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PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (Twilight Time Blu Ray

 

PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (Hammer/Columbia,1962) Twilight Time Blu Ray. 87 min. Color. $29.95. Region Free (A/B/C). https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/pirates-of-blood-river-the-blu-ray/ Limited to 3,000 copies.

Hammer in the late 1950s had found a popular and financially profitable niche with their now classic horror films. The studio, however, also produced a wide variety of titles in other genres. Powerful War films (YESTERDAY’S ENEMY, Hammer/Columbia 1959), Comedies (WATCH IT, SAILOR! Hammer/Columbia ,1961), even crime dramas ( HELL IS A CITY, Hammer/Warner Pathe ,1960).
They even made movies for the popular family market U certificate films. In England, to get the “U” (Universally suitable for all) certificate, a film was thought generally acceptable for ages four and up.

SWORD OF SHERWOOD FOREST (Hammer/Columbia, 1960) was a surprise hit, and so Hammer decided more swashbucklers would do the same. Hammer had done a Robin Hood film back in 1954 (THE MEN OF SHERWOOD FOREST) but each of their Robin Hood tales were standalone stories. *

Oddly, Hammer waited two years to do another swashbuckler, but what they came up with was a winner. PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER was paired with the Ray Harryhausen adaptation of Jules Verne’s MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, and upon its release in July,1962, quickly became the highest grossing double bill in the U.K. that year.

To get that important “U” rating, a gory filmed scene had to be excised. In the film, actress Marie Devereux unfortunately flees into a river filled with piranhas, and as the vicious killers swarm around her, she screams as the water around her turns red with blood. This scene was returned in later versions of the film, including its DVD release in a 2-disc set called ICONS OF ADVENTURE (Sony Home Entertainment,2008. The other titles were Hammer’s THE DEVIL SHIP PIRATES (1964), THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY (1959) and TERROR OF THE TONGS (1961)). In fact, PIRATES at various times was rated ‘U’, ‘A’ (Those aged 5 and older admitted, but not recommended for children under 14 years of age) and even an “X” certificate (Suitable for those aged 16 and older (enforced by all councils) due to what scenes were edited in or out of a release.

 

The film opens with a stock shot of a 17th Century sailing vessel (anyone recognize from what movie this was lifted,let me know) and then we are told via credit crawl that the island is a refuge for Huguenots fleeing religious persecution and settling upon an island they named Devon. “But in the years to come, the just laws of the Colony began to yield to greed and tyranny. Happiness became an echo of the past. Freedom-just a memory.”

Now Huguenots were mostly Northern French Protestants who fled for their lives after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 24 August – 3 October 1572, wherein Catholics killed over 25,000 Huguenots in the country, only to have the murderers granted amnesty, as well as the edict of Fontainebleau in 1685 wherein the beleaguered religious sect had to convert to Catholicism or risk ruin, imprisonment of worse.

Devon is a British Iron age name derived from Dumnonia, so it is an odd name for French Settlers to choose. Then again, none of the islanders speak French nor even with an accent but sound very British indeed. Maybe they were some Huguenots who fled first from France to England and from there to the New World?

They are an island whose location is never exactly placed, but piranhas mostly reside in the Amazon and certain Brazilian or Venezuelan rivers. We can thus guess that this island is supposedly located in that general region. Not a wise area for the groups to settle, as the Spanish and Portuguese who occupied those countries were Catholics nations.

This, however could explain why they chose to remain so isolated, and established their harsh fundamentalist governing system. Then again, I am perhaps over thinking this fun romp, so back to the story.

Jonathan Standing (American actor Kerwin Mathews ,forever to be remembered for Columbia’s 1957 classic THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD ) is found with Maggie Mason (Marie Devereux in her final appearance in an Hammer film ),the wife of one of the town elders Godfrey Mason (Jack Stewart ,who had appeared in the early Hammer film A CASE FOR P.C. 49,1951), The religious leaders, led by Jonathan’s stern father Jason Standing (Andrew Keir, to me the best Professor Quatermass due to his performance in QUATERMASS & THE PIT for Hammer ,1967).They seek to arrest and punish the lovers but the poor Maggie flees into the river, suffering the fate of the piranhas mentioned earlier. Jason says that it is a judgement of God.

