Blu-Ray Review: 12 Angry Men – Criterion Collection

Director: Sidney Lumet
Screenplay: Reginald Rose
Based on a Story by: Reginald Rose
Starring: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam
Country: USA
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 1957
BBFC Certificate: PG


12 Angry Men has long been a favourite of mine, so you must forgive my review if it gets too gushing. It’s a popular classic, so much has already been written about it and I can’t compete with the more intellectual or eloquent writers out there. As such, I’ll try to keep this write-up brief. I imagine most people interested in classic cinema will have already seen the film, so you should probably just skip to the section in bold at the end to see how Criterion’s Blu-Ray release stacks up. Suffice to say, it’s excellent and easily replaces my bare-bones DVD copy.

For those of you not aware of the film, the setup of 12 Angry Men is a rather simple one. 12 jurors are assigned to a seemingly cut and dry murder case, where an eighteen year old hispanic boy is thought to have murdered his father. The film starts after the case has been put forward and the jurors are asked to deliberate over the evidence and decide whether or not the boy is guilty. It’s clearly iterated that if there is any reasonable doubt that he didn’t do it, the boy must be deemed not guilty. If he is found guilty, he will be sentenced to death.

The 12 men enter the jury room on a hot summer’s day and soon take a vote. 11 of them are quick to declare the boy guilty, but one man (Henry Fonda) isn’t so sure. He isn’t confident of the boy’s innocence necessarily, but wants the reluctant men to at least discuss it and not rush into sending the boy to die. The decision must be unanimous, so the 12 men break down all the facts of the case and argue the ins and outs, which slowly begins to turn the decision around.

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Blu-Ray Review: Tampopo – Criterion Collection

Director: Jûzô Itami
Screenplay: Jûzô Itami
Starring: Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Ken Watanabe, Kôji Yakusho, Rikiya Yasuoka
Country: Japan
Running Time: 114 min
Year: 1985
BBFC Certificate: 15


I didn’t quite know what to expect going into Tampopo. I’d heard mention of it, always in a positive sense, so I was keen to see it. I was aware that it was a film about food too, but other than that I hadn’t a clue what I was in for when I put this fantastic new Criterion Blu-Ray into my player. I’m glad I didn’t know much either as this glorious offbeat film blew me away.

The core of the film sees truckers Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and Gun (Ken Watanabe) head into a ramen shop late one rainy night. They are unimpressed by the ramen, but Goro is fascinated by the attractive and determined owner Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto). So when she asks Goro to help improve her cooking and bring new life to the shop she inherited from her dead husband, he accepts. He can’t do it alone though, as he’s no expert, so enlists the help of Gun and several other quirky characters he knows and meets in the city.

Alongside this story, the film oftens heads off on various tangents as the camera follows characters walking past our main protagonists. These lead to short scenes/skits surrounding people’s love of food, how it plays a part in their lives and unusual aspects of food etiquette. These are generally led by fresh new characters, but the mysterious Man in the White Suit (Kôji Yakusho), a gangster type with a sexual fetish for food, reappears several times.

In fact, this character opens the film. He and his food-sex loving mistress (Fukumi Kuroda) enter a cinema, followed by an entourage who lay out a gourmet feast. The man then talks directly to us, the audience, about eating during a film and his annoyance at those making too much noise, before waxing lyrical about the ‘short film’ you see in your dying moments.

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Blu-Ray Review: Lone Wolf and Cub – Criterion Collection

Directors: Kenji Misumi, Buichi Saitô (Baby Cart in Peril), Yoshiyuki Kuroda (White Heaven in Hell)
Screenplays: Kazuo Koike, Tsutomu Nakamura (Baby Cart in the Land of Demons and White Heaven in Hell)
Based on a Manga Series by: Kazuo Koike, Goseki Kojima
Starring: Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Minoru Ôki, Tatsuo Endô, Tokio Oki, Keiko Fujita
Country: Japan
Running Time: 83, 81, 89, 81, 89, 83 min
Years: 1972-74
BBFC Certificate: 18


Being a lover of Japanese cinema, particularly period samurai movies, as well as being a lover of genre films in general, the Lone Wolf and Cub series is one I’m very familiar with. Saying that, I’d previously only seen the first two instalments before now. So there was never any doubt in my mind about taking the Criterion Collection up on their offer of a set of screeners to review their lavish set of all 6 films. These are as follows; Sword Of Vengeance, Baby Cart At The River Styx, Baby Cart To Hades, Baby Cart In Peril, Baby Cart In The Land Of Demons and White Heaven In Hell. Also included is Shogun Assassin, a 1980 film made up of all the sex and violence from the first two films with dodgy dubbing and a voiceover to tie them together into something suitable for the midnight movie crowd.

