Scarlet Street (1945)
Where’s it on? Talking Pictures TV, Saturday 2:45am
Two weeks ago, this column highlighted the new Blu-ray release of Fritz Lang’s The Woman in the Window (1944). Now, courtesy of Talking Pictures TV, there’s an opportunity to catch the film that the great German director made the following year with the same trio of stars. Scarlet Street sees Edward G. Robinson’s lonely cashier, Chris Cross, fall irremediably for the charms of Joan Bennett’s Kitty March, an ‘actress’ on the make with her hustler fella, Johnny Prince (Dan Duryea). Much like the earlier film, it’s a singular noir of tenanted daydreams, its protagonists passing off wish-fulfilment fantasy as rented reality. Gender roles, especially, are subtly – and in the case of Robinson’s floral apron, not so subtly – subverted under Lang’s deadpan gaze; the film’s ending suggesting that it’s easier to get away with murder than ideas above your station.
Where’s it on? Arrow Academy Blu-ray
While not ranking among the top tier of director Jacques Tourneur’s filmography, there’s little escaping the fact that Nightfall remains a winningly pugnacious B-noir. Adapted from the novel by David Goodis (the hard-boiled author also behind François Truffaut’s 1960 film Shoot the Pianist), and later serving as inspiration for the Coen brothers’ Fargo (1996), Nightfall utilises a distinctive structural device to tell the story of Aldo Ray’s Jim Vanning, an artist living under an assumed identity having plundered a pair of bank robbers of their loot some years back. Flashing back and forth between the present-day big city and the snowy wilderness of the earlier encounter, Tourneur builds a complex moral quagmire into the character of Vanning – as performed by Ray, at once the grinning hero and vicious, self-serving opportunist. It’s an appetisingly mean little number, as noirs go, at least until it pulls its punches in the closing minutes.
The Andromeda Strain (1971)
Where’s it on? Arrow Blu-ray
At once an alien invasion thriller and singular science fiction procedural, The Andromeda Strain makes it easy to see why director Robert Wise got the Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) gig. Anyone looking for straightforward genre kicks might be advised to look elsewhere, as while an extraterrestrial has landed on earth and taken out the residents of a small town – with two notable exceptions – it takes the decidedly uncinematic form of a microscopic, bacterial entity. Wise compensates with a patiently sure directorial hand (split screens and diopters abound), following a group of scientists into a secret research facility through multiple levels of decontamination. Tension is eked from the various tests the scientists effect on the organism, the VFX work saved for a finale courtesy of Douglas Trumbull. Michael Crichton (on whose novel the film is based) brings the scientific minutiae, and Boris Leven the magnificent production design, while Wise supplies the widescreen, apolitical dread. Fascinating stuff.
Where’s it on? BFI Player
With the exception of Captain Marvel (2019), co-directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the powers that be at Marvel HQ have hardly demonstrated strong game when it comes to hiring female filmmakers to helm their mega-budget extravaganzas. It’s taken them 11 years, but production on the Scarlett Johansson vehicle Black Widow is currently underway, with Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland at the helm, the first female director to helm a Marvel picture solo. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, here’s an opportunity to catch her theatrical debut Somersault, which joins BFI Player this week. Launching the career of both Shortland and its star Abbie Cornish – the film swept the board at the Australian Film Institute’s 2004 awards – it’s an impressionistic coming-of-age tale of sexual awakening, beautifully textured by cinematographer Robert Humphreys. A pre-Avatar (2009) Sam Worthington also stars, but this is Cornish’s film through and through.
The Mule (2018)
Where’s it on? Warner 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD
If this does turn out to be the final screen performance from Clint Eastwood, who has implied his retirement from acting while continuing to direct, then what a swan song The Mule will prove. Wistfully elegiac in the great tradition of a certain breed of late-period American masterworks, the film follows Clint’s economically destabilised, nonagenarian horticulturalist as he takes to the road, delivering cocaine cross-state for the Mexican cartels, who trust that an old white dude in a rickety pickup is less likely to be stopped by the feds between ports of call. Mischievously prickly and ambiguous in its politics – as befits recent Eastwood pictures – but aching with a remorseful longing that feels deeply personal (his real-life daughter Alison plays his estranged daughter here), it’s a tender, unsentimental elegy to the fleet elusiveness of time from one of the great American filmmakers.