Crooked House

Murder on the Orient Express wasn’t the only star-studded Agatha Christie adaptation from 2017. Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s Crooked House, which aired in the UK on Channel 5, assembles killer cast that includes Gillian Anderson, Glenn Close, Julian Sands, Christina Hendricks, Amanda Abbington, Terence Stamp and more.

The set-up is quintessential Christie: someone prominent has been murdered, and there’s an entire house full of suspects. Slightly out-of-his-depth detective Charles Hayward (Max Irons) is recruited to investigate by his old flame Sophie (Stefanie Martini). As a result, Hayward gets caught up in the lives of the decidedly cooky Leonides family, all of whom seem capable of murder in one way or another.

Crooked House is a hell of a lot of fun. Even if you figure out who the killer is early (which I did), it doesn’t take away from the fun of watching the story unfold. What makes it all work is that cast, all of whom are chewing the scenery with glee. Gillian Anderson in particular, playing a drunken actress, is clearly having the time of her life, a vamp wig nestled perfectly on her head. Crooked House may not have the slick Hollywood production feel of the recent big screen Orient Express, but it’s definitely worth a visit.

Special Features to Note:

The features here are a bit slim, sadly. We get three featurettes that look at the production. “Whodunnit? – The Characters of Crooked House” walks us through the ensemble cast, and might actually be worth watching before you see the movie, as it acquaints you with everyone nicely.

“Elegance & Innovation: The Design of Crooked House” offers a look at the set design of the film, which is rather ornate and wonderfully constructed. This isn’t very in-depth though, sadly.

“Agatha Christie: A Timeless Fascination” has the cast and crew talking about Christie’s work, and how timeless her stories are. It’s a breezy little feature, but anyone hoping for more info on Christie as a writer would probably be better served reading a biography instead.

Special Features Include:

Three Featurettes:

  • “Agatha Christie: A Timeless Fascination”
  • “Whodunnit? – The Characters of Crooked House”
  • “Elegance & Innovation: The Design of Crooked House”

Young Mr. Lincoln

John Ford’s fictional portrayal of Abraham Lincoln as a young man gets the Criterion Collection treatment. Young Mr. Lincoln isn’t as polished, or as sweeping, as some other Ford films, but what it lacks in that department it more than makes up for with its lead performance

Henry Fonda, wearing a fake nose that actually goes a long way to making him look like the young Abe Lincoln, is utterly wonderful here, playing Lincoln as a laid-back, slow-moving, easy-going guy who could also knock all your teeth out of your head with one punch…if he wanted to.

In Young Mr. Lincoln, Abe sets up shop as a small town lawyer, and soon finds himself defending two brothers accused of murder. The end result is a film that’s as much courtroom drama as it is biopic. While the events in Young Mr. Lincoln may be fictionalized, they somehow ring true, and that’s almost entirely due to Fonda’s performance. The actor shuffles through the film, playing Lincoln as a gangly man never quite comfortable in his own frame, and the result is spellbinding. A scene where Fonda, as Lincoln, casually talks a lynch mob out of their deed is remarkable, primarily for the way Fonda takes control of the moment while making everyone else think they’re still in charge.  

Special Features to Note:

I’m sad to say that while this is an essential must-own for film fans, the Criterion release is a bit lacking in terms of material related to the film itself. There’s a commentary from John Ford biographer Joseph McBride, and some archival interviews, but beyond that, the biggest feature here is a documentary not on Young Mr. Lincoln, but on John Ford himself.

“Omnibus: John Ford, part one” takes viewers through Ford’s early career, and while there’s nothing wrong with this as a feature, I still would’ve liked a bit more about Young Mr. Lincoln specifically. While this documentary is slightly dated (it was made in 1992), this feature is still comprehensive and a must-watch for Ford enthusiasts, or even those only marginally familiar with Ford who want to know more.

Special Features Include:

  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New audio commentary featuring film scholar Joseph McBride (Searching for John Ford: A Life)
  • Omnibus: “John Ford,” part one: filmmaker Lindsay Anderson’s profile of the life and work of director John Ford before World War II
  • Talk show appearance by actor Henry Fonda from 1975
  • Audio interviews from the seventies with Ford and Fonda, conducted by the director’s grandson Dan Ford
  • Academy Award radio dramatization of the film
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien and an homage to Ford by filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein

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