Blu-ray review: Island of Death

Starring: Robert Behling, Jane Ryall
Director: Nico Mastorakis

island-of-death 2A film that gives new meaning to going to Mykonos for the watersports, Island of Death (1975) sets out to shock and does a pretty good job of it. A young couple arrive on the beautiful Greek island, but it soon becomes apparent that their idea of a relaxing break is rather unusual. She can’t keep her clothes on, and he is a raving fruitcake who likes nothing better than to shag a goat before breakfast and then go around violently punishing the island’s collection of hippies, gays and arty types for their perceived immorality.

There’s not a lot to the first hour or so of Island of Death really, but it has plenty of crude energy and it certainly delivers in terms of lurid nudity and gore, most notably in several did-they-really-go-there moments which, forty years on, will still have jaws sagging in disbelief, as when the psychopathic Christopher pees on a naked old lady and then kicks the snot out of her. It’s also beautifully shot by director Nico Mastorakis, who acted as his own DoP and camera operator (as well as taking on a small role in the film and writing lyrics for the theme songs). He makes the most of the island’s stunning scenery, while also packing the film, Jodorowsky-style, with blasphemous religious imagery (a crucifixion, an Edenic garden, references to lambs and shepherds).

Made for $30,000, the movie suffers from some flat, awkward acting, and it also has a island-of-death 1rather unsavoury socio-political subtext. “This island belongs to the innocent people,” says Christopher, and the way he goes around sweeping Mykonos clean of decadent foreigners and non-locals no doubt reflected contemporary concerns about what the burgeoning tourist trade was doing to traditional Greek values. But never mind, because the film is pushed firmly into cult status by its last reel, which takes a segue into Godardian territory with a surreal, blackly satirical ending – a particularly unhappy ending for one of the characters – that you certainly won’t see coming. Cinema buffs who have only ever encountered this movie before in dodgy, low-grade versions will be thrilled by the quality of the HD transfer and the quantity of the extras on this top-notch Arrow Blu-ray. 7/10

TRANSFER
This is a lovely transfer in 4:3 aspect ratio. No grain or dirt, and all those sunlit exteriors look extremely fresh and bright, while the picture is so sharp that it has a hyper-real quality at times. For instance, the candles in the restaurant where the couple meet the unfortunate church-painter have an unusually lifelike brilliance. A backlit shot of the two evil-doers in a monastery towards the end has a lovely, ethereal quality, and the final close-up of the girl, Celia, naked on a bed of straw is extremely present and luminous. 10/10

EXTRAS
Arrow have thrown the kitchen sink at this one! 38-min piece in which critic Stephen island-of-death 3Thrower talks about the film’s various titles and Mastorakis’ motley directing and production credits, while circling warily around Island of Death’s hostility to women, homosexuals and, basically, everyone except hairy-chinned shepherds and fishermen. ~ 17-min featurette in which Mastorakis returns to the original locations 40 years after making the film. The director is quite a character, and he keeps up a steady stream of amusing observations. ~ 23-min interview with the director. He explains that he was inspired by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to try and make a film that was even more shocking, and reveals that Janet Ryall, who plays Celia, was the daughter of the Greek manager of Black & Decker. ~ Mastorakis made up for the outrageous Island of Death by directing bland schlock for the rest of his career. For those who want to hear it, the full story is told in a four-part documentary totalling 3 ½ hours (!). Essentially, it’s a selection of lengthy movie-clips, out-takes, behind the scenes footage and other bits and pieces spliced together with some tartly witty voiceovers by Mastorakis. By the end of it, you’ll feel as if you’ve sat through an exhaustive Mastorakis retrospective. Part 3 includes a nice interview with George Kennedy talking on the set of Nightmare at Noon about his career and the state of the movie industry, and Part 4 covers, among other things, working with Oliver Reed and reveals that the actor had an eagle tattoo on his todger. 10/10

Blu-ray review: Paper Moon

 

Starring: Tatum O’Neal, Ryan O’Neal
Director: Peter Bogdanovich

paper-moon 28-year-old Tatum O’Neal deservedly won an Oscar for her role in this charming, Capra-esque evocation of Depression-era America. She plays Addie, a boot-faced orphan who finds herself being ferried by car to her aunt by Moses Pray (Ryan O’Neal), a sleazy Bible salesman who might, for all she knows, actually be her father – something he vehemently denies, but then he would, wouldn’t he? Along she way she turns out to be a chip off the old block in terms of sharpness and an astute apprentice to Moses’s various scams, but she also has firm ideas of her own, particularly when it comes to divvying up the profits.

