Category Archives: DVD

The First Renown Pictures Festival Of Film 2015

I’ve long been a fan of the output of Renown Films, a UK DVD label releasing some long-forgotten and under-appreciated British films.

Forget the likes of Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling; actors such as William Hartnell and Jack Warner are Renown’s leading men in titles such as 1950’s Double Confession or 1962’s Jigsaw.

renown_ticketThe company recently announced that they’re branching out from the DVD business into the world of the film festival, with the announcement of the The First Renown Pictures Festival Of Film 2015, which takes place on Sunday 8th February in Rickmansworth’s Watersmeet Theatre.

The day will be introduced by actor Brian Murphy (George & Mildred) and devoted to screenings of previously thought-lost British B-movies including 1951’s London Entertains, 1956’s Tons of Trouble (featuring William Hartnell) and 1969’s Hole Lot of Trouble (none of which appear to be available on DVD) alongside guest appearances from the likes of Jess Conrad and experts from the world of film.

There’s also due to be a talk from a friend of mine, writer and broadcaster Robert Ross, who’ll be discussing his forthcoming book, Forgotten Heroes of Comedy.

Elsewhere there’ll be a dealers table, film memorabilia, book signings and a 16mm Bring and Buy table.

It should be a great day and I’m planning on heading along to enjoy a cup of tea and a slice of cake while soaking up the atmosphere with some fellow classic film fans – tickets are on sale now from just £5.

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Video: Warner Archive Collection and the Killer Bs

One of the best parts of my two visits to the TCM Classic Film Festival in 2011 and 2012 was the chance to catch up with the team from the Warner Archive Collection, who make old movies their business.

For the last few years Warner Archive have been releasing obscure films and TV series on demand, printing DVDs one at a time as people order them. For some reason that hasn’t caught on in the UK, meaning fans outside America have to order these titles on Amazon rather than straight from the publisher.

I suspect there’s some distrust of the market for these rarer titles on the part of Warner UK, who would rather spend their marketing budget on promoting a guaranteed hit on DVD than a title which may only sell a few hundred/dozen copies. Personally, I think they’re underestimating the audience over here, certainly if my Twitter feed is anything to judge by. There are numerous titles mention on there every day which would sell well if Warner UK took a chance on us.

Online streaming may be on the rise in the UK, but over in the US they yet again have it down to a fine art, with sites such as Hulu and Netflix dominating. A newcomer to the growing market is Warner Archive Instant, which allows film fans to pay a monthly subscription and watch as many titles as they want during the month.

Again, there’s no sign of this coming to the UK, even though there’s a lot of profit to be made.

All of this preamble is to introduce a short video of a panel which took place at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con, featuring Warner Archive, screenwriter Josh Olson and film historian, Leonard Maltin (who I also met at TCM 2012). The guys have a chat about the type of films they release and make me want to watch all them.

Maltin also makes some interesting points about the supposed disposability of films.

Forget modern blockbusters, 1950s B-movies are where I want to spend my hard earned cash these days.

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DVD Round-up, 8 March 2010

With Tim Burton’s version of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale taking the cinema by storm, there’s now a chance to revisit an earlier adaptation in the shape of 1972’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Fiona Fullerton takes on the role of Alice, tempted by the White Rabbit’s (Michael Crawford) into Wonderland where she meets Tweedledum and Tweedledee, The Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and a host of weird and wonderful characters.

As with many British fantasy films of the past, the look of the magical land is less Hollywood technicolor and more low budget soundstage, but that’s not to say it looks cheap. Director William Sterling takes his cue from Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations to build his bizarre dreamscape.

Using impressive visual techniques to shrink and grow Alice, and inserting well known actors such as Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore and Spike Milligan alongside a feisty Fullerton, Sterling gives us a memorable Wonderland, one where parents and children should feel slight trepidation once they make it to the bottom of that hole.

Little remarked upon on its 2009 release, Just Like the Son (Bounty) is a road trip with a difference, in which a young thief takes a boy across America to find his mum using ill-gotten gains to fund the journey.

