March Blues – Take 2

Powerhouse/Indicator have two further releases this month, John Huston’s gritty boxing movie Fat City and The Front, the Martin Ritt/Woody Allen satirical take on HUAC and the Hollywood blacklist.

Fat City (1972) offers a glimpse into  the lives of two fighters, the tired and jaded Billy Tully (Stacy Keach) and the youthful Ernie Munger (Jeff Bridges). Typically, boxing dramas use the fight backdrop to tell stories of crime or ambition, or often just human triumph in the face of adversity. As such, Fat City is an atypical boxing film but, somewhat paradoxically, a classic example of early 70s cinema. It’s one of those frank appraisals of struggling types that seemed to become increasingly common in an era still hung over from the JFK assassination and wearied by the latter stages of the war in South East Asia.

A lot, though not all, of John Huston’s work had a cynical edge, a bitter way of looking at life and human nature – think about the endings of The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and you’ll see what I mean. While Fat City had an undeniable harshness and bleakness, the tendency towards cynicism is replaced by compassion. If Leonard Gardner’s script (from his own novel) and Huston’s direction aren’t exactly uplifting, the end result is nevertheless satisfying.

The new Blu-ray is yet another David Mackenzie encode of a 4K restoration. What that means is that Conrad Hall’s cinematography looks particularly fine. The film, as befits the theme and locations, is subdued and shadowy, but in a good way with plenty of detail and natural-looking grain.

In terms of supplements it’s another stacked package. The disc carries a commentary track by Nick Redman and Lem Dobbs in addition to a 1972 interview with Huston recorded at the NFT and, similar to a commentary, plays out over the film. Sucker Punch Blues is an extensive analysis of the film with input from surviving cast and crew members. This is backed up by an audio interview with writer Leonard Gardner, a brief bit of footage with Huston, the trailer and an image gallery. The accompanying 28 page illustrated booklet opens with a strong piece by Danny Leigh, follows up with a contemporary Sight & Sound review, and ties it all up with comments on the film by both John Huston and Stacy Keach.

The Front (1976) looks at one of the most painful and shameful periods of film and television history, the era of HUAC and the blacklist. Like all satire, it has a serious point to make. Woody Allen’s cash-strapped cashier starts out like one of his trademark angst-ridden opportunists, jumping at the chance to do a blacklisted friend a favor, and himself an even bigger one, by becoming a front for him – i.e. allowing his name to be used on the scripts and passing them off as his own. While the money and romantic possibilities are hugely attractive, the charade also reveals its uglier side as he witnesses the relentless grinding down of the spirit of Zero Mostel’s comic actor.

Tye movie features solid work from Allen and former blacklist victims director Martin Ritt, writer Walter Bernstein and Zero Mostel. And the film really belongs to Mostel; clearly feeding off his own experiences, he delivers a performance that ranges from the barnstorming to the heartbreaking, and culminates in a final scene that is quite sublime.

The Powerhouse/Indicator Blu-ray is, yet again, a David Mackenzie encode of a 4K restoration. The Image looks great throughout with lots of detail, depth and clarity. The extra features on the disc are a little lighter this time. There’s a commentary track with Nick Redman, Julie Kirgo and Andrea Marcovicci, one of the film’s stars. In addition we get a short interview with cinematographer Michael Chapman, an isolated score track, a gallery and the trailer. The booklet is a substantial one, coming in at 36 pages. Gabriel Miller, who has written about Martin Ritt, provides the detailed article that kicks it off. This is followed up by extracts of interviews with Ritt, Bernstein and Allen.

So, we’re talking about another two worthy releases by Powerhouse/Indicator. Both films have been treated to fine presentations that highlight their strengths, and come with the kind of carefully chosen supplements that make for highly desirable packages. I’d watched Fat City a number of times before and it therefore held no surprises for me, although it does look as good as I’ve ever seen it. The Front,  however was a new one for me and I have to say I was very favorably impressed. It’s a good story and well made but the performance of Zero Mostel lifts it up to another level, making it a memorable and moving piece of cinema.

All told, these releases are first-rate editions of two fine examples of 70s cinema. The strong visuals and the comprehensive extras are evidence of how seriously the label is taking its place in the market. It all bodes extremely well for their upcoming titles.

March Blues – Take 1

As has already been noted on this site and elsewhere, UK boutique label Powerhouse/Indicator are in the process of rolling out a series of high quality dual format (DVD/Blu-ray) releases. March sees three titles on the way and I’ll be posting short comment pieces on each one.

First up is Fritz Lang’s superior The Big Heat. Now I’ve already talked about the movie at length so I’m not going to go back over the same ground as my assessment of it as a piece of cinema hasn’t changed – those thoughts can be found here. Instead, I want to refer to the new upgraded package now available. The image is very strong and solid, looking as crisp and clean as I’ve ever seen it, the kind of classy result that you can almost take as read with a David Mackenzie supervised encode.

This version also comes with a comprehensive and worthwhile package of supplementary features. There’s good a three-way commentary track involving Nick Redman, Julie Kirgo and Lem Dobbs. In addition, we also have the opportunity to listen to the isolated score. Then we have the filmed features – two short pieces from filmmakers Martin Scorsese & Michael Mann, both giving their thoughts on the movie. Then there is a longer half hour appreciation of the film, presented within an overview of Lang’s career, by Tony Rayns. Round it all off are subs for the hard of hearing, the theatrical trailer and an image gallery.

