Man Hunt (1941)
It’s doubtful there are many who would consider Man Hunt to be top-tier Fritz Lang, even if the parameters were narrowed to only his Hollywood films. Still, this noirish propaganda piece is bookended by a couple of harrowing sequences, and even in the saggy midsection, Lang’s expressive photography keeps the mood taut and tense. Isolating the pursued protagonist in shots that emphasize the impersonal blankness of urban and non-urban locales, Lang squeezes every last drop of intrigue out of a plot that only occasionally transcends its anti-Nazi polemic.
Walter Pidgeon stars as Alan Thorndike, a renowned British hunter on a German vacation just before the outset of World War II. He tracks down Adolf Hitler and has him in his rifle sight before being arrested by the Gestapo and placed in the custody of Major Quive-Smith (George Sanders, doing a kind of Erich von Stroheim urbanely sadistic thing). Thorndike insists he had just drawn a “sporting bead” on Hitler and wasn’t actually going to kill him, but Quive-Smith doesn’t buy it and makes the first attempt of what will be many on Thorndike’s life.
Pursued by German forces back to his home country, Thorndike must rely on a variety of sources to evade detection, including a quick-thinking cabin boy, Vaner (Roddy McDowall), and an infatuated young woman, Jerry (Joan Bennett). There’s a high potential for hokey plotting here, but the actors help sell the questionable material, as McDowall is an unusually perceptive child actor and Bennett taps into a place of unvarnished emotion, despite sporting a risible Cockney accent.
The film’s opening sequence is intriguing, and a later cat-and-mouse game in the shadows of the Underground has the elemental brilliance of the pursuits in M (1931), and taken with the generally engaging rest of the film, that makes for one solid piece of agit-entertainment.
Twilight Time has received a strong 1080p, 1.33:1 transfer from Fox for this high-contrast, shadowy film. Fine detail is abundant, blacks don’t suffer from any apparent crush and contrast levels are stable. A little bit of visible grain looks natural in this film-like presentation, which only displays minimal damage to the elements. The lossless mono track is similarly clean and clear.
Aside from the customary isolated score presentation, all the extras are ported over from Fox’s DVD release, including a decent making-of featurette, an audio commentary from Lang historian Patrick McGilligan and a trailer.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair and Poor, Twilight Time’s Man Hunt Blu-ray rates:
The Film (out of ****): **1/2
Film Elements Sourced: ***1/2
Video Transfer: ***
New Extra Features: 1/2
Extra Features Overall: **
Twilight Time / 1941 / Black and white / 1.33:1 / 102 min / $29.95
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)
Following closely on the heels of its ecstatically beautiful Blu-ray upgrade of Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows (1955), Criterion gives the upgrade treatment to Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s surprisingly faithful remake/homage, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Angst essen Seele auf).
Much has been written about Sirk’s subversive criticism of bourgeoisie values rippling beneath his melodramatic surfaces, but there’s a bit of an opposite dichotomy seen in Fassbinder’s take. He shoots the unlikely romance between a 30-some Moroccan immigrant (El Hedi ben Salem) and a 60-some German widow (Brigitte Mira) with a characteristic aloofness, his camera at a distance, peering at the action through narrow doorways and winding bannisters.
And yet, the melodrama creeps through, both through Fassbinder’s expressive use of color (those gorgeous yellows!) and his empathetic, lingering shots of his actors’ faces. Fassbinder and Salem were romantically involved at the time, which may have contributed to the film’s deeply felt looks of longing. Either way, this is one of the cinema’s most exquisite and most honest love stories.
Criterion’s 1080p, 1.37:1 transfer couldn’t be any better. Sourced from a new 4K digital restoration and supervised by DP Jürgen Jürges, the transfer features exceptional clarity and astounding levels of detail. Fassbinder’s somber color palette, punctuated with flashes of brightness, looks natural and stable, while film grain is rendered beautifully. The uncompressed monaural German audio sounds superb, free of any distractions or imperfections of any kind.
Extras are all carryovers from the 2003 DVD release, including an introduction from fellow Sirk-ophile Todd Haynes, interviews with Mira and editor Thea Eymèsz, a 1976 BBC program on the New German Cinema, a scene from Fassbinder’s The American Soldier and Shahbaz Noshir’s 2002 short Angst isst Seele auf, which has a prominent connection to Fassbinder’s film. A trailer and an insert with an essay by critic Chris Fujiwara are also included.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair and Poor, Criterion’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul Blu-ray rates:
The Film (out of ****): ****
Film Elements Sourced: ****
Video Transfer: ****
New Extra Features: N/A
Extra Features Overall: ***1/2
The Criterion Collection / 1974 / Color / 1.37:1 / 93 min / $39.95
Sidewalk Stories (1989)
On the included interview in Carlotta Films’ Blu-ray release of Sidewalk Stories, director and star Charles Lane plays down the obvious affinities between his film and Chaplin’s The Kid (1921), insisting instead that his film was primarily inspired by J. Lee Thompson’s low-budget thriller Tiger Bay (1959).
