Blu-Ray Review: Kiss of Death

Director: Henry Hathaway
Screenplay: Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer
Based on a story by: Eleazar Lipsky
Starring: Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, Richard Widmark, Coleen Gray, Taylor Holmes, Karl Malden
Country: USA
Running Time: 99 min
Year: 1947
BBFC Certificate: 12


I hit another of Signal One’s film noir re-releases this week with Henry Hathaway’s Kiss of Death. Hathaway is a director with quite a few classic titles to his name (True Grit, How the West Was Won, Niagara), but he’s hardly a household name. Looking through his filmography, his work is largely in typically ‘macho’ genres like westerns, war movies and film noirs. Kiss of Death falls into the latter category and came close to the end of a string of noirs he’d directed, including acclaimed titles like 13 Rue Madeleine, The Dark Corner and Call Northside 777.

Kiss of Death sees Victor Mature play Nick Bianco, a criminal that goes to prison after a jewellery store heist goes sour. He gets an offer from Assistant D.A. Louis D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy) to avoid jail time if he squeals on his accomplices that got away, but turns it down. When he finds out his wife has committed suicide after cheating on him with one of those accomplices, leaving his two young daughters in an orphanage, he has second thoughts about the offer though. D’Angelo talks Bianco into an elaborate ploy to put the psychopathic killer Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) in jail, which he accepts, getting him put on early parole and back with his kids and new wife Nettie (Coleen Gray). Unfortunately things don’t go quite to plan though and Bianco and his family’s lives are put in danger.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Big Knife

Director: Robert Aldrich
Screenplay: James Poe
Based on a Play by: Clifford Odets
Starring: Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, Wendell Corey, Rod Steiger, Jean Hagen, Everett Sloane
Country: USA
Running Time: 111 min
Year: 1955
BBFC Certificate: PG


Robert Aldrich is a director I’ve admired a great deal in the handful of his films I’ve seen (although the less said about The Frisco Kid, the better – http://blueprintreview.co.uk/2015/09/gates_of_video_hell_frisco_kid/). So I was keen to check out Arrow’s re-release of The Big Knife, a film I must admit I’d never heard of until now.

It tells the story of Charles Castle (Jack Palance), a popular movie star who’s grown unhappy with his position. He’s stuck in a rut of making low rate Hollywood trash, when he longs to make something more meaningful. Unfortunately, he’s held firmly under the thumb of tough studio head Hoff (Rod Steiger), who is pressuring Castle to stay there, using a potentially scandalous incident as leverage against him. Adding to Castle’s troubles is a crumbling relationship with his wife Marion (Ida Lupino), who is fed up of her husband’s inability to stand up against Hoff. The only chance Castle has of saving his marriage is to refuse to sign Hoff’s latest contract, but the boss’ blackmailing tactics prove too strong. Hoff’s later insistence that Castle helps with some darker studio ‘business’ is the last straw though and events reach boiling point in a powerhouse of a final act.

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Blu-Ray Review: One-Eyed Jacks

Director: Marlon Brando
Screenplay: Guy Trosper, Calder Willingham
Based on a Novel by: Charles Neider
Starring: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Pina Pellicer, Slim Pickens, Katy Jurado, Ben Johnson, Larry Duran
Country: USA
Running Time: 141 min
Year: 1961
BBFC Certificate: PG


The 1961 western One-Eyed Jacks is a curiosity for numerous reasons. Most notably perhaps is the fact it was the one and only time the great Marlon Brando worked behind the camera as director. This wasn’t always set to be the case though. The production began life as a script written by Sam Peckinpah, based on the 1956 Charles Neider novel, The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones (which Peckinpah would later turn into his own film, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid). Brando’s production company, Pennebaker Productions, got hold of it and Brando wanted the then relatively young Stanley Kubrick to direct it. Kubrick agreed, but insisted on a new script by Calder Willingham. The three of them worked on it at Brando’s home, but various clashes caused Willingham to leave the project (to be replaced by Guy Trosper), followed by Kubrick. With filming already set for a month’s time, Brando stepped in and Paramount agreed. Some believe this was always Brando’s plan, but by all accounts the job was too much for him as the film spiralled rapidly over budget (it reportedly ended up costing $6 million dollars, from an original budget of $1.8 million) and he lost interest during post-production, leaving the studio to edit his 4 hour 42 minute cut down to a more manageable length.

