Most home video releases are mass produced and marketed by faceless conglomerates interested only in separating you from your hard-earned cash. If you look closely though you’ll find smaller labels who love movies as much as you do and show it by delivering quality Blu-rays and DVDs of beloved films and cult classics, often loaded with special features, new transfers, and more. But yes, they still want your cash, too.
Arrow Films is not only the UK’s best specialty Blu-ray/DVD label, but they’re also one of the most exciting regardless of geographical boundaries. Part of their appeal can be found in their unabashed affection for genre entertainment, but they’re equally adept and interested in more highbrow fare. They love movies as much as we do, and the proof is in a catalog diverse enough to include both Cinema Paradiso and Hell Comes to Frogtown.
They have two new releases hitting UK shelves next week, and they couldn’t be more different. Keep reading for our look at Arrow’s new Blu-rays of Don Siegel’s The Killers and Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise.
Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Winslow Leach (William Finley) is a musician and songwriter hoping to make it big, but his efforts to get his work noticed by the infamous producer and personality, Swan (Paul Williams), results in trouble. Swan hears, loves, and steals Winslow’s music leaving the artist deranged and badly burned in the process, but Winslow returns behind a mask to wreak havoc on the man’s hot new club. Toss in a thief of another kind, a dame named Phoenix (Jessica Harper) who steals Winslow’s heart, and the stage is set for tragedy.
Brian De Palma writes and directs here, but aside from some instances of split screen the film feels a bit looser than his normally more constrained features. That probably sounds like nonsense to anyone who’s seen the fat mess that is Raising Cain, but even when De Palma’s films are ridiculous on their face there’s a still a recognizable and controlled feel to them. This film, not so much.
It’s Phantom of the Opera meets Faust, part comedy and part musical, and it had to have been clear from the outset that it was not going to find a home with general audiences. It also has some not so subtle critiques for both sides of the entertainment industry, from the selfish cruelties of corporate interests to talent who are accepting of it all in search of fame of fortune. The message never gets in the way of the zaniness or the musical numbers though.
The most valuable player here, by far, is Williams, both for his performance and his role as the film’s songwriter. Less of an actor than a personality, Williams shines here as the devilish man intent on soul-snatching, but while his various expressions and antics bring a smile his music and lyrics are equally compelling. I wonder if he ever considered supplementing his Smokey & the Bandit residual checks with songwriting?
Arrow Video is no stranger to DePalma’s films having already released fantastically produced Blu-rays of Obsession, Blow Out, Dressed to Kill, and The Fury, with Sisters scheduled for some time this year. Their latest dip into his oeuvre has been handled just as carefully and lovingly delivering a fantastic video and audio and a wealth of extras. Sadly, there’s no commentary track from De Palma, but the second extra listed below more than makes up for its absence.
- Paradise Regained [50:13] – Most of the key players including Brian De Palma, Paul Williams, and William Finley talk about the film’s production through new interviews. They reveal how the lead trio of actors played a bit of musical chairs with their roles at first, the highly dangerous accident that occurred while filming the scene where Winslow’s face is burned, how Jessica Harper was competing against the likes of Linda Ronstadt, and more.
- Guillermo del Toro Interviews Paul Williams [1:12:22] – Yes, this is as fantastic as you’d expect it to be. The two are old friends apparently… who knew?!
- The Swan Song Fiasco [11:25] – Swan’s company was originally called Swan Song Enterprises, but a few months before the film was set to open they hit a legal snag. Led Zeppelin’s manager apparently started an actual production company with that name, and that coincidence combined with the fact that his history also featured a musician electrocuted on stage made for two too many similarities. This featurette walks though every example in the film where post-production effects and cuts were used to eliminate the Swan Song imagery.
- Archive Interview with Rosanna Norton [9:38] – An interview with the film’s costume designer.
- William Finley on the Phantom Doll [:35] – A short plug for the Phantom doll.
- Paradise Lost and Found [13:39] – Bloopers!
- Original trailers and radio spots
The Killers (1964)
Two men (Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager) walk into a school for the blind and shoot a teacher in front of a classroom filled with witnesses, but while they’re paid handsomely for the hit one thing bothers them almost immediately. Their target, Johnny North (John Cassavetes), made no attempt to run or avoid death and instead simply stood there staring at them. Their efforts to find out why reveal he had been involved in a million dollar heist, and soon they’re on the hunt for the cash.
Don Siegel‘s adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s short story shows hints of the man who would eventually go on to bring Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry to the screen with its tough guys and quick gun-fight action. It was originally produced for television, but the violence on display, including some rough treatment towards women, got it redirected to theaters. It’s nothing by today’s standards though especially as the action beats are so infrequent.
It opens with the assassination, but soon we’re dropped into thirty minutes of back story with North and his cohorts. The hitmen are gone and instead we’re following a budding love story and a race car driver’s on track tragedy. We jump back and forth a few times as characters tell their part of the story, inexplicably sometimes remembering events that they weren’t even there for, before the film finally wraps up with everyone. Marvin and Gulager, easily the best things about the movie, are in less than a third of it.
That unfortunate business aside, the rest of the cast have their moments, something easy to believe with familiar faces like Claude Akins, Angie Dickinson, Norman Fell, Ronald Reagan, and Seymour Cassel in roles of various sizes. That said, it’s Gulager who stands out as the more unhinged of the pair. His various asides like the way he cleans his sunglasses on Mr. Roper’s head or smiles before a violent outburst make for a memorable turn in a too-frequently forgettable film.
This release comes from the Arrow Academy side of the family, ie the classy sibling, but that designation is more about the films they choose than the quality of presentation and special features. As expected the video and audio is great for a movie a half century old, but the extras are a bit slight. We get the choice of watching in 1.33:1 (the aspect ratio designed for TV) or 1.85:1 (widescreen), but aside from that we only get a few interviews. Why the usually very chatty Clu Gulager isn’t among them is anyone’s guess.
- Screen Killer: Dwayne Epstein on Lee Marvin [30:45] – One of the actor’s biographers talks about Marvin’s career and screen presence.
- Reagan Kills: Marc Eliot on Ronald Reagan [20:45] – Again, a biographer talks about Reagan’s personality and career. Curiously, he uses some of his time to knock President Obama as having been elected purely because “he’s a black man who looks and acts like a white man.” So there’s that.
- Don Siegel Interview [10:36] – This 1984 interview was shot for French television and focuses on Siegel’s techniques and experience.