THIS WEEK’S BEST BETS
From the opening shots of the daring “Master of the House” (1925), you know you’re in the hands of a cinematic master. Carl Theodor Dreyer made some of the silent and post-silent era’s biggest and splashiest opuses (“Joan of Arc,” “Vampyr”), but this early gem is a finely detailed, ahead-of-its-time examination of daily domestic life. It’s the heartfelt story of a housewife who, under the thumb of her unfeeling and tyrannical husband, turns the tables on him and, with the help of a wily nanny, gets revenge, teaching him a lesson in equality, humility and humanity. Though the film’s visual language seems tame by today’s standards, Dreyer here was exploring and testing out the cinematic shorthand of cross-cutting, closeup, and visual metaphor — and the film is considered an early example of feminism on-screen. The film also was an enormous boxoffice success. In a dual format Blu-ray/DVD combo, in a new 2K digital restoration, with a recent score by Gillian Anderson, presented in uncompressed stereo on the Blu-ray, from The Criterion Collection … Early in his career, Don Siegel (“The Killers,” “Dirty Harry”) made his mark with this sensational and high-octane but economically constructed drama set in a maximum-security penitentiary. “Riot in Cell Block 11” (1954) is a ripped-from-the-headlines social-problem picture about prisoners’ rights that was inspired by a recent spate of uprisings in American prisons. In a new high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Also from The Criterion Collection.
Rod Steiger gives a mesmerizing Oscar-nominated performance as the embittered survivor of a Nazi death camp — where his wife, parents and children were murdered — who can’t escape the ghosts of his past in Sidney Lumet’s gritty and at times harrowing realist drama “The Pawnbroker” (1964). His soul robbed of hope, Sol takes refuge in misery and a bitter condemnation of humanity — the endless parade of prostitutes, pimps and thieves who pass through his pawnbroker shop — and ridicules his idealistic assistant, Ortiz, who dreams of a better life. Only when Ortiz, powerfully portrayed by Jaime Sanchez, puts his life on the line for Sol, does he learn the ultimate truth about hope and humanity. The film was controversial for its time and was denounced by many censorship groups, including the Catholic Legion of Decency, for a taboo-breaking nude scene. Two of the film’s best features are the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography and the memorable trumpet score by Quincy Jones. Remastered and making its debut on Blu-ray (also available in a DVD version) from Olive Films.
An unremarkable film about a remarkable woman, “Bettie Page Reveals All” (2013) takes a look at the most photographed pinup model of the 20th century. Page was raised as one of six children in an impoverished Southern family, was her high school graduation class salutatorian, and, after divorcing her first husband, moved to New York City in hopes of becoming an actress. Instead, she became a pinup model and took the country by storm with her unabashed enthusiasm, girl-next-door good looks and uninhibited exhibitionism (including her infamous leather, dominatrix and S&M portrayals) in hundreds of thousands of photographs and hundreds of “nudie-cutie” 16mm films throughout the 1950s. She appeared as a Playboy centerfold in January 1955, and had numerous TV and off-Broadway acting roles. In 1959, Page gave it all up and walked away and, for almost 40 years, lived in obscurity. By the late 70s, she had become a cult figure for a new generation of artists and literati, and her image was splashed across art galleries, graphic novels and photo books. Despite her renewed fame, Page was, at times, penniless, and received little from the hipsters who fed off her image. This film is filled with iconic and rare photographs and film loops, including unseen images from private collections; the real Bettie Page even tells her story in her own words via audio interviews taped a decade prior to her death in 2008. Also along for the ride are iconic sex goddesses of yesteryear Tempest Storm, Bunny Yeager and Mamie van Doren, modern-day supermodels Naomi Campbell and Rebecca Romijn, cultural pundit Perez Hilton, and a host of Page-inspired artists and models. Despite all this, however, “Bettie Page Reveals All” plods along, in need of tighter narration, direction and editing. For Page fans only. On DVD, Blu-ray Disc from Music Box Films.
Another icon of the 50s makes his way home to DVD this week: “The Mr. Magoo Theatrical Collection (1949–1959)” is a four-disc that brings together for the first time on DVD all 53 theatrical cartoons — including 12 cartoons in anamorphic widescreen for the first time –and the feature film “1001 Arabian Nights,” featuring the near-sighted, bumbling, wealthy, short-statured retiree who gets into a series of sticky situations as a result of his nearsightedness and his stubborn refusal to admit the problem. Voiced by the multitalented comedic actor Jim Backus, Quincy Magoo or simply Mr. Magoo, was an instant hit and went on to become a classic animated character starring in two Academy Award–winning theatrical shorts, three television series and two television specials. All the shorts have been newly remastered in their original theatrical aspect ratios. On DVD, $34.93 from Shout! Factory.
William Friedkin’s cult suspense thriller, “Sorcerer,” largely overlooked since its 1977 release, has now been fully restored by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment (the film was originally released by Paramount and Universal) under Friedkin’s supervision via a 4K film resolution scan of the original 35mm camera negative. The startling and haunting soundtrack by Tangerine Dream (the first film credit for the German electronic experimental band) has also been restored from the original 35mm 4-track stereo masters and remastered in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The plot originated with the same Georges Arnaud novel that inspired Henri-Georges Clouzot’s French suspense classic “The Wages of Fear” (1953) and, largely because of being overshadowed by that connection and the misleading title (released just after “Star Wars” as Friedkin’s follow-up to “The Exorcist,” audiences were expecting not a suspense thriller but another supernatural outing), the film bombed — some good acting, fabulous cinematography and locations, and truly gripping action and story line. Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal and Amidou play four men who, for various reasons, are forced to leave their respective home countries and end up in a dismal South American town where an American oil company is hiring courageous drivers willing to haul nitroglycerin over 218 miles of treacherous terrain. The four sign up for the hazardous duty and travel in two trucks (one named Sorcerer) in the hopes of buying their freedom, and travel a terrain of death and destruction. Previously available only in crummy VHS and pan-and-scan DVD editions. Packaged as a 40-page Blu-ray book with images from the film and excerpts about the production of “Sorcerer” from the book, “The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir,” with a new forward written by Friedkin. Also available in a new DVD edition.
I so wanted to enjoy the “Inspector Lavardin Collection,” two mystery-suspense films from the French suspense master Claude Chabrol making their U.S. Blu-ray debut this week. Unfortunately, both films lack the bite and intrigue of Chabrol’s best outings. In “Chicken With Vinegar” (1985, also known as “Coq au Vin”), a cruel invalid (Stephane Audran) who consistently terrorizes her teen son into abject obedience is threatened with the loss of her home by a conniving trio who want her property as part of a deal for a lucrative development project. After several of the principal figures suffer grisly deaths, Inspector Jean Lavardin (Jean Poiret) arrives to get to the bottom of it all. In the 1986 followup “Inspector Lavardin,” the detective travels to a small coastal town to investigate the puzzling death of a wealthy writer found murdered on a beach, with the word “pig” scrawled on his backside. In two-disc DVD and two-disc Blu-ray sets from Cohen Film Collection.