Blu-Ray Review: The Wonderful Worlds Of Ray Harryhausen, Volume One: 1955-1960

Indicator continue their Blu-Ray re-releases of the great Ray Harryhausen’s work with this volume containing three of the films he made between 1955 and 1960. It includes glorious HD prints of It Came From Beneath the Sea, 20 Million Miles to Earth and The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, curiously skipping Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (which has previously been made available on DVD in a set with the first two titles). In my earlier review of the Sinbad Trilogy, I professed my love for Harryhausen’s stop motion creations and how they played a key part in my cinematic upbringing, so I was thrilled to be offered another set of his films to review, particularly since I’d only seen one of them previously (It Came From Beneath the Sea). My thoughts on the three films are below:

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Blu-Ray Review: The Deadly Affair

Director: Sidney Lumet
Screenplay: Paul Dehn
Based on a Novel by: John le Carré
Starring: James Mason, Maximilian Schell, Simone Signoret, Harriet Andersson, Harry Andrews
Country: UK
Running Time: 107 min
Year: 1966
BBFC Certificate: 12


Indicator are a fairly new label who are doing a wonderful job of giving some little known or largely forgotten films a new lease of life, particularly ones that have things going for them that seem to betray their obscurity. With The Deadly Affair, which I hadn’t heard of previously, you get numerous selling points in the talents behind the film. Directed by Sidney Lumet, based on a novel by John le Carré and starring luminaries like James Mason, Maximilian Schell, Simone Signoret and Harriet Andersson, watching the film was a mouth-watering prospect and I was more than a little surprised that it isn’t better known. It was rather well received on its release, but unfortunately the reviews didn’t translate into ticket sales, possibly due to the glut of spy thrillers around at the time, riding in the wake of the Bond franchise’s success.

The Deadly Affair is based on famed spy-novelist (and actual MI6 employee) John le Carré’s first novel, ‘Call for the Dead’. The novel’s protagonist is none other than George Smiley, a character featuring in many of le Carré’s most famous books (including The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Smiley’s People and his latest novel, A Legacy of Spies). Funnily enough though, back in the mid-60s Smiley wasn’t the near household name he is now, so in this film adaptation his name was changed to Charles Dobbs (played by James Mason).

The film opens with Government security officer Dobbs meeting Foreign Office civil servant Samuel Fennan (Robert Flemyng) about an anonymous tip that had been received, claiming that Fennan had been, and may still be, a practising Communist. This doesn’t seem to bother Fennan, as it was a long time in the past and Dobbs put his mind at ease about the situation. However, Dobbs receives a call early the next morning to say that Fennan committed suicide and a note he made out prior to this claimed he couldn’t live with the situation. Most seem to accept this as a clear cut case, but Dobbs refuses to believe that Fennan took his own life after the fairly relaxed conversation they’d had the day before. So he decides to investigate, even though he is forced to step down from his position due to the situation. Running alongside this, Dobbs also struggles with his relationship with his wife (Harriet Andersson) as he can no longer stand by and let her openly cheat on him as he had for the last year or two.

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Blu-Ray Review: A Day in the Death of Joe Egg

Director: Peter Medak
Screenplay: Peter Nichols
Based on a Play by: Peter Nichols
Starring: Alan Bates, Janet Suzman, Peter Bowles, Sheila Gish, Joan Hickson
Country: UK
Running Time: 106 min
Year: 1972
BBFC Certificate: 15


The latest under-seen curiosity to be given a new lease of life by Indicator is A Day in the Life of Joe Egg. Based on a play by Peter Nichols, which in turn is based on his own life experiences, it charts a day in the life of a married couple, Bri (Alan Bates) and Sheila (Janet Suzman), who care for their daughter Jo, who is almost completely brain-dead (for want of a more scientific or PC description). Being unable to speak or voluntarily move for herself, the couple have to do everything for her, with no return of love. As such, it’s a tough life they lead, and the only way they get through it is to use humour. They create a personality for Jo and speak for her, as well as make blackly comic jokes about their situation throughout the day.

However, Bri has had enough. He’s reached the conclusion that all this work they put in to look after Jo is for nothing and she should be put away somewhere for professional care, or possibly just be allowed to die. Sheila however, hasn’t given up hope that Jo’s abilities may improve by some miracle and refuses to cast her away just to make their lives more comfortable.

