Category Archives: Blu-ray

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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DVD Reviews: Herostratus, All the Right Noises and Man of Violence

Once more reaching down between the metaphorical cracks in the floorboards of UK film history, those bastions of our celluloid heritage the British Film Institute (BFI) have pulled out and dusted down three more examples of films which there’s little chance you’ve seen but of which everyone should at least have heard of.

Taking place at the BFI on London’s Southbank each month, Flipside is a series of screenings of movies forgotten about by the masses, and even by many of the experts.

Releasing some of the best (weirdest?) examples on DVD and Blu-ray, the rest of us can finally get our hands on little pieces of our culture previously hidden in the vaults.

First up is Herostratus from 1967 (15, ***), a suitably flower-power infused slice of oddness centring on young poet Max (Michael Gothard), a troubled soul who starts the film going all moody in his bedsit as the camera lingers on him in a series of close-ups.

Soon we discover that Max has decided to commit suicide, but not your common-or-garden suicide: with the help of a city marketing company. Max wants his death to become a media event, with as many people as possible to know about his demise.

Herostratus is often an uncomfortable watch, its lack of linear storytelling and use of abstract images and scenes giving an often disjointed feeling. There’s nothing straightforward about the film, one sequence of a girl dancing spliced with a butcher hacking a piece of raw meat dropped into the film seemingly randomly.

Still, there’s no denying the energy of the film, Gothard quite mesmerising as Max: the energy bubbling away beneath his exterior is quite captivating. It’s a performance made all the more poignant when you consider that the actor would go on to commit suicide in real life in 1992.

Extras on this two disc set include an audio interview with director Don Levy and three other short films made in the 1960’s.

All the Right Noises (12, ****) is the story of a married man, Len (Tom Bell), who unwittingly falls in love (or is that lust?) with 15-year-old schoolgirl Val (Olivia Hussey) and begins an affair with her under the nose of his wife, family and friends.

Hailing from 1969, when social realism was a hot topic for British filmmakers, All the Right Noises refuses to titillate in its depiction of the central love story.

Len and Val’s meetings are shown matter-of-factly, their visits to Len’s council estate, the beach and the streets of London showing us that they’re nothing particularly special, just two mixed up people trying to get by.

The film doesn’t judge Len, at least not in the way a modern day film would be forced to. The fact that he hasn’t done much with his life and likely never will is probably punishment enough, his brief romance with Val a passing phase that will soon see him return to his status quo.

Bell is up there with those other 60’s leading men such as Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay, this film perhaps just not showy enough to lodge in cinema-goers or critics memories after release.

This is a shame as out of the three releases this bears the most re-watching and is a nice curio for those looking to discover more from the era that brought kitchen sink dramas to such prominence.

Extras include an interview with Hussey and short film The Spy’s Wife, also starring Bell.

The final release is the almost uncategorisable Man of Violence (15, ***), a spy/detective/action/romance/thriller-type affair which bundles guns and girls into one film with little thought for the actual plot.

Directed by master of exploitation Pete Walker, whose work was both loved and loathed in equal measure by critics and audiences, Michael Latimer is Moon, a private detective hired to investigate problems with a property investment.

Things start to go wrong for Moon when double dealings and gorgeous girls (in particular the stunning Luan Peters) threaten to derail his investigations.

The story then spins-off into confusing territory with kidnappings, spaced out hippy chicks, gun fights, a trip to Morocco, more girls and a suitably 60s soundtrack combining to create a muddled adventure which becomes a series of set-pieces and worried glances.

London looks suitably gritty throughout, the Dockland locations that would a few years later become so vital a part of The Long Good Friday, acting as backdrop to the dodgy meetings and morals, prominent here.

The transfer looks bright and crisp, as with all of these releases, the colours of the still barely-swinging sixties appearing gaudy and brash.

Also on this disc is another Walker feature, 1968’s pulp thriller The Big Switch, the plot of which is even less important than that of Man of Violence, comprised of more scantily clad women and a smattering of intrigue.

In conclusion

Complementing each of the films are comprehensive liner notes, helping to set the scene for these stories of death, violence, love and, above all, an energy lacking from many present day British movies.

Very much of their era, these films are all great fun in their own way and all credit is due to the BFI for going to the effort of restoring them to their former glory.

Herostratus, All the Right Noises and Man of Violence are all available now from the BFI on DVD (£17.99) and Blu-ray (22.99).