The Sweet Smell of Success

Sweet Smell of Success
The Sweet Smell of Success

Format: Blu-ray

Release date: 30 March 2015

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Alexander Mackendrick

Writers: Clifford Odets, Ernest Lehman, Alexander Mackendrick

Cast: Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison

USA 1957

96 mins

***** out of *****

Directed to perfection by Alexander Mackendrick and starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis at the peak of their considerable powers as actors, The Sweet Smell of Success provides a stunning film noir portrait of the sleazy world of 50s press agents and gossip columnists in New York City. Written by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman, based on Lehman’s novella and featuring considerable uncredited rewrites by Mackendrick himself, the picture is blessed with one of the great screenplays of all time. In terms of story structure, characterization and dialogue, few American films can match it.

J.J. Hunsecker (Lancaster) is a Walter Winchell-like newspaperman of unparalleled power and popularity. The signs and billboards splashed everywhere on the Isle of Manhattan are adorned with an image of his trademark heavy-framed spectacles, accompanied by copy that proclaims him to be ‘The Eyes of Broadway’. Nothing, as the film proves, escapes the God-like gaze of Hunsecker. He makes and breaks politicians and show business personalities with a few deft strokes of his vitriolic pen.

He is, of course, fed many of his laudatory and/or scurrilous items by the bottom feeders of the business, the press agents who charge their clients a pretty penny to keep their names in the papers and in the most positive manner possible. The king of them all, the sleaziest benthos in all of New York is none other than Sidney Falco (Curtis). He’s equal parts detritivore and carnivore – a sea cucumber when he needs to be, and a stingray, which he mostly wants to be. He values his ability to keep his clients happy, score new clients and to curry favour with Hunsecker in hopes he’ll achieve the same level of success.

When Hunsecker’s little sister Susie (Susan Harrison) is courted by Steve Dallas (Martin Milner), an up-and-coming jazz musician, the innate snobbery of the omnipotent scribe kicks in, but even more compelling is his foul, incestuous obsession with her. He charges Sidney with digging up enough dirt on the young fellow in order to keep his sister in his own clutches and no other man’s.

Sidney’s complex machinations take up much of the film’s running time and are so on the edge of a kind of insanity, that the entire world Mackendrick, Odets and Lehman etch borders on the surreal. What Hunsecker wants is no mere separation twixt his sister and her lover.

‘I want that boy taken apart,’ he intones so quietly and malevolently.

There is no doubt that dialogue seems to drive much of the film’s drama. There have to be more immortal lines in the picture than many of the rest all put together.

‘Match me, Sidney,’ Hunsecker demands, seeking Falco’s compliance with his request for a cigarette light.

‘I make no brief for my bilious private life,’ Sidney slimily ejaculates upon the sleazy rival columnist Otis Elwell (David White), in order to make him believe he’s through with Hunsecker, ‘but he’s got the morals of a guinea pig and the scruples of a gangster’.

Every line is a gem and Hunsecker gets the lion’s share of them. One of the best is his descriptive invective hurled in Sidney’s direction:

‘I wouldn’t like to take a bite of you; you’re a cookie full of arsenic.’

The simplest and most evocative line occurs when Hunsecker considers a woman’s caterwauling laughter and the sight of a drunk being tossed from a 52nd St. bar. He literally salutes the grime and filth of New York, which we see through the gloriously grimy lens of James Wong Howe’s immortal black and white cinematography, as Hunsecker happily declares:

‘I love this dirty town.’

Dirty, indeed.

And yet, in spite of the almost non-stop dialogue, one of the more astonishing achievements of the picture is just how visual the storytelling is. Many key set pieces of verbal chicanery and manipulations can be watched with the sound completely off, and by simply observing, one is able to easily ascertain the goals of the characters.

Try it sometime.

