Gabriel LaBelle in The Fabelmans (Photo: Universal & Amblin)

By Matt Brunson

(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)

Robert Stephens and Robert Powell in The Asphyx (Photo: Kino)

THE ASPHYX (1972). Those on a holy crusade to find something different in their moviegoing escapades will want to check out The Asphyx, a terror tale whose occasional stodginess and staginess don’t interfere too much with the novelty of it all. According to Greek mythology, the Asphyx is a spirit that visits a person at the moment of death, and each individual is provided their own Asphyx. Victorian era scientist Sir Hugo Cunningham (Robert Stephens) discovers that if the spirit can be caught and imprisoned forever, then the freed person will never die. With the promise of immortality for all involved, Cunningham’s daughter Christina (Jane Lapotaire) and his adopted son Giles (Robert Powell) help him in his experiments, with the expected ironic twist naturally leading to dire results. Also known under the title The Horror of Death, The Asphyx is an intelligent if occasionally arid drama which makes imaginative use of its props and settings, and the spirit itself is a unique cinematic creation (albeit the sort that admittedly will amuse as many people as it will impress). The Roberts Stephens and Powell are acceptable in the leading roles, but just think what Cushing and Lee could have done with this material!

The Asphyx arrives on Blu-ray sporting both the 86-minute British cut and the 99-minute U.S. version. Be aware that those extra 13 minutes from the American edition seem to no longer exist in pristine condition anywhere; therefore, those opting for the longer version should expect an occasional lapse in quality (then again, it lets viewers know exactly which scenes were trimmed for the British release). Extras consist of film critic audio commentary; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other films on the Kino label.

Movie: ★★★

Jeanne Moreau in The Bride Wore Black (Photos: Kino & MGM)

THE BRIDE WORE BLACK (1968) /  MISSISSIPPI MERMAID (1969) / THE STORY OF ADÈLE H. (1975). Francophiles and François-philes will be pleased to learn that Kino has just released seven films by François Truffaut on Blu-ray. Four of the titles — 1970’s The Wild Child, 1976’s Small Change, 1977’s The Man Who Loved Women, and 1978’s The Green Room — are packaged together in a set titled François Truffaut Collection. The other three, reviewed here, are available individually.

Truffaut was — like most of us movie buffs — such a gargantuan Alfred Hitchcock fan that it’s no surprise he eventually made a film in the tradition of The Master. Arriving a year after the publication of the interview-as-book Hitchcock/Truffaut, The Bride Wore Black, based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich (writing under the nom de plume William Irish), employs a score by frequent Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann to charge its tale of a formidable woman’s quest for revenge. On her wedding day, Julie Kohler (Jeanne Moreau) watches as a bullet kills her husband on the church steps (given the structure of the film, particularly the ambiguity at the start, this is a mild spoiler, but since this plot point is stated right there on the back of the Blu-ray case, let’s continue, shall we?). Julie thus devotes her life to terminating the men responsible, role-playing her way into each one’s life and alternately acting as flirt, fantasy, mother, and muse. Moreau is mesmerizing as the avenging angel, and the manner in which she interacts with each priggish man (including one played by French national treasure Michel Lonsdale) offers a fascinating study in a particular brand of male-female dynamics.

Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Paul Belmondo in Mississippi Mermaid

At one point in Mississippi Mermaid, as Louis Mahé (Jean-Paul Belmondo) listens to his wife Julie (Catherine Deneuve) explain the difference between a bastard and a fool, he decides that he would rather “be taken for a fool than for a bastard.” No worries there: In the tried-and-true tradition of film noir — of which this picture is a sun-splashed cousin — a fool needs to be on hand in order to be easily duped by an alluring femme fatale, and that’s what happens in this entertaining import. As with the previous year’s The Bride Wore Black, Truffaut again turns to Woolrich, transforming the author’s novel Waltz Into Darkness into a star-powered vehicle in which a tobacco plantation owner learns that his mail-order bride isn’t who she claims to be — and subsequently discovers that he doesn’t even care, since he’s hopelessly captivated by this blonde beauty. But whereas Louis can’t help but wear his heart on his sleeve when it comes to his spouse, she in turn proves to be an elusive figure, with Deneuve expertly keeping us guessing as to whether this woman truly cares for her husband or only cares in murdering him. Truffaut playfully employs various filmmaking techniques throughout the picture — for starters, note the iris shot that figures in one sequence — and, true to his roots as a film critic for Cahiers du Cinéma, he amusingly includes a brief scene in which the principals discuss the merits of Nicholas Ray’s offbeat 1954 Western with Joan Crawford, Johnny Guitar. Woolrich’s source novel was tackled by Hollywood in 2001 as Original Sin, a terrible thriller starring Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie.

Isabelle Adjani (with François Truffaut in an uncredited cameo) in The Story of Adele H.

