"What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?" - John Steinbeck
1 from the British Film Institute
Maurice (U.K, 1987)
Long before Call Me By Your Name, and a good two decades before Brokeback Mountain, there was Merchant/Ivory's Maurice. Homosexuality was still largely uncharted waters in mainstream "prestige" cinema in 1987, and director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant took a big chance in adapting E.M. Forster's novel to the big screen. Published posthumously, the book was set in Edwardian England and depicted a gay affair between two fictional university students, Maurice Hall and Clive Durham, and a young gamekeeper, Alec Scudder, who gets between them. On screen, the story was shot at Cambridge University and other locations in the U.K. (and briefly, Sicily) with James Wilby, Hugh Grant and Rupert Graves in the lead roles. For its 30th anniversary in 2017, Maurice was restored in 4K and given a new theatrical release, as well as better treatment on home video, with an excellent double-disc Blu-ray set release by Cohen Media Group in the U.S. Now, trying to match that effort, the British Film Institute has a 2-disc set, too, using the same flawless 4K image and DTS surround sound but substituting some of Cohen Media's abundant extras with a few of its own (and in hi-definition, too). There's a new audio commentary by British film historian Claire Monk, a new 19-minute interview with Wilby, a 40-minute conversation from 2017 between Ivory and American film director Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), a 16-minute onstage interview from 2017 with Ivory and cinematographer Pierre Lhomme, a vintage interview with Grant and Wilby (5 mins.), an 8-minute audio discussion on Forster augmented with stills from the movie, 39 minutes of deleted scenes with optional commentary by Monk (on the Cohen disc, Ivory himself comments the deleted scenes), and two trailers: the original theatrical one and the re-release version (unfortunately marred by a more contemporary-sounding music soundtrack presumably done to attract younger viewers). Do note that both BFI discs are code-locked for Region B (U.K. and Europe).
2 from Eureka!
Sink the Bismarck! (U.K., 1960)
The Royal Navy's hunting down and sinking of Nazi Germany's biggest battleship in the North Atlantic in 1941 gets the full Cinemascope treatment, albeit in black-and-white, in this engrossing British war movie based on C.S. Forester's novel and directed by Lewis Gilbert. Kenneth More stars as operations chief of the Admirality and Dana Wynter as the WRNS second officer who's his assistant; Czech actor Karel Štěpánek is captain of the Bismarck. And yes, that really is Edward R. Murrow playing himself. Eureka!'s Blu-ray (code-locked to Region B) looks great and has an extra or two: there's a new half-hour interview with film historian Sheldon Hall and a trailer.
Irma la Douce (U.S., 1963)
Shirley MacLaine plays Irma la Douce, a Paris call girl who falls for a cop (Jack Lemmon) disguised as a British lord in Billy Wilder's adaptation of the 1956 French stage musical. It's a comedy with a happy ending. André Previn won an Oscar for his score, and the movie was a huge hit at the box office. Just like the Blu-ray that Kino released last year in the U.S., the new British one from Eureka! comes from a 4K restoration and looks great. Same extras, too – twin commentary tracks by critics Joseph McBride and Kat Ellinger, and a trailer – but Eureka! go one better with a half-hour interview with British critic Neil Sinyard. There's also a very nicely illustrated booklet.
1 from Criterion
The Kid Brother (U.S., 1927)
In this silent comedy classic co-directed by Lewis Milestone (The Front Page), Harold Lloyd plays Harold Hickory, a nerdy kid brother in a rural California town who can't measure up to his older brothers and sheriff pa in the manliness department. But when a traveling medicine show rolls through their territory, family loyalty gets tested when Harold falls for the show's pretty dancer (Jobyna Ralston) and gets embroiled in a scandal over stolen town money. It all ends in a spectacular chase scene aboard an abandoned ship where the thieves have holed up. Newly restored in 4K on the new Blu-ray from Criterion, the film comes with a raft of special features. First up is an audio commentary from 2005 with ex-child actor / director / Lloyd archivist Richard Correll, film historian Annette D’Agostino Lloyd (no relation), and Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd. The other extras run the gamut: a new half-hour discussion about Lloyd's "leading ladies" Ralston, Bebe Daniels and Mildred Davis; two new video essays (one by David Cairns, breaking down Lloyd's 'monkey shoes' sight gag; the other by John Bengston, about The Kid Brother's shooting locations; each lasts about a quarter-hour); a stills gallery; and a quarter-hour Dutch TV interview with Lloyd from 1962, shot at his Beverly Hills estate, Greenacres, which also features in a quarter-hour featurette from 2005 in which Suzanne Lloyd offers a tour of the property. Next up are two early Lloyd shorts, restored and scored with Wurlitzer pipe organ music: "Over the Fence" (1917, 5 mins.) and "That’s Him" (1918, 11 mins.). They come with an 11-minute look at their restoration and a 20-minute look at the Wurlitzer itself with composer Nathan Barr and organist Mark Herman. There's a choice of two organ scores to listen to for the main feature, one from 1989 by Carl Davis and the other an archival one played by Gaylord Carter. The booklet for this edition has an essay by critic Carrie Rickey.
