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Herculoids, Harry O. and War Movies

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edited and compiled by Paul Mavis

This week when your mailman offers up only bills and cackles, "It's not the heat, it's the humidity, you know," while his face seems to melt off its skull in a mirage haze, we here at DVDTalk's The M.O.D. Squad recommend flinging a public domain DVD at his plastic pith helmet (we found those heavy Canadian knock-offs like The Fat Spy or The Boy in the Plastic Bubble work nicely). If, however, you're lucky enough to receive a freshly-pressed, manufactured-on-demand disc of a movie you've been dying to see, invite that civil servant to hitch up his wool shorts and dip his piddies in your wading pool because M.O.D. titles are life-savers this sweltering summer. In this god-forsaken heat you don't want to screw around with endless choices on cable or some confusing on-line service, further frazzling your deep-fried brain?you know what you want, so order it up and hang out at the kids' Slip-n-Slide® until it comes right to your door.

   

If, however, you're too wasted from the heat to know what you're doing ("Please nail a damp sponge to my head, someone...is that you, Grampa? You're dead!"), we can help here at The M.O.D. Squad. Even bigger than our premier issue, this month's column is bursting with M.O.D. reviews to point you in the right direction for hot summer fun in front of your big screen monitor (...or maybe your phone, if you're downloading direct for the Warner Archive titles). Our review staff here at DVDTalk's The M.O.D. Squad is an eclectic bunch (read: squirrelly), and we're offering up reviews covering a wide range of genres this time out, so don't limit yourself. Dive deep, pallie?that's where the really cool water is.

   

The first rule of thumb for surviving a heat wave is to stay calm and keep hydrated watch cartoons; a body can only survive three days at the most without old-timey cell animation. Wily desert rat Jamie S. Rich knows where to dig for toons, coming up with a look at the H-B classic, The Herculoids :

"The Herculoids: The Complete Series collects the 1967 cartoon series on two-discs, and it's an odd duck to try to assess. This whacked-out space-age prehistoric animation show (how many demographics were they hoping to hit?) is a lot of inane fun, no doubt, but The Herculoids is also an artifact from a time when animation was maybe bigger on ideas than the execution allowed for. This series has some super cool characters and each individual ten-minute adventure works well on its own―it's all kinetic energy, there is no nuance or pathos, so how could they not? As a package, though, it may strain the senses. "Credibility" is not a word that exists in Zandor's vocabulary! Good for one run, through, but you may have to watch some Tarkovsky sci-fi afterwards just to restore balance to your tilted brain space." (read Jamie's full review here)

 

Reviewer Neil Lumbard, no stranger either to Earth's most plentiful resource―cartoons―offers up reviews of Challenge of the GoBots: The Original Miniseries and The Jetsons Meet The Flintstones for the thirsty:    

"Challenge of the GoBots is an incredibly fun and campy adventure through the weirder side of Hanna-Barbera. This robotic action series offered quite a few dramatically different elements that set it apart from the more popular Transformers creation. It's an interesting show that will appeal to fans of other fun action cartoons produced by Hanna-Barbera, such as Space Ghost and Bird Man. As for The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones, ever wondered what it would be like for the stone age family to meet the space age family? So did a lot of other people... and this film is the proof of that. This made-for-TV film offers a surprisingly fun glimpse into exactly how wacky things can get when two of the most popular families created in animated television history cross paths. There are many exciting possibilities presented as in any good sci-fi yarn." (read Neil's full reviews here and here)

   

Okay...I'll give you that war is hell...but traversing a patch of blistering sand in your bare feet ain't no picnic, either. So snag your Guinness® flip-flops with the matching hat from that damned dog, get under the sun umbrella, and keep the battlefields safely on your digital displays. DVDTalk Commander John Sinnott looks at Destroyer:

"A patriotic film from 1943, Destroyer stars Edward G. Robinson and Glenn Ford as two members of a newly commissioned destroyer who go to war against each other while trying to get the ship into the thick of things against the Japanese. While the movie is short of surprises or plot twists, the cast is so good that it's a lot of fun to watch." (read John's full review here)

    New grunt Christopher McQuain hops-to Toward the Unknown:
"If we're judging Mervyn LeRoy's 1956 Cold War-paranoia military drama as art, you're out of luck. But as artifact? It's rich with unsublimated examples of Eisenhower-era fantasy and nightmare, with Holden as playing an air force test pilot who, plagued by his 14-month internment as a POW in Korea, is too mentally unstable to be trusted with prototypical space-race technology. The lurid, glaring, Technicolor question is not, of course, whether Holden's character is owed some consideration by the government that sent him to Korea, but whether he'll get over his posttraumatic nailbiting in time to become the fully functioning cold warrior that any real American man would want to be. It's not a "good" movie, exactly; but as a time capsule, it is endlessly fascinating." (read Christopher's full review here)

      Grizzled veteran Stuart Galbraith IV takes a hard look at Battle of the Coral Sea:
"Promising much but delivering little, Battle of the Coral Sea (1959) is a lower-budgeted pastiche of much better movies. The title, poster art, and coming attractions trailer are misleading: the Battle of the Coral Sea doesn't commence until the movie is nearly over, about five minutes before the end. Instead, the picture starts out as a routine submarine movie then transitions into a low-rent Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) ―by way of The Camp on Blood Island (1957)―weakly referencing popular movies that, like Battle of the Coral Sea, were distributed by Columbia. Cliff Robertson is the submarine skipper who makes like Alec Guinness. At least this Columbia Classics title gets an excellent 1.85:1 enhanced widescreen presentation, along with an action-packed, hard-sell trailer." (read Stuart's full review here)

