Blu-Ray Review: Le Plaisir

Director: Max Ophüls
Screenplay: Jacques Natanson, Max Ophüls
Based on Stories by: Guy de Maupassant
Starring: Jean Gabin, Danielle Darrieux, Simone Simon
Country: France
Running Time: 97min
Year: 1952
BBFC Certificate: PG


Max Ophüls is a hugely respected director, but his work isn’t often seen or spoken about these days. I must admit, I’d never watched any of his films before now either. I guess his penchant for what look like grand romantic melodramas didn’t appeal to me, nor to the modern cinephile who tends to lean towards darker, grittier fare. My tastes are broader these days though, so I was keen to take the Ophüls plunge when a screener for Le Plaisir, one of the director’s last few films before his death in 1957.

Le Plaisir translates to ‘the pleasure’, and the film is made up of three stories that each examine different aspects of the sensation. The first sees a masked man burst his way into a dance hall and stiffly, but exuberantly dance around the room, before collapsing. A doctor (Claude Dauphin), on removing his mask, realises he’s actually quite an old man and takes him home to recover, where he finds out about his past through the man’s wife (Gaby Morlay). The second is the longest story of the three, and sees brothel-madam Julie (Madeleine Renaud) take all of her girls on a trip to the country to attend the first communion of her niece. The final short tale sees a painter (Daniel Gélin) fall deeply in love with his model (Simone Simon), then endlessly argue after they move in together. The painter leaves her, but they end up married in the end through tragic circumstances.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Miracle Mile

Director: Steve De Jarnatt
Screenplay: Steve De Jarnatt
Starring: Anthony Edwards, Mare Winningham, John Agar, Mykelti Williamson, Lou Hancock
Country: USA
Running Time: 87min
Year: 1988
BBFC Certificate: 15


I‘ve often talked about how expectations can greatly affect how you enjoy a film. With Miracle Mile I didn’t know a huge amount about it before watching, other than the fact it was about the end of the world. However, I’ve long known about it and been interested in seeing it due to its inclusion in a top 1000 movies guide that came free with Neon magazine (which went out of circulation back in 1999). That guide was split into top 10 lists for specific categories and Miracle Mile was their number one pick for ‘apocalyptic movies’. An image of Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham sharing an embrace was the image they chose (see below). That guide was a bit of a bible to me as my love of cinema was blossoming at the time, so I’d try to track down anything topping a category. However, Miracle Mile wasn’t a film that showed up in my local video store and it never made it to DVD. That is until Arrow announced they’d be giving it their spit and polish treatment and bringing it out on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD this month. So, being one of the titles from the guide that had ever evaded me, I was eager to review Miracle Mile when it was offered. The listing in Neon’s guide was all I was really going on though and the image they used always made me think the film was a quietly sad and subtle rumination on love and life at the precipice of disaster (that’s what I got from the image at least).

How wrong I was…

Miracle Mile sees museum guide and jazz trombone player Harry (Anthony Edwards) fall in love with the equally quirky Julie (Mare Winningham). They fix a time and place to go on their all-important third date (as Julie puts it beforehand, “I’m going to screw your eyes blue”), but a power cut causes Harry to sleep through his alarm to wake him for their midnight rendezvous. When he wakes in the wee small hours, he desperately tries to get in touch with Julie and ends up answering the phone at the diner where she works, hoping it’s her. It isn’t. The panicked voice at the other end thinks Harry is his father, and tells him that nuclear missiles are on their way to the USA and will flatten the nation in 70 minutes. A violent end to the call suggests this is no prank and as Harry describes what happened to the customers at the diner, a government worker there makes a call that further cements the fact that they should be worried. The people at the diner quickly make plans for escape via helicopter, but Harry won’t leave without Julie. He dashes off on a wild quest to find her and hopefully still make it to the chopper to have some tiny chance of survival.

Would you like to know more…?

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.

Would you like to know more…?

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).

