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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Jubal

Shakespeare and westerns really don’t sound like they go together. However, in the case of the former, the universality of his themes means that the location and period in which the drama takes place is largely irrelevant. And as for the latter, the genre is so flexible that pretty much anything can be tackled within its framework. William Wellman’s Yellow Sky has been described as a reworking of The Tempest, while Jubal (1956) sees the ideas central to Othello transported to a ranch in Wyoming. In a way, the isolated simplicity of the west provides an ideal backdrop for the presentation of such timeless concepts. Like an uncluttered stage, the absence of the trappings of civilization helps to better focus attention on the more important aspects of the story.

Jubal Troop (Glenn Ford) is a wanderer, a man who has spent his life running; he claims that he’s been trying to escape the bad luck that’s always dogged his steps. In reality though, he’s been running away from himself, or rather his own perceived inadequacies that stem from traumatic childhood experiences. When ranch boss Shep Horgan (Ernest Borgnine) takes him in and offers him a job and a chance to make a fresh start, it looks as though his streak of ill-fortune may be coming to an end. In spite of Jubal’s initial optimism, he soon realizes that he’s actually walked into a highly volatile situation. Shep is one of those salt of the earth types, brimming with hospitality and geniality yet lacking certain social graces. It’s this cheerful disdain for (or ignorance of) the niceties of polite society that has apparently pushed his young Canadian wife, Mae (Valerie French), away from him. I say apparently, because Mae merely uses this as an excuse – it’s clear enough that the remote ranch life and lack of social contact play an equally significant role in shaping her dissatisfaction. Almost as soon as Jubal arrives on the scene Mae begins to show an interest in the newcomer. On top of all this, there’s the problem of Pinky (Rod Steiger), Shep’s current top man and the previous recipient of Mae’s attention. Where Jubal resists Mae’s advances on the grounds that it would be a betrayal of the one man who ever handed him a break, Pinky never displayed such qualms. Now that he’s been sidelined by the new arrival, his resentment and natural antagonism bubble closer to the surface. Due as much to his own petty and spiteful nature as Jubal’s dedication to his job and his boss, Pinky finds himself falling out of favour both as a lover and an employee. It’s this displacement that triggers Pinky’s pent-up jealousy and latent misanthropy. When the opportunity arises, he slyly plants the seeds of doubt in Shep’s mind. And it’s from this point that the classical tragedy at the heart of the story starts to develop fully.

Delmer Daves had a real affinity for the western, his films within the genre all displaying an extremely fitting sense of time and place. In addition, he also had a great eye for telling composition and the use of landscape. His best movies look beautiful, and Jubal takes advantage of the breathtaking vistas that the location shooting in Wyoming offered. The exteriors have a kind of clean, bracing quality to them reminiscent of the mountain air their backgrounds suggest. These wide open spaces are representative both of the freshness of Jubal’s new life and also the remoteness of Shep’s ranch. However, Daves was no slouch when it came to interiors either; he, and cameraman Charles Lawton, create some extremely moody and tense imagery when the action moves indoors. It’s not always easy to achieve effective depth of focus and shadow density when filming in colour, yet Daves and Lawton manage to pull it off time and time again. When you’re telling a story as thematically dark as this it’s vital to keep the mood of the visuals in tune with the plot – Jubal always looks and feels just right at all the critical moments. What’s more, although Daves’ endings had a tendency to be a letdown in comparison to what went before, this movie maintains the correct tone right up to the rolling of the credits.

Glenn Ford was an excellent choice to play Jubal Troop, his edgy affability and that slight unease were well suited to the role. The character has an innate nobility and honesty, but there are demons lurking there too, torturing the man with personal doubt and a devalued sense of self-esteem. Ford had a gift for projecting all these qualities on the screen; perhaps that’s why he seemed at home playing in both psychologically complex westerns and film noir. In the following year’s 3:10 to Yuma, Ford and Felicia Farr played out one of the most touching and affecting romantic interludes it’s been my pleasure to see on film. This picture also features a romance between the two, just not as memorable or emotionally loaded as what was to come. Part of the problem is the weaker role handed to Ms Farr, but she still manages to convey something of that bittersweet tenderness in her scenes with Ford that would prove so effective in their next collaboration. The other, and much more substantial, female role was that of Valerie French. There was certainly nothing likeable about the part of Mae, whose infidelity (both real and imagined) sets three men at each other’s throats. Her frustrated sexiness is well realized and, by the end, in spite of her deceit, it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for her fate. Ernest Borgnine’s cuckolded husband draws even more pity though; the way he positively radiates a love for life means that his betrayal really hits home. His brash good humour makes him a favourite of the men, but also leaves him blissfully unaware of the coldness of his wife. When it suddenly dawns on Shep just how much of a fool he’s been, Borgnine’s highly expressive features show very clearly how deeply Mae’s playing around behind his back has affected him. Rod Steiger was always an extremely showy actor, forever in danger of allowing his intensity to spill over into inappropriate grandstanding. As the scheming and reprehensible Pinky, he just about manages to stay the right side of the line – although his tendency towards showboating does raise its head as the movie nears its climax. Among the supporting cast, Charles Bronson makes a strong impression as a hired hand who befriends Ford, and whose intervention at two critical moments help save the day.