        Jamie S. Rich, in full retreat, looks over his shoulder at Eight Iron Men:
"War may be hell, but it's not always good drama. Eight Iron Men, the 1952 World War II drama helmed by Edward Dmytryk, is one of those hard to quantify movies that really does everything right, but somehow comes out being not all that great anyway. In a way, it's a wartime chamber piece, following a platoon of men stuck in one bombed-out building as they try to figure out how to save one of their own from sniper fire before the company moves out. With staunch performances from Lee Marvin and Richard Kiley on opposite ends of the argument, you'd think the film could generate some steam, but not even a couple of shootouts can raise it out of the doldrums. Being workmanlike means you aren't all bad when the workmen are this good, but it still should have been better." (read Jamie's full review here)

    And Nick Hartel salutes The Rack:
"Engulfed by the shadows of obscurity, this 1956 courtroom thriller followed on the heels of star Paul Newman's breakout hit, Someone Up Their Likes Me. Director Arnold Laven turns in a handsomely shot, steadily moving film that lets Rod Serling's original teleplay seep into the minds of viewers. Newman plays Capt. Edward W. Hall, Jr., a psychologically tortured Korean war vet accused of collaboration during his time in a POW camp. The film is a slow burn for the first half, before entering the halls of a military tribunal where Newman dials back his performance to a more realistic level and help put the final touches on a morally ambiguous tale of honor and the limits of sanity. Touted by Warner as being remastered, this Archive release sports an above-average 1.85:1 original aspect ratio transfer that still suffers from some noticeable print damage and an ear pleasing, dialogue driven English mono soundtrack." (read Nick's full review here)

       

Nothing says overheated summer like a pitcher of lemonade out on the front porch as the drunken couple down the block take their third screaming fight of the night out into the middle of the street ("Did I just feel a breeze? Oh, here come the cops."). If you're unfortunate enough to live in a good neighborhood, you'll have to get your vicarious heavy drama kicks via the movies, and the staff here at DVDTalk love heavy drama. Christopher McQuain looks at The Juggler:

"It might be thematically overstuffed―it takes on topics like The Holocaust, the State of Israel, and post-traumatic stress in its 90 minutes―but The Juggler is well worth seeking out for the experience of director Edward Dmytryk's sure hand with visuals, tone, and pacing; and star Kirk Douglas―as a German Jew who survived the Nazi camps, lost his family, and is now relocating to the newly established Israel―offers up his usual, undeniable charisma. It may not do full justice to all the thorny questions it raises, but The Juggler is a remarkable, riveting example of Hollywood craft in the twilight of the studios' golden age." (read Christopher's full review here)

      Stuart Galbraith IV looks at Park Row:
"Despite a budget really too low for its ambitions, Samuel Fuller's Park Row (1952) is at once a romantic, exciting, and authentic portrait of the New York newspaper business circa 1886. Fuller himself was every inch the cigar-chomping The Front Page reporter, supposedly covering the crime beat while still a teenager and credited with breaking the news of Jeanne Eagles's death when he was barely 17 years old. Park Row, Fuller's fourth low-budget film as a director, was obviously a personal project and he sank all his money into its production, some $200,000―save for a grand he kept for vodka and cigars. The film is Fuller's Citizen Kane: the subject matter is similar and like Orson Welles's masterpiece Fuller crams every scene with innovation and terrific performances. Part of MGM's Limited Edition Collection line of DVD-Rs, Park Row has been given a strong black and white, full-frame video transfer that does the picture justice. The only extra feature, alas, is a trailer, but it's complete with text and narration." (read Stuart's full review here)

 

Bill Gibron looks at A Thousand Clowns, The Woman on the Beach, and Because They're Young:    

"There is something supremely satisfying about watching a well written and realized work. As the ideas bounce around on carefully constructed sentences and scenes, as perfectly in sync actors make the verbal volleys come to life, you can't imagine anything better. There is also something supremely frustrating about the experience as well. Real life is not "scripted." It doesn't come with pithy one liners, accurate single paragraph pronouncements, or participants in perfect control of their 'character.' Thus we have the main dilemma in A Thousand Clowns. Herb Gardner may not be Neil Simon, but he does write a damn fine dramatic comedy. He has the nuances and the nuttiness of these early '60s oddballs down pat. He also has a lot of interesting things to say about the human condition. But Gardner is also a writer first. These people talk like - well, as one character says to another at one point - like everything was put on paper down for them before hand. Granted, the words are exciting and electrifying, but too often than not, they feel like pages in a playbook, not actual thoughts. Watching The Woman on the Beach is like experiencing shards of genius wrapped inside a weird, indecipherable narrative. Renior's visual flair, combined with his love of character, should make this manipulative noir work - and he definitely does try. The opening sequence where Robert Ryan is reliving his wartime attack is merciless in its optical invention. In between the dream like walk along the ocean floor, the skeletal remains, and the shadowy sections of destroyed ship, we witness a bravura turn by a man known for his cinematic artistry. And then the storyline kicks in and things start to fall apart. For all his dashing darkness, Ryan can't make his character sympathetic. Similarly, Joan Bennett's lonely lady is laughable, her motives unclear and her desires even foggier. When they first meet (alongside a decaying beached boat that begins a major narrative set-piece), there is no chemistry, so the instant attraction feels forced. Later, when he is sacrificing his sanity for she, the lack of any carnal connection renders their already unrealistic romance moot. As for Because They're Young, get ready to feel bad―really bad―about loving a manipulative melodrama as much as you will adore Because They're Young. By definition, this shouldn't work. Not at all. Dick Clark is an odd choice for any movie role, let alone the overly involved teacher still smarting from a tragedy (and a professional miscalculation) in the past. He's not the father figure type, those he's saddled with one of those TV typecast tykes who's all big eyes and toed-headed tears, and his past as a big time college quarterback is constantly challenged by the Bandstand host's lack of significant physicality. And yet thanks to the many kitchen sink machinations in the script, as well as a Central Casting collection of overripe adolescents (the criminal loner, the bad girl, the dopey cheerleader, the equally lunkheaded jock) we get a pre-Beatles break from all the juvenile delinquency and cautionary exemplifying. Instead, this is a movie that moves along at a wicked pace, wearing out its welcome over one socially questionable concern before lightly leaping to another. It's all very pot boiler plate, and all so very soap opera satisfying." (read Bill's full reviews here, here, and here )

