“The Frontier” (2015) Mystery girl Laine (Jocelin Donohue), who may have killed a man in Phoenix, decides to lay low in the titular motel, where she schemes to separate the other occupants – a cross-section of desperate types – from the $2 million they’ve recently stolen in a high-profile heist. Debut feature from Oren Shai maintains a baseline of interest through gritty atmosphere and lots of hints and allegations as to Laine’s past and who among the attendant criminals will double-cross whom. He’s less successful in avoiding the pitfalls of neo-noir (well-trod plot path, purple pulp dialogue), though Kelly Lynch (as the motel owner) and the great Jim Beaver (“Deadwood,” “Breaking Bad”), as a lippy tough, do their best to smooth over the rough patches. Kino’s Blu-ray includes commentary by Shai and co-writer Webb Wilcoxen, as well as interviews with Donohue, Beaver and co-star AJ Bowen (who also co-starred with Donohue in “House of the Devil”).
“Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” (1974) Warren Oates plays Bennie – the embodiment of Fred C. Dobbs’ quote about an American down on his luck – who accepts a paid offer from hit men Robert Webber and Gig Young to retrieve the titular body part as proof that the man who impregnated the daughter of a powerful Mexican crime boss (Emilio Fernandez) is dead. What follows is a mercilessly bleak thriller, shot through (repeatedly) with director Sam Peckinpah’s jaundiced view of the Western. Depending on your appreciation for burnt-out types doing terrible things to each other (especially its treatment of Bennie’s girlfriend, Isela Vega, and the entire country of Mexico), you’ll either find “Alfredo Garcia” excessive and ugly or the darkest action-thrillers ever; what remains unimpeachable is Peckinpah’s skill with romanticized anti-heroes and violent set pieces, the dusky sunset cinematography of Alex Philips, Jr. and the cast, led by Oates at his grittiest and featuring Kris Kristofferson and his keyboardist, Donnie Fritts, as bikers, Helmut Dantine (who co-produced) and actor-director Chano Urueta. You have your choice of home video presentations of “Garcia,” including deluxe Blu-rays from Arrow and Twilight Time; Kino’s DVD is perhaps best for casual fans, boasting an HD transfer as well as an informative commentary track with Peckinpah scholars Paul Seydor, David Weddle and Garner Simmons – who appears briefly in the film – moderated by Nick Redman that’s ported over from the 2005 MGM DVD, and the original theatrical trailer.
“The Paradine Case” (1947) British barrister (played by American Gregory Peck) is assigned to defend the mysterious Alida Valli, who is accused of poisoning her elderly husband. Though happily married to Ann Todd, Peck becomes obsessed with La Valli, which leads to a rapid downward spiral for the trial, his career and quite possibly, his marriage. Lavishly appointed courtroom thriller directed, without much brio by Alfred Hitchcock, whose clash with producer David O. Selznick over editorial changes led to the end of their long collaboration. Hitchcock’s disinterest is echoed in the vague, gabby script (credited to Selznick but written, at various stages, by Hitchcock and wife Alma Reville, playwright James Bridle and Ben Hecht), though the courtroom sequences, which unfold in unbroken 10-minute takes, are impressive and feel like a test run for “Rope.” Also starring Charles Laughton as a venomous trial judge, Louis Jourdan as Valli’s hapless valet, and Ethel Barrymore, who netted an Oscar nomination as Laughton’s wife. Kino’s Blu-ray includes commentary by Hitchcock scholars Stephen Rebello and Bill Krohn, as well as audio-only interviews with Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut and Peter Bogdanovich; a 1949 radio adaptation, with Valli and Jourdan repeating their roles, and the theatrical trailer round out the disc.
“One, Two, Three” (1961) Frantic Cold War farce from Billy Wilder anchored by a cyclonic James Cagney as a Coca-Cola executive in West Berlin who must deal with a rapidly mounting set of problems, all of which could spell doom for not only his career, but also the future of Coke in Eastern Europe. Charged with keeping an eye on his boss’s daughter (Pamela Tiffin) during a visit, he discovers that she’s secretly married to and pregnant by Communist beatnik Horst Buchholz. With her father’s arrival in West Berlin just hours away – and his wife (Arlene Francis) up in arms over his dalliance with a secretary – Cagney decides to press ahead with an impossible notion: transform grubby apparatchik Buchholz into an ideal son-in-law. Wilder and co-writer I.A.L. Diamond let loose a volley of acidic comedy at nearly every target on screen – boorish Americans, grasping corporations, blindly loyal East Germans and Russians (the Wall actually came up during production), the American South, rock and roll – and if not every joke lands, or feels crass (e.g., some of the portrayals of women) or irrelevant a half-century-plus later, the sheer volume and velocity of Wilder and Diamond’s material keeps the picture feeling appropriately carbonated. Kino’s Blu-ray includes an affectionate and informative commentary track by Michael Schlesinger, as well as archival interviews with Wilder about the film and trailers for other Cagney titles in Kino’s library.