1 from Second Run
Dawson City: Frozen Time (U.S., 2016)
A treasure trove of old Hollywood silent movies was unearthed from the subarctic tundra of northern Canada in 1978 during a construction dig. In 2016 that remarkable find – and the amazing slice of motion-picture history that it revealed – became the subject of a documentary by New York filmmaker Bill Morrison. Named after the Klondike Gold Rush town in the Yukon where the 533 film reels originally wound up after their long journey from California, Dawson City: Frozen Time eschews narration for a soundtrack of new music (by Alex Somers) and archival sound, letting the images speak for themselves; onscreen text fills in the blanks, much as title cards did in the days of silent film. Even for non-film buffs, it's fascinating stuff. How does it look on home video? Superb. The documentary, along with a wealth of special features, was released on Blu-ray in the U.S. in the fall of 2017 by Kino Lorber, but now the British distributor Second Run augment that with an even better offering. There's a different interview with the director that's almost triple the length of Kino's (22 mins. versus 9), a new short film of his called "The Letter" (13 mins.) that's based on some of the same found material; and an accompanying booklet (24 pages vs 22) that has entirely different material. The other extras remain the same, or just about: there's a 10-minute behind-the-scenes with curators Michael Gates and Kathy Jones, a trailer, and eight vintage film reels that were part of the Dawson City trove and now, thanks to Second Run, run at a slower, more human-like speed (18 frames per second, vs Kino's non-corrected transfers). The reels' titles speak for themselves, a mix of newsreels and dramatic shorts: "British Canadian Pathé News 81A, 1919" (12 mins.), "International News Vol. 1 - Issue 52, 1919" (11 mins.) , "The Montreal Herald – Screen Magazine, 1919" (12 mins.), "Pathé's Weekly #17, 1914" (9 mins.), "The Butler and the Maid – Thomas A. Edison, Inc., 1912" (3 mins.), "Brutality – D.W. Griffith, Biograph Company, 1912" (10 mins.), "The Exquisite Thief – Tod Browning, Universal Film Manufacturing Company Inc., 1919" (8 mins.), and "The Girl of the Northern Woods – Thanhouser, 1910" (6 mins.). By the way, like all Second Run releases, the Blu-ray is all-region, not code-locked to the UK, which is exceptional.
1 from Criterion
Death in Venice (Italy/France/U.S., 1971)
An Italian screen adaptation of a German novella set in Venice in 1911 during an outbreak of cholera: could this have the makings of classic cinema? When the director is Luchino Visconti, yes. Swollen with the symphonic music of Gustav Mahler, anchored by a superb cast (Dirk Bogarde, Silvana Mangano, Marisa Berenson) and atmospherically shot by cinematographer Pasqualino De Santis, Death in Venice translates the Thomas Mann story to widescreen Technicolor at a stately pace, tracking the inevitable degradation of an aging composer (Bogarde) infatuated with an androgynous teenager (newcomer Björn Andrésen) on vacation in the Sinking City. There's some controversy in the blogosphere over the colour grading on the new restoration by Italy's L'Immagine Ritrovata laboratory, which Criterion uses for its new transfer to Blu-ray. Some find the image too yellow, others the blacks not deep enough, especially compared to the film's previous iteration on home video, a nice-looking DVD that Warner put out worldwide in 2004. Whatever your preference, the Criterion BD is worth the upgrade. Extras include an hour-long 2008 documentary on the director called "Luchino Visconti: Life as in a Novel,", a half-hour look from 1970 called "Alla ricerca di Tadzio" (about the search to cast the boy), a new half-hour interview with film scholar Stefano Albertini, and four making-of featurettes: a 20-minute French TV interview with Visconti from 1971, an 8-minute excerpt from a 1990 French TV program on the film's score (with Bogarde and Berenson discussing Mahler), a 3-minute TV interview from 2006 with costume designer Piero Tosi, and a vintage promotional featurette from 1970 called "Visconti’s Venice" (with the director and Bogarde). A foldout pamphlet completes the package.
