A Tsunami of Great New DVDs

A tsunami of great new DVDs have been hitting store shelves lately. I can’t keep up with all the great new releases, but this week there are some really terrific films finding their way onto DVD for the first time and I couldn’t resist mentioning them here.

Criterion is releasing Lindsay Anderson’s brilliant British drama If…. (1968) and I’ve been eagerly awaiting it for months. If…. has long been one of my favorite films after I first saw it playing in a theater as part of a double bill with Peter Brook’s wonderfully disturbing Lord of the Flies (1963) when I was just a teenager. Oddly enough I saw both movies as part of a class field trip. I was stuck in a sort of reform school for troubled teens at the time and for some reason the school supervisors thought the movies would be helpful to the students “psychological development.” The only thing I really wanted to do after watching both films was burn down the school and spit in the face of every authority figure that got in my way. I don’t think that was the outcome the school supervisors wanted, but I can’t imagine what kind of a reaction they were expecting from a bunch of rebellious teens?

Most of the other students who watched If…. with me left halfway through the film to go smoke cigarettes outside the theater much to our chaperone’s distress, but I was transfixed by what I was seeing on the screen. Lindsay Anderson’s film spoke to me in ways that no movie ever had before and I listened. I’m sure my own troubled youth spent in reform schools and shelters made it easy for me to quickly respond to the film’s anti-authority message since I was obviously questioning the adult world around me and often acting out in agressive ways. Even though the young British men in If…. would seem to be completely different creatures from the angry American girl I was at the time, I easily found common ground with them and developed a huge crush on the movie’s star, a very young Malcolm McDowell. The film has haunted me ever since and it always manages to find its way onto any list I put together of my favorite films. I suppose I have my old school supervisors to thank for that so they must have been doing something right.

I own a video copy of If…. that I recorded off of TV in the late 80s, but I look forward to replacing it with the new Criterion DVD which is loaded with terrific extras.

Also worth a look is Marlon Brando and Stephanie Beacham in Michael Winner’s The Nightcomers (1972) which is an unusual take on one of my favorite horror stories, Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. Lots of critics and film fans seem to have issues with Winner’s films, but I happen to think he’s an under-appreciated director. I’ve only seen The Nightcomers on TV and I caught it late one night after it had already started. I’m not sure if I missed anything and the version I saw was undoubtedly cut up, so I look forward to finally seeing the film in full.

The gritty drama Panic in Needle Park (1971) is another interesting movie finding its way onto DVD this week. The film features Al Pacino in his first starring role as a troubled small time criminal whose heroin addiction is slowly destroying him. I’ve seen this once on television many years ago so I’m looking forward to seeing it out again.

My vote for the week’s best DVD re-release has to go to Jean Herman’s entertaining crime film Honor Among Thieves (a.k.a. Adieu l’ami, 1968) which features Alain Delon and Charles Bronson in their first film together. I think Delon & Bronson work well as a team and if you enjoy good heist films Honor Among Thieves is worth a look. Both actors became friends on the set and would later go on to make the great 1971 western Red Sun (a.k.a. Soleil Rouge) together with Toshirô Mifune.

Last but not least Criterion is also releasing two films by Yugoslavian director Dusan Makavejev, W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (1971) and Sweet Movie (1974). I haven’t seen either myself, but I’ve read a lot about them and they both sound really interesting so I’m looking forward to giving them a look in the future.

12 thoughts on “A Tsunami of Great New DVDs

  1. I’m really aching to see all these discs and they are making me wish I wasn’t so broke these days!
    Tim Lucas had a recent post on “If” that was particularly great and I can’t wait to see the film again as it has been a long time.
    If you have only seen “The Nightcomers” on tv you are in for a real treat as I am sure the version you saw had to be cut as Stephanie Beachum has several surprising nude scenes and there was probably some violence missing. I like Winner alot with “I’ll Never Forget What’s His Name” among my favorite films.
    I have been awaiting “Panic In Needle Park” for awhile as it has been postponed over and over again. As you have probably gathered I am a huge Pacino fan and it is a key film in his canon.
    And of course “Honor Among Thieves” is awesome, I love Delon and Bronson together…anyway, you are right, it is very hard to keep up with all the great releases this year.
    Thanks for the alert to some of the best…

  2. I’m not familiar at all with IF but am now intrigued. Thanks for the promo.

    As for the Lord of the Flies field trip – that’s hilarious! What were they thinking?!

