Columbia, 1964, B&W, 90 mins.- Special Ed. DVD

Peter Sellers: "Gentlemen! You can't fight in here- this is the War Room!"

Talk about laughing in the face of death- this film confronts the specter of nuclear annihilation and spits right in its eye! Director Stanley Kubrick's unique vision gives us an unstable SAC General, Sterling Hayden, who orders his patrolling B-52 bombers to hit their targets inside Russia. British officer Peter Sellers tries to get Hayden to recall the planes, as the U.S. President- also Peter Sellers- makes his own attempts to avert disaster by calling his Soviet counterpart.....who, unfortunately, is drunk as a skunk. As the human and technical snafus pile up, and the outlook gets grimmer and grimmer, gung-ho General George C. Scott thinks that the situation can be turned to America's advantage- and former Nazi scientist Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers again!) is ready with some wild contingency plans. The full-throttle satire of this film jabs a fork into the ass of a System which relies on fallible technology and even more fallible people- and while the details may have changed since the film was made, the relevance hasn't. His other films had comedic elements, but this was really the only outright comedy that Kubrick ever made, and it's easy to understand why- you could never top it. The disc has some nice extras including a pair of documentaries and some unusual cast interviews.

Filmsonor/Vera/Fono Roma, 1953, B&W, 148 mins.- Criterion DVD

Charles Vanel: "When you ask for trouble, it always comes."

The first image seen in this film is a bunch of bugs tied to strings for the amusement of a wayward child, which brings to mind the old quote about the gods using us for their sport- and there is plenty of "Sport" to be had in this story. In what could be called a de-glamorized flipside to "Casablanca," a ragtag bunch of losers kills time in an isolated hellhole of a town in South America, dreaming of an escape that they cannot afford. An opportunity presents itself when an American oil company needs to transport some nitroglycerine to the site of an oil rig fire, in a pair of jerry-rigged trucks over lousy roads- and with well-paid but expendable drivers. After some competition and skullduggery, four men are chosen, and they start off on a journey in which the simplest obstacle could spell disaster.....but of course, the obstacles turn out to be anything but simple. The men press on, showing courage and ingenuity, but also having to deal with the cowardice of one of their number. Their trip contains some of the most suspenseful scenes you will ever see, presented without fancy cutting or pounding music, and with death only an instant away from any of them. And as an added bonus, since this is a French film, you get a typically French ironic ending! The Criterion disc is without extras, but it restores director Henri-Georges Clouzot's original cut- a bit long, but rewarding viewing.

Rank/Archers, 1947, color, 101 mins.- Criterion DVD

David Farrar: "There's something in the atmosphere that makes everything seem exaggerated."

And how! If you want to talk about atmosphere, this picture has it in spades- it is one of the most beautiful examples ever of the old Technicolor process, and its melodramatic story must have been pretty steamy back in the day. Not that the steaminess is inappropriate, for when you've got a bunch of repressed nuns trying to set up shop in a mountaintop palace in India that used to be a harem, you just know there's gonna be trouble. It doesn't take long for the place to start getting to the sisters, and even their leader, Deborah Kerr, finds herself flashing back to the broken romance that drove her to become a nun. The presence of David Farrar, a sarcastic Brit who has adapted a little too well to the local scene, doesn't help matters- especially when disturbed nun Kathleen Bryan develops a thing for him. This is pulpy material given a classy treatment by the famed writer/producer/director team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, who create a wonderfully stylized world for the characters to stew in. Watching as things go wrong and facades crack, you can't help but think of the decline and fall of the British Empire, a subtext that adds to the fun of the story. The disc looks great, and the extras include audio commentary by the director and a documentary focusing on the striking work of cinematographer Jack Cardiff.

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© Melt Magazine 2002