DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: ODD MAN OUT (Criterion Collection)
The “troubles” in Northern Ireland have rarely been dramatized in so compelling and gripping a fashion as in producer/director Carol Reed’s superb 1947 thriller, based on FL Green’s novel, which never specifies the reasons for the conflict … nor does it need to.
The action takes place during a single, eventful night in an unnamed city (Belfast), with James Mason in top form as wounded gunman Johnny McQueen, desperately trying to elude the authorities and rejoin his compatriots. Yet the very city seems to be closing in around him. Every shadow is threatening, every stranger suspicious, every escape a false hope.
Robert Krasker’s cinematography, William Allwyn’s score and Fergus McDonell’s Oscar-nominated editing add immeasurably to the film’s atmosphere and impact. Mason considered this among his best films, and a first-rate cast includes Robert Newton, Cyril Cusack, Dan O’Herlihy, Kathleen Ryan and future “Dr. Who” William Hartnell. The DVD retails for $29.95, the Blu-ray for $39.95. Both contain special features.
BEHIND GREEN LIGHTS (Alpha Home Entertainment): Director Otto Brower’s tightly compressed, noir-ish 1946 whodunit follows police lieutenant William Gargan’s night-long investigation of the murder of a private eye (Bernard Nedell) whose body was left outside the station. Mayoral candidate’s daughter Carole Landis is implicated, but suspects abound. Young John Ireland plays Gargan’s partner, and a cast of familiar faces includes Roy Roberts, Richard Crane, Charles Russell, Mabel Page and Don Beddoe.
THE BIG OPERATOR (Olive Films): It’s a punchy and pugnacious Mickey Rooney as a corrupt union boss in producer Albert Zugsmith’s typically exploitative 1959 melodrama, the sort “ripped from today’s headlines” and boasting a once-in-alifetime cast: Mamie Van Doren (as a housewife!), Mel Torme, Jim Backus, Steve Cochran, Jackie Coogan (also credited as dialogue coach), Leo Gordon, Ray Danton, bandleader Ray Anthony (Van Doren’s then-husband), Norm “Woo Woo” Grabowski, Jay North (TV’s “Dennis the Menace”) and Charles Chaplin Jr., plus a jazzy Van Alexander score. The DVD retails for $24.95, the Blu-ray for $29.95.
CLAIRE (Monarch Home Entertainment): Writer/editor/executive producer/ director Dan Ast’s multi-layered and award-winning feature debut explores the repercussions following the tragic death of the titular teenager (Jennifer Baute) and the subsequent investigation of the local high-school football hero (Aidan Bristow). Ambitious and unusually structured, and worth a look. Bigger and better things are likely in store for those involved.
DAY OF ANGER (Arrow Films/MVD Entertainment Group): A DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.95 retail) of Tonino Valerii’s 1967 spaghetti Western, originally titled I Giorni Dell’ira and based on a Ron Barker novel, with cult icon Lee Van Cleef as (what else?) a notorious gunman and Giuliano Gemma as his acolyte-turned-rival.
DICK TRACY’S DILEMMA (Alpha Home Entertainment): Encoring from earlier serials, Ralph Byrd dons the fedora of Chester Gould’s two-fisted, pistol-packing cop, on the trail of a limping, hook-handed killer known as “The Claw” (Jack Lambert) in this entertaining 1947 programmer. Lyle Latell’s also back as Tracy’s bumbling sidekick Pat Patten.
“THE END OF THE CIVIL WAR” (LionsGate): A self-explanatory two-DVD collection ($14.98 retail) of four History Channel documentary specials: Stealing Lincoln’s Body (2002), April 1865 (2003), Sherman’s March (2006) and The Hunt for John Wilkes Booth (2007).
