Video Vault – Feb 5, 2020
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
PICK OF THE WEEK
THE GREAT McGINTY (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Screenwriter Preston Sturges reportedly offered his script for The Great McGinty (1940) for $10 – with the proviso that he make his directorial debut. The studio accepted, and the end result is a classic screwball comedy that won Sturges the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
Brian Donlevy stars as the title character, an opportunistic hobo whose inexplicable, seemingly absurd, rise to political power is engineered by a crafty, underhanded wheeler-dealer known only as “The Boss” (Akim Tamiroff). A marriage of convenience is arranged – by The Boss, of course – between McGinty and his secretary (Muriel Angelus, in her final film), but her idealism begins to crack McGinty’s cynical facade, much to the increasing ire of her former employer.
Smart, snappy, and still relevant, the film makes its points in both witty and thought-provoking fashion, and an appealing cast includes William Demarest, Allyn Joslin, Thurston Hall, and Arthur Hoyt. Donlevy and Tamiroff’s onscreen bickering proved so popular that Sturges recast them in the same roles in his 1944’s The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek – itself a comedy classic.
The special-edition Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentaries, theatrical trailer, and more. ***½
APPRENTICE TO MURDER (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): A collector’s-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) of the atmospheric, fact-based chiller set in a Pennsylvania Dutch community in the 1920s, where teenager Chad Lowe falls under the sway of a charismatic spiritualist Donald Sutherland, who suspects Satanic forces are at large. Sutherland is mesmerizing and Mia Sara alluring as Lowe’s love interest, but Lowe’s blandness is a major drawback. Special features include audio commentary, retrospective interviews, theatrical trailer, and more. Rated PG-13. **½
BLACK AND BLUE (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Rookie cop Naomie Harris tries to hide on the mean streets of New Orleans when she witnesses her fellow officers murdering a drug dealer in cold blood in this well-made, fairly topical action thriller, boasting excellent cinematography by Dante Spinotti and good work from Harris, Tyrese Gibson (as a helpful clerk) and Frank Grillo (as the main villain). Both the DVD ($30.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.99 retail) include bonus features. Rated R. **½
BLUEBIRD (Cleopatra Entertainment/MVD Entertainment Group): Producer/director/editor Brian Loschiavo’s debut feature documentary explores the illustrious history of The Bluebird Café in Nashville, where such future tars as Taylor Swift, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Faith Hill, Kasey Musgraves, and Trisha Yearwood enjoyed early success, available on Blu-ray ($24.95 retail).
“BRITISH NOIR II: 5 FILM SET” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): A self-explanatory DVD selection ($49.95 retail) of British thrillers in the classic film noir tradition: The Interrupted Journey (1949) with Valerie Hobson and Richard Todd; 1953’s Cosh Boy (also released as The Slasher), scripted and directed by Lewis Gilbert, with Joan Collins and James Kenney; Dennis Price and Renee Asherson in Time is My Enemy (1954), based on the play Second Chance; Time Lock (1957) with Robert Beatty, Lee Patterson, and an early appearance by Sean Connery; and 1957’s The Vicious Circle (also released as The Circle) starring John Mills, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Roland Culver, and Lionel Jeffries. Kino Lorber Studio Classics has also released Cosh Boy (The Slasher) as a single DVD ($19.95 retail).
COUNTDOWN (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): Writer/director Justin Dec’s debut feature is a dopey, one-note shocker about a phone app that predicts when the subscriber will die – and young nurse Elizabeth Lail’s time is running out. Basically “Final Destination on the Phone,” with awkwardly inserts comedic and dramatic elements, although Lail, Jordan Calloway (fellow endangered subscriber), and Tom Segura (wise-cracking phone salesman) try to give it a lift, available on DVD ($29.98 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($34.98 retail). Rated PG-13. *
FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): The best-selling novel by V.C. Andrews takes a drubbing in screenwriter/director Jeffrey Bloom’s flaccid 1987 adaptation that loses almost everything in translation, starring Victoria Tennant as the widowed mother whose children are relegated to live in the attic of her childhood home in the care of her imperious mother (Louise Fletcher, cast to type). Andrews, who died just prior to the film’s release, has a cameo as the housekeeper. Numerous behind-the-scenes conflicts, including an imposed re-shoot of the ending, compromised this production – and it shows. A missed opportunity of the first order. The collector’s-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) includes audio commentary, retrospective interviews, original trailer, and the original ending. Rated PG-13. *
HOUSE BY THE RIVER (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Despite working under the low-budget auspices of Republic Pictures, Fritz Lang fashions a lurid, occasionally surreal psychological thriller with this 1950 adaptation of A.P. Herbert’s novel, starring Louis Hayward as an arrogant, dissipated mystery writer who coerces older brother Lee Bowman to cover up a murder, then sits back and watches as the brother is implicated. Hayward plays his increasingly sociopathic character with relish, with good support from Wyatt (as his wife) and particularly Bowman. Lang reportedly disliked the film because it wasn’t successful, but it holds up quite well. Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) boast bonus features including audio commentary and trailers. ***
JIM ALLISON: BREAKTHROUGH (Giant Films): Bill Haney wrote, produced, and directed this feature documentary tracing the life and career of scientist and 2018 Nobel Prize winner Jim Allison and his life-long struggle to make breakthroughs in cancer research, often bucking the medical establishment along the way. Narrated by Woody Harrelson and shot by Allison’s son Robert, this is a worthy and hopeful, if leisurely paced, tribute to a hard-working, harmonica-playing pioneer of contemporary medicine. Rated PG-13. ***
LAST CHRISTMAS (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding pair off in producer/director Paul Feig’s PG-13-rated romantic comedy/drama, inspired by the music of George Michael, in which embittered cynic Clarke falls for hunky but mysterious Golding. Producer/screenwriter Emma Thompson (who co-wrote the story with husband Greg Wise), Michelle Yeoh, Anna Calder-Marshall, and Patti LuPone also appear, available on DVD ($29.98 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($34.98 retail), each replete with bonus features.