              Jamie S. Rich looks at The Reluctant Saint and The Goddess:
"Edward Dmytryk's 1963 film, The Reluctant Saint, does a good job of tackling some difficult-to-portray religious material, but perhaps is too reverent where it counts. Maximilian Schell turns in a fantastic, physical performance as Saint Joseph of Cupertino, the village idiot who eventually rose to sainthood―quite literally, if you believe the stories of his levitating during religious ecstasy. The Reluctant Saint has some humor and some heart, and Dmytryk treats the material seriously, but it's kind of bloodless, particularly when the story itself turns dark. As for the showbiz tragedy, The Goddess, it's a real surprise. This melodramatic effort by writer Paddy Chayefsky and director John Cromwell is exactly the kind of movie one would hope a movies-on-demand initiative would unearth: a little-known, imperfect film that maybe has gone unfairly unnoticed. The Goddess is a startlingly prescient fictionalized take on the Marilyn Monroe mythos made while Marilyn Monroe was right at the tipping point between her greatest successes and her difficult final years. Chayefsky gives us a life in three acts: young girl dreaming big, young woman chasing those dreams, and the bitter reality of getting what she wants. Kim Stanley gives it her best shot in trying to be this invented starlet, and there are good supporting performances from Lloyd Bridges and Betty Lou Holland, but The Goddess falls short of its full mark. Still, the writing is so good and the performances so riveting, and Cromwell directs with such an assured hand, you'll want to sit through it nonetheless." (read Jamie's full reviews here and here)

      And Paul Mavis, a near-hysteric, wallows in Mister Buddwing, The Interns, and A Rage To Live:
"Three good performances from the lead actresses, and some effective location shooting in New York City...but miscast Garner is saddled with a painfully pretentious script. Warner Bros.' Archive Collection has released Mister Buddwing, the 1966 amnesiac drama starring James Garner, Jean Simmons, Suzanne Pleshette, Angela Lansbury and Katherine Ross. It's tough to screw up an amnesia movie; it always works to have the audience fumble around with the lead character, searching with him to find his identity. However...you have to like that lead character, and "Mister Buddwing" is a pretentious bore with a serious case of "morning icks," to quote a much funnier, tortured New Yorker. Mister Buddwing doesn't convince with its faux-nouvelle vague veneer, its obvious, clichéd subplot about selling out in America, nor especially in the disastrous miscasting of James Garner as a tortured artist trying to find his "identity." Only the lead actresses bring something valuable to the table, with Simmons and Pleshette particularly good in their flashy turns; for them alone, Mister Buddwing rates a look. A vintage behind-the-scenes featurette for Mister Buddwing has been included here as a bonus―nice. As for The Interns...calling Dr. Earnest! Dr. Hysteria! Dr. Soapy! Lovers of vintage medical dramas still waiting in vain for dreamy Drs. Casey or Kildare to return will no doubt take to The Interns, the 1962 drama from Columbia Pictures, made available through Sony's own M.O.D. on-line service. Starring a cast of future TV and movie stars like Cliff Robertson, Buddy Ebsen, Telly Savalas, and Stefanie Powers...along with a few almost-wases like Nick Adams and Haya Harareet, The Interns will probably get laughs from anyone who thinks the hilariously self-conscious E.R. is the be-all end-all of hospital dramas. But for those who like their doctoring straight-up platitudinous and faux-revealing, then The Interns' soapy prescription is positively therapeutic. No extras for this okay transfer. And if one is offered lush, husky-voiced Suzanne Pleshette as a nymphomaniac? Count me in. A Rage To Live, a 1965 super-sudser from United Artists, based on the 1949 best-selling pot boiler from O'Hara, and starring Pleshette, Bradford Dillman, Ben Gazzara, and Peter Graves, is a potentially intriguing look at a woman's psycho-sexual obsessions. This glossy bedroom drama can't quite overcome its still-landlocked Hollywood studio treatment (no nudity or frank sexual depictions, as would have been the case just a few years later), but as a big-screen soaper, it hits all the marks fans of this genre expect, with a beautiful black and white transfer here a big bonus. Anyone expecting a "serious" discussion of nymphomania should look elsewhere than A Rage To Live. This gorgeous-looking 1965 pot boiler is more interested in putting beautiful people in suitably titillating, compromising positions so we the audience can enjoy it all from afar―and that's how we like our soap operas. It helps, too, that Suzanne Pleshette is not only gorgeous, but also that she gives one of her best performances here." (read Paul's full reviews here, here, and here)

     

Here's a summertime fantasy for you: those high school senior girls at the adjacent backyard pool party don't think you're a perv for clipping the same hedge for four hours. We know that old summertime scam at DVDTalk, and we caught you at it. It's much safer to indulge your fantasies in front of the widescreen. Stuart Galbraith IV peeps at Creatures the World Forgot:

