Apr 14, 2011

New Spy DVDs Out This Week and Last

I was very curious about this fact-based French spy film when it got limited theatrical release late last year, but I didn't have the opportunity to see it.  I look forward to rectifying that now that it's available on DVD and Blu-ray from Terra. Director Christian (Joyeux Noël) Carion's film traces the true story of a KGB defector who enlisted the unwitting aid of a French engineer working in the Soviet Union during the 1980s to smuggle secrets (including ones pertaining to American national security) out of the country to French intelligence. The DVD retails for $24.98 and the Blu-ray for $34.98, though both are significantly cheaper on Amazon, as usual.

Moving from harrowing true spy stories to fluffy ones of the most escapist variety, we come to the mod, ultra-Sixties confection Arabesque. Though it's been available for some time as part of the boxed set The Gregory Peck Collection, Stanley Donen's 1966 follow-up to Charade was finally issued on its own last week (along with a Peck mystery of similar vintage, Mirage). Try as it might, Arabesque doesn't quite recapture Charade's particular magic, but Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren make charming and attractive stand-ins for Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, and the story of a college professor caught up in psychedelic intrigue involving a beautiful spy and Middle Eastern politics is still plenty of fun. And "psychedelic" is the operative word, even if you wouldn't expect it to be used in the same sentence as "Gregory Peck." Donen gleefully taps into the zeitgeist of the moment, and that wonderfully dated view of Swinging London is a big part of what makes the film so appealing today. (You can see plenty of examples in this article on SpyVibe.) Universal's single-disc release of Arabesque (on DVD only) is a steal at the MSRP of just $14.98... but it's even cheaper than that on Amazon.

Thanks to Collin for the heads-up on that one... and I'm sorry I took so many weeks to finally act on it!

Any Human Heart
Any Human Heart based on the acclaimed novel by William Boyd, is only partially a spy story, but it does involve James Bond creator Ian Fleming as a character.  The miniseries, which recently aired in American on PBS' Masterpiece, follows a writer named Logan Mountstuart as his life intersects with a number of famous figures, including Fleming (played by Casino Royale's Tobias Menzies), Ernest Hemingway (Foyle's War's Julian Ovenden), Wallis Simpson (Johnny English Reborn's Gillian Anderson) and her husband the Duke of Windsor (Hanna's Tom Hollander). Mountstuart is played at different points during his life by Sam Claflin, Spooks/MI-5's Matthew Macfadyen and Jim Broadbent.  Hayley Atwell (one of the few highlights of the 2009 Prisoner remake) also stars.  Menzies' Fleming only appears in a couple of scenes, though one is a key moment when, as assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence, he assigns Macfadyen's Mountstuart to a wartime spy mission involving Wallis and Edward. The DVD, from PBS, contains all four episodes as they originally aired in the UK, not the re-edited 3-episode configuration seen on American TV. It also includes a wealth of special features, including interviews with Boyd and the actors, an On Set featurette, and deleted scenes. Retail is $29.99, though it can currently be had for half that on Amazon.

Callan: Wet Job
The most exciting spy release of the last few weeks, however, has to be the 1981 Callan reunion telefilm "Wet Job," which is finally available on DVD! (In the UK, anyway, as a PAL Region 2 release from Network.) It didn't get included as a bonus feature in Network's Callan: The Colour Years, but now it sees its first ever legitimate home video release as a standalone.  Despite being scripted by series creator James Mitchell, "Wet Job" doesn't have a very good reputation.  (Even Edward Woodward disparaged it in his commentary on the Acorn release Callan: Set 2.) That said, fans of the series (and, really, any spy fan should be a fan of this amazing series) will still rejoice to be able at last to own this elusive postscript to one of the best serious spy shows of all time.  Retail is £14.99, but it's currently much cheaper on Amazon.co.uk. Bear in mind, though, that next Ocotober the company will issue Callan: The Definitive Collection, a 12-disc megaset collecting every surviving black and white episode from seasons 1 and 2, every color episode from seasons 3 and 4, the original Armchair Theatre pilot play, "A Magnum For Schneider," "Wet Job," a brand new Callan documentary and a definitive book on the series by Andrew Pixley. That will retail for £99.99 (though it's currently available to pre-order for £69.99). It's great that Callan will finally get Network's usual special feature treatment, but at the same time no doubt annoying to fans who have already purchased The Monochrome Years and The Colour Years on their own. Hopefully the company will make the documentary available individually as well, as they have done in the past with their Prisoner and Saint documentaries. Fingers crossed! In the meantime, I'm absolutely thrilled that I'll finally be able to see "Wet Job," even if I know it won't be up to the standards of the show itself. This is the spy release of the spring!


Bob said...

Arabesque seems to always get compared to Charade and it doesn't quite match that quality. However, it is still a fun film to watch with Sophia Loren looking absolutely beautiful accompanied with a great score by Henry Mancini. The Tourist tried to copy the Charade/Arabesque recipe and failed.

Tanner said...

You're right; the film certainly fares better if you DON'T compare it to Charade. But with Donen and Mancini together again immediately after that, it's kind of hard NOT to! But it is a good movie and certainly worth seeing for any Sixties spy fan. Probably wouldn't hold up as the second half of a double-feature with Charade, though.

George said...

I already have Arabesque on R2 DVD, but thanks for the tip on Mirage. I've been looking for that one for a long time.