Here at DVDTalk, depending on the approaching season or upcoming holiday, we usually like to have a little fun with our M.O.D. Squad column. With Thanksgiving this Thursday, however, it might be a nice change of pace for The M.O.D. Squad to get serious for a moment while we contemplate the bounty and blessings that continue to fall upon our country.
Now...on to the turkey and M.O.D.s. You see, what groups like PETA don't understand is that 28-pound Frankenstein turkey you've lovingly stuffed and trussed-up and basted and slow-roasted to absolutely golden dark brown perfection isn't just a deliciously fowl murder, it's a beautifully apt metaphor for American exceptionalism―just like the M.O.D. discs you are going to order after you read this column. Now, we can skip discussing the mashed potatoes (regular and sweet), or the sizzling candied yams with golden brown marshmallows on top, or the cranberry sauce (jellied and whole), or the hot gravy smothering the savory onion and celery stuffing, or the puffy, yeasty dinner rolls swimming in real creamery butter, or the green bean and french-fried onion casserole, or the Waldorf salad, or the Jell-O® mold with shaved carrots, or the ice-cold spiced pumpkin pie covered in real whipped cream, served with piping hot coffee. Forget all of that, because American technology so far has chosen to hold off on further improving those Thanksgiving delicacies.
We only need to look to the modern-day turkey to understand why we're Numero Uno on this godforsaken husk of a planet. The first settlers here in America―the Vikings―had to fill out their meager Thanksgiving/orgy of violence celebrations with the few scrawny, gamey, stringy wild turkeys they were able to bring down in mid-flight with their battleaxes―quite a bit of effort for not much payoff when they saw how little white meat was left. Later, the Pilgrims were willing to accept any food offerings their Indian neighbors brought for their first shared Thanksgiving feast―buffalo, rattlesnake, bears, anything―as long as it helped fill everyone up after the few emaciated, bony game turkeys were devoured. Enter modern chemistry in the 1950s and more importantly, bodybuilders. Seeing that the American consumer was finally fed up with trying to feed a family of fifteen from the carcass of a puny 8-pound weakling bird, American scientists poured over the various male bodybuilding magazines that were available only through mail-order, and soon realized they would have to wait another ten years before anabolic steroids were invented. And that brings us to the genetically engineered turkey of today, the Frankenstein turkey as he's affectionately known, 25lbs if he's an ounce, with 24 of it all breast meat―a marvel of American ingenuity, science and good old-fashioned Yankee know-how, where a need in the American consumer is seen, and it is met.
It's the same thing with M.O.D.s. The American consumer, fed up with going out in the middle of the night on Black Friday to stand in line for 13 hours for the chance, the chance, mind you, of maybe finding that little-seen vintage movie or TV series on disc―only to discover a thousand copies of the latest George Clooney disaster, in full screen, no less―demanded a solution and it was solved: the M.O.D., where cult favorites, obscure TV treasures, and forgotten classics are resurrected on DVD and made-to-order for you. No one else. Just you. So, in keeping with the true spirit of Thanksgiving―that would be gluttony―we offer an overflowing cornucopia of reviews for this holiday edition of The M.O.D. Squad, including everything from Christmas-themed outings to rough-and-ready Westerns to horrific whodunits. So loosen your belts and unbutton your pants, Thanksgiving-loving American You, because you are going to be stuffed by the end of this column (just click on the titles for buying info and full reviews). Let's go!
Increasingly for many of us, Thanksgiving is the official kick-off for the Christmas buying season, so some Christmas-themed reviews would seem appropriate for openers. Paul Mavis looks at Susan Slept Here, Never Say Goodbye, A Flintstone Christmas Collection, and Yogi's First Christmas, all from Warner Bros.' Archive Collection.
A charming little Christmas present for your stocking. Susan Slept Here, the 1954 Frank Tashlin-directed romantic comedy from RKO starring Dick Powell (in his last film role), spunky Debbie Reynolds, sultry Anne Francis, and sour Glenda Farrell, is a cute "will she or won't she" sex comedy with the added spice of jail bait danger. A 1950s sex comedy that's scrupulously clean...with a very dirty-minded story and leering visuals, devotees of director Frank Tashlin will enjoy picking out his trademark obsessions, while fans of Powell and Reynolds will enjoy their clicky chemistry. A most welcome surprise, and perfect holiday-themed viewing in this bright, widescreen Technicolor® release.