Jubal has been available on DVD for a long time via Columbia/Sony in the US. The disc boasts a very good anamorphic scope transfer that looks rich and colourful. There are no extras offered, unless you count the preview snippets for other western titles from the company. The film remains an excellent example of Delmer Daves’ skill at telling a mature and thoughtful western tale. I think the fact that both the director and the star went on to make the better known 3:10 to Yuma a year later has overshadowed this picture to an extent. I’d say that anyone who enjoyed that movie will also appreciate the work on show here. This is yet another strong entry in the western’s golden decade, and fully deserving of any fan’s attention.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in 1950s, Charles Bronson, Delmer Daves, Glenn Ford, Westerns

 

Terror in a Texas Town

So many westerns have hinged on the conflicts that arise over land: the need to expand settlements, the presence of gold or silver, grazing rights, the relentless progress of the railroad. However, not too many have dealt with oil. Terror in a Texas Town (1958) uses the issue of oil to explain the actions of its characters (especially the villains) yet it’s not this that interests us as viewers. At the heart of the story lies a good old-fashioned tale of justice and revenge. As such, we have a very traditional plot, even one that could become mundane in other hands. Nevertheless, director Joseph H Lewis and uncredited writer Dalton Trumbo between them manage to craft a highly unusual western that probes around the genre’s boundaries.

The entire film is told in flashback, the opening scene cut short at the crucial moment and its resolution only revealed right at the end. The grandly named Prairie City, Texas is one of those typical western towns, dusty, sleepy places where nothing much seems to happen. Be that as it may, the leading citizen, McNeil (Sebastian Cabot), is in the process of shaking things up. He’s engaged in a land grab; having learned that the surrounding area is literally swimming in oil, he has called in an old acquaintance to help him run the homesteaders off their property with a view to seizing it for himself. His henchman of choice is Johnny Crale (Ned Young), an old-school enforcer and gunman who’s had his right hand shot off in the course of his work and who’s fast becoming a relic of a previous era. Crale’s first assignment is to kill a man, a kind of coaxer to encourage the others. As it turns out, this is an unfortunate selection – an old Swede patiently tending the land until his son returns from the sea. The son, George Hansen (Sterling Hayden), cuts an incongruous figure when he arrives, awkwardly dressed in his ill-fitting city clothes and lugging a heavy sea chest on his shoulder. The scene in the saloon, where Crale tells Hansen of the murder of his father (leaving out the crucial detail of who did the deed) is so well filmed – just two guys and a girl sitting around a table in a deserted bar, yet absolutely riveting in its very simplicity. The viewer is a step ahead of the apparently slow-witted Swede in knowing the identity of the killer, and it’s fascinating to watch the movie’s two protagonists, with their contrasting characters, probing for an insight into each other. Of course, Hansen is nowhere near as dumb as his appearance suggests. Before long, he’s got the measure of both McNeil and Crale and finds himself drawn inevitably towards the almost surreal showdown that started the movie.

Joseph H Lewis is probably best known for two remarkable noir pictures, Gun Crazy and The Big Combo, yet Terror in a Texas Town (his last movie before moving to TV) is both powerful and individualistic enough to be mentioned in the same breath. It’s an extremely low budget affair, shot on sets with a very limited cast, that turns its lean production into an asset. The dialogue is trimmed down to the bare necessities, thus lending it greater impact, and every shot is loaded with significance. One example is the scene where Hansen returns to find the Mexican settler he’s befriended has been gunned down by Crale. A simple cut to the tight grouping of the man’s grieving widow and children tells us all we need to know about the effect this killing has had, far more eloquent and touching than reams of sentimental dialogue or exposition. The unique set piece that frames the story, the duel between a six-shooter and a harpoon, is more than a mere artistic quirk, it sums up the idea at the heart of the story: a simple outsider with primitive tools taking on the might of the exploiters. Trumbo’s leftist take on events and characterization is one of the key factors that makes the film so compelling.

