The Counterfeit Traitor

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Kino Lorber;
Drama;
$24.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars William Holden, Hugh Griffith, Lilli Palmer, Carl Raddatz, Klaus Kinski.

Ever wonder what espionage films looked like before James Bond appeared on the scene and forever retailored the art of transom peeping and microfilm photography to suit a dressed-to-the-teeth line of secret agents, so seductive they perspired charm? Dr. No hit American screens in May 1963, a little over a year after The Counterfeit Traitor debuted. What appeared to be a genre on its last gasp was given mouth to mouth resuscitation by a chain-smoking government operative decked out with an arsenal of gadgetry big enough to forever enthrall boys of all ages. William Holden was the epitome of beleaguered cool long before 007 was a glimmer in author Ian Fleming’s golden eye. Ironically, Holden would go on to play one of the seven James Bonds who came to win a gal at the 1967 Casino Royale. The mere mention of the title is enough to incur the wrath of franchise devotees who view it as little more than a contemptible spoof. Hopefully Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release will alert more viewers to this rich in suspense historical thriller.

Our fact-based story, shot in authentic locales, kicks off in Stockholm 1942. While en route to a meeting with British Intelligence agent Collins (Hugh Griffith), Eric Erickson (Holden) peers over the shoulder of a man in front of him and spots his picture on the front page of the paper. The crime: Nazi collaboration, but with an excuse. An honorable guy until the world showed him otherwise, the American-born oil importer’s presence in neutral Sweden enabled Erickson to legally, if not ethically, trade with both sides. He gave up his American citizenship in 1930 to become a Swedish subject. His name was recently added to an Allied blacklist that he didn’t deserve to be on. In order to clean up his reputation, Erickson would have to risk his life as a double agent, going undercover to feed the Allies trade secrets he picked up during his frequent business trips to Germany.

Even when tackling a character as unlikable as Collins, the enormously appealing Griffth can’t suppress his mirthful side. Looking to add more ink to the murk, the British government assigns code names to their operatives. Collins understands the necessity of the move, but can’t come to terms with his southern-fried nom de guerre. “Dallas,” he chortles,”anyone less like a Texan you can’t imagine.” It’s Collins who suggested that since Erickson’s name is on the blacklist, he might just as well earn the designation by becoming vocally pro-Nazi, even at the risk of alienating his wife and best friend. With Bogart gone, there was no actor at the time better suited to play this world-weary cynic than Holden, not even Robert Mitchum. Erickson’s dead inside narration is whispered through tonsils gnarled with regret and self-loathing. It was a risky role for Holden to tackle, a character that Collins calls a “most remarkable combination of intelligence and stupidity.” It’s one thing to play along as Nazis rig a tow truck with a noose to deal with workers who refuse to comply, another to shrug off news of 100 children killed in an air raid bombing with, “Well, these things can’t be helped.”

To help gain Nazi trust, Erickson came up with the idea of building oil refineries disguised as farms in non-partisan Sweden. In what was to be her finest role, Lilli Palmer co-starred as Erickson’s love interest, Frau Marianne Möllendorf, a German aristocrat spying for the OSS. Her fate is sealed the moment she jokingly assures Erickson that when the war ends in Russian defeat, the Fuhrer will get back to being generous with Sweden. The film was directed and co-written by George Seaton and produced by William Perlberg, America’s answer to Britain’s Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliatt. The two met at Fox in the early forties and from 1945 on, Perlberg produced every picture Seaton wrote and directed.

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My favorite commentary tracks are the ones in which the filmmakers and/or historians pull up a chair and talk along with the picture. Film historian Julie Kirgo’s insights do wonders when it comes to bringing viewers up to speed on historical facts, but stumbles when trying to keep pace with the visuals. Seaton displayed a singular approach to his bridging scenes. Reverse angles and straight cuts carried us through most of the dialog exchanges, but rather than connecting scenes with a jump cut or traditional fade or dissolve, Seaton takes his time during the transitions, waiting for the dialogue from the previous exchange to end even though we’ve already entered the next scene. I can’t recall seeing anything like it and was disappointed that this refreshingly unique manner of interweaving narrative with dialogue passed without mention.

Contemporary audiences — Bourne again and accustomed to hand-held climaxes every five minutes — will probably be bored silly. More realistic than many pictures of its day, The Counterfeit Traitor is the real deal, the type of finely paced storytelling that James Coburn referred to when wondering aloud, “When did films with action become action films?” It’s gripping, finely tuned movies like this that continue to spoil contemporary cinema for me. I hope it does the same for you.