It was and, to be honest, still is bold subject matter for a film. There aren’t many films that deal with care for someone with that level of physical/mental illness and particularly not in such an honest and blackly comic fashion. Most Hollywood films that deal with illness or disability use it to offer messages of hope or merely to wring tears out of an audience, but this is no feel good film or weepie. Instead it’s brutally frank about the subject matter. You can tell that the writer, Nichols, had lived in that situation himself (his daughter was brain-dead and they looked after her until she died aged 11) as someone who hadn’t would never be able to tackle the topic in the same way.

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Blu-Ray Review: The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.

Director: Roy Rowland
Screenplay: Dr. Seuss, Allan Scott
Starring: Tommy Rettig, Peter Lind Hayes, Hans Conried, Mary Healy
Country: USA
Running Time: 89 min
Year: 1953
BBFC Certificate: U


I read a couple of bedtime stories to my kids every night and there’s nothing worse than a dull or insipid children’s book (particularly when you’re begged to read the same ones repeatedly), so I do my best to try and find books we can all enjoy. My go to author is Dr. Seuss (or, to use his real name, Theodor Seuss Geisel). His rhyming prose, complete with wacky made up words is a joy to read out loud and his illustrations are wonderfully unusual and imaginative. His work has had a troubled history on the big screen though. There are some classic animated adaptations (largely shorts), but very few live action ones. In fact only one was made before his death in 1991, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T., released back in 1953 when he wasn’t yet a household name. There might only be one because the special effects weren’t advanced enough before the turn of the millennium to capture Seuss’ wild imagination, but it might be largely down to the fact that Dr. T. was a huge commercial failure. It didn’t get much critical love at the time either and Seuss called the film a “debaculous fiasco”, omitting any mention of it in his official biography. So you get the feeling he didn’t let anyone make any live action features after it was released.

Over the years though, Dr. T. has been embraced as a bit of a cult classic and has since been seen in higher regard. As such, our friends at Powerhouse Films have seen fit to re-release the film on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD through their Indicator label. Being a big Dr. Seuss fan, I couldn’t resist requesting a copy to see whether or not it deserved this second life after being so cruelly rejected on its initial release.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Sinbad Trilogy

Being a big Star Wars fan from a fairly young age, I used to think of that trilogy as being what turned me into the obsessive lover of film I am today. However, a few years ago when I watched Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan I realised there was a set of films I fell in love with before I discovered George Lucas’ world of lightsabers and space battles, and those were the fantasy films featuring the work of the great stop-motion legend Ray Harryhausen. Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the Titans and the Sinbad trilogy were mind-blowing to me as a young pre-teen and I made sure I watched all of them whenever they showed up on TV, which was quite often back in the late 80s and early 90s. Nostalgia can be a cruel beast though, so although I was thrilled to hear that the amazing team at Indicator were set to release Harryhausen’s Sinbad Trilogy on dual-format Blu-Ray and DVD, I was slightly worried that the films wouldn’t live up to my high expectations. There was only one way to find out, so I marathon watched the three films over three nights on a borrowed projector to get the full big screen experience.

Here’s what I thought of each film:

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Blu-Ray Review: Housekeeping

Director: Bill Forsyth
Screenplay: Bill Forsyth
Based on a Novel by: Marilynne Robinson
Starring: Christine Lahti, Sara Walker, Andrea Burchill
Country: USA/Canada
Running Time: 116 min
Year: 1987
BBFC Certificate: PG


Bill Forsyth is a Scottish director who’s fairly well known (in the UK at least) for two of his early 80s releases, Gregory’s Girl and Local Hero. The rest of his career is little known to me though and, looking at his filmography on IMDb, his career seemed to thin out after the 80s and his last few releases in the 90s were commercial and critical flops. Right in the middle of this unusual career however, is a film called Housekeeping. I must admit I’d never heard of it before being sent a press release about this forthcoming Indicator Blu-Ray/DVD re-release. Scanning the reviews it seemed to be worth watching though and I do enjoy Gregory’s Girl (I’ve seen Local Hero too, but it’s been decades, so my memory is hazy), so I took a chance on it.