Put on the sequence where Sidney tries to blackmail one character, then, upon failing that, attempts to dupe another with an approach he borrows from the man he’s tried to blackmail. ALL the actions and even many underlying motivations can be noted by what is SEEN, but NOT heard. After this, play the scene with sound and thrill to how the dramatic beats are there visually, and of course, enhanced delectably by the dialogue. I’ve done this with my filmmaking students who – NOT SURPRISINGLY – had never seen the film before. It works! It’s also proof positive how superb the writing is and most importantly, how breathtaking Mackendrick’s direction proved to be.

The Sweet Smell of Success is simply and purely, one of the best movies ever made.

Greg Klymkiw

The Arrow Blu-Ray release is accompanied by a bevy of sumptuous features. The best of them include Michael Brooke’s magnificent, virtually definitive essay in the attractive booklet and the great Dermot McQuarrie TV documentary Mackendrick: The Man Who Walked Away. The following are not to be sneezed at either: a restored HD presentation of a 4K digital transfer from original 35mm camera negative, the original uncompressed mono, optional English subtitles for those of us who wish to obsessively study the dialogue as the film unspools, an appreciation and scene commentary by Philip Kemp, the theatrical trailer, a gorgeous reversible sleeve with an original poster and new artwork by Chris Walker, as well as the aforementioned booklet, which also comes with Mackendrick’s own analysis of various script drafts.


Traps 1

Format: DVD

Release date: 23 March 2015

Distributor: Second Run

Director: Věra Chytilová

Writers: Věra Chytilová, Eva Kacírková, Michal Laznovsky

Cast: Zuzana Stivínová, Miroslav Donutíl, Tomás Hanák

Original title: Pasti, pasti, pastičky

Czech Republic 1998

116 mins

Věra Chytilová was one of the Czech New Wave’s most innovative directors, best known for Daisies (1966), where the antics of two mischievous teenage girls are matched by the director’s own cheeky stylistic experimentation. Traps (1988) comes much later in Chytilová’s career, and is among her more conventional films. Where her earlier work tended to elude traditional cause-and-effect narrative in favour of a liberated, episodic structure, Traps pursues its dark satire in an inexorable succession of attacks and counter-attacks.

In her essay to accompany this new Second Run DVD release of Traps, Carmen Gray situates the film among a ‘new proliferation of mass-appeal comedies’, which Traps is clearly ‘parodying’. Certainly, with its graphic opening images of pig castration, searing attack on contemporary trends and attitudes, and broad spectrum of female characters, Traps sets itself apart from mainstream comedy’s tendency to stereotype.

The story revolves around Lenka, a country vet, who is raped by ad executive Petr and environment minister Donhal after they offer her roadside assistance. Knowing that their crime will go unpunished by the judicial system, Lenka uses her professional skills to make sure the two men don’t go on to attack other women.

Although the rape itself is more or less elided through whip-pans across the treetops of the forest where it takes place, Chytilová deftly shifts the focus by dwelling on the long struggle that precedes the attack and the debilitating nightmares and flashbacks Lenka suffers from afterwards. The large number of films that graphically depict rape wade into a dubious territory of sly titillation or sadistic humiliation. Chytilová conveys sexual assault’s true impact on women by taking a broader perspective.

Petr and Donhal’s light-hearted attitude towards rape, enjoying the struggle of one woman against two men, turns the episode into an example of why women may live their lives feeling constantly under threat. Chytilová also offers a succinct glimpse into the consequences of rape, which extend far beyond the terrifying and violent event itself, affecting Lenka’s professional and personal life. She can no longer stand the sight of breeding animals on the farms where she works, and her relationship with her boyfriend is destroyed, as she is initially afraid to tell him, then disgusted when he finds out and ‘forgives’ her for being raped.

Lenka’s cheerful professional competence prior to the attack is reminiscent of Anna’s in Chytilová’s earlier The Apple Game: the midwife, though comically clumsy at times, shines with confidence whether delivering a baby at the hospital or a calf at the farm. Although it is this competence that allows Lenka to punish her attackers, the action does not empower her. When her boyfriend learns what she has done, he says ‘I’ve never seen you like this’. ‘Maybe it’s not me anymore,’ she replies. Rather than suggesting, in the simplistic way of Hollywood, that taking the law into your own hands brings catharsis, Chytilová demonstrates that happy endings can’t truly exist in an unjust and hypocritical society.