"Hammer's last stab at the caveman genre was Creatures the World Forgot (1971), the fourth and least entertaining of the bunch. On the plus side, it reunited One Million Years, B.C. (1966) director Don Chaffey with composer Mario Nascimbene. They contributed as much to that film as Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion dinosaurs, giving the underrated film an otherworldly and genuinely prehistoric feel. Sadly, Creatures the World Forgot doesn't generate 1/10th as much compelling atmosphere, though there are wisps of it here and there. However, what interest is generated pretty much evaporates after the first act, and toward the end chances are good you'll be pleading for it to end. Part of Sony's Columbia Classics line of DVD-Rs, Creatures the World Forgot looks fantastic, and at 95:20 appears to be the uncut, unrated and A-rated British version of the film, though it's not entirely clear if it was cut for its GP-rated American run. The film is presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen, and comes with a similarly enhanced widescreen trailer." (read Stuart's full review here)

     

Ah, music to our sun-burnt, peeling ears: the sound of those same snotty high school girls belly-flopping off the low board. "SAAAAA-MACK! Whaaaaaaaaa!" Stuart Galbraith IV lends an ear to Hoedown

"Yet another pleasant B-picture surprise from Sony's terrific Columbia Classics line of manufactured-on-demand DVD-Rs, Hoedown was advertised as a showcase for country music singer Eddy Arnold and a few other country and western swing acts. In fact more than half the film satirizes the world of B-Westerns and their promotion, with Jock Mahoney playing an inept, washed-up cowboy star. The music is good and the comedy is fast, funny and sometimes pretty clever. Best of all Mahoney is paired with "Yodeling Blonde Bombshell" Carolina Cotton, a performer I'd never heard of until this movie. She's delightful, naturally funny and talented. She and Mahoney make an irresistibly cute couple. There are no extras and no menu screens at all―just pop the disc in and away you go―but the full frame, black and white image looks fantastic." (read Stuart's full review here)

Bill Gibron looks at Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter:

"Who waits until the end of their run as teen dream Tiger Beat fodder to aim for a motion picture breakout? Similarly, who uses a hit from three years before as the hook attempting to reestablish such fading fan interest ? The obvious answer is Herman's Hermits (or whoever was handling them at the time). On paper, something like Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter should be gangbusters. The lads are very likeable and capable of controlling the screen. In addition, several stellar supporting players were brought in to help, including My Fair Lady's Stanley Holloway. Add in a real slice of life feel (Manchester is often seen as more weird, working class version of Alice's Wonderland), a few decent songs, and a genial musical hall spirit and the results should be both toe tapping and knee slapping. Instead, MBYGALD plays like a time capsule clipped of its humor and wit." (read Bill's full review here )

        And Paul Mavis brings Christmas in July with the holiday-themed Get Yourself a College Girl:
"A good-looking, mildly amusing Sam Katzman cheapie for M-G-M, helped considerably by some socko musical numbers. Warner Bros.' Archive Collection has released Get Yourself a College Girl, the 1964 musical/sex comedy starring Mary Ann Mobley, Chad Everett, Joan O'Brien, Nancy Sinatra, Chris Noel, and featuring musical numbers by The Animals, The Dave Clark Five, Stan Getz & Astrud Gilberto, The Standells, and The Jimmy Smith Trio. The girls look great, the guys are handsome duds, and the music rocks and sways. Get Yourself a College Girl may not be all that funny, but it's amusing here and there, the tiny, fake sets are eye-poppingly colorful, and the girls are pretty. So what else do you need? An original trailer is included in this great-looking disc." (read Paul's full review here)

     

Witnessing the punishing effects of this god-awful summer, one could be forgiven for thinking that brown, burnt-out, dead husk of a yard is now nothing more than another lonely, dusty trail for the suburban cowboy astride his trusty John Deere® steed (our city-dwelling readers laugh at such bucolic, clichéd allusions...as they sit in their undershirts in front of their open iceboxes, waiting to go bowling). Stuart Galbraith IV travels to the Laramie Mountains:

"By B-Western series standards Laramie Mountains (1952) isn't much but for its intended audience, mostly kids, it delivers the requisite quotient of cowboy action, lowbrow comedy, and songs. This Durango Kid series entry from Columbia was one of the last of its kind; The Lone Ranger, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers had already made the move to television, and a TV version of William Boyd's Hopalong Cassidy would premiere later that fall. Part of Sony's terrific Columbia Classics line of DVD-Rs, this and The Kid from Broken Gun represent the third and fourth Durango Kid movies out on DVD. Once again they look great but are also quite short yet expensive. They run just 53-55 minutes but the retail price is $19.95. That's like paying nearly twenty bucks for a single episode of Bonanza. I bet if they went the 10-movie route as Warner's Archive has done with its Tim Holt series, they'd sell a lot more copies." (read Stuart's full review here)

     

Forget the unforgiving jungles or frozen wastelands or horrific plane crash sites―in this heat the most adventuresome we want to get is determining how long we can stay passed out on the couch in front of the fan. If you do manage to rouse yourself ("Honey...you smell like rotten garbage. Get up."), you'll want to check out these adventure flicks reviewed by Stuart Galbraith IV: Jungle Manhunt, Crash Landing, and The Call of the Wild:

"After playing Tarzan for about 15 years, first at MGM and later at RKO, an increasingly flabby Johnny Weissmuller worked his way further down the Hollywood food chain, ending up at lowly Columbia where for a time he starred as Alex Raymond and Don Moore's comic strip hero Jungle Jim, in sixteen features produced during 1948-1956. Jungle Manhunt (1951) is both a bit cheaper and more routine than the earliest entries yet isn't as goofily over-the-top as the later ones, and this Columbia Classics title has been splendiferously remastered. Its narrative incorporates two jungle movie staples: the search for a wealthy man lost deep in the jungle and nefarious treasure hunters frightening superstitious local natives and enslaving them. However, Jungle Manhunt does briefly feature dinosaurs, making this also science fiction. And, what's more, its coming attractions trailer, included as an extra, briefly shows off an outrageously silly-looking monster mercifully cut from the final theatrical version. Crash Landing (1958), basically Sam Katzman's low-budget answer to The High and the Mighty (1955), is an entertaining if B-movie variation of the John Wayne/William A. Wellman blockbuster with an almost identical story. Crash Landing was one of five Fred F. Sears-directed features released in 1958―a pretty astounding achievement when you consider that he died in 1957. Sears, a former actor, literally worked himself into a fatal heart attack at age forty-four. Despite a very modest budget, probably in the $175,000-$350,000 range versus The High and the Mighty's $1,500,000, Crash Landing is reasonably engrossing with a genuinely suspenseful climax. Part of Sony's Columbia Classics line of Screen Classics By Request DVD-Rs, Crash Landing looks sensational, the 1.85:1 black and white production given a bright and nearly flawless 16:9 enhanced widescreen presentation. A trailer complete with narration and text and also 16:9 enhanced is tossed in as an extra feature. As for this 1972 adaptation of Jack London's famous 1903 novel, The Call of the Wild is a real anomaly, downright bizarre even. It improbably brought together A-list Hollywood star Charlton Heston, still near the peak of his fame, with shady Harry Alan Towers, a one-time procurer, bail-jumper, and possible Soviet spy-turned-movie producer, best known for his cheapo Fu Manchu movies and long association with schlockmeisters like director Jesus Franco. Typical of Towers's productions, The Call of the Wild is a multinational patchwork filmed in Norway and Spain, with American, French, German, Austrian, and Spanish actors, whose salaries were shakily financed with money coming from all over Europe. Though the direction is credited to Ken Annakin, a veteran British filmmaker who knew his way around big league pictures, The Call of the Wild is itself only marginally professional, looking not at all like Heston's other movies but typical of Towers's oeuvre. Just under a dozen public domain labels have offered Call of the Wild on DVD through the years, but MGM's Limited Edition Collection DVD-R is by far the best looking, and it's in 16:9 enhanced widescreen. Whether film fans are willing to pay a little extra for this remains to be seen, but MGM deserves a lot of credit for finally officially releasing it. It makes for strange but fascinating viewing." (read Stuart's full reviews here, here, and here)

     

We don't know about you, but here at DVDTalk, there's nothing funnier in the summertime than watching that loud-mouthed, no-nothing neighbor of ours fall asleep while catching some rays...for hours ("Look! Roger's going to split open like an overcooked weinie!"). You may not find anything that subtle in the upcoming movies, but our staff had a good chuckle with these titles. John Sinnott, no weinie himself, reviews The Canterville Ghost and Strictly Dynamite:

"Based (rather loosely) on a story by Oscar Wilde, 1986's made-for-TV film The Canterville Ghost is a light, enjoyable flick. When a family suddenly inherits a British estate, they think it's the end of their problems. Until they discover it's haunted by a crotchety ghost. Staring John Gielgud who plays his role nicely and a very young Alyssa Milano, the film is a fun if innocuous TV movie that can be enjoyed by the entire family. It may not be high art but it's still enjoyable and worth watching. As for Strictly Dynamite, after being teamed up with comic genius Buster Keaton for a trio of early talkies in 1932-1933, vaudeville star Jimmy Durante was paired with the south-of-the-border beauty Lupe Velez for a couple of films. The second of these, Strictly Dynamite, is a fun light romp that has recently been released through Warner's Archives collection. When a down-on-his-luck author from the sticks gets a job writing jokes for a TV comic and his female partner (Durante and Velez) he thinks he's selling out. But when he finds out how much money he can make, and how enjoyable going to parties until all hours can be, he starts enjoying his job and ignoring his faithful wife. Durante is a bit more restrained in this film than usual (though just a bit) and Lupe Velez isn't utilized as much as she could have been, but it's still a gem of a film that's well worth checking out." (read John's full reviews here and here)

      Nick Hartel looks at See Here, Private Hargrove:
"See Here, Private Hargrove may have been a hit upon release (inspiring a sequel shortly after), taken in wake of far superior big screen and small screen war/boot camp comedy fare, it just doesn't past muster. While Robert Walker is solid playing a character every bit the opposite his iconic Bruno Anthony, the various hijinks he and co-star Keenan Wynn are thrown into eventually become tired and merely tolerable. The Warner Archive provides a technically solid disk presenting the film with a more than adequate mono audio track and eye-pleasing 1.33:1 original aspect ratio transfer. More a curiosity piece than an essential, 1944's See Here, Private Hargrove will give you some laughs, just not a lot of hearty ones." (read Nick's full review here)