Sterling Hayden’s sheer physical bulk always ensured he maintained a powerful presence on screen, and he used that attribute to great effect as the stoic and immovable George Hansen. He’s very convincing as the foreigner who has to measure his words carefully and think before he expresses himself. The fact that it’s this Swede, and his Mexican friend, who stands up to the criminal excesses of unchecked capitalism highlights the way America (as Trumbo no doubt perceived it) had become ineffectual and complacent when it came to facing the threat of corporate greed. Ned Young, as the physically deformed and morally confused enforcer, is a marvellously ambiguous figure. He’s clearly a bad man, both his background and the murders he commits during the film attest to that. Still, he remains a multi-dimensional character; he’s a reluctant killer, motivated less by money than a kind of morbid curiosity about the psychology of fear and death. The true villain is Sebastian Cabot’s McNeil, the very embodiment of a corrupted and heartless American society. This bloated figure, exuding a fake bonhomie, is the archetypical avaricious businessman with the law in his pocket – the unattractive face of a new west. Personally, I’m struck by the parallels between McNeil (and his ultimate fate) and Gabriele Ferzetti’s Morton in Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West.

Terror in a Texas Town has been available on DVD for a long time now from MGM in the US. The movie has been given a strong anamorphic widescreen transfer that does justice to Lewis and cameraman Ray Rennahan’s compositions. I suppose the biggest complaint is the amount of grain visible, not something that generally bothers me but there is an awful lot of it. The disc offers no extras except the theatrical trailer. The film has also been released in the UK by Optimum. I don’t have that disc to compare but being a title licensed from MGM, it’s likely to be broadly similar in terms of quality. I have a lot of time for this movie; I love its low budget urgency and the offbeat style. The involvement of Sterling Hayden, Ned Young and Dalton Trumbo conjures up the ghost of HUAC and the blacklist, while the plotting and characterization are further reminders of a period of US history that remains both fascinating and tragic. This movie seems proud of its own B status and proves that lower budgets don’t have to mean lower quality. It gets a definite thumbs up from me.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2012 in 1950s, Joseph H Lewis, Sterling Hayden, Westerns

 

The Naked Edge

I guess it’s inevitable that cinema, like most any form of artistic expression, will be influenced by the body of work that already exists. Remakes, reimaginings and homages seem to have been with us forever, and one figure who’s arguably been imitated more than any other is Alfred Hitchcock. Both the stories he was drawn to and the filming techniques that he frequently employed have been referenced so many times that there’s a subgenre of “Hitchcock style” thrillers. The Naked Edge (1961) may not be all that well-known but it certainly belongs in that category. Of course, as with most (all?) imitations, it fails to live up to the standards of the movies it alludes to – once a filmmaker sets out on this path he necessarily sacrifices a lot of his own individuality. Still, that doesn’t mean that the movie in question can’t be entertaining in its own right; after all, half the fun for the viewer comes from recognizing the source of inspiration.

The pre-credits sequence opens proceedings in lurid fashion with a murder – a businessman taking a knife to the guts – and hurls the viewer right into the action. There follows a trial where the evidence of George Radcliffe (Gary Cooper), an American resident in London, appears instrumental in securing the conviction of Donald Heath (Ray McAnally) for the murder of their boss and the accompanying theft of the firm’s money. Heath, naturally perhaps, protests his innocence and Radcliffe hastily exits the emotive atmosphere of Old Bailey with his former colleague’s accusations of treachery ringing in his ears. Even at this early stage, the clouds of suspicion are gathering around Radcliffe; the unrecovered loot, his talk of suddenly acquired wealth and an edgy encounter with a disbarred solicitor (Eric Portman) initially stir doubts. Jump forward six years and we find Radcliffe now heading a successful partnership and clearly wealthy. However, it’s only when a long-lost blackmail letter is delivered to his wife that we get to the nub of the matter. Radcliffe’s wife, Martha (Deborah Kerr), may have harboured a few mild suspicions before, but the letter that explicitly accuses her husband of murdering his employer and using the stolen money to finance his own business plants a particularly stubborn seed. A combination of apparent evasiveness by Radcliffe when asked any questions about the murder and subsequent trial and some downright suspicious behaviour on his part cause Martha’s doubts to grow. The deeper she delves into the past, the more convinced she becomes that the full truth may not have come out in court. With her marriage starting to crumble in this sea of distrust, it gradually dawns on Martha that her own life may be in jeopardy too.