Now, when reviewing box sets I tend to review each title separately, but here I’ve decided to do one long write-up for the whole collection. Maybe I’m just being lazy, but I feel the films are so consistent in terms of cast and crew, as well as quality, there isn’t a great need to separate each film from one another. I also think I’d find it hard to differentiate all of the films after chain watching all six over a couple of weeks. Without wanting to kick off my review with a criticism when I love the set so much, the stories do get a little ‘samey’.

Speaking of stories, the first film, Sword Of Vengeance, sets everything up for the rest of the series through a series of flashbacks. Itto Ogami (Tomisaburo Wakayama) is the Shogun Executioner during turbulent times in Japan. He is ordered to execute countless lords for the sake of the Shogunate. In the opening scene we even see him decapitating a young child lord. Despite his disturbing profession, Itto is a good, honest man though, with a wife, Azami (Keiko Fujita), and child, Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa). One night, after Azami confesses that she worries Itto’s work has cursed him and their family, she is murdered by members of the Yagyu clan, led by Retsudo, who also tries to frame Itto for treason as he is hell bent on the Yagyu taking the role of Shogun Executioner. Itto manages to escape death, but is forced to exile, roaming Japan as an assassin for hire, on the “demon road to hell” on a path of vengeance. He is not alone though. Before he leaves, he gives his toddler son a choice. He lays out a sword and a ball for him to crawl towards. The sword symbolises joining him on this journey to a life of murder and vengeance and the ball represents a journey to heaven to be with his mother. Of course, Daigoro chooses the sword and the two set off to wander the lands.

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Blu-Ray Review: Cul-De-Sac – Criterion Collection

Director: Roman Polanski
Screenplay: Gérard Brach, Roman Polanski
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Françoise Dorléac, Lionel Stander, Jack MacGowran
Country: UK
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 1966
BBFC Certificate: PG


I, like many film fans I imagine, have a chequered relationship with Roman Polanski. His controversial private life is something I won’t get into here, but it has tarnished his work to many over the years. I’ve never liked how he comes across in interviews either, but I don’t usually let my opinion of a filmmaker’s personality or private affairs get in the way of the quality of their work. Unfortunately though, I’ve found the quality of Polanski’s work a little hit and miss over his lengthy career. Tess for instance, which I reviewed here a while back, bored me to tears, whereas Chinatown has long sat in my list of favourite films of all time. There are plenty of Polanski films I’ve yet to watch though and because I regard one or two of his films so highly, I’m always happy to give new ones a try. Cul-De-Sac was his third full feature film in the director’s chair and it’s being re-released on Blu-Ray as part of the prestigious Criterion Collection in the UK, so an offer for review came my way and I thought I’d give it a shot.

Cul-De-Sac sees two injured gangsters (Richie – Lionel Stander and Albie – Jack MacGowran) stuck on Lindisfarne (a.k.a. Holy Island) in Northumberland when their stolen car breaks down in the middle of a road which is regularly submerged under the sea due to the shifting tides (this is indeed true to the location – I’ve been there myself). They seek refuge in a nearby mansion inhabited by the care-free couple George (Donald Pleasence) and Teresa (Françoise Dorléac). Taking advantage of the remote location and his ‘hosts’ weaknesses, Richie, the muscle of the operation, essentially takes them hostage whilst he waits for his boss to show up and sort out the mess they got themselves into after their botched heist. So begins a blackly comic fight for power as Teresa attempts to force her cowardly husband George into taking control of the situation.

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Blu-Ray Review: Mildred Pierce – Criterion Collection

Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Ranald MacDougall
Based on a Novel by: James M. Cain
Starring: Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Bruce Bennett
Country: USA
Running Time: 101 min
Year: 1945
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve got a confession to make – one that I only just realised when I started to write this review. Other than a viewing of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? when I was too young to remember it, I’ve never seen a Joan Crawford film. I think that might be a crime for someone like me who claims to love classic cinema. Probably her most famous role and the one that snagged her her only Oscar, was playing the title character in Mildred Pierce. Being a highly regarded film noir, a genre I love, it’s long been on my radar but I’ve never got around to actually watching it. Partly I think I was worried by the fact I’d heard it’s more of a melodrama than a noir. Nevertheless, when I was offered a chance to review the forthcoming Criterion Collection Blu-Ray release of the film, I never hesitated to take it up.

