DVD Round-up: The Innocents, Flash Gordon, While the City Sleeps

Forget everything you know, or think you know, about modern thrillers and horror films: until you’ve watched 1961’s The Innocents (BFI) you ain’t seen nothing yet. 

Deborah Kerr plays Miss Giddens, the new governess of two young children in a remote country house, children whose previous guardian who died in mysterious circumstances. As Giddens tries to settle into the home, she becomes aware of ghostly figures around her, seemingly those of the last governess and her lover.


Though the children claim not to be able to see the ghosts, Giddens becomes sure something is wrong, her relationship with them altering as she tries to get to the bottom of the strange goings-on.

Kerr’s motivations are never entirely clear, something which isn’t usually the case in a horror film. Her young co-stars, in particular Martin Stephens’ Miles, are excellent child actors, Stephens character old before his time, though this doesn’t make the more tender moments between him and his governess any easier to swallow.


Filmed in crisp black and white by cinematographer Freddie Francis and director Jack Clayton, the everyday nature of the children playing at odds with the sinister world around them, this is one of the most chilling films ever made and a worthy addition to the horror library of anyone who thinks the Saw films or remakes of 1970s slasher movies are the best on offer.


This new Blu-ray edition looks stunning and, when combined with a raft of extras including a commentary and filmed introduction from Sir Christopher Frayling alongside two more short films from Clayton, this becomes even more desirable.


Better known than The Innocents but not necessarily deserving its notoriety, is 1980s Flash Gordon (Optimum), a Technicolor extravaganza now released on Blu-ray, which sees football icon Flash Gordon (Sam J Jones) shot into space where he meets the evil Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow) and hi-jinks ensue.

Arriving on the planet Mongo with Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) and Dr Zarkov (Topol), the trio soon encounter the cream of British acting talent, including Timothy Dalton, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde and Blue Peter’s Peter Duncan.


Understatement isn’t a word in director Mike Hodges’ vocabulary, the OTT nature of the film one which you either accept or risk being swamped by garish costumes and a feeling that nothing seems to make much sense.

The soundtrack from Queen is a high point of the production, and those curious about the production or who have witnessed it before in non-HD will no doubt get a kick out of it.

Finally, it’s back to the New York of the 1950s for a new release of Fritz Lang’s While the City Sleeps (Exposure Cinema), one of the lesser-remembered films from the man who brought us Metropolis and Doctor Mabuse. 

Vincent Price is top newspaper publisher Walter Kyne, who decides that three of his best reporters will go on the hunt for news about a serial killer who has hit the headlines.

As the men try to out-scoop each other for the story of their careers, romantic problems rear their head, particularly as one of them, Harry (James Craig), has an affair with Kyne’s wife, Dorothy (Rhonda Fleming).
 

Dark and morally ambiguous, as any good film noir must be, While the City Sleeps also has a smattering of humour, while the depiction of the frustrated killer, living with his mother and ridiculed on television by Mobley (Dana Andrews), is a chilling one. 

Lang is reputed to have felt this was one of his best films, though it doesn’t have the power of Mabuse or M. This is still an arresting thriller, its top-notch cast, including George Sanders and Ida Lupino in supporting roles, giving a sheen of quality that prevents it falling into the abyss of forgotten noirs.

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