THE BLACK PANTHER
Ian Merrick, director/BFI Flipside Blu-ray
A film that belies its sensational, censor-baiting reputation, The Black Panther (1977) features impressive, understated performances by Donald Sumpter, Marjorie Yates and Debbie Farrington. Directed by the talented Ian Merrick, the once-banned film is a careful, unsensational true-crime drama that details the infamous killing spree which Donald Neilson, aka the Black Panther, carried out across England in the mid-70s, ending with the kidnapping and murder of a 17-year old girl. Newly mastered from original film elements preserved in the BFI National Archive.
John Gilling, director/Odeon
The title Panic might suggest a horror film, but this is one of John Gilling’s essays in the British crime film genre, and frequently demonstrates the level of imagination he often showed, along with constant, sometimes effortful attempts to infuse shop-worn material with visual inventiveness. More interesting, perhaps, than the workaday principal players (Dyson Lovell and Janine Gray), is the lively supporting cast which, like the title, evokes Hammer’s horror material, with the appearance of two of that studio’s most reliably malign presences, the hulking ex-wrestler Milton Reid (best known as mute monsters in such films as the lurid The Terror of the Tongs and Captain Clegg/Night Creatures) and the oleaginous, all-purpose-foreigner Marne Maitland, here playing a slimy landlord who is thrown bodily across the room by Reid (playing – perhaps for the only time in his career — a relatively sympathetic character). John Gilling takes a deep breath and keeps everything on the move, well aware that that it is up to him to rise above the threadbare material — which he frequently does.
THE DOOM GENERATION
Gregg Araki, director/Second Sight
Excess time. Rose McGowan and James Duval star in Gregg Araki’s eye-opening, over-the-top cult movie, a road-trip film to end all road trip films. The DVD arrives with a host of special features that complement a striking package. It’s a film with the kind of blistering energy (and zero subtlety!) that makes an instant impression.
Henry Hathaway, director/Odeon Hollywood Studio Collection
Henry Hathaway, one of the great Hollywood professionals, keep things moving in this lively espionage piece with Tyrone Power in virtually constant danger (ably supported by the likes of Patricia Neal, giving one of the very finest of her early performances). Interesting to see, also (in early appearances) both Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin. Not least among Hathaway’s achievements is maintaining the illusion that his male star is actually present in the variety of foreign cities visited (large screens reveal that it is invariably a double for Tyrone Power). But Diplomatic Courier affords the sheerest entertainment.
Olivier Marchal, director/Arrow
Season Two of Braquo is even more uncompromising than its predecessor. This desperate, dark-hued series — the French The Wire – makes most police shows (from whatever country) looks as soft-centred as Dixon of Dock Green or Rosemary and Thyme. There is the adroit ensemble playing (with Jean Hugues-Anglade as the troubled, compromised French cop up to his elbows in corruption). Once again, director Olivier Marchal has us in thrall to his protagonists, and the dividing line between police and criminal is nigh-invisible, though our sympathies remain — just – with the former.
YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE
Fritz Lang, director/Studiocanal
After his enforced move to America when the Nazis assumed power, the great German director Fritz Lang quickly demonstrated his mastery of the crime film with this bitter and powerful tale of a young criminal’s foredoomed attempts to go straight. The saccharine ending show some signs of studio interference (though Lang claimed otherwise in interviews) but the film remains diamond-hard, with a powerful performance by a young Henry Fonda as the ex-con who find that all occasions inform against him.
THE LAST JOURNEY/ RETURN OF A STRANGER
Bernard Vorhaus, Victor Hanbury, directors/Renown
The enterprising DVD company Renown continues to put collectors of neglected British crime cinema in its debt with two more obscure items. Frankly, there are no great rediscoveries here (though Renown have certainly come up with such things in the past), but intriguing curios.
SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
Igor Maslennikov, director/Mr Bongo Films
The quirky Russian adaptations of Sherlock Holmes by legendary director Igor Maslennikov are a collector’s Holy Grail, and courtesy of Mr. Bongo Films, Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles comes to DVD for the first time. Frankly, the number of allowances that need to be made here are legion: a particularly odd Watson, and the very Russian London and Dartmoor are often hilarious. But it’s a fascinating take on the much-filmed story.