Interesting Eclectic Collection
gobirds2 | New England | 07/06/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"THE BATJAC SUSPENSE COLLECTION is truly a mixed bag of four films and may be of interest based purely on your point of view about the importance of films as mere entertainment or the development of film techniques in general.
For example RING OF FEAR seems to be solely a showcase of the Cinemascope process and the possibilities it offers. Even tough it centers around murder and mayhem in a traveling circus, the film asks you to come to the circus and in an allegorical sense asks you to come and see what Cinemascope is all about. Its sensational approach such as having Mickey Spillane in the cast playing himself hired to catch the culprit and endless scenes of circus acts strewn about add to the curiosity element of this obscure film.
MAN IN THE VAULT, a very low budget film noir entity seems like it was made to give the likes of the talented Andrew V. McLaglen an opportunity to direct his own film early in his career and also give actor William Campbell a chance to see if he had enough screen presence and charisma to become a potential leading man.
PLUNDER OF THE SUN is one of the highlights in this collection. It plays much like a movie from the film noir genre with its somber tone and cynical mood. Glenn Ford certainly typifies the film noir hero as Al Colby a disillusioned loner who becomes involved in what appears to be some shady dealings with several mysterious characters and a mysterious package from Havana to Mexico. Glenn Ford plays this character with a gritty realism. During the first third of the film Ford is seen down and out living in a world comprised of stark undercurrents. Director John Farrow however films the rest of the tale in vivid daylight once it shifts from Havana to the bright decks aboard ship en route to sunny Mexico. Yet, Farrow uses vivid light in lieu of dark shadows to create this film noir vision in broad daylight. Essentially this could have been a standard murder adventure mystery but Farrow's approach gives this film a jagged realism with imperfect and vulnerable characters. Farrow's approach raises questions of morality. Is hero Glenn Ford really involved in stealing Mexican artifacts for his own monetary gain at the expense of Mexico's cultural and historical heritage? Ford's fatalistic approach to his character adds to the noir and mystery of this film. Sean McClory gives a brilliant and appealing performance as Jefferson, an enigmatic scoundrel with a bleach blonde crew cut to boot that tries to steal Ford's secret parcel throughout the film. Diana Lynn also gives a very credible performance as a woman of dubious character exuding unrefined sensuality that also vies for Ford's parcel. Jonathan Latimer's script, based on the novel by David Dodge, and director Farrow's vision greatly realized by Jack Draper's brilliant cinematography lends to the notion that the characters are dealing with something of greater importance than all their efforts to outmaneuver each other. Composer Antonio Diaz Conde's score is colorful capturing the flavor of the Mexican locale and wonderfully compliments the idea that the plundering the historical treasures may certainly be sacrilegious and detrimental to those who attempt such transgressions. This film is certainly a lost gem exemplifying the cohesive art of solid filmmaking.
TRACK OF THE CAT is the gem in this collection. TRACK OF THE CAT is an obscure yet brilliant allegorical tale of a snowbound family whose distorted views on patrimony and perceived lascivious behavior, all shaped by the conniving matriarchal Beulah Bondi, come to a resounding climax after being set into motion by the perceived appearance of a mountain lion. Directed by William "Wild Bill" Wellman the word "perceived" literally describes the haunting images and ambiguous and double-edged dialogue that unfolds. The "perceived" threat of the mountain lion tests the family's understanding for their environment. They can irrationally fear its unknown dangers, be oblivious to its true dangers or live in it with sensible harmony and practical respect for all the wonders it holds. Brothers Robert Mitchum and William Hopper pursue the unseen cat across treacherous snow covered mountainous terrain. Wellman filmed these scenes on location on Mount Rainier. Waiting in the cabin for their return are Tab Hunter (their younger brother), Teresa Wright (their sister), Diana Lynn (in pursuit of Hunter's love) and their parents (Philip Tonge and Bondi). Filmed in WarnerColor director Wellman had cinematographer William H. Clothier essentially film the images in a bleached out and colorless "black & white" effect where everything is shot against a white background. The exteriors of blinding white snow are counterbalanced by the interiors of the cabin whose walls and ceiling are painted bleach white. In contrast, the trees, horses, furniture and actors (all dressed in dark and/or white attire) all appear black against Clothier's white cinematic canvas. The effect is unsettling, unnerving and unforgettable if you have ever seen this film. The result is that of a nightmarish and haunting tale that eludes the viewer's sense of morality in a superficial and dreamlike world of black and white where black and white are constantly being juxtaposed redefining what is apparent just for the moment. Roy Webb's excellent stereo score accentuates the unnerving fear in very stark chords like blinding sunlight glistening off snow-covered slopes. I also found Tab Hunter's commentary on the film very insightful, making TRACK OF THE CAT much worth having in my collection.
