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The Black Panther
SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • English Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • Original 1980s video release trailer (2 minutes, DVD only)
  • Alternative French language soundtrack, with optional English subtitles
  • Recluse (1981, 30 minutes): Bob Bentley's arresting short film based on real events, starring Maurice Denham and edited by David Gladwell (editor of if.... and O Lucky Man!)
  • Recluse: recce footage (1978, 10 minutes): newly-discovered 16mm location scouting footage

The Black Panther

Dual Format Edition
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Ian Merrick
Starring: Donald Sumpter
1977 | 97 Minutes

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: £19.99 | Series: BFI Flipside | Edition: #24
BFI Video

Release Date: May 28, 2012
Review Date: May 27, 2012

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SYNOPSIS

Directed by Ian Merrick, this intelligent crime drama charts the infamous killing spree which Donald Neilson, aka the Black Panther, perpetrated across England during the mid-70s, culminating in the kidnapping and death of a 17-year old girl. Told with uncommon accuracy and refraining from any measure of sensationalism, this fascinating and disturbing film fell foul of a media-driven campaign upon its original cinema release which resulted in an effective ban.


PICTURE

BFI continues their tradition of delivering little known or almost forgotten films with their 24th release in their Flipside series with Ian Merrickís The Black Panther, presented here in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz. Despite being a UK release the disc is region-free. (I am working from a test disc but my understanding is that this is a region-free release.)

No surprises here because as expected BFI has done their usual superb job. Iím not sure how the film has fared over the years and where it has been stored but the source print is in pretty good shape. There are a few scratches, tram lines and what look like a couple of splices in places, but these instances are rare and donít impact the presentation in a negative fashion.

The digital transfer delivers a very film-like presentation. Itís a fairly grainy film, Iím assuming to give it that extra gritty look, and itís rendered beautifully. The image is sharp with crisp definition, and despite a rather dreary colour scheme the colours within the film still manage to pop. Blacks are also rendered nicely and details are still easy to make out.

Overall it looks great, just a few minor issues in the source. Another superb presentation from BFI, and one the film does so deserve.

(This edition also includes a DVD delivering a standard definition version of the film. I only received a copy of the Blu-ray so canít comment on the DVDís presentation.)

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The lossless mono track is another pleasant surprise coming off fairly robust despite its limitations. Thereís some decent range, though does get a little edgy in the higher ends of the spectrum, but dialogue is clear and there no noticeable issues with the track otherwise.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Surprisingly, especially when one considers the subject matter, this edition is pretty slim in the way of extras. Keeping with the main featureís true-crime theme BFI gives us the 1979 29-minute short film Recluse, directed by Bob Bentley. The film is based on the case of a murder suicide involving three elderly siblings, two brothers and a sister, when they come at odds over a land deal. Itís a bizarre, tragic story, and here itís presented rather honestly, without a sense of sensationalism; itís a rather involving yet low key piece of work.

Recluse: Recce Footage is a collection of 8-minutes worth of location footage shot by Bentley before making Recluse. Bentley had discovered the footage recently and revisited it, providing his own ďcommentaryĒ of sorts. In the commentary he talks about the locations and the history.

The DVD, the second disc in the set, apparently presents the home video trailer for The Black Panther but since I didnít receive the DVD I cannot comment on it, though I suspect itís the trailer that is currently available on YouTube.

BFI then includes one of the great booklets, going over the history of The Black Panther the film. First James Oliver provides a great essay on the true-crime genre and this film, which he thinks has gotten better with the passage of time. Director Ian Merrick then provides a lengthy note on making the film and the impact (ďfinancial ruinĒ as he puts it) after the media problems with the film (the subject matter, based on recent events at the time, angered many. Michael Armstrong then recalls writing the screenplay for the film and the issues that arose, and then we get a reprinting of an original, generally positive review by Tom Pulleine, which appeared an issue of Monthly Film Bulletin in 1978. We then get a note by Bob Bentley on Recluse and then a reprinting of a review for that film by F. Maurice Speed. Yet again BFI supplies a booklet that offers some great context for the film.

In all Iím yet again disappointed that BFI seems to limit the features to whatever film they can pull out of their vaults. But itís at least a good one.

4/10

CLOSING

I have to say The Black Panther is a surprisingly well made film. From the various things I gather in the booklet the film was seen as an exploitive piece on then-recent crimes, which had still shaken up many. This led to the film being rejected. Itís not exploitive at all and is very matter-of-fact, while still managing to be rather suspenseful and gripping through much of its running time.

The supplements are very skimpy but BFI has yet again just stunned me with their transfer. It looks shockingly good for a film I get the sense has mostly been forgotten.




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