When my regularly scheduled package of Twilight Time items showed up last month (Look, I’m rarely on time about anything, alright? It’s the only way I can guarantee I’ll be late for my own funeral!), I was a bit shocked to discover that, instead of two or three items, as I/we reviewers usually received, I had four movies to experience. All for the first time, mind you. And, while I can’t say I was overly impressed with one genuinely pretentious piece of horse droppings in particular, Twilight Time definitely started out 2014 with a bang. (And we’re scheduled to get more foursomes – as well as fivesomes – throughout the year!)
First up is Man in the Dark 3D, which is a film with a history of firsts. Not only is it the first title Twilight Time has released with the option to view in that aforementioned, wonderfully classic third-dimensional moviehouse gimmick (translation: you can watch it in 2D or 3D, kids), but is also the initial debut of the 1953 film noir on home video in the United States in-general! Lastly, Man in the Dark set another record in as much as it was the very first motion picture in 3D to be released by a major studio (Columbia Pictures) during the preliminary wave of movies that required goofy glasses to view.
Here, the great Edmond O’Brien – a personal noir hero of mine, as D.O.A. was my primary experience with the genre as a kid – stars as a tough guy gangster fellow who reluctantly undergoes experimental brain surgery to “remove” his predisposition for being a bad boy. And, while the surgery appears to work just fine, his ol’ cronies (including character actors Ted de Corsia and Nick Dennis) as well as his former moll (Audrey Totter) are determined to discover where their one-time partner – who now has no memory of his former life – hid a cache of cash prior to his change of mind. A chase scene through a carnival – which leads on to and up on an operating roller coaster – is just one highlight of this nifty forgotten gem.
Next up, is Khartoum starring the one and only Charlton Heston. Naturally, any time Chuck Heston comes on screen – or is even mentioned for that matter – I am always forced to shout “Damn!” in my impersonation of the late rightwing NRA frontman/actor, followed by his iconic soliloquy at the conclusion of Planet of the Apes (and trust me, I can nail that one). And while Khartoum itself was nowhere near as entertaining as the accidental scenario I constructed when my visiting teenaged children thought I suggested we watch a cartoon with Charlton Heston, the 1966 adventure epic still has a lot going for it.
For starters, it was the first of three films wherein Chuck attempted an English accent. Then there’s the fact that Laurence Olivier plays the bad guy in brownface. And lest we forget the first of many features where Heston’s co-star was none other than Zombi 2‘s famous mad scientist, Richard Johnson. (Their final appearance together would be 1991’s made-for-TV Sir Arthur Conan Doyle adaptation, The Crucifer of Blood – which also happened to be the last time Heston attempted to not only pretend to be English, but Sherlock Holmes to boot!). But that’s neither here nor there, kids. Based on actual events, the story here finds Major-General Gordon (Heston) and his small force battling the self-proclaimed Mahdi (Olivier) and his thousands of thousands of men. Enjoy the impressive action scenes shot on location in Africa (no CGI here, folks – those are really thousands of extras!) and Heston’s intermediate accent.
Speaking of impressive action scenes shot on location in Africa with nary a digital (or even optical!) effect in sight that were based on a true story, 1964’s Zulu tells a similar tale of British soldiers outnumbered by the enemy. The setting for this film, though, is at the southern tip of the fabled “dark continent” – and takes place several years before the events of the previous film. But in the instance of Zulu, we are treated to actual British actors who don’t have to worry about keeping their accents in check, and who are consequently able to focus on acting instead. Likewise, the film enabled blacklisted American screenwriter Cy Endfield to work as writer/producer/director, who cast some young fellow named Michael Caine in a supporting role that would go on to make the guy famous (so I’m told).
In 1879 Natal, 150 soldiers – a number of whom are sick, wounded, or just plain unscrupulous – find themselves up against unbelievable odds when 4,000 Zulu warriors attack their tiny, unprotected fort over the course of several days. Stanley Baker (who co-produced) is the top-billed star here, as a Lieutenant of Royal Engineers who assumes command from the not-as-experienced and soon-to-be-jealous regular guy in charge (Caine) when the trouble starts. Jack Hawkins turns in a small but memorable role (with big billing) as a boozing missionary who goes a bit nutter when the shooting starts, while James Booth is in top form as an indifferent soldier who simply wants to leave the show. Richard Burton supplied the narration for the film, while John Barry provided the score. A prequel – Zulu Dawn – followed.
Lastly, we find ourselves at my personal least-favorite pick from this lot, Titus (1999). Had I seen the film when it first came out, when I was more inclined to sit through two-hour-and-forty-two-minute overly pretentious modernizations of Shakespeare’s lesser-know and lesser-appreciated plays, I might have enjoyed it a lot more. But I didn’t, so therefore, I didn’t. Julie Taymor, director of stage and screen, who went on to ruin more of The Bard’s work – a good one, at that – with her laughably horrendous 2010 disaster The Tempest (not to mention helming the notoriously plague-ridden Broadway mess known as Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark) goes all-out here, cramming in various elements from several decades in order to keep things edgy enough to appeal to late ’90s teenagers who were under the great misapprehension that Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet was an inspired, well-made movie.
Anthony Hopkins takes the lead here, in Shakespeare’s early prototype to the rape/revenge subgenre of exploitation films that kept many a drive-in and grindhouse theater operational during the ’70s and ’80s. Jessica Lange, Harry Lennix, Alan Cumming, Angus Macfadyen, Laura Fraser, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, and Matthew Rhys, and the always-great Colm Feore co-star. While Hopkins was no stranger to appearing in and successfully pulling off Shakespeare’s material, several of his co-stars should appear before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity on account of how hammy their performances are here (those who bear a “Rhys” in their name and appear as Lange’s boys are my top offenders). Not even a fair bit of nudity from man and woman alike (including Lange’s girls) could save this one for me. But hey, some people seem to like it. Of course, some peoplethought a Broadway rock musical about a certain Marvel comic book character would be a good idea!
As always, Twilight Time brings us these classics (whether in an aging sense or an actual one) in as lovely of 1080p HD transfers as humanly possible (or whatever the studios who own the properties handed over to them). Titus and Zulu are both presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratios, while Khartoum is in its original 2.76:1 70mm form (the title was exhibited in Cinerama during initial venues), and Man in the Dark 3D is shown in its 1.33:1 ratio. Each title features DTS-HD MA audio (1.0 for Man in the Dark 3D and Zulu, 2.0 for Zulu, Khartoum, and Titus, and 5.1 for Titus) and optional English SDH subtitles. Isolated scores, trailers, and liner notes from Julie Kirgo (who will probably want to kill me for my cracks about Titus) are available with all films as bonus features, while each of the three epics house additional goodies mostly consisting of audio commentaries, while Titus also boasts some behind-the-scenes/making-of featurettes. Sadly, a self-destruct option for that very same title is not available.