Blu-Ray Review: Man Hunt

Director: Fritz Lang
Screenplay: Dudley Nichols
Based on a story by: Geoffrey Household
Starring: Walter Pidgeon, Joan Bennett, George Sanders, John Carradine, Roddy McDowall
Country: USA
Running Time: 102 min
Year: 1941
BBFC Certificate: PG


I haven’t seen a Fritz Lang film I haven’t liked, in fact I’ve flat out loved most of them, so it didn’t take much convincing for me to choose to review this Signal One re-release of his war time thriller Man Hunt. A few years into his career in the US after leaving his home country of Germany, the film is a blatant indictment of Hitler’s actions there during the early years of WWII.

The film opens in bold fashion by following our hero Captain Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon) as he creeps up on a secret military compound with a sniper rifle in hand, taking aim at Hitler himself. With his first ‘shot’ we realise he hasn’t loaded the rifle, but after he loads a bullet for the second attempt, he’s seen and jumped on a fraction of a second before pulling the trigger. He’s captured, beaten and taken to Major Quive-Smith (George Sanders), who demands that Thorndike sign a confession stating he was sent by the British government to kill Hitler (which would spark war – the film is set just before WWII). Thorndike refuses, claiming he was acting alone and didn’t intend to kill the führer. He only wanted to prove he’d be able to do it, as he’s a master game hunter, so famous in his field that Quive-Smith was already aware of his name. With Thorndike’s refusal to sign the document, the Major is forced to throw him off a cliff, faking a suicide. Thorndike survives though and makes a perilous journey back to England. Even when he makes it, the Germans are hot on his trail though, intent on getting him to sign the false confession before killing him. Along the way, whilst he keeps a low profile, Thorndike enlists the help of a young cockney woman named Jerry Stokes (Joan Bennett) who takes a shine to him.

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Blu-Ray Review: Der müde Tod (a.k.a. Destiny)

Director: Fritz Lang
Screenplay: Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou
Starring: Lil Dagover, Walter Janssen, Bernhard Goetzke, Max Adalbert
Country: Germany
Running Time: 98 min
Year: 1921
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve been slowly working my way through Fritz Lang’s filmography and I’ve yet to be disappointed by his work. He crafted some of cinema’s most thrilling, inventive and forward thinking films during his 41 years behind the camera in both Germany and the US (where he moved in the mid-30s due to his anti-Nazi beliefs). So when Eureka announced they were releasing one of the director’s early successes, Der müde Tod (translated as The Weary Death, but otherwise known as Destiny), as part of their Masters of Cinema collection, I was keen to see how it stood up against his later, more famous films.

Der müde Tod sees Death (Bernhard Goetzke) come to make his home in a small German town. As well as building a great wall with no windows or doors around his property by the graveyard, he seems to follow a young couple (Lil Dagover and Walter Janssen) who are engaged to be married. As you might suspect, he’s there to collect a soul and the young man soon disappears. The woman, distraught, seeks out Death and pleads with him to spare her fiancée. Weary of his tough job, the shadowy figure offers the woman a deal. If she can prevent the deaths of just one of three nearly spent lives he presents to her (all part of tragic romances), she can have her wish.

In dealing with three separate stories, on top of the main framing narrative, Der müde Tod works like D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, made a few years prior, telling a few similarly themed tales to make a universal message (this time about fate). Here they’re not intercut though, the ‘extra’ stories merely play out back to back in the middle of the film.

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Cinecast Episode 488 – Hillbilly Protocol

Wonderful photography is all over the place; particularly in this episode. It’s a running theme through almost everything we discuss in today’s show. Elsa Dorfman uses “shed-size” Polaroids to inspire the beat poets of the day and contemporary family portraits alike in Errol Morris’ new documentary, The B-Side. Noah Hawley has stepped up his game big time in season 2 of “Fargo” – not only in cinematography but also pretty much every other aspect of a television season. The Watch List sees gimmicky gore fests, a silent three-hour progenitor for the James Bond films, underappreciated Coen Brothers fare, a new Netflix series about women’s wrestling and finally a .44 Magnum, the most powerful hand gun in the world and could blow your head clean off!

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

We’re now available on Google Play!

 

 
 

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Blu-Ray Review: The Big Heat

Director: Fritz Lang
Screenplay: Sydney Boehm
Based on a Newspaper Serial by: William P. McGivern
Starring: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Jocelyn Brando, Lee Marvin, Alexander Scourby, Jeanette Nolan
Country: USA
Running Time: 90 min
Year: 1953
BBFC Certificate: 15


I almost didn’t take up the offer from Powerhouse to review The Big Heat as I figured I already had the film on DVD, so could watch it in my own time. However, being a fan of film noir and director Fritz Lang, it’s a film I’ve been keen to see for a while, so I figured this would force me to finally get it watched. And thank God I did, because The Big Heat is even better than I had hoped.

