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Twilight Time Brings One of the Best American Films of the ’70s to Blu-ray

By  · Published on February 16th, 2015

20th Century Fox

Specialty Blu-ray label Twilight Time continues to show their deep love for film with a continually growing and constantly eclectic selection of releases. The next few months will see Blu-ray titles as varied as To Sir With Love, U-Turn, The Night of the Generals and Zardoz.

There were five titles on last month’s slate (released on 1/20) including a great American underdog tale in Breaking Away, an Indian biopic of uprising and war with Bandit Queen, Francois Truffaut’s female-driven revenge film The Bride Wore Black, Woody Allen’s surreal ode to the cinema in The Purple Rose of Cairo and a 30th Anniversary release of Fright Night. That last title ‐ the only one not covered below ‐ was actually released by the label once before with a far slimmer selection of special features. It immediately became a collector’s item, and now, barely three weeks after its re-release, this anniversary edition is already fetching ridiculous sums from re-sellers.

Happily, the rest of their January titles are still available including a film that’s not only the month’s best release but also one of the best American movies of the ‘70s.

Bloomington, Indiana is a town divided. It’s a class thing, ignored or accepted by most of its citizens, but for Dave (Dennis Christopher), Mike (Dennis Quaid), Cyril (Daniel Stern) and Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley), their designation as “cutters” is both a source of pride and disdain. The term, originally used to to identify the men who worked the nearby quarry, has become something of a derogatory term for the town’s locals when uttered by the “rich kids” attending the university. While those kids have a path in life the cutters haven’t given their future nearly as much thought.

Dave’s the most put-together of the quartet with a focus on bicycle racing and his love of the Italian cycling team ‐ much to the dismay of his blue collar dad (Paul Dooley) and eternally accepting mom (Barbara Barrie) ‐ and he even woos a college girl while pretending to be Italian. Disappointment in the form of fallen heroes and collegiate bullies finds the four friends at a crossroad as the real world infringes on their lazy afternoons, and as is often the case in real life it all comes down to a bike race.

Peter YatesBreaking Away was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture and won for Best Original Screenplay (Steve Tesich), but regardless of the awards it won or should have won (which is all of them) the film’s true lasting power is in the near universal effect it has on viewers.

And that effect is pure delight.

Part coming of age comedy, part underdog sports tale and part glimpse into small-town America, the film is an effortless joy as it explores a tight friendship approaching the inevitable. Dave is the focus here, but each of the four have their own personal dramas pulling them in various directions, and the frustrations that come from their perceived limitations are sincere. We feel for each of them, and we’re just as quick to cheer them on.

Quaid does strong work in one of his earliest roles as a young man who rages against the system yet still allows that same system to shape who he is, and watching him struggle against that revelation shows a conflict between his outer physique and inner fragility. Moocher is the brunt of numerous height-related jokes, but Haley maintains an inner confidence proving the old adage about small packages. Stern has probably the toughest role of the three as Cyril’s the least developed and most solitary, but he makes that loneliness palpable where it sits just beneath his comic exterior. Christopher gets to have a lot of fun as Dave, and his antics and perceived melodrama serve to create quite a bit of the film’s humor.

The central storyline follows these four, but one of the film’s many highlights is Dooley’s turn as Dave’s constantly flustered father. There are some broadly comedic bits involving his used car lot and reaction to Dave’s newly discovered Italian affectations, but while he embodies the generational gap beautifully in his complete inability to understand Dave’s interests the film also gives him time to be inspired by his son’s passion in some wonderfully reflective ways.

There’s a sweet and simple honesty there, and it flows throughout the film in its mostly optimistic take on youth, family and friendship. Optimism and honesty don’t frequently go hand in hand, but here, even as we suspect the future will hold more serious struggles for our heroic foursome, we can’t help but believe they’ll make it together or apart. The film never pretends to be anything more than it is, and in the process it becomes something close to perfection.

Twilight Time’s releases almost always look and sound fantastic (and this is no exception), but they’re generally pretty slight on the special features. Breaking Away features their usual Isolated Score Track and some trailers, but there’s also a commentary track featuring Dennis Christopher accompanied by a pair of film historians. [Buy it from Screen Archives here.]

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Cecilia (Mia Farrow) has seen better days. Of course, it’s the Great Depression, so the same could be said of most of America, but Cecilia has it especially hard. She’s verbally abused at work, but her home life is a wreck as her husband (Danny Aiello) cheats, gambles and occasionally slaps her around. The one bright spot in her dreary life is the time spent in the hallowed halls of her local movie theater. She basks in the glow of these stories and characters who “live” in a far better world than hers, but one day, while enjoying a repeat viewing of a film called “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” one of those characters does the impossible.

Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) steps out of the movie and into the auditorium after noticing her in the audience several days in a row. His character is a heroic male figure, and that’s what he instantly becomes to Cecilia, but problems arise when the film’s other characters witness his defection and find it impossible to go on with the scene. They argue among themselves and even complain to theater management, and soon both the studio president and the actor that plays Tom Baxter, Gil Shepherd (Daniels), are actively searching for the missing character in the hopes of preventing a PR nightmare.

Writer/director Woody Allen is something of an acquired taste, and more often than not it’s not a taste that appeals to me. My favorite film of his, Match Point, is the one least like the others in his repertoire, and while I haven’t seen all of his films I can count the ones I truly enjoyed on one four-fingered hand. Well no longer. Now I need all five fingers because The Purple Rose of Cairo is a fantastically dark slice of magical realism.

It’s also a fascinating look at the need for escapism from both the horrible and the mundane. Cecilia is immersed in a terrible existence, but she’s not the only one looking for an out. Tom is escaping too ‐ sure, his is a life of luxury, exploration and love-making that fades to black before anyone actually disrobes, but he’s an explorer and adventurer by design and therefore yearns for something beyond the expected. While she aches to live a fantasy, he’s excited to experience the “real world.” Allen wisely explores those desires without catering to them, and the result is a film that fully entertains with some very funny dialogue and situations before peeling back one final illusory layer.

The film feels slight on its surface ‐ not in a bad way, but in the sense that it’s a rapid-fire comedy complete with zingers and zaniness ‐ but Allen’s script is actually a rather weighty rumination on our struggle between fantasy and reality. Both are necessary in the world and in our lives, but the line can be dangerously fuzzy at times.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray includes an Isolated Score Track and the theatrical trailer. [Buy it from Screen Archives here.]

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Married life has not been kind to Julie Kohler (Jeanne Moreau), but to be fair the marriage didn’t last very long. Mere seconds after exiting the church with her new husband at her side he was brutally gunned down. Distraught and prevented from taking her own life, Julie sets out on a quest for revenge against the men she holds responsible.

Director François Truffaut takes a rare detour into genre fare with this stylish revenge thriller, and the result is a beautifully-shot film filled with the unexpected.

The welcome unfamiliarities begin with Moreau herself. A woman out for revenge is an unusual character for the critically-acclaimed actress, and at the age of forty she’s outside the typical demographic for the genre. She does strong work here delivering a fine balance between the emotional trauma of what’s happened and the cold determination of what she’s planning to make happen.

The script, adapted from Cornell Woolrich’s novel, takes its time allowing Julie’s various plans to unfurl, and it does the same for the facts behind her husband’s death. The slow-burn of information adds to the suspense and drama, and it allows Julie to form an unexpected bond along the way. Questions remain by the end ‐ how does she find these men again? ‐ but the style and motivation pull us through.

Truffaut’s best known for his role in the French New Wave, but this film stands apart from the movement as it’s a contemporary thriller in many ways. It’s commonly viewed as an homage to the works of Alfred Hitchcock ‐ an attribute strengthened by its Bernard Herrmann score ‐ but it remains every bit a Truffaut film as it works through a narrative willfully ignorant of questionable plot turns while focusing on the look and emotional pull of it all. It’s an attractively shot film, full of color and seasonal appeal, and the director avoids attempts at surreal or opaque imagery.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray includes an Isolated Music & Effects Track, the theatrical trailer, an English dub and a commentary track with a trio of film historians. They’ve also included a CD featuring an audio conversation with composer Bernard Herrmann. [Buy it from Screen Archives here.]

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Phoolan Devi (Seema Biswas) is only eleven years old when she’s married off to a man making plans for his future. Abuse ‐ physical, sexual, emotional ‐ follows until a grown Phoolan decides to chart her own path. That journey becomes one of vengeance ‐ not against the man who raped her, but against a patriarchal society and a government that supports it. She joins and eventually leads the movement marking herself as an enemy of the state.

America holds no patent on the mistreatment of women throughout history, and one of the many international examples of places and times unfair to females ‐ India in the ‘8s and ’90s ‐ is brought to vivid, painful life in Bandit Queen. Director Shekhar Kapur crafts a sweeping biopic populated by beautiful landscapes and acts of utter cruelty, and at the heart of it is a strong lead performance and a fascinating historical figure.

Biswas cuts a deceptively fragile figure who surprises with fierce intensity and power when necessary, and she brings the real-life Robin Hood to roaring life. She’s tasked with playing both victim and aggressor, and while viewers won’t be so lucky she flinches during neither extreme.

This is no Hollywood fairy tale, but while the reality of the story is expected it leads to a film that far too frequently feels far too oppressive. It’s engaging and at times enlightening, but it’s also a crushing experience throughout. This isn’t a negative of course, but it’s meant as fair warning for viewers looking for a triumphant and empowering story.

Bandit Queen is an interesting and atypical take on the Robin Hood theme, but it’s far from the rousing adventure the topic usually engenders.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray features an Isolated Score Track and a commentary track with director Shekhar Kapur. [Buy it from Screen Archives here.]

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.