Light, fun Christmas-themed screwball comedy, and a nice change of pace for suave Errol Flynn. Never Say Goodbye, the 1946 romantic comedy from Warner Bros. starring Errol Flynn, Eleanor Parker, and Forrrest Tucker, is completely implausible in that delightful screwball tradition, with the skilled performers putting this one over firmly into the plus column. If you only see tights and flashing sabers when you think of Errol Flynn, you should think again: he's urbane and silly and loose as a goose here in this farce, while the rest of the cast lend able support. A perfect little film for all the romantics out there to watch in front of the fire, with the Christmas tree lights softly twinkling.
Worth it alone for the bright A Flintstone Christmas...but the added A Flintstone Family Christmas is a lump of coal in your stocking. A Flintstone Christmas Collection, which gathers together the 1977 NBC effort, A Flintstone Christmas, and the 1993 ABC entry, A Flintstone Family Christmas, should please fans of those vintage Hanna-Barbera efforts that popped up on small screens during those long, long holiday days in front of the TV. A Flintstone Christmas is a rather sweet effort, with a solid story and some cute songs, but A Flintstone Family Christmas is off-putting junk, with inappropriate material for a family Christmas special.
A good-enough Hanna-Barbera late entry for the smarter-than-the-average type bear. Yogi's First Christmas, the 1980 syndicated feature starring Yogi, Boo Boo, and Ranger Smith, with some special guest stars including Huckleberry Hound, Snagglepuss (even), Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy, and Cindy Bear (and let's not forget the fat man himself, Santy Claus), is almost critic-proof. This isn't rocket science: Yogi's First Christmas puts some H-B superstars together in a Yuletide-themed story filled with a lot of gags, and the Christmas-minded small fry, even if they've never heard of these characters, will respond favorably. Animation isn't all Fantasias and Pixar® "triumphs," you know; it's also the meat-and-potatoes sked-fillers like Yogi's First Christmas, a syndicated romp that may look skimpy to some, but which made a whole bunch of kids back in 1980 very happy to be sitting in front of their Curtis-Mathis and Sony Trinitron sets.
Action/adventure flicks are always welcome here at DVDTalk's The M.O.D. Squad, and we've reviewed quite a few hard-charging M.O.D.s over the past few weeks.
Newcomer to the Squad Rohit Rao looks at 1990's Dark Angel:
If I were to assemble a movie in the mold of a prototypical 80s action flick, what would I need? I would get a beefy star but not someone obvious like a Schwarzenegger or a Stallone. Someone like a Dolph Lundgren would be perfect for the slab of cheesy awesomeness that I'm thinking of. It would be a buddy cop movie (obviously), so I'd also need someone who could annoy Dolph while providing some comic relief. I'm also thinking of a score in the style of Jan Hammer's guitar spiked synth-iness (a boy can dream). It would also feature (in no particular order): explosions, car chases, aliens, explosions, sleeveless vests, gunplay, strippers wearing cowboy hats and explosions. What do you mean, it's already been done? Director Craig Baxley's 1990 flick, Dark Angel, is a fun little buddy cop movie that finds Dolph Lundgren in a more relaxed (but still butt-kicking) mode. It also features evil drug dealing aliens and plenty of explosions. If that's your sort of thing (and why shouldn't it be?), then step right up. If you demand even a little more substance than that, then I probably lost you at 'strippers wearing cowboy hats'. Dolph fans will definitely find plenty to love.
An altogether strange, oddly effective no-budget pirate movie...with deliberately damned few pirate movie thrills and an anti-hero lead everyone seems to mistake for Blackbeard the Pirate. United Artists' obscure 1962 adventure, Hero's Island, starring James Mason, Neville Brand, Kate Manx, Rip Torn, Warren Oates, and Harry Dean Stanton, is the complete genetic opposite of another 1962 sea adventure you're probably more familiar with―Marlon Brando's Mutiny on the Bounty. Hero's Island focuses instead on a pirate's downtime with some down-on-their-luck settlers, believably creating a world that looks and sounds and feels like it supposed time frame―a completely different feel to it than 99 percent of the typical Hollywood period pieces from that time frame.
