Well, the dog days of summer are fast approaching, and what better way to duck out of the heat than by spending a cool day inside, AC-blasting, with your Blu-ray player and an endless supply of chilled adult beverages. June sees the release of an Alfred Hitchcock classic (beautifully restored), a trio of Lina Wertmüller gems, a nearly lost Michael Curtiz effort, a movie about the sex lives of ghosts, and a plane crash survival tale sold on the, er, ample merits of its female lead.
“The 39 Steps” (Alfred Hitchcock, 1935)
Why You Should Care: Because “The 39 Steps,” a crackling (86 minutes!) spy thriller from Alfred Hitchcock, is one of the most beloved British movies of all time, coming in at fourth place in the British Film Institute’s poll of top British films, and more recently, named the 21st greatest British film of all time by movie magazine Total Film. The film, based in part on a serialized novel by Scottish author John Buchan (originally collected and published in 1915), is an establishing entry as part of one of Hitchcock’s chief obsessions – the tale of an innocent, everyday man who is caught up in something extraordinary and forced to run (see also: “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” “North by Northwest,” etc.) In the case of “The 39 Steps,” it's Robert Donat, playing a man who accidentally witnesses an attempted assassination and is forced to flee various villainous factions (while dealing with Lucie Mannheim as a potential spy and Madeleine Carroll as a potential love interest). A half-decade before Hitchcock’s true golden period began, “The 39 Steps” is a brisk and undeniably entertaining little thriller, and one that has clearly been lodged in the public consciousness, considering it’s been remade several times (the latest, in 2008, was for British television), lampooned on “Sesame Street,” adapted into a stage show that’s still running in London (it was also on Broadway in the States for a while), and, just four years after Hitchcock’s version, was turned into an Orson Welles radio show for the Mercury Theatre. That’s a lot of steps!
What’s On It: This is a reissue from Criterion, but far from being the same old transfer and features, this is equipped with a new high-definition digital restoration (and an uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray). And it also has a host of features – among them an audio commentary with Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane, a British documentary from 2000 called “Hitchcock: The Early Years,” the complete 1937 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast, original footage from a 1966 British interview with Hitchcock, a new visual essay from Leonard Leff, audio excertps from Francois Truffaut’s 1962 interviews with Hitchcock, original production design drawings, and a booklet featuring an essay on the film by critic David Cairns. Whew.
Release Date: June 26th via Criterion
Why You Should Care: If you’ve never seen a Lina Wertmüller movie, well, this collection is a good place to start. Wertmüller was an Italian writer/director and the first woman ever to be nominated for an Academy Award for Directing (for 1975’s “Seven Beauties”), at a time when the line between art films and the mainstream was at its blurriest. (She was even impersonated on “Saturday Night Live.”) This set (also available on Blu-ray) collects three gems. 1972’s “The Seduction of Mimi” is a political farce co-starring frequent Wertmüller collaborator Giancarlo Giannini about a man who is cornered into rigging a local election with predictably disastrous consequences. (The film was very liberally adapted into Michael Schultz’s 1977 comedy “Which Way Is Up?,” which starred Richard Pryor and was based on a screenplay written by “Jaws” scribe Carl Gottlieb.) “Love & Anarchy,” released the following year, also stars Giannini and, like 'Seduction of Mimi', was entered into competition at the Cannes Film Festival (it was up for the Palme d’Or and Giannini won Best Actor). It's a much more serious affair, concerned with an anarchist (Giannini) who, while plotting to kill Mussolini in the days before the second World War, falls in love with a prostitute (Mariangela Melato) at the whore house where he’s staying. Singularly powerful, you can still feel the lingering effects of this movie today (look no further than 2008’s great Austrian film “Revanche,” which was nominated for the 2009 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Feature). 1974’s “All Screwed Up” (perhaps remembered for its original translation, “Everything Ready, Nothing Works,” but probably not since it was released the same year as her landmark “Swept Away”), here for the first time on home video, is about the culture clash when southern Italians move to the modern northern Italian city.
What’s On It: “Love & Anarchy” has a trailer. So that’s something. Besides that (a “stills gallery” doesn’t count), they are completely barebones. Still, having three Wertmüller movies in pristine high-def Blu-ray is pretty great.
Release date: June 19th via Kino