"What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?" - John Steinbeck

02.2019

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).

01.2019

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 Obesssion," a trailer and a collector's booklet. The BD that Fox started distributing internationally in 2013 has feature-length profiles of Tierney and Price, if you want more.

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.