3 from Eureka!
Les quatre soeurs (France, 2018)
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, four Jewish women who survived the the Holocaust tell their story on camera. Ruth Elias, a young Czech, got pregnant at Theresienstadt and gave birth at Auschwitz as a 'patient' of SS doctor Josef Mengele. Ada Lichtman, a Polish Jew, recycled dolls taken from Jewish children at Sobibór so that the SS could gift them to their own kids. Ruth Biren recalls her angst-ridden days as a member of the Jewish women's police force in the Lodz ghetto in Poland. Hanna Marton, a Romanian lawyer, tells of being one of the 'lucky' 1,684 Jews spirited by train out of Bergen-Belsen to Switzerland and eventually Palestine. With each interview lasting over an hour, The Four Sisters was the last documentary released by French directer Claude Lanzmann (1925-2018), best known for his monumental 1985 feature Shoah. A year after they first aired on French TV, the interviews now get a home-video release as part of U.K distributor Eureka!'s 'Masters of Cinema' series. It's a two-disc set: two women per Blu-ray, with an accompanying booklet that includes a director's statement and biographies of all four. Note that the discs are code-locked for British and European players, as are those of the MoC Blu-ray boxet of Shoah, which comes with four other Holocaust-themed documentaries by Lanzmann: A Visitor from the Living (1997); Sobibór, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m. (2001); The Karski Report (2010) and The Last of the Unjust (2013). Lanzmann prided himself on eschewing archival footage in favour of extended interviews with survivors (and in some cases, perpetrators); if you want direct proof of the death camps, then check out a region-free BD/DVD set that the British Film Institute released in 2017 called German Concentration Camps Factual Survey (1945/2014):. It's a 75-minute reportage (restored, with extensive extras, including full interviews of survivors) that was shot in 1945 just after the liberation of death camps in Germany, Austria and Poland; it's so graphic, it has an 18+ rating. Finally, there's a new Quebec documentary just come out called Ziva Postec: The Editor Behind the Film 'Shoah' that profiles a remarkable but unheralded Israeli film editor, a woman who had worked with Tati, Resnais, Melville and Welles and who then spent six long years piecing together Lanzmann's masterpiece, receiving little credit nor appreciation in return. Directed by Catherine Hébert, the film opens March 15 at the Cinémathèque québécoise and Montreal's Cinéma du Musée.
Human Desire (U.S., 1954)
Fritz Lang's Hollywood remake of Jean Renoir's La bête humaine (1938) is based on the same Zola novel about jealousy, murder and trains but adds a distinctly '50s noir touch. Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford and Gloria Grahame star; Alfred Hayes (Clash by Night) wrote the script; the film was largely shot in wintry rural Oklahoma. The Eureka! Blu-ray comes with a half-hour interview with British film writer Tony Rayns, a trailer and a booklet.
Pïcnic (U.S., 1956)
On Labour Day weekend in a small Kansas town, a handsome drifter (William Holden) steps off a train and into the hearts of the ladyfolk, throwing an annual picnic into libidinous disarray. The local beauty queen (Kim Novak) is particularly smitten, and the feeling is mutual. Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Besides a trailer, the sole extra on the Eureka! Blu-ray is a vintage interview with Novak that lasts just over 17 minutes.
1 from Second Sight
The Boys in the Band (U.S., 1970)
Based on an off-Broadway play that last summer, half a century later, was revived at New York City's Booth Theatre, the movie The Boys in the Band was an eye-opener for many in mainstream America who were unaccustomed to seeing modern gay male life portrayed on the screen. Directed by William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist), starring the original cast and with a script by the playwright, Mart Crowley, the two-hour film takes a bittersweet and unsparing look at a group of very different friends celebrating (for better or for worse) a birthday party in a Manhattan apartment at the tail end of the 1960s. The movie has been on Blu-ray before, in an edition Kino released in the U.S. in 2015; the new one by Britain's Second Sight Films offers a little more. Besides three previously available featurettes totalling about 45 minutes and an audio commentary by Friedkin and Crowley, the new BD comes with a 23-minute interview with actors Mark Gatiss and Ian Hallard (Doctor Who), a married couple who in 2017 performed the play together in a revival in London's West End. Do note that the disc is code-locked for Region B (Britain/Europe).
