Videophiled: ‘Man, Pride and Vengeance,’ 'The Escapees,’ musical 'Looney Tunes,’ and Roger Moore is 'The Saint’
Man, Pride and Vengeance (Blue Underground, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) – There were hundreds of spaghetti westerns produced by Italian studios in the sixties and early seventies. Only a small percentage of them were particularly good, and fewer still genuinely great. You’d think we’d be running out of discoveries by now but Man, Pride and Vengeance (1967), from director Luigi Bazzoni and star Franco Nero, is a respectable find. Based on the novel Carmen by Prosper Merimee, with Nero as the loyal, straight-arrow soldier José demoted after he’s tricked by gypsy hellion Carmen (Tina Aumont), it’s the rare spaghetti western that is actually set in Spain, where it was shot.
In this take, José is has no fiancée to betray, which perhaps makes him more susceptible to Carmen’s flirtations, and Nero plays him as an affable career man whose equilibrium is completely upset by the surge of emotions—lust, rage, resentment, jealousy—that the wild free spirit brings out in him. Aumont makes a cheeky Carmen, not malicious so much as unapologetically mercenary and sexually independent but with a code of conduct that she follows faithfully. She pays her debts, which complicates José’s life more than he can handle. Soon he’s on the run from a murder charge and joins her criminal gang, where he meets her husband Garcia (Klaus Kinski), fresh out of prison and ready to take charge of the gang and take on anyone he sees as a threat. While José earns the nickname “Preacher” for his insistence on a disciplined plan and a non-violent execution of the stage robbery (both a moral and practical decision; murder brings out the soldiers in force), Garcia is like unstable dynamite pulled from the storage of a long prison sentence and ready to blow at the slightest nudge.
Things take a more savage turn when it leaves the city for the frontier, a dusty, desolate landscape of threatening hills, chalky trails, and sunbaked days that (along with Garcia’s taunting and baiting) eat at the gang as they hide out in primeval caves. But this isn’t about barbarous cutthroats picking off rivals. Bazzoni wrote the screenplay with Suso Cecchi d’Amico, one of the great screenwriters of Italian cinema (Bicycle Thieves, Miracle in Milan, Big Deal on Madonna Street, The Leopard, and many others), and they give the characters more complexity. These aren’t the bloodthirsty thugs who feed off of violence and chaos, merely folks born to this way of life, and they have their own moral codes and clan loyalties. In this Darwinian setting they provide an unexpected humanity and a contrast to José, whose own code is swamped by his emotional impulses outside of his military home. And best of all, Aumont’s Carmen is fascinating, a woman who pays her debts and honors her obligations, lives and loves as she chooses, and never apologizes for her choices. Aumont hasn’t the strength to give Carmen much depth but she does instill her with a lively spirit and an fierce way of taking life head on.
The film was also released under the title With Django Comes Death, just another of the scores of movies trying to cash in on the iconic hit. At least it stars the original Django himself, even if the sensibility is as far from the cold justice and pitiless violence of Django as can be.
The film debuts on Blu-ray and DVD in a new High Definition transfer from the original camera negative with both original Italian and English dub soundtracks and optional English, Italian, and French subtitles. Features commentary by Italian western experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke and the 28-minute interview featurette “Luigi, Vittorio & Franco,” featuring new interviews with Franco Nero and Vittorio Storaro (who was the film’s camera operator) talking about their lifelong friendship with one another and director Luigi Bazzoni, begun before any of them had experienced cinema success, and reuniting on this film to make good on their promise to one day all work together. It’s as touching as it is illuminating.
