12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from the dark corners of stevenl's video vault:
Dark Command / directed by Raoul Walsh (1940, VHS). John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes, Walter Pidgeon, Marjorie Main, Joe Sawyer, Stanley Blystone (uncredited), Yakima Canutt (uncredited). A movie made on the eve of the United States entry into WWII and set on the eve of the Civil War. With Bloody Kansas as the stage, this is a thinly disguised and inaccurate depiction of how Quantrill's Raiders terrorized the prairies. Although not as blatantly pro-slave holding culture as another 1940 Western, Santa Fe Trail, there does seem to be an effort to appease Southern audiences and include them in the definition of "American"-- after all, we're all going to need each other when we get into this war in Europe and the Pacific. John Wayne is the honest and good Big Galoot, Walter Pidgeon the over-educated and slick bad guy. A very young Roy Rogers has long hair and shouts out a silly "Yip!" from time to time. My copy has been colorized, and this is a case where it enhanced the film. There are guns galore. Looks like Republic Pictures sunk more bucks into their production budget than usual for this work.
Fatty Joins the Force / directed by George Nichols (1913, VHS). Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Dot Farley, Edgar Kennedy, Mack Swain. Fatty joins the local police force to impress his girl, but discovers the job is harder than he thought. I made it about 5 minutes into the story before this 20-year old VHS cassette finally died. Yes, I see it was produced by my old friends at the short-lived and cheapo Burbank Video. Fatty seemed to share, along with Curly Howard, John Belushi, Chris Farley, John Candy, etc., the Curse of the Large Comedian. One of Mack Swain's earliest appearances on film. Local trivia: Swain died in Tacoma, Aug. 25, 1935.
Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo = The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly / directed by Sergio Leone (1966, VHS). Eli Wallach, Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Aldo Giuffrè. Beautiful, classy, epic and pretentious, this is the Clintessential Spaghetti Western of all time. It is ironic the title divides the characters into classifications, as Leone really took the old stereotypes and muddied them up. All three are mercenaries, chasing down a buried pile of money against the backdrop of Civil War carnage. Filmed in Spain with a literal army of Spanish extras and Italian supporting actors, the entire setting is a little surreal. Although Eastwood and Van Cleef are perfectly cast, it is Wallach who walks away with the film in his pocket. As The Ugly, we learn some of his biography and his semi-comic performance helps give him a closer connection with the audience while the Good and the Bad are more remote. Aldo Giuffrè is memorable as the jaded and alcoholic Union captain-- more of a comment on the wars of the 1960s than the 1860s. The amazing soundtrack was expertly woven into the story. Impressive production values. The final Mexican standoff scene remains one of the best of the genre. I had not watched this film since the late 1970s, and it has gotten better with time. I guess that's the sign of a classic.
Piano Tooners / directed by John Foster, George Rufle (1932, DVD). Bonnie Poe (uncredited voice). Van Beuren Studios was a short-lived animation house that seemed very influenced by Max Fleischer. Tom and Jerry, a tall and short duo, were counted among the Studio's stars. These two fellows predate the cat and mouse team we think of today when these names are used. Lots of primitive but funny sight gags in black and white, with some risque and trippy asides. There is even a toilet flushing in this one! Mostly a musical piece with very little dialogue. Bonnie Poe took a break from being the voice of Olive Oyl for Fleischer to moonlight here.
The Frisco Kid / directed by Robert Aldrich (1979, VHS). Gene Wilder, Harrison Ford, Val Bisoglio, Vincent Schiavelli. A freshly minted rabbi (Wilder) is sent from Poland to San Francisco in 1850. In the process of the overland part of his journey from Philadelphia to the Bay Area he encounters swindlers, Amish, railroad workers, Native Americans, a posse, monks who have taken a vow of silence, and a holdup man (the last character played by a very young Harrison Ford). An eccentric, ecumenical, and charming film about faith. Also a strange buddy picture, with Ford basically being the guardian angel for Wilder's Candide. Probably the only Western you'll ever see with a Jewish-Native American rain dance scene. I'm certain I saw Wallace Shawn on the screen a couple times, but he doesn't turn up in the credits. Maybe it was his double. One of Wilder's most intelligent and thoughtful comedies. And overlooked. Although he was great in the Mel Brooks films of the same era, this motion picture is a departure from that strain of humor and appears to be trying for a different sort of audience. The second-to-the-last film for Aldrich, a director who made his name with action and drama films. Ironically, the fact that Aldrich was out of his element with comedy probably helped give this story the unconventional edge that makes it so appealing.
"Brad's Class Reunion" (I Married Joan) / directed by Ezra Stone (1952, VHS). Joan Davis, Jim Backus, Elvia Allman, Hal Smith. Joan and her aunt fear Brad will rekindle an alleged old flame when he attends his out-of-town class reunion. Hilarity ensues when the two attempt various methods of social engineering to manipulate him into staying home. OK, I'm lying. It isn't really all that hilarious. But it is interesting as a sociological period piece. The theme song of the series can be an incredibly annoying earworm if you let it.