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: The Tree of Wooden Clogs

Director: Ermanno Olmi
Screenplay: Ermanno Olmi
Starring: Luigi Ornaghi, Francesca Moriggi, Omar Brignoli
Country: Italy
Running Time: 187 min
Year: 1978
BBFC Certificate: 12


The Tree of Wooden Clogs, a film often described as plotless, running a little over three hours and following the lives of peasants in Italy during the end of the 19th Century, doesn’t sound particularly appealing on the surface. I must admit I had second thoughts about requesting a screener due to this, but strong reviews talked me into it and I’m glad they did, as The Tree of Wooden Clogs proved to be a wonderful film that I enjoyed watching far more than I expected.

The film is set in 1898 and follows the lives of five peasant families living together in one farmstead in the Bergamo region of northern Italy. They work hard tending the land for their landlord who owns most of what they have. Using non-actors from the region, writer/director Ermanno Olmi creates a detailed and naturalistic observation of the lives of these people. I wouldn’t call the film entirely plotless though as some have suggested. In observing life on the farmstead, we are presented with several family dramas that play out during the course of the film. One important thread which is introduced in the film’s opening and plays a part in the climactic scenes, sees the young son of one family accepted into school due to a perceived high level of intelligence. Going to school was rare for peasant families in these days and the boy’s parents don’t seem keen on the idea due to the expense and what the neighbours would think. However, their local priest recommends it, so they send him 6km every weekday to the nearest school house. This has consequences further down the line that I won’t spoil here.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: The Sorrow and the Pity

Director: Marcel Ophüls
Screenplay: André Harris, Marcel Ophüls
Starring: Georges Bidault, Matthäus Bleibinger, Charles Braun, Maurice Buckmaster, Emmanuel d’Astier de la Vigerie
Country: France, Switzerland, West Germany
Running Time: 249 min
Year: 1969
BBFC Certificate: E


Choosing to request a copy of the documentary The Sorrow and the Pity to review was a case of feeling I should watch the film rather than me wanting to watch it. The title for starters doesn’t suggest you’re in for an easy night in front of the TV. Then you’ve got the length. At a little over four hours, it’s a hefty slab of documentary and not easy to get through in one go (I watched it over 3 nights, but only because I was far too tired to concentrate the first night – 2 would have been fine and the film is split in 2 parts to accommodate this). Nonetheless, I’d heard it often called one of the greatest documentaries ever made so, being a fan of the genre, I felt I ought to have seen the film, so I semi-reluctantly asked for a copy.

What also didn’t help my low level of enthusiasm was that I thought the film was about the Holocaust, which doesn’t make for easy viewing and is a subject that has been well covered elsewhere (particularly in the even lengthier Shoah). However, I was misinformed (or rather hadn’t read into it properly). The film is about France during WWII, so the Holocaust does feature and much time is spent on the subject of the Nazi’s anti-semitism. The core subject matter however, is the examination of Germany’s occupation of France between 1940 and 1944. Once I realised this was the case (shortly before finally putting the film on), I became less reluctant to watch it. A lot of films and documentaries have covered WWII and various aspects of the war over the decades that followed. However, other than Casablanca and the TV series ‘Allo ‘Allo, which are hardly documentaries or even ‘based on true events’ for that matter, I’ve personally never seen the occupation covered in much detail on film.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Doberman Cop

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Screenplay: Kôji Takada
Based on a Gekiga by: Buronson
Starring: Shin’ichi Chiba, Janet Hatta, Eiko Matsuda, Hideo Murota, Hiroki Matsukata, Ryûji Katagiri
Country: Japan
Running Time: 90 min
Year: 1977
BBFC Certificate: 18


Arrow Video continue to delve into the Japanese genre movie vaults with Doberman Cop, a film that brings together two stalwarts they’ve previously featured, director Kinji Fukasaku (Battles Without Honour and Humanity, Battle Royale and Cops Vs Thugs, which I reviewed recently) and actor Shin’ichi “Sonny” Chiba (The Street Fighter, Kill Bill and Wolf Guy, which I reviewed recently). It’s not a film that saw much success when it came out and as such it’s never been released on video outside of Japan, so it’s great to see Arrow taking the effort to bring such an obscure, but nevertheless interesting title out over here. The two names I mentioned being behind the film were enough to get me interested, so I was keen to see if it was any good.