The film is a gentle picaresque whose key strengths are its warm performances, immaculate period atmosphere and deep focus black-and-white cinemography by Laszlo Kovacs that makes the most of the flat, wide open Kansas landscape. The script by Alvin Sargent is loosely episodic, but it’s ripe with comical interludes (as when Moses takes up with a buxom – and high maintenance – fairground girl, much to Addie’s disgust) and vaudevillian repartee, and there are enough bitter moments to make you swallow the sweet ones.

Best of all, there’s young Tatum, who takes Addie from a Jackie Coogan-like tough paper-moon 3street kid to something deeper, a little girl trying to wrestle a childhood and a family out of the hand she’s been dealt. As Peter Bogdavonich points out in the accompanying extras, his use of long takes meant that this was a performance that genuinely had to come from her rather than one that could be assembled in the editing lab, and as a result Paper Moon has a real heart. 8/10

TRANSFER
Some rather busy grain that perhaps has something to do with the way the movie was shot, in deep focus, with wide angle lenses that required powerful arc lights, but in general the picture has an impressive, almost 3-D quality. Individual sequences come up very sharply indeed – the fairground scene has lovely inky blacks, and in the scene where Trixie talks to Addie on the hill, Trixie’s hair has an impressive glossy texture. 7/10

EXTRAS
paper-moon 1A trio of featurettes, previously released but very nice, adding up to about 35 mins in all. Bogdanovich talks about the development of the script and the casting of the O’Neals (Tatum first, then Ryan as an afterthought), and explains how he came up with the title. We learn that the story was originally supposed to be set in the deep South, but the director decided to shift the location to Kansas. There’s also some interesting technical stuff to do with shooting in b/w and the use of red and green filters for depth of field and high contrast. ~ A clear and detailed audio commentary by Bogdanovich from 2003 – he discusses the Kansas locations and reveals that much of the film was shot in continuity, with only one line that wasn’t recorded live. 8/10

Blu-ray review: Charlie Chaplin – The Mutual Comedies

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance
Director: Charlie Chaplin

Chaplin_Mutuals 2The 12 two-reeler comedies gathered together on this box set represented a turning point for Charlie Chaplin. It’s not just that the contract he signed with Mutual made him, at the time, the highest paid entertainer in the world. These pieces also show him honing his art – by trial and error and under pressure of time – and taking great strides forward in confidence and sophistication.

The first couple of two-reelers, The Floorwalker and The Fireman, are both still steeped in the influence of the Keystone Cops and Victorian melodrama. They feature stylized, vaudevillian makeup, heavy plots packed with intrigue and lots of pratfalls and boots up bottoms. Only with the third film, The Vagabond, does the distinctive Chaplinesque combination of humour and pathos come into play. Suddenly you’re in the laughter and tears world of City Lights and The Gold Rush. A penniless musician rescues a Cinderella-like gypsy girl who is being violently abused by the thuggish leader of her clan – there’s some brilliant action, a tender evocation of the world of the have-nots, the theme of goodness going unrewarded.

After this little gem, the next five films feel like a step back, but they all have something going for them. One AM is a virtuoso solo piece in which Chaplin brings his knack for playing drunks to the screen, while The Count and The Pawnshop show him beginning to move to a more situational kind of humour. Behind the Screen is interesting because it’s a film about making a film, shot in Chaplin’s very own Lone Star studio. Here you see an increasing realism in terms of makeup and hair-styles, and there’s a brilliant gag in which Chaplin puts on a knight’s helmet to protect himself from a noxious smell of raw onions. The Rink, meanwhile, is a fast-paced and intricate comedy which makes use of bigger, more expansive sets and which allows Chaplin to display his roller-skating skills.

At this point Chaplin suddenly made a trio of masterpieces. In Easy Street, he plays a Chaplin_Mutuals 3derelict who turns a new leaf, joins the police force and finds himself tasked with cleaning up a rough, no-go neighbourhood. Its a role that shows Chaplin the performer at his most sympathetic, but you’re also aware of a new confidence in Chaplin the director, with tighter editing and a greater variety of shots. This is even more apparent in The Immigrant, whose set-pieces have a new boldness and visual impact – the early vignette of the Tramp retching in tandem with a seasick Russian, or the wild rocking of the ship’s galley that was achieved by mounting the set on rollers. Perhaps even better, although less well-known, that either of these two films is the last of Chaplin’s Mutual comedies, The Adventurer, in which he plays an escaped convict who comes to the aid of some drowning women. Again, it’s another leap forward in Chaplin’s skills as a filmmaker. The early exterior scenes, as the title character is pursued by the police over a rocky shoreline, feature some of his most complex, visually dramatic compositions so far, and the first sighting of Chaplin, when he suddenly pokes his head out of the sand dune where he’s been hiding, has a wonderful Beckett-like absurdity. Later on, there’s a spirited chase scene, with Chaplin darting around like a cat, and a marvellous gag where he’s trying to schmooze a girl while shaking a block of ice-cream down his trouser leg.

