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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Comedy > Politics > Italy > Silent Film > Shorts > WWII > Revenge > British > Slave Labor > Tunisia > Ch > Allonsanfan (1974/Radiance*)/Lon Chaney: Before The Thousand Faces 1914 - 1916 Vol. 1 DVD + 1914 - 1917 Vol. 2 Blu-ray (Undercrank)/Murphy's War (1971/Paramount/Arrow/*both MVD Blu-ray)/Under The Fig

Allonsanfan (1974/Radiance*)/Lon Chaney: Before The Thousand Faces 1914 - 1916 Vol. 1 DVD + 1914 - 1917 Vol. 2 Blu-ray (Undercrank)/Murphy's War (1971/Paramount/Arrow/*both MVD Blu-ray)/Under The Fig Trees (2021/Film Movement DVD)/Youth Spring (2023 aka Youth (Spring)/Icarus DVD)

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

Next up are dramas and releases that cover over 100 years of cinema...

Paolo & Vittorio Taviani's Allonsanfan (1974) is one of Marcello Mastroianni's more obscure, political films, though he was not very political himself, a big and by then, legendary international cinema icon. Playing an anarchist trying to retire and go into hiding, he is found finally being released from prison and the next generation wants him to lead them to a big victory. He's not too happy about this and has to deal with all kinds of bad, bizarre treatments, not well to begin with.

His family is one of means and he comes back to their big estate, but his lady in waiting (Lea Massari as charlotte) shows up and one of his own family betrays him too, resulting in a group of soldiers showing up and opening fire on everyone! The couple escapes, but the madness is far from over. You get more twists and turns, plus Stanko Molnar (of Cimino's The Sicilian and a Lamberto Bava veteran, in his debut film) plays (the film actually has one) the title character, whose name is also the first two words of the French National Anthem, so the screenplay is filled with all kinds of meaning, some of which will be more hidden from U.S. audiences than those of Europe.

To say anything else would be a spoiler, but this is rich, well done and has the benefit of a music score by Ennio Morricone. Definitely worth a good look. Very underrated and not as well known as it should be.

Extras include a Feature Length Audio Commentary Track by critic Michael Brooke

  • Archival interview with the Taviani brothers by critic Gideon Bachmann in which they discuss filmmaking approaches, the role of the director, the future of cinema and more (57 minutes)

  • Original Theatrical Trailer

  • Newly translated English subtitles

  • Reversible sleeve featuring designs based on original posters

  • Limited Edition booklet featuring new writing by Italian Cinema expert Robert Lumley and a newly translated contemporary interview with the Taviani brothers

  • and Single Pressing of 3,000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings.

Lon Chaney: Before The Thousand Faces 1914 - 1916 Vol. 1 (DVD) and 1914 - 1917 Vol. 2 (Blu-ray) are two of hopefully several sets of nearly lost and still partly lost short silent films featuring one of the most successful movie actors of all time, so big that his name looms large beyond the early years of filmmaking and well into the digital and ultra high definition era. Eventually the star of some major, key feature film classics, he helped then 'little sister' studio Universal become an established studio decades they became the major studio they still are today and is a permanent part of their legacy as both are of film history.

Vol 1. contains A Mother's Atonement (1915, 20 minutes), If My Country Should Call (1915, 24 minutes) and The Place Beyond The Wind (1916, 39 minutes), while Vol 2. offers By The Sun's Rays (1914, 13 minutes), The Oubliette (1914, 46 minutes), The Millionaire Paupers (1915, 6 minutes), Triumph (1917, 33 minutes) and The Scarlet Car (1917, 62 minutes). Most are incomplete, usually with five reels produced and often with the last two reels missing. The title cards explain how the films survived and which parts survived, plus how they replaced the missing parts for their respective releases.

Thus, the shorter the film, the more of it that is missing. Of course, as always in these cases, if more footage turns up, it can be added later, but more than a little work was needed to even clean and fix what we get here. Also, the longer the film and the more of it that has survived, the better the condition in most of these cases.

Chaney scholar Jon C. Mirsalis (who produced these sets) has created all the new music for all the films here and even when the films show their age with stereotypes, political incorrectness and dated visual effects, they are all worth a look and to see how an actor hones his craft and becomes a major star. Horror fans will have a special interest in catching them all.

There are sadly no extras.

Peter Yates' Murphy's War (1971) has a really gritty Peter O'Toole performance as the title character, the lone survivor of a deadly attack by a Nazi German U-Boat on his British Naval ship. Badly hurt, he soon recovers and as soon as he is able to get a seaplane going, spots the U-Boat and plans revenge, no matter the cost. More than just a revenge film or WWII tale, this tale is also a character study of war, its characters and even world politics.

He has the help of a local (Philippe Noiret) to get the plane going and then, the game of cat and mouse begins, even with the locals potentially in danger one way or the other.

Yates (Bullitt, Suspect, The Hot Rock, Friends Of Eddie Coyle, Breaking Away) delivers one of his better films, legendary writer Sterling Silliphant (In The Heat Of The Night, Village Of The Damned, The Killer Elite, The New Centurions, Circle Of Iron) matches it with a smart screenplay and the result is an underrated British production that should have been a bigger hit. Especially after Lawrence Of Arabia and its revival since its landmark restoration, too many of O'Toole's other films have been a little more forgotten than they should be. Getting those films restored and reissued is key and Arrow and company have done a solid job here. This is realistic, solid filmmaking at its best and all serious film fans need to see it at least once.

