Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger


THE GUNFIGHTER (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Henry King’s excellent 1950 drama was one of the first post-war Westerns to take a more realistic look at violence and the circumstances which beget it. This is no cut-and-dried shoot-’em-up pitting good guys against bad guys but a far deeper meditation on the themes of retribution and fate.

Gregory Peck is superb as Jimmy Ringo, a notorious gunslinger with both a past and a reputation, and he’d like nothing more than to leave them behind. A weary Johnny has come to town to reconcile with his ex-wife, Peggy (Helen Westcott), only to discover that his reputation has preceded him, which will force him on more than one occasion to defend himself the only way he knows how – with a gun.

A sterling supporting cast includes Millard Mitchell as Johnny’s former partner in crime (now the town sheriff), Karl Malden, Jean Parker, Richard Jaeckel, Skip Homeier and Anthony Ross.

Although not a box-office hit, the film earned rave reviews and an Oscar nomination for best motion picture story. In later years, Peck would often cite this film as one of his personal favorites – while also telling the anecdote how the studio desperately wanted him to shave his moustache for the role, whereas he felt it was the perfect touch (it was). ***½

The Gunfighter is included as part of the “Fox Western Classics” triple feature, which also includes two Henry Hathaway films starring Susan Hayward: Rawhide (1951), with Tyrone Power, Dean Jagger and Jack Elam; and 1954’s Garden of Evil, with Gary Cooper, Richard Widmark, Cameron Mitchell and Rita Moreno. The boxed set retails for $19.98.


THE BUCKET LIST (Warner Home Video): You simply cannot go wrong with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, teamed here as terminally ill men who decide to go on one last jaunt around the world, fulfilling dreams they’ve never been able to before. In addition to the solid star duo, this also marks a return to form for director Rob Reiner. Rated PG-13. ***

“CHiPs” – THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Warner Home Video): All 23 episodes from the 1978-’79 season of the prime-time NBC-TV series depicting the on- and off-road adventures (mostly on) of California Highway Patrolmen Jon Baker (Larry Wilcox) and “Ponch” Poncherello (Erik Estrada). Guest stars that season included Danny Bonaduce (of “The Partridge Family”) and Christopher Knight (of “The Brady Bunch”) on the same episode, as well as Troy Donahue, Jack Carter, Shelley Berman, Michael Conrad, Mary Crosby, Eric Braeden and others. This boxed set retails for $39.98.

“THE CLASSIC CABALLEROS COLLECTION: SALUDOS AMIGOS AND THREE CABALLEROS” (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A DVD double-feature of two acclaimed Disney features from the studio’s golden era: Saludos Amigos (1942) boasts a quartet of animated short films inspired by a trip to South America by the Disney artists, and earned Oscar nominations for best song (the title number), sound recording and scoring of a musical picture; the 1945 follow-up, Three Caballeros, earned Oscar nominations for best scoring of a musical picture and sound recording. Bonus features include a vintage interview with Walt Disney and a pair of Donald Duck cartoon shorts. Rated G. This DVD retails for $19.99.

“THE COLOR ‘HONEYMOONERS’ COLLECTION” – VOLUME 3 (MPI Home Video): Another installment of 12 episodes from “The Jackie Gleason Show,” which ran on CBS from 1966 to 1970, in which Gleason revisited the character of Ralph Kramden, with Art Carney back as Ed Norton, Sheila MacRae as Alice Kramden and Jane Kean as Trixie Norton. Carney won a total of seven (!) Emmy Awards playing Norton, while Gleason never won any. This boxed set retails for $39.98.

“CORY IN THE HOUSE: NEWT & IMPROVED EDITION” (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Four episodes from the popular Disney Channel sitcom (spun off from “That’s So Raven”) with Kyle Massey as the title character, a fast-talking adolescent whose father (Rondell Sheridan) happens to be personal chef for the President of the United States (John D’Aquino). This DVD, which includes behind-the-scenes footage, retails for $19.99.

“COMEDY CENTRAL’S HOMEGROWN: UNCENSORED” (Comedy Central Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment): A special collection of uncensored episodes of such popular Comedy Central series’ as “Chappelle’s Show,” “Crank Yankers,” “Strangers With Candy,” “Reno 911!” and others. This DVD retails for $19.99.

“‘DRAWN TOGETHER’ SEASON THREE: UNCENSORED” (Comedy Central Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment): All 14 episodes from the 2006-’07 (and final) season of the award-winning Comedy Central animated series, a take-off on reality shows in which the participants are reminiscent (and riffs) of classic cartoon characters. This boxed set, which includes such special features as karaoke sing-alongs and audio commentaries, retails for $26.98.

“FLAVOR OF LOVE” – SEASON 3 (Anchor Bay Entertainment): A boxed set of uncensored episodes from the hit VH1 reality series’ 2008 season, in which rapper Flavor Flav looks for love… frequently in all the wrong places. Special features include “Girls Gone Flav: Ultimate Moments” and “Flav’s Philosophies” (which may be worth the price alone). This collector’s edition retails for $34.97.