Mildred Pierce opens in spectacular fashion, with the gunning down of Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott), whose last words are “Mildred”, the name of his wife and presumed killer. Soon after, Mildred lures an old friend, Wally Fay (Jack Carson), to the scene of the crime and tries to frame him for the murder. As she’s questioned by police however, she learns that they’ve arrested her first husband Bert Pierce (Bruce Bennett) instead. So she decides to tell them (and the audience) the story of what led to Monte’s murder and why Bert couldn’t have done it.

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Blu-Ray Review: His Girl Friday & The Front Page: Criterion Collection

The Criterion Collection add the Hollywood comedy classic His Girl Friday to their UK catalogue. Not content with merely upgrading this old favourite for Blu-Ray, they’ve included the first film version of the play on which it was based, The Front Page, which was produced by Howard Hughes. I’ve included reviews of both films below.

I’m going to review the films in reverse chronological order as this is the order in which I watched them and, let’s be honest, His Girl Friday is the film most people will be buying the Blu-Ray for. The Front Page is even classed as a special feature on the box, which is quite surprising – it could have easily been marketed as a box-set as the older film deserves your full attention.

His Girl Friday

Director: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Charles Lederer
Based on a Play by: Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur
Starring: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy
Country: USA
Running Time: 92 min
Year: 1940
BBFC Certificate: U (although the disc is rated 12)


We like to moan about remakes these days amidst nostalgia-tinted exclamations that “they don’t make them like they used to”, but the Hollywood system was even more rigid and dominating back in the ‘good old days’ than it is now. There were plenty of remakes, sequels, knock-offs and cash-ins in the golden age (roughly 1930-59). It’s just that we only remember the good (or at least most popular) films several decades on. That’s not to say none of the remakes or sequels were any good though. A number of films now regarded as classics were remakes. Ben Hur had already been made in the 20’s before the hugely successful 1959 version came out for instance. Alfred Hitchock even remade one of his own films when he chose to update The Man Who Knew Too Much in Hollywood in 1956, using his British 1934 film of the same name as a template (which is the better version is up for debate on this though). One classic I didn’t realise was a remake until recently is His Girl Friday. Long considered one of the greatest Hollywood comedies of the era, it was based on a popular Broadway play that had already been produced by Howard Hughes almost 10 years previously as The Front Page (which was also the title of the play). The original story and most of the dialogue was kept in tact, but the most notable difference was that Howard Hawks’ 1940 version swapped the gender of the film’s protagonist.

So the male lead Hildebrand ‘Hildy’ Johnson from The Front Page became the female Hildegaard ‘Hildy’ Johnson (Rosalind Russell) in His Girl Friday. The film sees her come back to the newspaper office where she used to work as a reporter to tell her boss and former husband Walter Burns (Cary Grant) that’s she’s leaving town to get married to her fiancée Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy – the gender of this role was reversed too of course – the early 30’s weren’t ready for same-sex marriage stories yet) and won’t be returning. Burns wants her back professionally and personally though, so schemes to give her a taste of a hot story breaking in town. Initially refusing, Hildy can’t resist after a while and gets drawn deeper into the political mess surrounding the proposed hanging of a supposed ‘commie’ who shot a police officer. She desperately tries to get the story tied up before her train is due to take her, her fiancée and mother-in-law to a new life, but juicy nuggets keep dropping in her lap and Burns tries every trick in the book to keep her hooked.

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Blu-Ray Review: Day for Night – Criterion Collection

Director: François Truffaut
Screenplay: François Truffaut, Jean-Louis Richard, Suzanne Schiffman
Starring: Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Léaud, François Truffaut, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Valentina Cortese
Country: France, Italy
Running Time: 115 min
Year: 1973
BBFC Certificate: 15


Films about filmmaking always tend to be popular with critics and I must say I’ve always been a fan of them myself. From the razor sharp satire of The Player, to the noirish brilliance of Sunset Boulevard, to over the top daft takes on the genre like Bowfinger, there’s a lot to enjoy from the film industry poking fun at or shining a mirror on themselves. French new wave legend François Truffaut turned his hand at making a film about making a film back in 1973, Day for Night. It was hugely popular at the time, winning numerous awards, including the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and The Criterion Collection have chosen it as their latest release on Blu-Ray in the UK. I haven’t seen it since I was a teenager, but I had fond memories of it, so was keen on giving it a rewatch.