Alison Frank



Format: Blu-ray

Release date: 23 March 2015

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Norman Jewison

Writer: William Harrison

Cast: James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams

USA 1975

125 mins

Very few sports movies seem to have ever captured the reality or the spirit of their chosen discipline, lacking the spontaneity, poetry or sheer physicality of athletes in action. Perhaps it is for this reason that Norman Jewison’s 1975 classic Rollerball, a hybrid sci-fi movie, manages to stand out, as the theatricality of a sport, extreme in its violence and constructed wholly as a media spectacle, focuses the issues away from the game, to instead unravel the minutiae at the heart of corporate power and ownership.

Similarly, while so many of its sci-fi contemporaries were concerning themselves with a nihilistic vision of the future marred by genetic mutation, technological meltdown or nuclear holocaust, Rollerball’s dystopian vision seems less fantastic and closer to home, grounded in the all too real world of conglomerate hierarchies and media ratings.

In his seminal text on the Western genre, film critic André Bazin, citing Claude Lévi-Strauss, muses that myths are seldom a commentary about the time in which they are set, but always a commentary about the time in which they are told; a theme superbly underlined in Brian Henderson’s reading of John Ford’s The Searchers and which can easily be applied in an analysis of Rollerball, made in an era where the now ubiquitous relationship between sports and media began to truly establish itself.

As the 1970s saw a dip in the popularity of the Western as the all-American genre, new frontiers, buoyed by the success of the US space programme, ushered in a host of spectacular, FX-based, science-fiction movies. Journeying beyond the stars became the staple of action-packed blockbusters towards the latter part of the decade, offering American audiences, in part, a modern-day interpretation of ‘Manifest Destiny’ (an integral theme of the Western), as the nation sought to re-establish its self-esteem heading toward the onset of the Reagan (a space cowboy if ever there was one) era.

However, a decidedly more dystopian vision of the future was projected in a number of Earth-based sci-fi movies earlier on in the decade, born largely out of American disillusionment and insecurity, as the first generation of baby-boomers came of age and felt increasingly disenfranchised from the ‘silent majority’. Films set in a not too distant or unrecognisable future, such as Soylent Green (1973), Westworld (1973), Death Race 2000 (1975) and Logan’s Run (1976) all call into question the social structures we live under and the ideological institutions which govern them, yet Rollerball, under the astute guidance of Jewison, emerges as the most prophetic of these films and arguably any film of its generation.

Focusing on the game’s star player, Jonathan E (James Caan), the film can be easily read as an individual stance against capitalist power structures, as Jonathan resists the pressure heaped upon him to retire by the Energy Corporation, owners of his Houston team. Rather like Maximus in Gladiator, his accumulating status/power as an individual stem from the game’s global popularity, undermining the role of the media (along with widespread recreational drug use) as a means of providing an overpopulated planet with the circus, if not the bread, to keep things in check.

The rules of the game are simple: two teams of ten (complete with motorbike riders) compete for the possession of a metal ball, projected at high speed around the rim of a circular track. The team in possession of the ball attempt to score by placing the ball into a cone-shaped goal, while the defending team try to prevent this at all costs. Houston play three games, in a global league, throughout the course of the film, against Madrid, Tokyo and finally New York, in a world where federal ideas of nationhood have diminished altogether, as each team is representative of a corporate city-state, recalling the Olympian clashes of ancient Greece.

While the rules and aesthetics of Rollerball seem to be an amalgam of the four major US indigenous sports (baseball, basketball, gridiron and ice hockey) plus the outlandish spectacle of roller derby, the layout of the track is arguably the most telling feature of the game. With a silver ball, shot around the perimeter, ready to be taken up by any one of the numbered players, seen from above, one cannot help but make the analogy with roulette, not a sport but a game of chance, gambling, with human beings as the currency.

