Monthly Archives: May 2012

William Friedkin’s Edinburgh connection

Fans of 1971’s classic cop thriller, The French Connection, can enjoy a Q&A with director William Friedkin at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse cinema on Tuesday 19 June.

Friedkin will be a guest at the 2012 Edinburgh International Film Festival where he’ll promote his latest film, Killer Joe, on 20 June. Filmhouse, one of the UK’s leading independent cinemas, has managed to secure Friedkin for an extended Q&A following a screening of The French Connection, where he’ll be discussing his career and films.

The French Connection stars Gene Hackman as New York narcotics detective James “Popeye” Doyle, the cop charged with investigating an international drug smuggling ring. Hackman won an Academy Award for Best Actor and Friedkin won the Best Director Award.

Tickets are now on sale from the Filmhouse website and are bound to sell fast.

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DVD Round-up: Lifeboat, Island of Lost Souls and Ruggles of Red Gap

Alfred Hitchcock was always one for challenges. Whether he was attempting a series of long takes to suggest a single shot, as in 1948’s Rope, or making 1960’s Psycho with the crew of his TV show on a modest budget, Hitch wasn’t one for taking the easy option.

Lifeboat (1943) finds a cast of assorted characters, led by Connie Porter (Tallulah Bankhead) and Gus Smith (William Bendix), all at sea as their ship is sunk by a German U-boat in the North Atlantic and they’re left to drift towards an uncertain fate in the titular craft.

As the tiny vessel quickly fills with its motley crew, they drag on board a German sailor, Willy (Walter Slezak), who could be either be an innocent U-boat sailor or the captain whose decision it was to sink the ship.

The script, ostensibly by John Steinbeck’s but with input from various figures including Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville, may be lean and its dialogue punchy but it’s the director’s inspired shooting technique that has drawn the most plaudits over the years.

Confined to the small boat that could be cut in half and moved to various positions, Hitchcock is forced to be creative with his angles. Constantly moving around the boat and into the cast’s faces, the tension mounts as the days pass and the doubts about who is responsible for what increase.

Bankhead is a force of nature as Porter, more interested in her camera than those around her, but it’s Slezak who steals the film from her. The audience is as much in the dark as the survivors for much of the picture, sympathies moving from one person to the next as their stories emerge.

This may be a lesser known Hitchcock, at least compared to the usual suspects which fill up the box sets, but it’s still as taught and compelling as his later work and a welcome arrival on Blu-ray.

This new DVD and Blu-ray from Masters of Cinema also comes with two short films made by Hitchcock in France during the Second World War, Bon Voyage (1944) Adventure Malgache (1944), along with a featurette on the making of the film and a clip of the famous Hitchcock/Truffaut interview.

The first of two new Charles Laughton releases from Masters of Cinema in May, 1932’s Island of Lost Souls is Universal’s take on HG Wells’ The Island of Dr Moreau, a film that was banned by the British Board of Film Classification on its release for being “against nature”. Gulp.

Souls finds us somewhere in the hot and steamy South Seas, where Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) is left in the capable hands of Dr Moreau (Laughton), a scientist with a penchant for vivisecting animals and trying to change them into humans.

Also on the island is the Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke), a poor creature who has spent some time under Moreau’s knife and ended up a glamorous half-woman who wants to get her teeth in Parker, so to speak.

This is a heady concoction that may not appear as nasty to modern audiences as it did back in the 1930s but which still causes the occasional flinch. Moreau’s experiments litter the island, men turned into strange abominations that cower in the bushes as Bela Lugosi’s “Sayer of the Law” tries to keep them in order.

Laughton is mesmerising as Moreau, his scientific curiosity now as mutated as his creatures as he plays God with anyone he comes into contact with. Combined with the atmospheric set design that works perfectly in black and white and you have a horror that stands up to repeated viewing along with its other classic Universal stablemates.

Looking stunning on Blu-ray, this dual format release includes new interviews with Laughton biographer Simon Callow and an informative video essay from critic Jonathan Rigsby, along with a fascinating booklet containing various essays. There’s also a smart limited edition steelbook edition of the set that is crying out for a place on your shelf.

The second Laughton escapade is thankfully on the lighter side, as he heads from the safety of Paris to the Wild West in Leon McCarey’s 1935 comedy, Ruggles of Red Gap.

When his employer, Lord Burnstead (Roland Young), gambles away his butler, Ruggles (Laughton), to a newly monied American couple, Egbert and Effie Floud (Charlie Ruggles and Mary Boland), the bemused manservant must adjust to a very different life.

While Egbert is happy for Ruggles to be one of the guys, Ruggles is disgusted at the concept, and through various unfortunate escapades he attracts Effie’s scorn as her husband is returned to her in states of inebriation.

Although the centred on the unfortunate Ruggles, who we follow as he adjusts to his new world, rolling his eyes as he goes, there’s still plenty of room for Boland’s Effie to make herself heard at every opportunity. Boland and Laughton make for a fine double act, as do Charlie Ruggles and Laughton, particularly towards the end as the butler decides his fate.

Watched in tandem with Island of Lost Souls, Ruggles of Red Gap is a welcome change of pace and an opportunity to appreciate the many sides of Charles Laughton. It’s also another welcome addition to the growing library of Leo McCarey titles making it to DVD and Blu-ray, a director with a major influence on the Golden Age of Hollywood.

This new dual format release looks good for its age, restored from the original negative. The set also includes radio plays featuring Ruggles and Laughton, a recording of Laughton’s Gettysburg Address from the film and an informative booklet.

Lifeboat is out now. Island of Lost Souls and Ruggles of Red Gap will be released on 28 May, 2012.

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The First Born at Edinburgh Filmhouse

Premiered at the BFI London Film Festival in 2011, Miles Mander’s 1928 silent melodrama The First Born finally arrived in Edinburgh tonight at the Filmhouse.

Introduced and accompanied by composer Stephen Horne, whose new score debuted with this newly restored version of the film back in October, The First Born tells of the sex lives of the rich and famous, with philandering MPs and their wives getting up to mischief behind closed doors. Nothing’s changed there then.

Written by Mrs Alfred Hitchcock, Alma Reville, Horne explained that the BFI Bryony Dixon stumbled upon the film a decade ago while researching Reville’s work, only to discover a forgotten classic.

Now spruced up and returned to the big screen, the film sees Mander, who also stars as the caddish Hugo Boycott, wringing every ounce of drama from the script. The stunning Madeleine Carroll co-stars as Boycott’s equally scheming wife.

It’s relatively fast-paced and there’s some terrific direction from Mander, who gets up close with the camera and tries out some innovative angles throughout, including an impressive point of view shot that was partly the reason Dixon went ahead with the restoration.

Although the event seemed to go somewhat unheralded by the Filmhouse’s PR team – the screening was moved from the large Screen One into the smaller Screen Three – it was nevertheless a success with the near-capacity audience and I’d recommend seeing The First Born if it comes to a cinema near you.

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Alfred Hitchcock at the BFI

Exciting things are happening at the BFI as their Rescue the Hitchcock 9 project, which aims to fully restore the director’s nine surviving silent films, comes to fruition.

The BFI will be celebrating Hitch throughout the summer of 2012 with a series of gala premieres, namely 1921’s Blackmail, 1927’s The Ring, 1926’s The Lodger, 1925’s The Pleasure Garden. Full details can be found on the Genius of Hitchcock section of the BFI website.

As I’m in Edinburgh it’s unlikely I’ll make it down to many of these but I’m confident our Filmhouse will screen them at some point.

In the meantime, a new trailer has been released to promote the Hitchcock project and it’s rather lovely:

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