As with a lot of troubled, lengthy and expensive productions, the film was released to mixed reviews and disappointing box office returns. In more recent years though, some critics have called for a reappraisal of the film and last year a new 4K digital restoration was completed by Universal Pictures in partnership with The Film Foundation, in consultation with filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. It’s this polished version that now reaches our homes with Arrow Academy’s new dual format release. Being a western fan, I donned my cowboy hat and took this curious pony for a ride.

One-Eyed Jacks opens with Rio (Brando), Dad Longworth (Karl Malden) and their accomplices robbing a bank in Mexico. Whilst stuck in a hilltop siege with the Mexican law, Rio sends Dad off to get new horses to aid their escape. He instead chooses to run off with the loot, leaving Rio to get caught and rot in a Mexican jail. He escapes 5 years later and seems hell bent on exacting revenge for what happened. Rio finds his chance when he happens upon Bob Amory (Ben Johnson), who is planning a bank job in Monterey, California, where Dad is currently sheriff. Rio joins Bob’s gang and soon comes face to face with Dad, but rather than shoot him down straight away, he plots a slower route of cruel vengeance. Part of this involves or is possibly waylaid by Rio forming a relationship with Dad’s step-daughter Louisa (Pina Pellicer). Further complications ensue as the audience wonders just what Rio plans to do to his former partner in crime.

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Blu-Ray Review: Mulholland Drive

Director: David Lynch
Screenplay: David Lynch
Starring: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux, Robert Forster
Country: USA
Running Time: 146 min
Year: 2001
BBFC Certificate: 15


Last year, BBC Culture ran a survey of 177 film critics from around the world to determine what they felt were greatest films of the 21st Century. The well-publicised results found David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive claiming the top spot. It rejuvenated interest in the film, particularly as Lynch’s continuation of his Twin Peaks series was announced around the time. Studiocanal jumped on this by giving the film a new restoration and re-releasing it on Blu-Ray with a few added special features. I haven’t seen the film since the early 2000s, shortly after its original home release, so I’ve been keen to give it a rewatch, particularly with all the Lynch love going around with the new series of Twin Peaks starting last night. This gave me the opportunity I was after then, so here are my thoughts on the film.

Giving a synopsis of Mulholland Drive is a tricky business, as it might depend on your interpretation of the plot and the latter third in particular gets pretty surreal. However, to avoid spoilers or debatable interpretations of the film, I’ll focus on the basic setup in the first half. Here we see an actress, later referred to as Rita (Laura Harring), escape being shot when she’s involved in a car accident on the titular Hollywood road. She’s left with amnesia and wanders into an apartment currently occupied by wannabe actress Betty (Naomi Watts), who just arrived in town. Betty wants to help Rita, so the two set about investigating, to find out who she is and what happened to her. Meanwhile, film director Adam (Justin Theroux) is struggling to get his latest project off the ground as some shady mafia types seem to have a stranglehold over production, forcing him to hire an actress as the lead against his will. His life is further troubled by the discovery of his wife in bed with another man. His path converges with the two actresses later on, as their journey takes increasingly dark and puzzling turns.

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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: Cry of the City

Director: Robert Siodmak
Screenplay: Richard Murphy
Based on a Novel by: Henry Edward Helseth
Starring: Victor Mature, Richard Conte, Fred Clark, Berry Kroeger, Shelley Winters
Country: USA
Running Time: 95 min
Year: 1948
BBFC Certificate: 12


After moaning about a lack of film noir releases in the UK a couple of months ago, I’m now being spoilt by a wealth of them. I even passed on the chance to review a couple Arrow are releasing soon (largely because I already own them on DVD though). The latest noir offering to take a spin my Blu-Ray player is Richard Siodmak’s 1948 film, Cry of the City. The director was one of the many German directors who fled the country when the Nazis came into power in the mid-thirties. After living with Billy Wilder in Paris for a few years and making films there, he left for America in 1940. There he grew to become one of the most famous film noir directors during the genre’s heyday, responsible for classic titles such as The Spiral Staircase, The Killers and Criss Cross. Cry of the City wasn’t as successful as those at the time, but these days its reputation has grown, so I was keen to check it out.

