“The Beast Must Die” (1952, Flicker Alley) Argentinean adaptation, and the first of three film versions of the 1938 thriller by Nicholas Blake (pen name for Daniel Day-Lewis’s father, Cecil), with Narcisco Ibanez Menta as a mystery author who adopts a new identity to ferret out and kill the man responsible for his young son’s death. Icy and ultra-rare noir is delivered with an emotional intensity that at times, borders on hysteria, but also lays bare the ugliness of the initial death and the monstrous behavior of the “beast” in question (Guillermo Battaglia) in a way that Stateside thrillers couldn’t touch. Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray offers restored images, extensive liner notes and video intro by noir historian Eddie Muller, an interview with director Roman Vinoly Barretto’s son, and an appreciation for the elegant Menta, who also co-wrote the script.
“No, the Case is Happily Resolved” (1973, Arrow Video) Middle-class nobody Enzo Cerusico witnesses the murder of a young woman by educator Ricard Cucciola, but keeps quiet about the incident, believing that communicating with the police will cause more harm than good. He’s soon proven correct when Cucciola – a wealthy and well-respected figure – claims that he saw Ceruisco commit the crime. Released as part of Arrow’s “Five Years of Lead” set, which compiles crime and poliziotteschi (cop dramas) films released in Italy during the socially and politically tumultuous early ’70s, “Case” reflects the overarching (and unfortunately, still accurate) theme of the set’s five films: the cops are no better than the crooks, and honesty will get you killed. Vittorio Salerno‘s film is more thriller-oriented than the other titles, and focuses more on character and class, but also delivers a satisfying variation on the nasty bite of Hitchcockian paranoia. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes a visual essay by Will Webb that examines many of the themes that run through all of the films on the set, interviews with Salerno and actress Martine Brochard (who plays Cerusico’s wife), and an alternate happy ending requested by the film’s distributor.
“Corridor of Mirrors” (1948, Cohen Media Group) In this debut film by future Bond director Terence Young, Edana Romney is swept away from her status as a pre-war London It Girl (a young Christopher Lee is part of her entourage) by Eric Portman, a doomy-romantic eccentric with twin fetishes: the Victorian aesthetic and Romney herself, whom he idolizes in his astonishing palacial home and its titular mirrored hallway, stocked with opulent gowns and curious, blank-eyed mannequins. That this relationship will come to a bad end is telegraphed in this British feature’s opening, where Portman is seen as a mannequin in the rogues’ gallery of a wax museum, and if that conclusion is at odds with the film’s dreamy first third, there is also much to enjoy in Andre Thomas’ cinematography and Georges Auric’s score, which veer from lush and ornate to overripe, often within the same scene. Cohen’s Blu-ray is outfitted with the theatrical trailer.
“Franco Noir” (1963/1964, Severin Films) Two early efforts by the prolific exploitation filmmaker Jess Franco, both offering solid evidence that had he not waded deeply into obsessive/surreal horror and erotica, he might have enjoyed a modest career as a director of mainstream thrillers. Franco’s native Spain stands in for exotic locations in both films: for “Death Whistles The Blues,” it’s Jamaica, where weapons smuggler Georges Rollin discovers that the partners he double-crossed may be closing in on him, while in “Rififi in the City” – which has nothing to do with Jules Dassin’s “Rififi” from ’55 beyond sharing star Jean Servais – it’s an unnamed Central American country, where the murder of a police informant sets in motion a murder spree orbiting crooked politician Servais. Many of Franco’s recurring motifs are here – music motivates or underscores much of the action, including songs that trigger long-buried guilt – but the two titles included in the set are more notable for their exceptional visuals (reportedly, “Rififi” inspired Orson Welles to hire him as second unit director on “Chimes at Midnight”) and Franco’s surprisingly deft handling of complex plotting. Severin’s Blu-ray includes an hour-plus interview with Franco chronicler Stephen Thrower, who details production history and connections to Franco’s huge and eccentric body of work in granular detail.
“The Gang/Three Men to Kill” (1977/1980, Cohen Media Group) Double feature of Gallic thrillers featuring Alain Delon on both sides of the law and direction by Jacques Deray, who oversaw a string of crowd-pleasing French crime pictures in the 1970s (“Flic Story,” “La Piscine”). Delon, in an alarming fright wig, is th leader of the “front-wheel drive gang,” a quintet robbing banks (and loosely based on a real-life outfit) in post-World War II in “Gang,” while in “Three Men,” he’s a professional gambler who discovers that an auto accident victim was actually one of three men targeted by arms dealers involved in a crooked deal. Delon’s impossibly weary cool remains a selling point, but the upended genre expectations are what ultimately hold interest: Deray devotes long stretches to Delon’s romance with Nicole Calfan, and paints the crew as more lucky than clever (and Delon more reckless than ambitious) in “Gang,” and maintains suspense in “Three Men” by making both sides of the conspiracy all-too-human (often to curious comic effect), committing as many blunders in their stalk and escape games as successes. Neither films are on par with Deray’s best thrillers, but both films are agreeable and offbeat efforts. Cohen Media’s Blu-ray features restored prints and trailers for both titles.
“The Naked Zoo” (1970, Arrow Video) Hapless author Stephen Oliver (“Werewolves on Wheels”) supplements his dwindling income by renting himself out to middle-aged women of means, including Mrs. Golden (Rita Hayworth), whose infirm husband (Fordy Rainey) gets flummoxed enough over their new arrangement to fall out of his wheelchair and bash out his brains. Oliver cuts loose from this bad scene for greener pastures with other sugar mommies, but Mrs. Golden has alternate plans. Modest potboiler from Florida grindhouse director William Grefe (and included in Arrow’s sizable box set tribute, “He Came from the Swamp”) is largely chaste, despite the pulpy bedroom antics, and plays more as a disjointed, low-budget hybrid of sex comedy and hothouse noir; distributor Barry Mahon attempted to turn up the gas by adding a party sequence with Canned Heat (Sunshine State pop star/TK Records co-owner Steve Alaimo also turns up) and a flash of mature content, but the new material doesn’t entirely gel with (or improve) Grefe’s cut; however, the disorienting tone does add to the overall sense of emotional/psychological mishegas, fueled by chemical escapades and hormone-fueled tete-a-tetes. Though top-billed, Hayworth’s presence amounts more to a “special guest star.” Arrow’s Blu-ray, which also features Grefe’s “Mako, the Jaws of Death,” reconstructs the director’s original cut with footage from a well-worn workprint; the goofier Mahon version is also included on the disc, as is commentary by Grefe on his cut.