Showing posts with label 1964. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1964. Show all posts

22 February 2014

Blu-ray Review - The Killers (1964)

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Thriller, Crime
Arrow Academy
Rating: 18
BD Release Date:
24th February 2014 (UK)
Don Siegel
Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes
Buy:The Killers [Blu-ray]

Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers has been adapted into 3 films for the silver year, first by Richard Siodmak in 1946, the second by Andrei Tarkovsky as a student film and finally by Don Siegel in 1964. They were all masters of cinema in their own way and all 3 films are very different. The Siodmak version is noted as the only adaptation of his work Hemingway admired before his eventual suicide.

The plot is about as basic as you can get: two hit men - Charlie (Lee Marvin) and Lee (Clu Gulager) - are hired to kill a teacher Johnny North (John Cassavetes). They are shocked when he tries to flee the scene and accepts his fate quite calmly. The two hit men investigate to find out why he accepted his fate and Johnny’s story is told in a series of flashbacks.

The Killers is probably most well known for two reasons. The first is it was set to be the very first TV movie and Arrow has kindly included widescreen and full screen aspect ratios in this release. The Killers, however, was deemed too violent for television so it was originally released theatrically in Europe where it was a bit of hit; Lee Marvin won a joint Bafta for his work on this and the overrated Cat Ballou. It was eventually released in the US but a few years after Europe.

It’s also widely known for being Ronald Reagan’s last ever film before he decided to go into politics which eventually lead to his election as President. Reagan plays a mobster and absolutely hated the fact he agreed to be in the film because he slaps Angie Dickinson’s character. In reality it was basically the only role Reagan could get because everyone realised he was a pretty woeful actor then. During the early to mid 80s, a famous shot of Reagan with a gun was used numerous times for flyers and posters for loads of hardcore punk gigs.

The early 60s to mid 60s in American cinema was a fascinating time for film despite what many critics might say. The remnants of film noir were still in the air and it can be argued that it didn’t fully stop till the death of JFK. It is rumoured that Angie Dickinson heard the news during the shooting of The Killers and she supposedly had a bit of a fling with him as well. Films were starting to become more violent and explicit and The Killers was one of the first before the so-called ground zero moment of Bonnie & Clyde in 1967, along with some films such as Shock Corridor, Seconds and the work of Roger Corman.

Lee Marvin had been in supporting roles for most of his career before The Killers so he was eager for a meatier role and he considered it one of his best. It can be said his great performance in this could be considered a dry run for his cooler than ice character of Walker in the 1967’s masterpiece Point Blank. John Cassavetes, who had already started directing his independent films that he became better known for, gives one of his finest on screen performances as Johnny North.

The Killers has become something of a minor cult classic over the years and rightfully so: it’s a great slice of neo-noir coming at the tail end of film noir. Lee Marvin is as cool as you can get. Don Siegel’s direction is spot on as usual and it’s always a riot to see Ronald Reagan’s performance as mob boss Jack Browning. The disc also includes 3 interviews - one on Lee Marvin’s career, one on Reagan’s acting career and archive one with Mr. Siegel himself.


Ian Schultz

8 February 2014

The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg 50th Anniversary Blu-ray Review

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Drama, Musical, Romance
StudioCanal UK
BD Release Date:
10th February 2014 (UK)
Jacques Demy
Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Anne Vernon
Buy:Umbrellas Of Cherbourg (50th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray] [1964]

Being the first French New Wave film (and possibly, though I could be mistaken, the first non-English language film) I watched, Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg will forever hold a special place in my heart. Back then, the New Wave was just a name and its significance I knew nothing about. And the film, though I found it to be rather enchanting and thoroughly entertaining, was just another film. But seeing the film again now, and in a wonderfully restored edition, I can finally fully appreciate it as the masterpiece it so clearly is.

What Demy’s film does so well is bridge the gap between those New Wave filmmakers he was more associated with, the Left Bank (Agnès Varda, Alain Resnais, Chris Marker), who became filmmakers in a more traditional way, and those of the Cahiers du Cinéma ilk (François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, et al), who began as film critics. Demy achieves this, much in the same way Godard did in films such as Une femme est une femme, through the way he pays homage to the Hollywood musicals he was inspired by while at the same time deconstructing and parodying them in such a way that he simultaneously reinvents the musical.

And what a magnificent musical it is. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg ups the ante on that tired old Hollywood tradition of characters bursting into song by having all the dialogue sung by its cast in a recitative style normally found in the world of the operetta. This gives the film a level of artifice that is further increased by the addition of the most splendidly coloured buildings imaginable. But far from making the film too artificial and far removed from reality, this artifice emphasises the need of escapism from the ordinariness of everyday life. This is especially true when you get to the nitty-gritty of the films story which is grounded in a recognisable world where war, death, teenage pregnancy, prostitution, and debt are very much a part of reality.

The films story is deceptively simple. In the first part, the departure, we are introduced to Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve), who works with her widowed mother in a chic but debt ridden umbrella shop, and Guy (Nino Castelnuovo), a mechanic who lives with his bedridden godmother. They are in love and share a passionate night together before Guy leaves for two-year military service in Algeria. The second part, absence, concentrates on how a now pregnant Geneviève copes with Guy’s departure and the pressure she faces from a mother who wants to marry her off to a rich suitor (played by Marc Michel who also appeared in Demy’s first film Lola, which, along with Umbrellas and the later Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, forms a loose trilogy). The third part, the return, sees Guy return from his military service and focuses on how he copes with the discovery that Geneviève is now married.

Now this scenario may sound familiar enough when you compare Umbrellas structure with the conventional Hollywood romance, musical or otherwise, but it is the ending that makes the film special. Convention would dictate that the ending would see Geneviève and Guy inevitably end up together again, no matter how implausible that may seem. What Demy does instead, whether it is through coincidence and chance, those two staple themes of his oeuvre, or fate and destiny, is make sure that the couple are no longer together. He does not cop out and give the audience that happy ending they are all expecting but instead has the couple meet in a chance encounter at Guy’s gas station five years down the line. We quickly learn that both of them have moved on and that both are happy with their current situation. This gives the film a more moving finale. It is closer to the realities of life than anything that is thrown up in a conventional musical. Ultimately, we are left in agreement with Geneviève’s mother when she says: “Time heals many things.”


Shane James