Blu-Ray Review: The Thief of Bagdad (1940)

Director: Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan, Alexander Korda (uncredited), Zoltan Korda (uncredited), William Cameron Menzies (uncredited)
Screenplay: Miles Malleson, Lajos Biró, Miklós Rózsa
Starring: Conrad Veidt, Sabu, June Duprez, John Justin, Rex Ingram
Producer: Alexander Korda
Country: UK
Running Time: 106 min
Year: 1940
BBFC Certificate: U


Just a couple of months ago I reviewed Douglas Fairbanks’ 1924 version of The Thief of Bagdad, which blew me away. It was the most spectacular silent movie I’d ever seen which was as fun as it was awe inspiring. Having heard good things about Alexander Korda’s 1940 version, I was keen to compare the two films, so jumped at the chance of reviewing Network’s new Blu-Ray release of the film. Because of this, my review will largely be matching the later film against the earlier one, so forgive me if you’re more interested in how it stands alone, but I saw the first so recently it’s difficult not to compare and contrast.

In terms of plot, although a number of core aspects and some key scenes are the same (coming from stories from the Arabian Nights), much of what and how it happens is quite different. The big change is in basically splitting the thief character from the 1924 film into two. The titular thief in Korda’s version is young Abu (Sabu), who pinches food to survive as well as to cause mischief, but the love story driving things forward is instead given to Ahmad (John Justin). Ahmad is the rightful king of Bagdad, but the evil Jaffar (Conrad Veidt) tricks him into being captured as a thief and throws him in jail. Here he meets Abu who also got arrested and sentenced to death. The two escape together and set off for a life of adventure. However, not long into this new life, Ahmad sets eyes on the Princess of Basra and instantly falls in love. This begins a quest to win her hand (he wins her heart straight away), which is made very difficult as Jaffar is also besotted with the princess and has the magical power and resources to keep Ahmad at bay. Thus begins an adventure which involves a mechanical flying horse, a giant genie and Abu being turned into a dog.

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Blu-Ray Review: Ganja & Hess

Director: Bill Gunn
Screenplay: Bill Gunn
Starring: Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, Bill Gunn
Producer: Chiz Schultz
Country: USA
Running Time: 113 min
Year: 1973
BBFC Certificate: 18


Eureka released Blacula – The Complete Collection (http://blueprintreview.co.uk/2014/10/blacula-complete-collection/) in October and not long after are releasing another African-American take on the Dracula story, Ganja & Hess. There is little else connecting the two films though as Bill Gunn’s Ganja & Hess is a wholly different animal than the earlier campy, badass blaxploitation film.

Producers first approached Gunn to make something that would cash in on Blacula’s success, but the director had no desire to make a cheap bit of exploitation. He had wanted to make a film about addiction though, so decided to take this idea and infuse it into a vampire story. The result is a film with much more artistic and profound ambitions than Blacula and although it came at the height of the blaxploitation boom, it didn’t really fit the mold, eschewing the flares and kung fu for experimentation and symbolism. This didn’t impress the money men of course, who swiftly handed the print to ‘film doctor’ Fima Noveck, who chopped the near 2 hour film to 78 minutes and retitled Blood Couple (along several other names as it did the runs around the world), adding previously excised exposition to make something more closely resembling the exploitation flick they’d wanted. It bombed, although the furious Gunn took his original cut to the Cannes Film Festival where it screened in the Director’s Week. It was better received there, but still the film disappeared into obscurity until more recent years when Gunn’s version was restored for modern audiences. This is what is being released here by Eureka.

Ganja & Hess sees Dr. Hess Green (Night of the Living Dead’s Duane Jones) stabbed by an ancient ceremonial dagger by his unstable assistant George Meda (Gunn himself). This makes Hess immortal but also addicted to blood. After Meda commits suicide, his wife Ganja (Marlene Clark) appears at Hess’ mansion looking for him. She falls for Hess’ charms and after they marry and Hess passes his ‘gift’ on to her, the two form an unusual, bloody relationship.

