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Mike Clark has been writing about film for more than 20 years, starting with a weekly column in USA Today in 1985. He also served as program planner and director of the American Film Institute Theater.

Mike's Picks
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3 Dec, 2012

New on Disc: 'Ramrod'


Olive, Western, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake, Don DeFore, Preston Foster.
It has been noted that mild-mannered Joel McCrea didn’t cater to co-star Veronica Lake’s sometimes holier-than-thou persona when she was off-camera, though the two were eventually reteamed here in a movie not called Sullivan’s Travels when her career was on the wane. Ramrod was directed by the still underrated cult filmmaker Andre de Toth when he and Lake were married in real life. Lake manages one or two fiery scenes here, even if her role peters out somewhat near the end.
De Toth doesn’t punch up the melodrama in obvious ways — though there are definitely some twisted goings-on in this adaptation of a novel by famed Western writer Luke Short, who was then in a lucrative screen era for his literary output, thanks also to Blood on the Moon and Station West, both from 1948.
McCrea, a widower, is something of an unusual protagonist here: a reforming alcoholic who also has to recover from a serious bullet wound when he all but passively gets involved in the machinations of almost everyone surrounding him.
The first film produced by Enterprise Productions (also of the dually superb Caught and Force of Evil), Ramrod is a typical Olive release in that it looks as no-frills good as its source material will permit. There are occasional specs in the image, but the presentation is generally solid. The cinematography is by Russell Harlan — about a year before he shot Red River and 15 years before he earned Oscar nominations for To Kill a Mockingbird and Hatari!
Actor buffs will enjoy seeing Lloyd Bridges getting beaten up in an early saloon scene. And Don DeFore, usually a comical figure in TV’s “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Hazel,” puts a tad more edge than expected on a subsidiary role as a ne’er-do-well McCrea friend, who precipitates some of the movie’s rampant brutality.
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26 Nov, 2012

New on Disc: 'Sunset Blvd.' and more …

Sunset Blvd. (Blu-ray)

Paramount, Drama, $26.99 Blu-ray.
Stars Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Nancy Olson, Erich von Stroheim.
Billy Wilder’s final collaboration with his then producer/co-writer Charles Brackett already was regarded as a legend a mere handful of years after its release — a film then spoken of in the reverent tones reserved for classic silents that were famous but almost impossible to see outside of New York (if then). Sunset Blvd. may be the greatest movie about Hollywood ever made, but it is also film noir (a potent combo of cross-genres if there ever was one). And a new Blu-ray where the print that has just enjoyed some serious “work” (which plot-central Norma Desmond likely would have had as well) is beyond welcome. The cinematographer was Paramount’s great John F. Seitz, who also shot Double Indemnity and The Lost Weekend for Wilder and one who must have been the on-demand choice of significant Paramount money-maker Alan Ladd, who later employed Seitz on the films the by-then fading DP later did at Warner Bros. But it is, of course, the movie’s originality, audacity and imaginative casting that still makes it work. First of all, Brackett-Wilder’s cheeky achievement is still a brutally honest portrait of Hollywood. Then, we get the gonzo casting gifts that Wilder always had: Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Nancy Olson, Buster Keaton and (my favorite) Erich von Stroheim and Jack Webb — to say nothing of Cecil B. DeMille playing himself. Plus, an Oscar-winning score by Franz Waxman. Despite giving Swanson the role of a lifetime (notwithstanding her many silent triumphs), the long-term legacy of Sunset Blvd. was to rescue Holden from a litany of indifferent roles at Paramount and Columbia post-World War II and launching him into superstardom.
Extras: This lovely release imports a ton of extras from a previous deluxe standard Blvd. DVD, adding a musical number about studios and producers of the day that Wilder excised and replaced because it was too inside-baseball for the general audiences who did make the picture a hit — not a monster one but definitely a box office success from a time when general audiences (there was only a barely specialized “niche” demographic) were a lot sharper than they are today.
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The Secret Six