  3. Jeremy – It’s impossible to keep up with all the great new DVD releases lately. I’m renting a lot but I’ve got to buy If…. I;m also glad you’re a fan of Winner’s films as well. I’ll Never Forget What’s His Name is a terrific film and has one of Reed’s best performances.

    Anna – If…. has a lot in common with the Lord of the Flies. It’s a great double feature but so strange that the school I was at would think of taking a bunch of angry teens to see it. The school was run by old hippies in California so I suppose their laid back approach to education and ‘behavior modification’ had something to do with it.

    Joe – I’ve never seen Zéro de conduite so many thanks for the recommendation!

  4. I hope you have the chance to see the two Makavejev films, especially WR. I got to meet Makavejev twice. The first time, about when WR was released, we sat down, I started the tape recorder, and he told me funny stories about being a film student in Yugoslavia for about an hour non-stop. The second time was at the first Telluride Film Fesival. The was unintended humor with a line in Sweet Movie about “the triumph of the will” as Leni Riefenstahl was one of the honorees at that festival.

    Also, another vote for Zero de Conduit which many knowledgable critics refered to back when If was released.

  5. What a great list… I was lucky enough to attend a screening of If… at the NFT in London that was introduced by the ever-wonderful Malcolm MacDowell, it’s a film I’ve loved all my adult life (I even found an old copy of Missa Luba in a second-hand shop, which I cherish and will have to get transferred to mp3 sometime!). Great news about Honour Among Thieves, I was just searching online for a DVD of that last week, I’ve got a very tattered copy of Sebastian Japrisot’s screenplay which was published as such for some odd reason, rather than ‘novelised’ which would have been more the usual thing to do at the time.

  6. A couple of days ago IF.. was shown on danish TV. The last time I saw it, I must have been around 12-13 years old (I’m 32 now), and I had this vague memory of Malcolm McDowell running around a field with a tiger. Apparently the tiger was created in my memory by the suggestive power of naked wrestling!? By the way: Thanks for a great website!

  7. Peter – Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Makavejev’s films and giving me another reason to check out Zero de Conduit.

    Maxim -It must have been amazing seeing If…. with Malcolm McDowell in the audience. I’ve read where he has said it was his favorite film and I’m not surprised about. It’s so ahead of it’s time and he’s so great in it. I’m happy to know Honour Among Thieves has so many fans! I highly recommend the directors other heist film Popsy Pop too which I reviewed here

    Mikkel – Interesting about that tiger. It must have been Christine Noonan taking on a feline shape in your young mind’s eye. As Jeremy mentioned above, the film critic Tim LUcas wrote up a great piece in his blog about Christine Noonan of If…. fame that you might find interesting. You can find it here.

  8. I saw “If” years ago. I am psyched by this news. I will definitely have to add it to my growing list of wants. The bad thing is that I never have enough money to buy all the great flicks, tunes, etc. that are up there. I love this film. Malcolm McDowell has always been an actor who fascinated me, whether it was something like “If,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “Star Trek: Generations,” or his recent stint on “Heroes.” I can’t wait to see him as Dr. Loomis in “Halloween.” He rocked in “If.”

    I remember seeing Stephanie Beacham originally on “The Colbys” and then on “Dynasty” back in the 80’s. Then I discovered that she had played in some Hammer films and such. She was quite the beauty. I’ve never seen this particular film. I definitely want to see it, especially since Jeremy mentioned nude scenes of her. 🙂

    Definitely want to see “Honor Among Thieves.” I’m a huge Charles Bronson fan. He was one of those tough guys that I looked up to. This is one of the only movies of his I’ve never seen, but I’ve been wanting to.

  9. Dear Cinebeats;
    Here is a link to a Google posting of Zero de Conduit. In case you want to check it out.

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