BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Feb 21st, 2009 •

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I’m not much of a drinker, so I really don’t understand the thinking behind the sizeable marketing strategy SONY has used, promoting these titles as the “Martini Movies”, to the point of identifying the collections with a Martini Glass icon, having two related featurettes on each Disc, and even Martini recipes. While the unifying concept may elude me, I’m thankful that they’re reaching into their vaults, pulling out otherwise orphaned titles, and finding a way to package them. I’d lost hope of ever seeing OUR MAN IN HAVANA and GUMSHOE, two terrific, offbeat titles, on the nation’s DVD shelves. So whatever the gimmick, I urge SONY to keep them coming.

OUR MAN IN HAVANA is a clever espionage tale by Graham (THE THIRD MAN, THE QUIET AMERICAN, ACROSS THE BRIDGE [still unavailable]) Greene, which starts out light and fluffy, and winds up somber and consequence-laden. Alec Guinness plays a vacuum-cleaner salesman in Cuba (where, miraculously, the exteriors were actually shot during a narrow political window before Castro and the Russians got ultra-chummy) who isn’t earning enough to keep his daughter’s dreams afloat. Approached by a British Intelligence agent recruiter (Noel Coward), he accepts a clandestine government job, then has to invent bogus spy activity reports in order to keep receiving money from his superiors. Soon the web he has created engulfs him and his immediate circle, with tragic results. Ernie Kovacs is creepy and effective in a rare, serious role. Burl Ives lends weight to the proceedings. Ralph Richardson and Noel Coward are droll and ironic. Oswald Morris’ widescreen cinematography keeps us aesthetically rooted throughout the early, whimsical scenes, making sure we remain hooked until the mood grows dark. And the music is colorful and energizing (reminiscent of the first, feverish cue which was cut from the reconstruction of TOUCH OF EVIL).

GUMSHOE is an Albert Finney produced-and-starred-in ode to the film noir detective genre, in which a loutish, financially-strapped, racist bingo-parlor emcee tries to break the monotony of his drab, failed existence by putting an ad in the local paper soliciting private eye work. I guess Liverpool is a very provincial town, because suddenly everyone’s either after his sleuthing talents, or out to do him in. Finney, who was the best actor of the 60’s (where is NIGHT MUST FALL, MGM!), is having fun here rather than giving us all he’s got. Still, it’s obviously a project about which he had real affection, and he acquits himself admirably. All his supporting players are right on target, and what still knocks me out 35 years after first viewing it is the passionate romantic theme, penned by an early Andrew Lloyd Webber. For all I know they may have intended the score to function as parody, but it moves me emotionally every time. Stephen (THE HIT, PRICK UP YOUR EARS, THE GRIFTERS, DIRTY PRETTY THINGS) Frears directed.

The entire Martini package is worth it for the two above-mentioned titles alone, but the others ain’t bad either. Well, VIBES isn’t too good. Cyndi Lauper is well-cast, not an easy thing to do given her quirky personality and voice, in this adventure comedy about psychics on the trail of a treasure in the Andes. She’s accompanied by Jeff Goldblum, who displays a nice comic touch, and Peter Falk, who’s a bit brusque but fun. I like a lot of the lines, and most of the twists, provided by Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel (SPLASH, A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN, PARENTHOOD, CITY SLICKERS), but the big payoff takes way too long to arrive, and then never quite arrives after all that. The whole affair feels awkwardly directed, full of missed opportunities, despite a generally energetic pace.

Filmed at Director/Producer/Screenwriter/Art Director Arch Oboler’s Frank Lloyd Wright house, FIVE is an early post-apocalyptic genre piece, with five frightened people figuring what to do after the bombs have fallen. This was my adolescence: my father built a bomb shelter in our basement in the early 60s, and my dreams were often haunted by nuclear holocaust scenarios, in none which I fared particularly well. There are a host of these films, discussed at length in Oren Shai’s article elsewhere on the FIR website.

And GETTING STRAIGHT was the best of the anti-academic attacks of the hippy era, a campus epic, with an intelligent script and wry, earnest delivery by Elliot Gould. I remember watching it several times and being impressed that it didn’t play down to its audience. If it appears dated at all, then it should still work as a time piece, capturing the counter-culture attitudes of an era, circa 1970, no matter how naïve they might have been.

Gould, Finney, Lauper, Goldblum, Frears, Kwapis, Rush, Morris and Weber, to name several of the cast and behind-the-camera players, all still with us. Commentary tracks would have been nice. But though short on extras, the transfers are immaculate, and in the case of GUMSHOE, I played it the second time with the subtitles on and understood a lot more than I ever did before – those difficult accents and colloquial terms were suddenly made clear for me.

Concluding on a friendly note to SONY staffers, if you’re looking to put together another Martini collection, might I suggest these nifty titles: THE GRAVY TRAIN, with its sizzling Terence Malick script and comic improvs between Stacy Keach and Frederic Forrest, THE DEADLY AFFAIR, a stylish, brooding intrigue by Sidney Lumet, starring James Mason, Maximillan Schell and Simone Signoret, DIRTY LITTLE BILLY, with of all people, Michael J. Pollard as the mangy ruffian, with superb support from Lee Purcell, with Stan Dragoti directing, HUSBANDS, one of Cassavetes’ best, starring the director and friends Peter Falk, and Ben Gazzara, and NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER, with its frantic chase that, if I recall correctly, takes up most of the film’s running time.

Just a suggestion…

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  1. These are indeed wonderful titles but “FIVE” really stands out for me. We had just moved from Staten Island, NY to Middletown NJ and discovered Philly Channel 6 (HORROR OF DRACULA was on that night) and FIVE ran first. The film’s climax was disturbing, not only of the skeletal chocked city but the crying of the baby (a similar scene was in Honda’s “GOJIRA/GODZILLA” as the sound of a crying child in the overcrowded hospital).
    Long agter the Terence Fisher film ended, which was the firsttime I saw it,my mind kept flashing to “FIVE”.
    These are titles I personally am going to have to add!

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