CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE
Director- Henry King
Cast- Tyrone Power, Cesar Romero, Lee J. Cobb.
Country of Origin- US
Writer - Tyler Miller
In the last few years the films that starred Tyrone Power have been making the leap to Blu-ray. And what a way to discover or rediscover his work. After seeing the underrated PRINCE OF FOXES and his swashbuckler epic retelling of the Zorro legend in THE MARK OF ZORRO, I’ve started to actively look for his work.
With this release from Twilight Time, the 20th Century Fox epic CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE (1947) shines brighter then before. Based on the novel of the same name by Samuel Shellabarger, the film tells the story of Pedro de Vargas (Tyrone Power) and how he leaves his noble family. At first to rescue them from the Spanish Inquisition and his archrival Diego de Silva (John Sutton), then leaving for the new world in the search of gold and new freedoms. He befriends a local eccentric, but wealthy man named Juan (Lee J. Cobb) and leaves for the Americas under the command of Hernan Cortes (Cesar Romero). Also joining the adventure is a barmaid named Catana (Jean Peters), who has her eyes set on marrying the brave warrior.
Based on real people and true events, CAPTAIN, comes from a time when grand scale epics were common but stayed away from troublesome content. Two problematic elements in the film are the down playing of real tragedies and the issue of white washing. To address the second up front, I know white washing was a dumb practice and it kept many performers of color out of the star light. It may distract some viewers seeing Lee J. Cobb or Tyrone Power not attempting Spanish accents or even being colored to match their historical counterparts. But for what it is, it’s not convincing but it’s not terrible either. As for historical events, the movie cuts off right before the Americans are settled by the Spanish and take control of Mexico. We get an icky march to victory during the end which is a little too happy for my tastes.
The film works with its episodic nature. This done in part to show most of the book’s sprawling adventures. It makes the pacing a bit off and leaves some elements completely toss aside, but it gets the job done. The movie uses its two hours and twenty-minute run time to show case the drama around every corner. On a filmmaking level Henry King uses every set piece to show how epic in scope the film is. The little action seen is quick and dirty. One great scene is the down and nasty sword fight between Power and Sutton. The film was mostly filmed on location in Mexico and the scenery doesn’t disappoint.
As the actors, Tyrone Power makes a likeable and troubled lead. As a star vehicle, his performance has some short comings, such as lacking chemistry with his first love in the movie played by Barbara Lawrence. But he shines with his character arch from clueless nobleman, to tired and beaten man, to finally a proud captain. Lee J. Cobb is always fun to see, but again his attempt at playing a Spanish character is lack luster at best. In the film’s most entertaining role is Cesar Romero (tv’s BATMAN as the Joker) as the charismatic Cortes, who hides a sinister side behind his wide shark like smile. John Sutton is also a joy to watch, in a performance that could’ve made the stereotype of the melodrama villain.
CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE is a highly entertaining adventure with plenty of old Hollywood polish that is easy to recommend to any classic film fan.
On the audio and video side of things, Twilight Time gives us another excellent transfer. The English 2.0 DTS-HD MA track sounded near perfect on my sound system. There is no noticeable hiss or pops. The next track offered is the English 1.0 DTS-HD MA track which is also fine toothed but softer in a few sections. If you’re a movie score fan, twilight includes their usual Isolated music track option which showcases the wonderful music of Alfred Newman. English Subtitles are included.
The 1080p HD transfer is a sight to see. This visually impressive film is showing it’s best on this transfer. Black levels are smooth, and the focus is razor sharp. The colors pop off the screen and the slightest texture on a piece of clothing can be seen.
As for extras, there is a newly recorded commentary with film historians Rudy Behlmer, Jon Burlingame, and Nick Redman. The track is lively and packed with trivia. Tyrone Power the Last Idol is a biography channel produced featurette on Power’s life. This same documentary has been on some of the other Power Blu-ray discs. Wrapping up the disc is a featurette called Tyrone Power and his leading ladies and the original theatrical trailer. In the disc itself is the usual excellent liner notes by Julie Kirgo.