Cry of the City opens to show us Martin Rome (Richard Conte) at death’s door in a hospital. As his family hold a tearful vigil by his bedside, two policemen – Candella (Victor Mature) and Collin (Fred Clark), and a lawyer – Niles (Berry Kroeger) are skulking around, wishing to speak to him before he dies. For one, he died in a shoot out with the police which ended in the death of one officer, but also Niles wants to get him to confess to a crime his client is due to go to the chair for, the DiGrazia murder. Rome manages to survive the night and is transferred to a prison hospital, where Candella and Niles continue to hassle him to get answers. Rome keeps his mouth shut, but is concerned for the safety of his innocent girlfriend, Teena (Debra Paget), so breaks out of the hospital to try and get her to safety, whilst getting to the bottom of the DiGrazia case. There’s little chance for a happy ending for Rome though as the driven Candella closes in on him and his life-threatening wounds aren’t given chance to heal on the run.

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Blu-Ray Review: The In-Laws – Criterion Collection

Director: Arthur Hiller
Screenplay: Andrew Bergman
Starring: Peter Falk, Alan Arkin, Richard Libertini, Ed Begley Jr., James Hong, David Paymer
Country: USA
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 1979
BBFC Certificate: PG


This was a blind watch for me. I didn’t know anything about the film before the press release was sent. I’d heard of, but not seen, the remake and didn’t realise that was based on another film film anyway. Criterion can generally be trusted to release quality titles though and the cast was appealing, so I took a gamble which I’m happy to say paid off.

The In-Laws is a comedy about two father-in-laws to be; uptight Jewish dentist Sheldon Kornpett (Alan Arkin) and crazy Italian American criminal/government agent Vince Ricardo (Peter Falk). The film opens with a daring open air robbery of some federal reserve plates (stamps used to print money), which soon make their way into the hands of heist mastermind Vince, who rushes straight from the scene to have dinner with the parents of his son’s fiancée. Here, Vince’s wild mood changes and crazy stories about giant, baby-carrying flies don’t impress potential in-law Sheldon, who wants to call the wedding off. His daughter talks him out of it, but the next morning Vince shows up at Sheldon’s surgery asking for a favour. He wants him to break into his own safe and bring him the contents. Sheldon is somehow talked into it and from then on his life is thrown into a ridiculous spiral of chaos, taking the duo all the way to South America where Vince plans to sell the plates to a crazed general. Vince claims he’s a CIA agent and this is all part of an elaborate plan to bring the general down, but Sheldon (and the audience) aren’t convinced.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Ox-Bow Incident

Director: William A. Wellman
Screenplay: Lamar Trotti
Based on a Novel by: Walter Van Tilburg Clark
Starring: Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Frank Conroy, Anthony Quinn, William Eythe, Mary Beth Hughes, Marc Lawrence
Country: USA
Running Time: 75 min
Year: 1943
BBFC Certificate: PG


Back in the early days of Hollywood, up to the end of the 30’s, the western was primarily a B-movie genre. They tended to be cheap, throwaway bits of fun with a clean cut hero saving the girl or town from outlaws or Native Americans. Films like John Ford’s Stagecoach brought them out of the shadows though and they started to be big business, even if they were still fairly straight forward in terms of plot. William A. Wellman’s The Ox-Bow Incident in 1943 helped usher in a new era though. Bringing in darker themes, mirroring modern issues in this period setting, the film is thought to have been the first ‘psychological western’. It didn’t make much money at the box-office, but The Ox-Bow Incident received critical acclaim and helped pave the way for films that took ideas and storylines from film noir and transposed them to the wild west. Examples of this can be seen in Station West in 1948 and The Furies in 1950.

The Ox-Bow Incident opens with two cowboys, Gill Carter (Henry Fonda) and Art Croft (Harry Morgan), riding into the quiet Nevada town of Bridger’s Wells. They enter the local saloon and hear from local ranchers that there have been a spate of incidents of cattle-rustling recently and the culprits are still at large. After a bit of a drunken dust-up between Carter and one of the locals, a rider rushes into town to say that one of the townsfolk has been murdered and his cattle stolen. It seems clear which way the killer/s will be travelling, so the local men (and one not-so-feminine woman named Ma) come together to form a lynch mob to chase him down and put him to their own brand of ‘justice’. The local judge (Matt Briggs) and a good man named Arthur Davies (Harry Davenport) think the matter should be handled through the courts, but the mob won’t listen. Davies joins the group to try and steer them away from anything drastic, as do Carter and Croft, although they might only be joining to avoid any blame being put on them, being outsiders. Also joining the mob is ‘Major’ Tetley (Frank Conroy) and his soft-hearted, possibly homosexual son Gerald (William Eythe), who is being dragged along by his father to “make him a man”.