With each game comes a further reduction of the already scant rules, in a vain attempt to dethrone Jonathan and up the TV ratings, until in the final game no rules or time limit exist at all. Refusing to back down, Jonathan, with a rapidly diminishing cohort of friends, still manages to stand firm against the system without ever succumbing to the kill-or-be-killed mentality that seems to be his destiny.

Despite Jonathan’s radical stance in the film, he nevertheless operates within the traditional patriarchal movie framework, an archetypal Hollywood hero, rebellious and outside the rules of the system, a loner like the cowboys of old (he lives in a ranch-style house and wears a Stetson and cowboy boots). Within this framework comes the film’s one weak point, as the complete absence of any positive female roles not only reaffirms patriarchal hierarchy, but the total commodification of all the female characters is never challenged, their only currency seemingly their bodies and their deceit.

Jonathan’s enhanced status, at the end of the film, as an individual against the controlling powers of the system, is to some extent reminiscent of Tommy Smith and John Carlos, utilising their success at the 68 Olympics in Mexico to highlight the plight of African-Americans at home within the full glare of the media spotlight. Filmed partly on location in Munich, only three years after the tragedy of the 72 Olympics hostage disaster, during the height of the Cold War sporting rivalry between the US and the USSR, Rollerball is a chilling reminder that not only do sports and politics mix, they are seldom ever separated.

This review was first published in the autumn 08 print issue of Electric Sheep Magazine.

Joel Karamath


As part of our ‘Butterflies‘ theme, we have a review of Toho Studios 1961 monster movie Mothra, directed by Ishirô Honda, with special effects by the legendary Eiji Tsuburaya, co-creator of Godzilla. Mothra (1961) is available in the Region 1 DVD box-set ‘Icons of Science Fiction: Toho Collection’, which also includes The H-Man (1958) and Battle for Outer Space (1959), all directed by Ishirô Honda.

mothra-part1 mothra-part2 mothra-part3
Comic Strip Review by Claude T.C.
More information on Claude T.C. can be found on his website.

The Tales of Hoffmann

The Tales of Hoffman
The Tales of Hoffmann

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Date: 23 March 2015

Distributor: Studiocanal

Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Writers: Dennis Arundell, Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Based on the French libretto for Jacques Offenbach’s opera by: Jules Barbier

Based on the stories by: E.T.A. Hoffmann

Cast: Moira Shearer, Robert Rounseville, Ludmilla Tchérina

UK 1951

138 mins

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1951 film of Jacques Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffmann – newly restored to its full 138-minute glory, including a delightful curtain call for all the performers as seen through the film’s magic spectacles – is eternally astonishing. That such a gorgeous, daffy, erotic, demented Technicolor pageant could emerge from the British film industry at a time when the dominant mood was black and white, emotionally and economically austere and inclined to drab realism remains a bizarre mystery. The makers must have been aware of this because they have conductor Sir Thomas Beecham defiantly stamp ‘made in England’ in gilt over the end title.

Mounted in the afterglow of the success of The Red Shoes, partly to find another showcase for red-headed ballerina Moira Shearer, Hoffmann is an entirely stage-bound fantasy based on an 1881 opera (which Offenbach didn’t live to see performed) based on a play based on the stories of E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822). By default, it’s a key horror anthology and an early instance of metatextually incorporating an author into his own world by mixing up his fantasies and his life. Offenbach and librettist Jules Barbier tease the historical Hoffmann by making him the fall guy of his own biography: the poet (Robert Rounseville) falls in love with a robot, is seduced by a Satanic harlot, can’t save a doomed singer and gets so drunk on his own storytelling that he lets the love of his life fall into the clutches of his shapeshifting arch-enemy Councillor Lindorf (Robert Helpmann). With highly stylised sets that play tricks with the eye and non-stop music, it has the feel of a Cabinet of Dr Caligari in colour and sound… and similarly slips between levels of reality in the telling of these tales.