A few years earlier, Michael Anderson had directed another “woman in peril” picture – Chase a Crooked Shadow – and in my review of that I commented on his tendency to indulge in some self-conscious effects. The Naked Edge was clearly trying to tap into a Hitchcock vibe (the poster prominently highlights the involvement of Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano), and Anderson’s direction makes use of countless low angle shots and zooms. Of course, this isn’t an especially bad thing as we’re treated to some nicely composed shots that accentuate the tension. The climax, where preparations are meticulously laid for an attempt on Martha’s life, consists of a whole series of well-judged shots cut together expertly. Where the film does become overly derivative, and indeed contrived, is in the poor handling of the dialogue. It reaches the point where I found myself imagining the writers sitting around and scratching their heads over how they could mangle the words a bit more to ensure the ambiguity of Radcliffe’s character was rammed home. I feel a lighter touch would have sufficed; Cooper’s performance in the lead contains enough of the man’s own natural diffidence and reserve to get the job done satisfactorily. This was Coop’s last screen role and, even if he doesn’t look exactly ill, he does exude an air of age and weariness. In all honesty, I generally find it difficult to watch performances from actors when I know they hadn’t long to live afterwards – it’s even harder when the person is someone whose work I’ve grown to admire. Whenever Cooper talks about safeguarding his future I can’t help but get that hollow, sinking sensation. In the role of Martha, Deborah Kerr was handed what was really the pivotal role; she’s the one from whose perspective the unfolding events are seen. In order for the viewer to retain doubts it was necessary for Kerr to convincingly portray a woman who could never be quite sure of anything herself. I think she managed that, never allowing histrionics to overwhelm her character and thus alienate the audience. For the most part, the supporting roles are fairly small yet highly memorable. No-one possessing even a passing familiarity with British cinema of the period  could fail to be impressed by a cast list that features: the aforementioned Eric Portman and Ray McAnally, Peter Cushing, Michael Wilding, Wilfrid Lawson, Diane Cilento, Hermione Gingold and Joyce Carey to name but a few.

The Naked Edge is out on DVD in the UK from Cornerstone/Palladium. The film is letterboxed (not anamorphic) at about 1.66:1, which would fit a film of this vintage. The transfer is generally good and fairly clean, although I did notice at least one cue blip. There is a certain softness to the image at times and the black levels are decidedly on the grey side. While I wouldn’t term it a displeasing transfer, it could stand some improvement too – even so, it’s never less than watchable. There are no subtitles offered and no extras. So, how do I rate it as a movie? As I’ve already said, the whole “woman coming to distrust a suspicious husband” storyline invites obvious comparisons with Hitchcock; Anderson’s direction throughout only compounds that, and there’s a short sequence that replicates one of Hitch’s more heavily criticised ploys. On the whole though, I think the film is generally successful in keeping the atmosphere tense and the viewer guessing. Let’s call this a cautious recommendation.

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2012 in 1960s, Gary Cooper, Michael Anderson, Mystery/Thriller

 

Payroll

As British cinema entered a new decade in the 1960s it was possible to discern a shift in attitude, a gradual move away from the style that been dominant in the post-war years. Previously, films had concentrated largely (though by no means exclusively) on the middle classes and the concerns that occupied them. That aspect had been especially noticeable in crime pictures and thrillers; and while it’s not without its attractions and merits, it did impose certain restrictions and sometimes led to an oversanitized or slightly twee form of storytelling that set it apart from the grittier fare that US audiences were exposed to. Naturally, there were exceptions, but they were fairly thin on the ground. However, a film like Payroll (1961) fixed the spotlight squarely on the professional criminals of the lower classes, and the result was a much more explicit portrayal of violence and sexual relations than had been the case before.