It is a very economical decision to purchase THE BATJAC SUSPENSE COLLECTION if you are truly interested in TRACK OF THE CAT and PLUNDER OF THE SUN. The extras on these two discs are invaluable and you will end up with four films at the same time.
Not the cream of the Batjac crop by any means
Trevor Willsmer | London, England | 06/29/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Ah, the joys of DVD marketing! How many people do you reckon will order John Wayne's Suspense Collection (as the packaging calls it - Amazon have more accurately listed it as the Batjac Suspense Collection)without noticing that none of the four Batjac/Wayne-Fellows films included actually star the Duke himself? The star attraction here is the widescreen transfer of William Wellman's long unavailable Track of the Cat, with the rest just making up the numbers.
Sadly, Track is one of those films better remembered than seen, failing to live up to fond memory and revealing itself to be an ambitious but largely unsuccessful experiment. William Clothier's Scope "black and white" color cinematography is largely successful, especially in the surprisingly few location scenes, but the art direction on the all-too obviously artificial studio sets makes it feel like two distinctly different movies: a stagebound pseudo Eugene O'Neill drama about a house of secrets torn apart by a long day's journey into light and an assembly of second-unit footage of Robert Mitchum adrift in a snowy landscape as his bravado and ego break down in the face of an unseen enemy (in this case a deadly "painter") and hostile elements. Unfortunately we get far more of the homestead theatrics than the tracking, and there's none of the menace and dripping dread so prevalent in the novel.
It's not exactly a bad film, and once you get past the wildly overlong and stagey opening 22 minutes it picks up steam, but it's hard to shake the feeling of a missed opportunity here. Mitchum, Tab Hunter and Teresa Wright all offer good performances, but Val Lewton or Charles Laughton could have made so much more of it.
The Man in the Vault is William Campbell, a sort of D-movie hybrid of Cornel Wilde and a much-diluted Robert Mitchum with a quiff the size of a tidal wave. The closest it gets to big names are in the supporting cast, and even then we're only talking about bit parts from Paul Fix, Mike Mazurki, Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez ("Ay theenk") and Anita Ekberg. The behind the camera credits are slightly more impressive - a script by Burt Kennedy, direction by Andrew V. McLaglen and cinematography by William H. Clothier that shows that his mastery of color was not always matched by the blandness of some of his black and white work.
It's the kind of programmer that DVD boxed sets were made for, something you can't imagine any major studio releasing if they didn't have to pick it up as part of a package with The High and the Mighty and Hondo or anybody buying if it didn't come in a set with Track of the Cat. The Man Who Would Be Mitch is locksmith Tommy Dancer (they knew how to give characters names in those days), forced to break into a mobster's safety deposit box with the usual consequences. It passes the time inoffensively and efficiently enough, but it says something that the most memorable thing about it was the discovery that a restaurant on La Cienaga that I used to pass on my way to work every day used to be a bowling alley.
Plunder of the Sun is more upmarket and more successful, with broke insurance adjuster Glenn Ford finding himself in Maltese Falcon territory when Francis L. Sullivan's fat man asks him to smuggle some pages of a Zatopec manuscript out of Cuba. Naturally it all leads to multiple murders and a scavenger hunt in the spectacular ancient cities of Mitla and Monte Alban with Sean McClory's bleach-blonde thug, Patricia Medina's compulsive liar and Diane Lynn's Gloria Graham impersonator among the various interested parties trying to do him out of his share. No classic, but a slick disposable entertainment.
Ring of Fear wins the curio crown in the collection hands down, with Sean McClory's escaped homicidal maniac Dublin O'Malley (see what I mean about character names in those days?) heading to Clyde Beatty's circus to wreak revenge on the distinctly odd lion tamer (playing himself with an interesting array of grimaces) and win back the trapeze artiste (Marian Carr) who spurned him by causing ever more dangerous accidents. Naturally, Beatty and circus manager Pat O'Brien choose the obvious course of action - no, not going to the cops, stupid, but bringing in Mickey Spillane (playing himself) and Jack Stang (the cop who was the model for Mike Hammer, playing himself) to find the guilty party.
Aside from McClory, coming over like a garrulous young Benny Hill, no-one has much of a part, which isn't a bad thing considering Spillane is the only one who is even remotely convincing playing himself - Stang looks like he's taken a few punches too many and Beatty literally has to shake his head to change his expression: the two men's reaction shot to an offscreen death-by-tiger is almost worth the price of admission on its own. The script is pretty mundane - no input from Spillane, but instead credited to Paul Fix, Philip MacDonald and John Wayne regular James Edward Grant, who also directs - but it's not without a certain sideshow appeal. And where else could you get to see Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez lose a fight with a kangaroo? Annoyingly, although an extract from the Spillane-hosted trailer appears on other Batjac DVDs, the full trailer hasn't been included: in fact, aside from a 2.35:1 widescreen transfer and a stereo remix, every effort has been spared on this no-extras disc.