Julien Duvivier in the Thirties is perfect for Criterion’s Eclipse series because Duvivier epitomizes a once-celebrated filmmaker whose reputation and availability have gone into eclipse. The four films in this set show an artist whose command of the medium was such that even his earliest talkies display a visual and aural confidence beyond most of his contemporaries. Further, because they all star a versatile, balding, stocky character actor named Harry Baur, we incidentally rediscover his once-admired versatility as well, so that this might also have been named Harry Baur in the Thirties.
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Against the backdrop of the Florida Everglades, two mighty opposing forces brawl in rude, knotted, clotted, quasi-homo-erotic bondage for the meaning of freedom. Whether such was the intent of Oscar-winning writer-producer Budd Schulberg, fresh from On the Waterfront, when he and his brother Stuart produced this lush dramatic quagmire on location, that’s what they ended up with by the time they fired director Nicholas Ray and strung together this compromised, lurid, fascinating mess.
Wind Across the Everglades is probably the first modern movie on the theme of the environment and the protection of ecosystems. Set at the turn of the 20th Century, a narrator bluntly announces that feathered fashions in ladies’ hats (the rapacious consumption of femininity!) has had a deleterious effect on wildfowl populations, with poachers hunting in defiance of new laws intended to preserve the Everglades.
I was spending a hot day with a cold gin when she walked into my office and raised the temperature. The way her long blonde locks swung in front of her face, I thought she’d set her hair ablaze when she lit her cigarette, but she knew how to light a match.
“I’ve got a case, Shamus,” she said between smoke rings.
Two British horror films that were previously released on US discs only as no-frills on-demand DVD-Rs from MGM Limited Editions have now been upgraded to Blu-ray, with extras imported from the UK DVD versions.
The Quatermass Xperiment is a milestone, as Hammer’s first horror film. Director Val Guest, who adapted it with Richard Landau from Nigel Kneale’s blockbuster BBC-TV serial of 1953, thought of it as a sci-fi film in which he emphasized realism both via handheld newsreel photography and in general design and performance. It is sci-fi, of course, but audiences responded to its horrific aspects of an astronaut whose possession by an alien turns him into a mindless vampiric blob. Hammer promptly launched more of the same, and the rest is horror history.
Fans of that enduring and universal art form known as silent cinema (and isn’t that everyone?) have a few new riches to treat themselves to on Blu-ray, this holiday season.
First up is F.W. Murnau’s Faust, a monumental 1926 production full of effects and operatic gestures. Its ambitions are announced when it opens with three puppet Horsemen of the Apocalypse riding through the sky as an enormous winged demon bargains with a shining archangel for the fate of Earth.