There was much grousing surrounding the Best Actress Oscar race for 1975, for while the year was a terrific one for movies (Jaws, Nashville, Dog Day Afternoon, and more), it wasn’t a particularly noteworthy one for female leads. As chronicled  in Wiley-Bona’s Inside Oscar, the New York Times wrote, “There are so few surefire candidates this year that the list may be downright embarrassing,” while, after the nominees were announced, Ellen Burstyn (the previous year’s winner for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) was vocal in her protest regarding the dearth of roles for women. Yet there was one performance that everyone agreed was flat-out superb, and it belonged to 19-year-old Isabelle Adjani. Her turn as Victor Hugo’s love-crazed daughter nabbed her the Best Actress prizes from all the major critics’ groups, and she likely didn’t win the Oscar because One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest steamrolled the competition, winning all five major awards — including Best Actress for Louise Fletcher, a limited performer landing the role of a lifetime. The Story of Adèle H. relates the true-life tale of a love so unrequited, it brings to mind the adage that someone might as well be talking to a brick wall. Adèle is so consumed with an English lieutenant named Albert Pinson (Bruce Robinson, later the scripter of such works as The Killing Fields and Withnail and I) that she leaves the Hugo household in Guernsey and follows him to his station in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Pinson, who interestingly is never brought into focus enough to determine if he’s a misunderstood innocent or (more likely if one reads the scant tea leaves right) a womanizing lout, wants nothing to do with Adèle, but she’s a woman obsessed, stalking his every move and fabricating this grand romance for her own benefit as well as that of her family back home. Truffaut’s study of Adèle is ofttimes almost clinical in nature, but Adjani brings more than enough volcanic passion to the project.

The extras on each Blu-ray consist of film historian audio commentary; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other films on the Kino label.

The Bride Wore Black: ★★★½

Mississippi Mermaid: ★★★

The Story of Adele H.: ★★★

Ben Gazzara and George Segal in The Bridge at Remagen (Photo: Sandpiper)

THE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN (1969). Not to be confused with The Bridge on the River Kwai or A Bridge Too Far, The Bridge at Remagen is similarly an action-packed yarn about a valuable piece of real estate during World War II. In this case, it’s the Ludendorff Bridge, which was not only one of the very few bridges into Germany that was still standing in the waning months of the war but also one that would immensely help Allied troops as they planned to invade Hitler’s home turf. Realizing the importance of the bridge but also aware that its destruction would strand thousands of soldiers on the wrong side, Nazi officer Paul Kreuger (Robert Vaughn) takes his time in carrying out his orders to blow it up. Meanwhile, equally aware of the construct’s strategic value, Brigadier General Shinner (E.G. Marshall) orders an American platoon led by Lieutenant Hartman (George Segal) to capture the bridge before it’s leveled — an assignment Hartman abhors, since it means placing his fatigued men in danger yet again. Segal, gruffer than usual, delivers a strong performance, and ace cinematographer Stanley Cortez (The Magnificent Ambersons) offers some striking visuals (particularly a smoky encounter on the bridge). But the war-is-hell theme is handled clumsily by director John Guillermin and his trio of scripters, and the characters, from a zealous officer (Bradford Dillman) seeking to advance his career to a cynical soldier (Ben Gazzara) who finally locates his buried humanity, are a pat, predictable bunch. The film’s stunt supervisor is Hal Needham, who made his mark as a renowned stuntman before directing Burt Reynolds in several of his films, including the box office blockbuster Smokey and the Bandit and the box office bomb Stroker Ace.

There are no Blu-ray extras.

Movie: ★★½

Paul Dano, Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen in The Fabelmans (Photo: Universal & Amblin)

THE FABELMANS (2022). In the latest example of what the uncharitable might dismiss as mere navel-gazing (see also Kenneth Branagh with the previous year’s Belfast), Steven Spielberg takes a look back through time, offering a version of the childhood that in many ways shaped his subsequent standing as one of our most successful and acclaimed directors. Yet the movie isn’t merely a rose-colored reflection; instead, it examines the dysfunction that often defined his early years and that became an integral part of many of his earliest motion pictures. As a young boy, Sammy Fabelman (Mateo Zoryan Francis-DeFord) is taken by his parents Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and Burt (Paul Dano) to see The Greatest Show on Earth, and this ultimately leads to the young lad obtaining a camera to shoot his own movie scenes. But it’s because of his burgeoning filmmaking abilities that the teenage Sammy (now played by Gabriel LaBelle) discovers that his mom is having an affair with his dad’s best friend (Seth Rogen), an act that threatens everything he holds true and dear about family. Judd Hirsch appears as Sammy’s great-uncle Boris, while, in what basically amounts to a cameo appearance, David Lynch turns up in a wonderful sequence as one of the greatest of all American directors. Co-scripting with frequent collaborator Tony Kushner, Spielberg has crafted an origin story that’s both sweet and bittersweet. The Fabelmans is presently up for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Williams), Best Supporting Actor (Hirsch, unfairly knocking Dano out of his deserved spot), Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.

