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DVD Reviews for 5/27: Insert tired 'I'm Rick James, bitch!' reference here.

by Peter Sobczynski

A warning: The first full paragraph of this week’s column is the kind of annoyingly personal gibberish that will be of interest to maybe three people, so feel free to skip it in good conscience.

Faithful readers of this column will recall that I dedicated an enormous amount of space a few weeks ago to the DVD release of the 1982 epic “The Pirate Movie,” a bizarre little number in which Kristy McNichol, Christopher Atkins and the largest collection of uncoordinated Australians seen outside of a Yahoo Serious film laid waste to the immortal operetta “The Pirates of Penzance.” Those of you who made it to the end, all six of you, may also recall that I dedicated the piece to Karen Klebbe, a person who remains my best friend despite her inexplicable contention that the film, not to mention “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” is vastly superior in quality to such trash as “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Well, having found, in the person of one Sam Vandegrift (forever to be known in the annals of history as The Lucky Bastard), the only other person in the world foolish enough to like that particular film, she has decided to pledge her troth to him this very weekend in will be a pirate-themed wedding ceremony. As thrilled as I am to be involved with a social situation in which it would be acceptable to arrive with a parrot or monkey, I will not be dressing up in such a manner–at most, I may just hand out bootleg copies of “Revenge of the Sith.” Instead, in an effort to get in the swing of things that does not require an eye-patch, I would like to once again dedicate the column to her and detail the recent release of a film that could have been considered the “Pirate Movie” of its day–except for the fact that this film is genuinely funny instead of inadvertently.

The film is “The Princess and the Pirate,” a 1944 comedy that was designed as a goof on the Errol Flynn swashbucklers of the day. In one of his funnier performances, Bob Hope stars as a low-rent actor who bills himself (since no one else will) as Sylvester the Great. For reasons that need no explanation, Sylvester finds himself held on a ship run by the depraved pirate known as the Hook (Victor McLaglen). Sylvester manages to escape with a treasure map (tattooed on his chest) and the mysterious and beautiful Margaret (Virginia Mayo) in tow. As it turns out, Margaret just happens to be a princess who has run away from an arranged marriage in order to elope with her true love. Before long, the duo are pursued by her father’s men, a crooked governor (Walter Slezak) who wants the girl and treasure for himself and, of course, The Hook.

Of course, the plot of a Bob Hope movie is besides the point–one watches them simply for the gags (and since the film is already a period piece, most of the jokes hold up fairly well today) and to admire Hope’s crack comic timing. Among the classic bits–Sylvester trying to pass himself off as The Hook, a later scene in which he tries to hide the map tattoo while sharing a bath with the governor and the inevitable cameo appearance from a certain day player from Paramount of vague renown. I also adore this classic bit of dialogue, one that perfectly sums up the adorable-coward character that Hope would return to time and again:

Margaret: “Why don’t you die like a man?”
Sylvester: “Because I’d rather live like a woman.”

For those who only know Hope from his television appearances over the years (not surprising as he essentially retired from films in 1972), “The Princess and the Pirate” is a hilarious reminder that when he was working with the right material, he could be as funny as anyone who ever stepped before the camera. Funny, exciting and relatively lavish, this is a hugely entertaining lark and while the bargain-price DVD may not have any extras to speak, I suspect most people will be laughing too hard at the film proper to notice.

Written by Everett Freeman, Don Hartman, Curtis Kenyon and Mel Shavelson. Directed by David Butler. Starring Bob Hope, Virginia Mayo, Walter Brennan, Walter Slezak and Victor McLaglen. 1944. 94 minutes. Unrated. An MGM Home Entertainment release. $14.95


AIRWOLF: SEASON ONE (Universal Home Video. $39.99): I’m going to tell you the same thing I told all those losers in the parking lot of Cary Jr. High two decades ago–with all due respect to the glories of Ernest Borgnine and Jan-Michael Vincent, Blue Thunder could kick Airwolf’s rotor any day of the week. Wanna make something of it?

ARE WE THERE YET? (Sony Home Entertainment. $29.95): Considering the surprising success of this terrible kiddie flick, combined with the equally surprising failure of “XXX-State of the Nation,” look for Ice Cube (not to mention other tough-guy rappers looking for an easy crossover hit) to spend the next few years getting covered with unpleasant substances while annoying kids shriek in his ears.

THE AVIATOR (Warner Home Video. $29.95): Sure, Howard Hughes was crazy-brilliant with the planes (and apparently just crazy in regards to most other things) but I didn’t see him design anything as cool as Blue Thunder. That copter could have chewed up the Spruce Goose for breakfast and still taken down Airwolf without a moment’s hesitation.

