Friday, 21 December 2012

TWILIGHT'S LAST GLEAMING by the great Robert Aldrich joins Greg Klymkiw's 10 Best List of Blu-Ray/DVD Releases of 2012 - Today's Accolade is none other than one of the most criminally forgotten political action thrillers of the 70s - gorgeously restored and made available on Blu-Ray from the visionary Olive Films (and in Canada, via the equally visionary Mongrel Media).

APOCALYPSE THEN, NOW AND THE FUTURE - through the eyes of Robert Aldrich and a great all-star cast.

The Best Blu-Ray and DVD Releases
of 2012 as decreed by Greg Klymkiw
This was a stellar year for Blu-Ray and DVD collectors that it's been difficult to whittle my personal favourites down to a mere 10 releases. So hang on to your hats as I'll be presenting a personal favourite release from 2012 EACH and EVERY single day that will comprise my Top 10. At the end of all the daily postings, I'll combine the whole kit and kaboodle into one mega-post with all titles listed ALPHABETICALLY. My criteria for inclusion is/was thus: 1. The movie (or movies). How much do I love it/them? 2. How much do I love owning this product? 3. How many times will I re-watch it? 4. Is the overall physical packaging to my liking? 5. Do I like the picture and sound? There was one more item I used to assess the material. For me it was the last and LEAST area of consideration - one that probably surprise most, but frankly, has seldom been something I care that much about. For me, unless supplements really knock me on my butt, their inclusion is not that big of a deal. That said, I always go though supplements with a fine tooth comb and beyond any personal pleasure they deliver (or lack thereof), I do consider the educational value of such supplements for those studying film and/or those who might benefit from them in some fashion (film students or not). So, without further ado, here goes.


Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977) ****
dir. Robert Aldrich
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Charles Durning, Paul Winfield, Burt Young, Richard Widmark, Joseph Cotten, Melvyn Douglas, Richard Jaeckel, William Marshall, Roscoe Lee Browne, Gerald S. O'Loughlin, William Smith

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Director Robert Aldrich at his best, always seemed to be ahead of the curve - so much so that even now the "curve" hasn't always quite caught up to him. A case in point is his phenomenal film adaptation of Mickey Spillane's Kiss Me Deadly which is still the only major picture to adequately capture the famed private dick Mike Hammer in a manner than best typifies the hard-as-nails gumshoe whose almost neanderthal exterior masks his inherent, basic and decent sense of humanity. Not even the prevailing critical assessment of Spillane's books ignores this dichotomy. While this has almost become trope-like in detective novels, Spillane took these two sides to such extremes that the pleasure and depth of reading his work was never matched by any movie before or since Aldrich's 1955 noir classic.

If this had been Aldrich's only film, it would have been worthy of extolling his virtues, but this is a director who churned out one great picture after another and displayed considerable longevity. His filmography is a virtual litany of tremendous movies; The Big Knife (the classic vicious Clifford Odets show business melodrama), Autumn Leaves (hardboiled melodrama resembling Douglas Sirk doing full-on film noir), What Ever Happened To Baby Jane (Bette Davis and Joan Crawford slugging it out), The Flight of the Phoenix (one of the best airplane crash survival pictures of all time), The Dirty Dozen (THE archetypal Granddaddy of WWII pictures), The Killing of Sister George (lesbian harridans sniping at each other), Ulzana's Raid (Ulzana's FUCKING Raid - see it or DIE!), Emperor of the North (Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine pummelling each other on a moving train), Hustle (the strangest cop picture of the 70s), The Choirboys (a nasty black comic episodic portrait of LAPD foretelling the Daryl Gates years) and his last picture All The Marbles (with Peter Falk as a manager/coach of FEMALE WRESTLERS).

Twilight's Last Gleaming was released to little fanfare in 1977 - no box office to speak of and indifferent to devastating reviews (with a handful of exceptions). I remember as a teen being quite dazzled by Aldrich's stylistic choice to make use of cinemascope so that not an inch of the screen was wasted. (Seeing it now, my feelings are even more intense.) His use of split screen is especially masterful, as are his gorgeous, crackling compositions that are always replete with story information, providing a myriad of perspectives.

With Twilight's Last Gleaming, Aldrich is always adept at maintaining the sort of clarity and spatial details that put far too many directors (admired by those who should know better) to absolute shame - in particular the spate of horrendous contemporary directors of the Christopher Nolan, Marc Forster, Sam Mendes and JJ Abrams ilk - all of whom seem to subscribe (due to their inherent incompetence and pseudo-arty pretence) to the miserable ADHD fashion of tossing endless handfuls of shit at the screen to see what'll stick.

As a teen I also remember reacting strongly to Aldrich's extremist political stance which was definitely not on the right, nor even especially on the left, but as a plea for humanity amidst a militarized state exercising heinous acts of violence in the name of freedom (yet ultimately in the name of maintaining economic and political power). To say this had even MORE resonance for me now, would be an understatement.

