Twilight Time Presents: Men of Action (and Reaction)

An assortment of adult drama featuring some of classic cinema's biggest names are now yours to enjoy on Blu-ray.
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If today's box office blockbusters are capable of delivering any kind of message at all, it would be that a vast majority of moviegoers seem to prefer their action movies to be riddled with non-stop bullet ballets, edited together via one giant shaky cam CGI-laden experience completely devoid of any character development, actual emotion, and - quite often - halfway decent writing. Lens flares get tossed in at the drop of a hat, seemingly added solely to distract audiences from the lack of acting occurring on the screen on the part of the way-too-young and aesthetically-pleasing faces of performers cast in lead roles as seasoned heroes from all walks of life. Because, as all questionnaires we are asked to fill out in person or online will indicate, people in their 30s are in the same age group as those nearing retirement, so they obviously aren't capable of engaging in any sort of physical movements apart from reading the latest issue of AARP The Magazine.

Naturally, when I get a chance to see something quite the opposite of those soulless motion picture events that make me want to scream "Turn it off!" like George C. Scott in Hardcore, I tend to enjoy myself much more than most people seem to enjoy reading AARP The Magazine. And with this assortment of Blu-rays from Twilight Time, I was in hog heaven.

Deciding to go these titles in a rarely used (by me) chronological order, we begin with Anthony Mann's outstanding 1955 film The Man from Laramie, starring the one and only James Stewart. Apart from being the last collaboration between Mann and Stewart (who charmed audiences for a total of five films together, including Winchester '73), The Man from Laramie was one of the first western titles to be shot in the then-new CinemaScope aspect ratio (which was 2.55:1, in this instance), filmed in gorgeous Technicolor to boot (remember kids, we didn't always have these two options available in filmmaking). Based on a powerful story from The Saturday Evening Post by Thomas T. Flynn, the story here centers on lonely Will Lockhart (Stewart), arriving in the small remote village of Coronado, intent on finding out just who sold a number of repeater rifles to the local Apaches, who in-turn massacred a unit of Cavalry men - a doomed troop that happened to include Lockhart's kid brother.

Instead, Lockhart discovers more unanswered questions and tension when he inadvertently runs afoul with Dave, the spoiled and psychotic son (Alex Nicol) of the remote community's power-hungry rancher, Alec Waggoman (Donald Crisp). Dave promptly greets Lockhart by burning his wagons and slaughtering his mules, but not before lassoing our protagonist and dragging him through a campfire first. Yes, he's a nice guy, and Nicol's onscreen evil surely must have paved the way for the violence we would later see in the spaghetti western genre that emerged nearly ten years later. That said, The Man from Laramie contains its own share of gritty (for the time) violence, all the while boasting a grand performance by Stewart, who gets a chance to show some of his bad side here.

Five-time Oscar loser Arthur Kennedy (who later popped-up in several spaghetti westerns, as well as one of my personal Euro horror favorites, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue) co-stars as Waggoman's devoted foreman, and Cathy O'Donnell is his love interest (as well as Stewart's). Aline MacMahon, Wallace Ford, and a young Jack Elam have nice supporting roles in this Columbia Pictures box office hit from yesteryear, which receives a stellar 4k transfer (as scanned from the original negative) for this release. The picture here is nearly flawless, apart from some dissolves and of Kennedy towards the finale that looks as though it was taken from a secondary source). A DTS-HD MA 5.1 remix of the original four-channel stereo audio track is on-hand here, as are English (SDH) subtitles, two trailers (a teaser and a regular one, introduced by Stewart with Kennedy, Elam, and a slew of supporting bit players posed behind him), and an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 track featuring the film's music and score.

Another CinemaScope hit followed two years later in the form of 1957's Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. Based on the Charles Shaw novel of the same name, and filmed on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, director John Huston weaves us a World War II-era human drama about good and bad, and right and wrong - with Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum as our leads. Instead of taking on the wartime responsibilities he would later assume command of in later endeavors such as The Longest Day, Midway, or Anzio, Mitchum plays Corporal Allison: a member of a simple reconnaissance mission who - after his ship is fired upon by the Japanese - washes up on an island in the South Pacific that is, naturally, occupied by the bad guys.

