Movies Till Dawn: What You Could Be Watching This Weekend

The Sicilian Clan” (1969, Kino Lorber) French crime thriller that hinges largely on the flinty film personas of its trio of national-treasure stars: Jean Gabin (“Grand Illusion”) as the aging don of a Sicilian mob family situated in Paris, Alain Delon (“Purple Noon”) as the trigger-happy thief he hires to pull off a final heist, and fist-faced Lino Ventura (“Touchez pas au grisbi”) as the cop on their trail. A century of gangster pictures may have rendered the plot – drawn from the novel by Auguste Le Breton, who penned the source material for “Rififi” – overly familiar, but director Henri Verneuil provides enough polish and pacing to shine up the well-worn elements. He also crafts a number of swell action set pieces, most notably the execution of the heist, which culminates in an airplane hijacking and emergency landing on a stretch of New York highway. Mostly, though, the pleasure is drawn from watching the three leads go through their paces to the tune of Ennio Morricone‘s wonderfully eccentric soundtrack: Gabin, though world-weary, is ever cagey behind the eyes, and Delon plays a particularly icy variety of cool-and-cruel, while Ventura is dogged determination personified. Kino’s Blu-ray offers 4k and 2k restorations of the both shorter American edit, with the European actors speaking phonetic English, and the longer, subtitled international version (the latter is preferable), and adds informative commentary by Howard Berger and Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson and a French making-of documentary (the latter from the Fox-Europa Blu-ray) which details the film’s production and difficult transition to American audiences.

The Eyes of My Mother” (2016, Magnet) Grisly, gorgeously gloomy puzzlebox about a young woman, Francisca (Kika Margahales), whose childhood, steeped in loneliness, tragedy and animal dissection, appears to have fueled her adult need for a family, which she finds and maintains through kidnapping and mutilation. At least, that seems to be the case: first-time writer-director Nicolas Pesce, is less concerned with concrete reasons for Francisca’s behavior, though plenty of notions are alluded to – anatomy lessons with her mournful mother, who dies brutally at the hands of a psychotic drifter (Will Brill, terrifying), seem to be key factors – than maintaining the atmosphere morbid, festering obsession that she lives in. He accomplishes the latter through striking, painterly images, some of which draw comparison to the Universal horror cycle of the ’30s and “Night of the Hunter” (another vivid nightmare about childhood), and these do much to maintain the unsettling mood, especially when he pulls up stakes too early in the film’s conclusion. Pesce also shows admirable restraint in the use of gore, with much of the truly awful things happening off-camera. Magnet’s Blu-ray includes a lengthy interview with Pesce and a gallery of behind-the-scenes photos.

The Mysterious Airman” (1928, Sprocket Vault) Action-packed silent serial about an aviation company owner (Walter Miller) who finds that his planes – and pilots, including fiancée Eugenia Gilbert – are under attack by the rogue airman, Pilot X. Is he in league with a business rival (Eugene Burr), who has designs on Miller’s Aerometer, a (vaguely explained and largely implausible) aviation innovation? A devious monkey figures prominently in this 10-part serial penned by mystery novelist Arthur B. Reeve which, while brisk and logic-free as all good serials should be, also gives a rare glimpse into the early days of aviation as an industry. Sprocket Vault’s DVD, taken from a restored 35mm print, does a fine job of recreating a missing first reel in Chapter 10 through stills and plot encapsulation, and they’ve also bundled the serial with some enjoyable extras, including “Flying Cadets” (1928), an Army Air Corps recruitment film, commentary by historian Richard M. Roberts, who provides a lot of information on producing team the Weiss Brothers and budget productions from the period, and a report from the notoriously tough New York Censor Board, which requested the removal of a shot showing blazing machine guns for fear it would “incite crime.”

The Pied Piper” (1972, Kino Lorber) Unusual take on the fairy tale by director Jacques Demy, who has enjoyed recent interest thanks to the success of “La La Land” and its proximity to his “Umbrellas of Cherbourg.” The frothy sweetness of that picture is not in evidence here: instead, it’s a fairly dark (both in tone and color scheme) interpretation, with Donovan as the titular musician who promises to rid a 13th century town of its plague-ridden rat problem. Much of the plot, written by the mod lineup of Demy, Andrew Birkin and Mark Peploe, hinges on the ineptitude and corruption of authority figures – hapless mayor Donald Pleasance, his saber-rattling son (John Hurt) – which refashions the unsettling finale as just desserts instead of a frightening comeuppance. An abundance of creepy elements – alchemist Michael Hordern is burned at the stake for failing to get rid of the rats (which may also be a problem for some viewers) – make this less than ideal for young viewers; Donovan devotees and obscure European film completists are its most likely audience, though its photography (by Peter Suschitzky) and ornate production and costume design (an all-star lineup of Assheton Gordon, George Djurkovic and Evangeline Harrison, respectively) and  is also worth a look. Also starring a post-“Pufnstuf” Jack Wild.

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 Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, 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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