DVD Round-up, 25 October 2010: Black Death, Make Way for Tomorrow, Will Success Change Rock Hunter?, Tintin and the Golden Fleece and Tintin and the Blue Oranges

Director Christopher Smith takes us back to 13th Century England for Black Death (Sony Pictures), a gory trek through the religious goings-on of the church as it attempts to find the cause of the plague through witchcraft and the work of the Devil.

Sean Bean stars as a holy knight, Ulric, sent on a mission with a monk, Osmund (Eddie Redmayne), and a band of mercenaries as the they search for a potential necromancer in marshland near the church.

As the group reach a village which has somehow avoided the disease, they encounter locals who are too good to be true, their leader, Langiva (Carice van Houten), potentially hiding some malice behind her smouldering good looks.

Bean is also on good form here, appearances by David Warner and Johnny Harris giving impressive support.

This may be a genre film, with demons and magic spoken of, but it’s not fantasy…probably. The exact reasons for what’s going on in the village are left for the viewer to put their own perspective on, one of the reasons Black Death is such a refreshing watch.

Extras on the Blu-ray include a director’s commentary, deleted scenes and featurettes on the making of the film.

Also out this week are two new Blu-rays from Masters of Cinema, classics from the vaults which out many modern pictures to shame.

Make Way for Tomorrow is director Leo McCarey’s 1937 drama which Orson Welles described as “the saddest movie ever made.” It stars Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi as Barkley and Lucy Cooper, an ageing couple who head to the big city to live with their children when their home is repossessed.

When there, the couple find their kids living their own lives, with little time for their parents. Needing a job, Barkley leaves his wife, to search for work, but returning to take a stroll through their past as they revisit old haunts and plan their future.

At one time one of the world’s best-known directors, McCarey leads the unwary viewer into the world of the Coopers with skill, bringing out the humour and the tragedy in the situation. This is both a haunting tale of old age and an attack on the modern world and the economy, the America of the time still entrenched in the Great Depression.

This new Blu-ray is an impressive transfer of a film which hasn’t seen a release in the UK before, while the extras, including a video introduction from Peter Bogdanovich and a lengthy booklet, help put it into context.

The other classic out today is 1957’s Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, starring Jayne Mansfield and Tony Randall in a fun romp through the advertising world from one-time Looney Tunes director, Frank Tashlin.

Randall is Rock Hunter, a Madison Avenue ad man who needs to come up with a new campaign for a lipstick fast, or he’ll lose his job. Rock lucks out when his neice meets Rita Marlowe (Mansfield), a Hollywood starlet who has come to New York after a failed romance.

Deciding that they can help each other by pretending to be a couple, Hunter and Marlowe join forces and fool the press, though Hunter’s girlfriend isn’t convinced of the plan.

Hugely enjoyable, with a tremendous performance from Randall and a smoking hot turn from Mansfield, director Tarshin’s film is pure fun from start to finish, the Blu-ray transfer ensuring the primary colour-infused picture looks as good as new.

Joe Dante, the director of Gremlins, offers a sweet tribute to Tarshin, while archive news footage an alternate soundtrack help to make this release a welcome one.

Finally, another pair of golden oldies have been unearthed by the BFI in the shape of Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece and Tintin and the Blue Oranges, both out on DVD.

Jean-Pierre Talbot stars as Tintin in these live action adventures, the first seeing the boy hero and his companion, Captain Haddock, head to Turkey when the Captain is named beneficiary in the will of an old comrade.

The friends take the good ship Golden Fleece on a voyage which will see them encounter new friends and enemies, the odd pirate, gangster and the odd detective (or two).

Great fun throughout, this may be squarely aimed at the kids in the audience but the adults should lap up the Bond-lite action as well, director Jean-Jacques Vierne ensuring it looks larger-than-life throughout. An informative booklet helps put the film in some context.

1964’s sequel, Tintin and the Blue Oranges, see the pair embroiled in plans to end world hunger thanks to the creation of a desert-proof orange, which happens to be blue. 

Spain is the location for this new story, perhaps not as much fun as the original, with too much slapstick replacing this time around, but it’s still something that eager fans will welcome on shiny disc.

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