It’s probably to the film’s benefit to get away from the Chaplin comparison, despite the obvious narrative similarities between the films. For one thing, Lane is a reasonably expressive actor, but he doesn’t nearly possess the remarkable communicative abilities of a Chaplin, Keaton or Lloyd, not to mention his relative lack of physical comedic chops.
For another thing, Sidewalk Stories is certainly a more faithful homage to the silent film than The Artist, but much of the time, this feels like a film that just happens not to have a synced soundtrack — it’s more of a polished version of cinema verité than anything.
Nonetheless, Sidewalk Stories is often very charming in its tale of a street artist (Lane) who begrudgingly adopts a little girl (Nicole Alysia) after her father is murdered in an alley. Living in an abandoned building, the artist barely has enough resources for himself, but he finds a way to provide for the child with the help of a young woman (Sandye Wilson) who falls for the mismatched pair.
The film’s silent-style comic sequences — a skirmish with a fellow, much larger artist over a customer and a playground squabble are both great moments — are a little too infrequent. Lane has an eye for capturing interesting perspectives on marginalized individuals, but the docu-style elements of this hybrid tend to become a little repetitive, especially considering the film’s obvious finale, in which Lane breaks the sound barrier to no great effect.
Despite the film’s shortcomings, it’s a treat to have it presented this beautifully by Carlotta Films, the French company who have recently expanded into the US, with Kino Lorber distributing their discs here. The 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer, sourced from a 2K restoration, is a clean, detailed snapshot of the past that feels like it was preserved perfectly intact. Black and white levels are stable and consistent, with a film-like appearance to the image that is highly pleasing. The 2.0 DTS-HD soundtrack presents a nice showcase for Marc Marder’s eclectic score, which combines traditional piano plinking, bluesy riffs and ambient droning.
Extras include a new interview with Lane and Marder, as well as a commentary track from the pair. A nice inclusion is Lane’s 1977 short A Place in Time, which serves as a kind of prototype for Sidewalk Stories. A trailer is also included.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair and Poor, Carlotta Films US’ Sidewalk Stories Blu-ray rates:
The Film (out of ****): **1/2
Film Elements Sourced: ***1/2
Video Transfer: ****
New Extra Features: ***
Extra Features Overall: ***
Carlotta Films US / 1989 / Black and white / 1.85:1 / 101 min / $29.95
No surprise, Monte Hellman delivers another fascinating genre subversion with Iguana, as idiosyncratic a take on the monster movie as Hellman’s versions of the road movie — Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) — and the western — The Shooting (1966), Ride in the Whirlwind (1966).
Iguana stars Everett McGill as Oberlus, a disfigured harpooner whose reptilian facial features has made him the object of ridicule among his fellow sailors on a 19th Century whaling ship. When he escapes the horrific conditions, he sets up his own empire on a remote island, paying back the cruelty done to him tenfold to anyone who dares step foot on land.
Hellman’s atmospheric, disorienting film interrogates both traditional notions of masculinity and femininity, in Oberlus’s absurdly grandiose proclamations and in the character of Maru Valdivielso’s Carmen, a woman whose free sexuality terrifies the men around her. Oberlus takes Carmen as his lover by force, leading to a tragic ending that simply underlines the horror that Hellman allows to unfold over the course of the film.
Raro Video’s Blu-ray release restores several minutes that were cut from the long out-of-print Anchor Bay DVD release, but that’s about the only nice thing to be said about this disappointing disc. While the Blu-ray boasts approval and new color correction from cinematographer Josep M. Civit and Hellman, it’s clear that something went very, very wrong in Raro’s transfer, which is riddled with obvious noise reduction, resulting in frozen grain and disturbingly smooth surfaces. This is an especially bad fit with the dim, raw look of the film, as blacks are frequently crushed and riddled with artifacts. Though I suspect they would look OK in a properly presented transfer, the colors just look sickly here. The 2.0 DTS-HD soundtrack isn’t great itself, but its slightly muddled sound is nothing compared to the onscreen travesty.
Extras include a new interview with Hellman, a trailer and a booklet with a brief essay and a Q&A with Hellman.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair and Poor, Raro Films’ Iguana Blu-ray rates:
The Film (out of ****): ***
Film Elements Sourced: ***
Video Transfer: *
New Extra Features: **
Extra Features Overall: **
Raro Video / 1988 / Color / 1.85:1 / 100 min / $29.95
Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based writer and editor who splits his critical ambitions between writing Blu-ray & DVD reviews and theater criticism. He’s a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.