The Escapees (Redemption / Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD) is the most melancholy film I’ve seen from French filmmaker Jean Rollin, a horror poet working in the margins of sexploitation moviemaking. The story of two young women who escape from a mental hospital is neither horror film nor supernatural fantasy and Rollin even resists his usual sexploitation instincts until the final act (and at that point goes full frontal orgy). But this 1981 feature is unmistakably his work: two lovely girls making their way in a world that is alien to them, finding tenderness in the kindness of a petty pickpocket and a troupe of gypsy dancers, and falling prey to the decadence of predatory swingers. Michelle (Laurence Dubas) is the angry rebel with a romantic streak, putting her faith in the promise of a ship that will take them to a promised land, and Marie (Christiane Coppé) is the sad, blank, almost catatonic inmate who follows Michelle across the countryside. Both were abandoned by their families and try to make their own together, sisters united against the world, and Rollin recalls the innocence of childhood in a lovely moment when Maries wanders into an empty ice rink and skates a lyrical ice ballet (with a spotlight magically picking her out of the darkness).
Though Rollin finally does deliver the sex—we should have guessed it would arrive when his longtime collaborator Brigitte Lahie (a porn star in her other life) appears with a group of rich folks slumming on the docks and invites the girls back to their place—this is more intimate than his usual stories. And while he’s once again working with performers of limited skill, he shapes their performances to create lost girls in an unreal world where the people on the fringes of society sense their innocence and vulnerability and adopt and protect them as well as they can.
In French with English subtitles. Another stateside disc debut, this comes to Blu-ray and DVD from a new HD transfer from the original 35mm negative and includes the 28-minute featurette “One Day in Paris: An Interview with Jean Rollin,” recorded in 2008.
Looney Tunes Musical Masterpieces (Warner, DVD) – Warner Bros. has been rereleasing their classic cartoons in various editions for decades now, including marvelous Blu-ray collections for the most committed fans. This DVD collection of 18 animated shorts, spanning close to three decades, is the most thematically satisfying single-disc collection to date. Rather than focus on a character, it collects the best cartoons built specifically around music: classical, opera, pop, jazz, what have you. Bugs and Elmer take on opera in Rabbit of Seville (one of the funniest Looney Tunes every made, with the most surreal comic twists of any animated classic) and the Wagner spoof What’s Opera, Doc? (with Fudd chanting “Kill the waaaaa-bit!” and Bugs going drag, Valkyrie style) and spoof ballet (and Fantasia) with A Corny Concerto (1943), co-starring Porky. One Froggy Evening (1955) is arguably the greatest one-off from the golden age of Looney Tunes, with a singing frog, a would-be entrepreneur, and a story that spans decades without a single spoken word, while High Note (1960) transposes drunk gags to sheet music where a soused note goes wandering along the musical staff. The story of “The Three Little Pigs” gets two musical treatments: Pigs in a Polka (1943) set to the Hungarian dance music of Brahms, and Three Little Bops (1957) with the pigs as jazz musicians and the wolf as a trumpeter who blows their gigs away (Stan Freberg voices the hep talk). And there are some pretty cute cartoons that play with popular songs, like Katnip Kollege (1938), Nelly’s Folly (1961), and I Love to Singa (1936), a Tex Avery spoof of The Jazz Singer with characters named Owl Jolson and Jack Bunny.
These have all been previously available on the Looney Tunes Golden collections and if you invested in them, this isn’t necessary. But for those fans who did not shell out the big bucks, this is a great deal. The Looney Tunes are all kid friendly and the musical focus of these is an added bonus for younger kids, while the nostalgia and the creativity is the draw for adults.
A complete listing to the contents below, at the foot of the post.
Here’s a pair of comedies from Monty Python alumni. Terry Jones writes, directs, and co-stars in Erik the Viking (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD), a 1989 comic Viking odyssey about a gentle soul of a warrior prince named Erik (Tim Robbins) who, uncomfortable with the pillaging and killing of his way of life, journeys to Valhalla to confront the Gods and try to bring peace to the world. Mickey Rooney plays Erik’s jolly barbarian grandfather and John Cleese, Eartha Kitt, and Imogen Stubbs co-star. Jones, a medieval scholar in his own right, has fun with his inspired take on Norse culture and mythology. It’s not Monty Python-level genius but is it funny. Jones edited the film down in 2007 to under 80 minutes. The Blu-ray features the original 107-minute theatrical version.
