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New on Disc: 'Kiss Me Deadly' and more …

27 Jun, 2011 By: Mike Clark

Kiss Me Deadly

Criterion, Mystery, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Cloris Leachman, Maxine Cooper.
Kiss Me Deadly turned out to be a bedrock masterpiece of American cinema, one with a far more illustrious international reputation than any book or movie with which Mickey Spillane’s name was ever associated. Director Robert Aldrich and screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides took the author’s politically reactionary thug/cretin of a detective, Mike Hammer, and used him to personify most of what they thought was wrong with America in 1955. What’s more, it totally ignored or upended the novel’s plot in the process. This will likely end up being one of Criterion’s top releases this year.
Extras: The set includes a revealing 40-minute documentary about Spillane, a predictably pro-job commentary by top-drawer noir specialists Alain Silver and James Ursini, a couldn’t-be-better Criterion essay by Jim Hoberman, plus instructive supplements about Bezzerides (who, judging from the footage here, must have fallen on hard times) and about the mostly vanished Los Angeles locales Aldrich used for this definitive L.A. movie (even if the original novel did take place in New York state).
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Bad Blood: A Cautionary Tale

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
The lines of personal and clinical filmmaking intersect to maximum power in a landmark story of how the hemophiliac community got contaminated by a drug designed to help them. Some documentaries on PBS run only an hour, but I don’t think that would have been long enough to construct the kind of history director Marilyn Ness has assembled over 82 minutes. Ness was a lifelong friend of one of the central hemophiliacs interviewed here and originally intended for her film to be more limited in its context. Then the friend — health activist Mathew Kleiner — died of hepatitis and an HIV infection contracted from a blood transfusion received years earlier, and Ness was left with the footage and practically a mandate to expand the scope of her film. All in all, about 10,000 hemophiliacs contracted AIDS and 15,000 got hepatitis — the worst medical disaster in U.S. history.
Extras: This is one of those cases where it is crucially instructional to view the filmmaker interview included as a DVD bonus, which in this case turns about 15 minutes. For one thing, you get a real sense of Ness’ compassion and struggle to get the story right.
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Hearts of the West

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, ‘PG.’
Stars Jeff Bridges, Andy Griffith, Alan Arkin, Blythe Danner.
Set in 1933 Hollywood, Hearts of the West tells the story of an aspiring writer (Jeff Bridges) who becomes a stuntman. The movie probably never had much of a box office chance and still exists almost in the exclusive domain of movie cultists — which doesn’t mean that anyone coerced into seeing it won’t have a mellow good time, without necessarily feeling the need to write home about it.
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Burn, Witch, Burn!

Manufactured on demand via online retailers
Fox/MGM, Horror, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Janet Blair, Patrick Wyngarde.
For anyone who finally gets around to seeing this unfussy horror sleeper, one of its treats pops up in the opening credits: “Twilight Zone” veterans Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont share a writing credit for this adaptation of Fritz Leiber’s source novel Conjure Wife. The film provides a novel twist on the backbiting rivalries that always have existed in academia, where faculty spouses act on their jealousies despite the phony smiles they throw each other during supposedly collegial bridge games.
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