THE LEOPARD MAN (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): A special-edition Blu-ray ($29.99 retail) of this 1943 adaptation of Cornell Woolrich’s Black Alibi, set in a sleepy New Mexico town rocked by a series of murders attributed to an escaped circus leopard. Although not as well-known as earlier collaborations between producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur (Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie), this is tight, trim, and wonderfully atmospheric, with a cast including Dennis O’Keefe, Jean Brooks, Margo, Isabelle Jewell, James Bell, and Abner Biberman. Special features include audio commentaries, theatrical trailer, and more. ***
MISTER AMERICA (Magnolia Home Entertainment): Comedian Tim Heidecker (also a writer/producer) embarks on an independent, grass roots, and fairly clueless campaign for San Bernardino County district attorney in this inspired, occasionally bumpy “mockumentary,” spun off from Heidecker’s web series/podcast On Cinema in the Cinema series, with writer/producer Gregg Turkington as his nemesis, and writer/producer/director Eric Notarnicola making his feature debut. Reportedly shot in three days (!), the DVD ($26.98 retail) includes audio commentary, campaign ads, theatrical trailer, and more. Rated R. **½
NOON WINE (Kino Classics): Michael Fields made his feature debut as writer/director of this 1985 adaptation of Katherine Anne Porter’s short novel, originally broadcast on PBS’s American Masters series, starring Fred Ward as a farmer in 19th-century Texas whose hiring of Swedish handyman Stellan Skarsgard (in his American debut) unexpectedly proves his undoing. A well-rendered version of an American tragedy, with Lise Hilboldt, Jon Cryer, James Gammon, Wayne Tippit, Roberts Blossom, and the always-welcome Pat Hingle in support. The DVD ($19.95 retail) includes audio commentary. ***
THE REPTILE (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): John Gilling directed this memorable 1966 Hammer Films shocker, in which the residents of a remote 19th-century village Cornish village fall victim to an unknown, seemingly inhuman, fiend. Effective and atmospheric, with subtle digs at British colonialism – and its consequences. Hammer favorite Michael Ripper stands out in an ensemble cast including Noel Willman, Jacqueline Pearce, Ray Barrett, Jennifer Daniel, John Laurie, Marne Maitland, and Charles Lloyd-Pack. The special-edition Blu-ray ($27.99 retail) includes audio commentary, retrospective documentary, theatrical trailers, and more. ***
SUMMER DAYS WITH COO (GKIDS/Shout! Factory): Keiichi Hara’s award-winning 2007 animated fantasy epic (originally titled Kappa no Ku to natsuyasumi), based on Masao Kogure’s best-selling novel and inspired by Japanese mythology, details the friendship between a lonely young boy (voiced by newcomer Takahiro Yokokawa) and a baby creature (voiced by newcomer Kazato Tomizawa) that has lain dormant for 300 years. In Japanese with English subtitles, available in a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($26.99 retail).
“SYLVESTER STALLONE DOUBLE FEATURE” (MVD Marquee Collection/MVD Entertainment Group): A pair of DVD double features showcasing the Italian Stallion’s thespian gifts: The all-star, R-rated 2002 whodunit Eye See You (also known as D-Tox) and the ensemble 2014 drama Reach Me (rated PG-13); the 2002 mob comedy Avenging Angelo and the star-studded 2003 gambling melodrama Shade, both rated R. Each DVD retails for $14.95. MVD also released a special-edition Blu-ray of Shade ($26.95 retail).
VOICE OF THE EAGLE: THE ENIGMA OF ROBBIE BASHO (MVD Visual/MVD Entertainment Group): Filmmaker Liam Barker’s 2015 feature documentary debut offers an intriguing and sympathetic portrait of the “mystical” musician Robbie Basho (1940-’86), born Daniel R. Robinson Jr., his eccentric and enigmatic personality, the music he created, and the circumstances behind his bizarre death, featuring interviews with friends, family members, and collaborators (including Pete Townshend, “Country Joe” McDonald, Glenn Jones, William Ackerman, and others). The three-disc DVD/Blu-ray combo ($29.95 retail) includes extended interviews. ***
(Copyright 2020, Mark Burger)