Rare British Cinema and More Coming to DVD

Mike & Emeric Go To War: Ill Met By Moonlight (1957) (aka Night Ambush) comes to DVD on the heels of other great Michael Powell-Emeric Pressburger releases like The Battle of the River Plate (The Flight of the Graf Spee) and Black Narcissus. The British filmmaking team also known for The Thief of Bagdad and the Red Shoes in top form here, telling the thrilling true story of two British soldiers kidnapping a Nazi officer in charge of operations on the island of Crete during World War II. Dirk Bogarde, David Oxley and Cyril Cusack star in this intense, atmospheric war thriller—the last from “The Archers”—that features music by Mikis Theododrakis (Zorba the Greek).

More Brit Pics That Click: Also on the way from jolly ol’ England are Simba (1955) and Penny Princess (1952), both with the versatile Dirk Bogarde. In Simba, Bogarde plays a Brit who arrives in Kenya and discovers his famer brother has been killed during the Mau Mau uprising. The film delves into the racial friction between the English settlers and the natives and co-stars Virginia McKenna (Born Free) as the woman Bogarde falls for. Bogarde takes the romantic lead in Princess, playing a cheese salesman who arrives at a small European country which has just installed American-born heir Yolande Donlan on its throne. The pair team to save the postage-stamp principality from going bankrupt.

There’s even more Bogarde to consider: Campbell’s Kingdom (1957), with Dirk as a dying man who journeys to the Canadian Rockies to take over his late  grandfather’s spread and validate the old man’s belief that the property is rich in oil. Stanley Baker and James Robertson Justice co-star. Meanwhile, Agent 8 ¾ (1964) is a top-notch spy spoof made in the wake of the James Bond franchise’s initial success. Bogarde is an unpublished writer sent to Prague as part of a new job, who doesn’t realize he’s being used for espionage purposes by a British intelligence agency. Sylva Koscina, Robert Morley and Leo McKern also star in this stylish 007 lampoon.

Other worthy British films on the way include Robbery Under Arms (1957), a gorgeously lensed saga set in Australia and centering on two brothers involved in cattle rustling, starring Peter Finch, David McCallum and Maureen Swanson. Ferry to Hong Kong (1959) offers Curt Jurgens as a troublemaker unable to enter either Hong Kong or Macau and forced to ride with boat skipper Orson Welles.

And if you really are into Orson, you can finally welcome the DVD arrival of Me and Orson Welles, an acclaimed but little seen 2009 film starring Zac Efron as a high school student who becomes part of the Mercury Theater’s production of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” in 1930s New York. Richard Linklater (Slacker, School of Rock) directs this marvelous ode to the theater with Christian McKay magnificent as the tyrannical director, Claire Danes as his lovely secretary and a top-notch supporting cast playing the likes of George Coulouris, Joseph Cotten and John Houseman.

Retro Scares: If you are a video horror fan whose love for “B” movies dates back to the 1980s and 1970s, then we have some great, gory titles for you. 1983’s Sledgehammer, one of the earliest shot-on-video, arrives on DVD for all fans of old, bad movies. A group of young people in a cabin are sledgehammered to oblivion in this mix of bad acting, bad gore effects and bad mustaches. Who could ask for anything more, aside from Peter Gabriel? Image has gotten a hold of a whole lot of old horror movies that came from the New World label. We’re talking Slugs (1988), in which garden slugs become carnivorous critters; The Stuff (1985), Larry Cohen’s look at a dangerous, gelatinous dessert; Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror (1979), in which zombies crash a quiet country manor; The Vineyard (1989) with James Hong as a vinter who depends on blood to survive; The Initiation (1984), boasting Daphne Zuniga as a new pledge who goes through hell at a small girls’ college; and Sister Sister (1988), a gothic shocker with Eric Stoltz as a congressional aide in Louisiana who becomes frightened and fascinated by siblings Jennifer Jason Leigh and Judith Ivey.

It’s a pleasure to mention that The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), one of the great science-fiction flicks of all-time, is finally available as a single. Grant Williams is the unfortunate sprinkled by a mysterious dust while sunbathing, and soon starts inexorably reducing in size. Written by Richard Matheson and directed by Jack Arnold, the film mixes a thought-provoking premise with then-state-of-the-art special effects.    Also in the retro mold is Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore, a new doc about the auteur who gave us Blood Feast, 2000 Maniacs and the Wizard of Gore.

Go Sell It From The Mountain: Olive continues to snag titles from the Paramount library, a good thing for all concerned. Just when we thought they’d mined the snowcaps for good, the aggressive indie unveils some more titles. The latest trio includes:

Breaking Glass (1980): Hazel O’Connor shines as an aspiring singer trying to make it in the British punk scene of the early 1980s in this well-remembered musical saga.

