video vault

by Mark Burger

DVD Pick of the week: tennessee’s Partner

(VCI Entertainment)

This 1955 Western melodrama, based on a Bret Harte story and directed by the prolific Allan Dwan, is chiefly notable today for the performance of one Ronald Reagan in the title role.

The future commander-in-chief plays a role that suited him perfectly, that of a stalwart, stand-up, true-blue cowpoke — so much so that the character’s name is Cowpoke. Top-billed John Payne plays Tennessee, a smooth gambler and gunman whose life is saved by Cowpoke. The two become fast friends, but when Cowpoke’s fiance (Coleen Gray) shows up, Tennessee is well aware of something his pal is not: the lady’s a tramp. This causes a rift between them, but when Tennessee is framed for murder, it’s Cowpoke who once again stands by his friend — although not before giving him a good thrashing.

Rhonda Fleming plays Tennessee’s love interest, Duchess, and although it’s never stated outright, it’s fairly obvious what her line of work is. (Check out her costumes and her stable of friendly ladies, one of whom is a young Angie Dickinson!) Tennessee’s Partner is a good old-fashioned meat-andpotatoes horse opera, with cinematography by John Alton and an amusing score (courtesy Louis Forbes), the sort that offers a stab of music every time someone lands a punch, which is not infrequent.

ALSO Available

“BEING HUMAN”: SEASON THREE (BBC Worldwide): A collection of eight episodes from the 2011 season of the popular, award-winning British fantasy series about two werewolves (Russell Tovey and Sinead Keenan), a ghost (Lenora Crichlow) and a vampire (Aidan Turner) trying to cope with fitting in in a suburban neighborhood. SyFy has remade the series for the US. The DVD boxed set retails for $49.98, the Blu-ray boxed set for $59.98.

BLUE VALENTINE (The Weinstein Company/ Anchor Bay Entertainment): The dissection of a marriage on the rocks, as enacted by Michelle Williams (Oscar nominee as Best Actress) and Ryan Gosling. The two stars go for broke, but this miserable, depressing film becomes repetitious and even annoying. Break up, already. One of 2010’s most overrated films. Rated R.

“CAPTAIN PLANET AND THE PLANETEERS”: SEASON ONE (Cartoon Network Enterprises/Shout! Factory): A four-DVD boxed set ($29.93 retail) of all 26 episodes from the premiere 1990-’91 season of the awardwinning animated children’s series focusing on the adventures of a superhero (voiced by David Coburn) determined to protect Earth’s environment and ecology. The star-studded voiceover cast also includes James Coburn, Martin Sheen, Meg Ryan, Dean Stockwell, LeVar Burton, Whoopi Goldberg and Edward Asner, the latter two earning Daytime Emmy nominations as Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Series.

DEVOLVED (Severin Films): Lord of the Flies meets “Survivor” in this boring, tiresome comedy about a group of partying teenagers stranded on an island off the coast of Mexico. Lindsey Shaw, Gary Entin and Chris Kattan are on hand.

“DROP DEAD DIVA”: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A DVD boxed set ($29.95 retail) of all 13 episodes from the 2010 season of the popular Lifetime sitcom starring Brooke Elliott as a would-be fashion model who is reincarnated (sort of) as a brilliant attorney. Guest stars include Paula Abdul, Cybill Shepherd, Leelee Sobieski, Natasha Henstridge and Chad Lowe.

“THE ERNIE KOVACS COLLECTION” (Ediad Productions/Shout! Factory): A six-DVD boxed set ($69.97 retail) featuring a rare selection of television specials, episodes, vintage archival material and additional bonus footage focusing on the career of influential, awardwinning funnyman Ernie Kovacs (1919-’62), including some that haven’t been since since the original airing. I never quite got Kovacs, but I know plenty of people who did — and revere him to this day. Thus, this is a must for the Kovacs Kompletist.

