The DVD Report #628

The Aftermath is a British drama about the effects of the aftermath of World War II on the people of Hamburg, Germany and the soldiers who occupy their city. As one British officer puts it, the Russians got the wine, the Americans the views, and the Brits the ruins.

Directed by James Kent (Testament of Youth), the film stars Keira Knightley as a colonel’s wife who lived through the war in London, losing her 11-year-old son in the 1942 bombing of the city. She’s come to Hamburg to reunite with the husband (Jason Clarke) she hasn’t seen for five years, the newly assigned officer in charge of the British occupation. The British Army has commandeered the mansion of an anti-Nazi architect (Alexander Skarsgard) whose wife was killed in the bombings on Hamburg in 1943 as billeting for Clarke and Knightley. Skarsgard and his teenage daughter have been ordered to leave the house and take up residence in a British camp, but Clarke allows them to stay in the house. Skarsgard and his daughter have occupancy of the upper floor while Clarke and Knighley have the lower floor. With Clarke on duty much of the time and Skarsgard’s daughter supposedly attending school, the inevitable happens and Knightly and Skasrgard begin an affair.

The romantic drama plays out against the turmoil of the times as Skarsgard’s daughter falls for a murderous Hitler youth leader. Both narratives are handled sensitively with Flora Thiemann as Skarsgard’s daughter, Jannik Schumann as the Nazi youth, and Fionn O’Shea as Clarke’s driver turning in excellent supporting performances. It’s all very well done, but the two narratives are too quickly resolved at the film’s conclusion. This is one film that would have benefitted from a few additional scenes. An hour and forty-eight minutes running time is too short to do justice to a film with such lofty ambitions. What might have been one of the year’s great films had it been handled differently, becomes instead a pleasant time killer.

The Aftermath is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.

Not to be confused with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1987 science fiction film of the same name, 1963’s The Running Man is making its long overdue home video debut on Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Films.

Directed by Carol Reed, this one is not quite in the same category as the similarly themed The Third Man and Our Man in Havana, which were written by Graham Greene, but it has the feel of those earlier Reed successes.

Reed came to the project after he was fired from the problematic 1962 remake of Mutiny on the Bounty on which he clashed with star Marlon Brando and producer Sol Siegel. It would take two more films, 1965’s The Agony and the Ecstasy and 1968’s Oliver! for which he won his Oscar, to restore the director’s reputation but The Running Man is quite good in its own way.

Laurence Harvey stars as a British pilot for hire with a grudge against an insurance company who fakes his death in a plane crash at sea so that his American wife (Lee Remick) can collect on his policy. The two rendezvous in sunny Spain where the agent who investigated Harvey’s death (Alan Bates) shows up out of the blue. Is he onto the game or does he buy that Harvey is what he pretends to be, a wealthy Australian sheep farmer wooing widow Remick? There are surprises galore with the climax of the film taking place on the road to Gibraltar. Fernando Rey and Fortunio Bonanova pop up in memorable cameos.

Making the transition from previously released DVDs to Blu-ray are Leon Morin, Priest, The Trouble with Angels, Gaslight, and Midnight Lace.

Released in France in 1961 and the U.S. in 1962, Jean-Pierre Melville’s Leon Morin, Priest may be Melville’s best film ever. Like 1969’s Army of Shadows, which didn’t reach the U.S. until 2006, it’s an excellent film about the Nazi occupation of France and French resistance fighters. Its central characters are an atheistic widow (Emmanuelle Riva) and a non-judgmental Catholic priest (Jean-Paul Belmondo) with whom she has intellectual discussions about faith.

Riva is a resistance fighter whose Jewish husband was killed by the Nazis. She has come to see the priest about baptizing her daughter and the children of two of her friends in similar situations, not because she believes in Catholicism, but because she thinks the children will be better protected from the prying eyes of the Nazis.

For Riva, this was an even more complex performance than the one she gave two years earlier in Hiroshima, Mon Amour and the celebrated Oscar-nominated performance she would give late in her career in 2012’s Amour. For Belmondo, this was the antithesis of his breakout performance in the previous year’s Breathless and the action comedies that would dominate his long career. With its superb writing, acting, direction, and cinematography, this was a film that fit comfortably between the classic French narrative film and the vaunted New Wave that was then dominating the French film landscape. Melville won the City of Venice Award at the 1961 Venice Film Festival and Belmondo was nominated for a BAFTA the following year.

Taking a lighter look at Catholicism, Ida Lupino’s 1966 film, The Trouble with Angels marked the end of the actress-director’s big screen directing career.

Lupino went out with style directing Rosalind Russell as the Mother Superior of a Catholic girls’ school dealing with trouble-making students Hayley Mills and June Harding, nuns Binnie Barnes and Mary Wickes, and an interpretive dance teacher played by Gypsy Rose Lee whose mother Russell played four years earlier in Gypsy. With Russell at her wittiest since Auntie Mame and Mills at her most uproarious since The Parent Trap, this was a huge box-office success and even produced a sequel with Russell sans Mills, 1968’s Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows. While no great work of art, it still holds up better than some of the more celebrated films of the era.

Ingrid Bergman won her first Oscar for George Cukor’s 1944 film Gaslight, the film which gave us the term “gaslighting”, the manipulation of someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity. Charles Boyer as her manipulative husband, Joseph Cotten as her rescuer, Dame May Whitty as a gregarious old lady, and Angela Lansbury as a nasty maid co-star in the classic thriller. Blu-ray extras include the original 1940 British version starring Diana Wynyard and Anton Walbrook on standard DVD.

David Miller’s stylish 1960 film Midnight Lace mines the same territory with Doris Day, Rex Harrison, John Gavin, Myrna Loy, and Roddy McDowall in similar roles. It’s not the landmark film that Gaslight was but is an engrossing thriller all the same.

This week’s new releases include the Criterion Blu-ray editions of The BRD Trilogy and Europa Europa.

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