DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (The Criterion Collection)
As bitter and cynical a show-biz pill as Hollywood has ever produced, this 1957 classic was notoriously unsuccessful in its day, but has since found its true place among the classics.
Tony Curtis portrays Sidney Falco, an eager and unscrupulous young press agent who’ll do anything to see his client’s name in print, specifically the influential newspaper column written by JJ Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster, whose company produced the film). The power of the pen has never been mightier than in JJ’s hands. He can create or destroy careers, whether in show business or politics, and he well knows it. Those who get too close to JJ are likely to get burned, as Sidney may well discover.
With a big assist from James Wong Howe’s cinematography and Elmer Bernstein’s score, New York City has never seemed so alive with crackling energy and seething malice. Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets’ dialogue snaps with a still-potent sting (“I love this dirty town”), delivered to perfection by Lancaster (at his ruthless best) and Curtis (at maybe his best ever), and by Alexander Mackendrick’s hard-hitting direction.
Bonus features include an audio commentary, documentaries on Mackendrick and Wong Howe, and more. They don’t come any better, any more bitter, or any sharper. That’s the magic of Sweet Smell of Success.
“AIRWOLF”: SEASON FOUR (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): After its cancellation by network television, the super-powered helicopter flew once more in a syndicated, Canadian-made version broadcast on USA Network with an all-new cast. This DVD boxed set ($39.98 retail) includes all 24 episodes from the 1987-’88 (and only) season.
ALIEN FROM THE DEEP (One 7 Films/CAV Distributing): From director Antonio Margheriti (AKA Anthony M. Dawson) comes this hilarious 1989 sci-fi schlock in which toxic waste gives rise to a gigantic, mutant, claw-like creature (a low-rent Alien rip-off). The cast includes pretty Maria Giulia Cavalli (AKA Julia McKay), Daniel Bosch, Luciano Pigozzi (AKA Alan Collins) and token American Charles Napier (as the villain). Stupid but watchable, with a classic last line: “Who would want to believe it?” “DALLAS”: THE COMPLETE FOURTEENTH SEASON (Warner Home Video): It’s the last roundup at Southfork Ranch, in all 22 episodes from the 1990-’91 (and final) season of the long-running, award-winning prime-time CBS soap opera starring Larry Hagman (also an executive producer), Patrick Duffy, Howard Keel, Ken Kercheval, Barbara Bel Geddes, Charlene Tilton and George Kennedy. This five-DVD boxed set retails for $39.98.
DESERT GUNS (Alpha Home Entertainment): Conway Tearle essays a dual role in this slowmoving, low-budget 1936 Western, for undiscriminating fans.
“GUNSMOKE”: THE FOURTH SEASON, VOLUME 2 (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): A three-DVD boxed set ($38.99 retail) containing the remaining 20 episodes from the 1958-’59 season of the (very) long-running, primetime CBS Western series set in Dodge
City, where marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) lays down the law and keeps the peace. Dennis Weaver, as Matt’s faithful deputy Chester Goode, took home the Emmy as outstanding supporting actor in a dramatic series, and three additional Emmy nominations included Arness as outstanding lead actor, Amanda Blake (“Miss Kitty”) as outstanding supporting actress, and best Western series (a category long gone).
“HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL”: THE FIFTH SEASON” (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): Richard Boone is armed and dangerous as Paladin, the erudite gunslingerfor-hire, in all 38 from the 1961-’62 season of the prime-time CBS Western series. “Volume One” contains the first 19 episodes, “Volume Two” the remaining 19. Each volume (a three- DVD boxed set) retails for $42.99.
KENTUCKY BLUE STREAK (Alpha Home Entertainment): Eddie Nugent, Junior Coghlan and Patricia Scott get mixed up with gamblers and gangsters as they tout the title horse for glory in the Kentucky Derby. A hokey but not disagreeable programmer from 1935.
