Never Too Late to Learn? Twilight Time’s Quintet Examines Human Nature

If there was one particular collection of words that I would repeatedly hear and subsequently remind myself during those brutal mornings when I would wake up with a staggeringly, seemingly-undefeatable hangover during my years as a twentysomething, it was that it was never too late to learn. And, much like the idiot I was then (as opposed to the idiot I am now), I didn’t listen. Similarly, this assortment of titles released by our friends at Twilight Time in March of 2014 deals with people from all walks of life finding themselves with the same epiphany – though most of them don’t necessarily discover such after endless nights of binge-drinking. They come close, mind you: one poor dolt in particular wakes up in a grave with a pounding headache, but I’m getting ahead of myself (as was my lousy pun just now: “a-head”).

Let us begin with the less-serious lesson of the bunch, kids – a romantic sports comedy/drama called Fever Pitch. No, wait, don’t panic: it’s not the one with Jimmy Fallon. You’re safe. Twilight Time hasn’t sunk to that point. Relax. Breathe. Count to ten. No, this particular film with the same name happens to be the original British production that somehow inspired that other thing. Here, Colin Firth plays English teacher Paul Ashworth, our obsessed protagonist whose undying devotion to Arsenal FC may just lead to the very death of a newfound relationship with Sarah (Ruth Gemmell), a recent addition to the school’s staff. Nick Hornby loosely adapts his own novel here; Mark Strong, Neil Pearson, and Stephen Rea co-star. The lesson to be learned here: the Farrelly Brothers can suck all the fun out of any kind of comedy, but this Fever Pitch succeeds in making a goal.

In keeping league with the teaching aspect, let’s all turn the page to Conrack, a moving 1974 drama from Martin Ritt with one of the few individuals out there who genuinely makes my skin crawl, Mr. Jon Voight. The narrative here finds a young teacher name Conroy (Voight), who is assigned with the task of moving to and teaching the local, poor children of a remote island off the coast of South Carolina. Cast amidst an under-educated population that has been removed from the so-called civilized world for so long that they now speak their own dialect (the title is the closest the kids can get to saying his name), Conroy soon finds himself at odds with the school’s principal and superintendent (Madge Sinclair and Hume Cronyn, respectively), who are quite content with not teaching their students about the rest of the world in general. The late Paul Winfield plays a character named Mad Billy, and Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas is also in the cast.

In Sidney Lumet’s Equus – a 1977 British/American co-production starring the legendary Richard Burton – we find a vastly-different adaptation of the Peter Shaffer play as written for the screen by…Peter Shaffer. Somewhere between his six-hundred marriages to Elizabeth Taylor and his time well spent shopping at tobacconists and liquor stores, Burton found time to deliver a stellar performance as a psychiatrist who is called in to figure out just what the heck is wrong with a demented 17-year-old boy (Peter Firth) who has brutally plucked the eyes of six horses out with a metal spike. During his sessions examining the twisted youth, Burton’s character begins to confront his own inner evil, highlighted by a recurring nightmare based on his own uncertainties about his chosen profession. Jenny Agutter, and Colin Blakely and Joan Plowright (as Firth’s parents) co-star in this film that failed to cause a stampede at the box office, but nonetheless earned Burton and Firth Oscar nominations and Golden Globe wins.

Turning up the tone a wee bit while winding the clock back quite a bit further, we set our sights on the 1949 Columbia Picture release of All the King’s Men, starring the one and only Broderick Crawford. Unquestionably at the very zenith of his career here, Crawford delivers a mesmerizingly chilling performance as Willie Stark – a slightly fictionalized take on the rise and fall of 1930s Louisiana Governor Huey Long. Stark starts out as a courageous self-made lawyer of the people, and whose popularity earns him some favor as the ideal candidate to weed out the very bureaucratic savages he fights against. But a growing dependency with his newfound power instead uproots his soul, turning him into just another politician. John Ireland, Joanne Dru, John Derek, and a newcomer named Mercedes McCambridge co-star. Director Robert Rossen was later blacklisted during the McCarthy Era, and both Crawford and McCambridge (who each earned Oscars for their performances here) developed dependencies on alcohol later in life.

Lastly, we crank the seriousness dial all the way to 11 in order to learn of the kind of brutality born only out of pure, unadulterated greed – and the stark, raving madness that comes with it. The picture? Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. The actor at the helm? Warren motherfucking Oates – perhaps cinema’s greatest anti-hero. When local Mexican godfather El Jefe (Emilio Fernández) places a million-dollar price on the cabeza of the heathen who impregnated his daughter, the vultures swoop down from near and far alike to find him and collect their prize – but only a local sleazy expatriate barman/entertainer (Oates) is willing to speak up, and that’s only because he wants the prize for himself. Bad move, Warren – but you wouldn’t be the posthumous idol of badassery if you didn’t go for it. Robert Webber and Gig Young play hitmen (!), and Kris Kristofferson has a small part as a biker with rape on his mind in this violent, gritty cult classic.

Twilight Time once again deliver these movies in the best-possible transfer, as made available to them by the parental studios – who are, in this instance, MGM/UA, Fox, Sony, and new-to-Twilight’s roster Protagonist Pictures. Each movie is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio and contain DTS-HD MA 2.0 or mono tracks (depending on the title) as well as DTS-HD MA 2.0 tracks featuring isolated incidental scores from their respective films. Additional special features for this lot range from as little as a theatrical trailer to a slew of featurettes and audio commentaries on others, with Twilight Time’s regular contributors, Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo, appearing either together or with other participants. Ms. Kirgo also extends her exemplary way with words onto paper for liner notes, available for each and every release. A highlight included in this assortment of motion picture goodness can be found on the Equus disc: a two-hour documentary on the films and career of Mr. Richard Burton from 1988, In From the Cold: The Films of Richard Burton.

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Luigi Bastardo

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