A well-done if minor pirate adventure, with a better-than-expected cast. United Artist's 1953 pirate adventure flick, Raiders of the Seven Seas, starring John Payne as the notorious Barbarossa, with Donna Reed and Lon Chaney, Jr. along for the boat ride, is studio-bound as all get-out, with sporadic action and some snappy dialogue, Raiders of the Seven Seas probably satisfied the kids at the matinees back in '53, but today, its B-movie allure should best appeal to fans of the attractive stars here, as well as genre completists.
Like one of those 1950s men's adventure magazine stories come to life. The Steel Lady, the 1953 desert action film released through United Artists, starring Rod Cameron, Tab Hunter, John Dehner, Richard Erdman, and John Abbott, has some heavyweight talent behind the cameras, and a solid cast up front. The Steel Lady delivers the adventure goods without any pesky navel-gazing: it tells its fast, action-filled story and that's it, thank god. High adventure on a low budget: a clean, efficient actioner, without an ounce of head-scratching psychology to its beefy proceedings. The very definition of a competent B-movie adventure, The Steel Lady, within its parameters, is perfect.
Decent-enough account of John F. Kennedy's wartime heroics...with some big problems. PT 109, the 1963 big-scale WWII actioner from Warner Bros. that purports to tell the story of JFK's time aboard Motor Patrol Torpedo Boat 109, and the heroism he and his men summoned up when they were shipwrecked in the Japanese-controlled Solomon Islands, stars dead-ringer Cliff Robertson, along with some familiar TV faces. PT 109 may be a little too TV-goofy for the more discriminating WWII movie fan, but it gets the job done well enough...I suppose. Way, way too long, and too good to be true when it shows a JFK who's preternaturally calm in the face of WWII, it at least looks good, and the action, when it shows up, is okay.
A truly terrible WWII actioner...that you know you want to see (if just for the jockstrap alone). The Passage, the 1979 Hemdale production, released by United Artists here in the States, stars Anthony Quinn, Malcolm McDowell, James Mason, Patricia Neal, Christopher Lee, Michael Lonsdale, and Kay Lenz (her name is in its own separate "box" in the credits...whoopee!). Anyone lucky enough (like myself) to have seen The Passage the way it was meant to be seen―in a completely abandoned theater―will tell you it's one of the most gloriously bad WWII thrillers ever made...which makes it must viewing for anyone who craves awful moviemaking. Numbskulled WWII heroics, all in delicious bad taste, The Passage is notorious with WWII genre aficionados for blowing its potential (great cast, good story idea, decent budget), but if you enjoy bad moviemaking, it's a joy to behold.
The Glory Stompers, the cult 1967 biker flick from American International Pictures, starring Dennis Hopper, man, and Jody McCrea, Chris Noel, Jock Mahoney, Casey Kasem, and Robert Tessier, was released right on the cusp when biker films started to go raunchy. The Glory Stompers' thrills are probably PG-rated now, but scintillating widescreen cinematography, fast-moving direction, and a typically interesting, hyper performance from Dennis Hopper, man, makes The Glory Stompers a must-own exploitation classic. One of the best examples of this genre, from this time period.
Tough, layered, underrated Western...marred only by a too-abrupt wrap-up...or is it a compromised print used for the transfer? Trooper Hook, the 1957 U.A. release directed by Gunsmoke's Charles Marquis Warren and starring Joel McCrea, Barbara Stanwyck, Earl Holliman, and Edward Andrews, achieves moments worthy of the best of Ford, with a central performance by McCrea that's one of his finest. But some abrupt, obvious cuts, and a run time that differs from other sources, adds some suspicion to this fair, no-extras transfer. Trooper Hook takes a hard, cold look at the culture clash between Whites and Indians, while drawing a sympathetic portrayal of rape victim Barbara Stanwyck's nine-year ordeal as the "wife" of an Apache chief. A thinking man's Western in a cleanly-designed, exciting package.