Arrow’s July Release Slate Includes Two Boxed Blu-ray Disc Sets, 4K Ultra HD of Argento Debut ‘Bird With the Crystal Plumage’

Two limited-edition Blu-ray Disc boxed sets of classic movies and a 4K Ultra HD edition of Italian horror master Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage highlight Arrow Video’s July 2021 disc release slate.

Releases get underway July 6 with Threshold, available on both Blu-ray Disc and DVD. The film, produced last year, tells the story of a girl who believes she is cursed and convinces her brother to head out on a cross-country road trip to break the curse. The psychological thriller was co-directed by Powell Robinson and Patrick Robert Young and stars Joey Millin, Nadine Sondej-Robinson, Daniel Abraham Stevens, John Terrell and Madison West.

Other releases all become available on July 27 and include two limited-edition Blu-ray Disc boxed sets.

The Vengeance Trails: Four Classic Westerns includes four classic Italian-American Westerns from the late 1960s and early ’70s: Massacre Time, My Name is Pecos, Bandidos and And God Said to Cain.

  • In Lucio Fulci’s Massacre Time (1966), Franco Nero stars as a New Mexico prospector who returns home to help his drunkard brother save the family ranch from a businessman and his sadistic son.
  • Robert Woods stars in My Name is Pecos (1967), from director Maurizio Lucidi. Woods plays a Mexican gunslinger who squares off with the man that killed his family.
  • Enrico Maria Salerno is a gunman who seeks revenge on a former pupil in director Massimo Dallamano’s Bandidos (1967).
  • Rounding out the set is And God Said to Cain (1970), from director Antonio Margheiti. Klaus Kinski stars as a recently released prisoner who tracks down the men who framed him.

All four films all restored in 2K using the original 35mm camera negatives. The four-disc limited edition set includes an illustrator collector’s booklet and a fold-out double-sided poster.

The second boxed set due on July 27 is The Daimajin Trilogy. This limited edition Blu-ray Disc set includes all three films in the “Daiei” series — Daimajin, Return of Daimajin, and Wrath Of Daimajin. The series takes the Golem legend and places it in 16th century Japan. The films have frequently been overlooked, but fans of the films have frequently placed them among the best the kaiju genre has to offer, praising the outstanding special effects. The set includes a 100-page book featuring essays by Jonathan Clements, Keith Aiken, Ed Godziszewski, Raffael Coronelli, Erik Homenick, Robin Gatto, and Kevin Derendorf.

Also out on July 27 is The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, director Argento’s groundbreaking debut and a film largely responsible for kicking the “Giallo” genre into high gear. Roger Ebert praised the film, saying it’s “what thrillers are all about,” while Bloody Disgusting dubbed it a “flawless debut.” Tony Musante stars as an American author vacationing in Rome when he witnesses a terrible murder, but things aren’t quite as they seem. This new release sees the Argento classic make the jump to 4K Ultra HD with a brand new 4K restoration, courtesy of Arrow. This set includes an illustrated booklet featuring writings on the film and a fold-out poster.

Klaus Kinski Italian Horror Flick ‘Lover of the Monster’ Due on Disc From MVD

The Italian horror flick Lover of the Monster will debut on Blu-ray and DVD June 8 from MVD Entertainment Group and Full Moon Features.

Legendary German actor Klaus Kinski (Crawlspace, Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht) stars as Dr. Alex Nijinksy, a troubled scientist who retires to his long-suffering wife Anijeska’s family castle in search of a fresh start. Already under pressure, Nijinsky’s rage begins to boil when his lady starts spending time with her ex-boyfriend and, after he discovers a hidden laboratory in the castle belonging to his mad scientist father-in-law, he unleashes the living incarnation of his rage. Soon, Nijinksy is up to no good, sexually assaulting women and murdering them, all the while making his wife’s life a living hell. Filmed back-to-back with writer/director Sergio Garrone’s equally Gothic Italian/Turkish thriller The Hand That Feeds the Dead, Lover of the Monster features much of the same cast and crew, including Katia Christine (Riot in a Women’s Prison) as well as having Kinski play a same-named (though totally different) mad scientist named Nijinsky.

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Filled with nudity, violence and general bad behavior, this rarely seen psycho-shocker is presented for the first time in North America in its fully uncut form, remastered from the best available materials.

