Maigret on Screen: The Man on the Eiffel Tower


Simenon’s relationship with his most famous literary creation was filled with contradictions. Resentful at being primarily known as a crime writer he nonetheless enjoyed the royalty cheques that enabled him to travel widely and savour a comfortable lifestyle.

Despite his publicly proclaimed aversion at being solely identified as the author of the Maigret novels, he recognised that securing a film deal would be profile-boosting and offer the promise of long-term financial security. In interviews, Simenon would frequently claim not to have viewed the adaptations of his work before offering a detailed critique of the actors who had played Maigret. Simenon’s public stance of indifference is at odds with the actions of a man who acquired and destroyed prints of adaptations he thought had failed to convey the true essence of his novels. In interviews, he talked of drawing up contracts that specified the adaptation had to be destroyed after a set number of years.

By the late 1940s, the character of Maigret had already appeared on screen in productions starring Pierre Renoir, Abel Tarride, Harry Baur, Albert Prejan, and Maurice Manson. English-speaking audiences were introduced to the character with the release of an American adaptation of The Man on the Eiffel Tower.


A versatile actor, Charles Laughton is perhaps best remembered for directing the Film Noir The Night of the Hunter. In the late 1940s he was one of British cinema’s most significant screen talents. Accustomed to playing a wide range of parts the acclaimed performer was the first actor to play Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. Despite being no stranger to crime drama having also played a gangster in the mould of Al Capone in Edgar Wallace’s play On the Spot his casting as Maigret may have surprised audiences but it pleased Laughton’s bank manager.

When Laughton was initially approached to play the part producer Irving Allen was slated to direct the film. The Man on the Eiffel Tower had previously been filmed in 1933 as La Tête d’un Homme. Erroneously reported as the first English language adaptation of a Simenon novel, the 2013 discovery of previously lost quota quickie film Temptation Harbour based on the short story Newhaven-Dieppe starring Robert Newton and future Doctor Who William Hartnell has forced Simenologists to redraft the author’s screen history. Despite the relegation to second English language adaptation of a Simenon story The Man on the Eiffel Tower still holds the notable distinction of being the first American production based on the author’s work.


Based on the ninth Maigret novel A Man’s Head the film was a joint American-French co-production. In addition to introducing a new audience to the work of Georges Simenon, the film showcased post-war Paris.

At the time of production Simenon was living in Arizona. Yet to achieve anything resembling mainstream success in America he had a dedicated cult readership. With an acclaimed and bankable star on board, the film may have offered the opportunity to attract a wider audience for his books. Surprisingly, considering the film’s importance in establishing the Maigret novels commercial viability in a previously indifferent territory, Simenon elected to be critical of the central star’s performance.

For several decades The Man on the Eiffel Tower was considered to be a lost film. Reports suggest that Simenon ordered the destruction of all prints. Little known among Laughton aficionados and Simenologists, a false perspective about the film and it’s perceived failings became accepted as fact. UCLA’s discovery of two projection prints enables the film to be studied for the first time since its original release. What was previously a minor entry in the history of post-war cinema takes on a fresh significance in terms of offering previously unknown evidence about the French film industry’s strategy for representing Paris within the context of genre cinema and for how approaches taken by the film have influenced subsequent English language adaptations of the Maigret novels.


According to biographical accounts, Laughton was financially embarrassed when he was offered the opportunity to play Maigret. His acceptance in all likelihood probably was due to the need for an instant cash injection rather than a fondness for Simenon’s novel. Having agreed to play the part Laughton was thorough and diligent in his preparation. Intensely studying all available translated editions of the Maigret novels he soon gained a sense of the detective and his world. Determined to be truthful to Simenon’s creation, Laughton searched multiple Hollywood costumiers for clothing that would enable him to build an accurate and sympathetic character. Having constructed his version of Maigret before the cameras started rolling Laughton may have anticipated a stress-free shoot. According to contemporary press reports, it was a tortuous production.

Precisely who directed The Man on the Eiffel Tower is far from clear-cut. Producer Irving Allen was originally slated to direct the film. After three days of shooting, he was forced to resign the director’s chair when an enraged Laughton threatened to quit the production. To mollify the lead actor Allen agreed to his request that Burgess Meredith who had already been cast in a supporting role oversee the remainder of filming. More recently, reports have suggested Laughton directed several key sequences without credit. Scholars have also claimed that co-producer Franchot Tone directed scenes which featured Laughton and Meredith in the same frame.


