DVD Reviews for 11/3: Special Teams Week
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 11/03/06 15:51:00
In which your faithful critic looks at DVDs featuring some of the all-time great entertainment duos: Martin & Lewis, Hasselhoff & Anderson, Hardcastle & McCormick, Tarzan & Jane and Jennifer Love Hewitt.
Finally appearing on the market after being mysteriously postponed from a release date earlier this spring, “Martin & Lewis Collection–Vol 1" collects half of the 16 films made by the duo of Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis from 1949-1956. Although the chronological order of the set means that some of their most interesting films (especially their final collaboration, 1956's “Hollywood Or Bust”) will have to wait for Volume 2 and the lack of any bonus materials (outside of a couple of trailers) will no doubt come as a disappointment to those who enjoyed the bounty of extras on the solo Jerry Lewis films released a couple of years ago, the titles collected here chart the on-screen growth of the duo from a stage phenomenon dipping their toes into a new medium to full-fledged screen icons.
MY FRIEND IRMA (1949): The duo made their screen debuts in this film adaptation of the long-running radio show about a ditzy gal (Marie Wilson) and her more practical roommate (Diana Lynn). Dean plays the roommate’s boyfriend, an aspiring singer, Jerry plays his loyal partner and the two basically steal the movie completely during their brief appearances together. The highpoint is a scene, lifted whole from their legendary live act, in which they kibbitz in a café to the evident delight of the extras sharing the scene.
MY FRIEND IRMA GOES WEST (1950): Proving that slapdash sequel existed long before the days of “Saw,” this film was rushed into production and released less than nine months after the debut of the first one. This time around, the duo plays more of a focal point in a story that sends them and the girls off to California to make it big in show business. A pretty sloppy movie that comes alive only during the performance bits and the oddball conclusion in which Jerry reacts to the news that he is about to become a star.
THAT’S MY BOY (1951): In their second film as full-fledged movie stars (the first, “At War With The Army” is not included in the set, presumably because it mysteriously fell out of copyright a few years ago), Jerry plays the nerdy son of an embarrassed jock type and Dean is the suave athlete hired to take the kid under his wing on the college football team. For once, the two are playing genuine characters instead of extensions of their showbiz personas and as a result, the film holds up better than most of the others today. That said, don’t think this is too serious–Jerry’s antics on the gridiron should crack anyone up. (According to IMDB, the guy doubling for Jerry in the kicking scenes is none other than Frank Gifford.)
SAILOR BEWARE (1952): Because “At War With The Army” was such a massive box-office success, Paramount quickly shoved them into another service comedy that is little more than a laundry list of Navy-related gags. Probably the least consequential of the films in this set but the sheer energy of the duo helps to elevate the shopworn material. Supposedly, a pre-stardom James Dean can be seen fleetingly as one of their fellow sailors.
JUMPING JACKS (1952): Another service comedy but a far funnier one than their previous excursions into the genre. Jerry plays a 4-F entertainer who sneaks into Fort Benning to help Dean, the former partner who left the act to join the military, put on a morale-boosting show. Unfortunately, Jerry gets mistaken for an actual soldier and is forced to continue the charade to keep the show going. Worth it just to see the scenes of Jerry bumbling his way through paratrooper training.
THE STOOGE (1953): Quite possibly the most autobiographical of the duo’s films (and easily the darkest), this uncharacteristically serious film (albeit with plenty of comedy and music) has Dean as an egocentric stage performer who utilizes lovable nerd Jerry as a stooge for his act and then refuses to give him any credit when his antics make them a success. Weirdly masochistic in tone–Dean basically treat Jerry like shit until the final scene while Jerry just sits there and takes it–this was such a radical departure from their previous films that Paramount kept it on the shelf for a couple of years before releasing it.
SCARED STIFF (1953): A remake of the Bob Hope haunted house comedy “The Ghost Breakers” in which Dean and Jerry, mistakenly accused of murder, flee to Cuba and become involved with helping out distressed heiress Lizabeth Scott. Among the high-points here are Jerry’s impersonation of Carmen Miranda (who makes a appearance as a spicy Latin nightclub performer) and the sight of Dean being the first man on the screen to utter the phrase “I’m a ghostbuster!”
THE CADDY (1953): Although this film opens with them as a top nightclub act, most of the film revolves around their antics on the golf course with Dean playing a self-centered heel and Jerry as his selfless and ever-loyal target of abuse. A notable film for the number of famous faces who pop up (Donna Reed plays Martin’s paramour and golfers Ben Hogan and Sam Snead make cameos as themselves), the surreal finale that anticipates some of the wilder conceptual gags that Lewis would deploy in his solo films and the debut of Dean Martin singing a little ditty entitled “That’s Amore.”