At the time of its release, many reviews cynically remarked that the revelatory shocker in the film was "old hat", but seeing the film again after so many years, it's another example where Aldrich was indeed ahead of his time - visionary, if you will, for the picture speaks so directly to the tumult the world has been embroiled in over the past decade that it's safe to say he generated a picture that is thematically infused with the sort of universal qualities that many of the best movies possess. In fact, the revelatory shocker might, actually, have more resonance now than when it was first unveiled and frankly, Aldrich is wise to use it more as a dramatic tool to enhance both the stirring narrative and the film's deeper thematic concerns.

Twilight's Last Gleaming is based on a book called "Viper Three" by Walter Wager and I will admit to having read it as a teen in addition to Wager's "Telefon" which Don Siegel adapted as a Charles Bronson picture the same year. Siegel's movie was a crisply directed spy thriller and relatively faithful to Wager's compulsively readable pulp. Aldrich, on the other hand, added the substantive and controversial political subtext, while remaining faithful to the basic premise (rogue retired military men take over a nuclear missile site and threaten to launch wide-scale nuclear annihilation unless their demands are met). In the book, the motive is money. For Aldrich, the motive has everything to do with the release of devastating top secret information about America's involvement in Vietnam.

Almost from the film's opening it's obvious that the old rogue soldier played by Burt Lancaster has zero interest in money. His cohorts do. To pull off his mad plan, he needs the best of the best and in such cases, money goes a long way. This of course adds an extra layer of tension - especially in the character brilliantly portrayed by William Smith as a bloodthirsty psychotic ex-Green-Beret.

To say Aldrich has assembled one hell of a great cast is yet another understatement. Lancaster's performance as Dell, the former Air Force General (turned terrorist) is especially touching. He plays a man who was once dedicated to the principles of America and the military, but when faced with access to extremely damning information and potentially turning into a whistle blower, he's railroaded into prison. He wants payback, though for Dell, payback is exposing the truth.

Seeing Lancaster react with pride and sentiment when he watches military men engaging in the process of solid soldiering that they've been trained to and then, the familiar and almost collegial manner in which he addresses other military men are in stark contrast to when he dons the steely face of a truth-exposing terrorist. Furthermore, Lancaster even allows us occasions to see the weight of sadness he feels at how he's been betrayed by his country, but worst of all, how his country has betrayed its citizens and the rest of the world. (God, this all sounds familiar in light of the spurious War on Terror.)

The slovenly Burt Young and cool, collected Paul Winfield are along for the ride with Lancaster. On the "other side" of the equation, Aldrich fills up the movie with the best of the best as politicians, military officials and rival soldiers - Melvyn Douglas, Richard Widmark, Joseph Cotten, Richard Jaeckel, William Marshall, Roscoe Lee Browne and Gerald S. O'Laughlin acquit themselves handily and form a Who's Who of testosterone in suits and uniforms.

The revelation amongst this clutch of great actors is just how great Charles Durning is as the American President. Yes, Durning was a fabulous character actor, but his performance here is so moving that one hopes the new life the film is getting will also cast light on this forgotten work by Durning. In any other world or context, Durning would have at least received an Oscar nomination, but the movie was so much a non-starter in 1977 that his performance was sadly overlooked. It's also a bit sad to think that his only Oscar nominations were for Mel Brooks' misfire of a remake To Be Or Not To Be and, God Help Us, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (with Durning's performance in the latter being genuinely fine, but the only thing in it worth watching).

Curiously, Twilight's Last Gleaming was produced in Germany with mostly German money. Given that Germany was so grotesquely occupied by America for so many decades, it makes some sense that Aldrich's decidedly critical take on American foreign policy would have been popular to German financiers, but that also, it could well be the reason the movie was buried alive in America. Now, I can only think that the film had been unfairly repressed and targeted by New World Order and other political forces, resulting in its poor performance at the box office. Even as a teen, I remember being flummoxed that the film opened and closed after only a week (or two at most) - this was, after all, a gripping, suspenseful, violent, kick-ass action thriller (with an all-star cast) that had me on the edge of my seat and was so much better than most films of its ilk.

Aldrich is, quite simply, at the top of his game here and Twilight's Last Gleaming is one of the 70s best pictures. As such, kudos to Olive Films for releasing this terrific picture in a gorgeously re-mastered HD transfer packaged with an excellent newly-produced one-hour documentary on the making of the film. Olive Films has one of the most exciting home entertainment catalogues out there. The past year has seen exquisite Blu-Rays (aggressively marketed in Canada by Mongrel Media) of such terrific pictures as Andre De Toth's Ramrod, John Ford's The Quiet Man, a great Otto Preminger Collection that includes the incomparably insane Skidoo, Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Edward Dmutryk's Where Love Has Gone, Fritz Lang's Secret Beyond The Door, Fred Zinnemann's High Noon, Abraham Polonsky's Force of Evil, Sidney Lumet's Long Day's Journey Into Night, Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900, Cy Endfield's Sands of the Kalahari, Robert Rossen's Body and Soul, George Cukor's A Double Life,George W. Koch's Badge 373 and the list goes on and on and on.

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