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, John Mack Brown.
Clark Gable only gets seventh billing in this MGM bootlegging melodrama with an enticingly curious cast and equally no-slouch background credits — a movie that headlines Wallace Beery as a double-crossed lug who becomes a Prohibition powerhouse in town (for a while). Gable wasn’t yet a star but could have lived like one had the studio been paying him by the hour. Gable quickly got a rep as one who wouldn’t kowtow on screen to high-strung women (Now see here, Scarlett) and might even push them around. But here, he’s simply a big-city reporter in a friendly rivalry with a competitor for the affections of a “friend of the gang” played by Jean Harlow — who was coming off Howard Hughes’ Hell’s Angels and about five days away from making a second splash with James Cagney in The Public Enemy. Produced by William Randolph Hearst’s Cosmopolitan Pictures, Six was not exactly shy about promoting vigilantism. And by the way, the vigilante Six are a hoot to see in the movie — vigilantes in eye masks that wouldn’t disguise anybody very much if someone had to identify them during a trial. Six was a major league production — one that also employs the amusing casting of Lewis Stone as a low-key mob lawyer who’s a brain of the outfit.
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19 Nov, 2012

New on Disc: 'The Rains of Ranchipur' and more …

The Rains of Ranchipur

Available via www.ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Lana Turner, Richard Burton, Fred MacMurray, Michael Rennie.
Even in a turban (or, if you wish, possibly because of it), Richard Burton makes such a formidably attractive co-star with Lana Turner here that one wishes that 1955 screens could have been a bit looser and that this Fox DeLuxe Color remake could have taken place somewhere a bit closer to an ‘NC-17’ Raunch-iper. Even so, the studio’s second go at novelist Louis Bromfield’s The Rains Came was suggestive and thus popular enough in its day (Turner’s “Lady Edwina” character has “been around,” as they used to say) to justify its year-end holiday release. Taking over roles from Myrna Loy and Tyrone Power in the 1939 Rains original, Turner and Burton are, respectively, a gossip-columnist delight and dedicated physician in India. The latter is not educated in “the ways of women” — having been adopted as the protégé of a practically palace-dwelling person of influence (Eugenie Leontovich) after being sired by “untouchables.” Michael Rennie plays Turner’s perpetually cuckolded husband (he at least gets to wear evening clothes a lot), and there’s a second romance (definitely a subplot) that slows down the narrative thrust. It’s between Fred MacMurray as a financially well-heeled juicehead who’s turned sour on the world and Joan Caulfield (by now “playing younger”) as a recent Iowa college grad who struggles to get him on track. Here, as in ’39, the rains are coming, and the dramatic payoff is still the huge earthquake and dam-bursting scene that creates a life-altering situation for all. The sequence earned a special effects Oscar nomination, and it’s still fairly impressive on Twilight Time’s CinemaScope rendering. Ranchipur was directed by Jean Negulesco, who (along with its cinematographer, Milton Krasner) had just been responsible for one of Fox’s Big Ones of the era: Three Coins in the Fountain.
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Woody Herman: Blue Flame — Portrait of a Jazz Legend

Jazzed Media, Documentary, $18.99 DVD, NR.
I never made a study of it, but it seems to me that there was never a time when Woody Herman’s brass failed to cook — from 1939’s At the Woodchopper’s Ball album, through the end-of-war Columbia Records period when “Caldonia” and the ballad “Laura” made Herman a Billboard chart factor, through the be-bop flirtation, ’50s TV appearances (which were many) and the ’70s period when he employed a lot of really young musicians while embracing rock. It extended beyond that, too, right through the end — when a deathless zeal to be on the road and probably financial necessity kept Herman active in buses and airports. This new Herman portrait (which runs about an hour and 50 minutes) follows a template using a functionally shot deep array of interviews with former colleagues and jazz experts, punctuated by an array of clips (the ones here are extended and very, very good). Fringe benefits from these latter include the ability to chart the changes in Herman’s ultimately receding hairlines throughout the years. Another is to see how the production values improved on Ed Sullivan’s show starting in 1949 (when it would have been “Toast of the Town”) through the era when his Sunday night neo-vaudevillian fest went to color. Included in the Ed array is “Caldonia” as performed in 1963. By most or all accounts, Herman was a player’s leader with, in fact, the manner of a coach. The list of players and arrangers who wailed through his various incarnations was a long one, indeed. The documentary also makes a strong case for Herman as a vocalist. Like Johnny Mercer and Eric Clapton, he likely could have made it purely as a singer had he not had other talents that were formidably overriding.
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12 Nov, 2012