FULL COUNT (Allumination FilmWorks): Actor Jason Wiles makes his feature debut as screenwriter and director with this well-meaning, ultimately empty-handed, coming-of-age melodrama set in a small Kansas town in 1988, centering on a group of boyhood friends spending their last summer together. The cast (including Michael Rooker, Michael Beach, Chris Klein, Jason Ritter, William Baldwin and Christopher Curry) provides some nice moments. Rated R. **

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX (Warner Home Video): Year Five at Hogwart’s for the boy wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) and his chums (Emma Watson and Rupert Grint) in the latest installment of the mega-buck franchise based on JK Rowling’s best-selling series of children’s novel. Director David Yates joins the team this time around, as do Helena Bonham Carter and Imelda Staunton, joining the all-star likes of Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, David Thewlis, Robbie Coltrane, et al. By now, the pattern is established, and this overstuffed special-effects extravaganza won’t disappoint fans. (Judging by the box-office gross, it sure didn’t.) Like the earlier films, this one runs a bit long, but is building momentum toward the inevitable climax. This is available as both a single disc ($29.98 retail) and a two-disc special edition ($34.99 retail), and Warner Home Video has also released the Harry Potter Limited Edition DVD Gift Set, a 12-disc collector’s edition ($149.99 retail) containing special editions of all five films. Rated PG-13. ***

NORA’S HAIR SALON 2: A CUT ABOVE (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Predictability reigns supreme in this corny sequel to the 2004 comedy, with Tatyana Ali (also a co-producer) and Jean-Claude LaMarre (producer, co-director, and two onscreen roles) back for mild hip-hop comedy in the Barbershop vein. Stacey Dash, Bobby Brown (also in a dual role) and an unbilled Mekhi Pfifer (also a producer) are also on hand. Rated PG-13. *½

THE PLANET (MTI Home Video): Writer/director/editor/cinematographer Mark Stirton’s feature debut is a low-budget sci-fi melodrama in the Pitch Black vein, as a group of mercenaries are stranded on a hostile planet. Filmed in Scotland, and with pretty good computer-generated effects, but even with a running time of barely 70 minutes, this doesn’t add up to much – even when everything goes boom at the end. Rated R. *½

THE SECOND FRONT (MTI Home Video): During World War II, a German Jewish scientist (Todd Field) is pursued by the Nazis, the KGB and the Allies for the secrets of an experiment he’s working on. Lana Litwak (she of the dreadful narration) plays his lover, and Craig Sheffer plays an American agent in on the hunt. This combination of soap opera, spy-jinx and gunplay is hampered by a low budget, but gets better as it goes along – and Ron Perlman does a memorable turn as a ruthless German general. Rated R. **

“SINATRA” (Warner Home Video): There’s only one Frank Sinatra (1915-1998), and this 1992 mini-series (which won the Golden Globe Award in that category) attempts to tell the whole story behind Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, a kid from Jersey who would go on to become one of the most beloved entertainers of all time, but not without controversy over the years. The star-studded cast includes Philip Casnoff as Frank, Olympia Dukakis as mother Dolly, Gina Gershon as Nancy Barbato (Wife No. 1), Marcia Gay Harden as Ava Gardner (Wife No. 2), Nina Siemaszko as Mia Farrow (Wife No. 3) and Rod Steiger as mobster Sam Giancana. Tina Sinatra was the executive producer. Emmy winner for outstanding individual achievement in direction in a mini-series or special (James Steven Sadwith) and costume design, with seven additional nominations including outstanding mini-series. This DVD retails for $19.98.

SPIDER BABY (Dark Sky Films): A special-edition “director’s cut” of Jack Hill’s low-budget, black-comedy cult classic depicting what happens when an inbred family of cannibals welcomes some guests for dinner. Subtitled “The Maddest Story Ever Told,” this certainly makes the attempt. Originally made in 1964, this “escaped” into a few theaters four years later and then was considered a lost film. The cast includes Jill Banner in the title role, Lon Chaney (who also sings the theme song!) as faithful chauffer Bruno, Sid Haig as Ralph, Karl Schanzer (in his last film to date) as the sleazy lawyer Mr. Schlocker, Quinn Redeker (later an Oscar nominee for co-writing The Deer Hunter), Carol Ohmart, Mary Mitchel, Beverly Washburn and Mantan Moreland, who gets killed immediately. There’s never quite been another film like this one (which may not be a bad thing), but a remake is in the works. **

THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS (Paramount Home Entertainment): Director Lewis Milestone’s only film noir, this long but rewarding 1946 psychological thriller stars Barbara Stanwyck in the title role, that of a fiery heiress whose past comes back to haunt her when an old flame (Van Heflin) returns to town. Fine performances all around, including those of Lizabeth Scott, Judith Anderson and Kirk Douglas, making his screen debut as Stanwyck’s boozy DA husband. Robert Rossen adapted John Patrick’s motion picture story (which earned an Oscar nomination), and Miklos Rosza’s florid score is great. Beware public-domain versions of the film, which don’t look nearly as good as Paramount’s transfer here. ***

UNSHACKLED (MTI Home Video): A well-meaning and well-acted, but soft-pedaled, adaptation of writer/producer Harold Morris’ non-fiction best-seller Twice Pardoned, detailing his years in prison, his friendship with a black cellmate (James Black), and his eventual conversion to become a motivational speaker. Winston-Salem’s own Burgess Jenkins plays Morris, with Stacy Keach on hand as the hard-nosed but not inhuman warden. Rated PG-13. **

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2008, Mark Burger