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Blu-Ray Review: Young and Innocent

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Charles Bennett, Edwin Greenwood, Anthony Armstrong, Gerald Savory
Based on a Novel by: Josephine Tey
Starring: Nova Pilbeam, Derrick De Marney, Percy Marmont, Edward Rigby
Producer: Edward Black
Country: UK
Running Time: 83 min
Year: 1937
BBFC Certificate: U


I‘ve always been a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock, I even wrote my University dissertation on his collaborations with composer Bernard Herrmann, but there are still a number of gaps in his filmography that I need to fill. I’ve seen pretty much all of his most famous work, particularly his phenomenal run of films through the 50’s and 60’s, but there are a number of his early British films that I haven’t seen. This period in his career doesn’t always get the love and attention that it deserves. Granted, many of these older titles haven’t aged as well as classics like Rear Window or North by Northwest, but there is much to admire and enjoy in his early work. The 39 Steps remains one of my favourite Hitchcock films for instance and I was surprised by how much I liked what he himself considered his true directorial debut, The Lodger when I was sent it to review a couple of years ago.

This brings me to Young and Innocent (a.k.a. The Girl Was Young), a film which I hadn’t seen before now, even though I had a DVD copy on my shelf gathering dust over several years (this happens far too often than I care to admit – shopping addiction is a dangerous thing). Coming in 1937, this, his 22nd feature film as sole director, is actually almost mid-career for Hitchcock in terms of volume, although he’d only been directing features for little over a decade. Taking the ‘wrong man’ mistaken identity formula he’d had great success with on The 39 Steps, Young and Innocent sees Derrick De Marney star as Robert Tisdall, a young man accused of murdering an actress whose body washes up on a beach. He’s innocent of course and escapes from the law to prove it because they won’t listen to him. Along the way he enlists the help of a police constable’s daughter, Erica (Nova Pilbeam), who believes his story and falls for his charms.

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Blu-Ray Review: I’m All Right Jack

Director: John Boulting
Screenplay: Frank Harvey, John Boulting, Alan Hackney
Based on a Novel by: Alan Hackney
Starring: Ian Carmichael, Terry-Thomas, Peter Sellers, Richard Attenborough, Dennis Price
Producer: Roy Boulting
Country: UK
Running Time: 105 min
Year: 1959
BBFC Certificate: U


The Boulting Brothers John and Roy worked together as producer and director (often alternating the roles from film to film) to great success in their home country, the UK. 1947’s Brighton Rock may be their most famous film nowadays, but they made a name for themselves in the 50’s and 60’s with a series of satirical comedies. Perhaps the most critically successful of these, winning two BAFTA’s, was 1959’s I’m All Right Jack. Studio Canal have deemed it worthy of a sparkly new Blu-Ray release in the UK so I thought I’d check it out to see what the fuss was about.

Stanley Windrush (Ian Carmichael) is the centrepiece of this satire of working ‘modern’ Britain, which pokes fun at the trade unions in particular. Stanley’s a naïve young chap who’s finished at Oxford and wants to make a name for himself in industry. After failing miserably to secure a job by himself, he’s approached by his uncle Bertie (Dennis Price) and his old friend Sidney (Richard Attenborough). They offer him a low end manual labour position at his uncle’s missile factory so he can go in at the bottom and work his way up. Stanley’s lack of experience and desire to work more efficiently rubs his colleagues up the wrong way though and they report him to their union shop steward Fred Kite (Peter Sellers). Believing him to be a spy sent from the bosses to work out ways of getting them to work harder for the same pay, they try to get rid of him. However, Bertie and Sidney are in fact using Stanley for a secret plan, which falls perfectly in to place when he causes a strike at the factory. When surprise fame falls upon Stanley though, the strike spreads further, even sending Fred’s wife away from her ‘duties’, and chaos threatens to bring down the entire country.

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Blu-Ray Review: Two for the Road

Director: Stanley Donen
Screenplay: Frederic Raphael
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Albert Finney, Eleanor Bron, William Daniels
Producer: Stanley Donen
Country: UK
Running Time: 111 min
Year: 1967
BBFC Certificate: PG


With a library as strong as theirs, I have a trust in Eureka’s Masters of Cinema collection where I will happily watch pretty much any of the films they release. This trust has paid dividends and I’ve discovered numerous films over the years that I wouldn’t normally have given a second glance but turn out to be amazing. What pleases one might not please another though and every release can’t always blow me away. Stanley Dolan’s Two For the Road is one such a film. I hadn’t heard of it before, but with a decent cast, celebrated director and the Masters of Cinema seal of approval I gave it a shot. It wasn’t a total misfire, but the film wasn’t one of the revelations I hope I’ll find each time I put a disc from the prestigious label in my player.