The plot has Hoffmann passing the time before an assignation with Stella (Shearer), the ballerina he loves, in a Nuremberg beerhall where he entertains boozers with episodes from his own life (‘Olympia’, ‘Giulietta’,’ Antonia’), which are actually versions of his most famous stories (‘The Sandman’, ‘The Lost Reflection’ and ‘Rath Krespel’) and find him involved with women in Paris, Venice and a Greek Island. Hoffmann was one of the first great horror writers, and these stories influenced Mary Shelley, Poe (a lot), Sheridan Le Fanu and others. Each of these tales stands at the head of a sub-genre – lifelike doll/mad scientist, soul-selling pact with the Devil, Usher-like recurring family tragedy – and showcases a beguiling, yet strange woman. In the prologue, Shearer’s Stella dances in an insect costume tighter and more revealing than any female superhero has ever dared… but her role as Olympia, the life-size wind-up doll Hoffmann sees as real through magic specs, is one of the cinema’s great inhumans, along with Brigitte Helm in Metropolis and Boris Karloff in Frankenstein. Dancing and singing with impossible virtuosity, until she runs down and has to be wound up, Olympia is an unresponsive love object – she may not be real but the feelings she inspires are. At the climax of her dance (the aria is ‘Les oiseaux dans la charmille’, also known as ‘The Doll Song’), as her creators argue over her, she literally comes apart… that blinking severed head sprouting copper springs is a nightmare punchline for a joke that Powell takes seriously. Note the aside of ‘half-man, half-puppet’ Cochineel (Frederick Ashton) fetishising a severed hand.

In ‘Giuletta’, Hoffmann is ensnared by a courtesan (Ludmilla Tchérina) in Venice, who is collecting souls for the devilish Dappertutto (Helpmann). This story runs to an amazingly explicit orgy, a fast and peculiar duel in a gondola, the haunted Schlemil (Leonide Massine) sporting silver double eagle epaulettes, the stately yet creepy barcarolle (‘Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour’ – the hit of the show) and the seductress’s bare feet treading on the sculpted faces of damned victims. ‘Antonia’ is a precursor of the Corman-Poe films, especially ‘Morella’ from Tales of Terror and Tomb of Ligeia, with a consumptive heroine (Ann Ayars) led by sinister Dr Miracle (Helpmann) to sing herself to death under the influence of her dead mother. It’s a strong story, but the weakest episode because Ayars, who acts and sings, isn’t as inhumanly desirable or exotically terrifying a presence as Shearer or Tcherina. Pamela Brown, in drag as Hoffmann’s devoted (but slightly unhelpful) friend, is another weird, sexually confusing player, while Helpmann (who might be auditioning for a great unmade Dracula movie as the multi-faced villain), Massine (who does comedy and horror) and Ashton (funny yet poignant as broken-hearted jesters) show why dancers often make great screen performers.

This is a one-off, even in the extraordinary Powell-Pressburger filmography – there’s just so much in it. Make the effort to see this on a big screen.

Kim Newman

Watch the trailer:

The Manchurian Candidate

The Manchurian Candidate 1
The Manchurian Candidate

Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray)

Release date: 23 February 2015

Distributor: Arrow Films

Director: John Frankenheimer

Writers: George Axelrod, John Frankenheimer

Based on the novel by: Richard Condon

Cast: Frank Sinatra, Lawrence Harvey, Angela Lansbury, Janet Leigh, James Gregory, Henry Silva

USA 1962

126 mins

Political and conspiracy thrillers do not always age well. Many of them are so firmly anchored in their day and age that the passing of time and changes in society render them naïve, illogical or ridiculous. John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate is certainly of its time: the era of the Cold War, Reds under the bed, a succession of Asian wars and the McCarthy witch hunts, the Cuban missile crisis, not to mention the Kennedy assassination, which it is often seen as prefiguring. So why does it retain its ability to shock and its relevance to generation after generation? Because for all the James Bond shenanigans and the talk of Communists and Chinese, it’s not really about any of those things.

