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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Anthology > TV > Politics > Cold War > Torture > British > Childhood > Surrealism > Refugees > Crisis > White Crow (2019/Sony DVD)

Four Star Playhouse, V. 1 (1952 - 55/VCI DVD*)/The Prisoner (1955/Arrow Blu-ray/*both MVD)/Reflecting Skin (1990/Blu-ray**)/Styx (2018/DVD/**both Film Movement)/Wagon Master (1950/RKO/Warner Archive Blu-ray)/White Crow (2019/Sony DVD)

Picture: C/B/B/B-/B/C+ Sound: C/B/B-/B-/B-/C+ Extras: C-/B/C/C/C+/C+ Main Programs: B/B/C/C+/B-/B-

PLEASE NOTE: The Wagon Master Blu-ray is now only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.

Here's a new set of good and unusual drama releases you should know about....

We start with a new collection of an underrated anthology series that people should see more of. Four Star Playhouse, V. 1 collects 8 episodes of the series that included four stars appearing in the various shows: Dick Powell, Charles Boyer, David Niven and Ida Lupino. Other stars would show up in some shows, but there are many fine actors who remained unknown after the series folded that do solid work here and a young Angela Lansbury has a show all her own here from the Schlitz Playhouse of Stars that is also worth seeing and the ninth program here.

Brystol-Myers eventually joined the Singer sewing company to back the show, which was not a huge hit, but did just well enough to survive for four season in the early days of TV when new shows were scarce and save old movies and local programming, made it easier to get a show to show profits. Hope we get more soon.

There are no extras, but they kept all the ads of the sponsors from the film materials and they are all worth seeing.

Sir. Alec Guinness stars in Peter Glenville's The Prisoner (1955), in the film Guinness plays a Cardinal, who gets arrested by the police for treason against the state after World War II. In prison, he ends up subject to torture and goes up against a vicious Interrogator (Jack Hawkins)

that does whatever he must to try to get the Cardinal to issue a statement renouncing the role of religion in society. The film is loosely based on a true story of Hungarian Cardinal Mindszenty, who was under Nazi persecution and imprisoned for keeping his own religious ideals.

Highly controversial at the time of its release and banned from the Cannes and Venice Film Festivals for being anti-Communist and excoriated elsewhere as pro-Soviet propaganda, experience this heavy film like never before in this great looking HD edition, which features an incredible performance by Sir Alec Guinness.

The Prisoner also stars Jack Hawkins, Kenneth Griffith, Wilfrid Lawson, and Ronald Lewis.

Special Features:

Interrogating Guinness, a new video appreciation of the film by author and academic Neil Sinyard

Select scene commentary by author and critic Philip Kemp

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain

and FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Mark Cunliffe.

Philip Ridley's The Reflecting Skin (1990) is a drama that really wants to be an abstract art film that Miramax issued back in the day to limited success, but it has a following that has grown, a curio in part as its director wrote the solid script for Peter Medak's underrated film of The Krays (1990, reviewed elsewhere on this site) and now that is features Viggo Mortensen, whose critical and commercial success includes the Lord Of the Rings films, recent David Cronenberg films and Academy Award winner Green Book.

He only turns up in the middle of the film, which focuses on a young man (Jeremy Cooper) who lives on a farm with his abusive mother and hen-pecked father, plus he thinks a lady who lives nearby might be a vampire and four guys in a 1950s car with leather jackets and attitudes to match also show up here and there. A good looking film, writer/director Ridley is trying to make some big statement about the downside of childhood, maybe sexuality, isolationism and likely not a fan of Americana or the U.S. as the new world power.

That's his stance or so, fine, but the film starts out interesting and the 8-year-old has a few friends, but things start to slowly go bad where they might have helped him do better, then it gets worse and worse and worse, save the possibility his brother might be helpful. Unfortunately, without ruining anything, it becomes very predictable early, might almost be passively sadistic and Ridley still lands up saying things he only finally knows what he is trying to say. Otherwise, the film is style over substance with a few problematic points.

Extras include an illustrated booklet on the film including informative text and an essay by Travis Crawford & Heather Hyche, while the disc adds a feature length audio commentary track with director Ridley and making Of featurette: Angels & Atom Bombs.