Graham Chapman is madman pirate Yellowbeard (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD) in a film he co-wrote with Peter Cook (who also co-stars). Given talent assembled for this production—it co-stars Cheech & Chong, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Michael Hordern, Peter Boyle, Spike Milligan, Kenneth Mars, and fellow Python alumni Eric Idle and John Cleese—it should be a funnier film. Maybe you can chalk some of that up director Mel Damski, a TV vet making his big screen debut, but the screenplay itself is a confusing and spotty attempt at a screwball swashbuckler. The direction simply compounds the problems.
The Saint: The Complete Series (Timeless, DVD) – Roger Moore plays the debonair modern Robin Hood Simon Templar in the British series based on the novels by Leslie Charters. Previously made into a series of movies starring George Sanders (followed by a series of lower-budget successors), this series launched in 1962, in the wake of the Cold War-influenced 007 movies and TV shows like The Avengers and Danger Man. Think of him as a freelance, jet-setting James Bond who travels the world and lives the good life in high society between his missions of mercy for those in distress. Moore plays host in the opening sequence, speaking directly to the audience to set up the story, and maintains a degree of unflappable cool and cultured charm throughout. It could have been his audition piece for James Bond. You’ll spot familiar British faces through the show but he early episodes feature a few notable guest starts on their way to stardom, Honor Blackman (“The Arrow of God,” Season One), Julie Christie (“Judith,” Season Two), Oliver Reed (“The King of the Beggars,” Season Two), and Donald Sutherland (“The Happy Suicide,” Season Three) among them.
The series, produced in Britain by ITC, ran for six seasons and made the leap from black and white to color for the final two seasons. It was picked up in the U.S. by NBC after the first couple of seasons played well in syndication. 118 hour-long episodes on 33 discs in a box set of four cases, with commentary on nine episodes (six of them with Roger Moore himself)
The Nanny: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory, DVD), the nineties sitcom starring Fran Drescher as the flashy girl from Flushing who looks after the family of a sophisticated (and single) Broadway producer (Charles Shaugnessy), has its own fans. I’m not one of them, mind you, but who am I to judge anyone’s nostalgic favorites? The show did last six seasons, after all. 146 episodes on 19 discs, in a box set of three cases, with commentary on three episodes, a bonus disc featuring two featurettes, and an episode guide booklet.
Also new and notable:
Project Almanac (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD) takes the found-footage / home video approach so popular in low-budget horror to a time travel story, there a group of friends screw around with a time machine and start messing up their own timelines, and possibly the future of the world. The Blu-ray edition features an alternate opening, alternate endings, and deleted scenes, plus bonus DVD and Ultraviolet HD copies of the film
Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD) is Spike Lee’s latest joint, a low-budget vampire film adapted from (or at least heavily inspired by) the seventies drama Ganja and Hess.
Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD) is the new documentary by Chuck Workman, released to celebrate the centenary of Orson Welles’ birth.
Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray, DVD), originally made for Showtime, chronicles the project to write music for rediscovered Bob Dylan lyrics and have contemporary musicians record them. T-Bone Burnett oversees the project and Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, Taylor Goldsmith, Jim James, and Marcus Mumford take on the songs.
Criterion releases the American disc debuts of two Costa-Gavras films of the seventies, both inspired by real events and political situations. The Confession (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), his 1970 follow-up to the international success of Z, stars Yves Montand as a Czechoslovak politician abducted, imprisoned, and interrogated by members of the Communist party in the early 1950s. Yves Montand returns for State of Siege (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), this time playing an American agent who, under the guise of a charitable organization, instructs the police of Uruguay in interrogation, torture, and suppression techniques. Both are mastered from new 4K digital restorations and feature new interviews and archival supplements.
Also getting the Criterion treatment is Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Merchant of the Four Seasons (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), one of his first films to earn international acclaim. Also newly remastered from a 4K digital restoration with supplements.
