It’s time for another look at (relatively) recent Blu-Rays and DVDs aimed at the hardcore movie lover — though more casual viewers looking for something beyond Hollywood’s latest mass-market offerings are certainly allowed to kibitz at the Corner as well. Today’s selections are from Hollywood, off-Hollywood, England, and France and were made mostly in the 1930s or the 1970s, though we will be looking at one from 1998 — only yesterday!
It’s a blissfully slow movie news week so far, after last week’s frenzy, so far (unless I missed something…I’m busy!).
In any case, it’s time to catch up on the passing last week at age 93 of one of the most reliable members of the Hammer Films horror and science fiction stable of the sixties and seventies, as well as the director of the some of the coolest British TV of that time, Roy Ward Baker. Aside from starting his career as Alfred Hitchcock‘s assistant director on the spy-comedy-suspense classic, “The Lady Vanishes,” being one of the main directors on the legendary season of “The Avengers” that featured Diana Rigg as the immortal Mrs. Emma Peel, aside from directing “A Night to Remember” (about the Titanic, but without Jack and Rose), as well as the racy “The Vampire Lovers” and the gender bending “Dr. Jeckyll and Sister Hyde,” he also made one of my favorite pieces of British film science fiction. We Americans call it “Five Millions Years to Earth” but to the rest of the world it’s….
Now available in a flawless restoration from Criterion, this 1940 comedy-spy thriller was a non-sequel follow-up to Alfred Hitchcock‘s final British masterpiece of lighthearted suspense, “The Lady Vanishes.” Leading lady Margaret Lockwood was on board to star in a second wittily askew, fast-paced script from writers Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, who deserved as much acclaim as their director and knew it. Hitchcock, however, had left permanently for Hollywood and male lead Michael Redgrave was unavailable. A young Rex Harrison (“My Fair Lady”) stepped in as a dashing and egotistical British agent charged with rescuing a pretty Czechoslovakian (Lockwood) and her weapons scientist father (James Harcourt) from Nazi captivity on the eve of world war. Replacing Hitchcock, Carol Reed (“The Third Man”) didn’t mess a step. Also returning are masters of comic understatement Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, back for more train-based foreign intrigue as the cricket-obsessed duo, Charters and Caldicott. New on board is Paul Henreid (“Casablanca”), playing a Czech concentration camp escapee who is no Victor Laszlo. A hit in its day, “Night Train” has been overshadowed by its predecessor, but it’s only a little less brilliant, with obvious miniature effects that embarrassed Reed and marred the climax slightly, and some too-obvious plot holes. Directly addressing World War II, it does have a more modern feel than “The Lady Vanishes,” however, with black comic echoes of “To Be or Not to Be” and ironic foreshadows of James Bond and, yup, “Inglourious Basterds.”