Over recent decades, Chaplin’s reputation has suffered a decline from the world-wide adulation he once used to enjoy, but the work the BFI has done in bringing together these 12 enjoyable shorts in glorious hi-def should go a long way towards making his work accessible to new generations. 8/10

TRANSFER
These HD transfers have been painstakingly assembled from fine grain positives, nitrate prints and other high quality elements, restoring the comedies to a state of Chaplin_Mutuals 1completeness that many of them have not enjoyed for many decades. Visually, there’s some variation in sharpness, but on the whole the result is a clear, pleasant picture, with deep inky blacks. In The Fireman, for instance, the exteriors look very fresh, and there’s a lovely velvety sheen to the chequered dress of the socialite who visits the fire station. In The Cure, you now appreciate small details such as the faint stripes on Chaplin’s shirt, while in The Adventurer there’s a strong contrast between the black and white of his stripy convict outfit and the backdrop of craggy grey rocks. In several instances, the picture is so sharp that you see things you don’t want to see – the flies crawling over the picnic in The Vagabond and the kitchen tablecloth in The Count, and the way Edna Purviance’s skirt teems with insects in The Immigrant. 8/10

EXTRAS
5-min newsreel of Chaplin travelling across the Atlantic on a White Star Liner (odd to see him without the moustache) and being mobbed on his return to Britain. ~ 9-min interview with composer Carl Davis, who talks about how he became interested in scoring silence films and gives some background on the BFI’s Mutual comedies project. ~ A choice of soundtracks for each of the films ~ 12 audio commentaries by various critics that be accessed in the individual films’ audio options. These comment on the restorations and point out long-lost material, supply background info and bios of Chaplin’s cast of actors, discuss recurring themes, draw attention to his use of trick shots and other techniques, and generally make a very pleasant accompaniment to the films. 8/10

Blu-ray review: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne

Starring: Udo Kier, Marina Pierro, Patrick Magee

Director: Walerian Borowczyk

dr-jekyll-and-miss-osbourne 1As critic Michael Brooke explains in one of the accompanying extras, this eccentric retelling of the Jekyll and Hyde story came at a time when Walerian Borowczyk was trying to redeem his reputation as a serious filmmaker after a slide into the world of blue movies in the second half of the Seventies. Superficially, it might look like a rerun of La Bete – there’s a big house, a gathering for a wedding and the revelation of bestial impulses lurking beneath a civilised veneer – but in terms of style it’s a break from the Gallic spryness and cheerful sensuality of his most notorious film; a return, at least in part, to the more chilly, remote manner of Goto and Blanche.

The lucky guy getting hitched is none other than Dr Jekyll himself. The great and the good (a general, a priest, a scientist) have assembled in the doctor’s plush London townhouse to celebrate the engagement. These early scenes have a calm, pictorial quality – with snatches of inconsequential chatter and exquisite attention to period detail – which suggests Werner Herzog’s re-imagining of Nosferatu as a possible influence. But when Hyde interrupts the festivities by brutally murdering and raping one of their number, it’s an opportunity for Borowczyk to kick over the traces and indulge in some savage mockery of bourgeois hypocrisy.

Things descend into absurdist farce as Jekyll’s guests find themselves under siege and then promptly shoot an innocent bystander in their efforts to defend themselves. But it’s farce of a grim, deadpan kind, unlikely to raise a chuckle. Likewise, horror elements are present but not exactly correct. The gory deaths are handled in a casual, offhand way, and as the pace picks up the editing becomes rough, choppy, occasionally incoherent.

