“Touch of Evil” (1958, Kino Lorber) Get past the idea of Charlton Heston as a Mexican cop and you’ll find an extraordinary American movie – ostensibly a crime thriller, but really director/star Orson Welles last go-round with his electric trains for the Hollywood studio system. Welles pulls out all the stops behind the camera and in front of it: with the aid of Russell Metty, his camera is endlessly prowling (that amazing opening shot, with Venice doubling as Mexico), casting impossible shadows and remarkable angles, while his border detective, a corrupt heel who somehow also plays as tragic, is as painfully honest an assessment of his own fall from grace as any of the film historians who sought to sum his career. With a baroque cast – Janet Leigh, Marlene Dietrich (“You’re a mess, honey”), Akim Tamiroff, a supremely creepy Dennis Weaver, Mercedes McCambridge, and Zsa Zsa Gabor, for crying out loud – and a great Henry Mancini score; “Evil” was, like so many of Welles’ films, badly banged up by Universal prior to release, and available only in truncated form until Walter Murch and others reconstructed the film from Welles’ famous 58-page memo to Universal; that version, along with the 1958 theatrical cut and a longer “Preview Version” discovered in 1975 are all featured on Kino’s Special Edition set, and all in 4K restored form. Multiple commentaries – Heston and Leigh, Tim Lucas, F.X. Feeney, Imogen Sara Smith, and Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore – detail the film’s look and history, while featurettes explore the efforts to revive and restore “Evil” to Welles’ original vision.
“Expresso Bongo” (1959, Cohen Film Collection) Scruples-free talent manager Laurence Harvey discovers what he believes to be the next big thing – teenage coffeehouse performer Cliff Richard – but discovers that the full-court press to make him famous does not pay off as planned. Tartly funny UK showbiz comedy, based on the stage musical of the same name, is anchored by Harvey’s nuclear-strength hustle and the genuine charm of real UK singing star Richard (just 19 at the time, and backed by Hank Marvin and the formidable Shadows). Director Val Guest strikes the right tone of comic anxiety, blind ambition, and bitter reality; Cohen Film’s Blu-ray features the original version of the film, which included several songs from the musical that were trimmed after release to focus on Richard’s appeal.
“The Bitter Stems” (1956, Flicker Alley) Awash in self-doubt, guilt, and parental issues, journalist Carlos Cores suspects that he is on the losing end of a money-making scheme with Hungarian immigrant Vassili Lambrinos, and allows his psychological issues to motivate a series of disastrous decisions. Remarkable Argentine noir moves with eerie grace between physical and mental darkness, punctuated by surreal flourishes that expand the film’s scope beyond the boundaries of typical thrillers. Gorgeously photographed and featuring a memorable score by tango specialist Astor Piazzolla; Flicker’s remastered Blu-ray includes commentary by noir specialist Imogen Sara Smith, a profile of Piazzolla, an interview with historian Fernando Martin Pena (who discovered the film’s long-missing negative), promotional art reproductions, and an introduction by historian Eddie Mueller.
“Hiroshima” (1953, Arrow Academy) The hellscape of Hiroshima, seen primarily from the perspective of children both during and after the American bombing of the city in 1945. Grim but also moving Japanese feature from the Japanese Teachers Union, who collaborated with real survivors from Hiroshima to lend scope to scenes after the bomb drop; largely ignored in both the US and Japan, “Hiroshima” is a necessary revival, especially now, as world powers casually discuss nuclear options in needless conflicts. Arrow Academy’s Blu-ray includes the 2011 documentary “Hiroshima Nagasaki Download,” which features interveiws with atomic bomb survivors, as well as video essays and interviews.
“The Ghost Ship/Bedlam” (1943/1946, Warner Archives Collection) Two black-and-white suspense-thrillers from producer Val Lewton: “Ghost Ship” concerns the crew of a merchant marine vessel plagued by an unstable captain (Richard Dix) and mysterious deaths, while “Bedlam” has Anna Lee attempting to reform the notorious 18th century London asylum, only to find herself committed there by its sadistic overseer (Boris Karloff). Though Lewton’s best horror titles blended psychological and supernatural terror, the former is favored here, and if the results here are less compelling than his best-known efforts (see “Cat People”), both also offers abundant atmosphere and chilling turns by Karloff and Dix. Warner’s Blu-ray includes vintage commentary by Tom Weaver on “Bedlam.”
“F.P.1 Doesn’t Answer” (1931, Kino Lorber) Communication is cut off between the mainland and a colossal oceanic platform designed for fueling transatlantic flights, which so alarms Sybille Schmitz – girlfriend of the platform’s creator (Paul Hartmann) – that she convinces/connives roguish aviator Hans Albers, who also carries a torch for Schmitz, to fly her to its location. Impressive German sci-fi/thriller overcomes its rough patches – Albers’ arrogant hero, musical numbers that pay tribute to German aviation – with its visuals and director Karl Hartl’s capable direction, as well as an amusing turn by Peter Lorre as a long-suffering photographer. Released shortly before its production company, UFA, was assimilated into the Nazi regime, “FP1” was actually three films: the German-language version with Albers, an English version with Conrad Veidt as the flier, and a French version with Charles Boyer. Kino’s remastered Blu-ray bundles the first two (the German version is longer) with commentary by historian Eddy von Mueller, who details the cast and crew’s histories.
“The Window” (1949, Warner Archives Collection) New York City tenement kid Bobby Driscoll witnesses his neighbors (Ruth Roman and Paul Stewart) commit a murder but finds that no one, including his tired parents (Arthur Kennedy and Barbara Hale) and the police), will believe him due to his penchant for lying. Alarming thriller, based on a story by Cornell Woolrich, wrings its childhood nightmare premise for maximum effect; a sequence involving Roman peering through Driscoll’s window will undoubtedly rattle the cages of anyone who worried about such possibilities as a kid. Driscoll earned a (well deserved) Oscar for his performance here; the Warner Archives Blu-ray is remastered.
Thank you to Warner Archives for providing free Blu-rays for these reviews.