    Bill Gibron looks at Birds Do It and Hot Stuff    
"WOW! This is one weird-ass movie. The last 25 minutes are literally a stunt double for Soupy Sales endlessly dangling over Miami's intercostals waterway, wires in full view as the doppelganger dips up and down over the sea. In between, actor Arthur O'Connell continues his character actor on crack rabies impersonation, the monkey from Daktari operates a big orange lever, and Sales himself shows up, greenscreened and goofy, hoping that his pained expression and mannerisms match those of his paid twin. Oh, and did we mention Tab Hunter trying to play it cool as a evil double agent? No? Well, that doesn't begin to describe this unhinged Hellsapoppin experiment. This is a film that forgets all the basics of moviemaking, that tosses aside narrative logic, character continuity, mise-en-scene, and even simple human emotion in order to make room for more of Sales' patented pantomime. Then, they go and forget to give the TV icon anything interesting to do, except watch a paid daredevil mimic his signature flail over the waters of South Florida. Hot Stuff, on the other hand, is a sitcom stuffed into a 90 minute movie running time. It's a playful set-up, including the various cliched character beats of our leads, twisted into a series of stunted vignettes, some playing perfectly, others missing the mark by mega-miles. Though the simplistic script is laced with curse words (no F-bombs, though) and the steamy Miami locale gives everything a hot and humid grit, DeLuise is still channeling his mentor, Mel Brooks, and the results are equally scattered. This is not laugh out loud funny as much as smile on your face silly. The situations are too broadly drawn and forced to be truly hilarious. Instead, they amble by with the requisite amount of entertainment value, leaving you satisfied if a little suspicious. Indeed, the two biggest questions you will have after watching this freewheeling farce are (1) who thought this was a decent idea for a big screen laugher? and (2) who argued for DeLuise's skills as a first time filmmaker?" (read Bill's full reviews here and here)

        And Stuart Galbraith IV reviews Soldier in the Rain:
"Considering the talent involved―Steve McQueen, Jackie Gleason, Tuesday Weld, William Goldman, Blake Edwards, Henri Mancini, director Ralph Nelson―Soldier in the Rain (1963) is not a fondly remembered army comedy-drama. Hot on the heels of McQueen's star-solidifying role in The Great Escape and Gleason's celebrated role as Minnesota Fats in The Hustler, as well as a juicy part in Nelson's film of Requiem for a Heavyweight, they must have seemed―and still seem―like a pairing with dynamite potential. And, to some extent, they deliver. The picture is notable for its schizophrenic tone. Most of the film consists of very broad comedy but then it gets serious and sentimental near the end, something audiences weren't prepared for. A Warner Archive Collection release on DVD-R format, it's in 16:9 enhanced widescreen but is one of their weaker transfers. The image is on the soft side while appearing digitally tweaked with DNR, or something. The opening titles almost look like black and white videotape and the image overall isn't nearly as sharp as the many outstanding looking if lesser Allied Artists titles Warner Home Video has released in the past. There are no extras." (read Stuart's full review here)

     

Talk about science fiction: there's this completely unproven theory out there that actually claims it's hot outside right now because of the lightbulbs we use, the cars we drive, and how gassy our cows are. Hee hee! Let's get to John Sinnott's sci-fi reviews for Probe and The Curse of the Faceless Man as we melt our eyeballs staring at the sole cause of this heat wave:

"A made-for-TV movie that would be turned into the TV show Search, Probe is an interesting high-tech spy flick that tries to be a mystery/action/SF adventure and nearly succeeds in pulling it off, but not quite. Created by Leslie Stevens, the man behind the original The Outer Limits, the story of a spy aided by some high-tech gadgets (well, high tech circa 1972) had a lot of potential. And while the futuristic technology that's a cornerstone of the film is commonplace today, the real reason the film doesn't work better is that the lead ((Hugh O'Brian) isn't a convincing spy. It's not the actor's fault, the script didn't give him that macho self-confidence that the other agents possess. It's not a bad movie at all and there are some decent parts, it just isn't a classic. And The Curse of the Faceless Man.... Ahhh, SF B-movies from the 50's and 60's. You either love 'em or hate 'em, and DVDTalk reviewer John Sinnott is definitely in the former camp. Made with very small budgets, tight shooting schedules and often with a less-than-stellar cast, John loves seeing what the cast and crew were able to create under those less-than-ideal conditions. Often they're pretty horrible, but sometimes a gem would be created. Falling in between those two extremes is 1958's The Curse of the Faceless Man, an obscure flick penned by Jerome Bixby (Star Trek:TOS, The Man from Earth) and staring a young Richard Anderson (The Six Million Dollar Man). While the plot has holes (to put it mildly) director Edward L. Cahn was able to stretch his meager budget to create an eerie and atmospheric tale that's more enjoyable than it has any right to be. (read John's full reviews here and here)

 

Summertime heat wave horrors? Sleeveless large-mesh wife-beaters? Any public swimming pool? Binkie the Chihuahua left in the car? Kid stuff. Not having something good to watch on television while wilting passersby spontaneously burst into flames―now that's a summertime horror story. Binkie-killer Kurt Dahlke looks at Out of the Dark:

"This late-'80s thriller is a curious mix of sex, horror and humor, with a frankly degenerate cast including Tracey Walter, Karen Black, and Paul Bartel and Divine (both in strange cameos). A killer clown is on the loose, murdering phone sex operators, leaving us to marvel at creepy, sometimes disturbing murders, kinky soft-core sex, and not a soul to identify with. For connoisseurs of cuckoo cruelty, it's just too peculiar to pass up." (read Kurt's full review here)