A Paramount Home Video release. $49.95
NEW AND NOTABLE
42nd STREET FOREVER VOL. 2: THE DEUCE (Synapse Films. $19.95): Trash-film buffs will be overjoyed with this two-hour compilation of lurid coming attractions designed to appeal to grindhouse audiences with heavy dollops of sex, violence and weirdness. Among the titles previewed here are “Delinquent Schoolgirls,” “Samson and the Slave Queen,” “The Giant Gila Monster,” “Rolling Thunder” and “The Pom-Pom Girls.”
BAYWATCH: SEASON 2 (First Look. $34.99): In this second-season collection of the legendary jiggle-fest (the first season is also available this week as well), Pamela Anderson (making her debut) and Erika Eleniak stick out their chests, David Hasselhoff sucks in his gut and the kid who plays Hobie presumably walks around in a crouch in order to conceal any embarrassing protuberances of his own
THE DEVIL’S RAIN (Dark Sky Films. $14.95): In one of the more infamous and ignoble debuts of all time, John Travolta made his screen debut in a small role in this silly supernatural film in which William Shatner and Tom Skerritt do battle with Satanic cult leader Ernest Borgnine. Travolta plays one of Borgnine’s disciples, screams out “Get him, for he is a blasphemer” and melts away into some form of goo during the titular event. As embarrassing Travolta screen appearances go, this one is admittedly pretty high up on the list, though I would take it over “The General’s Daughter,” “Two of a Kind,” “Perfect” or that thing where he played the angel in a heartbeat. (Speaking of embarrassing Travolta films, when is someone going to finally get the immortal “Moment By Moment” on DVD so new generations can experience the Travolta-Lily Tomlin hot tub scene in all its digital splendor.
DOWN TO THE BONE (Hart Sharp Video. $19.98): Even though it received what could only be described as a token release last year, Vera Farmiga’s searing performance as a suburban mother struggling with a drug dependency scored her the Best Actress award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Presumably it will find a wider audience on DVD thanks to Farmiga’s higher profile in the wake of her appearance in “The Departed.”
FATAL CONTACT: BIRD FLU IN AMERICA (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95): Presumably like Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” only 37% fluier.
GHOST WHISPERER: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $72.99): BOOB! Whoops–I meant to say BOO! Well, now that I think about it, I guess that the first one may actually be more appropriate after all.
HARDCASTLE & MCCORMICK–THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (SPG Records. $46.99): And yet another barely-remembered 80's action show–this one with Brian Keith and Daniel Hugh-Kelley solving crimes that the cops just can’t be bothered with–while the beloved Robert Stack classic “Strike Force” languishes on a shelf somewhere.
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE– 60th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Paramount Home Video. $19.99): If you bought the previously available DVD of the 1946 Frank Capra classic, you don’t really need to upgrade with this new version–outside of the title and cover, everything appears to be the same right down to the transfer. If you haven’t bought it before–what the hell is you problem? Not only is it easily the best holiday film of all time (albeit one of the darkest until the uplift of the last five minutes), but not even decades of overexposure have dulled its stature of one of the all-time Hollywood classics.
KISS–KISSOLOGY VOL. 1 (VH1. $29.98): KISS digs through their basement and pulls out a bunch of relics from the past–a collection of TV appearances and a couple of full concerts from their 1970's heyday–to put on the market just in time for the holidays. In a related story, I dug through my basement a couple of weeks ago looking for the old KISS Army model van I got as a birthday present as a wee lad and all I came up with were some minor gashes and a couple of mold-ridden issues of Smart Magazine with a questionable resale value.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): Hmm, do you think that Sumner Redstone is going to have a copy of this on his DVD shelf?
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WIFE (Noshame Video. $19.95): In this 1970 Italian obscurity from director Damiano Damiani (perhaps best known for the truly twisted “Amityville II: The Possession”), a peasant girl (“Flash Gordon” temptress Ornella Muti in her film debut) rejects the wooing of the nephew of the local Mafia head and is kidnapped and raped for her troubles. After the rest of the town, including her own family, turns their backs on her, she decides to flout convention and report the attack to the police.
THE TARZAN COLLECTION VOL. 2 (Warner Home Video. $39.98): The good news–more Tarzan movies from the nice people at Warners. The bad news–all the best ones turned up in the previous collection and the ones found here–1943's “Tarzan Triumphs,” 1944's “Tarzan’s Desert Mystery,” “1945's “Tarzan and the Amazons,” 1946's “Tarzan and the Leopard Woman,” 1947's “Tarzan and the Huntress” and 1948's “Tarzan and the Mermaids”–are fairly substandard by comparison, though relatively entertaining by the standards of cheesy 1940's B-movie programmers.
WHOEVER SAYS THE TRUTH SHALL DIE (Facets Home Video. $24.95): When acclaimed Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini (“The Decameron” and “Salo”) was murdered in 1975 by a 17-year-old male prostitute claiming self-defense, many people felt there was more to it because of his outspoken nature as Marxist, a homosexual and a critic of the corrupt politics of the day. This documentary takes a look at the circumstances surrounding his death to investigate whether there was a conspiracy or cover-up involved.