Blu-ray extras consist of a trio of making-of pieces focusing on the project’s origins, the casting of the key roles, and the technical contributions.

Movie: ★★★½

Robert Donat and Greer Garson in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (Photo: Warner Archive)

GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS (1939). Countless A-list actors have earned kudos for portraying inspirational teachers — Sidney Poitier in To Sir, With Love, Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver, Jon Lovitz in High School High (OK, scratch that last one) — but Robert Donat as Mr. Chipping stands as one of the OG educators in film. With the help of some highly convincing makeup, the 34-year-old Donat ages from 25 to 83 as he plays a man who begins his tenure at Brookfield School as a disliked instructor and ends it as a beloved headmaster. The transformation comes courtesy of the vivacious Katherine Ellis (Greer Garson, emerging a star in her film debut), whose innate goodness and extroverted nature allow “Mr. Chips” to blossom as a human being. He marries Katherine and becomes a popular fixture at the school, but his lengthy life will bear witness to plenty of personal triumphs and tragedies. Goodbye, Mr. Chips is the sort of film that builds in cumulative power (cue the absence of dry eyes by the end), and there are several smashing vignettes — I especially like how the passage of time is marked by each succession of students discussing the major conflict of the day, and I especially love the first meeting between Katherine and Mr. Chips on that mountaintop. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress, this earned Donat the Oscar for Best Actor — a significant victory considering his competition included Gone With the Wind’s Clark Gable, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’s James Stewart, and Wuthering Heights’ Laurence Olivier. Goodbye, Mr. Chips was remade as a musical in 1969; although it wasn’t as acclaimed, Peter O’Toole did pick up a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance.

The only Blu-ray extra is the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★★★½

Ronald Colman, Heather Thatcher and Basil Rathbone in If I Were King (Photo: Kino)

IF I WERE KING (1938). Ronald Colman might be the dashing lead, but it’s Basil Rathbone who easily walks away with this period costumer set in 15th century Paris. Whether playing heroes (The Dawn Patrol, Sherlock Holmes in a series of 14 films) or, more often, villains (The Adventures of Robin Hood, Tower of London), Rathbone always projected confidence, intelligence, and authority — indeed, he was Margaret Mitchell’s preferred choice to play Rhett Butler in the screen version of her novel Gone With the Wind. That’s why his performance in If I Were King is such an unexpected delight. Rathbone is initially almost unrecognizable in the role of King Louis XI, portraying the monarch as a mincing, excitable, jabbering — yet nevertheless shrewd — scarecrow of a man. When Louis overhears the mischievous poet-thief François Villon (Colman) state that he would make a better king, he decides to toy with him by pronouncing him head constable and placing him in charge of important military decisions. With a script by Preston Sturges (adapting a popular play), If I Were King is witty in the manner it makes King Louis XI not an outright foil to Villon but rather someone who alternates between ally and enemy. As the two women in Villon’s life, Frances Dee (the female lead in producer Val Lewton’s I Walked With a Zombie) and Ellen Drew (the female lead in producer Val Lewton’s Isle of the Dead) offer a nice contrast as, respectively, a prim and proper lady of the court and a feisty and quick-tempered woman of the people. If I Were King was nominated for four Oscars, including a Best Supporting Actor bid for Rathbone.

Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other titles offered by Kino.

Movie: ★★★

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road (Photo: DreamWorks)


REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (2008). Revolutionary Road reunites Titanic stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, but those expecting to see the pair again in the throes of starry-eyed passion will be disappointed — instead, romance is kept at a minimum in this edgy drama, a must-see for adults who don’t mind getting their hands dirty on messy emotions. Sam Mendes, the Oscar-winning director of American Beauty, has made another American beauty, this one a powerful examination of a young couple trying to deal with the plasticity of 1950s suburbia. Set in Connecticut, the story (adapted by Justin Haythe from Richard Yates’ novel) concerns itself with Frank and April Wheeler, who view themselves as being different from everyone else in their pristine neighborhood. But time spent toiling away within the boundaries of the so-called American Dream quickly takes its toll, so in an effort to revitalize their dreams as well as salvage their marriage, April suggests that they move to Paris and start a new life. Flush with excitement, the couple start to make plans, only to find that old routines — no matter how detested — die hard. “You jump, I jump,” the lovers in Titanic told each other. Here, the two aren’t as united, each standing on the brink of uncertainty, peering into the dark abyss of an unknown future, and trying not to tumble into the chilly depths of American ennui.

Movie: ★★★½


Review links for movies referenced in this column (all links open in a new window):
Best Films of 2022
The Bridge on the River Kwai
The Greatest Show on Earth
Isle of the Dead
The Magnificent Ambersons
Stroker Ace
Tower of London

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