The movie is accompanied by a chunky, and handsomely illustrated, 35 page booklet edited by Jeff Billington and Nick Wrigley. Contained within is a detailed essay by Glenn Kenny as well as an extract from Peter Bogdanovich’s 1967 book on Lang, which is essentially an interview with the director. Following on from that is a critical anthology and a short piece on way the movie was viewed by the Production Code.

All told, this is a fine package, the type of comprehensive appreciation the film richly deserves.

DEATH IN THE TUNNEL (1936) by Miles Burton

I try, as much as possible, to keep my writing on this site focused on cinema and film related material. However, that doesn’t mean my interests extend no further. My friend Sergio is a regular visitor and commenter here and, seeing as his site is a bit more flexible in its approach than mine, he was kind enough to allow me to contribute my thoughts on a novel a while back and left the offer open. As a result I took him up on that and if you follow the links in this post you can see my latest effort. And while you’re there, you could do a whole lot worse than browse around his ever excellent site.

Tipping My Fedora

burton_death-in-the-tunnell_blThis is a bit of a special post – I have so far managed to get through life without reading a single novel by John Rhode, who often published as Miles Burton and whose real name was Cecil John Street. So I am really happy to have one of his books reviewed here at Fedora – only not by me. Instead this fine analysis come to you courtesy of our very good blogging buddy Colin (aka ‘Livius’) of the mighty party Riding the High Country blog, who has once again graciously agreed to write a guest post for Fedora.

We submit this review for Bev’s Golden Age Mystery Scavenger Hunt; and Friday’s Forgotten Books meme, hosted today by Todd Mason at his Sweet Freedom blog.

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Blu News – 2 for April

A couple of titles which have been mentioned before are now confirmed for dual format (BD + DVD) releases at the end of April in the UK via Powerhouse/Indicator. Firstly, we get Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai, an enthralling film noir. And, in addition, Blake Edwards’ Experiment in Terror, which I wrote about here, makes an appearance.

The special features announced so are as follows:

The Lady from Shanghai

• 4K restoration from the original negative
• Original mono audio
• Audio Commentary by Peter Bogdanovich
Simon Callow on ‘The Lady from Shanghai’ (2017, tbc mins): a new filmed appreciation piece by the acclaimed actor and Welles scholar
A Discussion with Peter Bogdanovich (2000, 21 mins): the renowned filmmaker and author talks about Welles and The Lady from Shanghai
• Original theatrical trailer
• Image gallery
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by critic Samm Deighan
• UK Blu-ray premiere
• Limited Dual Format Edition of 5,000 copies
• More TBC

Experiment in Terror

• 2K restoration from the original negative
• Original mono audio
• Audio commentary by film critic Kim Morgan
• New and exclusive filmed interview with actor Stefanie Powers (2017, tbc mins)
• Isolated score – experience Henry Mancini’s original score
• Original theatrical trailer
• TV spots
• Image gallery
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by critic Kim Morgan
• UK Blu-ray premiere
• Limited Dual Format Edition of 3,000 copies
• More TBC

 

Blu News – The Big Heat

It’s just been brought to my attention that March will see the release in the UK of Fritz Lang’s stripped down, mean and moody film noir The Big Heat. The movie is coming via boutique label Indicator:

INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES:
• Audio commentary by film historians Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman
• New filmed appreciation by film historian Tony Rayns
• Martin Scorsese on The Big Heat
• Michael Mann on The Big Heat
• Isolated score
• Original theatrical trailer
• Image gallery: on-set and promotional photography
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by critic Glenn Kenny
• Limited Dual Format Edition of 3,000 copies
• UK Blu-ray premiere

I wrote a piece on the movie here about a year ago and since it’s a  title I like very much I’m pleased to pass along this welcome news.

Blu News – Two Rode Together

It’s just been announced by Eureka that John Ford’s Two Rode Together will be released as a dual format (Both Blu-ray & DVD) package in March 2017 and will be up for pre-order soon.

The film is a bit of a mixed bag from Ford and not his best work by any means but, as with all his films, there is still much to enjoy, as I noted myself when I wrote a short piece about it ages ago. Regardless of its inherent weaknesses, I’ll be picking up a copy in due course.

More Underrated Movies…

Having submitted a few of these lists in the past, I’ve passed another one along to Brian at the Rupert Pupkin Speaks site. This time it’s a selection of underrated movies from 1956. My picks can be viewed here, and the image above is a clue to one of them.

Hugh O’Brian

I guess most articles will focus on the fact Hugh O’Brian played the lead on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, and that’s fair enough. However, any fan of the classic western will also be aware of his immense contribution to the genre, particularly throughout the 1950s. Just take a look at this list of credits: Vengeance Valley, Little Big Horn, Cave of Outlaws, The Battle at Apache Pass, The Cimarron Kid, The Raiders, The Lawless Breed, Seminole, The Man from the Alamo, The Stand st Apache River, Taza, Son of Cochise, Saskatchewan, Drums Across the River, Broken Lance, White Feather, The Fiend Who Walked the West, The Brass Legend. He worked with such names as Boetticher, Sherman, Sirk and Walsh. Then later he had the distinction of being the last villain that John Wayne would “kill” on screen in Don Siegel’s superb  The Shootist.

That amounts to quite a career and legacy.

RIP

2015 in review

So another year is almost done and dusted, always a good opportunity to say thanks to all those who have stopped by and made the blogging experience a pleasure. Here’s to 2016.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 42,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 16 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Crooked Way in HD

I really like The Crooked Way, a frequently overlooked film noir, and wrote about it here back at the beginning of the year. The new Blu-ray (also available on DVD) has just been reviewed by DVD Beaver so I thought I’d take the opportunity to remind people of this classy little movie which may, hopefully, enjoy a higher profile with this new release.