B&W, 1966, 87m.
Directed by Jirí Weiss
Starring James Booth, Anne Heywood, Rudolf Hrusínský, Ann Todd, Donald Wolfit
Odeon (DVD) (UK R0 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

The British label Odeon has been doing a stellar job of unearthing strange little forgotten titles from their country's considerable cinematic output during the past century, and few are more unusual or worthy of rediscovery than Ninety Degrees in the Shade. This off-kilter, compelling little mid-'60s thriller from late, prolific director Jirí Weiss (Murder Czech Style) is a rare British/Czech co-productions, with British actors making up the principal roles and Czech supporting players and crew handling most of the rest. Despite a considerable amount of critical and festival acclaim as well as a strong cast of familiar names, the film was never formally released in the U.K. and has remained a cinematic footnote for decades until now.

Beautiful and compelling actress Anne Heywood (The Fox, I Want What I Want) has one of her earliest lead roles here as Alena, a Prague deli server who's having a covert affair with her boss, Vorell (Zulu's Booth), a sneaky cad who's ripping off his customers and suppliers by dumping tea in the store's liquor stock. Meanwhile an auditor, Kurka (Hrusínský, the amazing lead from The Cremator), begins circling and closes in on the scheme, with Vorell trying to persuade his disillusioned mistress to take the fall for him instead.

Along with the solid cast (which also includes the always excellent Ann Todd from Scream of Fear and The Fiend as Kurka's boozing wife), Ninety Degrees in the Shade boasts some notable names behind the camera as well including co-screenwriter David Mercer (a playwright best known in cinematic circles for Morgan!), jazz composer Ludek Hulan, and weirdest of all, cinematographer Bedrich Batka, who conjures up some stunning scope compositions here (almost in the same realm as his amazing work on the brilliant Marketa Lazarová) and went on to shoot the little-seen '79 oddity The Orphan and the summer camp classic Little Darlings before becoming an NYU instructor. The influences of both gritty Czech films and the kitchen sink realist movement in Britain are well in evidence here from the loose, casual conversations inside the deli to the hauntingly grim and ironic resolution, which would most certainly have been changed if anyone tried to remake this today.

Essentially unviewable for any English-speaking audiences outside of a small handful of archivists, Ninety Degrees in the Shade makes its DVD debut from Odeon in a beautiful anamorphic transfer that does ample justice to the original widescreen compositions. The black and white cinematography looks great here, and the original English mono track sounds just fine. Most of Odeon's transfers are shockingly good given the often negligent histories of the films they acquire, and this is certainly no expection. The region-free disc contains optional English subtitles as well, along with trailers for other titles in their "Best of Britain" line.