At first The Manchurian Candidate seems to play out like a comedy. Major Bennett Marco (played by Frank Sinatra, an excellent performance he considered his personal best) has been having nightmares. He sees himself and his unit from the Korean War sitting in a hotel lobby, bored out of their minds, while a local horticultural society holds a meeting about hydrangeas. Then the image changes; now they’re in a lecture hall surrounded by Russian and Chinese officials, and it’s not flowers they’re discussing but the fact that the hated sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) has been brainwashed and reprogrammed as a remote control assassin. These hints and half-glimpses are enough to convince Marco and his superiors that something serious is under way. Meanwhile, Shaw’s domineering mother Eleanor (Angela Lansbury) and her boozy, under-intelligent husband Johnny Iselin (James Gregory) are revealing to the world that large numbers of ‘card-carrying communists’ have infiltrated key US government departments.

It’s a move straight out of the McCarthy playbook, and Iselin is a scathing, deliberate caricature of McCarthy (Richard Condon’s original novel was published two years after the senator’s death). Like McCarthy, Iselin never actually provides any concrete evidence to back up his claim; after all, he only says there are 57 communists in the Department of Defense because he happened to see a bottle of Heinz tomato ketchup that morning. In private Iselin is dominated by his brilliant, callous wife, and on screen Gregory is overshadowed by a captivating Lansbury performance. It’s only when it becomes clear just how willing she is to mentally, spiritually and eventually physically obliterate her son in furtherance of her own ambitions that Eleanor Iselin Shaw becomes one of the cinema’s most memorable villains. By that point the Chinese and Russians have long since faded into the background, their hackneyed representations rendered obsolete (and unnecessary) by Eleanor’s diabolical schemes, schemes that go much further than Communist takeovers.

Ultimately that’s the reason why The Manchurian Candidate has lasted better than its contemporaries. Not only is the central conspiracy entirely feasible and practical, but in just a few minutes it’s possible to come up with a sizeable number of examples from history where similar things have been tried and (for the more paranoid viewer) have quite possibly succeeded. Whether you’re in favour of remakes or not, a post-9/11 reworking of The Manchurian Candidate was an utterly logical step, and the surprising quality of Jonathan Demme’s 2004 version suggests that certain points still need to be made.

Jim Harper

Watch the original theatrical trailer:

The Voices

The Voices
The Voices

Format: Cinema

Release date: 20 March 2015

Distributor: Arrow Films

Director: Marjane Satrapi

Writer: Michael R. Perry

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Anna Kendrick, Gemma Arterton and Jacki Weaver

USA, Germany 2014

103 mins

It’s no wonder that Marjane Satrapi’s directorial debut borrows so heavily from the comic genre. Her work to date has been entirely in that domain, with a number of graphic novels to her name. Most notable among them are twin novels Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis: The Story of a Return, which recount her experiences of growing up during the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and her subsequent move to Vienna.

The transition to filmmaking happened with the adaptation of these two novels into the animated feature Persepolis, which, in the English-language version, featured the voices of Sean Penn and Iggy Pop. Satrapi co-directed and co-wrote the film, which went on to become a joint winner of the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007.

The Voices is her next big project (there was a live-action adaptation of her novel Chicken with Plums starring Mathieu Amalric, but it had limited distribution outside of France), and it really is big, with Ryan Reynolds in the starring role – lending it serious box office muscle – and Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick among the supporting cast.

Reynolds plays Jerry, a worker at a bathtub factory with a sweet nature but severe mental health issues. His universe is as simple as a 50s sitcom, with his ‘aw-shucks’ demeanour and old-school-Americana surroundings inflected with pops of bubblegum pink. Life bumbles on quite merrily as he flits between warehouse work, his room above a deserted bowling alley and sessions with his sympathetic psychologist (Jacki Weaver). He also receives counsel from his two pets: a dopey, kind-hearted dog, Bosco, and an acerbic Scottish cat, Mr Whiskers (both voiced by Reynolds), who take on the roles of angel and devil respectively. So far, so manageable.

