Terence Stamp is Willie, a gangster’s henchman turned “supergrass” (informer) trying to live in peaceful hiding in a remote Spanish village. Sun-dappled bliss turns to nerve-racking suspense, however, when two hit men—played by a soulless John Hurt and a youthful, loose-cannon Tim Roth—come a-calling to bring Willie back for execution. This stylish early gem from Stephen Frears boasts terrific performances from a roster of England’s best hard-boiled actors, music by Eric Clapton and virtuoso flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía, and ravishing photography of its desolate Spanish locations—a splendid backdrop for a rather sordid story.
This new DVD edition of Stephen Frears’ The Hit replaces a pan-and-scan version previously issued by Artisan. This new version is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on a dual-layer disc. The image has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
I actually haven’t seen the Artisan DVD as I usually tried to avoid their releases, which were usually quite dreadful (it was the last straw after I finally got around to watching their release of The Last Emperor,) but I feel pretty confident that the Criterion is an improvement as I can’t believe Artisan would have come anywhere near the beauty of the image on here.
Like a lot of the recent releases from Criterion the print looks to have been thoroughly restored and there is next to nothing in the way of damage. There is a bit of grain present, not at all heavy, keeping a film look to it.
The transfer is quite smooth overall. There were a couple of moments where edge enhancement is noticeable on back ground objects and some of the landscape shots present noticeable noise in the sky, but as a whole it’s still incredibly crisp and clean. Detail is very strong, and colours, which start off fairly drab, brighten up and look fantastic through the Spain portions of the film.
I’m not sure about the appeal of this film, though understand it does have its fan base. Yet compared to other releases from the company it is a rather small, almost out-of-left-field release and still they put a loving amount of attention into it. It looks fantastic.
Criterion includes a Dolby Digital mono soundtrack for the film and it’s more than adequate. It has a surprising amount of range and volume to it, its flamenco score and opening music by Eric Clapton really showcasing this aspect of it. Dialogue sounds clean and natural, and the track sounds free of background noise. For a mono track it’s surprisingly aggressive.
This is a cheaper, lower-tier release for the film, but they’ve managed to include a couple of interesting supplements.
First is a rather wonderful audio commentary featuring director Stephen Frears, writer Peter Prince, editor Mick Audsley, and actors Tim Roth and John Hurt. I was a little disappointed to see Terence Stamp was either unable or unwilling to participate for this track, but after listening to it I’m not sure where he would have been able to fit in since it’s so jam-packed with information.
Similar to earlier Criterion tracks everyone has been recorded separately, except for Frears and Prince, who have been recorded together. Frears and Prince concentrate on the script, changes that were made during shooting, and they also both reflect on changes they would make to it now. This leads Frears to talk about his growth as a director, things he’s learned over the years. Their discussions also seem to suggest a lot of the film was made-up as they went, the two basically summing it up as they “knew what to get to but not sure how to get there.”
Audsley probably gets the least amount of time and really concentrates on how he put the film together, which it sounds he did on his own (apparently Frears was still in Spain while he was editing the film together.) He also talks about his admiration of the shots and techniques present in the film.
Roth and Hurt focus more on the acting in the film, including the performances by their costars, and share a number of anecdotes from the shoot (Roth almost destroyed a camera and a car after he confused the gas pedal for the brake pedal.) It’s a shame they weren’t recorded together as it sounds like they really got along with each other during the shoot, even hanging out in Madrid off hours. Roth probably has the most amount of time overall on the track, and he seems to enjoy coming back to the film. This was his first actual film (and his first time in another country) and it was obviously a huge learning experience for him, considering himself lucky to have had both Stamp and Hurt there to guide him. He also, amusingly, seems to be quite infatuated with his co-star, Laura del Sol, though it’s not hard to see why. Hurt really expands on his character, which was even a bit of a mystery to Prince. Though I don’t want to give anything away, Hurt was perplexed by the relationship between his character and the del Sol character and both Prince and Frears didn’t have any explanation behind his actions, so Hurt had to make up a whole other angle to it that ended up really adding another layer to the character and film. Hurt, a long time fan of Luis Buñuel, also likes to point out anything in the film related to the director, whether it be Fernando Rey or the fact one scene was either shot in Buñuel’s flat or near it (he’s not completely sure.)
This track is rather jam-packed and I’m sure a lot of stuff ended up on the floor, which is unfortunate, especially since it feels like there is very little from Frears. But the track is quite informative and, most importantly, never dull. Well worth listening to.
Somewhat making up for the lack of Terence Stamp on the commentary track is a 37-minute segment from a 1988 episode of Parkinson One-to-One, where Michael Parkinson sits Stamp down for an interview. The interview unfortunately has nothing to do with The Hit, the film only being mentioned in passing as what led Oliver Stone casting him in Wall Street. The interview seems to be tied to Stamp releasing a second book called Coming Attractions and the segment does focus some time on it and an earlier autobiography by him, but in its short overall time the feature still manages to cover his vast career from Billy Budd to Wall Street. It appears the entire interview is intact other than a clip from Wall Street, which has been edited out.
Stamp is a fantastic interviewee, funny, witty, and charming, and it seems amazing he apparently shunned interviews previously. There’s talk of his upbringing and his surprise rise to fame after Billy Budd, and how he used that fame to talk to certain actresses he had his eye on, like Rita Hayworth, and there was the hope Brigitte Bardot might just give him a call. He gets into detail about how his nervousness meeting Peter Ustinov actually got him the role, and then delves into roles after that which included work with Fellini, and then he moves on to the eventual lull his career hit for 10 years. There’s talk of his return with Superman, a film he did more to work with Marlon Brando, which he found a bizarre experience (he can’t seem to get over the fact Marlon didn’t really bother to remember his lines.) He also talks about having Michael Caine as a sort of mentor after Caine took a shine to him because he was a “real east ender.”
It’s an absolutely fantastic interview and its only real issue as a supplement on this set is it has nothing to do with The Hit. Still, anyone who admires Stamp’s work will find it quite excellent.
Closing off the disc features is a theatrical trailer presented in 1.33:1, which gives away a bit of the film.
The booklet contains a nice essay on the film by Graham Fuller, who gives a decent analysis for this existential, road-trip/gangster film, and does make comparisons with other films of the genre that share some similarities such as Sexy Beast.
And that’s unfortunately it. I’m sure there’s more material out there that could have been included, like deleted scenes at least, but I’ll definitely take quality over quantity with a DVD release and the quality of the supplements found on here are excellent. Only a couple of items, but they were worth my time.
This is a very nice, lower-tier release for the film. The transfer is fantastic and the commentary is an excellent reflection on the film. Throw in Stamp’s excellent interview segment and you have a definite bargain. An impressive smaller release from the folks at Criterion, and one I give a hearty recommendation to. I hope this release leads to a few more of Frears’ films appearing on DVD from them.