The Film 4.5/5
Director- Andre De Toth
Cast- Michael Caine, Nigel Davenport, Nigel Green
Country of Origin-U.K.
Writer - Bobby Morgan
The social upheavals of the 1960’s and the traumatic effect the Vietnam War had on the U.S. resulted in a sea change in American filmmaking in the later years of that decade that would ultimately result in the creation of the New Hollywood. Major studios were suffering record losses at the box office because audiences were no longer showing up for their stuffy musicals, candy-coated romantic comedies, or dishwater dull crime dramas starring actors old enough to be their parents. The demographic was skewing younger and the films released had to accept and reflect that or were doomed to fail.
The box office success of Robert Aldrich’s classic 1967 WWII ensemble action-adventure The Dirty Dozen gave the war movie genre a much-needed shot of adrenaline and granted the major studios license to produce knockoff flicks of varying budgets that eschewed patriotism and battlefield glory for greed, cynicism, and gallows’ humor. They were often violent (though no more so than your average 21st century PG-13 flick), featured characters who were distrustful of pompous authority figures, and helped to shape the future of action cinema.
One of the best of this new breed of combat action was Play Dirty, a 1969 British feature produced by Harry Saltzman – perhaps best known as one of the driving forces behind the James Bond franchise – and directed by Andre De Toth, the Hungarian filmmaker who came to Hollywood in the 1940’s to make his mark on the industry with the iconic 3-D Vincent Price chiller House of Wax and the western Day of the Outlaw with Robert Ryan and Burl Ives. Play Dirty would be the last film De Toth ever made; he died on October 27, 2002.
During the North African Campaign of World War II, a British commando unit comprised entirely of convicted criminals is tasked by Brigadier Blore (Harry Andrews) with traveling 400 miles behind enemy the lines and destroying a fuel depot, in turn crippling the efforts by General Erwin Rommel and the German Afrika Korps to achieve victory for the Axis Powers. Assigned to escort the team headed up by Colonel Masters (Nigel Green) is Captain Douglas (Michael Caine), a British Petroleum employee reluctant to join the mission but whose knowledge of pipelines is critical to its success.
Douglas is essentially in charge of the unit, but his inexperience with combat situations doesn’t endear him to the gruff, sardonic Captain Leech (Nigel Davenport) and the other men. The challenges they all face en route to their objective – hostile enemy forces, unforgiving weather, and the roughest terrain imaginable among them – only serve to raise the tension between Douglas and the men to boiling levels, with only the gentlemanly realist Leech standing between the younger officer and total mutiny at the hands of a force of brutes and savages.
Most wartime action dramas are made with likable characters, energetic action sequences, and jaunty humor to draw in and entertain their audience. There is no fun to be found in Play Dirty, a ruthless and gripping thriller that isn’t afraid to address the pointless nature of war and the many horrors it inflicts on those unfortunate enough to fight it on behalf of the pompous and overprivileged. As the legendary filmmaker Samuel Fuller memorably stated through his classic dramas of realistic combat, surviving is the only glory in war.
De Toth filmed Play Dirty primarily in the same deserts of Spain which had also hosted many an Italian western in its time. The harsh, rocky landscapes provide a convincing backdrop for the characters’ journey into a literal and moral Hell where death is lurking behind every stone and corrupting the most inviting oasis. Action set-pieces drip with tension and are methodically staged and executed, and De Toth wisely keeps them free of musical accompaniment to best maximize the suspense. The original score composed by Michel Legrand (The Thomas Crown Affair) is barely there, and the film is all the better for it. Being a Harry Saltzman production, there’s still plenty of epic spectacle in the form of multiple explosions and bloody gun battles, but as Play Dirty has no clear antagonist except war itself, we’re never sure exactly for whom to root.
