I’ve been getting immersed with Blu-ray for quite some time, including many of the monthly offerings from Criterion and Eureka (the Criterion of the UK with its prestigious Masters of Cinema series). And I look forward to making Blu-ray and DVD coverage a regular staple of my blog.
So I’d like to start by highlighting some of the recent Criterion offerings: High and Low (1963) has always been my favorite Akira Kurosawa and the Blu-ray only reconfirms it. Adapted from Ed McBain’s novel, King’s Ransom, High and Low stars Toshiro Mifune as a successful shoe magnate who initiates a take-over bid of his company to preserve the integrity of his craft. However, when a kidnapper grabs a neighbor’s son instead of his by mistake, Mifune faces a moral dilemma that’s almost Shakespearean. The film represents the pinnacle of Kurosawa’s fascination with American storytelling and seamlessly turns it into an intense Japanese procedural and family drama. Given that High and Low is shot in Scope, the film achieves a strange sense of claustrophobia as result of its gripping narrative, use of black-and-white, and oppressive compositions. In retrospect, the sense of anxiety is heightened by the fact that the film was released the same year as the Kennedy assassination.
Speaking of black-and-white and claustrophobia, there’s no better way to also get reacquainted with Paths of Glory and Sweet Smell of Success (both from 1957) than on Blu-ray. Stanley Kubrick’s early masterwork takes us inside the opulent chateau of France’s aristocratic General staff and onto the brutal trenches beyond with voyeuristic delight, where a World War I suicide mission reverberates with corruption and inhumanity. Kirk Douglas’ idealistic and fair-minded Col. Dax is nearly swallowed up in the power play.
Meanwhile, Burt Lancaster’s Walter Winchell-like columnist does the swallowing up in the wicked Sweet Smell of Success, and Tony Curtis’ oily press agent becomes his accessory in the ruthless game of gotcha. Director Alexander Mackendrick taps into a smoky, seedy, and seductive Manhattan, complemented by the jazzy beat of Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets’ biting script. It picks up where Abraham Polonsky left off and signals the coming of David Mamet. “A cookie full of arsenic,” indeed.