THE BIG TOWN (Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. $24.95): If you need a reason to purchase this reasonably entertaining 1950's-era gambling melodrama, I can sum it up in three words–Diane Lane molting. Those who have seen it know exactly what I mean and those who haven’t will be delighted to discover it for themselves.

CHAPPELLE’S SHOW: SEASON TWO (Paramount Home Entertainment. $36.99): You may as well pick up this second season of the acclaimed sketch show since it appears that will be seeing the third right around the time that “Mindhunters 2" hits theaters.

THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW: SPECIAL EDITION (Fox Home Entertainment. $26.98): You know, if there is anything out there scarier than seeing the kind of scenes that wind up getting deleted from the likes of a Roland Emmerich film, I’m not sure that I want to know about it. For those interested in contributing more money to the bottom line at Fox through double-dipping, this week also sees expanded editions of the equally cruddy “I Robot” and “Man on Fire.”

THE DETECTIVE (Fox Home Entertainment. $14.98): Although most of Frank Sinatra’s film work saw him coasting through a bunch of silly projects where the most important governing idea was getting him out in time every day to goof off with his buddies (let’s see if that clears Legal), he was capable of giving strong and committed performances when suitably prodded. This was one of those films–a gripping police procedural in which Sinatra plays a police detective whose investigation into the murder of a gay man leads him into a maze of sex, drugs and high-level corruption. (Trivia note: Rodercik Thorp, who wrote the novel that the film is based on, wrote a follow-up book featuring the Sinatra character entitled “Nothing Lasts Forever” which finally made it to the screen two decades later under the name of “Die Hard.”)

FORTY GUNS (Fox Home Entertainment. $14.98): Those of you who picked up the extended cut of “The Big Red One” and developed a taste for the wild pulp fantasies of Sam Fuller will be more than satisfied with this 1957 western, one of the loopiest tales of his entire career. In this lurid inversion of traditional genre elements, Barbara Stanwyck plays a domineering cattle baroness who essentially runs an entire town, only to wind up falling for the very lawman (Barry Sullivan) sent to straighten things out. Those looking for a more straightforward western might want to look up Fox’s release of the 1939 John Ford-Henry Fonda classic “Drums Along the Mohawk.”

KIRIKOU AND THE SORCERESS (Facets Video. $29.95): In the amazing 1998 animated feature, a child is born in a ravaged African village who can already walk and talk within seconds of emerging from the womb. When his mother tells him of the sorceress that doomed their village by drying up all the water and killing all the male warrior except for one, Kirikou sets out with that one warrior to find her and save the day. A visually striking and enormously entertaining film, this was inexplicably barely distributed in America–apparently, distributors squirmed over the fact that most of the characters aren’t wearing very many clothes. Pure nonsense–this is a delight (more entertaining than the likes of “Shark Tale” or “Madagascar”) that will endear itself to viewers of all ages.

NEWSRADIO-THE COMPLETE FIRST & SECOND SEASONS (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. $39.95): Though it never became much more than a cult favorite during its five seasons on the air (possibly because NBC switched its time slot twelve times during its run) and never got a fraction of the publicity of something like “Friends,” this workplace comedy set in a New York radio station stands alongside “The Simpsons” and “Seinfeld” as the best sitcom of the 1990's. Like the former, it effortlessly weaved together surrealist humor, cunning pop-culture references and characters who somehow made their lunacy likable. Like the latter, the weirdness was anchored by a solid ensemble cast (featuring, among others, Dave Foley, Maura Tierney and the late Phil Hartman in the greatest role of his career) who worked so well together (hell, even Joe Rogan and Andy Dick scored here) that you could almost see the sparks flying in the middle of scenes. Everyone must buy this set, if only to ensure the release of Season 4 and the infamous “Super Karate Monkey Death Car” episode.

THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY (Criterion. $29.95): Still crazy after all these years, Luis Bunuel’s late-period 1974 masterpiece is a surreal collage of skits, gags and utter weirdness. Among the sights–the distraught parents of a little girl report her missing to the police, even though she is sitting right next to them in the same room, a doctor offers a cigarette to the patient that he has just diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and, in the most infamous bit, guests at a party sit on toilets arranged around the table and occasionally excuse themselves to go into another room to eat some food. You may not think that you want to see this but trust me, you should.

THE RAZOR’S EDGE (Fox Home Video. $14.98): Somerset Maughm’s landmark novel, about a disillusioned man searching for the meaning of life after experiencing first-hand the horrors of World War I, was the basis of this respectful 1946 version. A bit overblown and at times dated, it is still a worthwhile adaptation (as was the unjustly maligned 1984 version with Bill Murray) and features strong performances from Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney and Anne Baxter, who won the Supporting Actress Oscar for her work here.

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originally posted: 05/27/05 12:49:47
last updated: 06/03/05 15:05:30
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