As 2018 comes to a close, I’d like to wrap up the year with one final look at a pair of blu-rays from Warner Archive. One film is one of those movies that is so truly one of a kind nothing you could say about it could ever fully compare to the experience of watching it, the other is a cult favorite action film starring the great Rod Taylor—where he gets into a fight with a guy wielding a chainsaw. First is Robert Altman’s 1970 follow up to “M*A*S*H,” “Brewster McCloud,” and then we have cinematographer turned director Jack Cardiff’s 1968 action/heist film “Dark of the Sun.”
Whenever a director has a massive box office hit, generally speaking, Hollywood will open their arms to them and offer them the chance to make whatever they want. This is what happened to Robert Altman in the wake of the success of his film “M*A*S*H”—which itself was spawned from a book and would spawn the TV series. Altman took advantage of having the keys to the kingdom handed to him by making not only the most offbeat film of his career—which is saying something for Robert Altman—but also one of the weirdest, odd, strange, and unique movies I’ve ever seen—“Brewster McCloud.”
Released by MGM in December of 1970 (right on the heels of “M*A*S*H”—which came out in January of that year), “Brewster McCloud”, when stripped to the most basic elements of the story, is this. It’s a film that is set in Houston and follows a loner kid, the title character played by Bud Court—who lives in a fallout shelter deep inside the basement of the Astrodome. There’s also a mystery going around as a serial killer is on the loose in the city—whose calling card is leaving their victims covered in…well…literal bird crap.
I’ve never encountered a movie quite like “Brewster McCloud.” I spent most of the movie watching it with certain awe that there’s a time Robert Altman was able to get MGM to cut him a check to make a movie like this. The film also is a bit of a satire of other films from the time, even taking time to poke gentle fun at the Steve McQueen movie “Bullitt.” The film’s cast also features Shelly Duvall—in her feature film debut, Sally Kellerman who plays a mysterious woman who may or may not be Brewster’s guardian angel. The film’s cast is also rounded out by the great John Schuck and the great William Windom.
Warner Archive’s blu-ray of “Brewster McCloud” looks great, featuring a new 1080p transfer. The film is little heavy on the grain side, but that’s appropriate of the era, colors are good and natural looking too, the detail is sharp as well. The soundtrack is the original mono soundtrack presented as two-channel DTS-HD MA track—it’s clear and sharp. Fans of this deliciously offbeat movie should be more than pleased with how “Brewster McCloud” looks on blu-ray. This is one is highly recommended by yours truly—especially if you want a fun, funny movie that will leave you saying “What the hell did I just watch!?”
Jack Cardiff was the director of photography on some of the finest movies to ever come out of England, world-renowned classics like “Black Narcissus” and “The Red Shoes.” In the late 1950s and lasting through the early ‘70s, Cardiff switched to directing. One of his films is 1968’s “Dark of the Sun,” starring Rod Taylor, Jim Brown, and Yvette Mimiex. Based upon the novel of the same name by Wilbur A. Smith, “Dark of the Sun” is an action/heist film set in the background of the Congo Crisis.
Brown and Taylor lead a mercenary unit traveling on a train with a dual mission—rescue a group of civilians before the rebels can get to them and recover a cache of diamonds. “Dark of the Sun” is one of those late ‘60s films that began to push the boundaries of violence, even by today’s standards I found my jaw dropping several times at how violent this movie is. What surprised me most about “Dark of the Sun”—a movie I had never heard of until Warner Archive kindly sent a copy of their new blu-ray to review—was how much I enjoyed it. I’d go as far to call it one of the best action films I’ve ever seen.
I’m not alone in love for this movie, it’s become a cult favorite in recent years and even has fans as wide-reaching as Martin Scorsese and Quinten Tarantino—you can easily see how this movie has influenced the latter’s work. At times this feels like the kind of movie Tarantino is always trying to make. I’m a fan of Rod Taylor’s work and he’s great in this, at one point he chases someone down a shallow river by driving a jeep right down the middle of the river.
WA’s blu-ray of “Dark of the Sun” features a new 1080p transfer that looks fantastic, clear, sharp, and with vibrant colors. It looks exactly like a film that was released in 1968 with that late ‘60s “harsh” lighting that was common on color films of the era. The original mono soundtrack, in a 2.0 DTS-HD MA track, sounds wonderful—especially showing off the film’s great score by Jacques Loussier. An audio commentary track is also included featuring Larry Karazewski, Josh Olson, Brian Saur, and Elric D. Kane—the quartet are all fans of the film, and together make a very lively, informative, and amusing commentary track. All are clearly happy to be there, and it’s one of the more fun commentary tracks I’ve heard in a while.
If you like action movies or count “The Dirty Dozen” among your favorites, “Dark of the Sun” is a movie you owe it to yourself to add to your collection. This new blu-ray edition from Warner Archive is fantastic, the added commentary track only makes this even more desirable. This one gets a big recommendation from me. Both “Brewster McCloud” and “Dark of the Sun” are films that quite different from one another, but if your tastes are adventurous both in the traditional sense and the most untraditional sense—look into both of them—I promise you they make for a truly one of a kind double feature. See you next week.