The script by Melvyn Bragg (Jesus Christ Superstar) and Lotte Colin (producer Saltzman’s mother-in-law), based off an original story by George Marton, rests the narrative heavy-lifting on the Captains Douglas and Leech characters as a bond forged in fire and blood begrudgingly develops between the two opposites and their repeated clashing gives way to a mutual desire to salvage some semblance of victory from their disastrous operation. The political commentary is craftily worked into the story’s DNA instead of being saved up for a series of preachy monologues that would have brought the pacing to a screeching halt, and the final scene is a nihilistic kick in the gut doubtlessly inspired by the ending to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, released the previous year.
Michael Caine and Nigel Davenport both invest cool authority in their roles and share an antagonistic chemistry that makes their conflict plausible and not merely a hollow plot device to eat up screen time. Caine plays Douglas with the upmost seriousness, but I enjoyed Davenport’s unflappable demeanor and sense of humor in stressful situations. The stars’ performances compliment each other well. The rest of the supporting cast is mostly a wash as their characters aren’t developed on the page beyond two-dimensional cannon fodder, apart from Harry Andrews (Theater of Blood) and Nigel Green (Zulu) as the commandos’ duplicitous superior officers whose shady motivations result in the closest the film has to actual villains.
Play Dirty is presented on Region A Blu-ray by Twilight Time in a MPEG-4 AVC encoded 1080p high-definition transfer correctly framed in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The new HD master was created and supplied by MGM and was likely the same one that appeared on 101 Films’ 2014 Region B release. De Toth and cinematographer Edward Scaife (who also served in the same capacity on The Dirty Dozen as well as Curse of the Demon and Hannie Caulder) gave the film a grubby, sand-blasted visual identity and outfitted the actors in drab browns and greys. The source elements used for the transfer display a few signs of aging, but are for the most part solid and maintain a moderate and consistent content of grain and accurate color timing that reflects the filmmakers’ intentions and never shifts. Medium and long shots display a slight softness in the image, but close-ups reveal the greatest improvement in detail sharpness.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track faithfully recreates the film’s original theatrical sound mix with clarity and balance. Dialogue is audible at all times and it never clashes or is drowned out by the Legrand score and the extensive gunfire and explosion sound effects, also ensuring that distortion is never an issue. English subtitles have also been provided.
The only extra features are an additional audio track isolating the sound effects and Legrand’s score in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and the original theatrical trailer (3 minutes). Of course, there’s also another informative liner notes booklet written by Julie Kirgo.
The Film: 4/5
Cast-Jeff Bridges, Ellen Barkin, John Hurt
Country of Origin-U.S.
Writer - Bobby Morgan
Once Michael Cimino’s misunderstood epic western Heaven’s Gate opened to withering reviews and disastrous box office and helped to sink the filmmaker-friendly studio United Artists, the genre was put on permanent life support. For the rest of that decade and the one that followed, only the occasional smash hit from Clint Eastwood (such as his Oscar-winning masterpiece Unforgiven) and the enduring success of the endlessly quotable classic Tombstone could manage signs of life. Nowadays the only western features we see usually premiere at your local arthouse cinema or on one of the many streaming services, apart from Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight.
One filmmaker who modeled his career on the western was Walter Hill, but out of the twenty-one films Hill has made in a career that has spanned more than four decades (and counting) only three of them were actual westerns. He also made the two-part miniseries Broken Trail for AMC and directed the pilot episode of the beloved HBO series Deadwood. Hill often borrowed character and narrative concepts familiar to western fans, particularly the mythic qualities of the archetypal genre hero. The last silver screen western Hill has made to date was 1995’s Wild Bill, which had the horrible fortune of opening in the middle of the holiday movie rush and was slaughtered at the box office. Mixed reviews from the nation’s prominent film critics didn’t help matters any.