Mark Webber stars as Daniel Carter, a petty criminal sent to work at a primary school in Greenwich Village where he meets 8-year-old Boone (Antonio Ortiz). Finding out that Boone’s mother has been taken ill and the boy sent away to a foster school, Daniel decides to save him and reunite him with his family.

Managing to avoid sentimentality, director Morgan J Freeman has a lightness of touch which ensures the potentially cloying nature of the story is avoided. The rapport between Webber and Ortiz is also refreshingly real, time given over to establishing their relationship.

With its straightforward narrative and appealing actors, Just Like the Son is a gentle enough tale with enough rough edges to ensure it doesn’t become too predictable.

English history gets a kick-up the ramparts in 1939’s Tower of London (Optimum Classic), a gothic-tinged retelling of the Richard III story, Basil Rathbone giving it his all as the murderous King hell-bent on attaining the throne by any means necessary.

Starting out as the Duke of Gloucester, brother to King Edward IV, Richard doesn’t suffer fools, or failure, gladly. Assisted by the fictional executioner, Mord (Boris Karloff), Richard, cons, swindles, fights and murders his way through the ranks to place himself as King of England.

Made by Universal, the studio that brought Frankenstein and Dracula to the big screen, Tower of London has all the darkness of those movies along with its own sense of morbidity that is inevitable in such a doom-laden tale.

Rathbone is a strong lead, always on the look out for his next opportunity for success, and much of the fun her can be found in trying to second guess his next move.

Karloff is also on good form, his thoroughly evil Mord showing the odd glimpse of humanity when he’s not drowning Vincent Price in a vat of wine or torturing unfortunate peasants.

While a bit of historical knowledge might help your enjoyment of the film, and the odd American accent does distract, Tower of London is never dull and adds a touch of colour to historical events.

Awaking in a small Welsh fishing village and unsure how he got there, Rex Harrison finds himself embroiled in a series of unfortunate events in The Constant Husband (Optimum Classic), the upshot of which being that he’s married…to seven different women.

Taking it upon himself to investigate his own life, Harrison uncovers false names, occupations and love affairs, becoming increasingly unsure of why he did what he did or how to get out of the mess.

Written by The Lady Vanishes Sydney Gilliat, The Constant Husband is clearly a lesser affair for Harrison compared to Doctor Doolittle or My Fair Lady, but this doesn’t stop him having a ball as the uptight cad, a kind of 1950s Hugh Grant.

The story rattles along at a fair lick, with few signs of reality bothering the script, cameos from the likes of George Cole helping to make it a frothy concoction that lovers of romantic comedies should find appealing.

Finally this week, Optimum have pulled another little known British film out of the archives by the scruff of the neck in the shape of 1954’s The Rainbow Jacket.

Last of the Summer Wine’s Compo, Bill Owen, stars as disgraced champion jockey Sam who discovers a potential protege in the form of young Georgie (Fella Edmonds) and encourages him to take up riding.

With the promise of riches and fame,Georgie and his mother jump at the chance, the boy discovering that there’s more to training than just sitting on a horse as he’s put through various trials by the owners of Lord Logan’s (Robert Morley) stables.

Beginning as a comedy with an appearance by Sid James in the opening scene, Rainbow Jacket switches direction somewhat during the film’s run, Sam’s history clearly troubling him as he tries to mould Georgie into an honest jockey.

As Sam schools the boy, telling him to always do the right thing, Bill Owen portrays his clapped out character with empathy in a role which would usually be shown by way of a simple cheeky chap routine.

With the emphasis placed on the need for morals and dignity at all times, The Rainbow Jacket has elements not expected in these type of films and as such marks it out as something that little bit different, thanks mainly to a strong turn from Owen.

DVD Round-up, 18 January 2009

Recently re-released in UK cinemas and re-evaluated by audiences and critics alike, 1949’s, The Queen of Spades (Optimum) is a morally challenging tale from director Thorold Dickinson based on the novel by Russian author Alexander Pushkin.