Island of Death (Arrow / MVD, Blu-ray+DVD), a 1976 horror about a British couple who arrive on a sleepy Greek island and unleash a reign of sadistic violence and brutal murder, is notorious for its explicit content and was banned in Britain as a “video nasty.” It’s restored from the original negative for its American disc debut.
Two of Bert I. Gordon’s “nature gone wild” giant creature movies of the seventies arrive on Blu-ray as the lead feature in a pair of horror double bills. Mr. B.I.G. toplines both The Food of the Gods / Frogs (Scream Factory, Blu-ray) and Empire of the Ants / Jaws of Satan (Scream Factory, Blu-ray), both based on H.G. Wells novels. The former, from 1976, stars Marjoe Gortner and Ralph Meeker, and the 1977 pseudo-sequel stars Joan Collins. Both feature new commentary tracks with Bert I. Gordon and The Food of the Gods / Frogs features interviews with actresses Belinda Balaski (The Food of the Gods) and Joan Van Ark (Frogs).
Digital / VOD / Streaming exclusives:
Available on cable pay-per-view and Video On Demand same day as theaters are the comedies Barely Lethal, a mix of John Hughes teen romance and spy movie with Hailee Steinfeld, Samuel L. Jackson, and Sophie Turner, and Results, is a more grown-up romantic comedy for American indie director Andrew Bujalski with Cobie Smulders, Guy Pearce, and Kevin Corrigan.
Now on VOD: Tooken (Cinedigm, Digital HD, VOD), a spoof of Taken, and Let Us Prey (Dark Sky, VOD, Digital).
Available for digital purchase in advance of disc:
Project Almanac (Paramount, Digital HD)
The Duff (Lionsgate, Digital HD)
Unfinished Business (Fox, Digital HD) Friday, May 29
CHAPPiE (Sony, Digital HD) Friday, May 29
Classics and Cult:
Invitation to a Gunfighter (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD)
Kings of the Sun (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD)
Cannibal Ferox (Grindhouse, Blu-ray 3-Disc Edition)
Samurai Warrior: The Blind Wolf (Synapse, Blu-ray)
Madman (Vinegar Syndrome, Blu-ray+DVD)
Enter the Ninja (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray)
Revenge of the Ninja (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray)
River of Death (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD)
Winter of Our Dreams / Far East (Scorpion, DVD)
Ski School (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Beyond Remedy (Olive, DVD)
Drawn in Blood (Olive, DVD)
Heart of America (Olive, DVD)
TV on disc:
Sons of Liberty (History, Blu-ray, DVD)
Major Crimes: The Complete Third Season (Warner, DVD)
The Rockford Files: Movie Collection, Volume 2 (Universal, DVD)
The Rockford Files: The Complete Collection (Universal, DVD)
Murdoch Mysteries: The Movies (Acorn, DVD)
Hill Street Blues: Season Five (Shout! Factory, DVD)
Welcome Back, Kotter: Season Three (Shout! Factory, DVD)
The Wonder Years: The Complete Third Season (StarVista, DVD)
Seventh Son (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
So Bright the View (IndiePix, DVD)
Cut Bank (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Loft (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
See You in Valhalla (ARC, DVD)
eMANcipation (Olive, DVD)
Sword of Vengeance (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD)
Gun Woman (Scream Factory, Blu-ray, DVD)
Ballet 422 (Magnolia, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD)
So Bright is the View (IndiePix, DVD, VOD)
The House Across the Street (Level 33, DVD)
Auschwitz (Olive, DVD)
Planet USA (Olive, DVD)
Zombies from Outer Space (Olive, DVD)
Mutant World (Sony, DVD)
Nightlight (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD)
Assassin’s Game (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, VOD)
When Calls the Heart: Trials of the Heart (Shout! Factory, DVD)
Complete line-up for Looney Tunes Musical Masterpieces DVD:
Rabbit of Seville
One Froggy Evening
What’s Opera, Doc?
I Love to Singa
Page Miss Glory
Pigs in a Polka
Three Little Bops
Rhapsody in Rivets
Back Alley Oproar
Calendar of upcoming releases on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, and VOD