The Atomic City (1952): Gene Barry’s first film role casts him as a scientist whose son is snagged by kidnappers vying to swap the kid for secrets to the H-bomb. A crackerjack Cold War suspenser with Milburn Stone, Michael Moore and Lydia Clark, set around New Mexico and directed by Jerry Hopper (The Private War of Major Benson).

The Colossus of New York (1958): A prize-winning scientist gets run over by a truck but has his brain implanted in a robot by his surgeon father and brother. This rarely-seen science fiction classic with Ross Martin and Otto Kruger is helmed by Eugene Lourie (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms).

WIP Smart: Boasting naked (or at least scantily clad) babes, violence and mean wardens, women-in-prison (WIP) movies were prime components of 1970s and 1980s exploitation. Three of the most popular examples of the genre have been collected in a Women in Prison Triple Feature which features the likes of Linda Blair and Sybil Danning. The package includes Chained Heat (1983), in which Blair finds her stint in prison a living hell as she encounters forceful lesbians, nasty fellow prisoners (Danning and Tamara Dobson among them) and a malicious warden (John Vernon); Red Heat (1985), with Blair as a woman kidnapped in Europe and taken to a prison where she is interrogated by none other than Emmanuelle’s Sylvia Kristel; and Jungle Warriors (1984), featuring Danning, Vernon, Marjoe Gortner and Woody Strode in an epic about a group of models landing in the jungle and encountering a drug syndicate and mobsters.

WIP it good!

Saint George Doesn’t Drag On: The Saint, aka Simon Templar, has had a long and popular life in several forms of media. First, the roguish, card-leaving master criminal-turned-crimefighter made his mark in a long-running series of books by Leslie Charteris. The Saint has also lived on radio, on TV (played by Roger Moore) and in several film incarnations, from Louis Hayward in 1938’s The Saint in New York through Val Kilmer in the 1997 film. There’s even word of a new movie in the works with James Purefoy (Rome).

Perhaps the most famous films featuring Templar starred George Sanders in a series made for RKO Pictures, and all five entries will be available in The George Sanders Saint Movies Collection from Warner Archives. The set includes The Saint Strikes Back (1939), The Saint in London (1939), The Saint’s Double Trouble (1940) (with Bela Lugosi), The Saint Takes Over (1940) and  The Saint in Palm Springs (1941).

This is great news for fans of classic old-time mystery series.

The Archives Archive: We’re pretty amazed at the increase of activity in the on-demand archive front. Warner was first in the pool and the studio remains prolific in putting out great titles of all sorts from Warner, MGM, RKO, Allied Artists and others. Sony has done quite well in a short time, and MGM has had an eclectic group of films doled out from more recent MGM titles, Orion, AIP and other studios.

Here are some more unique titles worth singling out for movie fans from a variety of archive sources.

In Name Only (1939): A first-rate romantic drama with Cary Grant as a man unhappily married to the manipulative Kay Francis who falls for pretty widow Carole Lombard. But will Francis ever allow hubby Grant leave her and find true love? John Cromwell directs. (Warner)

One Minute to Zero (1952): Stirring war tale with Robert Mitchum and Charles McGraw as WWII vets training South Koreans for combat and Ann Blyth as the widowed UN official who falls for Mitchum. (Warner)

A Damsel in Distress (1937): Astaire and Fontaine—together for the first time!  Taking a sabbatical from dancing with Ginger Rogers, Fred is an American carpet cutter who may or may not be the choice of young British aristocrat Joan to be her man. Meanwhile, Fontaine’s staff are taking bets who will become the king of the castle, and George Burns and Gracie Allen are along for the ride while the Gershwins provide the music. (Warner)

The Hucksters (1947): Former soldier Clark Gable returns from the war with hopes of making it big in the advertising world and take a job with a big New York agency. Deborah Kerr, Ava Garner, Sydney Greenstreet, Edward Arnold and Adolphe Menjou also star in this Madison Ave. satire.  (Warner)

Toward the Unknown (1956 ): After getting out of a Korean POW camp and taking a desk job, flyer William Holden tries to make another  go of it in the skies, although a romance with a tough Brigadier General’s ex-girlfriend doesn’t help his odds of returning. Lloyd Nolan and Virginia Leith also star. (Warner)

Hearts of the West (1975): A loving look at Hollywood in the 1930s with Jeff Bridges as an aspiring writer who, through a series of circumstances, becomes the star of “B” western movies. Andy Griffith, Alan Arkin, Blythe Danner, Donald Pleasance also star. (Warner)

Riot on Sunset Strip (1967): Police official Aldo Ray can’t decide whether he should protect the loitering kids that the businesses on Los Angeles’s Sunset Strip want put in the pokey. Maybe when he discovers that daughter Mimsy Farmer is one of the troubled teens, he’ll figure it out. (MGM)

Down Three Dark Streets (1956): Broderick Crawford is the federal agent taking over his murdered friend’s assignments, hoping one of the remaining cases leads him to his killer. Ruth Roman and Martha Hyer also star in this semi-documentary thriller with a famous sequence set around the Hollywood sign. (MGM)

