The Fallen Idol (Criterion/Paradox, 1948) D: Carol Reed, w/ Ralph Richardson, Bobby Henrey. Rating:NNNN
this counts as one of master di rector Carol Reed's greatest films, a study in guilt and psychological suspense. It has all the elegance, tension and betrayal of his next film, the much revered The Third Man, but without that film's exoticism. No glamorous black marketeers in the Vienna sewers just the pressure on one desperate eight-year-old boy in a London mansion. Phillipe (Bobby Henrey) has only one friend, Baines the butler (Ralph Richardson). When the cops suspect Baines of murdering his harridan wife, the boy will do anything to keep the butler's secret.
Graham Greene's script, from his short story, takes its time setting up the calamity, but his graceful dialogue and Richardson's solid acting keep us engaged. Phillipe's anxiety and the sense of trouble coming are palpable from the beginning and paid off in full in a disturbing finale.
The movie hinges on the performance of Henrey, terrific in his first role, delivering everything from heartbreak to near-catatonic shock. The director's inventive technique for bringing all of that from a kid without much acting ability gets detailed treatment in the disc's excellent biography of Reed.
Criterion promises a book of essays with the movie which, given their track record, should amply make up for the lack of commentary tracks. There's a nice bonus in Reed's filmography, posters from Eastern European releases. They're lovely and radically different from the posters we're used to.
EXTRAS Reed doc. Full frame, black-and-white.
The Quiller Memorandum (Fox, 1966) D: Michael Anderson, w/ George Segal, Max von Sydow. Rating: NNN
One of the most original thrill ers of the mid-60s spy boom, The Quiller Memorandum equally shuns Bondian glamour and Le Carré pathos to give us the spy business as a matter of icy self-control and no easy emotion. Quiller's bosses Alec Guinness and George Sanders doing their best upper-class heartlessness send him into West Berlin to locate the lair of a nest of neo-Nazis who would like to know the same of Quiller's people.
Harold Pinter's script is filled with the subtext-rich dialogue he's famous for, and the cast does it justice with a low-key intensity that lets the meanings speak for themselves. This being the spy business, most people are lying. Segal, who doesn't seem to be acting, responds in a way that provides a perfect guide to who's fibbing and who's not.
Director Michael Anderson keeps Quiller embedded in his Berlin locations, just another guy in the crowd. The visual strategy culminates in a long, near-wordless hunt across the city, as Quiller tries to lose the assassins openly trailing him. It's a great sequence.
The two clowns on the commentary, both teachers at NYU, misunderstand the character and don't get the movie. Eddie Friedfeld steps on Lee Pfeiffer 's attempts to complete a thought, while Pfeiffer has nothing better to say about Pinter than to accuse him of rejecting all of Western civilization because he dislikes George Bush.
Adam Hall's Quiller novels are the forgotten gems of the spy boom. Hall, pen name of Elleston Trevor, is the master of the absurd situation played with a straight face; Quiller, floating down a river to avoid enemy agents, takes a dead cat into his mouth for cover and develops an emotional relationship with it. Hall makes it all work by focusing on Quiller's physical and mental state, often one of extreme terror. He's 10 times the writer Ian Fleming is, and Quiller's adventures make Bond's look like a kiddie ride. Check him out.
EXTRAS Commentary, essay. Wide-screen. English, Spanish, French soundtracks and subtitles.
Haeckel's Tale (Anchor Bay, 2006) D: John McNaughton, w/ Derek Cecil, Jon Polito. Rating: NNN
the masters of horror series is the best thing that's happened to the genre since the Japanese got into the game. The budgets are small, the schedules and the movies short 10 days shooting, one hour viewing. But the directors get creative freedom and the results are consistently creative. John McNaughton's entry is a cross between the old Hammer films and EC comics period elegance with a fat dollop of gruesomeness and a fatter one of kinky sex. It's nothing at all like Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, the haunting epic that got him into the club.
Derek Cecil is reminiscent of a young Timothy Dalton as Haeckel, the med student who wants to reanimate the dead (he's been reading about Dr. Frankenstein) and finds that where science has failed, necromancy succeeds. Jon Polito (The Big Lebowski) plays the necromancer with a plummy theatricality evoking Karloff and Price, which he carries over into the extras to give one of the best actor interviews ever put on DVD.
EXTRAS Director commentary, director and cast interviews, director and making-of docs, script-screen comparison. Wide-screen.
Freak Out (Anchor Bay, 2004) D: Christian James, w/ James Heathcote, Dan Palmer. Rating: NNN
this is the picture that film school grads make when they want careers more than good reviews. It's the simple, stupid story of a pair of idiots who find an escaped mental patient and train him to be a slasher-movie serial killer, complete with bag over his head and hockey mask. Director Christian James and co-writer/producer Dan Palmer shot on and off for years, tweaking and correcting to produce a movie that's more competent than Peter Jackson's first feature, Bad Taste. It's about as funny as the later instalments of the Scary Movie franchise, with much the same approach throw in every gag and parody of every scary movie that comes to mind. Some bits are laugh-out-loud funny.
Sadly, the cast doesn't have anything approaching the acting skills of Scary Movie's Anna Faris. But James's directing skills are, at worst, adequate, and the film is well shot and moves along at a good clip.
The same non-stop-joke approach informs the extras, which means you've got to pay attention if you hope to learn anything. It's not for everybody, but if you're a fan of homegrown movies and/or an aspiring director, it's a good ride.
EXTRAS Disc one: two director, actors and writer commentaries. Disc two: making-of doc, deleted scenes, filmmakers' shorts, critical responses, five-minute film school. Both wide-screen.
Coming Tuesday, November 14
The Da Vinci Code (Columbia/Tri-Star, 2006) Wide-screen, full screen, two-disc special edition. All the Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard you could possibly want.
King Kong Deluxe Extended Edition (Universal, 2005) The theatrical cut was 180 minutes. How much more Kong can there be? And, shuddersome thought, how much more Jack Black?
Friends, The Complete Series (1994-2004) All 10 seasons of the wildly popular comedy on 40 discs.
The Paul Newman Collection (WB) Harper (1966), The Drowning Pool (1975), The Left Handed Gun (1958), The MacKintosh Man (1973), Pocket Money (1972), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), The Young Philadelphians (1959). Solid set from one of the century's greatest movie stars/screen actors would make a good Christmas gift.