New on Disc: 'The Queen of Versailles' and more …

The Queen of Versailles

Street 11/13
Magnolia, Documentary, B.O. $2.38 million, $26.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray, ‘PG’ for thematic elements and language.
In most ways other than nutritional or those involving overall taste and judgment, the likely-to-remain-indelible protagonists of director Lauren Greenfield’s access-heavy documentary don’t really come off as the predictable folks we love to hate when their actions (possibly oblivious) tell the world to eat cake during the worst economic years since the Great Depression. Jackie Siegel is a somewhat surprisingly down-to-earth trophy wife (and generous to friends in need). Husband David starts to look increasingly beaten to hell as his company (Westgate Resorts — billed as the country’s largest time-share concern) falls prey to the era’s economic meltdown just as he’s building the largest private home in the country, one where a clothes closet can be mistakenly taken for a bedroom.
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The Tall T

Manufactured on demand via online retailers
Sony Pictures, Western, $20.95 DVD-R, NR.
Stars Randolph Scott, Richard Boone, Maureen O’Sullivan, Henry Silva.
Because Randolph Scott was among the most agreeably stalwart constants in the history of movies, the famed Scott-Budd Boetticher Westerns mostly rise or fall on the quality of their villains. Often, Scott and his designated nemesis find they have one or two things in common. This makes for a superb degree of cinematic tension on a meager budget, especially when the villain is portrayed by an actor as interesting as Richard Boone in The Tall T. Here, he’s in a kind of cat-and-mouse game with Scott — courtesy of a Burt Kennedy script that just barely led to the first movie adapted from an Elmore Leonard story.
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5 Nov, 2012

New on Disc: 'Rosemary's Baby' and more …

Rosemary’s Baby

Criterion, Horror,  $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, ‘R.’
Stars Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer.
Critical hits that blast commercial four-baggers out of the park still happen very occasionally, but Roman Polanski’s instant classic of Ira Levin’s everyone-read-it novel was and is about as good as commercial filmmaking gets — not that the picture was any marketing natural in those days before The Exorcist, The Omen and all that Polanski’s first Hollywood career wave-maker sparked. Ruth Gordon got the year’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar as Rosemary’s batty apartment neighbor and Satan partisan — and Sidney Blackmer is good as her husband, who helps the younger woman’s husband achieve professional success as an actor (Yamaha commercials and more) making a literal deal with the devil. But then, the picture is a kind of casting director’s delight for veteran character actors of the day, including Ralph Bellamy, Maurice Evans and Patsy Kelly. The movie hasn’t lost a beat, especially in Criterion’s rendering.
Extras: It’s surprising to hear producer Robert Evans (featured on an excellent 45-minute Criterion look-back with Polanski and title lead Mia Farrow) talk of how it was such a tough picture to sell. We learn in the documentary that while in bed with then-spouse Farrow, Frank Sinatra read the script and said that he couldn’t see her in the part — which added to the actress’ insecurities regarding the role. We also hear the famous the story about how Sinatra, chagrined that the Baby shooting schedule made it impossible for her to appear with him in 1968’s The Detective, served her with divorce papers on the set (though they remained good friends until Sinatra’s death). Another full-length documentary focuses on composer Krzystof Komeda, who died not long after the film premiered.
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Neil Young Journeys

Sony Pictures, Music, B.O. $0.22 million, $30.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, ‘PG’ for language, including some drug references and brief, thematic material.
The two (male) rock troubadours truest to themselves are probably Bob Dylan and Neil Young, so there’s a kind of beauteous symmetry to the fact that Martin Scorsese has chronicled one on screen and Jonathan Demme the other, given that the latter duo are the two filmmakers of note (both Oscar winners, in fact) who are the closest to be walking versions of the Rock and Hall of Fame. Journeys is, in fact, the third screen outing that Demme has undertaken with Young, following 2006’s Neil Young: Heart of Gold and 2009’s Neil Young Trunk Show. Of the three, Journeys has to be the one most fashioned toward the hardcore, in that it is a diminutive and certainly intimate portrait of the singer-songwriter at home in Canada, wrapping up a worldwide tour in Toronto, to which he journeys from hometown Omemee in a 1956 Ford Crown Victoria (none of this limo, or even chauffeur, stuff with him). Lack of pretension, of course, has always been a key component of Young’s appeal — complete with his take-it-or-leave-it vocal stylings and wardrobe choices that pretty well come down to which pair of grungy jeans we’re going to wear tonight. One gets a complete sense here of the roots-engendered stability that has kept Young from veering off the track in ways that have turned so many rock stars into a train wreck. Cruising through Omemee, Young takes us past the school that was named for his community-prominent father, and we also meet his brother. The concert portions’ stripped-down sets are taken to great extent from Young’s 2010 Le Noise album, though some of the highlights here come from deep catalog — as when he revives 1970’s “Ohio,” a salute to the four victims of that year’s Kent State killings. These are predominantly tight close-ups of a professional doing his job, which means this is a screen endeavor for the devoted.
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29 Oct, 2012