Payroll is a heist movie and develops according to the usual formula for such films: planning, execution, and the inevitable unravelling of everything. The story follows three interconnected strands, all of which are vital in bringing about the final resolution. Thus, we see the tale of the criminals, the accomplice, and an unfortunate victim all become bound together in a heady mix of violence, sex and double-cross. The opening has plans being laid to snatch the payroll of a Newcastle factory. The four man gang engaged in this little conspiracy is headed up by Johnny Mellors (Michael Craig), who acts as both the brains and the muscle of the quartet. What initially appears to be a straightforward job is complicated by the decision of the management of the factory to alter their procedure. Abandoning their old methods for having cash delivered, they choose to employ a new security firm with a seemingly impenetrable armoured car at its disposal. Naturally, this necessitates a change of tack on Mellors’ part, and so he puts the squeeze on his inside man, Pearson (William Lucas), to seek out the specs of the armoured car in order to establish its weaknesses. The reason behind Pearson’s involvement with these types is an old and familiar one – a desire to make a quick buck. His wife, Katie (Francoise Prevost), is a war refugee and a greedy woman, frustrated by her nondescript husband’s failure to make good on the potential she thought he had. A weak man living in the shadow of a sneering woman’s disapproval is a prime candidate for corruption, and so Pearson bows to the pressure brought to bear on two fronts. When the subsequent robbery turns sour and leaves two men dead, one of whom is the driver and boss of the security firm, the cracks in Mellors’ plan start to show themselves. Pearson finds himself facing the dual threat of a duplicitous and adulterous wife while also being stalked by a vengeful and suspicious widow (Billie Whitelaw). At the same time, Mellors is struggling to hold in check the increasingly volatile forces within his spooked gang. Ultimately, the sour combination of murder, illicit relationships and plain rotten luck bring matters to a head, and a bleakly satisfying conclusion.

One of the pleasures of watching British thrillers of this vintage is the glimpse we get of cities and landscapes now transformed. The location filming around Newcastle adds to the gritty and realistic feel of the piece by placing the characters in the down at heel urban world that the genteel classes didn’t inhabit. It’s not hard to see why these men and women might find themselves driven by their desire to escape the drab surroundings. Director Sidney Hayers shot a lot of the movie around run down businesses and decaying lockups, all of which add to the aura of despair. He also did fine work when it came to dealing with the action scenes; the heist itself, a brutal street mugging, and a grotesque double murder in a swamp all reveal an urgent and dispassionate style that’s highly effective. The casting was also spot on, with Michael Craig displaying the kind of machismo and edgy charm that fits right in with his role as the ruthless gang boss. Of the others making up the criminal foursome, Kenneth Griffith probably comes off best as the jittery, conscience-stricken weak link. Of course, William Lucas is arguably even more successful in conveying human frailty as Pearson; a thoroughly beaten man who’s driven to the very edge of reason by his own guilt and the provocation of his grasping spouse. Francoise Prevost really nailed her portrayal of a latter-day femme fatale, goading her husband into crime before betraying him sexually, and finally crossing up her lover for profit. The other female role, that of Billie Whitelaw’s avenging widow, is equally powerful. The mask-like set of her features takes on a terrible aspect as her relentless quest for righteous retribution drives one man out of his mind and another to his death.

Payroll has been released on DVD in the UK by Optimum and it looks very good. The film is presented in a progressive and anamorphic transfer at 1.66:1, and the print used is in particularly good shape. The image is clean and sharp, and I can’t honestly say I was aware of any significant damage. As usual with Optimum titles, there are no extras offered and no subtitles. However, the movie itself is a genuine keeper. If you’re looking for a hard-edged British thriller with steel in its guts then you won’t go far wrong with Payroll. It has that post-noir feel to it that’s enormously attractive, and I strongly recommend checking it out.

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2012 in 1960s, Mystery/Thriller

 

House by the River

I know everyone won’t agree but I’ve always felt that film noir works well in a gothic setting, where the atmosphere is necessarily thick and crimes (particularly crimes of passion) are a basic ingredient. In addition, the social constraints that govern the characters’ lives and actions help to increase the feeling of pressure, while the ornately forbidding homes where many such stories are played out can be just as menacing in their own way as any rain-slicked urban sidewalk. I think the fact that noir isn’t a real genre is one of its great strengths; this lends it a flexibility allowing theme, mood and look to assume as much importance as time and place. Fritz Lang’s House by the River (1950), dripping in heavy gothic atmosphere, confined for the most part to the titular house, and exploiting the suffocating moral code of its period setting, is most definitely film noir. It’s an interesting and at times visually striking work, but not an entirely successful one. However, I’ll go into the reasons for that later.