Before I explain why the film wasn’t for me, let me tell you more about it. Two For the Road opens with an unhappily married couple, Mark (Albert Finney) and Joanna (Audrey Hepburn), travelling through Central Europe from England. As they ponder whether or not they should give up and get a divorce, we are taken back to three previous journeys in the same area they shared at different stages of their relationship. By jumping between the four stories, we see the ins and outs and the ups and downs of love and marriage.

Like the characters in the film, I had a rocky journey with this one. I really struggled with the first half, finding it very slow and unengaging. However, as the film moved on it grew on me and I got more engaged in the latter half. Also, when I went back to watch the film with the commentary, I found myself better appreciating the earlier portions of the film.

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DVD Review: Patema Inverted

Director: Yasuhiro Yoshiura
Screenplay: Yasuhiro Yoshiura
Starring: Yukiyo Fujii, Nobuhiko Okamoto, Shintarô Oohata
Producer: Michiru Ohshima, Mikio Ono
Country: Japan
Running Time: 100 min
Year: 2013
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve mentioned my love of anime once or twice in some earlier reviews, but regular readers may wonder why I’ve written so few anime reviews for the site. I think the main reason is that I don’t watch much anymore. These days anime comes in the form of series more often than stand alone films and I don’t find the time to get through several hours of episodes. When I do get the chance to review an anime feature I jump at the opportunity, so when I was asked if I wanted to review Patema Inverted, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.

The titular Patema is a young princess who lives in a subterranean community. She’s coming to that age when she wants to break out and see more of the world, so she spends her evenings secretly exploring the outskirts of the area in which she lives. She can’t help but step into the forbidden ‘danger zone’ and it’s there where her life gets turned literally upside down.

After falling down a seemingly bottomless pit, she finds herself in the outside world, only she’s falling ‘up’ into the sky rather than down to the floor. She manages to keep from floating into oblivion through the help of a young boy Age, who is also dissatisfied with his lot in life. A student on the planet’s surface (a.k.a. Aiga), Age is troubled as his father died after trying to create a flying machine to explore beyond their world. Age wants to do the same, but the evil dictator who rules over Aiga restricts anyone from doing so or even thinking for themselves for that matter. He teaches those in Aiga to hate and fear the ‘inverts’ who live under the ground, calling them sinners who were cast into the sky when a failed experiment distorted the rules of gravity. When this dictator discovers Patema has infiltrated his world, he will stop at nothing to capture her and use her to keep his stranglehold over the people of Aiga. Age won’t let this happen though and, enlisting the help of Patema’s ‘invert’ friends, he sets out on a mission to save her and bring balance to the world.

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Blu-Ray Review: Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages

Director: D.W. Griffith
Screenplay: D.W. Griffith, Anita Loos, Hettie Grey Baker, Tod Browning, Mary H. O’Connor, Frank E. Woods
Starring: Robert Harron, Mae Marsh, Constance Talmadge, Alfred Paget, Miriam Cooper, Margery Wilson
Producer: D.W. Griffith
Country: USA
Running Time: 168 min
Year: 1916
BBFC Certificate: PG


My initial introduction to the work of D.W. Griffith didn’t go down too well. In the middle of last year I sat down to watch his controversial classic The Birth of a Nation and I did not enjoy the experience. Not only was the film uncomfortably offensive (which I was expecting), but I found the first half incredibly tedious. It was clearly a work of great importance, but I found it a real chore to watch. So when I was offered the chance to review his epic follow up, Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages, I almost turned it down. However, my desire to work my way through the classics crept in and after enjoying a run of excellent silent films over the last couple of months I decided to take the plunge.

