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DVD Reviews for 9/5: The Dark Ends of the Street

by Peter Sobczynski

This week’s collection of DVD releases includes a slew of TV shows (both new and old), a trio of film noir classic, some soft-core sleaze and a couple of smaller titles that you probably missed during their brief theatrical excursions. However, if you have the time and inclination, you should try to watch at least one of the “Smokey and the Bandit” films (either the unfathomably complex original or the brilliantly surreal “Part 3”) this weekend as a way of paying tribute to the late, great Jerry Reed.

Over the past few years, Fox Home Entertainment has released several waves of DVD’s chronicling their stabs at the film noir genre during its heyday from the late 1940’s through the 1950’s. Of course, the best-known titles, classics such as “Laura,” “Kiss of Death,” “Nightmare Alley” and “Panic in the Streets,” were put out fairly early in the program and as the series has progressed, the titles have inevitably shifted from ones that most film fans would instantly recognize to obscurities that might be unfamiliar to even the most dedicated buffs. Of course, that isn’t to suggest that there is anything wrong with these lesser-known titles--in many cases, they are just as fascinating as the ones that everyone knows and loves. That is definitely the case with the three titles in the latest “Fox Film Noir” wave hitting stores this week; although their titles may be a little obscure to casual viewers, they are just as steeped in the traditions of the genre--hard-bitten men, tawdry dames, fedoras, rain, moody lighting, cigarette smoke and fatalistic stories in which no good deed, friendship or romance goes unpunished in a cold and cruel world--and each one is well worth checking out.

Shot in a largely semi-documentary style (the kind utilized in “Call Northside 777”) by director Elia Kazan, 1947’s “Boomerang” tells a story of crime and (in)justice inspired by an early case in the career of eventual Attorney General Homer Cummings. In it, a priest in a small Connecticut town is brutally gunned down and despite few tangible clues and only the vaguest witness descriptions, the police chief (Lee J. Cobb) finally responds to the civic outcry by arresting a suspect (Arthur Kennedy) and getting a confession out of him. However, District Attorney Henry Harvey (Dana Andrews), the man in charge of prosecuting the case, has serious doubts as to the man’s guilt and eventually winds up defending him in court. Like most of Elia Kazan’s films, this melodrama is a bit on the dated side but the location photography (often shooting in places where the actual events happened) and Andrews’ performance help make it worthwhile. Oddly enough, this particular title was supposed to have been issued by Fox a couple of years ago as part of an earlier wave, only to be yanked at the last second, though a few copies did make it to store shelves, for reasons that were never really explained. (The assumption was that there was some kind of unforeseen issue involving the ownership of the copyright.) Now it has officially been released with the same bonus features that were being offered before, poster and still galleries, a theatrical trailer and an audio commentary from noir specialists Alain Silver and James Ursini.

Although the title may suggest ass-kicking thrills, blind guitar players and Ben Gazarra putting the moves on Kelly Lynch, the “Road House” being offered here is not the Patrick Swayze cult favorite. Instead, it is in equally entertaining 1948 melodrama about two longtime pals and the dame who comes between them. In this one, Richard Widmark stars as a saloon owner who returns from a trip to Chicago with a sexy singer, played by Ida Lupino, that he wants best friend and saloon manager Cornel Wilde to hire. Inevitably, the old pal and the new girl hate each other but when Widmark goes off on a hunting trip for a few days, the two of them realize that they are indeed in love with each other. Alas, when Widmark returns and discovers what is going on between Wilde and Lupino (which is made even more awkward because of the marriage license that he has picked up for him and Lupino without her knowledge or consent), his rage over this supposed betrayal leads him to create a diabolical plot that leads the two of them at his mercy. This DVD contains still photo galleries, an interactive version of the original press book, a featurette on Widmark and Lupino’s years at Fox and a commentary from film historians Kim Morgan and Eddie Muller.

However, of the three titles being offered in this wave, the pick hit of the bunch by far “Moontide,” the 1942 masterpiece from director Archie Mayo (with uncredited contributions from Fritz Lang) that is arguably one of the greatest and most atmospheric noirs ever made. In the first of only two performances that he would give in an American-made movie, French actor Jean Gabin stars as a wandering seaman who arrives in a remote seaside town with longtime friend Thomas Mitchell. Alas, he gets blind drunk one night and when he wakes up, he becomes convinced that he has murdered a local man but when he is preparing to flee, he prevents a woman (Ida Lupino) from drowning herself. As a result, the two fall in love and decide to open a bait shop together but just as everything seems to be working out for them, much to Mitchell’s chagrin and when Lupino discovers the sordid secret that he is hiding, it leads to tragedy for all involved. Visually beautiful (the film received an Oscar nomination for Best Black-and-White Cinematography), moody as all get out and strangely romantic to booth, this is a little masterpiece of the genre and while it has fallen into obscurity over the years, perhaps this DVD, which includes a commentary from author Foster Hirsch and a featurette about the film’s tumultuous production history, will finally inspire a wider audience to regard it as such.