There, he meets another lost soul, though this one - Sister Angela (Kerr) is only lost in the geographical sense of the word, as the elderly priest she had accompanied to the island (you know, to enlighten the savages) has since gone on to his reward in heaven. And once the Japanese soldiers leave the island, it seems that only Heaven Knows where this odd pairing of people will lead the relatively faithless Mr. Allison and the devout Sister Angela as the rest of the world battles around them in their isolated tropical paradise - especially once our dear corporal raids the enemy's stock of sake and drunkenly spouts they are the new Adam and Eve - much to the nun's chagrin. But it isn't long until the Japanese return, landing the twosome in a terrible state of peril as they are forced to hideout within the island's caves and hope the enemy doesn't start to wonder where their supplies have gone off too.

Here, Huston brings us a classic human drama. As brave and as fearless can be, Mitchum's Corporal Allison is also a very powerless individual, one who obviously needed a little more leave before he was sent off on his mission. The top-billed Kerr, on the other hand, keeps any of those outward emotions on the inside as she attempts to keep any potential trepidations - and unwanted advancements - at bay. Released on DVD several times over by Twentieth Century Fox in the past (be it individually or in sets), Twilight Time brings Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison to Blu-ray for the first time, in a rather decent (but nowhere near perfect-looking) transfer that presents the film in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with DTS-HD MA mono audio and English subtitles. Extras include a vintage Movietone News clip and a trailer (which were ported over from the previous SD-DVD releases) and an isolated music/effects DTS-HD MA 2.0 track (which is exclusive to the Twilight Time Blu-ray).

Though filmed within the confines of the following decade, 1964's World War II action spectacle The Train brings us an incredible black-and-white tale that is still quite capable of holding its own with many a contemporary contribution to the genre. And that is mostly attributable to two major factors: director John Frankenheimer (who not only directed one of my personal favorites, the original The Manchurian Candidate, but brought us one of the few good action films from the late '90s, Ronin) and star Burt Lancaster (The Swimmer). And we have the influential Mr. Lancaster to thank for that, as he had the title's original director, Arthur Penn, fired from the project because he didn't like the more cerebral approach the film was taking. So, Frankenheimer - called in at Lancaster's request, mind you - came in to take over. And the results are nothing short of outstanding.

Set in Nazi-occupied France toward the final days of the war, Lancaster stars as the accent-less Labiche, railway inspector and one of the last surviving members of the local French Resistance, who are called upon by an anxious museum curator (Suzanne Flon) to somehow prevent all of the great works of art France has its very history built upon from arriving in neighboring Germany. Behind this scheme is Nazi art snob Colonel von Waldheim (Paul Scofield, whom a picture of in costume here could very well replace the definition of the word "paragon" in the dictionary), who is torn between leaving these priceless goods behind so much that he even supersedes his own orders just to get them back to Berlin via train.

The great Wolfgang Preiss co-stars as Scofield's perhaps-slightly-smarter subordinate, Michel Simon has a small role as a conductor, and future Euro western/horror/sleaze cult faves Donal(d) O'Brien (yes, Doctor Butcher himself!) and Howard Vernon (yes, Dr. Orloff himself!) have memorable parts as Nazi officers, making this elegantly-executed epic a point of interest for fans from both sides of the taste tracks. Twilight Time's masterful Blu-ray presentation is as grand as the feature film itself, sporting not only a better-than-average transfer (preserving the 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio) with DTS-HD MA mono sound and (SDH) English subtitles, but also including the proverbial isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 score track, a rather lengthy theatrical trailer, and two audio commentaries as well. The first commentary, featuring the late Mr. Frankenheimer, has been carried over from an older DVD release; while the newer second commentary is conducted by film historians Paul Seydor, Julie Kirgo, and Nick Redman highlight go to celebrate this classic's 50th anniversary.

Moving ahead into that fabulous decade of fashion and music, we take a look at yet another action flick, the original 1972 version of The Mechanic starring that deadly man with the funny little moustache, Mr. Charles Bronson. Long before his declining years spent making movies for the Cannon Group and his final (career) days cast in direct-to-video monstrosities, Bronson had been one of the action genre's leading heroes, having risen from bit parts on television shows to supporting roles in the big pictures, and eventually establishing a name for himself in war films and, of course, Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West. Just a few short years before he was to don his most famous character, that of Paul Kersey in the Death Wish series, Bronson turned a few tricks for United Artists, wherein he made the hitman drama, The Mechanic with director Michael Winner (a frequent collaborator with Bronson, and who also later directed him in Death Wish in '74).