All in all, it’s a curious melange, moody and disjointed, presented for the most part in smoky, grainy visuals and accompanied by a balefully droning electronic score, but it’s well worth sticking with for the last reel, which delivers a barrage of dark, irrational imagery that makes you think of Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou. Fans of the director will certainly be glad of an opportunity to watch this rarely seen film on Blu-ray, especially one as well-stocked as this. 6/10

TRANSFER The majority of the movie is filmed in a gauzy, powdery, soft focus style that doesn’t lend itself to a sharp HD transfer, but the more conventionally shot scenes come up very nicely. The introductory sequence, for instance, of a little girl being chased through moonlit alleyways, is composed of crisp, shimmering blues, and details of fabric and décor have plenty of clarity in the early interiors as the guests assemble. Elsewhere, the film is free from debris and scratches. 7/10

EXTRAS Plenty here, although some of it is of a dauntingly high-brow variety. A 2-min animateddr_jekyll_miss_osbourne 2 film by Borowczyk, nice for completists. ~ A 17-min short by Marina and Alessio Pierro that plays with imagery borrowed from the director’s films in an intriguingly portentous way. ~ In a 33-min piece, Michael Brooke provides a detailed and discerning survey of Borowczyk’s career, explaining how he went from making highly regarded animated films in Poland in the 1950s to helming soft core sex films in the 1970s. ~ 14-min video essay on the symbolism of the Vermeer painting mentioned within the film. ~ A very good piece on the music of Bernard Parmegiani, which covers a lot of ground in 10 mins. ~ 6-min video essay on Borowczyk’s interest in Melies and early cinematic techniques. ~ 11-min interview with Udo Kier, who talks about meeting up with Borowczyk to discuss making a film about the bloody baron Gilles de Rais (a project that never got off the ground), and shooting the Jekyll and Hyde movie in a country house outside Paris. He reveals that he was originally supposed to play both Jekyll and Hyde, and complains that the red contact lenses he had to wear were excruciatingly uncomfortable. ~ 20-min interview with Marina Pierro, audio only with stills. A formidably articulate lady, she talks about her own passion for surrealism and describes how she came to be Borowczyk’s muse over the course of six movies. ~ An assembled audio commentary with Borowczyk’s voice coming to us from 1981, and contributions from director of photography Noel Very and others. Although the results are occasionally awkward, several interesting thing emerge, including some technical details about the use of handheld cameras, back-light and smoke, and the revelation that Borowczyk was influenced by Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (although he seemed to think that Vivian Stanshall was a she). 10/10

DVD Review: Nymphomaniac – Director’s Cut

Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin
Director: Lars Von Trier

nymphomaniac 2“A book that does for masturbation what Moby Dick did for the whale,” Anthony Burgess once remarked of Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint. Something similar might be said of Nymphomaniac in relation to your standard flesh flick, because Lars Von Trier’s controversial film takes the treatment of sexuality on screen to new and unexpected places. If it’s a porn movie, as Von Trier has cheerfully called it, it’s a deconstructed one, a cross between The Story of O and Tristram Shandy, Moll Flanders rewritten by Jorge Luis Borges. Now this 2-disc set brings together Vols 1 and 2 in an uncut edition, with 90 minutes of unseen footage. Be prepared to have your mind blown, your assumptions challenged and – on more than one occasion – the strength of your stomach tested. But also expect to be exhilarated and uplifted.

Vol 1 introduces us to Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), vlcsnap-2015-07-21-15h34m17s181the good Samaritan who takes her home after he finds her lying bruised and battered in an alley. “It’s my own fault, I’m just a bad human being,” she announces, and proceeds to tell him the chequered story of her life, starting with her discovery that she was a nymphomaniac at the precocious age of 2 and detailing her many sexual discoveries and encounters (which we watch in flashback, with Young Joe ably played by Stacy Martin). Realizing that she is consumed with shame and sexual guilt, Seligman attempts to talk her back from her extreme self-loathing with a more liberal, less judgemental gloss on her confessions, and in so doing finds himself embarking on all manner of erudite digressions into questions of faith, mortality and the nature of sin.

The result feels, for much of the time, like a dialogue between body and mind, self and soul, and it’s a dialogue full of unexpected humour and whimsy, as when Seligman draws an unlikely comparison between Young Joe scouting for men on a packed train and the pastoral world of flying-fishing. The culmination of this is a sequence – involving music, voiceover and split-screen montages of unsimulated sex – in which the polyphony in a Bach organ piece is compared to the pleasure Joe gets from having multiple lovers. It’s not just ingenious, there’s also a gallantry and tenderness to it which touches all these naked, rutting bodies with poetry.

