New Spy DVDs Out This Week
There are quite a few notable spy titles out this week. Foremost for its obscurity is the low-key, thoroughly enjoyable 1980s UK TV series Mr. Palfrey of Westminster: The Complete Series, making its North American DVD debut courtesy of Acorn Media. Mr. Palfrey of Westminster originally aired in the United States on PBS, and stars Alec McCowen (Never Say Never Again) as a spycatcher who works for an unnamed branch of the British Security Services. He's sort of George Smiley and Jim Phelps rolled into one, though better dressed than either. McCowan is a hugely compelling lead, and if you're a fan of the more serious "desk man" side of the genre, you'll definitely want to check out this series. Spy veterans Richard Johnson and Julian Glover are among the many excellent guest stars. Unlike Network's Region 2 release of this title which boasted the show's pilot and postscript from UK anthology shows, Acorn's version includes no extras other than English subtitles for the hearing impaired. As usual with Acorn, retail is a bit steep at $49.99, but also as usual it's available much cheaper than that if you look around. Check back for a full review soon.
Also today, Criterion issues one of the most entertaining spy movies of all time, Charade, on Blu-ray for the first time. (And with a stunning cover!) In addition to a stunning new high-def transfer that makes Stanley Donen's classic and its stars Cary Grant and Audrey Helpburn look better than ever (and way better than all those public domain versions floating around on DVD), this release ports over all of the special features from Criterion's outstanding standard-def DVD including an audio commentary with Donen, the theatrical trailer and a booklet. There are many versions of Charade out there, but Criterion's is the one to have. Criterion's another company that generally means a steep SRP ($39.99), but the Blu-ray is currently on sale on Amazon, making it cheaper than the DVD!
Blu-ray and DVD, retailing for $49.99 and $39.98 respectively. Personally, I find the return of the mindless action hour so popular in the 1980s refreshing. Human Target is definitely light fare, but entertaining nonetheless, the television equivilent of a popcorn movie. If you want thought-provoking espionage stories full of twists, opt for Mr. Palfrey. But if you want to turn your brain off and watch shootouts and explosions (and there's nothing wrong with that!), you could do a lot worse than Human Target. I particularly recommend Episode 3, "Embassy Row," a full-fledged spy story. Extras on both versions include two making-of featurettes ("Confidential Informant" and "Full Contact Television"), deleted scenes and a commentary track on the pilot with producers and stars Mark Valley and Chi McBride.
Fantomas: The Complete Saga on DVD for the first time in North America. Now, this complete saga does not comprise OSS 117 director André Hunebelle's Sixties costumed adventurer movies starring Jean Marais and Louis de Funes, which definitely have one foot in the Eurospy genre. Those remain officially unavailable in Region 1. This set instead contains the five original Fantomas silent films directed by Louis Feuillade, who also made the original versions of Judex and Les Vampires. I've never seen these originals, but I do love the Sixties ones, so I'm excited to check them out.