The King of Comedy / directed by Martin Scorsese (1982, DVD). Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott, Sandra Bernhard, Shelley Hack, Ed Herilhy, Joe Strummer, Joyce Brothers, Victor Borge, Frederick De Cordova, Tony Randall. "Better to be King for a night than schmuck for a lifetime." An uncomfortable motion picture that really defies any sort of categorization and I'm not sure we have caught up to the message in this work yet. More terrifying than any of Scorsese's other pictures (which is saying a lot) due to the fact it is closer to our normal American experience-- except we have a chance to experience the price of celebrity status from the point of view of the celebrity himself. As I watch De Niro and Bernhard wonderfully portray star-obsessed pathetics with painful personal lives they need to escape, I can't help but feel the 1980 assassination of John Lennon by a twisted mental case was the inspiration for this story. Mark David Chapman, James Earl Ray, Lee Harvey Oswald: Why are assassins and the snob set usually known by all three names as opposed to the rest of us wage slaves? Interesting, eh? Anyway. This film was a big risk for Scorsese, De Niro, and Lewis, as all three seriously broke type here. De Niro wants a shot on late night TV so bad as a standup comic, he's willing to kidnap a popular host so he can get his big break. His fanatical and delusional drive, aided by the amazing fangirl performance by Bernhard, is more frightening than any of the Mob figures in Scorsese's other work. I love the fact the director has De Niro and Bernhard having a fan argument on the street with a "Chock Full o' Nuts" store sign in the background. It is difficult to tell when the fantasy sequences of De Niro's character begin and end as the story progresses. Was the final scene for real, or in his head? Very nice writing there. Jerry Lewis showed us he can really act. He is terrific as the jaded late night TV host, and we really feel an authentic sense of what daily life must be like for people who are well known in TV and movie land. This is his best film, although I'd say Funny Bones is a close second. The biggest weakness in this movie is the fact that in the scenes shot on the streets, normal passerby people stand and stare at the cameraman and the actors-- a real illusion-breaker. But all in all, a movie worth the viewing time even a quarter century later.
The Master of Disguise / directed by Perry Andelin Blake (2002, VHS). Dana Carvey, Brent Spiner, Jennifer Esposito, Harold Gould, James Brolin, Edie McClurg, Jessica Simpson, Kevin Nealon, Bo Derek, Jesse Ventura (uncredited). Filled with jokes about farts and big butts, this is a very disappointing movie. Seeing the cast list, I had high hopes, but all that talent was shot to Hell. I found myself just waiting to see what sort of character Carvey would morph into while enduring the filler time as I would if I was having a root canal and trying to think of other things to keep my mind occupied. Yes. This film is a real stinker. Unlike Peter Sellers, who Carvey appears to be emulating, Dana does possess a likable warmth and that alone keeps this thing from being a total waste. I particularly liked his Turtleman character. If you rent or buy this motion pictuire, just save yourself the trouble and fast forward to the ending credits. The extensive outtakes and bloopers they run are far more interesting than the movie itself. Carvey's incredible talent deserved a better venue than this.
"Njorl's Saga" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 13, episode 27) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1972, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Connie Booth, Frank Williams. Njol's saga-- Iceland 1126, Murder trial, Njorl's saga pt. 2, North Malden, Bleeding trial, Stock market report, Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion visit Jean-Paul Sartre, Norl's saga pt. 4, Whicker's World. Tight writing and nice interweaving of skits. Michael Palin as Police Constable Pan Am giving evidence in court is not to be missed.
À nous la liberté / directed by René Clair (1931, VHS). Henri Marchand, Raymond Cordy, Rolla France, Paul Ollivier. This little French gem of a film is a talkie without much talk. In the early days of sound, directors appeared to be willing to take more risks, as Clair seems to have done here (either that or the conventional ruts of soundtrackiness had yet to be set). This is more like a silent film with a supplied musical soundtrack. There is much more singing than talking in the story, which is just as well since the minimal English subtitles are white on white anyway. There are better subtitled versions out there. Mine was from a 1994 Hollywood Select Video VHS cassette, that had the tag on the container, and I'm transcribing it as it reads: "Resopnsibility Is Hell." Not a good sign. Probably just as well the English subtitles were far and few between. The story begins with two convicts who work in a penal sweatshop producing toys as part of a prison industry. They make an escape attempt. One succeeds, the other is caught. The prisoner who gains his freedom uses his criminal cunning to become a respected captain of industry, which is where he sits when his tardy mate catches up to him. Visually sophisticated, with pointed parallels between prison life, industrial employment, and school. Sometimes it is hard to tell the prison scenes apart from the industrial worker scenes. In a bit of irony, the money/wind section of the story suggests God, via the force of nature, is a Marxist. Accused of stealing a lot of the material from this movie when he made Modern Times (1935), Charlie Chaplin agreed to settle out of court.
"Queeg" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1988, off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Norman Lovett, Charles Augins. Red Dwarf computer Holly appears to be screwing up more than usual to the point where he is "like a blind, old, incontinent sheepdog." After an electrical disaster when the crew are the victims of Holly's miscalculations, Rimmer explodes, "You are a total, total-- a word has yet to be invented to describe how totally whatever it is you are-- but you are one, and a total, total one at that!" Enter the backup computer, the Queeg 500. Sort of a cross between HAL and Bogart's Capt. Queeg. Holly's goodbye scene is right of 2001: A Space Odyssey-- with a smaller budget but more emotion. Rimmer's holographic freakout is an amazing scene, where Chris Barrie basically imitates the entire cast. One of the better episodes in the series.
"Back to Reality" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Rob Grant, Juliet May, Doug Naylor (1992, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Hattie Hayridge, Robert Llewellyn, Timothy Spall, Lenny van Dohlen. What would you do if you woke up and discovered your whole life had actually been a virtual reality game and you had been immersed in it so long you had forgotten you a "real," and incredibly sad, existence? Complete with a Despair Squid and Timothy Spall, we get to see the regulars reluctantly step outside their normal characters. Considered one of the best stories in the Red Dwarf run, and for good reason. The last we see of Hattie Hayridge as Holly in the 1990s, I'm sorry to say.