Four Picks From Arrow Video
Arrow Heads — UK-based Arrow Films has quickly become one of the most exciting and dependable names in home video curation and distribution, creating gorgeous Blu-ray releases with high quality artwork and packaging, and bursting with supplemental content, often of their own creation. From the cult and genre fare of Arrow Video to the artful cinema of Arrow Academy, this column is devoted to their weird and wonderful output.
Our Arrow Heads Roundups trail the actual releases a bit, but that’s because we try to actually view and review as many of these as we can first to provide some meaningful commentary.
Welcome to our Arrow Video Roundup! I’m chronicling some discs that have been out for awhile — admittedly playing a bit of catch-up, but I try to watch as many of Arrow’s releases as I can to weigh in on the movies and not just a cursory look at the discs’ contents. Here are my thoughts on all 4 of Arrow’s domestic releases for May of 2019.
Editor’s Pick — The Grand Duel (1972), aka The Big Showdown
Director: Giancarlo Santi
Clint Eastwood may be the most famous actor associated with spaghetti westerns, but his twice-costar Lee Van Cleef is the one who truly owns the genre, having starred in over a dozen European-produced westerns, including many of the genre’s best and most memorable films, and The Grand Duel (Il grande duello) is among the very best of these.
The classic tale of vengeance and justice pits roving lawman Clayton (Van Cleef) against the Saxon brothers, whose criminal clan rules the town that bears their name. In Clayton’s custody — and an unlikely alliance — is escaped convict Philip Vermeer, who served in prison for murdering the Saxon’s patriarch. For Clayton knows that Vermeer is innocent, and furthermore threatens to expose the identity of the real killer.
While fairly serious in tone, the movie has some moments of levity and charm as well as carnage, for a pleasing mix. The gorgeous melancholy music by Luis Bacalov is among the great spaghetti western scores, with themes instantly recognizable to anyone who has seen Kill Bill.
Arrow’s comprehensive presentation includes both Italian and English versions of titles and audio, with both translated subtitles and “dubtitles” which can be accessed in any combination. Plus a TON of supplemental materials (a mix of English and Italian language sources).
The film was previously released on Blu-ray by Mill Creek, we’ve posted screen comparisons analysis of the two editions. (Spoiler alert: Arrow wins)
- New 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative
- Original English and Italian soundtracks, titles and credits
- Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack, and subtitles for the English soundtrack
- New audio commentary by film critic & historian Stephen Prince
- An Unconventional Western, a newly filmed interview with director Giancarlo Santi
- The Last of the Great Westerns, a newly filmed interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi
- Cowboy by Chance, an interview with the actor Alberto Dentice aka Peter O’Brien
- Out of the Box, a newly filmed interview with producer Ettore Rosboch
- The Day of the Big Showdown, a newly filmed interview with assistant director Harald Buggenig
- Saxon City Showdown, a newly filmed video appreciation by the academic Austin Fisher
- Original Italian and international theatrical trailers
- Extensive image gallery featuring stills, posters, lobby cards and home video sleeves, drawn from the Mike Siegel Archive and other collections
- Packaging: Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matt Griffin, FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kevin Grant and original reviews
Buy it on Amazon: https://amzn.to/31dMHPZ
The Big Clock
Director: John Farrow
Ray Milland and Charles Laughton star in this moody noir thriller about a successful publishing executive, George Stroud (Milland) who is slowly being crushed by his lucrative but overwhelming job, and his awful boss Earl Janoth (Laughton), the company’s pissy, domineering owner. So consuming is his work that his relationship with his family is strained; he still owes his wife her honeymoon, years overdue. Office troubles, and a last-chance vacation to placate his family, take a back seat to bigger concerns when Janoth murders his mistress and blames a mystery visitor, seen exiting her apartment earlier, as the killer — that visitor was Stroud. And as Janoth’s key project manager, he becomes the head of a company-wide investigation (“no police”) tasked to use any and every available resource to uncover the identity of… himself.
The Big Clock takes its name from the centerpiece of the publishing office that serves as the setting, but also signifies the race against time as the effort to find the mystery man closes in on its target. Stroud must avoid witnesses, prove his innocence, and try to save his marriage while leading the manhunt for his own arrest. It’s a very taut, high stakes thriller with smart storytelling and a thrilling conclusion. Very solid.