Things take a darker turn when he falls for office vamp Fiona (Arterton) and, on a night out, ends up accidentally killing her. Having dispensed with his medication, Jerry falls into a maniacal tailspin, leading him to live in squalor among Fiona’s remains and submitting to the fiendish goading of a chorus now made up of Mr Whiskers and Fiona’s disembodied head.

The film is simultaneously horribly gory, terrifically funny and terribly sad; a combination which could be confusing in any other hands than Satrapi’s. It’s cartoon-like elements temper the horror: sound effects – from bones being sawed, to death blows being delivered – are heightened to the point just shy of adding ‘Pow!’-style captions, while the polished, stylised vision of Jerry’s world elevates the film from gritty horror to camp satire. Furthermore, the women are not simply victims. Weaver’s psychologist posits deeply logical, compassionate views on mental illness, self-doubt and spirituality, and Arterton’s character, in danger of being the arch bitch, redeems herself through humour. We are repulsed by Jerry’s crimes, despite being thoroughly subsumed into his mindset.

Coursing through all this is a dark, throbbing vein of black humour that brings life to each scene, starting from the film’s heart – the naïve, troubled Jerry in a game-changing performance from Reynolds – and ending in a surreal, celestial coda.

The Voices is released in the UK on DVD, Blu-Ray and Steelbook on 13 July 2015.

Lisa Williams

Watch the trailer:

The Killing

The Killing 1
The Killing

Format: Blu-ray

Release date: 9 February 2015

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Writers: Stanley Kubrick, Jim Thompson

Cast: Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook, Jr., Marie Windsor

USA 1956

85 mins

In Stanley Kubrick’s thrilling heist movie The Killing, a charismatic ringleader, a brute of a man, an expert marksman, a crooked cop and three regular, ordinary guys, none of them natural criminals, are brought together for one reason: money. Fresh out of jail, Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden), with the help of his cohorts, decides, rather than reform his ways, to raise the stakes. Why go to jail for $500 when you can go to jail for a million? So he muses to his devoted childhood sweetheart, Fay (Colleen Gray), who has waited patiently for his return from five years in Alcatraz. His plan: to steal the takings at a racetrack on one of the biggest days of the season, a haul that could net the men a fortune.

Opening with an urgent, unsettling score, all beating drums and screaming horns, the film plunges the audience into the frantic atmosphere at the racetrack where the heist will take place, before introducing us to the ill-fated men and women caught up in the scheme. A narrator guides us through the unconventional chronology, his laconic delivery adding to the tension, as the intricacies of the plot are revealed in the lean, briskly paced film.

Johnny has devised a near-flawless robbery, but with one major weakness: George (Elisha Cook, Jr.), the track’s cashier, a browbeaten shell of a man who landed a gorgeous wife with never-realised promises of wealth. Emotionally manipulative, Sherry is a hard-boiled vamp, who literally flutters her false eyelashes to bend George to her will, only to sell him out for a future with her equally cynical lover. Perfectly played by Marie Windsor, Sherry is a nasty, manipulative piece of work, who can’t wait to be ‘up to her curls in cash’. But any whiff of misogyny is dispelled by the strength and presence of her character; she also gets the best lines in the film, the pitch-perfect dialogue written by the pulp novelist Jim Thompson.

A classic noir, Kubrick’s third feature revels in the genre’s striking aesthetics, with masterful tracking shots and use of lighting. The characters, George in particular, often appear behind bars, with the shadows in some scenes cast by an iron bedstead – what should have been an object of domestic bliss now a stand-in for George’s unhappy fate. The motif is repeated in a fabulously grim scene, where our characters find themselves trapped, enclosed by bars of light and dark, their fate sealed. The allegories – they are all pieces of a puzzle, pawns on a chessboard – are not always subtle, but they are evocative.

