Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Kino Lorber Studio Classics - 23 PACES TO BAKER STREET, FRAMED and DELUGE on Blu-ray ""

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - 23 PACES TO BAKER STREET, FRAMED and DELUGE on Blu-ray

23 PACES TO BAKER STREET (1956; Henry Hathaway)
This little Hitchcockian thriller stars Van Johnson (who I am normally not a huge fan of, but is pretty good in this role) as a blind American playwright named Phillip Hannon who is living in London. He uses a dictaphone to write and sends off the tapes to be transcribed (we see this in an early scene). In an odd incident, he goes to a local pub and overhears a rather sinister conversation at the booth behind him between a man and a woman. It seems to be dealing with blackmail or kidnapping and is generally nefarious so he tries to get help from the barmaid as to who the two people in the booth were, but she doesn't particularly remember them. The man immediately rushes home and records the conversation as he remembers it (which is basically exactly as it happened) into his dictaphone. One hangup though is that he couldn't hear the conversation completely as there was an annoying gentleman playing a loud pinball game nearby so some key bits of the chat were inaudible. Hannon decides to contact the police to see if they can do anything, but sadly, there isn't much they can help with as the conversation could be seen as somewhat innocuous from their point of view and there is no eyewitness to identify either of the parties involved. Hannon becomes obsessed with the conversation and begins to investigate on his own, based on some information he can glean from his recording. As you might expect, his poking his nose into this naughty business starts to rub a few folks the wrong way and the peril quotient rises significantly. One particular sequence where a not so nice fellow leads Hannon into a bombed out, nearly demolished building is particularly harrowing and memorable. Overall, I couldn't help but be reminded slightly of Coppola's THE CONVERSATION, as both films do focus on a conversation between a man and a woman that is open to interpretation, but that obsesses the main character of the movie. This film was directed by Henry Hathaway who was responsible for such gems as CALL NORTHSIDE 777 and KISS OF DEATH among many many others. While not his best effort by any means, this is an intriguing Hitchcock-lite kind of affair that I am glad that I saw.
This disc includes a commentary from filmmaker Kent Jones (who did both the HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT documentary as well as the Val Lewton doc that came out with that Warner Box Set).
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FRAMED (1975; Phil Karlson)
I have been a fan of director Phil Karlson for quite some time. His noir efforts like 99 RIVER STREET, KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL and THE PHENIX CITY STORY are lesser talked about classics of the genre and he is very much at home depicting the world of crime and criminals. He is perhaps most well known for having directed the southern revenge movie staple WALKING TALL with Joe Don Baker. WALKING TALL was a huge hit when it came out in 1973, grossing 23 million dollars on a mere $500,000 budget. Understandably, it makes sense that not only would sequel be made, but also another teaming of Karlson and Joe Don Baker with another revenge story to try to re-capture WALKING TALL's success. FRAMED is seeming an attempt to do just that, a few years after WALKING TALL. Joe Don Baker plays Ron Lewis, a gambler who also runs a club with his girlfriend who sings there. After making a ton of cash at a poker game,  all set with a plan to pay off what they owe on the club - he's stopped short on his way home one night when he happens upon a shooting between two people in two separate cars stopped on the road in front of him. He gets shot at by the perpetrator, who escapes into the night. Ron ends up heading back to his house, only to be accosted by a cop over having witnessed whatever it was that went down (something shady). The attempted arrest turns into a nasty fight which ends up with the cop dead at the hands of Lewis. The corrupt police force and other less than lawful people are in cahoots against him and he ends up in prison. As he's innocent, he's pretty feisty from the get go and pisses of the guards. One of the heavy hitter guys inside is a mob boss (John Marley - from Cassavetes FACES, THE GODFATHER, LOVE STORY) and he latches onto Lewis because he's a good gambler and wants Ron to play for him and spilt the profits 50/50. They become pals and he says he'll bankroll his gambling when he gets out - but Ron has other things on his mind - namely revenge (And to figure out who set him up)! While the film is just  touch overlong, it does have some good stuff in it and the last thirty minutes are particularly a hoot in terms of violence and general vengeance. I enjoyed this one and will likely be counting it among my favorite discoveries of 2017. What's funny to me is that I clearly recall buying this movie on VHS circa 2000 when I first moved to Los Angeles, but in all that time I had never watched. Glad I finally did.
This disc includes a commentary by Film Historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thomspon.
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DELUGE (1933; Felix E. Feist)
Enjoyable Pre-Code disaster movie (kind of the 2012 of 1933 - but better of course). It is particularly memorable for the opening which features the depiction of the destruction of New York City through a series of horrific earthquakes. The special effects - consisting of some nice model work, matte shots and rear projection are quite good for the time and even hold up today for the most part. Some of the harbor effects look a little iffier because of the model boats that are used, but overall it gives a great sense of the carnage (and would likely have been very terrifying to see back when this film came out). Sadly, the film would go over budget for RKO in the making of these effects and that combined with the movie performing poorly at the Box Office would lead to this film disappearing for a long while. Basically, RKO was forced to sell off the special effects scenes as stock footage for use in another film, which also required them to pull all the prints of the movie and thus it became something of a "lost" movie. 
The main story takes place in the aftermath of all the apocalyptic goings-on and focuses on a small group of survivors. First we see a cabin with two men and a woman who they have saved from the shore where she has nearly drowned. It's clear that this scenario will not end well and it doesn't. The woman escapes the clutches of these two creeps (with rape on their minds) and swims off to find end up passed out on a different shore and in a different cabin with a different (albeit much kinder) man who is living by himself after having apparently lost his family in the earthquake. This movie has a surprising amount of unease in that the female characters seem to be often in danger of being sexually attacked by the now less than civilized men. There is even a very evil gang of degenerates who must be avoided at all costs for fear of what they are capable of doing (especially after they capture the girl). For what it is and when it came out, I was pretty impressed with this one, special effects wise and also for it's interestingly bleak tone that feels more grounded than I'm used to for films of this time. To be honest, I've not seen many disaster films from this period and being a devout fan of the genre, DELUGE was quite a welcome discovery for me and I am pleased that Kino has rescued it from obscurity.
The disc also features a commentary from Film Historian Richard Harland Smith, which I found to be quite good.
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Ted S. (Just a Cineast) said...

Is 23 Paces to Baker Street in the proper (Cinemascope) aspect ratio? FXM ran it in a few months back, and it was [insert expletive here] panned-and-scanned. The Fox MOD DVD, from what I understand, was also the pan-and-scan print.

Gotta love the trope of the blind man who sees more than everyone else, though.

Rupert Pupkin said...

Yes, It's in the proper OAR for sure. Kino is quite good about that thankfully!