New on Disc: 'Letter From an Unknown Woman' and more …

Letter From an Unknown Woman

Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Joan Fontaine, Louis Jourdan.
An independent production put into theaters by Universal-International and produced by Joan Fontaine’s then-husband William Dozier (much later of TV’s “Batman”) with John Houseman, Letter is pure class from an alternate galaxy (that is, compared to today’s mall culture) all the way. Any doubter on this count should note an uncommonly succinct script by Casablanca’s Howard Koch (note how crisply Louis Jourdan’s character is established in a few opening brush strokes), direction by the elegantly camera-happy Max Ophuls (then on a brief Hollywood “roll” in all ways, save commercially) and cinematography by the great Franz Planer (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Big Country and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, to name three). I don’t think Jourdan ever quite made the screen impression that he does in this case, playing a wastrel-ish concert pianist in old-school Vienna whose early promise is destroyed by womanizing and the sauce. Fontaine’s character’s infatuation and subsequent deeper feelings continue, but fate intervenes before we can gauge the full degree of how precipitously her limits have been reached. Hence, the fate-inspired “letter” — which when read in a voiceover manages to excuse one of those screen narrations that can sometimes come off as a screenwriting crutch. Letter would make a good half of an Ophuls double bill with Criterion’s The Earrings of Madame de.
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The Ernie Kovacs Collection Vol. 2

Shout! Factory, Comedy, $29.93 three-DVD set, NR.
The ’50s can’t have been quite as repressed as reported when morning TV viewers could enjoy the unconventional musings of host Kovacs on his NBC-TV show — punctuated by frequent openings from those Nairobi Trio simians as well as those martini-whacked recitations by vision-challenged poet-laureate Percy Dovetonsils. P.D.’s highly representative “Ode to a Housefly” is included as a bonus on disc No. 2 of this three-disc set — a sequel to the mammoth box that came out in April 2011 and became a key player on critics’ lists devoted to last year’s most golden home releases. This more modest collection is its own ode to rescued work, starting with eight of the 1956 morning shows (topical jokes touch on President Eisenhower, Grace Kelly’s wedding to Monaco’s Prince Rainier and more) plus three half-hours of ABC’s unclassifiable “Take a Good Look” — which employed twisted Kovacs sketches to offer hints to guest panelists charged with guessing the identities of some mystery guest, celebrity or otherwise. Breaking out from the earlier set are selections that border on the unexpected. These include a serious Canadian-TV interview on “The Lively Arts” program less than three months before Kovacs’ death.
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Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD-R, NR.
Stars Susan Hayward, Dean Martin, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Martin Balsam.
Ada is another MGM potboiler of the day based on one of those lurid-looking paperbacks (Ada Dallas by Wirt Williams). Dean Martin plays a guitar-strumming gubernatorial candidate in another of those screen-familiar “unnamed Southern states” whose campaign song is not what you’d call bedrock Dino material. Apparently feeling blessed himself, Martin’s Bo Gillis does what any other gubernatorial candidate in a trashy ’60s melodrama would do: meet onetime prostitute Ada (Susan Hayward) in what looks like something fairly close to a brothel itself — and marry her.
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22 Oct, 2012

New on Disc: 'Fear and Desire' and more …

Fear and Desire

Street 10/23
Kino Lorber, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $34.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Frank Silvera, Kenneth Harp, Paul Mazursky, Virginia Leith.
Although his only slightly more expensive Killer’s Kiss follow-up soon became easier to see on TV by the late 1950s than it had been in 1955 in theaters, Fear and Desire — Stanley Kubrick’s meagerly budgeted debut feature — all but existed as the next thing to a rumor following a 1953 run that couldn’t have gotten too many playdates outside of New York City. Kubrick, the onetime Look magazine still photographer, cobbled out his career opening salvo from a screenplay by Bronx high school classmate Howard Sackler, who would go on to win a Pulitzer for The Great White Hope, which was written in 1968, the same year Kubrick put out 2001: A Space Odyssey.