Promoted as the first American colour production to be filmed in Paris, the screenplay was adjusted to showcase the city’s most famous monument. Throughout filming production was held up due to a variety of unforeseen factors. Weather delayed filming, the co-producer and Laughton argued ferociously, and electrical problems led to frequent blackouts.

Praised by Renoir and warmly but not effusively reviewed by critics, the film fell into relative obscurity and for decades the only available information was found in biographies. UCLA’s discovery of two previously unknown prints has resulted in a reappraisal. Now seen not only in terms of its place within the canon of Simenon screen adaptations, critics have suggested that the film is a rare example of a colour film noir.

The Man on the Eiffel Tower is available to order from Amazon.


DVD Review: Hitchcock/Truffaut


The story of what happened when two giants of European cinema sat down to discuss their approaches to filmmaking.

In 2012 Sight & Sound published the British Film Institute’s Greatest Film poll. Conducted every ten years, critics, academics, and distributors are surveyed. Bicycle Thieves won the first poll in 1952. Since 1962 Citizen Kane sat in pole position and many thought it would reign supreme as the unbeatable champion. Although it came close to toppling Kane in 2002, news that Vertigo had finally taken the crown in 2012 was met with surprise.  That it had won the poll by a very wide margin suggests it will probably retain the title when the next survey is conducted in 2022.

Vertigo‘s achievement was surprising because it was not always held in such high esteem. Taken out of circulation after it failed to meet expectations at the box office, the only way to see the film until the mid-80s was via illicit screenings of bootleg 16mm prints. Since it’s mid-80s re-release the film and it’s director has undergone a complete critical reevaluation.

61fq3ayehul-_sl1000_Today regarded as one of Europe’s most significant directors, Hitchcock was not always held in such high esteem. Further proof of his continued cultural significance was offered by the BFI who ran a retrospective of his surviving works. In 2013 UNESCO added the nine existing Hitchcock silent films to its archive to represent the UK’s cinematic heritage. Hitchcock’s influence over modern cinema is undeniable and contemporary film fans are often surprised at learning that he was once regarded as a mere peddler of mass entertainment.

French critic and director, François Truffaut regularly visited the Cinémathèque Française as a teenager and was exposed to numerous Hollywood films. Befriending André Bazin  the co-founder of influential film publication Cahiers du cinéma, Truffaut joined the magazine’s writing team and developed the auteur theory which noted the recurrence of themes and techniques in the work of “great directors.” Emphasising the director as author of a film, his theory was initially controversial.

While in France filming To Catch a Thief, Hitchcock was interviewed by Claude Chabrol and François Truffaut for  Cahiers du cinéma. The magazine had published an issue celebrating the director’s work in 1953 and was planning another to be published in the summer of 1956. Challenging the then widely held view that Hitchcock was merely a director-for-hire churning out lurid schlock,  Truffaut and  Cahiers du cinéma helped define the modern sense of  Hitchcock as one cinema’s greatest artists.
American film critic Andrew Sarris applied Truffaut’s Auteur Theory to  an analysis of Hollywood cinema and declared “Hitchcock is the most daring avant-garde filmmaker in America today.”

025-francois-truffaut-tribe-theredlistFeeling that Hitchcock had been evasive in their first meeting, Truffaut wrote to the director and proposed a lengthy interview conducted over several days which would discuss the core elements of a Hitchcock film, approaches to filmmaking, and theories of storytelling. Hitchcock agreed and  Truffaut flew to Hollywood with translator Helen Scott. Eight days of discussion cemented Hitchcock’s critical rehabilitation. The recordings were transcribed and published in France. An English translation was issued in 1967.
Demystifying filmmaking, the book has for decades been regarded as one of the foremost texts of cinema appreciation and analysis. In recent years the authenticity of Hitchcock’s statements has been questioned due to his responses being translated into French and then translated back into English.

Kent Jones enlightening film tells the story of what happened when the Master of Suspense met La Nouvelle Vague’s shining light. Using extracts from the tape-recorded conversations we finally have an unambiguous record of what Hitchcock said over the course of those eight days.