Director Wolfgang Fischer's Styx (2018), is an interesting independent film that's been released on DVD here from Film Movement. The film centers around one main character, Rike (Susanne Wolf), who is a doctor that goes for a solo getaway on the ocean. As she is marooned in the middle of nowhere, she comes across a vessel in peril and has to save the 100 refugees on board, using the keen skills and no nonsense mindset that she uses in her day to day career. So much for a vacation!

The film also stars Alexander Beyer, and Inga Birkenfeld.

Special Features include:

16 minute short film, Ashmina, Directed by Dekel Berenson (In Nepali with English subs)

and Trailers

Styx is an interesting and well made film that is very realistic in tone and feel. There isn't a lot of music and plenty of slow moving moments that help add to the realism. Definitely worth a watch once and could potentially be remade into an interesting American film with a high profile lead.

John Ford's Wagon Master (1950) is one of the best examples of Ford's ability to make Hollywood-type narrative economy work, as the film starts quickly and immediately, is moving relatively fast, especially for a Western or any film of the time as bank robbers go on a spree, but when the law starts to catch up, they hide in the title convoy for escape. It is one of the Mormon religion, so they hope that holiness will help.

A sort of inverted Stagecoach, Ford's 1939 classic that made the Western a full genre, the cast has many of Ford's usual stock players and stars Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Joanne Dru, Ward Bond, Alan Mowbray, Charles Kemper and Jane Darwell. Even if you are not a Western or Ford fan, it is very consistent and flows very well, with his usually rich compositions and mastery of the block-style frame. This is not for everyone and many might not have the patience, but it is worth a look for what works and this is the best way outside of a high quality film print to see it.

The only extra here is a feature length audio commentary track by director/film scholar/superfan Peter Bogdanovich and Harry Carey Jr. on the film and Ford's career, including audio clips Bogdanovich audiotaped for extensive interviews he conducted with Ford.

Finally we have Ralph Fiennes' White Crow (2019) proving once again that the actor (who has a good role here) is also a really good journeyman director, interested in artistic talent and historic figures the way Ken Russell was, though not approaching the materials as hyperactively. This one concerns the life of Rudolf Nureyev, born poor and in trying circumstances in the Soviet Union, he lands up loving ballet and does everything he can to become a dancer.

As a young adult (played well by Oleg Ivenko), he visits the West in a trip to Paris by a ballet troop from the USSR and quickly starts to meet people there and instantly finds his dreams of freedom and a better life confirmed by the first hours of his visit. It takes its time for character development, storytelling and some character study before he decides to defect, which is handled very well and reminds us of how ugly The Cold War could get.

The film looks good enough, is shot well, the cast is solid and why this film did not get more press and attention is just another failure of the critical establishment spending too much time on commercial garbage that is shallow and that no one will remember in a few years. I miss adult filmmaking for adults and if you do too, you should go out of your way for this film.

Extras include a Making Of featurette entitled A Look Behind The Curtain and a Q&A with Fiennes, Writer David Hare and star Oleg Ivenko.

The black and white image on Prisoner has been remastered in 1080p high definition with a 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio and an original lossless English LPCM Mono mix. Benjamin Frankel's score is haunting and well suited to the film and is front and center in the mix. The contrast levels are spot on and there's no distracting artifacts that take away from the picture.

The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image on Skin has also been remastered and color corrected accurately for the first time, with Dick Pope's cinematography finally looking as it should, while the sound is here in a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Stereo lossless mix with Pro Logic surrounds that shows its age, but is not bad for the time and for a film of a budget this small.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer on Wagon can show the age of the materials used, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film and Warner can be happy that they have restored yet another RKO film. The sound is in a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless presentation that sounds a little better than I expected, so it is a major restoration that succeeds.

The 1.33 X 1 black & white on the Four Star DVDs come from surviving 35mm (and maybe 16mm) film materials and can look good, but also have more than their share of flaws and soft shots, so the results are mixed, but better than I have seen the show in the past, while the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono can be rough and second generation, so be careful of high playback volumes and volume switching. Otherwise, it should be fine.

Styx is presented on standard definition DVD anamorphically enhanced with a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and audio tracks in dubbed English, and German with English Subtitles. Compression issues are evident and of the norm for the format and visible here. All things considered, the film looks and sounds as good as it can.

Finally, the anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image on Crow can be soft and have motion blur, but this is well shot, has an interesting use of color and the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 is good for a dialogue-driven film.

To order the Wagon Master Warner Archive Blu-ray, go to this link for them and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


- Nicholas Sheffo and James Lockhart (Prisoner, Styx)



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