“FOYLE’S WAR”: SET 8 (THE FINAL SEASON) (RLJ Entertainment/Acorn): World War II is over, the Cold War looms, and Michael Kitchen bids farewell to his superbly played signature role of the methodical, meticulous police inspector in the final three feature-length episodes from the long-running, award-winning mystery series created by Anthony Horowitz, with Honeysuckle Weeks encoring as Foyle’s faithful driver and sidekick. Guest stars include John Mahoney, Jeremy Swift, Tim McMullan, Ellie Haddington and Daniel Weyman. The DVD and Blu-ray sets each retail for $49.99, both replete with special features.
“GENE AUTRY COLLECTION 9” (Timeless Media Group): A self-explanatory, two-disc collection ($16.97 retail) of four vintage Westerns starring the legendary singing cowboy, all making their DVD debuts: Comin’ Round the Mountain (1936), Git Along Little Doggies (1937), Man from Music Mountain (1938), and Mountain Rhythm (1939).
“HISTORY PRESENTS: THE DE- FINITIVE WWI & WWII COLLECTION” (LionsGate): The title tells all in this mammoth, 20-DVD boxed set ($99.98 retail) of acclaimed History Channel documentaries offering a thorough account of both World Wars, including The World Wars, 100 Years of WWI, 75 Years of WWII, WWII in HD and more.
I COVER CHINATOWN (Alpha Home Entertainment): San Francisco tour guide Norman Foster (also making his directorial debut) turns sleuth to help Elaine Shepard locate her missing sister (Polly Ann Young) in this 1936 programmer boasting Theodore von Eltz and Edward Emerson as bad brothers, Arthur Lake (pre-”Dagwood”) as a comic-relief insurance salesman, and a nifty chase climax.
JOHN FORD: DREAMING THE QUIET MAN (Olive Films): Gabriel Byrne narrates this feature documentary exploring legendary filmmaker John Ford’s 20-year quest to make the 1952 classic The Quiet Man, for which Ford won his unprecedented fourth Oscar as Best Director, featuring interviews with leading lady Maureen O’Hara and filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich and Jim Sheridan. The DVD retails for $24.95, the Blu-ray for $29.95. Both include special features.
KILIMANJARO (Virgil Films): Writer/ director Walter Stafford’s feature debut stars Brian Geraghty as a man at a crossroads in his life – so he decides to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. (Why? Because it’s there.) A mild, low-key comedy/drama that doesn’t quite hit its mark, but is encouraging all the same. Chris Marquette, Abigail Spencer, Jim Gaffigan, Alexia Rasmussen and John Cullum round out the cast.
MAGNIFICENT DOLL (Olive Films): Irving Stone scripted and Frank Borzage directed this 1946 historical potboiler that dramatizes the life of Dolly Payne (Ginger Rogers), a young widow torn between statesmen Aaron Burr (David Niven) and James Madison (Burgess Meredith) in the years following the American Revolution. If you’ve heard of Dolly Madison, you know who she chose … and, yes, she’s the inspiration for the food brand. The costumes are splendid and Meredith very appealing (no wonder Madison was elected President!), but this political soap opera is best enjoyed for its melodramatic liberties (no pun intended) with American history. The DVD retails for $24.95, the Blu-ray for $29.95.
“MIDSOMER MURDERS, SET 25” (RLJ Entertainment/Acorn): Neil Dudgeon and new partner Gwilym Lee investigate five feature-length mysteries set in the seemingly sleepy villages of Midsomer County in the latest installment of the long-running, award-winning ITV crime series based on the best-selling novels by Caroline Graham – including the 100th episode. Guest stars include Hayley Mills, Michael Jayston, Sharon Small and Nicolaj Kopernikus. The DVD and Blu-ray boxed sets each retail for $49.99.
“ZANE GREY THEATRE”: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Timeless Media Group): A DVD collection ($29.93 retail) of all 29 episodes from the 1958- ’59 season of the award-winning CBS Western anthology series hosted by Dick Powell. Guest stars include Robert Ryan, David Niven, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Walter Pidgeon, James Coburn, Eddie Albert, Dennis Hopper, Rita Moreno, James Whitmore, Danny Thomas and many others. !
MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2015, Mark Burger.