Smashing Time

Shelf Life

Having had thick, sloppy slugs of condescending bunk shot at us all summer long in Gatling-gun-like hails, we should never neglect the option to stay home and divert our movie-consuming dollars toward more substantive stuff—the Event we're party to may be ours alone, but at least you won't feel like the one-eyed king that doesn't "get" the thrill of blindness. Essential-viewing singularities new to video include Facets' overdue release of Michelangelo Antonioni's Identification of a Woman(1992), the aged modern master's last authentic shot in the dark and a spry, enigmatic, Eco-ish analysis of analysis—though ostensibly "about" the negotiations of modern relationships, the movie is actually a more mature study of visual narrative than any of his earlier films. As the film director-hero considers two disparate women, the jigsaw pieces are contemplated for their beauty, not their assembled significance.

A new video company, Anchor Bay, has bought out every video-rights fire sale on the horizon, resulting in a hemorrhage of long-unavailable Hammer films, disappointingly shoddy Italian horror flicks (with the exception of uncut Dario Argento classics Deep Redand Inferno), mod-Brit '60s obscurities Smashing Time(1967) and the long-lost Spencer Davis Group comedy The Ghost Goes Gear(1966), George Romero's best-ever vampire psychodrama Martin(1977), and Andrzej Zulawski's Possession(1981), the Isabelle Adjani-Sam Neill birth-trauma horror show that pushed Cronenberg's The Broodright into the lava pit. Notably, Anchor Bay is issuing the Herzog oeuvre in measured clips, including Even Dwarfs Started Small(1970), the seminal and all-but-unseen early masterpiece that could be described as The Terror of Tiny Townas imagined by Joel-Peter Witkin. Herzog's Sahara dream-film Fata Morgana(1970), also rarely revived and completely new to tape, is next on line.

Kino, for its part, continues to make the noir completist's film-watching life a flabbergasted scurry. (They're also releasing two Fritz Lang bookends, the crazed fantasias Spiders[1919] and The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse[1960], each with digitally remastered soundtracks.) Budd Boetticher's Behind Closed Doors(1948), narratively a notable precursor of Fuller's Shock Corridor, turns out to be stylistically every inch a paranoid mini-noir: Richard Carlson plays an on-the-make private dick hired to admit himself into La Siesta Sanitarium to hunt down a corrupt judge using the joint as a cover. Tor Johnson serves time as a delusional boxer, and Boetticher cranks up the late-night unease and overheard sadism ever so subtly.

Something of a skid-row footnote to the hallowed career of Anthony Mann (the 1945 copyright was held by "T-V Pic. Inc."), Strange Impersonationis not really a noir at all, but a cheap 68-minute women's film-cum-mad scientist revenge flick, with poor, hollow Brenda Marshall getting her face scalded in an experiment and then switching IDs with a dead souse when Hillary Brooke steals her fiancé. Mann's name is on it, but it could have been nearly anybody. Better is Anatole Litvak's The Long Night(1947), a remake of Marcel Carné's Le Jour Se Lève, which places a young, rangy Henry Fonda at the end of his rope in a dark attic apartment after killing Vincent Price for the sake of Barbara Bel Geddes. Passionate and often uncompromisingly tough (for a sparkly-eyed icon, Fonda sure could spit bile, never mind how he seems to hardly care if the police gunfire hits him or not), Litvak's movie deserves a spot in the canon.

 
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