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Blu-Ray Review: Here Comes Mr. Jordan – Criterion Collection

Director: Alexander Hall
Screenplay: Sidney Buchman, Seton I. Miller
Based on a Play by: Harry Segall
Starring: Robert Montgomery, Claude Rains, Evelyn Keyes, James Gleason, Edward Everett Horton, Rita Johnson
Country: USA
Running Time: 94 min
Year: 1941
BBFC Certificate: U


Here Comes Mr. Jordan is a film from 1941, based on a play called Heaven Can Wait, that spawned not only a sequel (Down to Earth in 1947), but a remake in 1978 (Warren Beatty and Buck Henry’s Heaven Can Wait), another in 2001 (Down to Earth starring Chris Rock) and even a remake in India in 1968 called Jhuk Gaya Aasman (English: The Skies Have Bowed). Some suggest it also helped kick start the mini-boom of guardian angel films in Hollywood during the 40’s and early 50’s, such as It’s a Wonderful Life and Angels in the Outfield. With the original film hitting the UK list of Criterion Collection titles today, the question is, does it still hold up today?

Here Comes Mr. Jordan tells the story of Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery), known as ‘the flying pug’ in his burgeoning career as a boxer. Whilst living up to his name and flying himself to his next fight, Joe crashes his plane and dies. His spirit is taken by messenger up to a cloudy runway to be flown up to heaven, but Joe complains to the angels that it isn’t his time and it turns out it isn’t. The messenger picked him up too early as Joe would have survived the flight and lived another 50 years. On learning that Joe’s body has been cremated, the angels, led by Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains), try to make up for the clerical error by allowing him to enter the body of someone else recently deceased.

They pick out a crooked, wealthy businessman, Bruce Farnsworth, who’s just been murdered by his wife (Rita Johnson) and her lover. Joe is reluctant to take over this identity at first, until he meets Bette Logan (Evelyn Keyes), an attractive young woman who pleads to Bruce to help her father who he had sold worthless bonds to. Joe promptly chooses to become Bruce and pays the money back to all the small business owners he’d screwed over. This angers his business associates of course, but also his wife, so Joe has to work to keep this new body alive whilst wooing Bette and also trying to kickstart his boxing career in his new body.

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Blu-Ray Review: Too Late for Tears

Director: Byron Haskin
Screenplay: Roy Huggins
Starring: Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea, Kristine Miller, Don DeFore, Arthur Kennedy
Country: USA
Running Time: 99 min
Year: 1949
BBFC Certificate: PG


As promised, here’s my review of Too Late For Tears, Arrow Academy’s other recent film noir re-release, alongside Woman on the Run. Like the latter, Too Late For Tears was not a financial success at the time of its original release and its production company later went bankrupt. This lead to the film being relatively lost, hovering around only in poor quality public domain copies. Luckily, the UCLA Film & Television Archive got their hands on a French 35mm nitrate Dupe Picture Negative (where the film was named La Tigresse), the only preprint element known to survive. They polished up the film and Arrow Academy are releasing it to us lucky folk in the UK on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD.

Too Late For Tears opens with a preposterous but nevertheless enticing premise. Husband and wife Alan (Arthur Kennedy) and Jane Palmer (Lizabeth Scott) are arguing whilst driving down a windy road at night. They almost crash into someone then get a mysterious bag thrown into their back seat. They soon realise the bag is filled with cash and decide to drive off with it, shaking off the rightful owner’s car that quickly appears behind them. Once home, Alan thinks they should give the money in to the police, but Jane disagrees. She’s clearly not happy with the way her life is going at the minute, but the surprise arrival of all this money revitalises her. Determined to a frightening degree, she will stop at nothing to keep the money. Even the arrival of Danny Fuller (Dan Duryea), whose car the money should have fallen into, doesn’t dissuade Jane. In fact, she manipulates him into helping her get the money from Alan, who has put it away in a locker for safe keeping before calling the police.

Of course, it’s not going to end well for anyone…

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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.

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