By Chaz Lipp
February saw the addition of three wildly varied titles to the Twilight Time Blu-ray catalogue. Following up on their January release, the Bond spoof Our Man Flint (1966), they brought out the 1967 sequel, In Like Flint. From 1952, the most obscure of this batch, they rescued the western (or northwestern, more specifically, due to its Canadian setting), Pony Soldier. And best of all, the 1971 historical epic dealing with the last years of the final emperor of Russia, Nicholas and Alexandra (with a stand-out supporting turn by Tom Baker, better known as Doctor Who, as Rapsutin).
If you’re not familiar with Twilight Time, there are a little boutique label that specializes in releasing vintage films (often quite obscure) as limited edition Blu-rays. Unlike a lot of distributors that splash “limited edition” prominently on their cover art, Twilight Time’s titles are actually limited to 3,000 copies. Each of these titles is currently available, but only while supplies last, so if any trip your trigger head over to the site of their distributor, Screen Archives.
At 189 minutes, Nicholas and Alexandra requires a certain commitment to sit through. Not only is it long (probably a necessity, given the scope of the subject matter), it’s presented by director Franklin J. Schaffner rather dryly. It begins in 1904 with the birth of Tsarevich Alexei, the heir to the Russian empire. His parents are Tsar Nicholas II (Michael Jayston) and Empress Alexandra (Janet Suzman). The ambitious film, which was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture (and winner of two: Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design), simultaneously tracks two major storylines. One is the personal crisis faced by the parents after Alexei is diagnosed with hemophilia and their struggle to keep him healthy.
The other is the fact that Nicholas is rapidly losing control of his country, quite unaware that he was never really suited for leading it in the first place. The Bolsheviks are on the rise, with Vladimir Lenin (Michael Bryant), Joseph Stalin (James Hazeldine), and Leon Trotsky (Brian Cox, his film debut) making waves without being taken too seriously. As World War I erupts, Nicholas is rather clueless about how to deal with the massive political uprising that’s undermining his reign, nor is he sure how to keep his family safe from increasing threats. Schaffner won Best Director for Patton the year before and would follow this one up with the classic prison-break movie Papillon. Both those films are superior to this one, but Nicholas and Alexandra remains a worthwhile film about a fascinating period of history.
Pony Soldier stars Hollywood legend Tyrone Power as Constable Duncan MacDonald, a Canadian Mountie charged with rescuing two Caucasian hostages from a group of Cree Native Americans. Duncan’s twofold goal also involves convincing the Cree to sign a treaty with the Canadian government. At a brisk 82 minutes, Pony Soldier is fairly easy to sit through. The earnest narration is much like a Disney film of the era, giving the film the feel of a children’s production. Naturally, there’s some politically incorrect treatment of the Native Americans, so brace yourself for that. Thomas Gomez steals the show as Duncan’s scout, Natayo. Gomez is funny as the shrewd negotiator and his interactions with the stalwart Power are the highlight of this dated film.
For fans of Derek Flint, In Like Flint will be a necessary addition to the January Blu-ray release of Our Man Flint. As Bond/spy movie parodies go, this is no Austin Powers. James Coburn stars, once again, as the title character. Flint is a superspy who out-Bonds James Bond. He has all the swagger, confidence, and casual misogyny of his inspiration (and then some). He knows all, can do all, and handles any tough situation with aplomb. In Like finds Flint called into service to topple a radical feminist group hell-bent on world domination. It’s a badly-paced snore, with Lee J. Cobb getting too much screen time as Flint’s former boss (and head of Z.O.W.I.E.) Lloyd Cramden. Strictly for existing fans of the now-quaint franchise.
Twilight Time scores high marks across the board for technical presentation. Nicholas and Flint look best with terrific transfers. Pony Soldier presents a relatively inconsistent image, with unrealistic (and sometimes oversaturated) colors. But the former two are sterling. Only Flint has been opened up for a 5.1 mix and frankly it plays just as well in the DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono version (which is all that is offered for Nicholas and Pony). These mono tracks have been dusted off, all clean and representative of the respective era’s from which they came.
Twilight Time continues its tradition of including isolated score track for each film, most essentially with Jerry Goldsmith’s excellent music for Flint. That film also ports over a whole bunch (over 100 minutes total) of featurettes from a previous DVD edition. Pony’s only bonus is the isolated score, while Nicholas has a few vintage featurettes.