Movies Till Dawn: The Maltese Shut-In (Thrillers for Housebound Crime-Stoppers)

The Lineup” (1958, Mill Creek Entertainmentt) Pitiless mob hitmen Eli Wallach and Robert Keith and their dipsomaniac driver (Richard Jaeckel) prowl San Francisco in search of tourists who have unwittingly smuggled heroin from Hong Kong, with cops Warner Anderson and Emile Meyer in pursuit. One of the best and most brutal late-entry noir, courtesy of Don Siegel (“Invasion of the Body Snatchers”); though spun from a minor TV cop series, the focus is squarely on the killers, whose personality quirks (Wallach wants to better himself, Keith likes to record his victims’ last words) foretell Quentin Tarantino’s eclectic gunmen, and expertly crafted action setpieces, like a white-knuckle chase on the then-uncompleted Embarcadero. Mill Creek’s widescreen Blu-ray is part of its three-disc “Noir Archive Collection Volume 3,” which focuses on underrated or unknown noir, including Samuel Fuller’s equally solid “Crimson Kimono.”

Went the Day Well?” (1942, Film Movement Classics) The residents of a rural English town rally to defend their homes from a attack by Nazis disguised as British soldiers. Released too late to serve as wartime propaganda, this Ealing Studios feature was and remains a popular tribute to UK preparedness and pride. A surprisingly amount of graphic (for the time) violence from both sides of the conflict undoubtedly roused viewers’ nationalistic ardor, but director Alberto Cavalcanti does fine work in establishing his scrappy heroes with a documentary-style approach and then stacking the deck against them in order to prompt some homegrown derring-do. Included as part of Film Movement’s five-disc “Their Finest Hour” Blu-ray set, which also features such UK wartime films as “Dunkirk” and “The Dam Busters.”

Manon” (1949, Arrow Academy) Discovered as stowaways aboard a freighter carrying Jewish refugees, doomstruck lovers Michel Auclair and Cecile Aubry are forced to recall the downward spiral of treason, unchecked lust and fratricide which brought them to their current state. Henri-Georges Clouzout (“Diabolique“) transposes the 18th-century novel by Abbé Prévost to a postwar France gripped by rage, condemnation and opportunism; the result falls somewhere between tragic Continental romance and noir until the conclusion, a surreal fit of bleak moral comeuppance. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes a 1970 interview with Clouzout from French television and an appreciation of his films by critic Geoff Andrew.

The Running Man” (1963, Arrow Academy) Not the noisy Schwarzenegger/Stephen King actioner, but rather a densely plotted but attractively appointed caper film by director Carol Reed, with Laurence Harvey in weapons-grade heel mode as a man who fakes his own death to collect a sizable insurance claim, Lee Remick as his increasingly doubtful wife, and Alan Bates as the investigator on their trail. The appealing leads and Spanish locations (gorgeously photographed by Robert Krasker) help hold attention when the logic holes yawn too wide; Arrow Academy’s Blu-ray includes a fact-heavy commentary by Peter William Evans, interviews with various cast and crew, and a 1970 audio interview with Remick.

A Dandy in Aspic” (1968, Mill Creek Entertainment) Glum Russian double agent Laurence Harvey (again), who poses as a British spy, finds himself in an existential crisis when his MI6 superiors task him with assassinating a Soviet operative – which turns out to be him. Cold War skullduggery aims for but can’t quite approximate the cynicism of the Harry Palmer films with Michael Caine; much of this is due to the fact that director Anthony Mann died during production, and was replaced by Harvey, who took matters in a very different (and unsteady) direction. Still, the accoutrements –Mia Farrow as Harvey’s love interest, Tom Courtenay as his partner/nemesis, Peter Cook (!) as a randy operative, glossy London photography by Christopher Challis, and a fine, chilly score by Quincy Jones – hold the attention when the film itself wobbles on the track. Included as part of Mill Creek’s two-disc “Cold War Thrillers” set, which compiles other ’60s espionage obscurities, including the eccentric comedy “Otley,” starring Courtenay, and the out-to-lunch “Hammerhead,” with a glum Vince Edwards.

Play Dead” (1981, Vinegar Syndrome) Satanist Yvonne (Lily Munster) De Carlo uses the powers of darkness to settle an old beef with her newly deceased sister by sending a demonic Rottweiler (!) after her niece (TV vet Stephanie Dunnam). Low-budget horror-thriller, filmed in Texas and apparently funded by a construction company, should hold junkfood movie fans’ attention with its consistently eccentric vibe, best personified by De Carlo’s ripe performance, Glen Kezer’s goofball detective and a rash of improbable murders (curling iron in the bathtub, lye in the Alka-Seltzer) carried out by the decidedly cute, non-threatening mutt. Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray/DVD set includes interviews with Dunnam (who reveals that the film was initially titled “Killer Poodle”) and director Peter Wittman.

Undercurrent” (1946, Warner Archives Collection) Rare foray into suspense for Katharine Hepburn, who plays an independent-minded woman of a certain age (read: spinster, by 1946 standards) who upon marrying wealthy manufacturer Robert Taylor, learns of a brother (Robert Mitchum) with information on her husband’s disturbing past. More dark romance than thriller, director Vincente Minnelli does well by the former but can’t quite pull off the latter; Hepburn and Mitchum (who apparently disliked each other) seem unsure of their against-type roles, but cinematographer Karl Freund helps matters by draping the whole affair in steep shadow. Warner Archives’ DVD-R includes “Traffic with the Devil,” an alarming, Oscar-nominated short about Los Angeles’s road congestion, and “Lonesome Lenny” (1946), a Tex Avery cartoon featuring the obnoxious Screwy Squirrel.

Special thanks to Warner Archives Collection for providing this title free for review.

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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