MICKEY THE GREAT (Alpha Home Entertainment): A compilation of comedy shorts from the long-running “Mickey McGuire” film series, based on the Toonerville Folks comic strip, starring young Mickey Rooney, then billed as Mickey McGuire.
MOBSTER DOUBLE FEATURE (Alpha Home Entertainment): A DVD twin-bill ($7.98 retail) of Italian-made spaghetti gangster films: Stelvio Massi’s 1977 Magnum Cop (AKA Fearless) stars Maurizio Merli as a jovial private eye (named Wally!) who tangles with femme fatale Joan Collins. The storyline’s a little fuzzy but there are some good scenes, including a Taxi Driver gag. In
1972’s The Long Arm of the Godfather (released in the US in ‘76), Peter Lee Lawrence steals a shipment of guns from one Don Carmelo (Adolfo Celi), who immediately orders a hit on Lawrence and his hooker girlfriend (Erika Blanc). An ironic twist ending and an oddly cheerful score distinguish this effort.
“MUSIC VIDEOS AND PERFORMANCES FROM THE TWILIGHT SAGA SOUNDTRACKS”: VOLUME 1 (Summit Entertainment): A self-explanatory collection of songs that used in the popular big-screen Twilight film franchise, featuring the likes of Collective Soul, Muse, Paramore, Bon Iver & St. Vincent, Metric, Iron & Wine, Death Cab for Cutie, Hurricane Bells, and more. Bonus tracks include Debussy and Verdi — although (understandably) they haven’t done many music videos. The DVD retails for $26.99, the Blu-ray for $34.99.
MY SOUL TO TAKE (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): This generic shocker is a major disappointment from Wes Craven, as seven teens all born the night that a serial killer in their town vanished, start getting killed off 16 years later. Rated R.
REFLECTIONS (Monarch Home Video):
Timothy Hutton (in good form) trails a serial killer to Barcelona in this intriguing thriller with some interesting ideas and echoes of Dario Argento. Maybe a twist too many, but not bad.
SKIPALONG ROSENBLOOM (Alpha Home Entertainment): Former boxer “Slapsie” Maxie Rosenbloom stars (and sings the title theme) in this knockabout 1951 spoof, which takes (very early) potshots at TV Westerns, replete with bogus commercial interruptions. When Rosenbloom orders “suds” at the saloon, he is given a glass of soap suds — which he downs in one gulp!
Directed by Sam Newfield, who made enough B Westerns to know what clichés to riff, with fellow pugilist Max Baer, Jackie Coogan, Hillary Brooke, Fuzzy Knight and Raymond Hatton rounding out the familiar cast. Co-screenwriter Dean Riesner would later pen such Clint Eastwood hits as Dirty Harry, Play Misty for Me and Coogan’s Bluff!
“SNUB POLLARD: SHOWTIME” (Alpha Home Entertainment): A DVD compilation ($7.98 retail) of short films, both silent and sound, which showcase the talents of comedian Harry “Snub” Pollard (1889-1962).
“THE TWILIGHT ZONE”: SEASON 3 (Image Entertainment): The Blu-ray debut ($99.98 retail) of all 37 episodes from the 1961-’62 season of the ever-popular, award-winning CBS fantasy series created and hosted by Rod Serling. Three Emmy nominations that season, including Serling for outstanding writing achievement in drama. Special features include audio commentaries, isolated music scores, radio dramas based on the series, and more.
AN ULTIMATE GULLIVER COLLECTION (Film Chest/American Pop Classics/Virgil Films & Entertainment): A DVD twin-bill ($15.95 retail) including two versions of Jonathan Swift’s classic tale, both of which are likely better than the recent Jack Black version: Producer Max Fleischer’s 1939 animated feature Gulliver’s Travels, which earned Academy Award nominations for best original score and best song (“Faithful Forever”); and the 1965 Japanese animated feature Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon.
Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2011, Mark Burger