DVD Round-up, 1 March 2010

Prepare to travel through another dimension, one of sight and sound…and odd happenings on the sea which you’ll be scratching your head over for a long time after.

Taking it’s cue from the much-loved 1960s anthology series The Twilight Zone, Triangle (Icon Home Entertainment) takes a seemingly innocuous situation – a young mum going on a sailing trip with friends – and spins it off in an entirely unexpected direction.

Heading to the harbour after getting an odd ring at her doorbell, Jess (Melissa George), sets sail with love interest Greg (Michael Dorman) and his friends, their journey soon interrupted by a storm which nearly kills them and the appearance of an ocean liner which could be their saviour.

Boarding the ship, Jess starts to feel something isn’t quite right, a fact proven when future version of the visitors start appearing on the ship, leading to a cat-and-mouse game through the vessel…and through time. Looping back on itself and threatening to tie both the viewer and the characters in knots, writer Christopher Smith’s script is never less than great fun, his high concept idea played out with a strong cast and tight direction.

Melissa George gets much of the screen time as the multiple versions of Jess and holds everything together thanks to her mix of beauty and brawn, which sees her take on a very physical role with ease. The only problem watching Triangle for the first time is that the looped events play havoc with the brain, demanding a re-watch soon after and a desire to consume the director’s commentary and making-of documentary.

While Triangle was filmed in Australia (standing in for America), 1959’s The Siege of Pinchgut (Optimum) was both made and set in Sydney, a thriller perhaps best remembered for being the final film to emerge from the very British Ealing Studios.

Escaping from a Sydney prison via a small boat, Matt Kirk (Aldo Ray) and his gang of cronies, including younger brother Johnny (Neil McCallum), are stranded in Sydney Harbour when the vessel’s engine dies. Pitching up on Pinchgut Island, a nearby fortress, Kirk takes a family hostage as he tries to prove his innocence to authorities who discover his whereabouts.

Trapped on the island, with the army training their guns on him, Kirk must take desperate measures to ensure his plan goes smoothly. Making good use of its location, with Sydney appearing on-screen in many sequences, the film preceded Sean Connery’s turn in The Rock by around 40 years, the convicts’ decision to take out as much of Sydney as possible by force sharing a plot strand with the 90s actioner.

Filmed in black and white and featuring a host of British character actors in smaller roles, Pinchgut is in turns tense and darkly funny, a curio that deserves rediscovery.

The great Bob Hope is at the centre of two new releases from Optimum, 1941’s Caught in the Draft, in which he attempts to dodge being drafted into the US army, and 1942’s Star Spangled Rhythm, an attempt at US propaganda also featuring a host of Paramount Studio stars.

Caught in the Draft sees Hope star as cowardly actor Don Bolton, happy to play at soldiers on screen but terrified of giving up his cosy lifestyle for life in army. When he meets the daughter of a real-life Colonel, Antoinette (Dorothy Lamour), who believes in men signing up to fight, Don decides to fool her into thinking he’s joining the army.

Meanwhile, Star Spangled Rhythm allows Hope to play an exaggerated version of himself, banding together with 1940s stars such as Bing Crosby, Fred MacMurray, Dorothy Lamour and Veronika Lake to help Paramount guard Pop Webster (Victor Moore) to fool his son into thinking he’s the studio’s Executive Vice President.

Deciding to stage a variety show for the Navy, Pop is delighted when his friends agree to take part, each one showcasing their talents for free. While neither film is quite up to the standard of Hope and Crosby’s ‘Road To…’ movies, the chance to see the former in action is always a treat.

Hope may not have written a word of his own dialogue, but he knew how to deliver a line, his repartee with Lamour in Caught in the Draft a highlight of an otherwise medium effort.

Of the two, Star Spangled Rhythm has more energy to it, a sequence where Hope ends up hiding out in a shower while someone else actually takes the shower proving his comedy mettle. Made as something of a PR piece for the US military, showing the boys fighting abroad a good time when a smile was hard to come by, Rhythm is a patchy production but it has enough flair to make it a more than the sum of its parts.

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