1 from Criterion
In the Heat of the Night (U.S., 1967)
Racial bigotry in the American South gets dissected via police procedural, in Norman Jewison's multiple Oscar-winning drama (it won best picture and a whole lot more) starring Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger and Lee Grant. There's been a murder in a small town in deepest Mississippi, and the local sheriff (Steiger) thinks he's found the suspect, a black man (Poitier) who's been picked up waiting for a train at the station. Turns out the man is no criminal: he's in fact a detective, from up north in Philadelphia, who just happened to be passing through. Together, in an uneasy alliance, white sheriff Bill Gillespie and black detective Virgil Tibbs investigate the crime, getting to the bottom of who would have wanted wealthy industrialist Philip Colbert dead. Could it be his widow (Lee Grant)? Or the thuggish plantation owner Endicott (Larry Gates)? Or maybe the sheriff's deputy, Sam Wood (Warren Oates)? Along the way, the underbelly of Southern society will be revealed, and no, it ain't pretty. First issued on Blu-ray by MGM in 2014, with some of the same extras (an audio commentary from 2008 with Jewison, Steiger, Grant and cinematographer Haskell Wexler; a featurette called "Turning Up the Heat: Making Movies in the 60's" (21 mins.) and another called "Quincy Jones: Breaking New Sound" (13 mins.); plus a trailer), the film now gets a welcome makeover from Criterion. The new Blu-ray looks better (the image has been mastered in 4K and is no longer horizontally stretched), has the original mono sound (not MGM's stereo remix), and adds a few interviews: new ones with Jewison, now 92 years old (11 mins.), Grant, who's 93 (15 mins.) and Poitier's biographer Aram Goudsouzian, who's half their age (18 mins.); and one that Poitier gave the American Film Institute in 2006. There's also a foldout booklet.
3 from the U.K.
Diamonds of the Night (Czechoslovakia, 1964)
The hour-long feature debut of Czech director Jan Němec (The Party and the Guests), adapted from a short story by Arnošt Lustig, Diamonds of the Night follows two teenagers who escape a transport train bound for Dachau during World War Two. Through a series of flashbacks, bushwhacking nature scenes, character role reversals, introspective interludes and harrowing encounters with German strangers who can only mean the boys ill, the movie gets to the horror of war without actually showing any atrocities, just depravation and fear. On region-free Blu-ray, the restored film looks better than Second Run's earlier effort on all-region DVD in 2010. It also comes with more extras: besides the same 20-minute appreciation and booklet that the earlier edition had, the BD has a new audio commentary, a new 17-minute interview with Lustig's daughter, a new trailer and, as a bonus, Němec's 1960 debut short film, A Loaf of Bread (12 mins.)
Laura (U.S., 1944)
A famous film noir directed by Otto Preminger, Laura was nominated for several Oscars (and won, for cinematography) in 1945. Based on Vera Caspary's novel, it stars lovely Gene Tierney as the titular New York City femme fatale, whose body is found one day in her high-class apartment, her face blown off by a shotgun blast. Dana Andrews is the police detective assigned to investigate Laura's murder (is it really her? time will tell) and who winds up falling in love; Clifton Webb is an ambitious newspaper columnist trying to protect Laura's reputation; and Vincent Price is her unscrupulous ex. New to Eureka!'s Masters of Cinema collection, Laura gets the fully curated Blu-ray treatment: two cuts of the film (theatrical and extended), two audio commentaries, four vintage radio adaptations from 1945, 1948 and 1954 (mostly with original cast members), a deleted scene with audio commentary, a vintage interview with composer David Raskin, an archival featurette called "The Obsession," a trailer and a collector's booklet. The BD that Fox started distributing internationally in 2013 has feature-length profiles of Tierney and Price.
Rogue Male (U.K., 1976)
Bavaria, early 1939. British aristocrat Sir Robert Hunter (played by Peter O'Toole) takes aim at Adolf Hitler, misses, is captured and left for dead, then is chased back to England by the Gestapo. Aired on the BBC, Rogue Male was a TV remake of Fritz Lang's 1941 thriller Man Hunt. The new dual-format edition from the British Film Institute (one Blu-ray, one DVD) comes with extensive extras. There's audio of an onstage lecture that screenwriter Frederic Raphael gave in London in 1982 that runs 71 minutes and can be played as a kind of commentary track for the film; another five minutes of the director being interviewed in 2014, in which he describes the genesis of the film and working with Pinter; 14 minutes of an audio interview of director Clove Donner to accompany a slideshow; seven minutes of footage of Hitler and his mistress, Eva Braun, relaxing at the Berghof in 1939; a 10-minute short from 1937 that shows a march by the British Union of Fascists; a 1921 short on fox hunting called "200 Packs of Fox Hounds Begin Season's Spot" that's barely a minute long; and a 32-page booklet. Both discs are code-locked for Britain/Europe.