Jonathan is tried by the council, who, led by his father, sentences for him to be sent to a penal colony for 15 years. Jonathan’s sister Bess (Marla Landi, so good in Hammer’s HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES,1959) tells her father that the council is using him. It seems that Henry (American actor Glenn Corbett, who had starred in William Castle’s HOMICIDAL the year prior) says sarcastically says that Jason’s grandfather who helped found the colony and whose carved likeness stands above the courtroom, would be so proud. Jonathan asks that Henry, besides watching over his sister with whom Henry is in love, also watch over Jason’s father until the tyranny is brought down.

 

We then see the cruelty of the mining operations wherein the prisoners are forced to work and be tortured, including leaving Jonathan punished by having his hands tied to a cross beam and dangling above the ground (a form of crucifixion Hammer also used in 1965’s THE SECRET OF BLOOD RIVER). Thank goodness this is family friendly?

Jonathan escapes with an older prisoner who drops dead from exertion. Jonathan flees into the swamps and is presumed killed by the guards. He however, was shot in the arm, and is found by Mack (the great Michael Ripper, who appeared in more Hammer films than any other actor) Hench (Peter Arne, THE HELLFIRE CLUB, Tempean Films,1961) and Brocaire (Oliver Reed, right after his starring role in Hammer’s CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF) and a group of pirates. They bring him to their boat (a wonderful Les Bowie glass matte) and to Captain LaRoche (Christopher Lee, who does speak with a French accent). LaRoche is a soft-spoken, intelligent character, adorned with an eye patch and withered arm and Lee makes the most of his performance. Eleven years later , he donned and eye patch once again and demonstrated his wonderful swordsman skills , with Oliver Reed now an international star in THE THREE MUSKETEERS (Salkind, 1973 ).

 

The pirates say that they would travel back to Jonathan’s colony, which has remained hidden for a 100 year, and help Jonathan establish a just rule, in exchange for a haven and a place they can safely refresh their supplies. They trudge through the river (Michael Ripper disappearing briefly below the surface, Lee trudging on, probably inwardly cursing once again being soaked and walking through muck in another film, like his end in THE MUMMY, Hammer ,1959). Brocaire gets into a fight in the water with another pirate, which is stopped by a stare from the Captain. Filmed in brackish water that smelt awful (Black Park), Oliver Reed got inflamed eyes while Lee got a stomach infection.

Of course, the pirates have no intention of a peaceful co-existence, believing that there is a hidden treasure within the colony. Can Jonathan and the settlers rid themselves of their occupiers?

The film is an exciting, thoughtful thriller. The underlying distrust of an oppressive religious leadership is heavy, considering this is again thought of a family film. Hammer would expand on the idea of Religious close mindedness in greater detail in their horror film TWINS OF EVIL (1971). For the most part, though, this is a thrilling and well-made period adventure piece, that once again Hammer’s wonderful technicians make look so much more expensive than their limited budgets should allow. Michael Ripper has a much larger role than many of his films, and you get to see what a truly fine actor he was. When drunk, he foolishly mocks his Captain, satirizing his bad eye and injured arm.

Now TWILIGHT TIME has released a magnificent blu ray of this fun Hammer action adventure.

The previous Sony DVD was fine, and a bargain when released with the other three titles.

This new Blu Ray release, however, is a revelation. A 1080p High Definition / 2.35:1 / Color print really shows off the Megascope cinematography (kudos to Arthur Grant ,who worked brilliantly at Hammer from 1957 to 1972 ). The colors are incredibly rich, and the sharpness makes this look like a new film rather than a 55-year-old movie.

The 1.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio is surprisingly rich, with the dialogue, soundtrack and effects all quite clear and crisp.

As for extras,

the optional English SDH subtitles are clear and easy to read, following the action and dialogue perfectly.

