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New on Disc: 'Erroll Garner: No One Can Hear You Read' and more …

15 Apr, 2013 By: Mike Clark

Erroll Garner: No One Can Hear You Read

First Run, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, NR.
I’ve always counted Fats Domino and Thelonious Monk as the two pianists most fun simply to watch play, but Erroll Garner belongs on the list as well, in that “happy” (and better, infectious happiness) is probably the word most used to describe his relationship with the keyboard. That and the fact that his playing was full of flourishes — and with no hint at all of what was coming from his lead-ins. One interviewee in Atticus Brady’s long-gestating documentary notes that he once witnessed a group of audience members standing up during one of Garner’s performances just so they could get a look at exactly what his hands were doing. Self-trained apparently from age 3, according to an interviewed sister, the native of unheralded jazz-mecca Pittsburgh couldn’t explain his technique and referred to it as a gift, which it apparently was. Prolific in his concerts, albums and TV appearances on all the big variety and talk shows before his 1977 death, he was often less than a critics’ darling, not as influential as some and (this is one of Read’s main themes) unjustly forgotten today. Because so much Garner footage does exist (in which, more often than not, he is perspiring), Brady’s portrait is rich in fruits from the archival vaults, and his on-camera admirers here include Woody Allen (briefly), Dick Hyman (exceptionally good here), George Avakian and an engagingly spry Steve Allen, whose 2000 death points up just how long this documentary was in production. Jazz lover Allen, who was a musical collaborator with Garner, calls him his favorite jazz pianist ever and had him on his variety shows countless times. Brady gets a lot into a compact running time, even snagging an interview with a daughter that his never-wed subject fathered. Garner, it is noted, was quite a ladies man, which might be one reason his playing was so happy.
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The Atomic Kid

Olive, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Mickey Rooney, Robert Strauss, Elaine Davis, Bill Goodwin.
“Do you think Mickey even remembers making The Atomic Kid?” It’s a question recently posed by my best friend who, as I did, watched this cluelessly irresponsible farce on TV as a kid. Given that more than one public Rooney utterance from the last 20 to 30 years has been kind of “out there,” it’s not an illogical question, though, actually, this is a tough movie to forget. And in Rooney’s case, he had a production credit, and the movie’s stunner of a leading lady was his then-wife Elaine Davis, who is actually listed as “Mrs. Mickey Rooney” in the opening credits.
The young Blake Edwards (a year before he started directing) has a story credit — and there’s one bit where Rooney walks through a kitchen door and experiences some sort of horrific violence we hear but don’t see, which sounds like Edwards. Of course, it’s only a few minutes of screen time after this that Rooney survives a nuclear blast — the desert house with the kitchen being one of those atomic testing sites full of crash-test dummies and real TVs and food to simulate real-life conditions. Instead of being obliterated in this nearly direct hit, Rooney merely turns radioactive in a cool kind of way — as demonstrated by the scene I’ve always remembered where he walks past casino slot machines that immediately begin spewing coins. Looking back, John Hersey’s Hiroshima had been published eight years earlier, so it isn’t as if detailed reportage about nuclear explosions and their effects even on survivors was uncharted territory. Everything here is a lark, which is part of the movie’s demented fascination. Rooney’s co-star was Robert Strauss, who was briefly hot at the time, having just come off an Oscar nomination for his unforgettable performance in Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17. A good team, the two do more for the dialogue here than it does for them, and it also helps to have once-familiar faces such as Bill Goodwin and Hal March in smaller roles.
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