Ironically released theatrically by United Artists (but now operating under the supervision of new owner MGM, once the mightiest studio in Hollywood), Wild Bill crawled out of theaters like a gut-shot outlaw and onto home video within a few months while blockbusters like Goldeneye (another UA release) and Pixar’s first Toy Story continued to dominate screens from sea to shining sea. Now that it is making its debut on Blu-ray, to view Wild Bill in the context of Hill’s larger body of work is see a passion project that was thematically a companion piece to the director’s finest western – 1980’s The Long Riders – and served as an intriguing transitional project for its lead, Jeff Bridges.
Bridges had appeared in a few westerns (including the aforementioned Heaven’s Gate) in his career prior to signing on to Wild Bill for the title role of the legendary James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, a lawman, gunfighter, and Civil War veteran of the Union who was notorious throughout the American Old West for being one of the fastest guns alive with a persona body count too high to count. Hickok’s reputation ensured he would never have to go hungry or thirsty because there was always one person in every saloon he walked into happily willing to buy him a steak and a few shots of whiskey. Unfortunately, this also meant he would have to spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder because everywhere he went he met at least one man who wants to take a shortcut to fame by being the one who killed Wild Bill Hickok.
Bill’s legacy has become his curse, one that he hopes to find some respite from in the rowdy boom town of Deadwood, where he runs into old acquaintances like California Joe (James Gammon) and his fellow Wild West legend Calamity Jane (Ellen Barkin) and rekindles their dormant friendships. As it goes in his life, the peace that Bill wished to enjoy is shattered to pieces upon the arrival of young Jack McCall (David Arquette), who announces to all in attendance at Hickok’s new favorite watering hole that he intends to be the one to kill the famous gunfighter. Throughout the film, we get opium-induced glimpses of Bill’s happier past (presented as grainy B&W flashbacks, shot from odd angles on what looks like high-definition video but could very well be 35mm film stock) and begin to piece together McCall’s motivation for wanting to kill him.
It is in these flashbacks that we are introduced to Susannah Moore (Diane Lane), the woman who Bill supposedly loved more than any other he ever met. Their romance was doomed to fail from the start as he was hardly the kind of man ready to settle down and start a family. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever seen any film that McCall is Susannah’s son and he’s come to Deadwood to avenge his mother’s memory and kill the man who loved her and left her when she needed him the most.
Hill based his screenplay for Wild Bill on Thomas Babe’s 1978 stage play Fathers and Sons and the 1986 Pete Dexter novel Deadwood. Dexter’s tome had been optioned by producers Richard and Lili Zanuck, and the author was tasked with adapting it into a script that was rejected by several notable directors before Hill finally took an interest. The film takes massive creative liberties with the cold hard facts of Wild Bill Hickok’s life, but that’s a common practice in Hollywood, especially when it comes to westerns. It was John Ford’s classic 1962 western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance where we given the sadly prophetic aphorism “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”. Wild Bill is a real “print the legend” kind of flick, but it’s an entertaining and frequently provocative one, and at a lean running time of 98 minutes it never lags or overstays its welcome.
Wild Bill’s first act is loaded with gunfights as Hill hopscotches through time to show how Bill was forced to constantly defend his reputation and leave a few bullet-riddled corpses in his wake. By the time he accidentally guns down his own deputy while serving as the sheriff of Abilene, no one can blame Hickok for wanting to leave that life behind and live out the rest of his days as a clownish parody of himself in the employ of the iconic theatrical impresario Buffalo Bill Cody (played by Keith Carradine, who starred in The Long Riders for Hill and would later play Hickok in the director’s Deadwood pilot).
The film lived and died by the casting of the title role. Luckily, Jeff Bridges was continuing to age into one of cinema’s great elder statesmen actors at the time he was chosen to play Hickok. Though his desire for multiple takes often brought him into conflict with the quick-shooting Hill, theirs turned out to a lucrative partnership on many levels. Bridges imbues Wild Bill with sardonic wit, world-weary cynicism, and a lost romanticism that only starts to fire up once more through his burgeoning affair with Calamity Jane, played by the always welcome Ellen Barkin with smiling sweetness and frontier fury. He’s just as comfortably playing the larger-than-life gunfighter version of Hickok as he is the somber, drunken loner who wishes he could settle at least one argument with words instead of bullets.
