the harder they fall (Columbia Tri-Star, 1956) D: Mark Robson, w/ Humphrey Bogart, Rod Steiger. Rating: NNn
dead reckoning (Columbia Tri-Star, 1947) D: John Cromwell, w/ Humphrey Bogart, Lizabeth Scott. Rating: N
sirocco (Columbia Tri-Star, 1951) D: Curtis Bernhardt, w/ Humphrey Bogart, M&aulm;rta Torén. Rating: NN
bogart spent the last decade of his career releasing his independent Santana productions through Columbia, but it's still strange to see a Bogart movie with the Columbia logo in front of it.
The ironic thing about Bogart is that his iconic reputation is based on a handful of completely satisfying films: High Sierra for Raoul Walsh, The Big Sleep and To Have And Have Not for Howard Hawks, The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre for John Huston, and, of course, Casablanca for Michael Curtiz. All for Warner Brothers.
The one essential Columbia title, In A Lonely Place, is due on DVD in March. The sad thing about Bogart is that when he took control of his own career, it became less interesting.
These three discs, part of Columbia's Bogart collection, are a mixed bag. Dead Reckoning, with Bogart tracking down the guy who killed his army pal, has a star performance that verges on self-parody and the synthetic acting of Lizabeth Scott, who never drew a convincing breath in a movie. Sirocco is a little better, a Casablanca retread with Bogart running guns in pre-war Syria and Lee J. Cobb as a French intelligence officer.
As Bogart's last film, The Harder They Fall has a certain morbid cachet. It's also the best of these three. There's a strong script based on Budd Schulberg's novel about the crookedest corners of the fight game, and the swaggering presence of Rod Steiger's flamboyantly criminal fight manager. Bogart is excellent, though plainly ill, as a washed-up sports writer hired to promote a giant who can't fight into a heavyweight contender. Like Sirocco, The Harder They Fall features tremendously atmospheric black-and-white cinematography from Burnett Guffey, who later won an Oscar for Bonnie And Clyde.
DVD EXTRAS: Vintage poster and lobby card gallery, English, French, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese and Spanish subtitles. On Dead Reckoning, the Japanese titles stayed on for onscreen text (not dialogue) even when the titles were turned off. And for reasons known only to Sony, The Harder They Fall has a Portuguese dialogue track!
the bourne identity (Universal, 2002) D: Doug Liman, w/ Matt Damon, Franka Potente. Rating: NNNN
the first big studio film from indie icon Doug Liman, the director of Go and Swingers, is paced breathlessly. Matt Damon, playing Robert Ludlum's amnesiac assassin, ricochets around Europe, fleeing the very people he works for.
The most interesting thing about Damon's acting is that he's about precision and control. He works small, rather like Steve McQueen and unlike most contemporary action heroes. Ludlum purists will be appalled; Liman admits that, aside from the premise, he jettisoned the novel, resulting in a film filled with bureaucratic infighting and astonishingly efficient action sequences. The excellent supporting cast includes Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Clive Owen.
DVD EXTRAS: Regular new release studio package: trailer, making-of, music video (Moby's Extreme Ways) and informative commentary by Liman that conveys a good sense of what it's like being an indie director moving up to the big leagues. ("I said to my casting director, "I'd like someone like Chris Cooper and Brian Cox for these,' and he said, "This is a Universal production -- why not just get Chris Cooper and Brian Cox?'" Deleted scenes, DVD-ROM content, French and Spanish dubs, English and Spanish subtitles.
24 hour party people (MGM/UA, 2002) D: Michael Winterbottom, w/ Steve Coogan. Rating: NNN
this is a very clever, well-made film, a loose history of the Manchester music scene from 1976 to 92, from the birth of punk to the death of acid. At once protagonist, peripheral figure and Greek chorus, Steve Coogan plays Factory Records founder Tony Wilson and anchors the narrative except when he's commenting on it, fully aware that he's in a film. (Lord Of The Rings fans will want to get a look at Andy Serkis, who plays Factory producer Martin Hannett. He "performed" Gollum for LOTR's animators and voiced him.)
This would make a great double bill with Velvet Goldmine, and it is fun, except that after an hour or so you can't help but think, "Well, Ian Curtis is dead and New Order's off in Ibiza, so I'm now watching a movie about the rise of Happy Mondays."
One of the sharper tongues at Cannes noted that it was designed for people who were reading NME between February and October 1978, but if the Pistols get three movies, Joy Division deserves half of one. What makes it worth two looks is a commentary track from the real Tony Wilson, who is very funny and prone to noting, "This scene absolutely did not happen."
DVD EXTRAS: Director/star commentary, Tony Wilson commentary, Manchester The Movie featurette, Tony Wilson featurette, theatrical trailer, deleted scenes. English, French, Spanish, Portuguese subtitles.
shampoo (Columbia Tri-Star, 1975) D: Hal Ashby, w/ Warren Beatty, Julie Christie. Rating: NNN
I've never understood shampoo's standing as a comedy (voted one of the 100 funniest American movies in the American Film Institute poll, that sort of thing), since I've never found it funny. A sharply observed period farce, it's astonishingly short on actual laughs. George (Warren Beatty), a successful Beverly Hills hairdresser, watches his world collapse on him in a crazy roundelay of sex, money and politics. The film, from Robert Towne's script, unfolds in a single 36-hour stretch in November 1968 (the night of Nixon's election) as George tries to hustle up a shop of his own while dealing with Goldie Hawn, Julie Christie and Lee Grant. Yeah, rough life.
A good anamorphic transfer, but that's it. There are literally no extras for a film that was a great hit in its day and nominated for several Oscars. (Grant won supporting actress.)
Admittedly, director Hal Ashby is dead, and Beatty is apparently one of those bright people who can't form sentences, but the other principal actors are around, as is Towne. There could have been some interviews, the trailer, something.
DVD EXTRAS: None. You thought I was kidding? English and French versions, English, French, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai and Spanish subtitles.
Also this weekAlso this week
FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (Criterion Collection) Two-disc SE of Terry Gilliam's undervalued Hunter S. Thompson adaptation, with multiple commentaries and Johnny Depp reading Thompson's correspondence.
THE MASTER OF DISGUISE (Columbia Tri-Star) Worst movie of 2002 or underrated comedy classic? You be the judge. And executioner.
EXTRA OF THE YEAR: Jonathan Demme's The Truth About Charlie, his ill-conceived remake of Stanley Donen's Charade, arrives on DVD in April. As an extra, it will include the original Charade.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb
No rating indicates no screening copy