Neat, compact little B-western with a solid psychological underpinning to its vengeful story. Rebel in Town, a post-War Between the States Western drama released by United Artists in 1956, stars John Payne, Ruth Roman, J. Carrol Naish, Ben Cooper, Ben Johnson, and John Smith. If you're a fan of Payne's, then you'll know his career after his A-list leading days with 20th Century-Fox was filled with interesting little Bs...and Rebel in Town certainly fits that description. A surprisingly nimble, efficient B-western with a lot going on under the surface.
Simply divine whenever Alex Cord sniffs the wind before constipation strangles off his few hilarious lines. Rather goofy, simplistic retread of elements from The Searchers, with a paralyzingly funny lead turn by Alex Cord (which helps make this mess all the more enjoyable). Grayeagle, the 1977 Western from American International Pictures, directed by none other than The Legend of Boggy Creek's Charles B. Pierce, and starring Academy Award-winning actor Ben Johnson, Lana "Plenty O'Toole" Wood, Sicilian-American actor Iron Eyes Cody, Paul Fix, Charles B. Pierce himself, and Alex Cord as Grayeagle, may have had potential under a different director, but as is, it's a botched job whose faults are undeniably fun.
Solid meat-and-potatoes oater with a good cast and a refreshing no-b.s. attitude towards its tale of battling Whites and Indians. Similar to the classic The Lost Patrol, War Paint, the 1953 Western from United Artists starring Robert Stack, Joan Taylor, Charles McGraw, Peter Graves, and Keith Larsen, sets up its situation―a U.S. Cavalry patrol dying out in the desert at the hands of a "helpful" Indian guide―with a no-nonsense straightness that's as hard and clean as the movie's beautiful Death Valley, California locales.
Interesting, well-acted Rashomon knock-off. Valerie, the 1957 Western courtroom drama from United Artists, stars Sterling Hayden, Anita Ekberg, and Anthony Steel. Directed with a steady, sure hand by Gerd Oswald (the brilliant A Kiss Before Dying), Valerie doesn't break any new ground within the flashback Western subgenre, but intriguing subtexts give this low-budget affair some spark. Not as thematically deep as its inspiration, Rashomon, but still rather interesting and naturally from director Oswald, technically quite solid. Sterling Hayden gives another off-beat tough-guy performance, while Anita Ekberg is nicely effective as either the devoted wife...or the slutty whore, depending on whose flashback you believe.
The White Bus is a bit of an odd duck. Less than an hour long, and featuring no known stars (though Anthony Hopkins makes the briefest of debuts), this collaboration between Lindsay Anderson and Shelagh Delaney bridges the gap between British kitchen sink and the anarchic late-'60s cinema that was just getting underway. A precursor to Anderson's breakthrough classic If...., The White Bus represents a similar ennui, though from a female point of view. At once confounding and profound, it's a surprising discovery. Made in 1967, the film is effective in its simplicity. It tracks a career girl (the comely Patricia Healey) from her regular commute to a random tour bus that takes her back North, stopping at factories and art museums and presenting a compare/contrast of modern city life and maybe a more traditional vision of England. The final scenes sew it up nicely, paying good on the experimental elements that Anderson has played with up until that point.
Tomorrow is Forever was probably begun with the best of intentions, but whatever those were, they were eventually squandered. This post-War production, directed by Irving Pichel in 1946, functions as an after-the-fact justification for the extraordinary sacrifice that was asked of wives and mothers who lost loved ones to combat. The message is dressed up as a romantic melodrama, with Claudette Colbert starring as a woman who believes she lost her first husband to World War I and is about to send their son off to WWII. Orson Welles stands beside her, covered in old man make-up, playing the husband who went to war and came back as an Austrian. I ain't making this up, folks, but someone else sure did! It's an okay picture, though bloodless. Never has doing the right thing been less exciting.
