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New on Disc: 'Howdy, Kids!! A Saturday Afternoon Western Roundup' and more …

6 May, 2013 By: Mike Clark

Howdy, Kids!! A Saturday Afternoon Western Roundup

Shout! Factory, Western, $24.97 3-DVD set, NR.
Stars Roy Rogers, Chuck Connors, Gail Davis, Jock Mahoney.
Roy Rogers is plenty hacked off, and we can tell it from the intensity in his punch-outs of two rent-a-villains hired to bilk an old lady out of some property. These are highlights of this 24-episode companion to Shout! Factory’s 2008 Hiya, Kids!! A ’50s Saturday Morning. Rogers’ theatrical features got increasingly violent in the post-World War II era, a trait that carried over to NBC’s “The Roy Rogers Show” — which, like the other half-hour TV series represented here, was one of the zillion TV offerings that went 98% of the way toward killing off the theatrical ‘B’ Western by the mid-1950s. It was normal for even small kids to sit around the set and salivate over Roy’s 1-2 pugilistic combos or Trigger stomping a bad guy in a low-angle upward shot (the affected rib cage or nose cartilage would be off-camera) or Roy’s tooth-baring and all but rabid “wonder dog” Bullet ripping out the chimes (at least in our childhood imaginations) of the same assailant.
Roundup’s other selections are more benign, and almost none originally aired on Saturday afternoons — not that the target demographic here (almost exclusively nostalgia junkies and pop anthropologists) will care about that particular letter of the law any more than the villains here do about letters of the law in general. “Fury” and “Sky King,” both represented here, did air on Saturday mornings, with the former pointing up how important horses were to the boilerplate TV Western genre in general. “The Adventures of Champion,” “Annie Oakley” (Gail Davis as a riding-shooting girls’ role model of the day), “The Range Rider” and “Buffalo Bill Jr.” were all from Gene Autry’s Flying A Productions, which came close enough to cornering the market for Autry get rich enough to bankroll first baseman Ted Kluszewski’s famed sleeveless muscle-jerseys after the cowboy-turned-team-owner bought the new Los Angeles Angels Major League Baseball team in 1961.
Other selections include “The Lone Ranger,” “The Cisco Kid,” “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon,” “The Adventures of Kit Carson” and “The Adventures of Rick O’Shay.” There’s also an episode of “The Rifleman,” which, however welcome, seems miscast for this predominantly daytime-oriented set.
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Panic in the Streets (Blu-ray)

Fox, Thriller, $24.99  Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes, Walter Jack Palance.
As a transitional Elia Kazan movie, also an Oscar winner for best story (Edna and Edward Anhalt), as the screen debut of Jack Palance and Zero Mostel (not counting one long previous bit part for the latter) and as a key vehicle in the dramatic modification of lead Richard Widmark’s screen persona, this nifty “disease” thriller is probably a little less known than it ought to be, though its reputation has always been solid.  A poker game has gone sour, and one of the participants has met a conventional death by bullets, though it quickly turns out that the guy already had a serious problem before the first cards were cut. His sickly appearance came courtesy of the pneumonic plague, which meant old age wasn’t on his agenda anyway. So what might have been a routine murder investigation becomes a race against time, as a U.S. Public Health Service doc (Widmark) and a police captain (Paul Douglas) hustle to locate the victim’s assailant (Palance). Both pursuers have differing approaches and agendas, and both have an innate ability to get steamed on occasion.
Extras: Film noir is made for Blu-ray, and noir historians Alain Silver and James Ursini (their commentary carried over from the DVD) do a good job of describing some of Kazan’s staging of physical action.
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Django Unchained

Anchor Bay, Western, B.O. $162.8 million, $29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity.
Stars Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson.

2012. Whatever else you want to say about Quentin Tarantino, he’s never come close to making a bad feature, which puts in him in a writer/directorial club that has fewer members than your run-of-the-mill Ivy League secret society. Whatever charm this professionally cheeky writer-director exudes when he’s a broadcast guest of Charlie Rose, Tarantino has exasperated even certain of his fans with a narrowness of vision, be it his exclusively genre-driven choice of material or his unwarranted slamming of John Ford, whose half-century breadth of expression was beyond extraordinary (in other words, the day even your second-tier filmography includes both a Pilgrimage and a Donovan’s Reef, come back and open your mouth). Tarantino isn’t yet the end all/be all filmic deity a lot of under-30s have made him out to be, yet a solid track record one is forced to acknowledge pretty well speaks for itself, which isn’t to say you can’t chip at his legacy-to-date a little bit.

And I really was tickled by Django, which on paper sounded like the world’s biggest crapshoot: an attempt to get down-and-dirty with America’s Original Sin (slavery) in the context of a spaghetti Western, not exactly a genre today’s multiplex masses were clamoring to revive. Interestingly, my two twentysomething sons — who initially rated Django as far and away the year-end release they were most ravenous to see — professed fairly intense disappointment over the result because, at 165 minutes, the unbridled running time (which translated into a redundancy of point-making) simply wore them out. And speaking of points, they have one: at 99 minutes, QT directorial debut Reservoir Dogs (1992) seems as compact and economical as a modest Woody Allen movie from the mid-1980s. (Though for me, it was the length of Inglourious Basterds that elicited clamors for mercy.)

Still. Keenly juggling a cast of both white and African-American performers, Django deals with a freed slave (Jamie Foxx) in search of the wife (Kerry Washington) who, in common practice, was taken from him and finding the perfect associate to help him do it. The last is a shady German bounty hunter (are there any other kind?) played by Christoph Waltz, who took the most recent supporting actor Oscar against a remarkable field of previous winners, himself included. You have to think that he will be forever indebted to the cadences of his colleague’s dialogue, thereby entering another club (co-member Dianne Wiest comes to mind) who’ve won double Oscars under the same writer-director (in her case, it was Woody himself). There’s also the sight of Leonardo DiCaprio, cast as a Mississippi plantation owner and paragon of bad taste, having a loose, grand old time on screen. How often do we get to see this happen? Well, probably not in this month’s take on The Great Gatsby, to be sure. And there is also what for me was last year’s funniest movie scene — the one where the eye holes don’t align properly on the racist posse members’ hooded sheets (or is it sheeted hoods?). This is one of those scenes like the pork-and-beans flatulence bit in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, in that the situation must have arisen many times in history, but no filmmaker ever had the imagination to portray it.

This home release is nice because the extras concentrate on an aspect of Tarantino’s filmmaking that is almost never emphasized: production design, costume design and (in this atypical case) horse stunts. I have to admit that I previously hadn’t stopped to think how much the first two got me “into” the picture, but here it’s clear that Tarantino took a lot of care with what (for him) were fairly subtle components to his movie’s overall success. The shocker is hearing about J. Michael Riva’s painstaking production design and then learning that Riva died last June from complications of a stroke. (It is also a shock, albeit a lesser one, to learn that he was the daughter of actress/writer Maria Riva, which made him the grandson of Marlene Dietrich.) The horse material is interesting, too, in that the veteran personnel employed here went back to the John Wayne era, a contrast in colleague sensibilities there, lemme tell you. Tarantino says you can get horses to do amazing things without injury if you just put in the prep time. In Django, the four-leggers do just that — yet Tarantino was still able to give prominent credit up-front at the end that no animals were harmed in the movie. Which is a lot more than you can say for many of the characters here once the story plays out.

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