When a small band of soldiers crashes a few miles behind enemy lines and naturally seeks a way back to its own unit, the lieutenant in charge (Kenneth Harp) is irksomely prone to vague philosophizing in lieu of truly taking charge, to the apparent chagrin of a sergeant played by co-lead Frank Silvera (later a heavy in the Manhattan-noirish Kiss).

Amid broad statement (I think) about “the nature” of war — and not a specific one — F&D’s vaguely supernatural treatment sacrifices dramatic force for bleakness. There was all kind of talk in later years that the filmmaker didn’t want F&D shown — even going so far (it has been claimed) to suppress it. Thus, it was a big deal when NYC’s Film Forum unearthed a very good print in 1994.

With its short running time, this is hardly a time-waster given all the history involved. F&D is crude, but the printing material utilized in this Library of Congress spiff-up is very good, and Kino’s release also throws in the director’s 1953 color short The Seafarers, made for the Seafarers International Union and narrated by Don Hollenbeck.
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Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Leslie Caron, Mel Ferrer, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Leaving aside her brief professional reinvention with a Best Actress Oscar nomination for the Brit unwed pregnancy drama The L-Shaped Room in 1963, Leslie Caron’s career is substantially based on three hits at MGM. The first two are An American in Paris and Gigi (both directed by Vincente Minnelli), which took Best Picture Oscars.

The third, Lili, wasn’t nominated for Best Picture but did get director Charles Walters a nom. It was a fairly substantial hit that no one expected — helped, no doubt, by the memorable “Hi-Lili Hi-Lo” title tune. It’s a delicate little thing with lush MGM Technicolor that needs a memorable fantasy production number at the end just to reach the 81-minute mark.

Adapted by Helen Deutsch from a Paul Gallico story that had a television setting, Lili is set in a carnival and plays into the child-woman part of her persona that the two Minnelli Oscar winners mined as well — the “woman” half defined here by a hot-cha! dream sequence about half-way through the picture in which the waif Caron plays suddenly transforms herself into a babe in torrid evening wear, competing via dance with a supposedly flashier type (Zsa Zsa Gabor) for the affections of the latter’s husband (a philandering magician played by Jean Pierre Aumont).

As we all know from the get-go, Caron/Lili should be matched up with Mel Ferrer’s puppeteer — a now lame former dancer who has understandably turned bitter and now channels his nicer side through the carnival puppets whose voicings he controls. Don’t take bets that she won’t see the error of her ways.
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15 Oct, 2012

New on Disc: 'This Is Cinerama' and more …

This Is Cinerama

Flicker Alley, Documentary, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
For all the printer’s ink they generated from their mammoth annual box office tallies throughout the 1950s, the original Cinerama travelogues (moviegoing stunts that delivered) were by no means universally seen. This Is Cinerama was the big one, of course, because it had the element of surprise and a marvelous opener.
Extras: Flicker Alley can be relied upon to pile on supplements, and the ones here beyond disc one’s meaty commentary and restoration featurette include an alternate post-intermission opening geared to European audiences; tributes to Denver’s Cooper Theater and the nationally famous Cinerama revival showings in Dayton, Ohio; TV spots; and even a “breakdown” reel.
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The Game

Criterion, Thriller, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for language, and for some violence and sexuality.
Stars Michael Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger, Sean Penn.
David Fincher’s third feature was his first to exhibit something akin to a sense of humor. This release is mostly a carryover from the 1997 laserdisc with a new transfer that has a raw, dark and occasionally grainy Fincher “look” that fans will appreciate.
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Overland Stage Raiders

Olive, Western, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars John Wayne, Ray Corrigan, Max Terhune, Louise Brooks.
Stage Raiders is standard issue all the way, as cowboys get involved in an airplane concern to transport gold after a series of bus robberies.
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8 Oct, 2012

New on Disc: 'Ed Wood' on Blu-ray and more …

Ed Wood (Blu-ray)