‘The Day of the Beast,’ Rosie Perez Starrer ‘Perdita Durango’ Among Titles Coming to 4K and Blu-ray Disc March 30 From MVD and Severin

Coming to disc March 30 from MVD Entertainment Group and Severin Films are Perdita Durango (1997), The Day of the Beast (1995), Nosferatu in Venice (1988) and A Scream in the Streets (1973).

Writer-director Álex de la Iglesia’s Perdita Durango and The Day of the Beast are restored on 4K Ultra HD (in combo pack with Blu-ray) and Blu-ray Disc for the first time in America.

For his English-language debut with Perdita Durango, de la Iglesia chose novelist Barry Gifford’s prequel to Wild at Heart featuring the titular sociopath priestess. But when the U.S. distributor saw the finished film, they slashed more than 10 minutes of gleefully profane sex and violence and dumped it under the title Dance With the Devil. Severin is now presenting the complete director’s cut starring Oscar nominee Rosie Perez and Academy Award winner Javier Bardem in a violent love story filled with human sacrifices, kidnapping, murder and fetus trafficking with the dogged DEA agent (James Gandolfini) on the trail of it all. Don Stroud (Django Unchained), Demián Bichir (The Hateful Eight), Alex Cox (Repo Man) and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins co-star in the film with music by Simon Boswell. Special features include “On the Border,” an interview with de la Iglesia; “Writing Perdita Durango,” an interview with writer Barry Gifford; an appraisal by film scholar Dr. Rebekah McKendry; “Narcosatanicos: Perdita Durango and the Matamoros Cult,” an interview with Abraham Castillo Flores and Cauldron of Blood author Jim Schutze; “Canciones de Amor Maldito: The Music of Perdita Durango,” an interview with composer Simon Boswell; “Shooting Perdita Durango,” an interview with director of photography Flavio Labiano; and trailers.

In between his cult hit debut Accion Mutante and Perdita Durango, de la Iglesia delivered the international horror comedy smash The Day of the Beast, which won six Goya Awards, including Best Director. In the film, when a rogue priest (Álex Angulo of Pan’s Labyrinth) discovers the exact date The Antichrist will be born, he enlists a Death Metal record store clerk (Santiago Segura of Killer Barbys) and a cheesy TV psychic (Armando De Razza) for an urban spree to prevent the Apocalypse by summoning Satan himself. Terele Pávez (800 Bullets) co-stars. Special features include “Heirs of the Beast,” a feature length documentary by Diego López and David Pizarro on the making and cultural impact of the film; “Antichrist Superstar,” an interview with director Alex de la Iglesia; “The Man Who Saved the World,” an interview with actor Armando De Razza; “Beauty and the Beast,” an interview with actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta; “Shooting the Beast,” an interview with director of photography Flavio Martínez Labiano; “Mirindas Asesinas,” a 1990 short film by Alex de la Iglesia; and trailers.

Nosferatu in Venice (1988) and A Scream in the Streets (1973) are coming out on Blu-ray for the first time ever March 30 scanned in 2K from the original negatives.

What was intended to be an unofficial sequel to Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu, Nosferatu in Venice instead became one of the most notoriously fascinating productions in EuroCult history. Klaus Kinski stars as the legendary vampire resurrected in modern-day Venice with an insatiable hunger for warm blood and rough sex. Donald Pleasence and Academy Award winner Christopher Plummer co-star in this shocker that features music by Oscar winner Vangelis (Chariots of Fire) and employed five different directors, including Mario Caiano (Nightmare Castle), Luigi Cozzi (Paganini Horror), writer-producer Augusto Caminito and reportedly Kinski himself. Special features include “Creation is Violent,” a new feature-length documentary on Kinski’s Final Years; “Creation is Violent Outtakes: – Nothing Bad Can Happen – Gypsies Should Be Played by Real Gypsies!”; and a trailer.

From producer Harry Novak — whose Box Office International Pictures brought the world such classics as Axe, Mantis in Lace and Wham Bam Thank You, Spaceman — comes A Scream in the Streets, about a pair of L.A.P.D. detectives hunting a transvestite psychopath through a polyester jungle of massage parlor perverts, suburban sex fiends and violence-crazed cops. Directed by Carl Monson (Please Don’t Eat My Mother), the film stars Joshua Bryant (Enter the Devil), Sandy Carey (Drive-in Massacre), Linda York (Chain Gang Women) and Sharon Kelly (aka ’80s adult film superstar Colleen Brennan). Special features include “The Peeper — Two Sexy Shorts Produced From A Scream in the Streets outtakes” and a trailer.