Blu-Ray Review: Black Widow

Director: Bob Rafelson
Screenplay: Ronald Bass
Starring: Debra Winger, Theresa Russell, Sami Frey, Nicol Williamson, Dennis Hopper
Country: USA
Running Time: 102 min
Year: 1987
BBFC Certificate: 15


The late ’80s and early ’90s saw a slew of erotic or at least sexually charged thrillers that took the idea of the film noir ‘femme fatale’ and gave her a modern, more blatantly sexualised twist. At surface value, this might seem like a forward thinking trend of giving women powerful roles instead of throwaway ‘eye-candy’ appearances, but, as film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman discuss in the commentary included on this release, the reason behind this wave of strong villainous women was likely down to the still male-dominated industry (and male-dominated business world in general) being scared of the growing power women were enjoying at the time. Back in the late ’40s and early ’50s, when film noir was born, women were more frequently entering the workplace due to the war, so men were afraid of them taking their traditional places as the breadwinners. In the ’80s, women were finally starting to attain positions of power in the business world (although things still aren’t balanced), so the fear came back.

Black Widow was part of this wave and sees Theresa Russell play the titular Black Widow, a chameleonic character (of too many names to pick one here, so I’ll stick with the title) who makes a living by seducing rich men, marrying them, then undetectably murdering them, so she can keep their fortunes to herself. She then changes her identity and moves onto the next victim. So it’s very much playing into those ’80s fears then, but writer Ronald Bass put a bit of a spin on things to prevent the film from being too blatantly a symbol for male fear, by making the protagonist a woman too. Debra Winger plays Alexandra, a Federal Investigator who is bored of her desk-bound research job and longs to be in the field, solving cases first hand. She comes across some strange deaths of wealthy men and looks into the cases to find the wife of each victim looks similar, even if on paper they are different women. She begs her boss to let her take on the case, which he lets her do, as he thinks she’s crazy. There’s no evidence of murder and the Black Widow’s hair and make-up changes make it hard to prove she’s the same woman.

When Alexandra gets close to catching the Black Widow in the act though, her next victim, William (Nicol Williamson), is found dead. Alexandra is devastated as she had a chance to tell William about her theory about his wife, so she quits her job and heads to Hawaii (the last known location of the Widow) to put an end to her reign of terror herself. To do this, she must learn to be like her nemesis and the closer she gets to the Widow, the more she discovers her own sexual powers, turning from a tomboy into a ‘true’ woman.

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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: The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane

Director: Nicolas Gessner
Screenplay: Laird Koenig
Based on a novel by: Laird Koenig
Starring: Jodie Foster, Scott Jacoby, Martin Sheen, Alexis Smith, Mort Shuman
Country: France, Canada
Running Time: 92 min
Year: 1976
BBFC Certificate: 15


Jodie Foster had quite a year in 1976. Only thirteen when the year came around, she’d already enjoyed a successful career with dozens of TV credits and a couple of films under her belt. 1976 marked the beginning of her transition from child actor in family shows and Disney movies to a truly accomplished actress though. Within one year she starred in the cult classic (at least in more recent years) Bugsy Malone, family favourite Freaky Friday and, most notably, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, in which she played a pre-adolescent prostitute. With these films she cemented her place in cinema history in one fell swoop. There was another film released that year though that is less talked about, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (plus Echoes of a Summer, but I know little about that). It won awards for best horror film and best actress for Foster at the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, so within genre circles it was well regarded, but it certainly doesn’t share the reputation of the three other 1976 titles I mentioned earlier. Signal One Entertainment felt the need to address the balance a little though and gave the film a decent Blu-Ray release in the UK a couple of years ago. I recently got my hands on a copy and here are my thoughts on it

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane sees Foster play Rynn, a thirteen year old girl living on her own in a small town, but hiding the fact to her rather nosey neighbours. She tells them her father is a poet that is always working upstairs and doesn’t want to be disturbed. One neighbour, Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen), is a sleazy man, known by the townsfolk for having a taste for young girls and he sees Rynn’s isolation as an opportunity. Frank’s mother (Alexis Smith), who owns the property Rynn rents, is also suspicious of the situation and continues to snoop around, until she is accidentally killed after discovering a dark secret in the house. Rynn hides her body, but local teenager Mario (Scott Jacoby) bumps into her and can see something isn’t right. As the two develop a strong bond, Rynn decides to let him in on her secret and the two do their best to keep on top of things.

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Blu-Ray Review: Panic in the Streets

Director: Elia Kazan
Screenplay: Richard Murphy, Daniel Fuchs, John Lee Mahin (uncredited), Philip Yordan (uncredited)
Based on a story by: Edna Anhalt, Edward Anhalt
Starring: Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes, Jack Palance, Zero Mostel
Country: USA
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 1950
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve long been a bit of a hypochondriac/germophobe. If anyone’s ill in my circle of family or friends I’m always terrified of catching something and try everything in my power to avoid contact or obsessively clean my hands any time I get close to them. As such, I’ve always found films about disease particularly disturbing. So a film like Elia Kazan’s Panic in the Streets plays into my fear as the best thrillers do.

The film opens with a group of unsavoury characters playing cards in a New Orleans bar. One of them looks rather unwell and wants to leave, but the others, including tough guy Blackie (Jack Palance) and his nervous accomplice Raymond Fitch (Zero Mostel), think he’s putting it on to avoid paying what he owes. They chase him down when he does leave and end up killing the man and dumping him in the docks.