Average wartime soaper with a superlative cast...and a stolid director. Until They Sail, the 1957 M-G-M WWII romance directed by Robert Wise and starring Jean Simmons, Joan Fontaine, Paul Newman, Piper Laurie, and Sandra Dee, should knock your socks off with that roster of talent...but it's entirely too tasteful for what should be a culture-clash of horny, war-torn lovers. Until They Sail works as basic melodrama, and you'll enjoy looking at the pretty people in gorgeous, creamy black and white widescreen...but that's all from this chilly affair. Until They Sail is recommended for hard-core melodrama and soap lovers, and loyal fans of the stars.
Solid reworking of the time-honored medico construct of new, uppity doctor clashing with crusty veteran. The Incredible Journey of Doctor Meg Laurel, the 1979 made-for-television movie, stars Lindsay Wagner, Miss Jane Wyman, Andrew Duggan, Gary Lockwood, Brock Peters, John Reilly, Dorothy McGuire, and James Woods. The Incredible Journey of Doctor Meg Laurel may pretty-up its sometimes over-the-top portrayal of the "mountain folk" of the Blue Ride Mountains of 1930s Appalachia, but scripters keep things agreeably even-handed. So what if it the central storyline resembles Ma & Pa Kettle Meet Dr. Kildare? The Incredible Journey of Doctor Meg Laurel, although slightly broad at times and pasteurized for 1979 network consumption, is a lot more fair-minded about the mountain culture it depicts than you'd probably get in a similar cable exercise today. And it's quite touching at times, too.
A fairly standard fictionalized biopic, but done with feeling. One Man's Way, the 1964 United Artists biopic of The Power of Positive Thinking author, Norman Vincent Peale, based on the book, Minister to Millions by Arthur Gordon, and starring Don Murray, William Windom, and Diana Hyland, is fictionalized, to be sure, but quite earnest and appealing in a square-headed way. Don Murray gives it his all here as Norman Vincent Peale, and the results, at times, are surprisingly moving. Biopic lovers and those looking for a good family picture centered around a religious theme will find One Man's Way recommended.
If comedies are more to your liking this holiday season, try these funny outings. DVDTalk editor John Sinnott looks at Hollywood Party:
1934's Hollywood Party is the find of the year. Funny, entertaining, and historical, it's a film that should be well known, but really isn't. Not only does it feature appearances by Ted Healy and "His Stooges," Laurel and Hardy, Jimmy Durante, and Lupe Velez, but it also has a cartoon in the middle that was animated at the Disney Studios―in Technicolor, no less. Oh yeah, and Mickey Mouse makes an appearance too. There are big production numbers and a slew of lesser stars that show up, the women wearing elegant and often risqué gowns. What more could you ask for in a film?
Kurt Dahlke reviews 1981's Neighbors:
Neighbors uses Belushi and Aykroyd to push the dark comedy motif into strange corners. The famously troubled production produced a film that was critically reviled, yet even with all that (constant fighting amongst all involved, a last-minute role switch between the stars, and more), Belushi's last film manages to be uncomfortably funny and bizarre. Featuring an Odd Couple motif that's both disturbingly weird and disturbingly mild, enjoy as Aykroyd in nightmarish form pushes Belushi's "normal life" over the edge (no one was going for normal here―except for the morons who added Bill Conti's awful score at the last minute―and in fact Belushi got so abnormal that this was his final film before his suicidal overdose.) The movie is wrong-headed on nearly all counts, but at 30 years removed it looks like that wrongness is right, the kind of stuff that makes you laugh despite yourself. For fans of weird cinema, and especially Belushi/Aykroyd fans, Neighbors is a lost oddity that's recommended.
Paul Mavis looks at The Fastest Guitar Alive and The Courtship of Eddie's Father: The Complete First Season:
A Sam Katzman cheapie that could have starred the King, but gave The Big O his one and only shot at movie stardom. The Fastest Guitar Alive, M-G-M's 1967 Civil War musical spy comedy starring singer Roy Orbison, Maggie Pierce, Joan Freeman, and Sammy Jackson, is typical of a later Katzman M-G-M effort (a little more polish than his earlier Columbia works, with the emphasis on speed above all else). The Fastest Guitar Alive comes and goes without leaving much of an impression...but it's innocuous enough, and fans of Orbison the singer―not the actor―probably won't mind those seven songs crammed into the short running time.
