DVD Round-up, 31 January 2011: Man Hunt, Deadfall and Long Hot Summer

Canadian Walter Pidgeon stars as plucky British army officer Thorndike, opposite Brit George Sanders as nasty German, Major Quive-Smith, in Fritz Lang’s pacy 1941 drama, Man Hunt (Optimum).

Opening with Thorndike placing Adolf Hitler in the sights of his rifle, before being captured by the Nazis who suspect him of planning to assassinate their Fuhrer, we’re soon involved in Thorndike’s plan to escape their clutches and make his way back to Blighty.

With assistance from cabin boy, Vaner (a very young Roddy McDowell), and cockney sparra’ Jerry Stokes (Joan Bennett), Thorndike takes on the might of German Intelligence in a foggy London where WWII is about to begin.

The direction is typical Lang, holding the viewers attention even when the film feels slightly overlong thanks to Thorndike’s twisting and turning escape plan.

It may not be classic Fritz Lang, or indeed the most thrilling of thrillers, but Man Hunt is an important release for Lang completists and there’s fun to be had in watching the encounters between Pidgeon and Sanders, which culminate in a bizarre end for one of the characters.

Just two years after his appearance in 1966’s Gambit, a fun heist movie which saw Michael Caine team up with Shirley Maclaine to pull off a robbery, the actor returned to cinema screens as a very different type of con artist in Bryan Forbes’ Deadfall (Optimum).

This time around Caine is Henry Clarke, hired by Richard Moreau (Eric Portman) and his beautiful wife, Fe (Giovanna Ralli), to steal diamonds owned by millionaire, Salinas (David Buck).

What should be a simple enough job turns into a complex series of double crosses and lies, Harry and Fe falling for each other as sexual politics inform Moreau’s actions.

Deadfall is an oddity, the script playing with viewers’ expectations of Caine’s usually chirpy persona and weaving in subplots which aren’t usually found in caper films, specifically Moreau’s sexual proclivities.

Forbes succeeds in providing tension during the heist sequences, it’s just the emotional aspects which don’t quite hit the mark.

Sexual politics are also on the menu in a very different place and time in Martin Ritt’s adaptation of two William Faulkner stories, The Long Hot Summer (Optimum), as Paul Newman’s Ben Quick arrives in a small Deep South town and lights the fuse on local passions (among other things).

Keeping his head down after causing trouble in another town, Quick arrives in Frenchman’s Bend where he meets local landowner, Will Varner (Orson Welles), who takes him under his wing.

Quick repays Varner by attempting to seduce his daughter, Clara (Joanna Woodward) igniting tensions and setting tongues wagging.

With a stellar cast, sumptuous set design sumptuous and Newman prowling around in his first film role, this is a joy from start to finish, though the exaggerated Welles does threaten to tip the film into farce more than once.

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