The authorities find the body the next morning and perform an autopsy. It seems pretty clear the man died of a gunshot wound, but the doctor discovers he actually had pneumonic plague. This is a highly infectious and fatal disease, so Lt. Commander Clint Reed (Richard Widmark), a doctor with the U.S. Public Health Service, is called in to handle the situation. He believes that the murderer is key to containing the situation as he was obviously in contact with the dead man and must have got his blood on him as he carried the body to the docks. So Reed figures he and the police have got 48 hours to figure out who the killer is before the plague spreads out of their control. Reed also believes the outbreak should be kept from public knowledge as they don’t want the murder to leave New Orleans in a panic. This controversial decision has some repercussions down the line though as Reed and the lead police officer on the case, Capt. Tom Warren (Paul Douglas) begin to crack the case.

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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.

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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).

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Blu-Ray Review: The Reckoning

Director: Jack Gold
Screenplay: John McGrath
Based on a Play by: Patrick Hall
Starring: Nicol Williamson, Ann Bell, Lilita De Barros, Tom Kempinski
Country: UK
Running Time: 111 min
Year: 1970
BBFC Certificate: 12


Another of Indicator’s obscure British film re-releases this month (which also include The Deadly Affair, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg and The National Health), is Jack Gold’s The Reckoning. As with the other titles, I hadn’t heard of this before, but it caught my eye due to some positive reviews knocking around and the press citing it as being similar and of equal standard to Get Carter (the original, not the God-awful Sylvester Stallone remake of course).

Like Get Carter, The Reckoning sees its protagonist travel up north from London to find a loved one murdered. This time around it’s Liverpool that Michael Marler (Nicol Williamson) travels to, as his father is dead. The doctors declare it a straight forward heart attack, but a friend of his father tells Michael he was attacked by some anglo-saxon teddy boys the day before, which caused his death. Unlike Carter however, Michael is no gangster out for revenge. He’s a businessman who moved down south from his Liverpool home and never looked back. He’s brutal in his approach to his line of work though and his working class Irish heritage requires him to deal with those responsible for his father’s death, as the police aren’t interested. So Michael spends much of the film tormented as to what to do about the situation. Meanwhile he finds being back home rejuvenating after feeling suffocated and bored with his high flying but superficial existence in the capital. In particular, he’s fed up of his cold-hearted wife Rosemary (Ann Bell) and the battle for a promotion in the company he works for. The trip up north seems to provide him the impetus to do something about this though.

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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: The Handmaiden

Director: Chan-wook Park
Screenplay by: Seo-kyeong Jeong, Chan-wook Park
Based on a Novel by: Sarah Waters
Starring: Tae-ri Kim, Min-hee Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Jo, Jin-woong Jo
Country: South Korea
Running Time: 146 min (also available in an extended version)
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 18


Chan-wook Park is a director who can do no wrong in my eyes. I’ve loved all of his films, even his divisive English language debut Stoker (although I haven’t seen his earlier pre-Vengeance Trilogy films or I’m a Cyborg). So, like many world cinema fans, I was excited to see what The Handmaiden, his return to South Korea, had in store, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Handmaiden is based on the novel ‘Fingersmith’, by Welsh writer Sarah Waters, but with a change of setting from Victorian era Britain to Korea under Japanese colonial rule. Sookee (Tae-ri Kim) is hired as the new handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim), who lives with her ageing uncle Kouzuki (Jin-woong Jo), a cruel man who wants his hands on his niece’s fortune. Sookee however, has actually been hired by a swindler, posing as Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha), who plans to have the handmaiden help him woo Hideko so he can marry her, then declare her insane and keep her money for himself. Sookee’s part in the plan becomes complicated however, when she falls in love and forms a sexual relationship with Hideko. The plot thickens further as the film goes on, but I wouldn’t want to spoil anything.

Like Stoker, The Handmaiden is a sexually charged, big, brash erotic thriller that may not necessarily be subtle or original, but enthrals nonetheless. As is to be expected from Chan-wook Park, the film is meticulously well made, and this is why it works so successfully, despite potentially trashy source material (no offence to the original novel, but I’ve seen plenty of these twist-laden, sex-filled thrillers before). The film looks ravishing, shot artfully and filled with lavish, yet imposing production design that creates the darkly beautiful prison Hideko is trapped in (her uncle’s house, that she is rarely allowed to leave).

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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.

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Blu-Ray Review: Diabolique – Criterion Collection

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Screenplay: René Masson, Frédéric Grendel, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jérôme Géronimi
Based on a Novel by: Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac
Starring: Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel
Country: France
Running Time: 117 min
Year: 1955
BBFC Certificate: 12


Diabolique seems an odd film for Criterion to choose to release in the UK as part of their collection of exquisite Blu-Ray re-releases of classic films. That’s not to say Diabolique doesn’t deserve to be part of the Criterion Collection. It’s a highly respected film from an equally respected director. However, another boutique Blu-Ray label, Arrow Academy, turned their hand to it only three years ago (albeit under the film’s alternative title, Les Diaboliques). I haven’t actually watched that release, so can’t compare, but knowing Arrow’s reputation, it’s probably equally as well remastered and seems to have a couple of equally as decent special features included. Nevertheless, it’s a film worthy of attention and I’d not seen it for a few years, so I didn’t hesitate to request a copy to review for you all here.

In Diabolique, Christina (Véra Clouzot) and Nicole (Simone Signoret) are an unlikely pair who plot to kill Christina’s husband, a cruel headmaster named Michel (Paul Meurisse). They’re an odd couple because Nicole was Michel’s mistress and Christina is perfectly aware of this. The twisted Michel makes no secret of it and this, on top of his constant belittling and humiliation of Christina, drive the women to the drastic measure of committing murder. Their plan, driven largely by the cold and calculated Nicole, seems to go relatively smoothly until Michel’s body goes missing. As Christina’s fear of being caught builds on top of her mounting guilt, her sanity and already weak heart are tested to their limits.

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