Movies Till Dawn: Short and Sweet and Black and White

Suture” (1993, Arrow Video) It’s hard to tell what’s more unusual about the reunion of long-lost half-brothers Dennis Haysbert (“24”) and Michael Harris: the fact that both men, and everyone around them, are convinced that they look identical, despite the fact that Haysbert is a tall African-American man and Harris a shorter white man, or the idea that Harris plans to switch identities with Haysbert, all the better to get away with murdering their mutual father. Sleek, icy, black-white photography by Greg Gardiner distinguishes this offbeat indie, which is long on style but occasionally short on substance; the leads, along with Mel Harris (“thirtysomething”) and the great Sab Shimono are all solid, but the core notion is too arthouse-precious to make an impact, even as a metaphor for racial identity. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes detailed commentary by directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel with Steven Soderbergh, who produced the picture; interviews with the cast and crew and a short film by the directors, which pays homage to “The Birds,” are included.

“The Assassin (1961, Arrow Video) A seemingly harmless antiques dealer (Marcello Mastroianni) insists that he did not murder his wealthy older lover (Micheline Presle); detective Salvo Randone thinks otherwise. Neither is entirely true, as this bitterly amusing drama – less mystery than a rumination on emerging social and class codes in postwar Italy – by Elio Petri (“Investigation of a Citzen Under Suspicion”) details. Arrow’s Blu-ray offers an overview of Petri and Mastroianni’s careers in Pasquale Iannone’s introduction, and a lengthy interview with co-writer Tonino Guerra, whose storied career includes work with Fellini (“Amarcord”), Antonioni (“Blow-Up”) and Tarkovsky (“Nostalghia”).

The Untouchables: The Scarface Mob” (1959, CBS/Paramount) Prohibition agent Eliot Ness (Robert Stack) assembles a team of top operatives – dubbed the “Untouchables” for their incorruptibility – to take down mob kingpin Al Capone (Neville Brand). Two-part pilot for the popular ’50s crime drama, which was later stitched together to play in theaters, features a different supporting cast than the network version (here, Keenan Wynn is among the Untouchables), but also offers much of the grit and surprising violence that earmarked the series, bolstered here by the visually aggressive style of director Phil Karlsen (“Kansas City Confidential“). CBS/Paramount’s DVD includes the original introductions by producer Desi Arnaz and columnist Walter Winchell, who provided rat-a-tat narration for the series.

Spotlight on a Murderer” (1961, Arrow Video) French aristocrat Pierre Brasseur locks himself away in a hidden room in his castle, presumably to die, but also to watch secretly as his disappearance prevents his heirs– including Jean-Louis Trintignant, Marianne Koch and Dany Saval – from taking control of his estate. Curious, if lavishly appointed satire from Georges Franju (who teamed with Brasseur the previous year to make “Eyes Without a Face”) makes good use of his penchant for surreal flourishes to jab lightly at the mechanics of Old Dark House mysteries and the tastes (or lack thereof) of the rich; penned by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac (who wrote “Eyes” and the source material for “Vertigo” and “Diabolique”), it’s more frothy than their previous efforts, but their re-teaming with Franju also lends heft and style to this morbid amuse-bouche. Arrow’s digitally restored Blu-ray includes a vintage behind-the scenes piece from French TV that includes interviews with Franju and the cast, as well as the original trailer.

Gang War” (1958, 20th Century Fox Cinema Archives) Budget crime thriller with Charles Bronson as a Los Angeles schoolteacher who testifies against a pair of murderous hoods. This does not sit will with mobster Maxie Meadows (fist-faced John Doucette), who has Bronson’s wife bumped off. Those expecting a “Death Wish”-style orgy of retribution will be disappointed by the low body and bullet count – nothing in the picture matches the mayhem on display in the opening moments, which is essentially a barrage of unrelated stock footage clips – so the chief appeal will be Bronson, playing it cool in a rare early lead, and the array of prolific character players on display, including second string heartthrob Kent Taylor as an oily mob lawyer and toothy Barney Phillips, who played the extraterrestrial counter man in the “Twilight Zone” episode “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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