There is an isolated music and effects track, wherein you can really enjoy how much both add to the enjoyment of this film. Composer Gary Hughes seemed to be Hammer’s going to man for their 60s swashbucklers, as he also composed their THE CRIMSON BLADE (1963), THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES (1964), THE VIKING QUEEN (1967) and A CHALLENGE FOR ROBIN HOOD (1967). You also appreciate how much care Hammer put into their sound design, with not only gunshots and screams added in, but so many tiny details that perhaps go unnoticed by most moviegoers that subconsciously make the scene stronger. Kudos to Alfred Cox (sound editor) and Jock May (sound recordist). They also knew when to pull back on sound, as during the wonderfully suspenseful scene between Hench and Brocaire, wherein both men are blindfolded and have a sword fight. It is without music, and the sounds are dropped down to those of clashing blades and items scattered during the conflict.

An informative audio commentary runs the length of the picture (taken from a previous DVD release) with film historian Marcus Hearn (THE HAMMER STORY, co written with Alan Barnes, Titan Books, 1997), who keeps things going by dropping in some wonderful facts, and prodding the memories of writer Jimmy Sangster (who passed away in 2011) and art director Don Mingaye (who is as of this writing, still alive at age 88).

 

They discuss their experiences with the studio, writing and budgeting, memories of various actors (look for Desmond Llewelyn, later gain fame as Q in the James Bond series) and crew, and having to write a pirate movie without a ship (save for the opening stock shot and glass matte). They also verify that director John Gilling was while a brilliant craftsman was subject to mood swings wherein he could be quite nasty. Christopher Lee even found him difficult to work with.The commentators attribute this to a head wound that Gilling had, which left him with a large scar. Gilling did give us several horror classics, such as FLESH & THE FIENDS (Regal 1959) and the Hammer “Cornish “horrors, THE REPTILE and PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (both 1966). They also talk about how surprised Sammy Davis Jr, a huge Hammer fan, was when he visited the set of this film.

Julie Kirgo as always supplies a nice overview appreciation of the film in the booklet enclosed with the blu ray.

Finally, we get the original theatrical trailer.

Today, to do a pirate film costs over $200 million dollar and is CGI crazy to the point wherein the actors often become ciphers to the visual chaos. However, releases like this show you what talent before and behind the camera could do with a very small budget.

Recommended to fans of Hammer, Christopher Lee, and adventure fans of all ages (just watch out for those piranhas!).

-Kevin G Shinnick

 

*-the other Hammer Robin Hood film was A CHALLENGE FOR ROBIN HOOD (Hammer/Warner Pathe ,1967). WOLFSHEAD: THE LEGEND OF ROBIN HOOD was a failed tv pilot from 1969 that Hammer acquired but did not produce, and released theatrically as a B feature in 1973.

 

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STILL TIME TO ENTER TO POSSIBLY WIN A DVD/BLU RAY of BETTER WATCH OUT . December 1,2017 deadline. 

https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/2017/11/22/win-a-blu-ray-dvd-combo-of-well-go-u-s-a-s-horror-comedy-better-watch-out/

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1940s, Adventure, Blu Ray, british, CLASSIC, dvd, Emeric Pressberger, film, FILM HISTORY, Michael Powell, OLIVE FILMS, review, safety pin, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized, UNITED ARTISTS, WWII

ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT IS MISSING (Olive Films Blu Ray)

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ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT IS MISSING ( Olive Films) -Blu Ray-b&w.1942. 103 Mins. $29.95 http://store.olivefilms.com/War.67/Olive_Films.38/One_Of_Our_Aircraft_Is_Missing__Blu-Ray_.6319.html also available on DVD

ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT IS MISSING (British National Films/U.A. (U.S.)) is a classic WWII war films is a must see for anyone who is an history buff, classic cinema, British Cinema, war films- heck anyone who enjoys a superlative film.