Here, we get to see Bronson take his typically silent and somber disposition to the next level as Arthur Bishop: a hired killer with very sophisticated taste in art, wine, and food. Under the employ of one of those clandestine worldwide operations that the Illuminati conspiracy theorists are always talking about, this mechanic (as he is called) lives a very isolated, lonely life - and even resorts to hiring an escort (as played by Bronson's real-life wife, Jill Ireland, who was another regular in his films) to pretend to be his girlfriend when the pressures of his isolated life of dealing out death in great big, elaborately planned methods gets to be a bit too much. Meanwhile, Steve (Jan-Michael Vincent), the pushy little bratling of Arthur's regular contact, Big Harry (Keenan Wynn), worms his way into Arthur's life, hoping to carry on the great tradition of organized assassination.

Tragically, most of writer Lewis John Carlino's gay subplot between Arthur and Steve were trimmed - though there are still some elements lingering about, such as the glances and smiles our leads give one another. Nevertheless, The Mechanic emerged as an entertaining (if somewhat empty) action drama for 1972 audiences, despite the fact that most of its core had been removed by stuffy Hollywood execs who undoubtedly thought there would never be gay cowboys or a black president, either. Twilight Time brings us a decent transfer of this oft-ignored title that has been provided to them by the MGM/UA vaults. The film is presented in a 1.85:1 transfer with a DTS-HD MA mono soundtrack and (SDH) subtitles accompanying. Once more, an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 score is included, as are a theatrical trailer and an audio commentary by cinematographer Richard H. Kline, as moderated by Twilight Time's Nick Redman.

Lastly in our quintet, we have the rather-obscure-to-American-audiences 1989 British drama, Resurrected, which has remained largely unseen by us Yanks due to the fact that it is, firstly, a British drama (we are only open to comedy, mystery, and science fiction tales from that side of the Pond, and that's only if they get enough viewers on PBS), and secondly a tale that concerns the Falklands War - which Americans seemingly only read about in bylines in the B section of big city newspapers several weeks after it happened (I wouldn't know, of course, because my grandfather and I were busy watching Benny Hill on PBS at the time). Here, the vastly underrated David Thewlis - the only actor to actually turn in a good performance and subsequently emerge from the ultra-disastrous 1996 remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau with any dignity whatsoever, and that was only because, once more, Americans didn't even notice the poor guy was there - is utterly superb as Kevin Deakin: a young soldier who goes missing in action and presumed killed during the Falklands War.

For his service and sacrifice, Kevin is given a grand funeral back home in Merrie Olde England by the military, his grieving family, and the entire population of a very proud, tiny community. But things start to change immediately once Kevin reappears in the Falklands several weeks after the war ends, and is promptly sent back home. His own military interrogates him, suspicious of the mysterious disappearance he now claims to have little to no memory of. While his hometown welcomes him back home with open arms, the army refuses to let him take place in the celebration, and the press begins to question whether or not Kevin is a deserter or not - which soon begins to alter everyone's view of the already-emotionally scarred soldier.

Tom Bell and Rita Tushingham plays Kevin's concerned (and confused) parents, Rudi Davies is Thewlis' girlfriend, Christopher Fulford and David Lonsdale play two of the most unlikable army boys ever, Mark Wing-Davey (the one true Zaphod Beeblebrox) has a small part as an army major, and an unknown Steve Coogan has an even tinier part as a local youth. A low-budgeted (British) drama, Resurrected gets a surprisingly stunning video transfer from parental company Protagonist Pictures for Twilight Time's North American debut of this compelling drama from Paul Greengrass. A DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track is supplemented by another 2.0 option featuring an isolated music score with sound effects. Sadly, no subtitles are included here, but we do get two interviews - one with director Greengrass, the other with actor Thewlis - about the making of the film.

Each Twilight Time Blu-ray release includes liner notes as written by Julie Kirgo, and all five of these highly recommended titles are limited to 3000 pressings, which are available exclusively from Screen Archives.

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