THE SAMUEL FULLER AT COLUMBIA BOX SET/Powerhouse Indicator Blu-ray This collectable boxed set includes the following striking films by the maverick director Samuel Fuller: Underworld USA, It Happened in Hollywood, Adventure in Sahara, Shockproof, Scandal Sheet and The Crimson Kimono. As these titles hint, this is a box for the dedicated cineaste: I provided one of the Blu-ray extras (for the tough gangster thriller Underworld USA) and in that piece I try to nail just why this director is held in such high esteem, despite the in-your-face, unsophisticated nature of his work. In fact – as in this impactful crime movie – it’s the very lack of polish that is part of the direct appeal of Fuller’s films. which have the kinetic vitality of the best tabloid journalism (somewhat different from the debased version that now obtains in this country). A particular pleasure of this set with its splendid transfers is the opportunity to finally catch up with some genuinely neglected Fuller films, which will just be names to many aficionados. Other directors working in the same idiom such as Don Siegel may have found more nuance in these genres, but Fuller is absolutely a law unto himself.
DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER, Aristide Massacessi, director/Arrow Blu-ray The Italian cinema’s fascination with both the macabre and the glossy murder thriller led to a series of intriguing hybrids in which both genres were spliced together to produce a variety of results from the excellent to the meretricious. Nothing more curious than Death Smiles on a Murderer, an atmospheric and slightly surreal piece which, while directed by one of the less respected talent in the genre (Joe d’Amato, under his real name of Aristide Massacessi), it is nevertheless made with some skill, and that is particularly evident in this new 2K restoration. Set in Austria the turn of the last century, the film has an actress whose star burned very briefly, the Swede Ewa Aulin (perhaps most famous in the title role of the misfiring Candy), here playing a young woman abused by her brother. Good turns on display from some of the most individual character actors in Italy.
NO WAY OUT, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, director/ Eureka Entertainment Blu-ray Provocative treatments of issues of race in the cinema are hardly a new phenomenon, as Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s powerful drama reminds us. Given that more recent black directors such as Spike Lee tackle the subject in uncompromising fashion, one might have thought that earlier attempts by white directors might be dated and/or irrelevant. What, however, is remarkable about No Way Out this how contemporary the film still seems, with the racial divisions in US society still marked. What’s more, it showcases two commanding performances by Sidney Poitier and Richard Widmark that demonstrate both actors’ understated mastery of the film medium. If the dialogue does not aim for the sardonic wit which is Mankiewicz’s stock in trade, that was only one part of the writer/director’s talent. The film appears for the first time on Blu-ray as part of The Masters of Cinema Series in a Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition. The narrative deals with a doctor whose ethics are put to the test when he comes into conflict with a racist criminal. Dr. Luther Brooks (Poitier) is assigned to treat two prisoners, the Biddle brothers, who were shot during an attempted robbery. Ray Biddle (Widmark) refuses to be treated by the black doctor, and when his brother John dies under Luther’s care, Ray becomes consumed with vengeance. His anger and hatred ignite racial tensions within the community, and events quickly spiral out of control.
THE DEFIANT ONES, Stanley Kramer, director/ Eureka Entertainment Blu-ray Still dealing with racial issues, another valuable issue from Eureka Entertainment utilises the theme for what is essentially an accommodation of two genre themes: the ill-matched duo who move from resentment and dislike to mutual respect, and the danger-fraught road movie. Both elements are presented in forceful terms by a narrative in classic Stanley Kramer fashion, i.e. a ‘problem’ picture that dramatises (in unnuanced fashion) a serious issue. And there’s no denying that the technique works in cinematic terms. Nominated for nine Academy Awards including Best Picture, Kramer’s The Defiant Ones dealt with racial tolerance through its thriller narrative in which. John “Joker” Jackson (Tony Curtis) and Noah Cullen (Sidney Poitier – who else?) are two convicts on the run. Escaping from a Southern work gang, the two men are bound together by an unbreakable iron chain and separated by an unbridled hatred towards each other. Relentlessly pursued by a bloodthirsty posse, they must put aside their differences if they are going to survive. Poitier bagged a variety of awards for his role, including the Silver Bear for Best Actor. This is another Eureka Dual Format edition.
THE CHINA SYNDROME, James Bridges, director/Powerhouse Indicator Over the years, the reputation of this tense thriller has grown – and deservedly so. Looking at the film in this splendid Blu-ray transfer is a reminder just what a professional job director James Bridges did with his narrative in which a nuclear plant controller spots a dangerous fault that his bosses wish to keep clandestine. Of course, that success is consolidated by the cast that the director was given to work with: Jack Lemmon as the reluctant whistleblower, Michael Douglas, Scott Brady and (in a key role) Jane Fonda. Now the Lemmon is retrospectively seen as a fine dramatic actor, it’s instructive to view once again a film that reminded audiences there was more to him than his comedy chops.