Besides the fine locales, the supporting cast are a big plus with Sian Phillips, Horst Janson, John Hallam and Ingo Mogendorf. The strong set of producers just getting started include Alan Ladd Jr. (Outland, The Right Stuff) and Michael Deeley (The Man Who Fell To Earth, The Deer Hunter) who later co-produced Blade Runner together and co-produced this film with Yates.

Extras include Running Out of War, a new visual essay by film critic David Cairns

  • A Great Adventure, an archive interview with assistant director John Glen, a James Bond film series veteran

  • Dougie, Chic and Me, an archive interview with focus puller Robin Vidgeon

  • One Man Army, an archive interview with film critic Sheldon Hall

  • Original Theatrical Trailer

  • Image Gallery

  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain

  • and an Illustrated Collector's Booklet featuring new writing by film critic Philip Kemp.

And now we get to our two imports. Erige Sehiri's Under The Fig Trees (2021) takes place for an entire morning in Tunisia where a group of mostly women harvest figs for not-enough-money under the watchful eye of a supervisor of their employer. As they talk, the screenplay becomes a character study of them, their lives, women in the country, capitalism there and life. Can they have a better future?

Well, at least they have some self-awareness and this has some good moments, but even at 1.5 hours, they are still trapped enough and the film can only do so much. Well cast, you might like it simply because it is something different and is metaphor and doppelganger for the same thing going on in Mexico, Canada, third world countries (now rebranded as 'emerging markets') and in a more widespread way in the U.S. than we hear about. That is highly censored in the states.

So a smart, sometimes gentle film worth seeing if you are really interested, but others might find it slightly repetitive or even showing things we have seen before, depending on the kinds of film and TV you watch.

Trailers are the only extras.

Wang Bing's Youth Spring (2023 aka Youth (Spring)) is also an intimate film, though it runs over 3.5 hours and is a documentary that sometimes plays like fiction. This time, the people are working at a garment sewing factory in Zhili, many miles away from Shanghai and as isolated as it sounds. In echoes of steel workers in the U.S. prior to labor unions, they live in special dormitories when they are not at work, so how much freedom do they have?

The makers are trying to make all kinds of points and in long-term, casual ways designed not to sell any of the implications short. Sadly we have seen this in so many countries and some of the darker aspects of this have been making a disturbingly unreported comeback in the U.S. since the early 1980s and as unions have declined. Ironically, the year this is issued is the year unions resurged in the U.S., but at least they might continue. The people here will not have such recourse unless they rise up and then get cut down. That is why this is timely enough and will stay relevant for a very long time, though it is a long watch, so that has its limits too. Better than way than settling for anything less.

A Q&A with director Bing from the New York Film Festival is the only extra.

Now for playback performance. The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image on Allonsanfan looks good, with some softness intended and other styling, though the results can still show some detail and color limits, they are there albeit limited. The color can be as beautiful as the locales and even lush at times, all lensed by Director of Photography Giuseppe Ruzzolini, whose credits include A Fistful Of Dynamite, Polanski's What?, Pontecorvo's Burn!, Short Night Of Glass Dolls, My Name Is Nobody, Pasolini's Porcile and Teorema. This is up there in how good it looks. The original theatrical mono is well remastered for Italian PCM 2.0 Mono and I doubt this will ever sound any better.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white (and sometimes tinted) digital High Definition image transfers on the Chaney silent films can definitely show the age of the materials used, from jumpy images to shockingly clean and clear ones, so the range is something and that can also be seen on the low definition of the DVD, which is passable and also available on Blu-ray. Even with the roughness of more than a little footage and the like, the Blu-ray still delivers better Video White, Video Black and gray scale. All formats feature the new music scores in lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, which is also passable and the music good, but it can be a little loud and slightly edgy, which is why I wish these had lossless sound to do the music more justice.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Murphy's War sometimes shows the age of the materials used, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film and even apparently another Blu-ray edition. Shot on 35mm film in real anamorphic Panavision by legendary Director of Photography Douglas Slocombe, B.S.C., it makes exceptionally strong use of the widescreen, scope frame. Slocombe is best known for his work on the Indiana Jones Trilogy, Never Say Never Again, The Lavender Hill Mob, The Blue Max, Houston's Freud, Scream Of Fear, Fearless Vampire Killers, the original Italian Job, The Lion In Winter and The Servant. This is up to his best work.

Color is by Rank, which is a little darker than the likes of Technicolor, Metrocolor, Movielab and other labs, but has a look that matches the narrative better. A few decades later, the Bond film Licence To Kill would also be a Panavision shoot with Rank labwork and it is uncanny how similar they look. The original theatrical monophonic sound is remastered and presented here in PCM 1.0 Mono, which is good, but would have been better and clearer in any lossless version of 2.0 Mono. Otherwise, a very nice restoration and upgrade.

The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image on Trees is softer than I would have liked, but part of that looks like the limits of the digital production and though the soundtrack is here in both Arabic lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 and lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mixes, they are on the weak side, so be careful of high playback volumes and volume switching.

Finally, the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on Spring is also on the soft side and also is in part that way because of its digital shoot, but the lossy multi-lingual Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo fares better sonically sounding much cleaner and clearer.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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