Unhappy with her career in Hollywood, actress Carroll Baker moved to Italy in the mid-’60s where she starred in a number of genre movies, including four erotic thrillers by Umberto Lenzi which bridge the gap between classic women-in-peril mysteries and the giallo. All four are collected together by Severin in their lavish The Complete Lenzi/Baker Giallo Collection Blu-ray box set.
Criterion’s new Blu-ray release gives Claire Denis’ haunting, enigmatic Beau Travail (1999) a gorgeous hi-def presentation. This loose adaptation of Herman Melville’s novella Billy Budd is a film poem to the mysteries of desire set on a Foreign Legion outpost in the arid landscape of Djibouti, centred on a remarkable performance from Denis Lavant.
Francesco Rosi’s most emotionally resonant film, a four-part adaptation of the memoir of painter Carlo Levi, who was exiled by the Fascist government in 1935 to a remote corner of Italy, is a rich, contemplative study of a Leftist intellectual who comes to empathize with the harsh lives of peasants left behind by the modernization of Italy. Criterion’s new Blu-ray edition serves the striking imagery well and provides substantial supportive supplements which provide historical context and situate the film in Rosi’s politically informed filmography.
A pair of Blu-rays from England showcase the final works of major artists who were considered at the time to be in decline: Laurel and Hardy’s last feature, Atoll K (dir. Leo Joannon, 1951) is a bittersweet mess which captures the Boys’ enduring charm while making their mortality all too clear, while Fritz Lang’s The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960) comes full circle by reviving his Weimar criminal mastermind in a Cold War context which paved the way for James Bond’s high-tech thrills.
In D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus’ Town Bloody Hall (1979), the raggedness of the film – shot on the fly in 16mm – perfectly captures the chaos of the event it documents, a fractious panel held in New York on April 30, 1971, in which four feminists were pitted against Normal Mailer, who had just published The Prisoner of Sex, his problematic response to the feminist movement. Criterion gives the scrappy film a 4K restoration and loads the disk with fascinating contextual supplements.
A couple of recent disappointments from Indicator – excellent editions of two mediocre movies (Guy Hamilton’s Force 10 From Navarone  and Paul Annett’s The Beast Must Die ) – are offset by the terrific French television series of adaptations from the Maigret novels and stories by Georges Simenon, fifty-four feature-length movies centred on a magisterial performance by Bruno Cremer as the famous detective.
When my friend Howard came over for an evening of movie-watching recently, we ended up with a highly idiosyncratic double-bill of problematic features, one representing self-conscious art, the other polished commercial craft – neither entirely satisfying: Josej Von Sternberg’s The Saga of Anatahan (1953) and Sidney Gilliat’s Endless Night (1972).
New disk label Cauldron has launched with a pair of impressive Blu-rays which firmly declare the company’s devotion to exploitation and genre cinema: the Onetti Brother’s knowing tribute to the classic giallo, Abrakadabra (12018) and Italian genre master Sergio Martino’s unexpected genre blend of giallo, poliziotteschi and supernatural horror American Rickshaw (1989).
Having recently watched the latest features of Richard Stanley and Larry Fessenden, I decided to revisit their earlier work via Blu-ray upgrades of my DVD copies of Stanley’s Hardware (1990) and Fessenden’s No Telling (1991), Habit (1995), Wendigo (2001) and The Last Winter (2006). All these movies remain fresh and showcase their respective director’s skill in using genre to explore larger themes.