Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Kino Lorber Studio Classics - MODESTY BLAISE and CHANDU THE MAGICIAN on Blu-ray ""

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - MODESTY BLAISE and CHANDU THE MAGICIAN on Blu-ray

MODESTY BLAISE (1966; Joseph Losey)
I first became aware of Modesty Blaise as a character way back in 1994 when I was seeing PULP FICTION for the third or fourth time in the theater. I was past paying attention to the plot and had now turned my focus on the minutiae and the little details. Tarantino packed that film with visual references and when I finally noticed the book that John Travolta's Vincent Vega character is reading in the bathroom at Butch's (Bruce Willis) apartment. It was something called Modesty Blaise and it immediately aroused my curiosity. Though I did track down the book, I never ended up reading it. I did however discover the existence of the film version starring Monica Vitti and directed by the great Joseph Losey. I also just discovered that Blaise herself was actually a popular British comic strip character (later made into a book series and several films) - which absolutely makes sense after seeing this movie. The plot is quite simple and concerns the British Secret Service enlisting the services of Ms. Blaise to help protect a big diamond shipment. It all feeds into Monica Vitti getting to show off lots of snazzy outfits and kick a little butt.

The 1960s was rife with spy films. Spy films of all shapes and sizes as far as the eye could see. James Bond was just the tip of the iceberg, but there were so many more and lots of them could be pretty campy (in an entertaining way). Movies like DANGER: DIABOLIK encapsulated a wildly stylish 60s espionage aesthetic that would rarely be achieved again. MODESTY BLAISE is something like James Bond and Diabolik rolled into a sleek and sultry female package. She even has her own swingin' theme song (man do I love these kind of theme songs). Watching this movie, I was shocked at just how energetic and lively Monica Vitti could be. I guess I was just used to seeing her in Antonioni films where she tends to be bit more on the aloof side of the spectrum. From the very first glimpse of her rotating space age pad with lots of fancy gadgets and equipment - you can tell you've entered a very flashy and excessive universe. One thing that defined a lot of these 6os spy films was excess and elaborate design. There's something that is at once incredibly dated and somewhat timeless (in a retro kinda way) about these movies. Two things that help this one (besides Vitti of course) are Terrence Stamp and a wonderfully white-haired Dirk Bogarde (as the villain of the piece). While it's no DANGER: DIABOLIK, it is an enjoyable and silly romp and is certainly for fans of spy films from this period.

Special Features:
-A very entertaining Audio Commentary by Film Historian David Del Valle and Filmmaker Armand Mastroianni
-Interview with First Assistant Director Gavrik Losey
-Interviews with Screenwriter Evan Jones and assistant art director Norman Dorme
-Trailer Gallery
MODESTY BLAISE can be purchased on Blu-ray here:

CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (1932; William Cameron Menzies)
Based on a children's radio show that gained notoriety in the 1930s, CHANDU was kind of a detective character - not quite a super hero - though he can cloud men's minds through the use of hypnotism and other "magic". It is a neat little adventure film that has one foot firmly planted in the supernatural. Let's not forget that Universal had huge hits with DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN in the year prior and that proved that audiences at the time were clearly ready for this kind of subject matter. CHANDU was made by Fox who clearly were trying to grab onto some of that audience share - by in this case going to radio for content to adapt. The title role is played by Edmund Lowe (DINNER AT EIGHT) who gets outshined in a big way by Bela Lugosi. Fox couldn't have gotten Lugosi at a better time - he was still very much riding the wave of enthusiasm that folks had for him from DRACULA. CHANDU as a film has the feel of an elevated serial - very much the kind of thing you might think that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg may have been influenced by for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK or TEMPLE OF DOOM. It also seems like something that fans of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA might possibly enjoy. The magic stuff in CHANDU could possibly have been a thing that inspired the Egg Shen/Lo Pan conflict in BIG TROUBLE. Even if not, it's still fun to see magic used as basically a super power in a film like this and Chandu and Roxor (Bela Lugosi) have some groovy magic on display.
As much as I like Bela Lugosi as Dracula, I am always intrigued to see him step outside that career-defining role and do other things. One thing that he does well is play villains and especially when he's given some room to take it to a big place. And he really goes for it here and chews up the scenery a bit - making him kind of the centerpiece of CHANDU. I've always thought that a good movie needs a solid bad guy and Lugosi really wins the day here and runs away with the movie. Though CHANDU doesn't necessarily stack up against the classic Universal horror stuff, I would still strongly recommend it to fans of those movies as the supernatural elements and the presence of Lugosi make it stand out from some lesser films that were coming out in the wake of FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA. It feels like the kind of film that perhaps Harry Knowles would unearth an show as part of his Butt-Numb-a-thon. CHANDU might even make an interesting warm-up for the new DOCTOR STRANGE film now that I think about it.
Special Features:
-Audio Commentary by Bela Lugosi Biographer Gregory William Mank
-Masters of Magic: The World of Chandu Featurette
-Restoration Comparison
-Trailers

CHANDU THE MAGICIAN can be purchased on Blu-ray here:
http://amzn.to/2bu73ya

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