This was the inaugural film by The Archers, the producing team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The two men would share directing credits on several films, including on another WWII drama, THE 49TH PARALLEL (General Films, Columbia ,1941) THE RED SHOES (General Films,1948), and BLACK NARCISSUS (General Films, U.I. ,1947) dissolving the partnership with one more WW II film, PURSUIT OF THE GRAF SPEE (J Arthur Rank,1956).

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Made as a propaganda film with full approval of the Ministry of Information, the film stands as an engrossing drama of courage of various types, with many exciting set pieces that are balanced by marvelous human moments. Done in a documentary style, the film has a marvelous sense of realism that is lacking in many other films of the period, even going so far as to shun a film score.

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It is hard to believe that the film went into production before a fully finished script was in hand, but Powell kept rewriting the film when the military consultants would mention new innovations. Powell would then work these ideas into the film. That the film seems seamless is a credit to all involved, editor David Lean (who had co directed parts of MAJOR BARBARA (General Films,1941) uncredited the year before).

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Also, major kudos to the effects team under Douglas Woolsey, who contributed realistic battle effects to several British films like CONVOY (Ealing,1940). The effects wizards could construct an amazing large scale replica of Stuttgart thanks to art director David Rawnsley who covered the entire studio floor with his miniatures. Effects Cameraman Freddie Ford filmed the sequence by laying on his stomach from the studio rafters floor ten hours a day to get some of the shots. So, convincing is it that it is easily blended with actual flying footage. That the film cost only £700,000 is a miracle.

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When the film was first released by United Artists in the United States, they edited out 20 minutes of footage, which, while probably allowing for more showings per day, probably robbed the film of much of its power. Still, the film is so well crafted, that it received two Academy Award nominations. Oddly, this was Michael Powell’s only Oscar nomination. Due to its critical as well as financial success J Arthur Rank offered Powell and Pressburger a film by film deal to choose any subject they wanted.one-of-our-aircraft-is-missing-movie-poster-1942-1020198733

 

The movie opens with a title letting the viewer know that the film was made with the full cooperation of the Royal Air Force, the Air Ministry, and the Royal Netherland Government in exile at that time in England. It is then followed by a telegram informing us that five farmers in the Netherlands were executed by the Nazis for helping several downed British Airmen escape the country. We then jump to an airfield in England where we see that a British bombing squadron is returning, all save one. The Vickers Wellington bomber designated “B for Bertie” has not returned.
We then see the plane flying over the ocean, but that it is completely empty of crew. Finally flying over land, the ghost plane crashes into some power lines and explodes.vlcsnap-00409
This opening is an exciting tease for the tale that unfolds as we jump back in time and are introduced to the brave crew of “B for Bertie”. The flight crew is made up of
– Sir George Corbett (Godfrey Tearle, memorable from Hitchcock’s THE 39 STEPS (Gaumont-British,1935)) the old man of the group, going on one last mission as the tail gunner,
-former pro soccer player tuned radio operator Bob Ashley (Emrys Jones in his film debut, who later did a lot of British television and stage work),
-pilot John Haggard (Hugh Burden, who years later appeared in the film ONE OF OUR DINOSAURS IS MISSING (Disney,1975), a title that references this film),
-farmer turned second pilot Tom Eanshaw (Eric Portman, who a year earlier was a fleeing Nazi in THE 49TH PARALLEL for the same production team. ONE …. is a variant of that film. In 49th, a Nazi U-Boat squad must try to evade capture in Canada when their vessel is destroyed, and flee to the then neutral United States. One of his earliest film roles Portman had appeared in a Tod Slaughter production (MARIA MARTEN, or THE MURDER IN THE RED BARN (George King Productions,1936)),
-Cockney front gunner Geof Hickman (Bernard Miles, later the second actor after Lawrence Olivier to be given a peerage)
-and former actor turned navigator Frank Shelley (Hugh Williams, who later with his wife Margaret Vyner wrote the stage play and later screenplay for THE GRASS IS GREENER), who is obsessed with his wife’s upcoming BBC radio performance.

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The squadron takes off, and soon they are over their target. The bombing mission is a mixture of actual flight footage mixed in seamlessly with effects sequences. After dumping their payload, “B for Bertie” is struck by anti-aircraft fire, and the crew is forced to bail out over occupied Holland. As we had seen earlier, the plane did not crash until it had reached England.

