The Cineaste is an occasional column spotlighting vintage films recently released on Blu-ray. It is snobby and proud of it.
The Day of the Jackal (1971, directed by Fred Zinnemann) - Zinnemann enjoyed a long, prolific and fruitful career, making features from the early '40s through the early '80s. This thriller, about an assassin (Edward Fox) hired to assassinate French president Charles de Gaulle and the detective (Michael Lonsdale) on his tail, is among his best. Based on the debut novel of burgeoning best-selling author Frederick Forsythe, Jackal is one of those thrillers in which every small action matters, and all the small pieces fit together. It's also one of the all-time great Paris movies, showcasing the city in its pre-gentrification glory (Arrow, $27.99).
Trapeze (1956, directed by Carol Reed) - A year before they starred in the acid-tongued Sweet Smell of Success, Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis played rival trapeze artists vying for the heart of Gina Lollobrigida and teaming up in a Paris circus. Trapeze isn't as goofy as it sounds: It vividly captures the sawdust and tinsel of the circus, and Reed (The Third Man) handles even the schmaltzier elements with visual aplomb and a veteran's touch. Plus: elephants. Lots of elephants (Kino Lorber, $29.95).
My Man Godfrey (1936, directed by Gregory La Cava) - Like a Frank Capra fable with the smooth edges rubbed away, Godfrey uses the despair and inequality of the Great Depression as grist for social satire. Irene (Carole Lombard) is a spoiled rich girl with a heart of gold and a nutso family. Godfrey (William Powell) is a "forgotten man" of the Depression with a mysterious past. Put them together and you get a screwball comedy with bite. Its pleasures are made bittersweet by the fates of the leading lady and the director: Lombard, among the most luminous talents of the studio system, died in a plane crash at age 33. La Cava drank himself to death at 59 (Criterion, $39.95).
Memories of Underdevelopment (1968, directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea) - A stark meditation on emotional dislocation, this Cuban classic focuses on a bourgeois intellectual (Sergio Corrieri) adrift in Havana in the wake of the Bay of the Pigs fiasco. The stylized neorealism approach puts us in the character's head and also on his streets as he wanders in isolation. Alea mixes avant-garde editing with stark archival footage; this is one of countless '60s films that just don't happen without the influence of the French New Wave. It's also a towering achievement of Cuban cinema (Criterion, $39.95).
The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950, Directed by Felix E. Feist) - Lee J. Cobb was perfectly cast in this twisty B-movie noir about a homicide detective trying not to investigate a murder committed by his mistress. The mid-century San Francisco scenery is first-rate, as is the restoration executed by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. This is a forgotten gem and a reminder that some of the best genre movies were made on the cheap with no fanfare. Look for the shots that one could logically conclude inspired some of the most famous images in Hitchcock's Vertigo (Flicker Alley, $39.95).
Andrei Rublev (1966, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky) - As with most Tarkovsky films, you don't watch Andrei Rublev so much as you fall under its trance: The long takes, the commitment to emotional truth, the breathtaking impressionist imagery. Rublev, based on the life of the Russian icon painter, might be Tarkovsky's best work, a poetic meditation on art, faith and death. The final chapter, which details the casting and unveiling of a giant bell, is a miniature work of art in itself. Andrei Rublev, presented here in 183-minute and 205-minute versions, is potent stuff (Criterion, $49.95).