Doberman Cop is an action thriller based on a gekiga (a more story driven and adult form of manga) written by Buronson (better known for creating Fist of the North Star). Chiba plays Joji Kano, a cop who has recently moved from an Okinawan village in the country to the bright lights of Tokyo. A true country bumpkin, arriving with pet pig in tow, Kano is a fish out of water but tough enough to handle the mean streets of Tokyo. He falls quickly into trouble as he investigates the murder of a young woman in the nightlife district. Her body has been badly burnt, but the victim appears to be from Kano’s home town, which gives him added impetus to solve the crime. The plot further thickens as Kano believes the body was only made out to look like that of his neighbour and that the gangster Hidenori (Hiroki Matsukata) has something to do with it, along with Miki (Janet Hatta), a singer the gangster is grooming for success.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Cops Vs Thugs

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Screenplay: Kazuo Kasahara
Starring: Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata, Tatsuo Umemiya, Mikio Narita
Country: Japan
Running Time: 101 min
Year: 1975
BBFC Certificate: 18


Reviewing Arrow Video’s Battles Without Honour and Humanity box set opened my eyes to the talents of Kinji Fukasaku beyond Battle Royale. Thankfully, the label is digging deeper into the Japanese director’s oeuvre with a handful of titles coming our way, including a set containing the New Battles Without Honour and Humanity series. Unfortunately, time constraints prevented me from being able to review that, but I did request a copy of Cops Vs Thugs to review, which is another crime thriller, made and released in between episodes of New Battles…

Cops Vs Thugs is actually based on true life crime stories researched by Kazuo Kasahara whilst he was writing the first Battles Without Honour and Humanity series. He’d heard accounts of police and yakuza becoming friends and wanted to put this idea in a film, but didn’t feel it fit into the world of the already convoluted saga he was initially creating. So, he ended up putting together a separate script, which Fukasaku would once again direct, called Cops Vs Thugs.

Set in Kurashima City in Japan in the early 60s, the film finds two yakuza gangs at loggerheads. The Kawade family are trying to build some political connections to make a lucrative business deal, but the Ohara family don’t like to see their rivals establishing a bigger stranglehold over the city than them, so use their strong connections with the police to put a stop to Kawade’s growth. Currently running the Ohara family whilst their boss is in prison, is Hirotani (Hiroki Matsukata). Fairly young and aggressive, he has no time for the political or business leanings of his enemy and has his eyes on permanent leadership over the Ohara family. He also shares a close friendship with Kuno (Bunta Sugawara), a police detective who helps him work his way up the ladder. Kuno may seem corrupt (and he is in the eyes of the law), but he believes that developing a bond with the yakuza and letting them get on with their own thing is the best way to keep the peace. His newly appointed superior disagrees though as gang warfare erupts and Kuno’s assistance with the yakuza causes more problems than its worth.

Would you like to know more…?

DVD/Blu-Ray Review: Wolf Guy

Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Screenplay: Fumio Kônami
Based on a Manga Series by: Kazumasa Hirai
Starring: Shin’ichi (Sonny) Chiba, Kyôsuke Machida, Saburô Date
Country: Japan
Running Time: 86 min
Year: 1975
BBFC Certificate: 15


Wolf Guy is a Japanese action movie based on a manga series of the same name. Starring Shin’ichi “Sonny” Chiba at the height of his fame, it’s a low budget B-movie attempt to fuse western mythologies with Japanese genre sensibilities. Being a lover of trashy action and all things Japanese, this description sounded good to me, so I thought I’d check out Arrow Video’s new release of the film, which has never previously been available outside of Japan.

Chiba plays Akira Inugami, the last survivor of a clan of werewolves, now living in the big city using his lycanthropic skills to solve crimes. One night he witnesses the brutal murder of a seemingly crazed man at the hands of what appears to be a tiger demon, only semi-visable to Akira. When he looks further into what happened, he finds that the man was one of a group of thugs who were ordered by gang boss Manabe to rape a young woman called Miki. He finds both of them and tries to help Miki and stir up trouble with Manabe. This unravels further into a wacky plot where the bad guys try to get Akira’s blood to make their own werewolf and use Miki’s anger to assassinate people using the tiger demon acting out her vengeful thoughts!