Von Trier demands of his actors a kind of non-actory acting, minimal of gesture andnymphomaniac 1 vocal inflexion, and within these limits Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stacy Martin both do very well at imbuing Joe with a kind of essential innocence and childlike curiosity. Martin’s role is particularly difficult in that, with older Joe’s voiceover accompanying her actions, she might have seemed like little more than a puppet, a sex doll even. Instead she brings a dry, deadpan wit and an engaging mix of youthful cockiness and self-doubt to the young Joe as she explores her sexual powers. Meanwhile, as Seligman, Skarsgard does a fine job of injecting warmth, humanity and vulnerability into a part that could have come across as simply a narrative convenience.

Vol 2 details Joe’s tortured, failing relationship with the love of her life, Jerome (Shia LaBeouf) and her ever more crazed attempts at thrill-seeking. The (extremely graphic) comical highlight is an ill-fated three-way with two argumentative black men, but there’s also much bleakness and awkwardness as she goes through a 50 Shades of Grey period with a thin-lipped sadist played by Jamie Bell. Whereas the full-frontal nudity and explicit sex was handled with lightness and even grace in Vol 1, in Vol 2 the physical aspect of things becomes much more gruelling, with scenes of masochism and self-harm that will make you flinch and a sequence involving a self-administered abortion that is unsparingly confrontational.

nymphomaniac 3More generally, Vol 2 feels less controlled and coherent than Vol 1, with some contrived and unconvincing twists. But even if some individual chapters in Joe’s life are weaker than others, the narrative as a whole has an undeniable cumulative power, a thumping weight that distinguishes it from 99 per cent of movies made nowadays. Drawing on everything that’s gone before, Joe’s last big speech feels thrillingly gripping, momentously important. Yes, there are many things you might want to take issue with – personally, I found the ending unnecessarily cynical and demeaning – but overall Nymphomaniac is one of those rare movies that leaves you feeling refreshed and excited about cinema as a medium. It’s brave and humane, and its combination of bold technique and unblinking frankness will give other filmmakers lots to ponder, much as studio-bound Hollywood did in the ’40s and ’50s when European directors left their stage sets and started filming the real world. 10/10

EXTRAS
42-min of interviews with the cast. Gainbourg seems rather shy and defensive, but vlcsnap-2015-07-21-15h33m34s249Stacy Martin bravely gets stuck in, chatting about the nitty-gritty of how porn doubles, digital FX and prosthetic vaginas were used to create the graphic sexual couplings on screen., and how the actors and the porn professionals would swap in and out of a scene tag team-fashion: “It’s weird that you shoot a scene and suddenly it becomes a porn set.” Skarsgard talks interestingly about Von Trier’s changing methodology, about how he had learned to let go of control to achieve a more spontaneous style. The funniest interview is with LeBeouf, who describes the worried reactions on the part of his entourage when he agreed to do the film and was immediately asked by Von Trier’s people for pictures of his penis. ~ 24 min Q&A with Skarsgard, Martin and Sophie Kennedy Clark. Lots of enthusing about the creative license Von Trier allows his actors. Martin reveals that she and Gainsbourg didn’t talk at all about the portrayal of Joe, and Skarsgard describes how he and Gainbourg shot their scenes straight through, 90 pages of dialogue in two weeks. 7/10

Blu-ray review: Retaliation

retaliation 2Starring: Akira Kobayashi, Jo Shishido
Director: Yasuharu Hasebe

Yasuharu Hasebe – best known for the Stray Cat Rock series – was obviously channelling Kurosawa when he made Retaliation (1968). It starts out as a rerun of the classic Yojimbo ploy. Ex-con Jiro (Akira Kobayashi) is tasked by the powerful Hazama family to take a small crew and set up shop in the boom town of Takagawa, with the particular aim of buying up some farmland that’s ripe for development. However, first he must deal with the two rival gangs already installed in town – the nasty, rapey, sadistic Aoba clan and the not-so-bad-really-but-they’ve-still-got-to-go Tono family – and that involves setting them at each other’s throats.

Later, on, though, the film veers away from that tried and tested template and instead becomes an ironic updating of Seven Samurai, with Jiro siding with the farmers against those modern bandits, the gangsters and property developments. It’s a segue that works well, complicating what is at first a straightforward team caper movie into something more thoughtful and serious-minded. Issues to do with the changing face of the yakuza and the close connection between gangs and big business (very much a thing at the time) are given a long hard look, as well as ecological themes about the raping of Japan’s scarce natural resources for a quick buck. But it’s not all about worthy social commentary – there’s also a element of kink, a foreshadowing of a grimy roman porno vibe, in some of its scenes.