Based on a Saturday Evening Post serial (very closely according to the commentary included here), The Big Heat opens with the suicide of Tom Duncan, a man we soon learn is a police officer. His wife Bertha (Jeanette Nolan) comes down the stairs after hearing the fatal gunshot, but rather than collapse in shock or distress, she takes a look at his suicide note and heads to the telephone. She doesn’t ring the police or hospital though, she rings crime lord Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby) to tell him what happened.

Det. Sgt. Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) is given the case and is all set to sign it off as a straightforward suicide, before he is told by Duncan’s mistress Lucy Chapman (Dorothy Green) that it certainly wasn’t. This piques Bannion’s interest, but he isn’t fully sold on Chapman’s theory until she ends up dead. When he digs deeper, his cosy family life is attacked and the case becomes a mission for revenge more than a need to solve the mystery.

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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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Favorite Older Films I Saw in 2012

Always an awkward post title, but I can never seem to manage to figure out a good way to sum up the kind of list I’m presenting here. My list of Top 2012 Films is included in the Row Three group post back here, but now I want to focus on the films I enjoyed the most this year which were released prior to 2012. I should stress that this is hardly an objective list, were such a thing even possible – it’s just what I liked the best and felt most desirous to share out of my first-time watches this year, excluding 2012 releases.

What older films did you love the best in 2012?

GIRL SHY (1924)
FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE (1926)
WHY WORRY (1923)

GirlShy

I’d seen Harold Lloyd’s best-known film Safety Last before, but I really consider 2012 my crash course in his comedy, with a trio of films I saw in close succession and really convinced me for sure that he belongs in the silent comedian pantheon. Girl Shy is, in fact, my favorite new-to-me film I’ve seen all year, and thanks to its sweet romance and breathtaking final chase scene, I actually liked it more than I do Safety Last. For Heaven’s Sake, with Lloyd as a millionaire bringing in street thugs and miscreants to fill up an inner-city mission’s pews to impress the preacher’s lovely daughter, is a ton of fun, too, full of insane gags and stunts. I liked Why Worry, with Lloyd as a hypochondriac who gets mixed up in the Mexican Civil War, the least of the three, but it’s still a solid film and a whole lot of fun. With these three under my belt, chalk me up a definite Lloyd fan.

THE VIRGIN SPRING (1960)

virginspring

Sometimes Ingmar Bergman films are a bit tough for me to get into – I can appreciate their austere humanism, but they often feel remote and uninvolving to me. The Virgin Spring grabbed me immediately and didn’t let me go until I collapsed at the end breathless, like the grieving father in the story. A young girl is violated by a group of men who later unknowingly seek shelter in her father’s home, whereupon he finds out what happened and exacts retribution. But nothing is so simple in Bergman’s world, and this is a deeply thoughtful and starkly beautiful film, questioning a God who allows tragedy to happen and yet also accepting that personal vengeance may not be the best way either.

THE DRIVER (1978)

The-Driver

Clearly a prototype for 2011’s Drive (a recent favorite of mine), The Driver stars Ryan O’Neal as a laconic getaway driver who’s being hunted by an arrogant cop (Bruce Dern) who wants to collar him simply because he’s never been caught. In between them are a gambling woman who may be playing both sides and a bunch of thugs who are no match for the Driver. It’s a mystery to me why this film isn’t always mentioned in the same breath with great car chase movies like Bullitt and The French Connection, because the chases here are every bit as good. Mix in the Le Samourai-esque lead character, and this film was made for me.

SOLARIS (1972)

Solaris

First of all, it took me several days to get through this meditative sci-fi film musing on love and loss. I’m not proud of that, but it can certainly be blamed on my pregnancy-related tiredness at the time rather than the film itself, although the film itself is definitely on the slow side. I actually liked the pacing and thought it worked well for the kind of heady, evocative sci-fi this is. That said, because of the viewing conditions, I had difficulty holding it all in my head at once or feeling like I had a solid grasp of it by the end. I’m already looking forward to a rewatch, upon which time I think I will appreciate it even more.

THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1928)

passion-of-joan-of-arc

I know Mike Rot (and probably others) are going to tell me that even Top Five placement is not high enough for this film, and that’s probably right. The movie is an intriguing combination of austerity (sparse set design) and raw emotion (Marie Falconetti’s extraordinary face, usually seen in close-ups). I’ve seen a couple of other Dreyer films, and I generally find them a bit difficult to relate to stylistically, and I have to say I felt kind of the same tension here. I do think some rewatches will move it much higher on my list, though – it feels like the kind of film I will grow into. Also, the print on HuluPlus does not have a music track with it, and I don’t think that helped my experience.

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Blu-Ray Review: Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse

Director: Fritz Lang
Screenplay: Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou
Based on Characters by: Norbert Jacques
Starring: Oscar Beregi, Otto Wernicke, Gustav Diessl, Rudolf Klein-Rogge
Producers: Fritz Lang, Seymour Nebenzal
Country: Germany
Running Time: 116 min
Year: 1933
BBFC Certificate: 12

We whinge about sequels and remakes a lot these days, but they’ve been around since the beginning of cinema. The earliest films would be simple things like trains coming towards the screen, moving on to simple single-gag comedy shorts and back then these would be ‘recreated’ by various companies ad nauseam to show to punters desperate to see these moving pictures in action. People forget that even a handful of renowned classics were actually remakes of films or second adaptations of plays or books such as Ben Hur and His Girl Friday. Alfred Hitchcock even went as far to remake his own 1934 film The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1956. When it comes to sequels, most critics dismiss these as lazy cash-ins that came into proliferation after the late 70’s and 80’s with the critical and commercial success of films like The Godfather Part 2 and The Empire Strikes Back. Sequels and film series have of course been around a lot longer than that though and even the greatest of filmmakers weren’t immune to dabbling with the format.

This brings us to Fritz Lang. In 1922, he made Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, an epic crime thriller about a criminal genius. It was very successful at the time, helping boost his already quite successful career even further forward. His upward trajectory was cemented by following this up (not directly) with two of cinema’s all time greats, Metropolis in 1927 and M in 1931. After all this success, he was approached by executives who made a request for him to make a follow up to Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler. As Lang puts in his own words:

“For me that sonofabitch was dead, out of my life. In ’32, I guess someone came to me and said “Look, Mr. Lang, we have made so much money with Mabuse…” I said “Yes, much more than I did…” He said “Can’t you give us another Mabuse?” So I started thinking about it and I said “All right, what shall I do? This guy is insane and in an asylum – I cannot make him healthy again. It is impossible.”

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Now Playing at the Row Three Rep: What is Human?

[Row Three programming if we owned a Rep Cinema]

Blurring the Line Between Android and Human

Metropolis – 5:00pm
Blade Runner – 8:00pm
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence – 10:00pm
bonus: Battlestar Galactica – all night and the next week 🙂

With the concept of mankind creating sentient robots and androids inevitably follows the question of how we are to treat them – since we made them, can we do with them what we want, treating them as disposable slaves? Or by creating something that can think like us, and eventually react and feel like us, are we bound to treat them the same as we would (or should) treat other human beings? And faced with such a potential reality, what does it really mean to be human? These are the kind of questions that cerebral sci-fi has always asked, with robots and now clones being among the most appropriate catalysts to spark such explorations of ethics, morality, and ontology itself. There are many films (and TV series) I could’ve chosen for such a triple feature; I chose these partially to tie in with our ongoing Ridley Scott marathon, and also because these films also specifically feature androids, that is, robots that appear to be human, who fool humans into thinking they are human, and who may not even themselves be aware that they are androids. Of course, all of these works use androids to explore the issue of “otherness,” or what happens when a dominant group comes into contact with a group they deem “different.”

Note: Scott’s Alien also features a human-fooling android, but questions of human-android ethics are not really explored in that film.

Taken on the surface, there’s not a whole lot of inquiry into the robot-human question in Metropolis; the human Maria is unequivocally good, almost angelic, while the robot Maria is evil and destructive. But I wanted to include it because it is really the first iconic cinematic depiction of a robot, and it’s telling that the first use of a robot in cinematic science fiction is to mislead and misdirect a humanity that believes the robot to be human – and not only to be human, but to be somebody they know and trust. It would be many years before sci-fi would have good human-mimicking robots – even the robots in Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still are distinctly non-human in appearance. In Metropolis, that question of whether robots should be treated as humans is superficially irrelevant, because the only robot we see is given the role of enacting the worst that humanity has to offer. On the other hand, the Complete cut of Metropolis fleshes out (so to speak) the back story surrounding the creation of the robot, which inventor Rotwang created as a substitute for Hel, the woman he loved and Joh Frederson took from him. So before the robot was commandeered by Frederson as a means to put down the undercity rebellion, Rotwang already intended it to be a human stand-in. Deeper questions are begged – would Rotwang have found comfort in this shadow of Hel? Would the robot have been an adequate substitute? Are robot-Maria’s evil excesses solely due to Frederson’s mission for her, or is a mechanical creation of man inevitably going to disappoint and betray, and if it does, is that because if its mechanical nature or the humans who built it? Would (should) Rotwang have treated robot-Hel as human, or would he simply have enslaved her, a helpless puppet to his desires? It’s unclear from the film whether robot-Maria had full sentience or autonomy, so the questions may be moot. But they’re there, nascent even from the very first cinematic depiction of a human-mimicking android.