A key moment in the history of film criticism,  Truffaut’s credentials as a director and intimate knowledge of Hitchcock’s work keep the veteran filmmaker on his toes and ensure the interview never descends into effusive gushing. Hard-core Hitchcock enthusiasts and newbies will be educated by this engrossing documentary.

hitchcock-truffaut-2015_t658Analysing key sequences from several Hitchcock films, most notably Vertigo and Psycho. The documentary also includes Hitchcock’s critical comments on a Truffaut’s shot by shot breakdown of a sequence from The 400 Blows.

Recorded when film criticism was still in its infancy, Truffaut’s encyclopaedic knowledge of thematic continuity in Hitchcock’s still stands up today as a superb work of scholarship. It’s easy to forget in the age of DVD and online streaming how hard it was to gain access to films for study purposes back then. Detecting a recurrent thread of Roman Catholic symbolism he verbally pins down Hitchcock until the veteran admits how his formative years are continually woven into his films.

Modern day perspectives from David Fincher, Olivier Assayas, Martin Scorsese, Arnaud Desplechin, Wes Anderson, James Gray, and Richard Linklater highlight why Hitchcock’s fingerprints are all over contemporary cinema.

A must-have DVD for anyone who wants to learn more about the Master of Suspense.

Hitchcock/Truffaut is available to order from Amazon

Blu-ray Review: The Voices


A purr-fect black comedy

Ryan Reynolds plays a schizophrenic who takes orders from his cat and dog in a dark psychological comedic horror film from director Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis).

Satrapi’s off-kilter take on the serial killer genre plays against expectations and delivers a uniquely twisted view of midwest America that ventures into the realms of Lynchian weirdness via a Brothers Grimm fairytale. Paying homage to her influences, the director blends Hitchcock motifs with Amelie style visuals alongside nods to Joel and Ethan Cohen.

Soon to be seen playing the lead in Marvel’s X-Men spin-off Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds delivers a career-defining performance as a factory worker who believes his pets are talking to him. A socially inept employee in an industrial town. Too eager to please his colleagues Jerry works on the floor assembling bathroom fixtures and is effusive when offered the opportunity to help organise the company’s annual barbecue.


An acute schizophrenic Jerry sees a court-appointed psychiatrist on a regular basis and is required to take medication. Living alone he neglects to follow his care plan and has relapsed. At the end of each shift, he returns to a low-rent apartment above a bowling alley and chats about the day’s events with his pets.

Without his daily medication, Jerry starts to hear voices and is convinced that his cat Mr. Whiskers and dog Bosco are talking to him. A morality play occurs each night in the front room as the two animals represent the fractured sides of his conscience. Scottish accented feline and a dim-witted canine appear to be influencing Jerry’s behaviour.

Attending a planning meeting for his workplace’s annual barbecue he meets Fiona (Gemma Arterton – Quantum of Solace) and is instantly smitten. Blissfully unaware that she is not interested Jerry invites her for a meal at his favourite Chinese restaurant.

A carefully planned evening turns sour when Fiona decides to join colleagues from the accounts department at a local karaoke bar. Jerry is left alone staring at congealing Oriental cuisine while Elvis and Bruce Lee impersonators perform for disinterested diners.

The night takes a darker turn when Jerry spots a rain-soaked Fiona. Offering her a lift they decide to visit an out of town burger bar. A collision with a wild animal sets in motion a chain of events that tears down Jerry’s tenuous grip on reality.


Filmed in Berlin, Director Marjane Satrapi’s first English language feature is a genre-defying movie destined for immediate cult status.  Absurd and provocative it delicately balances artifice with flashes of chilling realism. Occasionally taboo-breaking, the film acknowledges preconceptions and then pulls the rug out from beneath the viewer’s feet.

The Voices is an ingenious tragi-comedy. Disturbing and hilarious, it’s uniqueness is rammed home in a musical sequence featuring Jesus driving a fork-lift truck.

An impressive collection of extras has been assembled for this disc including interviews, featurettes, and a prank that has to be seen to be believed.

The Voices is available to order from Amazon.


Blu-ray Review: The Night of the Hunter

Simon Callow’s preface to the twenty fifth anniversary edition of Charles Laughton: A Difficult Actor notes with some sadness that the performer is rapidly being forgotten by a generation of viewers who perhaps due to increasingly infrequent TV screenings have yet to see and appreciate the magnificence of his craft. Even amongst acting professionals Laughton’s name does not elicit any significant levels of recognition in anyone under 40.