- English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- New audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin
- Turning Back the Clock, a newly filmed analysis of the film by the critic and chief executive of Film London, Adrian Wootton
- A Difficult Actor, a newly filmed appreciation of Charles Laughton by Simon Callow
- Rare hour-long 1948 radio dramatization of The Big Clock by the Lux Radio Theatre, starring Ray Milland
- Original theatrical trailer
- Gallery of original stills and promotional materials
- Reversible sleeve featuring two original artwork options, FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Christina Newland
Buy it on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2OQieF5
Director: Teruo Ishii
An odd little film, Yakuza Law is a triptych of tales about justice and betrayal in the world of organized crime, highlighting the code that governs the Japanese gangsters — honor among thieves. The key aspect of the anthology’s format is that the three tales each take place in distinct eras: Edo (feudal), Taisho (early 20th Century), and Showa (the film’s modern setting). Each tale sets up a short story about a character’s situation that goes sideways, and the aftermath. Together, they chronicle a fictional history of Yakuza justice.
It’s crazy violent. The different time frames allow for a variety of ways for characters to get maimed or killed: swordplay with geysers of blood, eye gouging, branding by hot irons, burial in wet cement, getting dragged by a helicopter, or being squished in car as it’s cubed by an industrial car crusher — just to name a few. Even the opening titles take place across a montage of brutality.
- Original lossless mono Japanese soundtrack with English subtitles
- New audio commentary by author and critic Jasper Sharp
- Erotic-Grotesque and Genre Hopping: Teruo Ishii Speaks, a rare vintage interview with the elusive director on his varied career, newly edited for this release
- Image gallery
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jacob Phillips, FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Tom Mes
Buy it on Amazon: https://amzn.to/35tdyuO
Trapped Alive, aka Forever Mine
Director: Leszek Burzynski
A pair of Christmas partiers thinks they’re in trouble when they find themselves driving through mountainous terrain in a winter storm, but these ladies’ problems have barely begun. They’re carjacked by some escaped convicts on the lam, and the whole group makes a wrong turn and find themselves plunged into an old mine. They soon find they aren’t alone — someone or something is stalking them.
Trapped Alive is a bizarre little low budget subterranean slasher which gets pretty weird. It’s got a nice sense of claustrophobia and goes to some weird places with its oddball characters, an unlikely burgeoning romance, and taking regular opportunities to undress the film’s three lady characters. Old school character actor Cameron Mitchell provides the film’s most recognizable face as the concerned father of one of the girls.
Ultimately it’s not great, nor even particularly good. But I actually found the disc’s special features fascinating, more interesting than the film itself. Besides a half-hour making-of retrospective that will appeal to fans, there’s a really terrific interview with effects artist Hank Carlson who describes being a monster kid stalking and begging to join the local movie studio making Trapped Alive. He eventually succeeded, going on to become a career effects man with work on many films including some well-known pictures like Army of Darkness, Mindwarp, and Super Mario Bros. Another charming feature is a full 22-episode of local interest newscast “Upper Michigan Tonight” going behind the scenes of Trapped Alive (then operating under the alternate title Forever Mine). Being professionally produced for broadcast, it’s a higher quality behind the scenes than would normally exist for an older low-budget film, and helps provide a unique perspective on things.
- Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
- Brand new audio commentary with director Leszek Burzynski
- Brand new audio commentary with special effects artist Hank Carlson and horror writer Josh Hadley
- Brand new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues
- There’s EVIL Underground… — brand new making-of documentary featuring interviews with director Leszek Burzynski, cinematographer Nancy Schreiber, production manager Alexandra Reed and actors Alex Kubik and Sullivan Hester
- Upper Michigan Tonight — 1988 television documentary on Windsor Lake Studios, featuring footage from behind the scenes of Trapped Alive and contemporary interviews with director Leszek Burzynski, producer Christopher Webster and production designer Brian Savegar
- Leszek Burzynski: The Early Years — the Trapped Alive director discusses his early forays into genre movie-making
- Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourn, FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Zack Carlson
Buy it on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2VGlqoc
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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.