John Hurt, who co-starred with Bridges in Heaven’s Gate, brings gentlemanly flair to the part of Bill’s expatriate friend Charles Prince, while James Gammon (The Cell) is a hoot as the motormouthed California Joe. Best known for playing trouble maker Ajax in The Warriors and the psycho Ganz in 48 Hrs. for director Hill, James Remar shows up late in the film to add even more antagonism to the mix as the leader of gang of killers hired by McCall to murder Hickok. Despite only appearing as a ghost of Bill’s past, Diane Lane gives a fine performance as the only woman he ever truly loved with her limited screen time.
Smaller turns by Christina Applegate (Anchorman) and Lee de Broux (Robocop) help flesh out the Deadwood citizenry. Hill also loaded the supporting cast with actors he had worked with once or more in the past, including Bruce Dern (The Driver), Stoney Jackson (Streets of Fire, Trespass), Peter Jason (The Long Riders), and John Dennis Johnston (Extreme Prejudice). Finally, cult cinema aficionados will enjoy the brief of child preacher turned B-movie star Marjoe Gortner (Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw, Star Crash) playing – what else? – Deadwood’s resident man of the Lord with the same rock star charisma and energy with which he once captivated audiences as an authentic evangelical proselytizer.
Wild Bill was shot on 35mm by Lloyd Ahern, Hill’s regular cinematographer for his late career output, and his work is reflected well in the 1080p high-definition transfer on Twilight Time’s new Blu-ray release. The HD master was likely created by MGM for cable television and is framed in the film’s original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio. Though the transfer isn’t reference quality, texture and detail are strong and grain is low but acceptable. The flashback sequences are loaded with grain and are of lower picture quality than the rest of the transfer, but this shift was an intentional artistic decision made by Hill and Ahern and thus does not affect the overall score I give to the transfer. The only colors that really pop here are the blue and yellow lighting employed to bring extra visual panache to certain sequences.
There aren’t many distinguishable differences between the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 tracks, though since the film was mixed and released theatrically with a DTS mix, the 5.1 tends to work a little better in its favor as it offers a spacious integration of the dialogue, sound effects, and the playful yet acute music score composed by Van Dyke Parks (The Two Jakes). The only downside to these soundtracks, and it’s a relatively minor complaint, is that the narration from Hurt is often pitched too low that it tends to be drowned out by the thundering gun shot effects and crowd activity in the mix. English SDH subtitles have also been provided.
Parks’ music score is granted its own isolated track in DTS-HD Master Audio, and Twilight Time has also included the original theatrical trailer (2 minutes) as well as yet another of Julie Kirgo’s highly enjoyable liner notes booklets.
The Film: 4/5
Edge of Eternity
Cast-Cornel Wilde, Victoria Shaw, Mickey Shaughnessy
Country of Origin-U.S.
Writer - Bobby Morgan
In this 1959 Columbia Pictures release, shot in and around the Grand Canyon in the vibrant and expansive majesty of Cinemascope under the direction of Don Siegel (in between his sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers and his terrific later work with Clint Eastwood, including The Beguiled and the original Dirty Harry), a string of brutal murders near a guano mine in a sleepy Arizona community leaves its unassuming citizenry plagued with fear and uncertainty. Deputy sheriff Les Martin (Cornel Wilde) is assigned to investigate the mysterious killings; his search for answers brings him into conflict with various townspeople and a plot involving illegal gold mining.
A fun little flick and little else, Edge of Eternity provides a quick fix for lovers of fast-paced pulp. It’s a professional piece of work - skillfully acted and photographed, edited with precision, and featuring a thrilling finale as hero and villain battle it out on a mining car suspended high above the Canyon. It’s a gripping set-piece that ends the movie on a solid note and mostly ties the varying plot elements together and slaps a bow on the entire affair.