Day for Night charts the production of ‘Meet Pamela’, a soapy-looking drama about a young woman who’s torn between her fiancée and his father. Truffaut plays the on-screen director who tries to keep the machine rolling during a shoot fraught with problems. The cast are divas, the crew are getting off with each other left-right and centre and little goes to plan. Mid-production things start to level off, but several disasters towards the end lead to some wild compromises.

It perfectly captures the madness of making a film – the problems; major and minor, the fakery and the beauty. Despite so much going wrong during the fictional production, it still made me desperate to get out on set, being a filmmaker myself. This is a testament to the great balancing act Truffaut pulls off between poking fun at the industry’s inherent absurdity and writing it a love letter at the same time. A closing bit of dialogue perfectly sums it up, when a reporter asks the prop-man (the only person willing to talk to the press) if the shoot was difficult, and he answers “no, it went fine and we hope audiences enjoy watching it”, despite the multitude of catastrophes they went through.

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Blu-Ray Review: Don’t Look Back – Criterion Collection

Director: D.A. Pennebaker
Screenplay: D.A. Pennebaker
Starring: Bob Dylan, Albert Grossman, Bob Neuwirth
Country: USA
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 1967
BBFC Certificate: 15


The phrase ‘don’t meet your heroes’ might go somewhere to explain my approach to the musicians I admire. Although I consume music to an exhaustive degree, listening to it whenever I have chance and spending far too much time reading reviews, compiling playlists and shopping for CD’s/downloads. However, I’ve never been one to read/watch many interviews with musicians. I do occasionally, but don’t make a habit of it like I do checking their latest reviews. I think I prefer to let their work do the talking as I often find if their natural personality rubs me up the wrong way it casts a shadow over my opinion of what they do.

For that reason, I’m occasionally dubious about watching documentaries about artists I love as I don’t want to spoil my enjoyment of their work. Some Kind of Monster for instance is a great documentary about Metallica, but makes them look like pricks (pardon my French) and has made me a little more hesitant over checking out their latest albums.

One film I’ve never seen until now, a good twenty years since falling in love with Bob Dylan’s work, is the most famous documentary surrounding the musician, D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back. It might simply be chance that I haven’t got around to seeing it, but I think a worry that I’d find the famously elusive artist a pretentious wanker had always loomed in the back of my mind. Thankfully The Criterion Collection is re-releasing the classic film on Blu-Ray in the UK with a phenomenal amount of extra features, so I couldn’t resist finally giving it a chance after all these years.

And thank God I did, because I loved it.

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Blu-Ray Review: Cat People

Director: Jacques Tourneur
Screenplay: DeWitt Bodeen
Starring: Simone Simon, Tom Conway, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph
Country: USA
Running Time: 73 min
Year: 1942
BBFC Certificate: PG


CCat People is a film I saw a long time ago and have vague fond memories of, so I was keen to check out The Criterion Collection’s UK Blu-Ray release. I thought it might also get me in the mood for the usual October horror movie celebrations we film bloggers like to partake in.

From the title, Cat People sounds pretty silly and trashy, and, by all accounts, it was originally intended to be a cheap crowd-pleasing fright-fest. RKO Pictures were in trouble after Citizen Kane proved an expensive commercial failure on release (which is surprising to hear now). So they hired writer Val Lewton as a new producer for the studio, strictly to make low budget horror movies to help recoup some cash. His first film was Cat People and, although he did keep it under budget as promised and it made a lot of money, he turned a potentially daft concept into something quite poetic, subtle and intelligent.

The film sees the beautiful Serbian fashion sketch artist Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon), now living in New York, meet and quickly fall in love with Oliver Reed (not the booze loving actor, but a character played by Kent Smith). The couple get married soon after, but cracks soon appear in their relationship as Irena refuses to consummate the marriage. She believes in an old legend from her home town about the ‘cat people’ – those who had turned to witchcraft, devil worshipping and other wicked sins through their slavery to the Mameluks, who were driven out by King John. John had these sinners killed, but some escaped to the mountains, to become cat people. Supposedly these half human, half feline creatures kill those that they kiss, so, believing she is one of their descendants, Irena is afraid of the consequences of taking her new husband to bed.

The waters are further muddied when Reed’s work colleague Alice (Jane Randolph) confesses her love to him and, aided by the cracks appearing in his new marriage, he reciprocates. As Irena begins to suspect something going on between the two, her jealousy unleashes a dark, possibly cat-like side.

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