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New on Disc: 'Tequila Sunrise' and more …

3 Feb, 2014 By: Mike Clark

Tequila Sunrise (Blu-ray)

Warner, Drama, $19.98 Blu-ray, ‘R.’
Stars Mel Gibson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kurt Russell, Raul Julia.
The Mel Gibson-Michelle Pfeiffer romantic angle works well enough, but what I really like about writer-director Robert Towne’s half-lush/half-noirish take on the drug caper genre is the tension here between Kurt Russell’s just-promoted local narc and the Drug Enforcement Administration clod who has taken over Russell’s character’s office — he played by its screen era’s foremost Mr. Dyspepsia: J.T. Walsh.

The film takes a familiar movie premise almost in mothballs and throws in some surprises, not the least of which finds — though it has nothing to do with plot-twisting — the great Western filmmaker Budd Boetticher cast in a cameo as a prominent old judge who pulls some strings for one of the story’s three principals. And these are: Gibson as a reformed drug dealer trying to stay out of his old trade; cop Russell, who maintains a kind of dangerous Wyatt Earp-Doc Holliday relationship with the former; and Michelle Pfeiffer as the upscale California restaurateur who gets caught in the middle — and literally so when she, who is otherwise fairly up-and-up, gets romantically involved with both.

Three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Conrad L. Hall gives it his all with the solar shots here, though this is one of those lower-priced Warner Blu-rays that isn’t totally on a par with the more ambitious renderings Warner has done (but, yes, it’s an inarguable improvement on the DVD version).
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Red Metal: The Copper Country Strike of 1913

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
I would watch just about any PBS documentary on 20th-century American history, and this one especially piqued my interest because it concerns the event that inspired Woody Guthrie’s indelible “1913 Massacre.”

The centerpiece of the story and inspiration for the song was what is known as the “Italian Hall Disaster.” The setting was Calumet, Mich., which is way, way up there in the Upper Peninsula. At the time, metal mining was the most dangerous type of mining in America for its predominantly immigrant practitioners — the copper sub-category being the most dangerous of them all because the statistic was that one out of every 200 who did it would die.
With Calumet and Hecia Mining Company office managers working to control everything in an industry where profit margins were very small, the corporation was ripe for a strike.

The documentary is stylistically functional at best, but the content is strong — and it is interesting to see shots of the town today that don’t exactly convey bustle (the last of the mines were pretty well gone by the ’60s, but the industry started to go downhill in the Midwest long before that). The headline story here is the Italian Hall Disaster itself, in which a Christmas Eve party of miners — the summer strike had stretched into winter — became tragically aborted when some unknown person yelled “Fire!” The vast majority of the 73 who were trampled to death on some narrow stairs were miners’ children.

The company pledged $5,000 for a relief fund, covering its behind, and the strike was soon settled (or broken). At which point those whose jobs survived kissed the behinds of management in a written proclamation that still exists and is shown here. This part of the story is not the stuff of Woody Guthrie balladeering.
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