    And proud owner of a white, sleeveless nylon mesh wife-beater, Paul Mavis, looks at Burn, Witch, Burn! and A Reflection of Fear:
"It ranks right up there with the celebrated Night of the Demon. M-G-M's fun, fun M.O.D. line of discs, the Limited Edition Collection (available via Amazon.com), has released Burn, Witch, Burn!, the American International Pictures title for the 1962 U.K. production, Night of the Eagle, starring Janet Blair, Peter Wyngarde, and Margaret Johnson. Featuring an intelligent, spooky script by horror masters Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont (with an apparent uncredited assist by George Baxt), and tense, scary direction by Sidney Hayers, Burn, Witch, Burn! is a superlative witchcraft shocker you need to see. It surely belongs with the absolute best of the genre. A suitably creepy trailer is included in this nice-looking widescreen transfer. As for A Reflection of Fear, the final final twist ending is a wowzer...but it makes absolutely no sense. Still...this is one creepy little shocker. Sony's own M.O.D. line of Columbia Classics vault titles has released A Reflection of Fear, the 1973 horror drama starring Robert Shaw, Sally Kellerman, Mary Ure, Sondra Locke, Mitchell Ryan, and Signe Hasso. Directed by celebrated cinematographer William A. Fraker, A Reflection of Fear apparently went through post-production hell, including extensive cuts and a delayed release before it was dumped onto a double bill (with The Creeping Flesh!), and it certainly shows, with a choppy storyline that's heavy on atmosphere and light on brains. Still...it's scary. An original trailer is included as a bonus for this good-looking transfer." (read Paul's full reviews here and here)

     

When all else fails, when a comedy or a musical or a cartoon won't distract you from the fact that you appear to be sitting on the surface of the Sun, an action-filled thriller can jolt you back to life. Stuart Galbraith IV looks at Cloudburst and The Destructors:

"One of Hammer's very best early films, Cloudburst (1952) is a multifaceted thriller unusual in many respects. Leo Marks adapted his own stage play, and it stars Robert Preston, who had been acting in Hollywood movies since the late 1930s but was still years away from his signature role as The Music Man. Both Preston and Marks had been intelligence officers during World War II, Preston with the U.S. 9th Air Force and Marks as a cryptographer for the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.). Their personal histories lend enormous credibility and verisimilitude to the film's setting and its dramatic complications. Marks sometimes wrote richly romantic code poems for the agents he sent behind enemy lines, the most famous of which, The Life That I Have, was immortalized in the excellent British film about spy Violette Szabo, Carve Her Name with Pride (1958). His fascination with codes also plays a role in his script of Peeping Tom (1960), the once-reviled Michael Powell film now considered a masterpiece. Cloudburst incorporates all of these same elements, including its strange, beguiling romanticism. Despite some minor warping of the surviving film elements, the black and white, full-frame Cloudburst looks quite good on DVD. Part of MGM's ,i>Limited Edition Collection line of DVD-Rs, this title deserves to find a bigger audience. As for The Destructors originally released as The Marseille Contract, it's a meandering crime thriller notable for co-star Michael Caine's interesting performance as an assassin and James Mason's as Caine's drug kingpin target. Hero-by-default Anthony Quinn overacts in his offbeat part, but the French locations are good, and while Robert Parrish's direction is pretty flaccid, driver/stunt coordinator Rémy Julienne's second unit car chases are exciting and audacious. Part of MGM's Limited Edition Collection line of DVD-Rs, this British-French co-production, distributed by American International Pictures (AIP) in America but by Warner Bros. elsewhere, is all over the map in terms of picture quality. Most of it looks great but at other times, such as its nighttime pre-credits opening, the image is rife with eye-straining edge enhancement. Fortunately, this is only intermittently distracting." (read Stuart's full reviews here and here)

      Kurt Dahlke looks at Detour To Terror:
"Even without O.J. Simpson's sullied presence, Detour To Terror is an odd, convoluted and all-too-chatty made-for-TV potboiler. Nutcase Lorenzo Lamas hijacks Arte Johnson's Vegas-bound tour bus, piloted by Simpson. While the movie looks and sounds quite nice in this M.O.D. version, with beautiful, edgy cinematography and an evocative score, sadly intermittent thrills give way to lots of bickering and seething in the sun, as Lamas' plans go awry and clichéd tourists argue incessantly. Arte Johnson's presence simply pushes the entire thing off of a cliff, making this campy relic an oddly intriguing proposition." (read Kurt's full review here)

      Jamie S. Rich looks at The Man in the Net:
"I can't pretend to really know what went on behind the scenes in 1959 when The Man in the Net was being made, but I can't imagine any of the people involved were all that excited to be on the set. If they were, it certainly didn't translate into the work. Directed by Michael Curtiz from a script by Reginald Rose, The Man in the Net provides Alan Ladd with a late-in-life starring vehicle, letting him pretend to be 20 years younger while hiding in the woods after being falsely accused of killing his wife. He's the kind of guy who stubbornly makes the wrong choices for no good reason and whom people hate or love for the same no good reasons, and the only ones more bored by his predicament are the audience. The only possible excuse to watch this dull thriller is if you're a huge Carolyn Jones fan. She's very good, everything else is just a waste of time." (read Jamie's full review here)

      Nick Hartel looks at Blood & Concrete:
"Arriving with good, but imperfect 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer and stereo audio presentation, 1991's Blood and Concrete is yet another example of the forgotten talents of Billy Zane who is forced to hold his own against two show-stealing performances: one brief role from Darren McGavin as a homicidal homicide detective and the second, a more integral part to this strange tale of stolen drugs, dead bodies, punk rock, and romance is Mark Pellegrino, who plays, I kid you not, a gay hustler turned small-time muscle for a seedy drug kingpin who spends most of the film menacing Zane from his convertible while blasting dance music. Far from a perfect film (the resolution never matches the zany buildup), it's a nice forgotten indie diversion." (read Nick's full review here)