The Curse of the Faceless Man (1958): An ash-encrusted gladiator from ancient Pompeii is unearthed, and murders begin occurring near the site where he was discovered. Could it be the reborn warrior? (MGM)

Four Daughters Movie Series Collection: The much-requested musical series finally arrives on DVD, both as a set and individually. The Oscar-nominated 1938 original with Priscilla Lane, Rosemary Lane, Lola Lane, Gale Page, John Garfield and Claude Rains is joined by Daughters Courageous, Four Wives and Four Mothers. (Warner)

Get Yourself a College Girl (1964): Classic sixties teen scene opus with lovely Mary Ann Mobley who gets in trouble at her conservative school when it’s discovered that she’s moonlighting as a songwriter. Along with pal Nancy Sinatra and others, they head to Sun Valley, Idaho for fun and enlightenment. The film features appearances and music by The Standells, The Animals, Astrud Gilberto and The Dave Clark Five. (Warner)

Arrgh! Pirates!: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island has been the basis for many a movie, matey. Two of the most requested Long John Silver portrayals are finally landing on DVD, so shiver me timbers.

Robert Newton, known to a generation as the definitive buccaneer, reprises his turn as Silver in Return to Treasure Island (1954). Here Jim Hawkins’ relative, played by the hot-to-trot Dawn Addams (The Moon is Blue), leads an expedition to Treasure Island to search for some bounty. A red-headed Tab Hunter is also on hand for the expedition in this rarely seen adventure filmed in lovely, downtown San Pedro, California.

Also, the oft-requested 1990 TNT version of Treasure Island finally makes its DVD docking in September. Charlton Heston turns in a colorful tour-de-force as Long John, while 16-year old Christian Bale essays the role of Jim Hawkins. Many consider this the definitive treatment of Stevenson’s beloved story. Directed by Fraser Clarke Heston (Charlton’s son), the saga also features Oliver Reed, Christopher Lee, Richard Johnson and Pete Postlethwaite.

Criterion Calls: The latest from the folks at the sublime Criterion includes a grab bag of goodies for cinephiles. Consider:

Cul-De-Sac (1966): Not surprisingly, Roman Polanski’s first English language feature is a disturbing film. It looks at what happens when two criminals descend on an English castle inhabited by a cowardly Brit and his sensual, attention-getting French wife. Donald Pleasance, Jack McGowran, Lionel Stander, Francoise Dorleac and Jacqueline Bisset star.

The Killing (1956): It’s been a banner couple of months for Stanley Kubrick fans and this Criterion edition of his early thriller continues the “Salute Stanley” theme. The nail-biting racetrack noir with Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook, Jr. and Colleen Gray gets a great transfer, all sorts of superb extras and the entire Kubrick feature Killer’s Kiss on one deluxe disc.

The Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara: The eccentric cinema of the Japanese filmmaker known for his crime films and dramas centered on troubled youth is presented in this Eclipse series compendium of five films from the 1960s.

Secret Sunshine (2007): Korea’s Lee Chang delivers sensitive and quietly moving moments to this drama about a newly widowed piano teacher, looking to start life anew, who moves to her husband’s hometown with their young son.

Vigo: The Complete Jean Vigo: Although he died at the age of 29 from tuberculosis, Jean Vigo left some amazing, ground-breaking works of cinema in his wake. Offered in this set are A Propos de Nice, Taris, Zero de Conduite and L’Atlante, considered by many critics to be among the greatest films ever made.

Two by Claude Chabrol: Available individually are two early efforts by the man called “the French Hitchcock.”

Le Beau Serge (1958): A sickly but successful young man (Jean-Claude Brialy) returns to his hometown to discover a myriad of problems facing the town’s denizens and his old friend (Gerard Blain), an alcoholic having marital troubles. Inspired by Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, Chabrol’s debut, made after his stint as film critic for Cahiers du Cinema, is considered a seminal work of the French New Wave.

Les Cousins (1959) brings mystery and unusual behavior to the relationship between two relatives of opposite personas, played by the stars of Le Beau Serge.

The Phantom Carriage (1921): A silent masterwork from Sweden’s Victor Sjostrom, this mix of morality tale, supernatural drama and Dickensian themes had a huge influence on Ingmar Bergman. The story tells of the last person dying on the last day of the year, who’s enlisted by the Devil to collect the souls of all those who’ll pass on the following year.

Carlos (2010): One of the most heralded films of the last few years is Olivier Assayas’s uncompromising epic telling of the life and crimes of Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, aka “Carlos the Jackal,” one of the world’s most notorious criminals, responsible for kidnappings, hijackings and bombings around the world. This 335-minute version of the award-winning film is the officially sanctioned director’s cut, filled with insightful extras.

And reportedly down the road from the folks at Criterion: Island of Lost Souls, Thief, The Films of Alain Robbe-Grillet and The Films of Edgar G. Ulmer.