Whilst his multitude of screen performances await reappraisal, Laughton’s sole stab at directing has undergone a complete critical rehabilitation since its release. Treated with scorn by pundits and ignored by audiences, The Night of the Hunter’s stature has steadily grown and this once derided movie is now regarded by cinephiles as being one of the finest examples of Film Noir. Proof that The Night of the Hunter is now celebrated by the very elite which once rejected it was offered in 1992 when the film was selected by the United Sates Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry.

The re-evaluation, particularly with regards cinematography, is somewhat ironic as for decades the film has been presented in an alternate aspect ratio which removed picture information and neutered a carefully constructed cinematic canvas. For the first time since its original release viewers now have the opportunity to view the movie as it was intended thanks to the release on Blu-ray of a restored edition sourced from 35mm film elements.

In 1954 Charles Laughton enjoyed his most significant Broadway success directing Henry Ford in Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny Court Martial. Recognizing his talent and keen for Laughton to forge a career away from acting producer Paul Gregory began actively seeking out projects which might be suitable for a debut behind the camera lens; ‘I wanted to bring Charlie into focus as a top director and have him quit performing; the performances were what was killing him; he needed to find something where he could direct one or two things a year and make all the money he needed. That was the goal I had for Charles. With me producing and him directing, and when he didn’t direct, we’d be co-producers.’ No doubt planning a multimedia empire which would conquer stage and screen, Gregory optioned a best selling novel by Davis Grubb about a murderous preacher. Inspired by the true life story of serial killer Harry Powers who placed adverts in local newspapers fully intending to slay anyone who replied and steal their money, Grubb’s novel was short-listed for the National Book Award.

Armed with development funds from United Artists, Gregory and Laughton recruited James Agee to translate Grubb’s prose into a story that would electrify movie audiences. An influential film critic and author of the screenplay for The African Queen, Agee had descended into a life dominated by alcohol abuse and would be dead within a year of the film’s release. For decades Agee’s authorship of the script has been contested, apocryphal tales have circulated of an elaborate but unfilmable draft which was rejected and replaced by one written in haste by Laughton. Agee’s contribution was further cast into doubt by unverifiable accounts of him being excluded from the set due to drunken behaviour. Additional confusion was caused by the publication of the filmed version in James Agee’s Five Film Scripts. More recent scholarship has substantially restored Agee’s reputation proving beyond all reasonable doubt that he was the author of the screenplay. In 2004 the

More recent scholarship has substantially restored Agee’s reputation proving beyond all reasonable doubt that he was the author of the screenplay. In 2004 the long lost first draft of Agee’s script was discovered and whilst being over-length it is reported to contain each scene present in the finished film and carefully delineates the precise division of acts. Surviving production memorandums suggest a far more cordial relationship with Laughton than has been previously hinted at and a greater presence by Agee throughout the film’s production. Just as Agee’s contribution has been erroneously discredited and then restored, Charles Laughton’s claim to be the sole director became a contentious issue due to statements from Robert Mitchum alleging that he was responsible for several key sequences. Arrow Films’ Blu-ray release of

Just as Agee’s contribution has been erroneously discredited and then restored, Charles Laughton’s claim to be the sole director became a contentious issue due to statements from Robert Mitchum alleging that he was responsible for several key sequences. Arrow Films’ Blu-ray release of The Night of the Hunter accords Laughton his rightful status as the film’s sole director and in doing so shatters many falsehoods which have been reported in biographies and articles over the years.



Made towards the end of the Film Noir movement, The Night of the Hunter is a dark and twisted nightmarish view of small-town America shot through with black humour and sexual innuendo. Undeniably influenced by German Expressionism in terms of framing and the use of light, shade, and distorted perspectives alongside various techniques accrued during the course of Laughton’s experiences directing for the stage .

During pre-production Laughton (alongside Welles alumni Stanley Cortez) rejected excessive theorizing about stylistic approaches and instead screened whatever D.W.Griffiths films were available. In seeking to learn how to the rules of film grammar through studying a pioneer’s work Laughton was echoing the behaviour of Orson Welles who alongside cinematographer Gregg Toland watched John Ford’s Stagecoach a reported forty times during production of Citizen Kane. The extent to which this parallel with Welles’ own research methodology is coincidental or deliberate is unrecorded.

