On DVD: British film noir gem ‘The Hit’ gets new attention

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 6:38pm
With this week’s release of the 1984 British gem The Hit (Criterion), fans of film noir will get to see a classic that seldom appears even on vintage movie networks and hasn’t been in general circulation for decades.

There was a time when the DVD (and before that home video) market was more of a collector’s and specialty destination than the big money weapon it’s now become for the studios.

A prime example is this week’s release of the 1984 British gem The Hit (Criterion), a classic bit of film noir that seldom appears even on vintage movie networks and hasn’t been in general circulation for decades.

The cast includes now familiar names like Terence Stamp, John Hurt and Tim Roth, none of whom were close to being big stars when they originally appeared in Stephen Frears production about a former gangster turned informer who is now facing the fruits of his decision.

Stamp portrays Willie, a henchman who takes a deal to avoid imprisonment and is exiled to a remote Spanish village. But Willie has always assumed that one day his employers would find him, and that time finally arrives when a pair of oddball hoods played by Hurt and Roth knock on his door.

The three begin a journey back to a site chosen for Willie’s execution. But things get turned totally around during the trip, and some amazing events occur before the movie comes to its shattering and unexpected conclusion.

This DVD version boasts a newly restored high-definition digital transfer of the original print, plus commentary from Frears, Hurt and Roth, a 1988 interview with Stamp and the original theatrical trailer. An added plus is a booklet with a new essay on the project by film critic Graham Fuller.

This is topflight film noir, and the type of item that used to be the primary role for DVDs.

The quite routine Hotel for Dogs (Paramount) is indicative of how things have changed regarding DVDs. Now films with quite limited shelf lives in theaters can be, if not completely rejuvenated, at least trotted out and made a bit more viable commercially with their DVD release.

While it’s hard to see anyone other than parents of small children and animal lovers wanting to purchase this, it may have a bit of appeal for those who want to see all types of dogs in all types of situations.

There’s very little plot, as the storyline follows the struggle of foster kids Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin) to find love and a suitable place to take care of their secretly adopted dog. Their efforts evolve into a crusade to save numerous other abandoned dogs. That’s certainly a worthy cause, but it’s hardly enough of a scenario to drive a 100-minute movie. Still, really young kids will probably enjoy it.

By its sixth season Mission Impossible was on its last legs and the spy craze on network television had faded. CBS got one more season out of the once mighty show and ABC briefly revived it for a 35-episode run in 1988 and 1989.

For the hardcore Mission fan, once Barbara Bain and Martin Landau departed the show was essentially over anyhow, but there’s still some nostalgic joy in the six-disc boxed set Mission Impossible: The Sixth TV Season (Paramount).

There were some creative and casting changes during this season (1971-1972). The newest member was Casey (Lynda Day George), who joined holdovers Jim Phelps (Peter Graves), Barney Collier (Greg Morris, whose role was enhanced and his stature on the team upgraded) and Willie Armitage (Peter Lupus).

The show’s focus also shifted, as there were no more international missions. The targets became gangsters, corrupt politicians and mob bosses who couldn’t be convicted by conventional means.

All 22 episodes are included, plus the usual extras. Now that Mission Impossible is out of syndication, these boxed sets are the best way to see the episodes, even if the latter seasons are inferior to the early ones.