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: The Hired Hand

Director: Peter Fonda
Screenplay: Alan Sharp
Starring: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Verna Bloom
Country: USA
Running Time: 90 min
Year: 1971
BBFC Certificate: 15


Any regular readers will know I’m a big western fan and may or may not know I’ve got a soft spot for 70’s American cinema too. So when I was asked if I’d like to review Peter Fonda’s 1971 western The Hired Hand I didn’t have to think twice, even though I’d never heard of the film before being handed the press release.

In the film, Harry (Fonda himself), his friend Arch (Warren Oates) and a young man are cowboys roaming from town to town. Upon reaching a dead end town, his associates decide to move on to the California coast, but Harry, fed up of the nomad life, decides to head back home to his estranged wife and child. Arch, who’s been travelling with Harry for several years, at first decides to let his friend go alone, but when their young companion is ‘accidentally’ killed by a man named McVey (Severn Darden), he decides to go with him. Once there, Harry’s wife Hannah (Verna Bloom) isn’t too happy to see him though. It’s been many years and she’d assumed he was dead and told their daughter as much. Harry talks her into letting him stay as a hired hand on the farm though, with a hope of reconciliation over time. When he finds out Hannah has been sleeping with the hired help whilst he’s been away though, the relationship becomes even more strained. This and the spectre of the cowboy life hanging over Harry, not helped by Arch’s presence, cause a slow and uncertain path to rebuilding his family.

As this brief synopsis shows, The Hired Hand isn’t your typical western. It’s one of the revisionist or anti-westerns that began to emerge in the 60’s. They sought to steer away from the stereotypes of the classic westerns and deconstruct the myths of the wild west. The Hired Hand shows the cowboy lifestyle to be an unglamorously dangerous, lonely and miserable existence; with poor food, little comfort at night and far too much time spent unwelcome in tiny, middle of nowhere towns. Harry’s young companion for instance, who is full of enthusiasm for his travels to the coast, comes to a grisly, unromantic end for little to no reason (though we never quite find out the truth behind it).

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Woman on the Run

Director: Norman Foster
Screenplay: Alan Campbell, Norman Foster
Based on an Original Story by: Sylvia Tate
Starring: Ann Sheridan, Dennis O’Keefe, Robert Keith, Ross Elliott
Country: USA
Running Time: 77 min
Year: 1950
BBFC Certificate: PG


I love a good film noir. So much so I didn’t scour my usual sources to see what the reviews were like for Woman on the Run before requesting a copy to write my own, I just asked for a screener because I knew I’d enjoy it to some extent due to the genre. Also, I wanted to help promote Arrow Academy’s release of this (and Too Late For Tears which I’ll also be reviewing soon) because I feel like the UK have had a bit of a raw deal for classic film noir releases over the years. I rarely see any titles other than the big names show up in my local HMV and many haven’t made an appearance on DVD, let alone Blu-Ray, other than in horribly transferred cheap releases from those films now in the public domain. So I hope if Arrow sell a few copies of these they’ll mine the vaults for more gems to polish up to their usual high quality.

Woman on the Run was released in 1950, right in the midst of the genre’s heyday. It begins with Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott) taking his dog out for a walk when he comes across an argument in a parked car. The argument soon becomes a murder and the trigger man takes a couple of pot shots at Frank before he drives away. Frank gives the police a brief statement on the scene, but when he learns that the man killed was due to testify against the notorious gangster Smiley Freeman, he gets scared and runs away. The police, on top of wanting his statement to help lock up Freeman, are worried for his safety so go to Frank’s wife, Eleanor (Ann Sheridan), for help in finding the man. She’s not keen on doing the police any favours though, as it’s clear the couple aren’t enjoying a happy marriage. However, she does want to find him herself, so heads off into the heart of the city (San Francisco) to track him down. The police of course put a tail on her and the tabloid journalist Dan Legget (Dennis O’Keefe) tags along to get a big scoop. The latter ends up helping Eleanor out as she gets further along in her investigation, but his intentions gradually become rather suspect.

Would you like to know more…?