Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Timey - THE DISAPPEARANCE and DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK ""

Monday, September 23, 2013


THE DISAPPEARANCE(1977; Stuart Cooper)
I had not even heard of this film until I saw the announcement that Twilight Time was releasing it. I was immediately intrigued by the cast(Donald Sutherland, David Hemmings, David Warner, John Hurt, Christopher Plummer) and the release year. You see, I have this fascination with films released in 1977. I always think of anything that ran opposite STAR WARS at any given time as a curiosity. Being that that film overshadowed most everything that year I am always trying to imagine some context for the movie landscape during that year.
This film immediately separates itself from popcorn fare like STAR WARS from its opening scenes on. For me it made me think of things like DON'T LOOK NOW and POINT BLANK(it even has a 'hallway walking' scene). This mostly has to do with its very artful structure. Sutherland plays a hitman who returns home to find his wife missing. From there, the film bounces in and out of flashbacks and the present as we pick up breadcrumbs of information about Sutherland's character, how he met his wife, how he does his job and so forth. THE DISAPPEARANCE is a film certainly of its time in that it is often obtuse and sedate and takes its time letting scenes play out whilst often interrupting them abruptly with stylized flashbacks. Richard Lester's PETULIA is another that comes to mind by way of structural comparisons. Very neat stud to be sure. So think TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY by way of Richard Lester in the 1970s. It's a really neat little film that seems to have been nearly forgotten up to this point which is a bit of a shame.
Extras on this release include a new interview with director Stuart Cooper in which he discusses his acting career and the circumstances surrounding the somewhat troubled making of the film. Also, Twilight Time has included two cuts of the film on this disc. The lovely HD version is of a re-edited(but director approved) version of the film, and there is also an SD version of the director's cut. There is also a 15 minute excerpt of the open of the film as it was altered by the distributor just to give you a sense of some of what Cooper was displeased with.

DRUMS was the first film that John Ford shot in technicolor. That alone makes it pretty special. The fact that he knocked it out along with TWO other movies that year(STAGECOACH and YOUNG MR. LINCOLN) is also quite remarkable. Of the three films, STAGECOACH is clearly the most well-remembered, followed by(in my estimation) YOUNG MR. LINCOLN and then this. That's a shame really. It's a solid Ford outing for sure, due in no small part to Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert. Fonda and Ford just go perfectly together. Like Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart, there's something there that clicks into place and it feels like it was foretold in some ancient text.  Some have called John Ford THE great American director. It's an interesting perspective. His films are certainly imbued with a sense of American frontier idealism that seems to come from a personal and truthful place. It's not always a sentimental, rose-colored viewpoint either. In the case of DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK, there's certainly some grit to it. There are many hardships along the way to what a young couple thought would be a perfect frontier life(complete with farming and a cabin to live in). Ford really tries to bring a range of emotions to the journeys he takes his characters on. Happiness, sadness, defeat and triumph. One can't be  appreciated as much without the other. 
One of my favorite things about Ford films is their depth of casting. You've got your great leads, but on down the line he has his favorites like Ward Bond and John Carradine(and others) who are almost always woven into the fabric of Ford's movies. Bond and Carradine in particular are welcome staples in the aforementioned 'Ford Universe'. They are both really great at playing period characters. It's almost as if they are souls out of time, especially Ward Bond. I've seen him in so many westerns and stories of the past, that I'd be thrown a bit to even see a picture of him lounging about at some bar circa 1955. Like Warren Oates and a few others, he's a veritable time traveller. Really neat to see Edna May Oliver in this as well. I just recently visited her Hildegarde Withers films and I loved her in that role. She slots perfectly into the Ford universe. Gruff, stern, but not without compassion her character embodies that John Ford no-nonsense attitude that can be a signature for him. 
Also included on this lovely looking Twilight Time disc is the 2007 documentary BECOMING JOHN FORD which focuses on the long term relationship between Ford and Daryl Zanuck. It's fascinating stuff and I quite liked it. If that's not enough though, it also includes a commentary with Twilight Time co-Founder and Film Historian Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo(who writes the excellent liner notes that come with each TWT release). This is easily on of the best special editions that the youthful DVD label has released to date and it is well worth picking up.

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1 comment:

Robert M. Lindsey said...

Edna May Oliver was really excellent in this. There's some really beautiful shots that I bet look amazing on Blueray. One of which I am sure influenced Costner on Dances with Wolves.