci
Screenplay: Lucio Fulci, Roberto Gianviti, Gianfranco Clerici
Starring: Florinda Bolkan, Barbara Bouchet, Tomas Milian, Marc Porel
Country: Italy
Running Time: 105min
Year: 1972
BBFC Certificate: 18


The Italian genre movie writer/director Lucio Fulci is probably best known for his ultra-gory horror movies, such as Zombie Flesh Eaters (a.k.a. Zombie), The Beyond and City of the Living Dead, so he’s often considered a rather trashy director by more mainstream critics. However, he actually wrote and directed a range of material over his long and prolific career (largely earlier on in it), including a number of comedies. His most well respected films touch on the horror genre, but fall more accurately into that of the giallo (Italian murder mystery thrillers, basically). The most acclaimed of these, and the one Fulci named as his personal favourite, is 1972’s Don’t Torture a Duckling, which Arrow Video have brought out on Blu-Ray in the UK.

Don’t Torture a Duckling is set in the rural Italian town of Accendura (which is fictional as far as I know) where young boys are being killed off one by one. After the first murder, a local ‘simpleton’ known as Barra (Vito Passeri) is arrested and thought to be the killer after he is caught trying to ask for a ransom from the boy’s parents, pretending he is alive and hiding the body. The police aren’t too sure he’s the right man though, despite this evidence, and after the second child is killed they know for certain they’re barking up the wrong tree. From then on a couple of oddball characters are suspected, including a local ‘witch’, Maciara (Florinda Bolkan), and a young attractive woman, Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet), who is believed to have moved here to recover from a drug problem. Whilst the police struggle to find the culprit, a journalist from the city, Andrea Martelli (Tomas Milian), makes his own investigation. As each new suspect is made public, the locals react in vicious outrage before the truth eventually comes out.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Day of the Jackal

Director: Fred Zinnemann
Screenplay: Kenneth Ross
Based on a Book by: Frederick Forsyth
Starring: Edward Fox, Michael Lonsdale, Terence Alexander, Michel Auclair, Derek Jacobi
Country: UK, France
Running Time: 142 min
Year: 1973
BBFC Certificate: 15


The Day of the Jackal is a film I haven’t seen since pre-DVD days when I had it on VHS. I saw it a couple of times back in the day and have fond memories of it, so I was more than pleased to hear Arrow announce they were giving it their thorough spit and polish treatment and unleashing it into the HD world.

Based on the bestselling novel by Frederick Forsyth of the same name, The Day of the Jackal tells of a fictional attempt in 1962 on the life of French President Charles de Gaulle. He had many detractors at the time (in reality) due to his handling of the Algerian War, so many failed assassination attempts were made, usually by the OAS (Organisation armée secrète – “an underground organization formed mainly from French military personnel supporting a French Algeria” according to Wikipedia). In the book/film, in a final bid to successfully kill the president, the OAS secretly hire a professional assassin known only as ‘The Jackal’ (Edward Fox) from overseas to do the job alone, so that informers/spies can’t put a stop to it as had been the case previously.

The film follows the Jackal’s careful work planning and implementing the assassination. This is intercut with the police efforts to find him. They call up “the best detective on the force”, Lebel (Michael Lonsdale), who works day and night to track down the Jackal with the help of his assistant Caron (a young Derek Jacobi).

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Blu-Ray Review: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World – Criterion Collection

Director: Stanley Kramer
Screenplay: William Rose, Tania Rose
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas, Jonathan Winters, Edie Adams, Dorothy Provine
Country: USA
Running Time: 163 min – theatrical cut, 197 min – road-show version
Year: 1963
BBFC Certificate: 12


Back in the 1960s, Hollywood was struggling. Television, which had grown in popularity during the 50s, had become commonplace in homes around America and the quality of programming was increasing. Due largely to this, audience numbers for films were falling and studios were struggling to find success with their tried and tested production line techniques. In a bid to draw people back to theatres, studios turned to making films on an epic scale, with widescreen photography being employed more regularly (as TV was still in academy ratio back then of course) and budgets escalating on blockbuster pictures. One unusual example of this ‘bigger is better’ mentality at the time was Stanley Kramer’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Most Hollywood epics back then were grand period dramas, such as Ben Hur, Cleopatra and How the West Was Won. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World however, was a modern comedy, a genre generally kept cheap, short and snappy, yet it cost $9.4 million dollars (quite a lot at the time) and runs at a bum-numbing 163 minutes (or 197 minutes in its roadshow version before hitting theatres and even longer supposedly in its original form). Featuring an endless slew of famous TV and film comedians and a huge amount of on-screen carnage, the film is the very definition of Hollywood excess. It proved a successful formula though and the film made a decent amount of money and has gone on to be a favourite comedy to many. I hadn’t actually seen the film before, so Criterion’s decision to release the film in the UK on Blu-Ray as part of their prestigious collection was more than welcome and I snapped up a screener straight away.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World opens (after a lengthy ‘overture’) with a car crashing in the winding hills of Palm Springs, California. A group of five motorists (Sid Caesar, Jonathan Winters, Mickey Rooney, Buddy Hackett and Milton Berle) pull over to help the driver, ex-convict “Smiler” Grogan (Jimmy Durante), who stays alive just long enough to tell them he’s buried $350,000 in Santa Rosita State Park near the Mexican border under a big W. The five men and the family some of them are travelling with at first pretend to think the story they heard was nonsense, but none of them can resist the lure of all that money and thus begins an epic chase to be the first to travel down south and take the money for themselves.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Boy and the Beast

Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Screenplay: Mamoru Hosoda
Starring: Aoi Miyazaki, Shôta Sometani, Kôji Yakusho
Country: Japan
Running Time: 119 min
Year: 2015
BBFC Certificate: 12


Mamoru Hosoda is a writer and director making a good name for himself in the anime world. After some TV work and a couple of films from TV franchises, he turned heads with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and two of his subsequent films, Summer Wars and Wolf Children, which were all critical and commercial successes (in Japan at least). His latest film, The Boy and the Beast, is no different, attracting mainly positive reviews and becoming the second highest grossing release of 2015 in Japan. Being an anime fan and having enjoyed The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars quite a lot (I haven’t seen Wolf Children), it didn’t take much convincing for me to take up an offer of reviewing the film.

The Boy and the Beast sees a young boy, Ren (Aoi Miyazaki), become a runaway, living on the streets of Tokyo after his mother dies and his father (who had previously divorced his mother) doesn’t come forward to look after him. Whilst living rough, Ren bumps into Kumatetsu (Kôji Yakusho), a warrior beast who is looking for a pupil to train. Kumatetsu lives in a secret realm of the beasts, where he is in contention to become the new Lord, as the current Lord is due to leave this world and become a God. Kumatetsu is pig-headed and arrogant though, doing everything alone, and a worthy Lord must be a teacher with an heir as well as a mighty warrior.

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Blu-Ray Review: Mindhorn

Director: Sean Foley
Screenplay: Julian Barratt, Simon Farnaby
Starring: Julian Barratt, Simon Farnaby, Essie Davis, Andrea Riseborough, Steve Coogan, Russell Tovey, Richard McCabe
Country: UK
Running Time: 89 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 15


For some reason I don’t watch many new comedies these days (other than animated family films I watch with my kids). I’m not sure why, I love a good comedy. I think it’s because I don’t go out to the cinema as much as I used to, so when I do it’s restricted to big visual spectacles or critically lauded films. The films I choose to review tend to be acclaimed classics or dark and violent cult films too, so my film watching habits of late tend to be rather serious. So, it was a breath of fresh air to be offered a copy of Mindhorn to review. I’m a fan of much of the work of Baby Cow Productions, the company who produced it, and a collection of their regular troop of British comics were involved, including Steve Coogan as well as the writers/stars Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby. Most of the talent are better known for their TV work, and it can be difficult to make the transition to the big screen, but Coogan and Baby Cow’s recent upgrade of their Alan Partridge character to feature length worked pretty well so I was willing to give this a chance.

Mindhorn sees Barratt play Richard Thorncroft, an actor who found fame playing a detective called Bruce Mindhorn on a cheesy 80s cop show set on the Isle of Man. The film is set in the modern day though, and we learn that Thorncroft blew it all after the show fizzled out, hitting the bottle and badmouthing his colleagues when he believed he’d got a shot in Hollywood. Now he’s doing adverts for compression stockings and girdles, and is deluded in thinking people still recognise him from his heyday. A chance to be back in the public eye appears though when a serial killer who calls himself ‘The Kestrel’ leaves a message for the police saying he’s only willing to deal with detective Bruce Mindhorn. Thorncroft is called up to help deal with the situation and he grabs the opportunity to get his face on TV once again. The case brings him to the Isle of Man though, where the past comes back to haunt him. Most notably his ex-girlfriend Patricia DeVille (Effie Davies) still lives there with her husband, Thorncroft’s former stuntman, Clive Parnevik (Farnaby) and her daughter, who Thorncroft believes is his. Whilst dredging up the past, the murder case takes a few twists and turns, which throws Thorncroft into some real life danger.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Reckoning

Director: Jack Gold
Screenplay: John McGrath
Based on a Play by: Patrick Hall
Starring: Nicol Williamson, Ann Bell, Lilita De Barros, Tom Kempinski
Country: UK
Running Time: 111 min
Year: 1970
BBFC Certificate: 12


Another of Indicator’s obscure British film re-releases this month (which also include The Deadly Affair, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg and The National Health), is Jack Gold’s The Reckoning. As with the other titles, I hadn’t heard of this before, but it caught my eye due to some positive reviews knocking around and the press citing it as being similar and of equal standard to Get Carter (the original, not the God-awful Sylvester Stallone remake of course).

Like Get Carter, The Reckoning sees its protagonist travel up north from London to find a loved one murdered. This time around it’s Liverpool that Michael Marler (Nicol Williamson) travels to, as his father is dead. The doctors declare it a straight forward heart attack, but a friend of his father tells Michael he was attacked by some anglo-saxon teddy boys the day before, which caused his death. Unlike Carter however, Michael is no gangster out for revenge. He’s a businessman who moved down south from his Liverpool home and never looked back. He’s brutal in his approach to his line of work though and his working class Irish heritage requires him to deal with those responsible for his father’s death, as the police aren’t interested. So Michael spends much of the film tormented as to what to do about the situation. Meanwhile he finds being back home rejuvenating after feeling suffocated and bored with his high flying but superficial existence in the capital. In particular, he’s fed up of his cold-hearted wife Rosemary (Ann Bell) and the battle for a promotion in the company he works for. The trip up north seems to provide him the impetus to do something about this though.

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