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Movies We Watched

Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.

La Bataille Du Rail

1946 France. Director: Rene Clement. Starring: Jean Clarieux, Jean Daurand.

Thought those train crashes in “Lawrence Of Arabia”, “The General” and “Bridge On The River Kwai” were pretty awesome because of the fact they actually crashed real trains? Well you’re right. And now there’s another film to add to that list: Clement’s almost documentary-like take on the French Resistance struggle against the Germans via the railway system. “La Bataille Du Rail” (“The Battle Of The Rails”) shows how a core set of resistance fighters work on the railyards and lines chipping away at the German plans by delaying trains, helping people escape, passing messages along, etc. As the Germans make several final efforts to bring forth some major artillery, the various team members pull together to risk everything to stop its passage. The derailment of one of the trains makes for a spectacular moment as it careens off the tracks and spills its military payload indiscriminately over the countryside. As devastating a crash as it is, it’s less jarring then you might think because of Clement’s very neo-realist approach to the making of the film using many non-professional actors and avoiding sets. It stays away from the melodrama and lets the situations themselves build the tension. Made shortly after the war had ended, it feels like an important document of the Resistance’s role. Not to mention a riveting watch.
-BOB

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Complete Metropolis Blu-ray DELAYED

This week’s DVD of the week on the Cinecast would’ve (should’ve) been a no-brainer choice this week. The complete Metropolis was to make it’s first-time appearance on your home television screens as of today. There is a print traveling the country and I for one am pretty stoked to finally see this thing, but it looks like I’ll have to wait just… wait for it… another whole week. The excruciating seven more days Kino is forcing us to wait is due to some sort of coding:

[Metropolis] was supposed to be locked to region A. However, due to a miscommunication, the first pressing of Kino’s release was not region coded. Kino Video has admitted the error and assured that future pressings will be region-A locked.

Insert discussion on bullshit region coding here if you must. Whatever. I’m so excited to see Metropolis in its (almost) entirety I can hardly stand it. More than 25 minutes of footage has been reintegrated into Metropolis, from single shots to whole sub-plots and action sequences. The result is a film that’s finally as coherent as its images are iconic. And from what I’ve read, the Blu-ray transfer and ensuing extras are immaculate.

TCM Film Festival: (The Complete) Metropolis (1927)

Metropolis-babylon.jpg

Before I get into the full review of this, I have a directive: GO SEE this restored version of Metropolis if and when it tours through your city. It’s opening in Los Angeles next week and then touring around various cities after that (full schedule here). There, now even if you don’t click through the read the rest of this, my main point has been made.

Fritz Lang’s Metropolis has been lauded as a high point of science fiction, silent cinema, German cinema, and Expressionist style almost since it was first released in 1927. And since its release in 1927, that has been true despite the fact that it was edited rather severely almost immediately after release, and nearly 30 minutes of its original run time has been lost for decades. In what I’m sure will go down as one of the greatest footage discovery stories in restoration history, a print of the film containing almost all of this lost footage was found in Buenos Aires in 2008, and preservationists have been working to restore it ever since. The footage is from a 16mm print and was in pretty bad shape when they found it; as such, it’s easy to tell which sections are from the Buenos Aires print because they’re in noticeably worse condition. But that makes it all the easier to tell which footage is new and laud the restoration of it, because it really does make a big difference in the flow of the film.

I’ve seen Metropolis a couple of times at home before, and you know, liked it a good bit, but it never really blew me away. This time, it was a good half hour after it was over before I could properly walk and talk; it was that overwhelming an experience. There are a lot of things that contributed to my reaction, I’m sure – seeing it on a giant screen, with a very nearly sold-out audience, the incredible live score performance by the Alloy Orchestra, the better pacing and more involving story the restored footage provides, my own greater understanding of silent cinema – but I’m not sure it really matters. This viewing of Metropolis has easily become the most incredible cinematic experience in my life so far.

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