Set within depression era America, the film combines the tropes of Southern Gothic with themes present in the more grotesque Brothers Grimm folk tales. Ben Harper (Peter Graves) is arrested by police following a bank robbery in which two people were slain. Wishing for his children to avoid the levels of deprivation that were becoming increasingly commonplace during the 1930s Ben conceals the money with daughter Pearl’s (Sally Jane Bruce) ragdoll making her and brother John (Billy Chapin) vow to never reveal the location of the stolen stash. Whilst in prison awaiting execution Ben shares his cell with confidence artist Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) who is eager to get his hand on the on the cash. Upon release from the penitentiary Powell inveigles widow Willa Harper (Shelly Winters) into marrying him and begins a campaign of psychological and physical torture in order to find the proceeds from Ben’s robbery.

During initial conversations about the part Laughton told Mitchum ‘this character I want you to play is a diabolical shit.’ Understanding what the director wanted from him Mitchum gave what may be his most intense screen performance, constantly diabolical and ghoulish whilst a lesser actor might have given a more arch reading of the part.

Told from the perspective of two children Ben and Pearl, The Night of the Hunter‘s macabre flourishes recall Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau, Robert Wiene, and Paul Wegener alonside the aforementioned D.W. Griffiths. Cinematographer Stanley Cortez had already experienced greatness working alongside Welles on The Magnificent Ambersons and would say of his time with Laughton; ‘… the most exciting experience I’ve had in the cinema was with Charles Laughton on Night of the Hunter … every day I consider something new about light, that incredible thing that can’t be described. Of the directors I’ve worked with, only two have understood it: Orson Welles and Charles Laughton.’

Dejected by the critical and commercial disappointment Laughton never again directed a feature film leaving us this solitary glimpse into the promise of genius which might have transformed the cinematic landscape. A deeply personal work informed by the director’s love of cinema (he had a teenage crush on Lillian Gish who appears in this film).

Arrow Films’ package includes an archive interview with Stanley Cortez and a feature length documentary, Charles Laughton Directs “The Night of the Hunter” which is compiled from rushes discovered by Robert Gitt. In several interviews Mitchum diminished Laughton’s contribution, claiming that the director did not get along with the child actors and handed these sequences over to other personnel but thanks to this bonus feature we can see that the reverse is in fact a more accurate account; great care was taken to coax honest performances from the children and throughout the director is in total control of the proceedings.

The Night of the Hunter can be ordered from Amazon

Blu-ray Review: Runaway Train

By the mid 1980s Cannon had become a byword for trashy low to medium budget action films. Its fortunes revolved around several franchises including American Ninja, Death Wish, and Delta Force. The success of these films enabled Canon’s producers to persuade financiers to reinvest their profits with the promise of even greater rewards once its next slate of pictures reached the movie theatres. Before it all came tumbling down, Cannon would release anything between thirty and forty-three films a year. Despite being remembered for such cinematic disasters as Death Wish 3 and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, this American based studio’s output was far more diverse. It introduced a number of foreign language titles into the U.S cult movie market and produced some high-quality films including Andrei Konchalovsky’s Runaway Train, Franco Zeffirelli’s Otello, and Norman Mailler’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance.

Runaway Train is a film that over the years has paradoxically simultaneously transcended and been tainted by Cannon’s legacy. The film premiered at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival but its general release was marred by the marketing department’s inability to see that this movie needed to be screened in specialist cinemas. Although dogged by a flawed distribution strategy the film went on to be nominated in three categories at the Academy Awards ( Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Editing) and a further three at the Golden Globes (Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor).

In the decades since it’s the theatrical release new generations of viewers have discovered this movie either by TV screenings, or VHS and DVD releases and it has accrued the status of a stone-cold cult classic. Jon Voight’s return to the small screen in Ray Donovan has had the unexpected side effect of the film once again coming under critical scrutiny. Several interviews and career retrospectives have referred to Runaway Train in highly complimentary terms so the worldwide Blu-ray premiere of a restored version could not have been more perfectly timed.