      And Paul Mavis rounds up the thriller section with looks at Smile Jenny, You're Dead, Hammerhead, The F.B.I.: The First Season, Part One, The File of the Golden Goose, Fragment of Fear, Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw, and The Boss
"The second beginning for the cult detective series, Harry O. Warner Bros.' unstoppable Archive Collection service of M.O.D. discs has released Smile Jenny, You're Dead, the 1974 pilot that finally sold ABC on David Janssen's proposed detective series, Harry O. Co-starring a solid cast of pros including John Anderson, Howard Da Silva, Martin Gabel, Clu Gulager, Tim McIntire, Andrea Marcovicci, and little Jodie Foster, Smile Jenny, You're Dead is a beautifully observed, low-key mystery/romance, with a tone and pace quite unlike most of the detective smash-'em-ups that were popular on the tube in the early '70s. No extras, but the transfer looks terrific. As for Hammerhead...maybe they screwed around with it in post-production. Sony's own line of M.O.D. discs has released Hammerhead, the appropriately titled 1968 spy picture starring Ben Casey's Vince Edwards and the completely edible Judy Geeson, with a whole slew of familiar British faces like Diana Dors, Peter Vaughan, Michael Bates and Patrick Cargill filling up the colorful frames. "Dopey" doesn't begin to describe Hammerhead, but if you're like me and grew up on Bond rip-offs like this showing up on Saturday night TV ("Get your elbow out of my popcorn! I'm watching the Hammerhead spy thing! I'm telling Mom!"), you'll feel an affectionate nostalgia for such goofiness. Vince Edwards is more than a bit of a stiff, but Judy Geeson makes up for him and the movie's shortcomings by just being herself: adorable. Television's The F.B.I. features solid, entertaining storytelling, beautifully produced. Warner Bros.' indispensable Archive Collection of M.O.D. discs rescues another essential title from the lost pages of television's past with The F.B.I.: The First Season, Part One, a 4-disc, 16-episode collection that gathers together the first half of this Quinn Martin production's premiere 1965 season. Grumblings aside about this release's split season selection, The F.B.I. has all the hallmarks of classic 1960s television drama: lean, carefully-structured scripts, efficient, no-nonsense direction, a charismatic lead performance by Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., matchless casting with Hollywood's best supporting players, and production values that rivaled TV's big-screen counterparts at the time. No extras with this set, and the original materials used for the transfers here are just beginning to go south...but necessary viewing for anyone interested in this time period and genre. The File of the Golden Goose is so bad it's fun at the beginning, and then it gets worse...which makes it more fun. M-G-M's Limited Edition Collection has dug up The File of the Golden Goose, the 1969 international crime meller from United Artists starring Yul Brynner ("Ohhhhh-bay?"), Charles Gray and Edward Woodward. One of Brynner's last hurrahs as the lead in a halfway decent studio effort, The File of the Golden Goose didn't satisfy anyone when it first came out, but it's worth at least a look if you're in need of some bald-pated Brynner shtick...and who doesn't like that? A solid vintage trailer is included as a bonus.

Fragment of Fear is a terrific, little-seen suspenser. Sony's Columbia Classics line of M.O.D. discs has come up with 1970's Fragment of Fear, starring David Hemmings and Gayle Hunnicutt. Written by Paul Dehn (all the original Planet of the Apes sequels) and directed by Richard C. Sarafian (the original Vanishing Point), Fragment of Fear has a deliciously creepy tone to its deceptively simply tale of murder, espionage and madness, expertly whipped up to a paranoid froth that should satisfy fans looking for some genuine chills. All red herrings and paranoid delusions, Fragment of Fear depends on its atmosphere alone, and it brilliantly achieves a genuinely frightening waking nightmare world where the viewer can't be sure of what is or isn't reality. Dismissed upon its release in 1970, Fragment of Fear deserves a better reputation. A vintage trailer is included as an extra for this good-looking transfer. And now...the drive-in. Thank You! Oh Thank You Great and Terrifying Exploitation God-Head, Thou Grim Ruler of the Drive-In Heavens, for Revealing One of Your Wonders Again! Aaaaaaaaaand...that would be Lynda Carter gettin' nekkid. M-G-M's indispensable Limited Edition Collection line of M.O.D. discs has granted the wish of every teen boy who went to the drive-in in 1976 (or who later watched it every time Showtime ran it) by re-exposing the single most beautiful creature to ever grace the American drive-in screen topless: Marjoe Gortner, in the iconic actioner, Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw. And Lynda Carter ain't too shabby, either. One of the last, great classics of the drive-in era, Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw is perfection in exploitation fare, offering up potent doses of nudity and violence that wowed drunken audiences in their cars back in our Bicentennial Year. An original trailer accompanies this essential library title. And finally, a coarse, vital, low-budget crime meller. M-G-M's Limited Edition Collection of M.O.D. discs has released The Boss, the 1956 crime drama starring John Payne, directed by Byron Haskin (War of the Worlds), from a script by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo (under the pseudonym Ben L. Perry). A sensational little programmer, featuring one of John Payne's best performances, The Boss plays like a mini-The Godfather, Part II, painting a crude, epic sweep of a story that details the corruption that's endemic to American politics. One of the best "B" movies of the 1950s, The full-screen print is exceedingly rough, though, and that soundtrack is almost a deal-breaker...but the The Boss is so involving, you eventually put aside the limitations of the original materials used here for the transfer." (read Paul's full reviews here)

The heat...has cooled. So what's coming up for future M.O.D. releases (and our next column)? You a Connie Francis

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