video vault

by Mark Burger

DVD Pick of the week: Meet John Doe

(VCI Entertainment)

There’s no better way to ring out the old year and ring in the new than with this “70 th Anniversary Edition” of Frank Capra’s 1941 classic, an incisive look at public image, media manipulation, political corruption and myth-making.

Gary Cooper is perfectly cast as John Willoughby, the Everyman who becomes an instant celebrity, thanks to a newspaper column written by Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) that espouses the nobility and heroism of the common man.

Capra’s pointed examination is satirical, but also with the sting of truth. America was still smarting from the Depression and edging inexorably toward World War II. Meet John Doe was the right film at the right time. The two stars are in excellent form, even if their romance seems perfunctory, and the able cast also includes Edward Arnold, Gene Lockhart and Walter Brennan.

Meet John Doe has been available in a variety of cheap, public-domain editions over the years. This two-disc special edition ($14.99 retail), replete with featurettes, audio commentary and a smashing digital restoration, is the only way to go. Forsake all others.

“2010 WORLD SERIES FILM: TEXAS RANGERS VS. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS” (MLB Productions/Shout! Factory): Rob Schneider narrates this self-explanatory baseball documentary, which recounts the Giants’ five-game triumph over the Rangers. The single-disc DVD retails for $19.93, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $29.93.

“ALEX OVECHKIN: THE GREAT 8” (The NHL/Warner Home Video): A DVD profile ($24.98 retail) of the young hockey superstar, born and raised in Russia, who has twice won the league’s MVP award playing for the Washington Capitals.

BIG TOWN (Alpha Home Entertainment): A newspaper takes on New York City’s underworld in this talky, low-budget 1932 melodrama. Lester Vail and Frances Dade head the cast.

BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (VCI Entertainment): An two-DVD special edition ($14.99) of one of Mario Bava’s best-known films, a lurid 1964 shocker in which a masked killer preys on fashion models. Bava’s trademark visual bravura makes this a triumph of style over substance. Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Thomas Reiner and Mary Arden head the cast.

“DC SHOWCASE ORIGINAL SHORTS COLLECTION” (DC Entertainment/Warner Home Video): A selection of animated short films highlighting such popular DC Comics superheroes as Superman, the Spectre, Green Arrow and Jonah Hex. The DVD retails for $19.98, the Blu-ray for $29.99.

DEMON HAUNT (Alpha Home Entertainment): Co-writer/producer/director Ted V Mikels’ low-rent, jokey shocker with Olivia Dunkley and Amber Hamblin as sisters who move into a haunted house. Laughable CGI effects. For die-hard Mikels mavens only.

DESERT GUNS (Alpha Home Entertainment): Slow-moving, low-budget 1936 Western with Conway Tearle in a dual role.

DOWN THE WYOMING TRAIL (Alpha Home Entertainment): That’s where Tex Ritter, playing a singing cowboy named Tex, finds trouble on Christmas Eve, in this 1939 Western programmer that may not win new converts to Ritter but ought to satisfy the old ones.

“THE FILMS OF RITA HAYWORTH” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A five-film selection ($59.95 retail) showcasing the talent and beauty of the glamour girl, born Margarita Cansino (1918-’87): Gene Kelly and Phil Silvers co-star in the 1944 musical Cover Girl, which won an Academy Award for best musical score and earned nominations for its cinematography (color), art direction/ set decoration (color), sound recording, and the song “Long Ago and Far Away”; the 1945 musical Tonight and Every Night earned Oscar nominations for its musical score and the song “Anywhere”; director Charles Vidor’s classic 1946 film noir Gilda, co-starring Glenn Ford and probably the film Hayworth is best remembered for; playing the title role in the Biblical spectacle Salome (1953), co-starring Charles Laughton (as Herod), Stewart Granger and Cedric Hardwicke; and the musical drama Miss Sadie Thompson (also ’53), co-starring Jose Ferrer and Aldo Ray, and Oscar-nominated for best song (“Blue Pacific Blues”).

