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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > War > Prison > Politics > Terrorism > Sexual Harassment > Military > Cold War > Escape > Breakout > He > Camp X-Ray (2014/MPI/IFC Films Blu-ray)/Escape From East Berlin (1962 aka Tunnel 28/MGM)/Once A Thief (1965/MGM/Warner Archive DVDs)

Camp X-Ray (2014/MPI/IFC Films Blu-ray)/Escape From East Berlin (1962 aka Tunnel 28/MGM)/Once A Thief (1965/MGM/Warner Archive DVDs)

Picture: B-/C+/C+ Sound: B/C+/C+ Extras: C/C-/C Films: C/B-/C

PLEASE NOTE: The Escape From East Berlin and Once A Thief DVDs are now only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.

Here are three serious dramas that are ambitious, even intelligent and one actually works...

Peter Sattler's Camp X-Ray (2014) is one of the all-too rare films dealing with Guantanamo Bay in the Post-9/11 world finding a dark recycling after its association with the Cold War. Kristen Stewart is an Army soldier assigned to go there and take care of things, but the Muslim prisoners have all kinds of issues with women and images of women, which leads to an ugly, gross, even bizarre scene between she and an unusually readerly prisoner (Payman Waadi) that probably should have ceased after said incident.

It is from there that the script gets into trouble, starting with this idea that while contact has to continue because of her job (delivering books and magazines to the prisoners), they then eventually develop a relationship that I found highly unlikely and if I somehow buy the premise that they are both toxic and dysfunctional enough to have this happen with them it still never adds up.

The portrayal of the Bay works and a subplot about sexual assault is started up, but is never resolved in a way that is also troubling. Yet, the film wants to have this sort-of friendship and all in all, this becomes a missed opportunity and disappoints. I will also add the acting is good and directing not bad, but we later learn in the extras this is another release attempting the silly impossibility that an apolitical tale can be made, especially of a subject like this. It lands up being slightly left-of-center with little clue about where it is going and what it has done. See it for yourself to judge.

An Original Theatrical Trailer and new Making Of featurette are the only extras.

Robert Sidomak's Escape From East Berlin (1962, aka Tunnel 28) is an underrated drama thriller by the underrated genre and Film Noir filmmaker about a group of people trapped on the wrong (read Stalinist communist/oppressive side of Germany) who happen to live near a part of The Berlin Wall and the slow temptation of several of them (after the husband one a woman dies almost making it across) starts to slowly grow when possible opportunity starts to surface.

After an opening with documentary footage of the building of the wall and people being injured or killed by the East German government to 'keep them in or else' brings us to life on the wrong side, grey, dreary, unhappy, but with good people we get to meet while we follow the story. Don Murray plays a good friend of the man who died trying to make it and starts to feel maybe it is time to try if he can since his friend died so spectacularly and was so close.

The atmosphere is thick, the script really well written, the cast (also including Christine Kaufmann, Horst Janson and soon-to-be big TV star Werner Klemperer) are all convincing as we slowly try to figure out if anyone will accidentally or purposely give away the escape plot to the ever-present soldiers at the border who are always ready to harass and shoot-to-kill. This can be brutal, yet also suspenseful and realistic, which is great and solid filmmaking from Siodmak, whose original The Killers is a Noir classic and Spiral Staircase and Criss Cross are still talked about to this day.

This is the 89-minutes-long version, though a 94 minutes cut allegedly exists. It still works well here and is recommended.

An Original Theatrical Trailer is the only extra.

Ralph Nelson's Once A Thief (1965) should have worked well, a heist film with international sensation Alain Delon with rising, dynamic, sexy Ann-Margret as his 'woman' and Jack Palance as the man who pushes him into the big criminal plot who happens to be his brother. Van Heflin is the cop after all of them and this does have some energy and good pacing thanks to directing by Nelson (best known for his action directing on ITC British TV classics like Secret Agent/Danger Man (reviewed elsewhere on this site) among others) and Zekial Marko (who wrote the novel this film is based on) adapted it into the screenplay complete with Jazz/Beat dialogue from the era.

Unfortunately, we're supposed to believe Delon and Palance are from Mexico, Ann-Margret's beauty is downplayed for the drama (though she can act) and despite being a good-looking film, the plotting tends to stumble between bad moments, flat ones, forgettable ones and one too many that ring false, more frustrating when you see what does work. Marko has a knack for realism with clever twists (he wrote the original script for the still-enduring Zombie episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker) and his talent makes this more bearable, but it is just not that great or as realized as it should have been.

An Original Theatrical Trailer and vintage Making Of promo film are the only extras.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Camp is a little darkened in a cliched way for the genre, but it is the best performer here, though the black & white, anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image on Berlin (despite some detail issues) and the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image Panavision-shot image on Thief look good too.

The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Camp is its well mixed and presented throughout with a decent soundfield throughout that makes it more bearable. The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on the DVDs show their age and don't sound bad, but could sound a little better with some restoration work.

To order either of the Warner Archive DVDs, Escape From East Berlin and Once A Thief, go to this link for them and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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