Oscar “Manny” Manheim (Jon Voight) is a hard-boiled bank robber who has spent three years in a welded cell. A court ruling orders that he be released from solitary confinement and rehoused within the general prison population. Hailed as a prophet by fellow inmates, Manny is feared and despised by the no-nonsense tough as old boots warden (John P Ryan). From the moment his isolation ends Manny has one thing on his mind, escape. Biding his time he waits for the right moment to abscond. With simple minded Buck (Eric Roberts) in tow, Manny breaks out of Stonehaven and treks across the inhospitable Alaskan terrain searching for transport. Chancing upon a railway yard Manny chooses a goods train to take the pair as far away from Stonehave Prison as possible. When the driver suffers a fatal heart attack Manny and Buck are trapped on a train with no brakes heading out of control at ever-increasing speed towards their doom.

Inspired by a magazine article about a runaway train in Rochester NY Akira Kurosawa drafted a script under the working title Boso kikansha intending for it to be his first English language film. Scheduling conflicts and miscommunication prevented Kurosawa from directing this movie and the script would pass through various hands over the next decade before finding a home at Cannon. Revisions were commissioned from Serbian born Djordje Milicevic (Escape to Victory) and American playwright Paul Zindel before the screenplay  was handed to Eddie Bunker for retooling

Today, Eddie Bunker is probably best known for playing Mr Blue in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs but before entering the film industry he spent over forty years as a career criminal and at one time was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Whilst in prison he discovered a love of literature and a talent for writing, his prose received continual encouragement from some of America’s most notorious criminals including Caryl Chessman. A terse and uncompromising writer, Bunker’s work drew from his experiences of correctional institutions and asked existential questions about what made an individual turn to criminality. Upon release from prison, he published the hard-hitting  novel No Beast No Fierce which was adapted for cinema as the Dustin Hoffman starring Straight Time. Two further novels would follow and after sales of his third, Little Boy Blue, didn’t meet publisher expectations Bunker started working in Hollywood as a script doctor.

During his UK public appearances in the 1990s Bunker would frequently talk at length about Runaway Train asserting his claim to be the author of the final draft. Aside from a monologue improvised by Voight, it’s inconceivable that anybody other than Bunker could have so accurately conveyed the criminal experience. Only a man who had spent more than half his life inside a prison cell would truly know just how potent dreams of escape are and how frequently convicts make plans to break out. In addition to script duties Bunker has a small but substantial role in as a mentor to Manny.

Whilst mulling over whether to accept the lead role Voight agreed to sign on the dotted line on the understanding that Russian filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky (Siberiade) was definitely committed to directing the project. A longtime fan of Konchalovsky’s work, Voight’s production company sponsored his initial green card.

Given artistic freedom so long as he remained on schedule and didn’t go over budget Konchalovsky, in tandem with cinematographer Alan Hume (Return of the Jedi, For Your Eyes Only) infused the classic disaster movie template with a visual sensibility inspired by the American New Wave. The pictorial spectacle was accompanied by a focus on psychological realism.

Long rumoured to have been a troubled shoot, former convict turned drugs counselor Danny Trejo visited the set to speak to one of his clients and was spotted by Eddie Bunker who knew him from prison. Bunker had seen Trejo fight several times in tournaments over the years and persuaded the director and producers to hire him to train Eric Roberts for a boxing sequence. After three weeks honing Roberts into shape Trejo was rewarded with his first screen appearance.

The testosterone is balanced out by a magnetic performance from Rebecca De Mornay. Then one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Her character is the fulcrum that sets Manny and Buck free from their self-imposed intellectual and emotional prisons.

 A philosophically clever film that belies its origins as a Cannon production and throws an almighty curve ball at genre expectations. The stunt work is even more thrill making in an era when health and safety executives force producers to use CGI alternatives. Add to that some of the finest and most honest screen performances to come from Voight and Roberts and suddenly Runway Train becomes a Blu-ray that can sit very comfortably in either Action or Screen Classic sections of your local entertainment emporium.

 The disc is rounded out by an impressive set of special features. Good humoured interviews with Jon Voight, Eric Roberts, Andrei Konchalovsky, and Kyle T. Heffner tells us what the film meant to them as individuals and in terms of their careers. Alternative casting suggestions are discussed (Henry Fonda and Peter Falk), the secrets behind some of the incredible stunts are revealed, and the filmmakers talk about their relationship with the infamous producers.

Runaway Train is available to order from Amazon.