Set in the St Petersburg of the 1830s, Pushkin’s story tells of a Russian army officer, Suvorin (Anton Walbrook), addicted to playing card games with colleagues. When he hears a story about an old Countess (Edith Evans) who received the secret of how to win at cards through nefarious, and supernatural, means, he commits himself to retrieving it from her.

Determined to get close to the Countess, Suvorin becomes friendly with her niece, Lizaveta Ivanova (Yvonne Mitchell), manipulating her and others to find out the facts behind the stories.

Although brought onto the project at the last minute, Dickinson imbues the film with a dark atmosphere which could only be achieved in glorious black and white. Walbrook may not be a likeable main characters but he’s magnetic in his charm and bloody mindedness, the viewer egging him on to uncover the mystery which can only have an unhappy ending.

This new DVD contains an introduction from one The Queen of Spades greatest admirers, director Martin Scorsese, along with excerpts from talks with Dickinson following the release of the film.

Also from Thorold Dickinson is 1952’s The Secret People, a tale of love, betrayal, subterfuge and revenge stretching across the decades and through Europe.

As the film starts, sisters Maria (Valentina Cortese) and Nora (a young Audrey Hepburn) have arrived in London to stay with family friends following the death of their politically active father at the hands of fascists in Spain. Integrating with their new family, the girls are taken to Paris on holiday seven years later, only for Maria to meet her former boyfriend Louis (Serge Reggiani), a member of the Spanish resistance.

From here the plot doesn’t merely thickens but congeals, as Maria is roped into helping Louis attempt an assassination on the General who killed her father, something she is willing to do thanks to her love for him but morally uncertain about due to her upbringing.

Using the same visual flair which worked so well in Queen of Spades, Dickinson brings an already taught script to life. Helped by a fine cast, especially Cortese as the permanently confused Maria, Dickinson weaves a tangled web of intrigue which is never a settling watch, while the chance to see a young Hepburn ballet dancing is one you won’t see repeated often.

A British revenge Western starring Raquel Welch as heroine Hannie Caulder (Odeon Entertainment) might not sound like one of the great lost examples of the genre, but slip this new DVD release on and you might just be converted to its charm.

When three cowboys – Western legends Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam and Strother Martin – pass by her ranch, killing her husband and raping her, Caulder determines to take revenge on the men. Bumping into Thomas Luther Price (Robert Culp), a man as good with a one-liner as he is with a gun, the pair set out to find their targets in the harsh landscape of the West.

Putting a new spin on the hoary old revenge clichés, Hannie Caulder has real charm and grit, Welch and Culp making a fascinating team as his world-weary style, honed to perfection over many years, clashes with her slightly less rounded ability.

While the tone does sometimes veer uneasily between comedy and drama, this is still a welcome addition to any Western fans library, an example of what can be done with a strong cast and a script that doesn’t talk down to its audience.

Looking like its script might have escaped from the confines of an old Hammer House of Horror or Tales of the Unexpected production meeting, Fright! (Optimum) is the sort of film one expects to see late night on ITV, though that’s no bad thing in this case.

Susan George is schoolgirl Amanda, called to the house of Jim (George Cole) and Helen (Honor Blackman) to babysit for their young son. Copious close-ups of the locks on the front door and Blackman’s wide-eyes tells us that Something Is Wrong but it’s not until Jim and Helen have left Amanda on her own that the problem becomes clear.

Years ago Helen happened to be married to homicidal maniac Brian (Ian Bannen), a man who has just been released from prison and who now wants nothing more than to get back to his house to see his wife and child. And perhaps kill them if the mood takes him.

Full of odd camera angles, creaking doors and strangers at the window – Cole’s future partner-in-crime Dennis Waterman turns up at one point as Amanda’s boyfriend – Fright! Certainly has its moments of suspense, but not enough to make it a classic. Any chance to see the late Bannen is usually a welcome one, and if you’re looking to watch a very British chiller, this could be for you.

Staying with psychopathic killers, 1970’s Hatchet for the Honeymoon (Odeon Entertainment) hails from Italian director Mario Bava, a man famed for his genre work in such “classics” as Danger: Diabolik and The Whip and the Body.