Disney, Comedy, $20 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for some strong language.
Stars Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Bill Murray, George ‘The Animal’ Steele.
The supreme irony of an Edward D. Wood Jr. biopic making its way to Blu-ray is too savory to escape mention, but the truth is that this is probably Tim Burton’s best movie, with Pee-wee’s Big Adventure being the one other possible contender for that crown. Besides, Ed Wood got Martin Landau a most deserved supporting Oscar for his portrayal of the twilight Bela Lugosi, whose best working hours were, of course, just a tad beyond twilight. Wood, generally regarded as history’s worst filmmaker, was also an auteur in his own way. This producer-writer-director befriended narcotic-addicted horror legend Lugosi all the way to the end, including his shooting of footage (a couple days before Lugosi’s death) that found its way into Woods’ “masterpiece” Plan 9 From Outer Space when filming of the project started for real a couple years later. The combination of dialogue, casting and remastering of Stefan Czapsky’s black-and-white photography with Howard Shore’s aptly bongo-ridden score makes this an upgrade (with many extras carried over from the DVD) I’ll watch again and again — more, perhaps, than even Plan 9, which is worth cranking up every few years when all else in life seems lost.
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Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Gerard Depardieu, Sophie Marceau. Sandrine Bonnaire.
What begins as a police procedural drama that’s halfway along the lines of, say, William Wyler’s Detective Story eventually evolves into something of a lonely guy or at least foiled-romance saga involving a garrulous cop played by Gerard Depardieu. Director Maurice Pialat’s film opens with an interrogation: Mangin, the widowed cop that Depardieu plays, is grilling various hoods in a Tunisian drug ring. The gang isn’t exactly big time but definitely is capable of mischief that must be abated, and amid Mangin’s professional travels he comes across the pouty Arab girlfriend of one member played by Sophie Marceau. This is a movie where you end up wondering what the future will hold for its characters after the end credits roll, and these would include the smiling prostitute of 19 played by Sandrine Bonnaire. Police’s screenwriter was Catherine Breillat (Criterion’s Fat Girl), who by this time already had begun to direct films sometimes known for their sexually provocative slants.
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Mr. Ricco

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD-R, ‘PG.’
Stars Dean Martin, Eugene Roche, Thalmus Rasulala, Cindy Williams.
Dean Martin’s final lead (and final big-screen drama) was the stuff that waning drive-ins were made of. At 58, Martin had aged a lot since even the smash-dom of Airport just five years earlier. Whatever the next level is above “improbably cast” is what Martin is here: playing a criminal attorney in San Francisco (hardly a city synched to the Dino milieu) who has sprung a Black Power local on a murder rap when, in fact, this defendant may have merited legal retribution. Predominantly TV director Paul Bogart directs with one of the most peripatetic zoom lenses (to no avail) of the era, and the script was by Robert Hoban for his only screen credit. Cindy Williams, in that window between American Graffiti and “Laverne & Shirley,” plays Martin’s assistant, while Eugene Roche gets to bellow a lot as an intermittently friendly cop/exec once shootings and other retributions get out of hand.
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1 Oct, 2012

New on Disc: 'Man-Trap' and more …


Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Jeffrey Hunter, David Janssen, Stella Stevens.
Well, it’s called Man-Trap and features Stella Stevens at a special time in her career (first starring role, in fact). The title’s meaning can be presumably extended to embrace the perilous limits of male buddy-dom nurtured by mutual combat experience as one talks the other into getting involved in a heist that involves ripping off a Central American dictator in a cheeky airport ambush rationalized by its perpetrators as a half-patriotic scheme. But no, Stevens is the indisputable trap the story is selling in the only picture ever directed solo by actor Edmond O’Brien — the kind of tawdry enterprise (from a John D. MacDonald novel) where you play up the sexual angle because it’s your own production company’s dough invested in the enterprise.
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The Crowd Roars

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD-R, NR.
Stars James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak.
In part because Howard Hawks’ early non-film résumé included racecar driving, this pre-FDR mix of “wheels” and (sometimes) hooch has the makings of a prototypically crackling melodrama directed by the auteur Pantheon heavyweight. Instead, as it now stands, it’s only a “might-have-been” with a few crackling scenes because the original 85-minute running time was long ago shorn to 70. As a result, characters who hardly know each other in one scene seem to be chummy in the next, and fleeting intros segue into amorous affection in a blink. This is an endeavor where we have to have to fill in some blanks, though lead James Cagney was explosive in this early part of his career.
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