JACKSON COUNTY JAIL/CAGED HEAT DOUBLE-FEATURE COLLECTOR’S EDITION (Shout! Factory): A DVD twin-bill ($19.93 retail) boasting a pair of low-budget drive-in favorites produced by Roger Corman: Yvette Mimieux and Tommy Lee Jones star in Jackson County Jail (1976); Erica Gavin and Barbara Steele star in Caged Heat (1974), written and directed by future Oscar winner Jonathan Demme. Both films are rated R.

LIFETIME ORIGINAL MOVIES (A&E Home Entertainment): A selection of made-for-TV movies originally broadcast on Lifetime: Shelley Long stars in the 2006 comedy Honeymoon With Mom; Playing House (also ‘06) stars Joanne Kelly, Lucas Bryant and Michael Murphy; Melora Hardin headlines Mom, Dad and Her (2008); Gail O’Grady and Grant Show star in Sex & the Single

Mom (2003) and the sequel, More Sex and the Single Mom (2005). Each DVD retails for $14.95.

POOR PRETTY EDDIE (Film Chest/HD Cinema Classics/Virgil Films & Entertainment): Jean Genet’s The Balcony was supposedly the inspiration for this weird 1975 drive-in melodrama, which also echoes Deliverance (1972), starring Leslie Uggams as a singer who is brutally assaulted when she is waylaid in a hick Georgia town. Every negative Southern stereotype is trotted out, with much of the violence emphasized in (overly) symbolic slow-motion. Michael Christian plays the nasty Eddie of the title, with Slim Pickens, Ted Cassidy, Dub Taylor and the incomparable Shelley Winters vying to chew the scenery at every turn. Available in a DVD/ Blu-ray combo pack ($19.99 retail). Rated R.

ROGER CORMAN CULT CLASSICS ACTION-PACKED TRIPLE FEATURE (Shout! Factory): The title tells all in this special-edition DVD ($13.99 retail) of free-wheeling action comedies produced by Roger Corman: Claudia Jennings and Jocelyn Jones headline 1976’s The Great Texas Dynamite Chase (rated R), which marked the directorial debut of Michael Pressman; Dirk Benedict, Tanya Tucker and Terri Nunn star in 1980’s Georgia Peaches, which was originally broadcast on CBS as a potential pilot; and Jimmy McNichol and Janet Julian star in 1981’s Smokey Bites the Dust (rated PG). Hardly great art, but fast-moving, time-killing fun.

ROMEO AND JULIET (VCI Entertainment):

Laurence Harvey and Susan Shentall (in her first and only screen role) occupy the title roles in director Renato Castellani’s award-winning 1954 adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic, featuring Flora Robson, Mervyn Johns, Sebastian Cabot and John Gielgud as the Chorus. Available on DVD ($19.99 retail) or Blu-ray ($24.99 retail).

WELCOME TO THE RILEYS (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Jake Scott directed this sincerely-intentioned misfire starring James Gandolfini as a middle-aged man on a business trip to New Orleans, where he develops a friendship with teen stripper Kristen Stewart — a development that, understandably, has emotional repercussions on him and his wife (Melissa Leo). Attempts at profundity yield pretentiousness, but everyone tries hard. Look fast for Ally Sheedy. Jake’s dad Ridley and uncle Tony were among the executive producers. Rated R.

WILLIAM KUNSTLER: DISTURBING THE UNIVERSE (Docurama Films): This award-winning documentary is a thorough, even-handed insight into the life and career of William Kunstler (1919-’95), the firebrand attorney who was revered, reviled and often feared during a long career in which he preached the law and loved the limelight (and vice-versa). Personal insight into Kunstler’s public persona is well conveyed by daughters Emily and Sarah Kunstler, who produced and directed this entertaining, informative film.

THE YES MEN FIX THE WORLD (Docurama Films): Writer/producer/director Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno’s award-winning documentary feature follows them as they embark on a campaign of elaborate, frequently hilarious, hoaxes on big business. Think Michael Moore crossed with “Corporate Candid Camera,” with the “SurvivaBall” a highlight.

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2011, Mark Burger