Signal One Top 10 films part 1

Welcome to the second label top 10! In this piece  Here we look at the work of the brilliant home entertainment company, Signal One entertainment. This is the label which released many under seen and underplayed gems from FOX back catalogue (among others). Signal one have released many great films and here is ten of my personal favourites!.

10 – PANIC IN THE STREETS

A year before Elia Kazan made the stunning On the Waterfront, he takes on post war fears of mass illness (with many remembering the Spanish Flu epidemic post world war one). He uses real heat stripped locations, honest sweaty faces and powerhouse Richard Widmark. When Kochak (Lewis Charles) is murdered over a card game by heavy Blackie (Jack Palance), no one noticed his flu like symptoms. His two hoods Poldi (Guy Thomajan) and Fitch (Zero Mostel) dump the body at the docks. It is only when the police drag his body from the river nearby and test reveal he was suffering from pneumonic fever. Lieutenant Commander Clinton Reed (Richard Widmark) a doctor with Public Health, now must find anyone who met Kochak before the outbreak kills millions.

Elia Kazan split opinion in the film industry. I won’t go into why this happened but his time in front of the HUAC left a deep legacy. Aside from this, he was a raw film maker. By the time he made this he had won an Oscar for directing Gentlemen Agreement. His skill was stripping back the Hollywood artifice. He used natural interior and exteriors. Had actors play raw, real roles. Sometimes harsh and heavy, spitting and swinging. His films are filled with sweat, emotion, violence and criminality. Removing the dream factory spell and replacing it with a familiar view for millions of people watching.

The disc has two very stellar features and ones that fans of the film will adore. The transfer finally irons out that awful DVD transfer. We have a HD version with the rich steamy nights all captured without a fog on the screen. Then the commentary by Alain Silver and James Ursini. The point I feel they make is that Richard Widmark is a very versatile and often under used actor, but Kazan got him at a rich seam moment. The other is that Jack Palance surely is the toughest son of a gun in cinema. Also that absurdly surreal scene between him and the midget is captured with wit by them. Overall it is a rare thing indeed,  a great film that has an equal analysis of it. Seriously listen to it and see for yourselves!

High Definition Transfer

Commentary by Alain Silver and James Ursini

Still Gallery

9 – DAMNATION ALLEY

Roger Zelazny unfilmable work becomes a figurehead for the split in sci fi. Released the same year as Star Wars, it becomes a piece from the past that should be seen and maybe even reconsidered. Jake Tanner (Jan Michael-Vincent) is a First Lieutenant in the US Air Force. He and his commanding officer Major Eugene “Sam” Denton (George Peppard) are waiting for his next posting call. They have been posted at a missile base deep in the Californian desert. After months of tension between the US and Russians, a trigger causes global war to break out. 60% of the country is obliterated. Millions have died. The centre of the country is now a wasteland. Now the last few survivors from the east coast, need help. So, Denton and Tanner must cross the country to rescue those left.

1950s Sci Fi inspired a whole generation of film makers and story writers. Not only Star Wars, Terminator and Blade Runner. It also inspired Damnation Alley. Well actually the book was inspired by the nuclear arms race but the film is deeply inspired by the eras films. The original book had a brilliance all its own. It was to target the underlying social issues at play if a nuclear war were to happen. Unlike Threads, Day after or the equally brilliant The Earth Abides, here we see how all things possibly would remain the same.  From the military response to community isolation. From the decay of political ideology, to its entrenchment. From that environmental storm, killer scorpions and water whirlpools…it is all in there!

Extra’s

Oh boy you are in for a teat. Talbot knows the film from back to front and inside out. He also knows the source material. Extrapolating the differences is difficult but he effortlessly does this. Paul Maslansky is far more on the nose in terms of knowing the period, the films competition and why it failed to sore a the box office .  Alan Sharp documentary, or me is the best feature in the set. It at least leaves you in no doubt as to how much work went into writing the script, to film the film, that is and still considered unfilmable.

  • Audio commentary with film expert, Paul Talbot
  • Audio commentary with Producer, Paul Maslansky
  • Interview with film Expert Chris Poggiali
  • Survival Run a look at the challenges of adapting the celebrated novel with Co-Screenwriter, Alan Sharp
  • Road To Hell Producer, Jerome Zeitman details the process of making the film and the difficulties it encountered along the way
  • Landmaster Tales a detailed examination of the now-famous Landmaster Vehicle from the film with Stunt Coordinator and Car Designer Dean Jeffries
  • Still Gallery
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature
  • Theatrical trailer

 

8 – THE SUN ALSO RISES

Jake Barnes (Tyrone Power), is a journalist from the United States. He is also one of millions of war wounded. After World War I many were disillusioned with former lives and loves. They, like him turned to new places and new faces. Rather than return to America, he chooses to move to Paris, where he meets bohemian expatriates, fun time women and rich men. Drink and dancing take centre stage. His new friends are all slowly working toward oblivion. Then in steps Brett (Ava Gardner). She nursed Jake through his injury. He never forgot her face, nor their love. However he also never forgot that they together are destructive. Leading each other down a road to nowhere.

Hemingway hated this film. To be fair I always felt Hemingway hated life but that would be rather factious of me. He was convinced it cheapened his work and left after 25 minutes had run. Reporting to the producer that he had ‘made a romantic tale without misery’. Now that is his opinion but I have another one. If he had stayed on to and watched the full 2 hours and 10 minutes, he might have taken to the film. Why? Well the reason is that the real star of the film is neither lead actors. No. It is Henry King. King made some stunning films. Then died while shooting another and John Wayne stepped in. King handled all his work with bold tones of natural charisma and forceful power. Themes of love, sexual desire and impotence are handled without shifting footing. Essential in translating a master craftsman like Hemingway. The war and its hangover are translated with extraordinary nuance. As if King was recalling its deep, systemic effects on his own self. If like me you love directors making a film their own counselling session, this is a great example.