Housekeeping is based on a novel by Marilynne Robinson and follows the troubled lives of two sisters, Ruth (Sara Walker) and Lucille (Andrea Burchill) in 50s rural America. They never knew their father, their mother commits suicide when they’re young and they live with their grandmother for seven years until she dies too and they’re left with their formerly transient aunt, Sylvie (Christine Lahti) who they hadn’t met since they were babies. The girls are initially excited to be with her as she can help them discover more about their mother, but she’s an unusual woman, with no standard motherly instincts or discipline, and Lucille in particular grows tired of and embarrassed by her eccentricities. As such, the sisters, after being inseparable from childhood, gradually grow apart and Ruth is forced to choose between the freewheeling yet isolated existence of being with Sylvie or the stereotypical nuclear family and teenage experience Lucille craves.

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Blu-Ray Review: Experiment in Terror

Director: Blake Edwards
Screenplay: The Gordons – Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon
Based on a Novel by: The Gordons – Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon
Starring: Glenn Ford, Lee Remick, Stefanie Powers
Country: USA
Running Time: 123 min
Year: 1962
BBFC Certificate: 12


I always thought of Blake Edwards as a comedy director, and looking at his CV on IMDB, he did pretty much solely direct comedies (at least away from his early TV work). However, somewhere in between Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Pink Panther, he made the mystery thriller Experiment in Terror as well as the drama Days of Wine and Roses. The former is being re-released on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD by Powerhouse Films as part of their excellent new Indicator label. Intrigued, and being a fan of a good thriller, I couldn’t resist giving it a try.

Experiment in Terror stars Lee Remick as Kelly Sherwood, a bank clerk who is terrorised by an asthmatic assailant (later revealed to be Garland Humphrey ‘Red’ Lynch, played by Ross Martin). He wants her to steal from the bank where she works. If she doesn’t, he says he will kill her and her younger sister, Toby (Stefanie Powers). Despite a physical attack when she first attempts to contact the police, Kelly secretly enlists the help of the FBI and G-Man John ‘Rip’ Ripley (Glen Ford) is put on the case.

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Blu-Ray Review: John Carpenter’s Vampires & Ghosts of Mars

I love John Carpenter. He makes the sort of quality genre movies I adore and is responsible for a number of my all time favourite films. However, even a fan like me can’t deny his career went off the rails further down the line. The 80’s were a little wobbly with cast-iron classics like The Thing rubbing shoulders with enjoyable but flawed films like Prince of Darkness and Christine. Then in the 90’s things really started to go wrong. In the Mouth of Madness aside, which is very good, his output in the decade was not great and his output slowed down after that. Since the turn of the millennium he’s only directed two features and a couple of episodes of Masters of Horror. He is advancing in years so maybe he’s just too old to put the legwork in to making movies anymore, but you get the feeling he maybe just ran out of creative steam after a while or couldn’t get to make what he wanted anymore.

So, it’s interesting (and brave) that the cool new kids on the UK physical media block, Indicator/Powerhouse Films, have decided to add two late-period Carpenter films to their early slate, Vampires and Ghosts of Mars. Neither film has a great reputation, but, being a fan of the director, I was willing to give them a chance and took the plunge. The films are being released separately, but I figured I’d review them together for obvious reasons. My thoughts are below.

Vampires

Director: John Carpenter
Screenplay: Don Jakoby
Based on a Novel by: John Steakley
Starring: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Maximilian Schell, Tim Guinee
Country: USA, Japan
Running Time: 108 min
Year: 1998
BBFC Certificate: 18

What both of these films have in common is that they seemed to be jumping on a bandwagon when they were released. The film Vampires looks to be cashing in on is From Dusk Till Dawn. Like Robert Rodriguez’ film, it roughs up the vampire myth and sets it in the American desert (New Mexico here instead of Texas and Mexico in the earlier film). Jack Crow (James Woods) heads a team of hard-drinking tough guys, commissioned by the Catholic church to kill vampires who are quietly terrorising the world, little known to the general public. When all but one (Anthony Montoya – played by Daniel Baldwin) of Crow’s crew are massacred by the super-powerful master vampire Jan Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), he sets out to get revenge, as well as to stop Valek retrieving an ancient Catholic relic that’s set to give him the power to be immune to sunlight.

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