The Cool, the Classic and the Collectible: Harvey Milk Remembered and Early Mikio Naruse
Plus James Mason in Algiers and more discoveries from Britain, Japan, Thailand and Italy
On the cult movie front, I review the Shout! Factory release of "Jackson County Jail / Caged Heat! – Double Feature" here and the bargain-priced box set of the films of Andy Sidaris—aka "Girls, Guns and G-Strings" (Mill Creek)—on Videodrone here. As for classier fare, read on…
"Silent Naruse (Eclipse Series 26)" (Criterion) - Only five for the two dozen silent films made by the Japanese director Mikio Naruse are known to exist today. This box set, from Criterion's budget-priced Eclipse imprint, features all five extant silents of this popular and influential director, spanning the years from 1931 to 1934: "Flunky, Work Hard (Koshiben ganbare)" (easily the greatest movie title to be found on DVD this week), "No Blood Relation (Nasanu naka)," "Apart from You (Kimi to wakarete)," "Every-Night Dreams (Yogoto no yume)" and "Street Without End (Kagirinaki hodo)." Five films in three discs in three thinpak cases in a paperboard slipsleeve, with no supplements beyond brief but excellent essays by Michael Koresky.
The set arrived too late for me to review but Dave Kehr at the New York Times offers an excellent introduction to director Mikio Naruse ("a director many would place with Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi at the summit of Japanese cinema") and survey of the films in this set, which he explains "represent the baby steps of a director still in search of a style and themes to call his own."
"What’s most striking about “Flunky, Work Hard” (1931), Naruse’s earliest surviving film, is how brash and jaunty much of it feels and how freewheeling its camerawork is," he begins. By the end of hisshort but substantial piece, I was ready to carve out time for the entire set. Click here to read the entire piece, and do it soon, before the NYT paywall goes up.
"The Times of Harvey Milk" (Criterion) - The Academy Award winning 1984 documentary, narrated by Harvey Fierstein, is a portrait of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person elected to political office in San Francisco, and his murder by former colleague Dan White, who also shot San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and whose controversial trial (which introduced the “Twinkie defense”) and verdict divided the city. My esteemed colleague Glenn Erickson reviews the new release at DVD Savant.
The new "Director-approved" Criterion DVD and Blu-ray releases, digitally transfer from the UCLA Film and Television Archive restoration, feature commentary by director Robert Epstein, coeditor Deborah Hoffmann, and photographer Daniel Nicoletta and the original short documentary "Two Films, One Legacy," a 23-minute featurette that contrasts the portraits offered by this documentary and the 2008 feature "Milk." Also includes new and archival interviews (including over an hour of videotaped interviews conducted by the directors during their research), archival footage of Harvey Milk and historical events surrounding the murder and the remembrances in the aftermath, plus a booklet with essays on the film, the restoration and Harvey Milk himself.
"Candlelight in Algeria" (VCI) – Before James Mason found international success and caught the eye of American filmmakers in films like "The Seventh Veil" and "Odd Man Out," he was a very busy actor in the British film industry, working his way up from supporting roles to leading men. This snappy 1944 espionage thriller, made on a budget comparable to an ambitious American B movie, finds romantic adventure in wartime intrigue in Algiers as Mason flees the Nazis with vital information for the Allies, or so he tells the American girl (Carla Lehman) who becomes his ally. While no lost masterpiece, this is a delightful little find, directed by George King with a fleet pace and deft turns of turns character and populated with colorful personalities. (Visit Parallax View for more on this and other VCI releases of choice British cinema rediscoveries.)
VCI has been plumbing the libraries of minor British film companies for a couple of years now, coming up with interesting artifacts (if not many real classics). Here are some of the other titles they've released this month:
"Child in the House" (VCI), directed by Cy Enfield after he fled the American blacklist, stars Stanley Baker as a fugitive on the run and child star Mandy Miller as his daughter, living with uncaring relatives (Phyllis Calvert and Eric Portman) and struggling with her vow to keep his whereabouts a secret.
"Thunder in the City" (VCI) is a 1937 satire with Edward G. Robinson as an American in London trying to learn cosmopolitan manners and co-starring Nigel Brice and Ralph Richardson.
"Renown British Mystery Double Feature" (VCI) features a pair of 1950s film: "20 Questions Murder Mystery" (aka "Murder on the Air"), where a radio quiz show provides the clues to a series of murders, and "Tread Softly," with Frances Day as a showgirl investigating the secrets of a derelict theater.
Also New This Week:
"Vanquisher" (Magnolia), also released as "Final Target," is a Thailand action film with Sophita Sriban as an undercover agent in Bangkok with a big private arsenal and mad martial arts skills. Features original Thai and English dub soundtracks, plus behind the scenes featurettes. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.
"Blood" (Well Go), from director Ten Shimoyama ("Shinobi"), is a Japanese thriller with seductive femme fatale vampire in modern Japan a police detective battling an undead Samurai for her attentions. Japanese with English subtitles.
"Firebreather" (Warner) is an original CGI movie, based on the comic book series written by Phil Hester and Andy Kuhn, produced for the Cartoon Network. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.
"Alien 2: On Earth" (Midnight Legacy), a 1980 the Italian "Alien" knock-off directed by Ciro Ippolito, makes its American debut in its original, uncut form. It's the inaugural release from the Midnight Legacy label, which mastered it from the original 35mm negative. English soundtrack only, and supplements are limited to a reel of special effects outtakes and a Dutch trailer (from a VHS tape release).