March is off to a pretty good start. Let’s see what we’ve got:
Bombón: El Perro (2004) Carlos Sorín
Venevision International DVD – interlibrary loan (1:37)
Out-of-work middle-aged Juan (Juan Villegas) tries to make ends meet by selling his own handmade knives and doing odd jobs here and there. When he repairs a woman’s car, she pays him by giving him a pure-breed Dogo Argentino dog called Bombón. Juan’s daughter (Mariela Diaz) refuses to let him keep the dog in her house, so Juan and Bombón drift around Patagonia until they meet Walter Donado (Walter Donado), a dog trainer who assures Juan that he’s sitting on a gold mine: this dog could not only win major dog shows, but could also be put out to stud. Needless to say, things do not go as planned.
This joint Argentine/Spanish venture is charming and although it’s primarily a feel-good comedy/drama, it works on multiple levels reflecting on middle-age, family, friendship, greed, compassion, the almost universal fascination we have with competition and much more. This one might be hard to find, but it’s worth the effort. The film doesn’t appear to be streaming anywhere right now and the DVD is expensive, so check with your local library. In Spanish with English subtitles.
The Swimmer (1968) Frank Perry, Sydney Pollack (uncredited)
Grindhouse Releasing Blu-ray (1:35)
Previously discussed here
Phoenix (2014) Christian Petzold (2x)
Criterion Blu-ray (1:38)
Previously discussed here as part of our library’s Great Movies series
Night of the Demon (1957) Jacques Tourneur
Columbia Tri-Star DVD (1:35/1:22)
I was initially confused about Night of the Demon. Maybe you are, too. Not about the story itself, but its two versions and titles. I’d heard about the film for years and got excited when I finally found it in a used DVD store in San Francisco. The DVD cover promoted the release as a “double feature” with Curse of the Demon paired with Night of the Demon. They are in fact the same film differing in their titles and running times. The film was released in the UK as Night of the Demon with a running time of 95 minutes. For American audiences, the film was cut down to 82 minutes and retitled Curse of the Demon.
Based somewhat loosely on the M.R. James short story “Casting the Runes,” the Charles Bennett/Hal E. Chester script involves the investigation of a satanic cult by American psychologist John Holden (Dana Andrews). The leader of the cult, Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis), is suspected of killing a professor named Harrington (Maurice Denham), who was planning to investigate Karswell’s activities. Holden meets Harrington’s surviving daughter Joanna (Peggy Cummins) and they quickly learn about Karswell’s strange activities.
Whichever version you watch, Night/Curse of the Demon is a spectacular film, filled with horror, suspense and unease, featuring excellent performances from the entire cast. (It’s especially fun to see Peggy Cummins in a wonderful role, far different from her classic performance in Gun Crazy ). The film suffers only from Hal Chester’s unfortunate decision to show the demon twice in the film, a silly and totally unnecessary move that infuriated both Bennett and Tourneur (who did not shoot the added footage). Yet there’s much more to the story… You may want to check out Ken Hanke’s excellent review of the film for more insight.
The cut scenes include a brief stop at a farmhouse, a trip to Stonehenge, brief exchanges between Karswell and his mother, and a few quick cuts from the seance scene. The film has been available on Blu-ray in French, Spanish, and Italian editions for a couple of years, but alas, we’re still waiting for a domestic Blu-ray release.
Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970) Elio Petri
Criterion Blu-ray, interlibrary loan (1:55)
Elio Petri’s Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion feels strangely relevant nearly 50 years later in 2017. More on that in a moment…. For now, you should know that the film takes a darkly comedic look at corruption in high office as we follow the story of a high-ranking police inspector (Gian Maria Volontè) who likes to play games with his mistress Augusta Terzi (Florinda Bolkan). In the film’s opening, Augusta warms up to the police inspector asking “How are you going to kill me tonight?” suggesting that they’ve played such games before. Yet this time, it’s not a game.
The inspector covers up his crime by planting clues that will implicate others, but then begins allowing the truth to come out, only to prove that he can get away with not only the murder of his mistress, but anything else he likes. This is clearly a police official with extraordinary power and he’s not afraid to show it. In one scene, he meets with a group of other officials and both reads them the riot act and manages to endear himself to them even more, guaranteeing the continuation of his power and control.
As I mentioned earlier, many moments of this film hit very close to current events, making Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion eerily relevant. At times you’re not sure whether to laugh or cower in fear. For a film you might think has become dated in nearly 50 years, it’s strangely new again.
Stromboli (1950) Roberto Rossellini
Previously discussed here
Murder by the Book (1971) Steven Spielberg
Columbo Season One DVD (1:13)
I suppose this is technically a TV episode and not a movie, but I’m including it anyway. (Letterboxd recognizes the first two pilot episodes as movies, but not the rest of Season One.) Jim Ferris (Martin Milner) is half of a mystery writing team who wants to dissolve his partnership with Ken Franklin (Jack Cassidy). Ferris was doing all the writing anyway, but Franklin can’t abide losing his moneymaker, so he kills his former partner and creates a nice alibi for himself. Of course Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk) isn’t fooled.
Murder by the Book is one of the most-loved Columbo episodes and for good reason. The story’s good, the actors wonderful, plus the film/episode was one of the early directing efforts for Steven Spielberg, airing just a couple of months before his TV movie Duel (1971) went a long way toward making him famous.
Carancho (2010) Pablo Trapero
DVD – interlibrary loan (1:47)
Carancho marks the fourth film I’ve seen this year featuring Ricardo Darín, who stars here as Sosa, an ambulance chaser (or “carancho” in Spanish parlance) who frequents hospital emergency rooms and hospitals looking for potential clients. (Apparently hit-and-run accidents were – at least for awhile, and perhaps still are – a huge problem in Argentina.) Sosa meets a young emergency room/ambulance-working doctor named Luján (Martina Gusmán). They, of course, fall in love as Sosa tries to distance himself from his ties with his corrupt boss who wants to keep him an ambulance chaser forever.
Darín is excellent as always and so is Gusmán, but the relationship of their characters is incredibly rushed and largely unbelievable. You’ll find yourself shaking your head throughout the film, not believing that Sosa doesn’t realize the consequences of what he’s doing, that Luján also doesn’t realize the consequences of what she’s doing. Plus the ending is pretty predictable. Still well worth a look, mainly for the actors.
The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) Val Guest
BFI Blu-ray (UK) (1:39)
I’m always glad to see some of the classic British science fiction films receive new releases and hopefully new exposure. Two years ago I saw and greatly enjoyed The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) from Kino Lorber and recently purchased The Day the Earth Caught Fire, released on Blu-ray from BFI in 2014. (A U.S. release is scheduled from Cohen Media Group in early 2017.)
Mostly told in flashback, the film is told from the point of view of newspaper reporter Peter Stenning (Edward Judd) as he reflects on the events leading up to the catastrophic aftereffects of nuclear weapons testing. With the post-apocalyptic craze still going on, I’m surprised this film isn’t discussed more. It’s quite good, but takes its time in developing its situation and characters, mostly without a lot of special effects. The performances are good and the film includes some of the fastest newspaper room talk you’ll hear this side of His Girl Friday (1940).
That’s it for the first few days of March. Let me know what you saw that was good (or wasn’t).
Photos: Film Bore, Into Film, The Columbophile, The Film Box, Mountain Xpress, The Secrets of Story, The Film Exciter, Just Screenshots, Free Classic Movies