Blu-ray review: George A Romero’s Knightriders

Making its world wide debut on Blu-ray is the George Romero directed cult classic Knightriders. This restored release courtesy of Arrow Films not only affords the opportunity to view the film with an image that has greater depth and a broader colour palate than at any time since the theatrical release but after decades of truncated versions being screened on TV we can now see the movie as the director originally intended.

Filmed in 1980 and released in 1981, appreciation of Knightriders has over the years been tempered by some erroneous critical commentary which either misplaced the film’s position within Romero’s body of work or was based upon one of the heavily edited TV screenings that removed many subplots and made the narrative incomprehensible.

This very welcome issue of the uncut print is accompanied by a wealth of high quality bonus content which sweeps away much of the misconceptions about the film’s production that have circulated over the years and enables it to be appreciated, for possibly the first time, as one of Romero’s finest, if atypical, films. In addition to an attractively designed booklet containing a well written essay by film critic Brad Stevens and an archive interview with George Romero, Arrow Films’ restored release of Knightriders is enhanced by the inclusion of several audio commentaries, including one from Romero, and three featurettes which makes this an essential purchase for fans of Romero’s movies and cult media enthusiasts.

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After satirizing consumerism in Dawn of the Dead Romero turned his attention to Renaissance fairs and examined the inherent contradictions in staging a public performance of mythologised versions of European historical events as a carnival spectacle. Having attended several Renaissance fairs over the last decade I can attest that it’s an experience that leaves one with an overwhelming sense of discontinuity for not only are such events celebrating fundamentally corrupt political regimes built upon ideological belief systems that are diametrically opposed to those which America’s founding fathers intended for the country but the revisionism perpetuates a false narrative of a time when societies were supposedly free of excessive materialism and operated within a barter economy under the watchful eye of a benevolent ruler. The levels of historical accuracy in these events varies but all too often they owe far more to Errol Flynn and Disney than David Starkey.

With Knightriders Romero focuses on a band of revivalists who are retreating from distasteful commercial exploitation and desire to return to what they consider to be a more just form of society, one in which an individual may become King should he defeat the present ruler in tournament. It’s relatively poor performance at the box office might be due to the audience rejecting Romero’s attempts at moving away from the horror genre but oddly the film’s out of synch quality makes it feel more relevant today than it did back in 1981.

Knightriders 2

In his first starring role, Ed Harris plays a self-styled “King William” who leads a troupe of jousters, lives by Arthurian ideals, and self-flagellates whilst bathing in ice cold lakes. William regards the staging of jousting tournaments as a personal crusade against eroding moral values in an age that was being transformed, for good or ill, by Reaganomics. He refuses to pay off corrupt police officials despite knowing as a consequence that he will suffer some form of retribution from the local sheriff’s department but would rather risk the permit to perform being revoked than have his moral compass be tainted by making illegal payments. His single-mindedness puts him at odds with his nearest competitor for the crown, Morgan (Tom Savini), and places the very future of this motorcycle version of Camelot at risk. William’s scorn for the debasement of modern sporting tournaments is exemplified in his distaste for the popularity of Evel Knievel and steadfast refusal to follow a similar path to fame and glory.

An added bonus to horror fans is a cameo appearance by Spehen King.

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Film restoration is a subjective art not a precise science and as reaction to the European Blu-ray release of The French Connection proves fans will voice their condemnation if they feel dissatisfied with any digital corrections. That is not the case in this instance and Arrow Film’s work on Knightriders should please all die-hard Romero fans as this disc deserves to be ranked alongside the UK release of Citizen Kane and MGM’s James Bond reissues as being examples of the finest releases of back catalogue titles on Blu-ray.

The deluxe edition Blu-ray/DVD combi release of Knightriders contains the following extra features;

– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations.
– Uncompressed original Mono 2.0 PCM audio.
– Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
– Audio commentary with George RomeroTom SaviniJohn Amplas and Christine Romero.
– ‘The Genesis of a Legend’ – Star Ed Harris remembers his first leading role.
– ‘A Date with Destiny’ – Co-star Tom Savini reflects on the film.
– ‘Medieval Maiden’ – Interview with actress Patricia Tallman.
– Theatrical Trailer.
– TV Spots.
– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Nat Marsh.
– Collector’s booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by author and critic Brad Stevens, an archival interview with Romero, and a new interview with composer Donald Rubinstein, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.

Knightriders is available to order from Amazon.