Through groundbreaking intercutting techniques, Intolerance tells four stories of love struggling through intolerance of various forms in different eras and locations. The earliest is set in ancient Babylon, where a free-spirited mountain girl fights for her prince amongst a time of religious rivalry. The next shows a few scenes from the later life of Jesus Christ when the Pharisees condemned him. Another shorter section is set in 1572, following a doomed relationship during the build up to St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in Paris. The final and most extensive section (alongside the one in Babylon) is set in the present day (1916), where social reformers make the lives of a young couple increasingly more difficult.

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Blu-Ray Review: Spione

Director: Fritz Lang
Screenplay: Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou
Based on a Novel by: Thea von Harbou
Starring: Willy Fritsch, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Gerda Maurus, Fritz Rasp, Louis Ralph, Lupu Pick
Producer: Erich Pommer
Country: Germany
Running Time: 150 min
Year: 1928
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve had an excellent track record with Fritz Lang films (you can read my glowing review of Des Testament des Dr. Mabuse here). Admittedly, I’ve only seen a few, but each one has impressed me greatly. Metropolis introduced me to the wonders of silent cinema back when I was a teenager, M showed me that serial killer films were already in fine form back in the 30’s and, more recently, Des Testament des Dr. Mabuse proved that blockbuster sequels could be masterpieces. Eureka released Lang’s follow up to Metropolis, Spione (a.k.a. Spies), on DVD as part of their Masters of Cinema series back in 2005. I’d been very close to buying it in the past as it sounded like something I’d very much enjoy, but I’m glad I never took the plunge as now Eureka have upgraded the release as a dual format Blu-Ray and DVD set. I requested a review copy to see if it could match up to the other Lang films I’d seen and I’m pleased to report that it certainly did.

Spione is a spy thriller (if the English title didn’t make that obvious) with a labyrinthine plot. I won’t go into too much detail so as not to spoil things, but basically a spy ring headed by the evil Haghi (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) is causing chaos at the government’s secret service. Important documents have been stolen, dignitaries have been assassinated and double agents are springing up all over the place. Next on Haghi’s list of crimes is to get his hands on a peace treaty to be signed between Japan and the UK, in the hope that he can use it to trigger another world war. The only man that can stop him is agent 326 (Willy Fritsch). Haghi is always one step ahead though and sends the cunning Russian spy Sonya (Gerda Maurus) to seduce him and lead him down a dark path. A spanner is put in the works however when Sonya and 326 fall in love.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Thief of Bagdad

Director: Raoul Walsh
Screenplay: Lotta Woods, Douglas Fairbanks, Achmed Abdullah (uncredited), James T. O’Donohoe (uncredited)
Starring: Douglas Fairbanks, Julanne Johnston, Snitz Edwards, Sôjin Kamiyama, Anna May Wong
Producer: Douglas Fairbanks
Country: USA
Running Time: 149 min
Year: 1924
BBFC Certificate: U


Douglas Fairbanks and his wife Mary Pickford were thought of as the king and queen of Hollywood back in the 1920’s. As well as finding great success as two of the earliest true movie stars (Pickford in particular is often thought as one of the very first), they set up United Artists (UA) alongside Charlie Chaplin and D. W. Griffith in a bid to have more control over film production, away from the powerful commercial studios. Through UA they were able to create the films they wanted, hiring the best collaborators available to make the finest films they could. Indeed, UA were responsible for many of the most famous films of the era and beyond. The company in fact still produces films now, although they’ve been a bit thin on the ground during the last few years and the company is now in the hands of MGM.

Anyway, I won’t delve into the complicated history of UA, but with this pivotal move, Fairbanks showed he was clearly more than just an actor. He was passionate about film and would go to great lengths to produce work which met his high standards. A lot of his work, as with a disturbingly large number of films from the silent era, has been lost or forgotten. Even his most famous films such as Robin Hood, The Black Pirate and The Mark of Zorro haven’t been given a decent upgrade to modern home video formats (in the UK at least), only showing up on ropey independent releases from companies that have capitalised on their public domain status and plonked any old print onto a disc. Possibly Fairbanks’ most critically successful film (it didn’t totally win over audiences at the time), The Thief of Bagdad has finally been given the release it deserves in the UK though, with Eureka releasing it on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD as part of their prestigious Masters of Cinema series. I must admit, largely due to the poor distribution of his work in this country, I’ve never seen a Douglas Fairbanks film before, so I was very excited about checking this one out.

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