Director Bill Duke uses a mixture of film noir and blaxploitation tropes to explore the political complexities of being Black in the U.S. in Deep Cover (1992), his neon-tinted crime drama about an undercover cop (Laurence Fishburne) infiltrating the West Coast cocaine trade, now released in an extras-loaded 4K restoration by Criterion.
Eureka’s new two-disk Blu-ray release Karloff at Columbia is a real treat for fans of the iconic actor. Although it begins with Roy William Neill’s atmospheric period Gothic The Black Room (1935), the bulk of the set is devoted to what became known as the Mad Doctor Cycle, five extremely low-budget sci-fi tinged horrors in which Karloff plays scientists dabbling in research which the establishment frowns on; the authorities’ resistance tends to push him over into madness and murder and mayhem ensue. Long held in low esteem, these cheap movies are all entertaining and Karloff delivers sincere performances no matter how silly the trappings occasionally become.
With their third box set of Columbia Studios films noirs in just over half a year, Indicator again gather together six entertaining B-movies made in the shadow of Cold War paranoia; crime, violence and personal demons evoke a world destabilized by fear, betrayal and uncertainty. As before, the set is packed with commentaries featurettes and short films which illuminate the context from which the features emerged.
Continuing their recent run of classic Hollywood restorations, Criterion have released an excellent edition of Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley (1947), a sordid story of madness and criminality starring Tyrone Power in his best role as an opportunistic carny who cons his way to the top of respectable society only to plunge back down to the lowest depths. A remarkably grim movie to have been made by a major studio on an A-picture budget, it still remains a potent glimpse of existential horror.
Dorothy Arzner’s pre-Code romantic comedy/tragedy Merrily We Go to Hell (1932) is given a gorgeous presentation by Criterion from a new 4K restoration. This story of a vibrant heiress (Sylvia Sidney) and her marriage to an alcoholic writer (Frederic March) avoids the standard Hollywood cliches which would soon become entrenched as the Production Code imposed rules of behaviour on the characters who populated studio movies.
Indicator’s four-disk John Ford at Columbia 1935-1958 box set raises some interesting questions about the nature of auteurism and how the ways in which a filmmaker comes to be defined influence how different films are viewed. Two of the movies in the set – The Whole Town’s Talking (1935) and Gideon’s Day (1958) – tend to be seen as minor and extraneous to Ford’s core body of work, yet both are among his most entertaining even if they don’t advance his familiar thematic preoccupations.
Indicator’s Columbia Noir #2 box set presents another six movies, hovering between A and B pictures, from the late ’40s to late ’50s. Crime, romance and a society shaken in the aftermath of the Second World War provide a background for portraits of characters torn by guilt, paranoia, betrayal and moral uncertainty.
Universal’s series of minor B-movies based on Simon & Schuster’s line of fiction and NBC’s long-running radio show called Inner Sanctum gave third-string horror star Lon Chaney Jr. a brief opportunity to get away from the monsters he played in the 1940s. Despite a low critical reputation, these atmospheric little movies are quite entertaining and receive a nice showcase in Eureka’s two-disk Blu-ray set.
Criterion’s new release showcases Jacques Rivette’s most playful feature, Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974), with a terrific transfer and exhaustive (and exhausting!) supplements, including a an illuminating commentary by Adrian Martin and a second disk containing four-and-a-half hours of documentaries and interviews.