FOUR IN A JEEP (VCI Entertainment): The uncut European version of the award-winning 1951 melodrama starring Ralph Meeker as a soldier stationed in post-war Vienna embroiled in espionage when he tries to assist a young woman (Viveca Lindfors) whose husband is thought dead but isn’t. Tentative pacing hampers momentum, but on-location filming and an exciting wrap-up help somewhat.

“GROUCHO MARX TV CLASSICS” (Synergy Entertainment): A three-DVD boxed set ($24.95 retail) featuring numerous smallscreen appearances by funnyman Groucho Marx (1890-1977), including 16 episodes from his popular game show “You Bet Your Life,” two episodes of “The Hollywood Palace” (which he hosted), and more.

MICMACS (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s outrageous, almost indescribable absurdist comedy stars Dany Boon as a young man who survives a gunshot wound to the head (!), then rounds up a menagerie of misfits to wage a covert war against arms dealers and weapons manufacturers by pitting two competing conglomerates against one another. Weird, wacky and delightful, with superb visual touches courtesy cinematographer Tetsuo Nagata. In French with English subtitles. Rated R.

NIGHT CARGO (Alpha Home Entertainment): Boozing and brawling in Singapore lead to blackmail and murder in this 1936 melodrama starring Jacqueline Wells, Walter Miller, Carlotta Monti and Lloyd Hughes — a low-budget quickie that kills time easily enough, given that it runs under an hour.

THE OTHER GUYS (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg join forces in this scattershot spoof of ’80s buddy/ cop films, as a mismatched pair of New York’s Finest. That’s pretty much all there is to it. The cast also includes Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes, Steve Coogan, Anne Heche, Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, plus celebrity cameos. Ferrell was also an executive producer. There were 11 credited producers on this film. It made money but it cost a lot, too. Rated PG-13 (also available in an unrated version).

“POSITIVELY NO REFUNDS DOUBLE FEATURE”: VOLUME 2 (VCI Entertainment): A DVD twin-bill ($14.99 retail) of two laughable lowbudgeters: Errol Flynn makes a final, embarrassing appearance as himself in 1959’s Attack of the Rebel Girls, AKA Cuban Rebel Girls, which features his 17-year-old girlfriend Beverly Aadland (in her last film; she died earlier this year) and is as politically wrong-headed as it is dramatically muddled; and the 1952 sc-fi melodrama Untamed Women, in which the crew of a downed World War II bomber is stranded on an island ruled by women and overrun by giant lizards (stock footage from One Million Years BC) and “the hairy men.” Mikel Conrad, Doris Merrick and Lyle Talbot are stranded here, too.

RANGE RIDERS (Alpha Home Entertainment):

Buddy Roosevelt stars in this low-budget 1934 Western as “The Texas Terror,” a black-clad hero trying to save his father’s mine.

“RENOWN PICTURES CRIME THRILLERS COLLECTION” (VCI Entertainment): A DVD triple feature ($14.99) of low-budget British crime dramas: Pit of Darkness (1963) stars William Franklyn, Moira Redmond and Nigel Green; 1962’s Murder Can Be Deadly (AKA The Painted Smile) features Liz Fraser, Kenneth Griffith, Nanette Newman and David Hemmings; and The Marked One (1963) stars William Lucas and Zena Walker.

“STEEL GAZE: AN UNAUTHORIZED STORY ON CLINT EASTWOOD” (Infinity Entertainment Group): A meager documentary on the career of the Oscar-winning filmmaker and screen icon, essentially a succession of redcarpet interviews and sound bites that tends to focus only on the last 10 years of his work.

SWAMP OF THE RAVENS (VCI Entertainment): Unintentionally hilarious 1974 Euro-schlock, with Ramiro Oliveros as a mad scientist experimenting with corpses and instead creating (extremely slow-moving) zombies. The “bonus” second film is Del Tenney’s Zombie (1964), which was later released as Voodoo Blood Bath and, more famously, as I Eat Your Skin, involving undead doings on a Caribbean island. Brain-dead B-movie fare for genre addicts.

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2010, Mark Burger