Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

THE NIGHT THEYRAIDED MINSKY’S (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox HomeEntertainment): This 1968 comedy is chiefly remembered today asdirector William Friedkin’s first big film and Elliott Gould’s firstbig role, but this wistful ode to the bygone days of burlesque neverfound an audience. Britt Ekland plays Rachel Schpitendavel, awide-eyed Amish girl who comes to New York City to dance… and windsup at the burlesque club owned by Louis Minsky (Joseph Wiseman) and hisson Billy (Gould). Rachel then finds herself torn romantically betweenthe comedy duo of Raymond Paine (Jason Robards) and Chick Williams(Norman Wisdom), and eventually winds up inventing the striptease – byaccident. All this, and vaudeville too. The period detail,nicely captured by cinematographer Andrew Laszlo, perfectly befits thetime and place, and there’s an edge to the proceedings (a Friedkintrademark) that tints the nostalgia with a dose of reality. This maynot have endeared it to audiences, but it makes for a sharper movie.Robards is particularly strong as the cynical, self-loathing funnyman. Noteworthyin support are Harry Andrews (as Rachel’s unbendingly religiousfather), Forrest Tucker, Denholm Elliott, Jack Burns, Lillian Hayman,Richard Libertini and Bert Lahr, in his final screen role as Prof.Spats. As conceived, the story was to have been seen through thischaracter’s eyes, but when the actor died during production,considerable re-editing was required, which explains why he seems toshow up at odd moments. The film’s box-office failure steeredproducer/co-screenwriter Norman Lear toward television, where he foundgreat success, and Friedkin would also later find great success withanother film about a bygone era in New York. It was called The FrenchConnection. Rated PG-13. *** ALSO ON DVD “THE BETTE DAVISCOLLECTION” (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Now, it’s Fox’sturn to (deservedly) commemorate the 100th birthday of one of America’sfinest actresses with this collector’s set that includes five featurefilms: Joseph L. Mankiewicz’ 1950 classic All About Eve is undoubtedlyone of Davis’ finest hours, winning Academy Awards for best picture,direction and screenplay (Mankiewicz both), supporting actor (GeorgeSanders as the quintessential critic, Addison deWitt), costume design(Edith Head) and sound, with additional nominations for actress (Davis,of course, and Anne Baxter), supporting actress (Thelma Ritter andCeleste Holm), cinematography (black-and-white), editing, score (AlfredNewman) and art direction/set decoration (black-and-white); JeanNeguelsco’s Phone Call from a Stranger (1952) pairs Davis withreal-life husband Gary Merrill (whom she met while making All AboutEve); Henry Koster’s costume drama The Virgin Queen stars “Dame Bette”as Elizabeth I and Richard Todd as Sir Walter Raleigh, which earned anOscar nomination for costume design (color); Robert Aldrich’s 1964adaptation of Henry Farrell’s Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte – which wasvery much in the Baby Jane mold (especially before Olivia de Havillandreplaced Joan Crawford) ‘- earned a surprising seven Academy Awardnominations including best supporting actress (Agnes Moorehead),editing, score, original song, cinematography (black-and-white),costume design (black-and-white) and art direction/set decoration(black-and-white); and, finally, in the title role of Seth Holt’s 1966Hammer Studios psychological thriller The Nanny, adapted from MarryamModell’s novel by producer Jimmy Sangster. This boxed set, whichretails for $59.98, marks the DVD debuts of The Nanny, The Virgin Queenand Phone Call from a Stranger. “THE BIG GAY SKETCH SHOW”(LOGO/Paramount Home Entertainment): All six episodes from theinaugural 2006-’07 season of the Logo cable comedy series featuringsuch up-and-comers as Erica Ash, Julie Goldman, Stephen Guarino andJonny McGovern. “The Complete Uncensored First Season” retails for$26.98. “The Complete Uncensored Season Season” (covering 2007-’08)features such guest stars as Christine Ebersole, Elaine Stritch,Chastity Bono and executive producer Rosie O’Donnell, and also retailsfor $26.98. Each volume contains cast interviews, unaired sketches,behind-the-scenes