Siegel’s direction is efficient and assured and he draws good performances from Cornel Wilde (The Naked Prey), Victoria Shaw (The Crimson Kimono), Mickey Shaughnessy (Jailhouse Rock), and Edgar Buchanan (Ride the High Country). Dabbs Greer (The Green Mile) and Jack Elam (Once Upon a Time in the West) also put in brief appearances. The romantic subplot between Wilde and Shaw’s characters is plausible and the two actors share a warm chemistry; my only problem with the development of their relationship is that it occasionally drags the plot somewhat when more time should be devoted to the murder mystery at the heart of the narrative.
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray release of Edge of Eternity features a fine 1080p high-definition transfer of the main feature correctly presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The handsome Cinemascope photography from the great Burnett Guffey (Bonnie & Clyde) is granted its finest home video incarnation to date – a transfer awash with warm, imposing colors, boasting accurate details and flesh tones, and pleasingly free of blemishes and other traces of permanent print damage. You could look at the magnificent Grand Canyon and desert vistas and feel like it’s possible to get lost among the visuals. The terse dialogue and tension-mounting score composed by Daniele Amfithearof (Major Dundee) are spotlighted with great effect in the English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track, a clean and enjoyable recreation of the film’s original mono sound mix. English subtitles have also been provided.
In addition to the customary liner notes written by Julie Kirgo, the Blu-ray’s supplements include a commentary track with film historians C. Courtney Joyner and Nick Redman and a bonus DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 featuring an isolated presentation of the Amfithearof soundtrack.
The Film: 4/5
Beneath the 12-Mile Reef
Director: Robert D. Webb
Cast: Robert Wagner, Terry Moore, Gilbert Roiland
Country of Origin: U.S.
Writer - Andrew Bemis
Either the second or third CinemaScope productions (there’s confusion over whether it or How to Marry a Millionaire was released first), Beneath the 12-Mile Reef is an action melodrama made distinctive by its setting. Shot on in Florida, the film’s coastal setting not only makes for some stunning early widescreen imagery, it also gives the film’s story a very particular flavor. While there have been plenty of movies about star-crossed lovers who love each other against their families’ wishes, there are few fewer where the families are sponge fishers battling over access to the reef.
The patriarch of one family is Mike Petrakis (Gilbert Roland) a Greek immigrant whose crew includes his son Tony (Robert Wagner). Mike runs into trouble when he sails into the unofficial territory of Thomas Rhys (Richard Boone), who doesn’t take kindly to immigrants encroaching on his business. The tensions between the two families are exacerbated by Tony’s romance with Thomas’s daughter, Gwyneth (Terry Moore) and sudden tragedy. Tony must ultimately prove himself by venturing out to the titular, treacherous reef.
The story is simple, probably deliberately so - there are stretches of the movie that are almost dialogue free, the better to showcase the widescreen photography. Within the melodramatic framework of the plot, however, screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides creates a nuanced and surprisingly class-conscious portrait of the two families. And though Robert Wagner makes for a sturdy square-jawed leading man in the ‘50s mold, it’s the supporting cast - especially Roland and Boone as the two patriarchs - that give the film much of its flavor. The real stars here, though, are cinematographer Edward Cronjager - who makes the most of the then-new format, especially during the film’s underwater sequences - and composer Bernard Hermann, whose score evokes mystery and romance beyond the edges of even the widest frame.
Twilight Time presents Beneath the 12-Mile Reef in its original 2.55:1 aspect ratio. The disc looks great - early widescreen movies often look soft or overly noisy on video, but this transfer is surprisingly sharp and detailed, making the most of the movie’s rich color palette. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio is also strong; a 2.0 track is also included, and while I didn’t notice a drastic difference between them, the 5.1 track does make Hermann’s score feel a bit more immersive. An isolated track highlighting the score is included, along with an AMC featurette profiling Wagner. A booklet featuring an essay by Twilight Time’s Julie Kirgo is included with the disc.
The Film: 3/5