Color, 1968, 119 mins. 50 secs.
Directed by Bryan Forbes
Starring Michael Caine, Giovanna Ralli, Eric Portman, David Buck, Leonard Rossiter, Vladek Sheybal, Nanette Newman
Signal One (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), Pretty Gold Productions (Blu-ray) (Germany RB HD), Fox (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

The Deadfalldramatic loosening of Deadfallfilm censorship in the U.S. and U.K. in the latter half of the 1960s was a turbulent time for filmmakers, with established filmmakers either sinking or swimming in attempts keep up with commercial demands for more frank sex, violence, and adult language than what had ever been permitted before. One of the strangest and more offbeat offerings from this transitional period came from Bryan Forbes, an English actor turned director who had started off the decade with a bang with Whistle Down the Wind and continued a winning streak with King Rat, The L-Shaped Room, Seance on a Wet Afternoon, The Wrong Box, and The Whisperers. Most of these were scored by the great and much-missed John Barry and featured appearances by his actress wife, Nanette Newman, both of whom were on hand for Deadfall, a glossy European crime film shot in Spain and starring Michael Caine in one of the two films he made for Fox that year (along with The Magus). Strangely for a Forbes film, Deadfall plunged into obscurity almost immediately, presumably because its incredibly perverse plot twists (which are spoken of more than depicted) made it essentially impossible to run on most TV channels. However, its incredible John Barry soundtrack (featuring a memorable theme song belted out by Goldfinger's Shirley Bassey) managed to live on among film score buffs with its CD release still in circulation. You had to dig hard to find a mention of this film for decades,but eventually it did resurface on home video and now exerts far more of a fascinating allure than it possessed when it was originally in theaters.

While convalescing at a Spanish rehab clinic, professional cat burglar Henry (Caine) is actually casing his next target, a wealthy industrialist named Salinas (Buck) who keeps his riches on the upper floor of a Deadfallfortified estate. Henry's plan attracts the attention of much older thief Richard (49th Parallel's Portman) and his Deadfallyoung wife, Fé (What Have They Done to Your Daughters?' Ralli), who want a piece of the action since they have the means to help him pull off the job which requires both social connections and the ability to clamber great heights. A trial robbery during a music hall performance exposes some flaws in their teamwork, but that doesn't stop Fé and Henry from embarking on an affair with Richard's blessing -- since he also has a young male lover himself. By the time the main robbery draws near, more shocking secrets rise to the surface and Clarke finds his skills put to the ultimate test.

It's difficult to talk much about this film without spoiling its third act, which seems determined to outdo the then-hot Tennessee Williams for melodramatic shock value. Many critics were put off by the film's peculiar blend of elegant European class and button-pushing shock value, but time has been kind to the film with its dreamy but fatalistic atmosphere nicely building up to a very downbeat conclusion. Caine isn't given anything too demanding as an actor, nor is anyone else, but it's executed with a lot of flair and really soars around the 40-minute mark with a terrific, lovably overindulgent, dialogue-free robbery sequence set to one of Barry's most dramatic compositions (with the great man himself appearing as a conductor, something he would repeat later in The Living Daylights).

The very first home video edition of Deadfall (whose title was later used for two other unrelated heist films) didn't appear until 2006 with a DVD from Fox, who outfitted it with the theatrical trailer, an isolated music track, and a solid Barry featurette, "The John Barry Touch: The Music of a Master" (19m.) touching on the composer's relationship with Forbes (who's also interviewed along with biographer Eddi Fiegel). DeadfallA German Blu-ray of Deadfall appeared in 2013 from Pretty DeadfallGold Productions, featuring a solid HD upgrade of the film with the theatrical trailer as the sole extra. The same disc was also bootlegged as a shoddy BD-R in Spain, so avoid that one at all costs.

The 2018 UK edition from Signal One (as a dual-format Blu-ray and DVD combo) is taken from the same satisfying Fox HD master and looks pretty impressive with vivid colors and much more detail than the DVD; likewise, the LPCM English mono track sounds true to the source with a nice presentation of the score (also presented again as an isolated track). The trailer and Barry featurette are ported over, while the new "From Page to Screen" (21m34s) with Temple of Schlock's very knowledgeable Chris Poggiali covers Caine's career at the time (including the fact that he couldn't remember signing the contract to make this) and the significance of the score, as well as the process of adapting the 1965 thriller novel by Desmond Cory (which featured an additional robbery and gave its protagonist a different name), a fascinating connection to Chinatown, and the very stupid spoiler plastered on the film's poster. Also included are a stills gallery and a booklet with extensive liner notes by Christopher Bray.


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PRETTY GOLD (German Blu-ray)

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Fox (US DVD)

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Reviewed on March 3, 2018.