Stephen Byrne (Louis Hayward) is a writer, but not an especially successful one. He is first seen seated outside his riverside home and working on a manuscript. When a neighbour comments on a foul animal carcass that the current has been carrying up and down the waterway for days, he remarks that it’s a similar story with his writing – his publisher keeps returning it. Despite the light tone of these comments, the river, and its tendency to return anything tossed into it, plays a significant (and even vaguely supernatural) part in the plot. While his professional shortcomings only serve to hint at a weakness in Stephen’s character, the sly, lustful glances he steals at his attractive housemaid make that flaw obvious. Taking advantage of his wife’s absence, he decides to try his hand at seducing the help. However, his inadequacies manifest themselves again and he botches the attempt. What’s worse is that in an effort to prevent the girl’s cries from alerting the neighbours to his philandering, he accidentally strangles her. These early scenes inside the opulent yet oppressive home, all carved furniture and flock wallpaper, are particularly well staged and shot; the extreme angles and the high contrast photography conveying a sense of claustrophobic menace and terror. Having his brother John (Lee Bowman) stumble on the killing might appear to be just one more calamity to befall this man. Nevertheless, it turns out to be something of a godsend. John, with his stiff leg and retiring manner, is the polar opposite of Stephen, a kind and considerate man whose sense of civic duty is only exceeded by his loyalty to his brother. So, when Stephen begs for his help in covering up what he claims was merely a tragic miscalculation, John agrees to bail him out. With the body of the unfortunate servant bundled into an old wood sack, the two brothers row out on the river at night and dump the evidence. But it’s from this point on that the story begins to twist and turn like the meandering river and continues to do so until the literal and metaphorical tide brings everything back home. As events unfold, the contrasting characters of the two brothers are thrown into sharp relief, John’s stoicism and honour growing as the crisis deepens while Stephen’s venal and deceitful nature gradually consumes him.

Fritz Lang’s films, by his own admission, all deal with human weakness and the criminal actions that follow. House by the River can be viewed as a meditation on moral weakness and its corrosive effects; murder, the destruction of family relationships, and the final descent into madness. The small central cast and Lang’s moody visuals ensure that the tension is never relaxed yet the film doesn’t quite satisfy. When this happens the finger of blame can often be pointed at the writing or direction. However, that’s not the case here; I can’t fault Lang’s work and the story is logical enough in context, although it has to be said the ending is both abrupt and a little too contrived for my liking. No, the problem as I see it is more of focus and characterization. It’s important for any film to have a lead who’s capable of stirring at least some sympathy or sense of identification with the audience. In House by the River the lead is Louis Hayward’s Stephen, and he is such a vile excuse for a man that it’s quite impossible to empathize in any way. In the comments on an earlier post I mentioned that Louis Hayward has never been a favourite of mine, but that’s not the issue. In all honesty, his playing of Stephen is a good piece of work – he really fleshes out the smarmy, snivelling aspect of the man. As I said, it’s a matter of focus; the story is seen primarily from Stephen’s perspective, and it’s more and more difficult as the film progresses to feel anything other than revulsion at the self-serving way he latches onto every opportunity to gain advantage at the expense of those around him. The only “hero” of the piece, although I’m not sure the word’s entirely appropriate, is Lee Bowman’s John. Even if there’s arguably too much of the martyr about him, he does present a human face, a kind of moral compass amid the depravity. However, John’s suffering at the hands of his brother is pushed for the most part to the background, and although we’re rooting for him it’s Stephen’s scheming that remains front and centre. I ought to mention Jane Wyatt’s role as Stephen’s wife as it’s the only other significant part. She does tap into a sort of soulful and vaguely bewildered vibe, but this is essentially a two-man show and she is mainly left to play the puzzled dupe before transforming into the typical damsel in distress.

Over the years I’ve bought House by the River three times on DVD before finding a copy that I consider acceptable. The US edition from Kino is a weak interlaced transfer while the French disc boasts a far stronger image but has forced subtitles that can’t be switched off easily. However, last year’s release by Sinister Films in Italy is an excellent alternative, looking as though it’s been taken from the same source as the French version. The film has been transferred progressively and the image is sharp and detailed with only very minor print damage. The Italian subtitles are optional and can be turned off via the setup menu. By way of extras, the disc also features a conversation between Lang and William Friedkin focusing on the director’s time in Germany and lasts around 45 minutes – a most welcome addition. There’s also an inlay card that folds out into a miniature reproduction of the original poster art. All in all, this is a movie that I’m quite fond of – I’ve highlighted the reasons why I don’t see it as one of Lang’s best efforts, but there’s still a lot to enjoy and admire. For those who don’t yet have the film, or others dissatisfied with the editions they already own, I recommend checking out the Italian disc.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2012 in 1950s, Film Noir, Fritz Lang

 
 
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