Although Johnny’s meticulous planning pays off, Sherry’s intervention means that there is no chance of a ‘happy’ ending, only a senseless, violent outcome. The very human weaknesses of envy and ego play their part in everyone’s downfall, but, Johnny, in the end, is also a victim of sheer bad luck, the unpredictable and unforeseen. As Sherry says, in the moment when her own fate has been decided for her, it’s ‘a bad joke without a punchline’.

Sarah Cronin

The Killing is released in a double feature Blu-ray edition by Arrow Video, together with Kurbrick’s second feature, Killer’s Kiss (1955).



Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 2 March 2015

Distributor: Entertainment One

Director: Dan Gilroy

Writer: Dan Gilroy

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton

USA 2014

117 mins

Nightcrawler follows the alarming and seemingly irresistible rise of Louis (Jake Gyllenhaal), whom we first meet as a thief roaming Los Angeles at night, selling purloined metals for cash, but with his eyes open for a better career opportunity. This arrives when he witnesses an independent news cameraman (Bill Paxton) at work as a stringer, or ‘nightcrawler’, who feeds the local news media’s ‘if it bleeds it leads’ culture with footage of car crashes, calamities and crime. Inspired, Louis acquires a police radio scanner and a camera and sets up in business. He quickly establishes a useful connection with Nina (Rene Russo), a desperate TV executive on a minor network, hires homeless man Rick (Riz Ahmed) as navigator and assistant, and begins to make swift progress in his chosen field, a progress assisted immeasurably by his nature as a high-functioning sociopath who will do anything to get the right shot…

Dan Gilroy‘s film is at once a pitch-black comedy, a thriller and a character study of another of God’s lonely men, a kind of mash-up of Taxi Driver and Network, though it’s a little broader and less surprising than either of those 70s landmarks. It has car chases and shootouts, and edge-of-your-seat business, but also offers a concentrated skewering of TV news values and corporate culture. Louis is left in no doubt what constitutes ‘good’ footage to Nina: ‘a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut’, the victims should be affluent and white, the perpetrators should be urban and poor. Falling crime figures should not get in the way of the suggestion that you and your cosy world could be next. He is, of course, fully prepared to give her what she wants.

The films targets are not particularly fresh, it strains credibility at times, you can hear the gears whirring, and I found myself annoyingly ahead of the plot on occasion, but this doesn’t really matter much when Louis is in full flow, which is often. Visually, the film is impressive, offering us an LA heavy on the haze, a world of greens and oranges and flashing blue light, but its chief strengths lie in dialogue and performance. And the dialogue is extraordinary. Louis talks fluent job interview-ese, he talks like a motivational speaker, like someone who has read every ‘top 10 tips of successful businessmen’ article out there and has thoroughly ingested them into his being. Every conversation is a negotiation, a sale, He never swears or seems to blink. He is all about leverage and power. But the surface charm and slick fluency barely conceal a disturbing absence. He is a nightmare cousin to Tracey Flick from Alexander Payne’s Election, where the Horatio Alger attributes of initiative, hard work and ‘can do’ spirit, the drive to be ‘successful’, are all used in the service of an utter moral vacuum. He is a fast learner. He knows the value of research. And his time has come. There’s a devastating restaurant scene with Nina, where he cajoles and threatens his way into her life with a dizzying fluidity, culminating in his dead-eyed delivery of the line ‘a friend is a gift you give yourself,’ which must be one of the creepiest moments in modern cinema. And his interactions with Rick (the only sympathetic human in this sea of snakes), where he increasingly refers to himself with the corporate ‘we’ are a masterclass in passive aggressive bullying and one-upmanship.

It’s a superior piece of Hollywood filmmaking with something pleasingly queasy and upsetting at its core. Robert Elswit’s photography works wonders in a film that is largely about the process of filming. Gyllenhaal gives the performance of a lifetime, and Russo and Ahmed do great work. It’s smart, nasty stuff.

Mark Stafford

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