footage and more. CLEANER (Sony Pictures HomeEntertainment): Samuel L. Jackson (also a producer) plays an ex-cop whonow cleans crime scenes – and his latest job ensnares him in deception,betrayal and murder. It’s a pleasure to watch actors the caliber ofJackson and Ed Harris (as his ex-partner) play off one another, butthis whodunit runs out of surprises before too long. Still, this is oneof director Renny Harlin’s more tolerable pictures of late, with EvaMendes, Luis Guzman and reliable Robert Forster also on hand. Set inNew Jersey but filmed in Shreveport, La. Rated R. ** “DANGEROUSASSIGNMENT” – THE COMPLETE TELEVISION COLLECTION (Falcon PictureGroup/Infinity Entertainment Group): Here’s a rarity from the earlydays of television: All 39 episodes of the 1952 espionage series, basedon a popular radio show, starring Brian Donlevy as globe-trottingAmerican agent Steve Mitchell, whose prime directive was simple yettwofold: “Get in and out of danger!” Herb Butterfield portraysMitchell’s supervisor, “The Commissioner.” Guest stars included MichaelAnsara, Harry Guardino, Adele Jergens, Jim Davis and a pre-“Leave It toBeaver” Hugh Beaumont. This boxed set retails for $39.98. “EXESAND OH’S” – THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (LOGO/Paramount HomeEntertainment): All six episodes from the debut 2007 season of thecable-TV comedy/drama focusing on the lives and loves of a group oflesbian friends. Co-creator and show writer Michelle Paradise starsalong with Angela Featherstone, Megan Cavanagh, Melanie Alton andHeather Matazarro. This DVD, which retails for $19.99, includes castinterviews and “extrasodes.” “INDIANA JONES – THE ADVENTURECOLLECTION” (Paramount Home Entertainment): To commemorate the releaseof Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, this boxed set(which retails for $59.98) contains special editions of the threeearlier films, all directed by Steven Spielberg and starring HarrisonFord as the fearless adventurer: 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (****),which was my favorite movie when I was 13 (… and then I discoveredRobert Altman), earned Academy Awards for best editing, sound, artdirection/set decoration and visual effects, with additionalnominations for best picture, director, cinematography and JohnWilliams’ smashing score; the 1984 sequel Indiana Jones and the Templeof Doom (****), my favorite of the bunch (as well as the nastiest), wonthe Oscar for best visual effects and a nomination for Williams’ score;and 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (***), which brought SeanConnery into the mix as Prof. Henry Jones and River Phoenix as theyoung Indy, won an Oscar for best sound effects editing and nominationsfor sound and, yep, Williams’ score again. The first two films wererated PG (the second one helped to establish the PG-13 rating), and thethird is PG-13. If you don’t already have these, you should! “JACKASSPRESENTS: MAT HOFFMAN’S TRIBUTE TO EVEL KNIEVEL” (MTV HomeEntertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment): Somehow, it seemsinevitable that the gang from MTV’s “Jackass” (led by Johnny Knoxville)would pay tribute to the deceased daredevil in this uncensored “salute”that includes appearances by such extreme sports stars as Mat Hoffman,Travis Pastrana, Davin “Psycho” Halford and others. This DVD retailsfor $24.99. “LEGENDS OF HOLLYWOOD ‘- COMEDY ALL-STARS” (BCI): Aselection of feature films and shorts (many in the public domain),showcasing some of the screen’s most popular comedic actors: BusterKeaton teams with Jimmy Durante in the 1932 comedy Speak Easily;Durante then joins Lupe Velez in the 1934 adaptation of Ham Fisher’scomic strip palooka; Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy headline the 1939comedy The Flying Deuces; Bud Abbott and Lou Costello – one of myfavorite comedy teams – star in Africa Screams (1949) and Jack in theBeanstalk (1952); Mickey Rooney plays the title role in Love Laughs atAndy Hardy (1946), one of the last films in that series;writer/director Preston Sturges coaxed Harold Lloyd out of retirementfor one last film, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947), for which Lloydreceived a Golden Globe nomination; Bud Pollard narrates the 1947 