With the intention of raising the low budget horror’s sales potential in America, Canadian actor Stephen Forsyth was shipped to Europe to star as wedding boutique owner John Harrington. Running the business with his wife Mildred (Laura Bett), Harrington tries to live a life of normality, only marred by tendencies to murder pretty young brides on their wedding nights as he tries to recall a traumatic episode from his childhood.

Held back from having a playboy lifestyle by his nagging wife, Harrington proceeds to murder her just as a local police inspector decides to take a close interest in the boutique owners life.

Packed with visually arresting images and plot developments that will leave you shaking your head in disbelief, Hatchet for the Honeymoon is nonetheless a lot of fun. It won’t win any awards for the acting but the gaudy colours and ridiculously OTT plot and direction keeps it powering along till the bitter, and rather clever, end.

Read all about DVD extras

It was a dark day when I most recently succumbed to the mystical lure of the DVD Special Edition.

Though perfectly happy with my 2006 copy of The Third Man, Carol Reed’s Vienna-set post-war thriller, I decided to import a copy of the Criterion Collection DVD of the same film with its multiple commentaries, documentaries and radio plays.

I was excited – my favourite film now had something even more to hold my attention, something sparkly and new. But should I have been glad at the prospect or unhappy that the marketing men had seemingly sold me the same thing twice?

In days of old, when CGI was no more than a glint in the corner of a green screen monitor and Amazon was still just the name of a very famous river, VHS ruled OK. Apart from a minor VHS/Betamax battle of the formats in the early 1980s, it seemed that their dominance was assured in the face of their main competitor: the Laserdisc. Then came DVD.

Within a few years DVD became the format of choice for even the most casual of viewer thanks to their superior picture quality, sound…and extras.

In the video era, we were lucky to get a trailer tacked onto the start of a film, perhaps a short ‘Making of’ documentary if the film company felt generous. No we can all become armchair experts with facts, figures and previously unheard information that would otherwise have remained in the vaults.

With The Third Man I now know about things I never even knew I wanted to know, and no doubt another version will pop up in the next year or so.

DVD companies need to make money and the more ways we have to watch films – on TV, laptops or even mobile phones – means that there are more people to buy their wares than ever before.

But if all these archived gems are available to the producers, why not release them the first time around, rather than making the dedicated fan buy different versions each time? And now we have Blu-ray and streaming online versions…where does it all end?

While I ponder whether I should be buying a new film rather than searching for a revised version of one I already own, I think I’ll revisit the sewers of Vienna once again in a five minute short film from 1949. As you do…

Do you have a favourite DVD extra? Or do you just buy your shiny discs for the films themselves? Have your say below…

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).

DVD Review: Hot Enough for June

007 is dead. The British Secret Service needs a replacement in the shape of Whistler, Nicholas Whistler (Dirk Bogarde), a young writer currently on the dole whose only qualification is that he can speak Czech.

Sent on a mission behind the Iron Curtain, Whistler will encounter foreign spies, intrigue and codewords while all the while trying to work out exactly what it is he’s meant to be doing.

Made in 1964, just a few years after Sean Connery’s debut as James Bond, Hot Enough for June is an early example of a film jumping on the spy Bondwagon.

Director Ralph Thomas (who had worked with Bogarde on the series of Doctor comedies) does well to replicate the look of the Connery films, the stuffy interiors of Colonel Cunliffe’s (Robert Morley) office a close match to M’s base of operations.

The film moves along at a steady enough pace, Yugoslav actress Sylvia Koscina providing the glamour and Leo McKern doing well as the bad guy.

Bogarde himself is as dependable as ever as Whistler, a man conned into helping his country and unsure about what’s happening to him. Unfortunately he’s not given much to work with, his character more of a cypher than a superspy.

With no plot to rival that of Commander Bond, no attempt to create an equal to SMERSH, Blofeld or any of Bond’s enemies and little effort to challenge the viewer, the film succeeds as a light drama but, while 007 fans will smile at the opening sequence, it sadly fails as a classic espionage film.

Hot Enough for June (PG) is out now on DVD (£9.99).