As the gang’s cool, unruffled mastermind, Akira Kobayashi (one of Nikkatsu’s biggest stars) gives a nicely underplayed performance, while the reliable Jo Shishido is relegated to a supporting role as a loutish member of the crew who has a grudge against Jiro for killing his brother. It’s all shot in a lively, inventive manner in brightly lit Japanese colour ‘Scope, with gritty exteriors of an urbanized Japan contrasting with claustrophobic interiors that make great play with screens, sliding doorways and bead curtains. It’s studded with memorable set-pieces – a shadowy punch-up with Kurosawa-style whip-pans, a murder at knife-point limned in the wobbly beam of a flashlight, and a great, moiling scrummage of a sword fight in a swanky bathroom with a massive gush of arterial blood splashed across a shower door. More substantial and less formulaic than Hasebe’s Massacre Gun (also recently released by Arrow), it’s a worthy addition to any collection of Japanese cult movies. 8/10

TRANSFER
No grain, plenty of detail and rich earthy hues. The sequence in the Aoba gang’s retaliation 1gambling den, with its stark high key lighting, comes up particularly sharply, and the scenes in the farmers’ village have a lovely lushness. If you bought the Blu-ray release a few months back of Seijun Suzuki’s Youth of the Beast – another ’60s film in colour ‘Scope – then this is a notch up in quality. 8/10

EXTRAS
Like Massacre Gun, Retaliation comes with a lengthy (31-min) talking head peace with Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns. As well as serving up bios of Kobayashi, Hasebe and Shishido, he paints a vivid picture of what it was like making quota quickies for Nikkatsu, and also reveals that Shishido released a couple of LPs – don’t all rush at once to add them to your playlists. ~ 13-min interview with Jo Shishido – he lists his favourite directors and talks, among other things, about how he and the other actors would try to liven up cooker-cutter storylines by using different weapons in the fight scenes. 7/10

Blu-ray review: The Train

Starring: Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield, Jeanne Moreau
Director: John Frankenheimer

the-train 1With its Gallic setting and gritty black and white cinematography, this WWII actioner from John (The Manchurian Candidate) Frankenheimer seems to consciously evoke the look and mood of 1930s French poetic realism. The war is nearly over, Paris is about to fall to the Allies, and an art-loving German colonel (Paul Scofield) decides to escape back to Berlin by train with a collection of priceless modern art. Burt Lancaster takes on the Jean Gabin roll as the reluctant blue collar hero who sets about ingeniously delaying the train until the Allies can arrive to intercept it, while struggling to keep his fellow resistance comrades alive until the end of hostilities.

While the script by Franklin Coen and Frank Davis (based on a true story) has cynical and probing things to say about the cost of war and the vanity of human wishes, the camerawork by Jean Tournier and Walter Wottitz finds a grimy beauty in the scenes of the noisy railway yard and the soot-blackened faces of the people who work there. Frankenheimer directs with great energy and flamboyance, telling the story through complex, flowing set-ups involving multiple extras. It’s almost all shot on location – no back projections during the action scenes on board the locomotive – and there are small roles for French national treasures Michel Simon and Jeanne Moreau for added authenticity.

The film has its problematic elements – a one-note performance from Scofield, bad dubbing for Simon – but the pluses include a strong performance from an ageing, convincingly world-weary Lancaster as the man with the glory of France on his shoulders, spectacular set-pieces (a spitfire attack, trains crashing into each other), and an array of rolling stock which is sure to impress locomotive buffs. 8/10

TRANSFER
The HD transfer has a slightly grainy texture at times, but on the whole the brilliant early ’60s deep focus camerawork comes up with the inky richness of a Dore etching. Details of uniforms are crisp, there’s a giddy sense of motion as the camera swoops. Michel Simon’s face looks impressively lined and craggy in the scene where he’s grumbling in the station cafe, and a later scene where the train takes cover from an aerial attack inside a tunnel is a symphony of glistening blacks. 8/10

EXTRAS
36-min piece with biographer Kate Buford, who makes illuminating comments aboutthe-train 2 Lancaster’s career in the ’60s, when he was past his heyday but still making heavyweight, worthwhile projects, albeit with diminishing commercial returns. Among the topics she touches upon are his problems on The Leopard with Visconti, who described him as a “cowboy”. ~ Contemporary 7-min behind the scenes piece for French TV shot at small village which is one of the film’s primary locations, containing interviews with excited and bemused locals. ~ 3-min interview for French telly about the French cast of the movie, which includes a nice clip of Lancaster dubbed into French. ~ Audio commentary with John Frankenheimer – not exactly chatty, but he makes some interesting points. 7/10