BingCrosby “biography” The Road to Hollywood (which features plenty ofCrosby clips); Danny Kaye stars in the award-winning 1949 adaptation ofNikolai Gogol’s The Inspector General; and there are shorts featuringLaurel & Hardy and WC Fields. This boxed set retails for $14.98. MEETINGRESISTANCE (First Run Features): Writer/producer/director Steve Connorsand Molly Bingham’s feature documentary debut is a startling, insidelook at the members of the Iraqi resistance. By telling the story fromthe point of view of the insurgents (“the enemy,” if you will) makesthis an almost overwhelmingly voyeuristic experience. Actual footage ofsoldiers building bombs is enough to freeze anyone’s blood. There’svery good reason why this film was screened for American troops alreadystationed in, or bound for, Iraq. ***’ THE POWER OFFORGIVENESS (First Run Features): Martin Doblmeier’s featuredocumentary explores the concept of applying mercy and forgiveness todifficult situations, both on individual and larger levels (such as inthe aftermath of 9/11 and the struggles in Northern Ireland, to nametwo). Moving and hopeful without ever being cloying. *** RAMBO(LionsGate Home Entertainment): Sylvester Stallone co-wrote, directed,and of course stars in the fourth installment of the popular filmfranchise (and the first in 20 years), in which the taciturn butfearless Vietnam vet again returns to action to save a group of noblebut misguided missionaries held captive in Burma (now called Myanmar).If it’s bloodshed you want, this delivers. LionsGate is also releasingRambo: The Complete Collector’s Set (which retails for $54.98) thatincludes the special editions of all four films of the Ramboexperience. And what an experience it is. Rated R. ** “SEX ANDTHE CITY” – THE COMPLETE SERIES (HBO Video): Just in time tocommemorate the release of the feature film – one of the very last tobear a New Line Cinema imprint, by the way – here’s a mammoth 20-DVDboxed set containing all 94 episodes from the popular HBO series(created by Darren Star and based on Candice Bushnell’s book andnewspaper column) that ran from 1998 to 2004, won eight Golden Globes,quite a few Emmys (including outstanding comedy series in 2001) and DGAawards, and more nominations than this column could hold. The castincludes Sarah Jessica Parker (also a producer) as Carrie Bradshaw,with Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon and the ever-luscious Kim Cattrall.This limited collector’s edition retails for $299.95, and features abevy of DVD extras for the series faithful, of which there were plenty.Hell, I dated enough of the female ones. You’ve heard of “Mr. Big”? Iwas usually “Mr. Wrong.” TOBOR THE GREAT (LionsGate HomeEntertainment): This low-budget, Cold War sci-fi melodrama from 1954focuses on the creation of the title character, a robot developed by abrilliant scientist (Taylor Holmes) who is coveted by foreign spiesattempting to sabotage the US space program. As a slab of nostalgia,this is enjoyably campy and clunky (not unlike Tobor himself), but thepacing’s slow even at 75 minutes. “Tobor” is robot spelled backwards,get it? ** “A TOUCH OF FROST” – SEASON 13 (MPI Home Video): SirDavid Jason returns as the maverick police inspector Jack Frost in thelatest installment of the popular British television series based on RDWingfield’s series of crime novels and a ’70s radio show. The 13thseason offering, “Endangered Species,” sees the good inspector tryingto blow the lid of an international crime ring that deals in illegalanimal goods. Might it also have something to do with his latest murdercase? Indeed it might… This DVD retails for $24.98. WHAT DIDYOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY? (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century FoxHome Entertainment): Producer/director Blake Edwards’ 1966 World War IIcomedy ”- scripted by William Peter Blatty – is a thin but likablefarce about a group of GIs who find themselves unexpectedly welcomed bythe residents of the Italian village they’ve been ordered to capture.James Coburn and Dick Shawn head an enthusiastic cast including CarrollO’Connor, Aldo Ray, Harry Morgan, Sergio Fantoni, Jay Novello andGiovanna Ralli. ** ‘ Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2008, Mark Burger.