A sweet, gentle sitcom, expertly produced. The Courtship of Eddie's Father: The Complete First Season, stars Bill Bixby, Brandon Cruz, Academy Award-winner Miyoshi Umeki, James Komack (the creator/producer/writer of the series), and Kristina Holland. Bill Bixby was never better as the understanding father, while little Brandon Cruz gives an unaffected, natural performance as sad little Eddie, wishing for a new mom; their scenes together are believable and quite tender. Equally good are Miyoshi Umeki (so subtle and skilled), James Komack (beautifully laid-back and hip), and Kristina Holland (groovy). Just as good as you remember it.
A solid "whodunit" on a snowy, dark night goes down a treat here at DVDTalk. John Sinnott looks at The Falcon Mystery Movie Collection Volume 1:
Glitz and glamour, suave gentlemen and lovely ladies: that is what you'll get with The Falcon Mystery Movie Collection Volume 1, a set of the first seven movies in the franchise. These detective films aren't so much about whodunnit as they are about watching The Falcon (George Sanders, later replaced by Tom Conway) go to night clubs and parties and staying one step ahead of the police. It's a case where the chase is more important than the solution. Warner Archives has done a great job bringing this fun and enjoyable franchise to home video.
A sweet, low-key little surprise. Hart to Hart: Home Is Where The Hart Is, the second of eight Hart to Hart reunion movies produced in the mid-90s, stars the luscious Stefanie Powers and suave Robert Wagner―and of course Max's Lionel Stander―plus some big-name Hollywood veterans like Maureen O'Sullivan, Alan Young, Howard Keel, and Roddy McDowall. Hart to Hart: Home Is Where The Hart Is has a very gentle, romantic vibe to its almost-sad mystery, with the glamour and glitz and one-liners of a typical Hart to Hart episode waylaid this time for a more tranquil, bucolic Murder, She Wrote feel. And that's just fine with this reviewer.
Another entertaining Hart to Hart reunion movie. Hart to Hart: Crimes of the Hart, the third of eight Hart to Hart reunion movies produced in the mid-90s, stars gorgeous Stefanie Powers and charming Robert Wagner, with Lionel Stander and an eclectic group of supporting players including Alan Rachins, Lew Ayres, Richard Belzer, John Stockwell, Alec Mapa, and Audra Lindley, Hart to Hart: Crimes Of The Hart has a nice wintry New York feel to its light take on The Phantom of the Opera, giving fans of the original series a nice change of pace from the show's usual sunny SoCal climes.
Delicious, creepy, Grand Guignol thriller, with the divine Liz going off the rails in splendid fashion. 1973's hard-to-find Night Watch, based on the play by Lucille Fletcher and directed by Brian G. Hutton, and starring Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey, Billie Whitelaw, and Robert Lang, achieves the next-to-impossible with its overly familiar tale of a woman going mad: it genuinely surprises you with a triple-twist ending that's as unexpected as it is bloody (and bloody marvelous). Director Brian G. Hutton's atmospheric, nervy adaptation of Lucille Fletcher's play starts out subtly and goes for broke during its horrific final moments, while Elizabeth Taylor gives a performance that should have brought her back into the critical limelight. The rest of the British cast is excellent. A genuinely creepy shocker that scores in all departments.
Finally, how about some fantasy? John Sinnott looks at The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao:
The last film that fantasist George Pal directed, The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, is a minor masterpiece. Tony Randall gives a performance that will surprise most viewers and the whole production is a wonderful, fantastic tale. This Warner Archives release ports over the extras from the original DVD and has a great looking picture. Go ahead and snag a copy.
Upcoming titles include some great Spencer Tracy titles from the Archive, including The Seventh Cross and Northwest Passage, along with a Monogram Cowboys collection and the epic miniseries, Pearl, with M-G-M's Limited Edition Collection releasing some dishy titles, too, like House of a 1000 Dolls and What Do You Say to a Naked Lady?
See you next time, right here at The M.O.D. Squad!