The extras are a key to why this film appears. From the H D transfer which sharpens the classic Cinemascope stock. The commentary by Patricia King Hanson and Frank Thompson is extensive. They almost overload it. Coming in at key scenes and like the matador, swishing the cape to draw us in. From book comparisons, to the mentions of Gertude Stein for time texture, to their conversation about the bull fight scenes. It is well, well, well (three times!) worth listening to. The making of is a studio approach piece but one that might interest film fans of the studio world.

  • High Definition Transfer
  • Commentary by film historians Patricia King Hanson and Frank Thompson
  • Featurette: The Old Men and The Bulls: The Making of The Sun Also Rises
  • Featurette – Hemingway on Film
  • Audio conversation with director Henry King
  • Promotional Materials
  • Still Gallery
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

 

No. 7 – MR MAJESTYX (1974)

Bronson stars in Richard Fleischer’s classic morality revenge tale. With stunning action set pieces, bullets blasting melons, an Elmore Leonard script zinging with menace and a post Death Wish Bronson at his best. Mr Majestyk (Bronson) grows melons, fought in Vietnam and spent time in prison. After an altercation over harvest workers sends him to jail, it appears the harvest will not be collected. In steps Mafia hitman Frank Renda (Al Lettieri). Arrested for the murders of some 12 people. Mafia trigger man and unspeakable menace. Incarcerated alongside Majestyk, he gets the mob to help him escape. When this fails and only him and Majestyk escape, well you know trouble is brewing.

This film is a remarkable coming together of a group of film talents. They worked together to construct a very notable action film, that also has unexpected twists and turns. Fleischer is a key reason the film works. Critics of the day suggested his ‘unruffled direction’ was the reason but I would go further. He was a directed who could turn his hand to any genre and excel. Here he directs without restraint. Balancing action and emotion with shifting camera and static frame. Bronson is forceful, he was a force of nature in truth and here it comes into its own. The other star of the picture is writer Elmore Leonard. A great thriller writer, he understood writing action films with subtext (52 Pick Up is an example of this). Here it envelopes the antagonism between two men, both big and brash but also real enough to empathise with. To side with and to enjoy what is happening.

The HD is very good. MGM seem to have allowed the stock to stay almost pristine. Still sharp and  The disc has great extras. The best is the commentary by Paul Talbot. I am a fan of Mr Talbot and here he comes in a shade of brilliance. From shining gold Bronson fan, to a cool green historian. From red action afficenado to blue 70s film  but not adverse to focusing around the film and giving us the various people making the film. His abundant facts on Fleischer is superb.  The interviews are very informative, but Lee Purcell’s interview is the better of the two. It focuses more on the role and its purpose. Richard Kline gives us less detail on his work and more on an outline of the story and the action pieces.

 

SPECIAL FEATURES

High Definition transfer

Colorado Chic (2015): newly-filmed interview with actress Lee Purcell

Colorado Cool (2015): newly-filmed interview with cinematographer Richard H. Kline

Audio commentary with Bronson and Fleischer expert Paul Talbot, author of Bronson’s Loose!: The Making of the Death Wish Films

Lobby cards, posters and stills gallery

Original theatrical trailer

1974, 104 minutes, 1.85:1, colour, 1080p, 24fps, English HoH subtitles

 

No 6 – THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE

After starring in two major films Taxi Driver and Bugsy Malone, Jodie Foster stuns with an exceptional performance of a young girl, trapped in an adult world insular and cold. Halloween in a seaside town in Maine is cold. Rynn Jacobs (Jodie Foster) is warmed by the candles of her thirteenth birthday cake. Alone in a large house leased by her father Lester. Lester is a poet and the two moved from England here to escape her mother. However, he never seems to be there. Never appearing whenever anyone comes to visit. Never spending time with his daughter. Land lady Cora Hallet, is a mean-spirited woman and all-around town patriarch. Her son Frank is a sexual deviant and likely paedophile. They both have eyes on Rynn and her missing father Lester. One wanting to take her as his own the other looking to knock her off her pedestal.

How do you make a film that deals with some horrific subjects and horrific people? Well you need to cast the right people, have the right script and hope that the director will balance all of this. The Little girl constructs its premise without sheen or false veneer.  You have peopled throughout this piece you have actors able to reflect the dark desires which troubled society then. They take it seriously without making it excessive. Chemistry flows from each performance and Foster matches every single role. The themes are even more difficult now as the things that recently surfaced unfolded. In this hard to define masterpiece about childhood, paedophilia and society, you are witnessing horrors that are brilliantly handled but deeply troubling.

The HD transfer has an aura of 70s dreams and nightmares. The lucid colours, soft focus and stark lighting. I loved the colour hues and how they have settled on the image. It shows how the 70s were a time of odd and in my opinion awful colour schemes. The significantly interesting piece is the commentary from Nathaniel Thompson and Tim Greer. We find two very exceptional commentators who unwrap the film from its time, ask questions of its content then and now and elaborate on the films unearthing. The conversations about looking at the film from modern eyes, media savvy kids and of course the links to other films like Sleuth, inform as well as craft a fresh debate.

SPECIAL FEATURES

– High Definition transfer

– Audio commentary by DVD Delirium’s Nathaniel Thompson and Tim Greer

– Original theatrical trailer

1976, 92 minutes, 1.85:1, colour, 1080p, 24fps, English HoH subtitles

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Simon Kennedy

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