 

Five of the crew regroup, but find that Bob is missing. Trying to decide what to do next, they come across some Dutch children. Not sure if they will turn them in or help, the children explain that they support the British, and can be identified by the safety pins that they wear, a sign against oppressors and to keep together. Currently, this symbol is once again popular, first in England due to those who opposed Brexit (feeling that everyone was stronger together) and now in the United States as a symbol against oppression perceived in the Trump administration.

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The children bring the airmen to meet teacher Else Meertens (Pamela Brown, in her film debut. A successful stage actress, she would live with director Michael Powell until her death in 1975). She questions the airmen to see if they are not disguised infiltrators. Satisfied that they are who they say they are, the Dutch disguise them and try and slip them by the Nazis via bicycle. A brief stop at a church has them nearly caught when the Nazis stop there after they discover one of the parachutes. Look for a young Peter Ustinov (later to star in ONE OF OUR DINOSAURS IS MISSING) in his film debut as the priest. The organist Alec Clunes had given Ustinov his first stage acting break, and is perhaps best known for having played Hastings in Olivier’s RICHARD III (London Films,1955).

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Stopping at the home of the local Burgomaster (Hay Petrie, famous for playing many of Shakespearean clowns on stage during the 1920s,he had a long and varied film career, hoping from comedy to drama with ease),they are confronted by Dutch collaborator De Jong (ballet dancer/actor Robert Helpmann, perhaps best known for portraying a choreographer in the film THE RED SHOES (General Films/J Arthur Rank,1948)and who in 1978 broke his back while filming the Australian horror film PATRICK (Australian Int./Filmways)!)but who has the tables turned on him.swedish_one_of_our_aircraft_is_missing_r_ja00169_l                                                                                      (Polish  film poster)

Back on the road they see a football match being played, and among the players is their missing crewman Bob! Once again, the Nazis appear, and say that there are too many people at the gathering and 50 people must leave. The Burgomaster says that then they will all disperse, to annoy the Nazis sense of control and order. The Nazis allow them all to stay. The brilliance of this simple and courageous act of defiance is truly quietly moving.

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They are escorted out in some supply trucks, but when the Nazis wish to search them, they are confronted by Jo De Vries (Googie Withers, probably best known for appearing the haunted mirror segment of DEAD OF NIGHT (Ealing,1945) who with quiet authority gets the trucks safely through a check point. It should be pointed out that the women in this film have strength, intelligence and courage, and are in positions of authority. De Vries hides the airmen in her own home, letting the fliers know that she is thought to be pro German since she lets it be known that her husband was “killed” in a British raid, but she knows him to be safe in England working as a Voice of Freedom for Radio Orange). This is even more dangerous as the Nazis are garrisoned on her property.

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They are awaiting an air raid, when the German Soldiers are ordered into their bunkers and De Vries can slip them into the cellar unseen where there is a secret inlet that leads to the river and a boat awaits them. While they wait, there is some magnificent dialogue where courage, loyalty, and bravery are discussed.

Finally, the raid occurs, and the escape attempt begins in earnest. Will the brave air men get back home to England?

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The Blu Ray does not have any extras, but the film is so superior, it is worth the purchase price, as I feel it will be a film you would watch over and over. The movie has been out on the home video format since VHS, but the quality was always of a very washed out print. The Olive Films is the complete 103 British print from the best elements possible.   This release very sharp black and white images that complement the cinematography of Ronald Neame (later to become a producer with David Lean on such classics as BRIEF ENCOUNTER (Eagle Lion, Universal,1945) before becoming a director in his own right (POSEIDON ADVENTURE, Fox ,1972). The mono sound is clear and hiss free. Optional English subtitles are clean, easy to read and follow the action and dialogue.one-of-our-aircraft-is-missing-united-artists-1942-title-lobby-card

Highest Recommendation.
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Thanks to John F Colaresi for catching some errors.

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