BOOMERANG: Written by Richard Murphy. Directed by Elia Kazan. Starring Dana Andrews, Jane Wyatt, Lee J. Cobb, Cara Williams and Arthur Kennedy. 1947. 88 minutes. Unrated A Fox Home Entertainment release. $14.98

ROAD HOUSE: Written by Edward Chodorov. Directed by Jean Negulesco. Starring Ida Lupino, Cornel Wilde, Celeste Holm and Richard Widmark. 1948. 95 minutes. Unrated. A Fox Home Entertainment release. $14.98

MOONTIDE: Written by John O’Hara. Directed by Archie Mayo (and Fritz Lang). Starring Jean Gabin, Ida Lupino, Thomas Mitchell, Claude Rains and Jerome Cowan. 1942. 95 minutes. Unrated. A Fox home Entertainment release. $14.98


THE BLUE ELEPHANT (The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. $19.98): In this “award-winning” (an Award of Excellence from the Film Advisory Board Inc.) animated film from Thailand, thoughtfully purchased and redubbed (with the voices of Martin Short, Miranda Cosgrove and Carl Reiner, the latter billed as being “from ‘Good Boy!’”) by the Weinstein Company and presented by The Jim Henson Company, a young elephant gets separated from his herd and makes a bunch of new friends while courageously setting off on his own to find them.

BRATZ--GIRLS REALLY ROCK (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98): In their first full-length animated musical extravaganza, everyone’s favorite trampily-dressed dolls go off to spend the summer at a performing arts camp and discover that the winner of the camp talent show gets a role in a big Hollywood movie (hopefully a bigger one than the previous “Bratz” film). You know, you could do worse for your kids than buy them this badly animated, tediously scored and fairly grotesque excuse for family entertainment but outside of getting them a copy of “Salo,” I can’t readily think of how so.

BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY--20th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (MGM Home Entertainment. $14.98): Considering the fact that this 1988 adaptation of the infamous Jay McInerney second-person best-seller about a coked-out would-be writer (Michael J. Fox) snorting away his nights on the Gotham club circuit was already kind of dated when it was originally released, I can’t imagine how it must look another two decades down the line. Although the best things that can be said about the film are that Fox isn‘t that bad in a role for which he would seem to be painfully miscast and that it isn‘t as bad as “Less Than Zero,” cinema geeks should probably check this disc out because among the bonus features (which include a commentary and interview with McInerney chronicling the history of the book and the convoluted efforts to turn it into a film) is a commentary track featuring the great cinematographer Gordon Willis (whose credits also include little things like the “Godfather” films and “Manhattan”) discussing his work on the film and his career in general.

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES--THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON: SIZZLING SECRETS EDITION (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $59.99): How do you bring back fans of a long-running show back into the fold in the wake of a strike-shortened season that may have reminded some viewers that they might have had better things to do than wait for its return? Well, in the case of the eternally overrated pseudo-soap opera (which admittedly became a little more tolerable with the welcome addition of Dana Delany to the cast), you offer up a bunch of bonus materials including commentaries, deleted scenes, outtakes, a documentary tracing the evolution of an episode as it makes the journey from the page to the screen and a bonus DVD featuring the pilot episodes of three of last year’s more heavily-hyped shows (all of which will be hitting DVD themselves in a couple of weeks)--the aggressive quirky “Pushing Daisies,” the aggressively annoying “Grey’s Anatomy” spin-off ‘Private Practice” and “Dirty Sexy Money,” a soapy drama that suggest what “Gossip Girl” might be like if the characters were twice as old, and half as interesting. Other returning show hitting DVD shelves this weeks with bells and whistles aplenty include “Ghost Whisperer: The Third Season” (CBS DVD. $63.98), which offers fans a trip through an interactive haunted house, instructions as to creating your own cemetery scene, commentaries and a look at the evolution of Jennifer Love Hewitt’s wardrobe over the first three seasons from the early cleavage-baring days to the current trend towards exposed cleavage, and “The Office: Season 4” (Universal Home Entertainment. $49.98), which presents over 2 hours of frequently hilarious deleted scenes, bloopers, a PSA on the dangers of rabies (you’ll have to watch the show to understand) and the complete script to the brilliant “Dinner Party” episode.

ELI STONE--THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $39.99): Although it didn’t exactly shoot to the top of the ratings board during its brief run on ABC last spring, this ambitious fantasy/legal drama, about an ambitious lawyer (Jonny Lee Miller) who begins seeing bizarre visions (such as a dragon or George Michael) that may be the result of a brain aneurysm or may indicate that he is some kind of prophet charged with saving the world, did well enough to earn it a second season and so this 4-disc set hopes to reintroduce it to viewers in time for its second season with the initial 13 episodes, an extended version of the pilot, deleted scenes, bloopers and behind-the-scenes featurettes. (Alas, the one entitled “Inside The Firm-The Natasha Henstridge Tour” is nothing like the title makes it out to be.) Other freshman shows appearing this week include “The Big Bang Theory--The Complete First Season” (Warner Home Video. $29.98) and “Life--Season One” (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98)

HONEY WEST--THE COMPLETE SERIES (VCI Entertainment. $39.99): Although it only lasted for one season, the influence of this cult TV series, a spin-off of “Burke’s Law” in which Anne Francis (the girl who launched a half-century worth of crushes through her appearance in “Forbidden Planet”) played a sexy-tough private eye who busted heads and broke hearts with her cunning, her martial-arts training, her array of gimmicks (including tear-gas earrings) and her loyal pet ocelot, can still be felt today in every current show featuring an ass-kicking babe. This four-disc set contains all thirty episodes of its 1965-66 run, a collection of vintage TV commercials and a pair of stills galleries. Fans of older TV shows will also want to check out “Cheers: The Tenth Season” (CBS DVD. $39.98), which has held up better than practically any other long-running sitcom from the 1980’s, and “Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre: The Complete Collection” (Koch Vision. $99.98), a seven-disc set collecting all 26 episodes of the groundbreaking and hugely entertaining cable series in which famous fairly tales were retold by directors such as Francis Ford Coppola (“Rip Van Winkle”) and Tim Burton (“Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp”) and with such actors as Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges, Christopher Reeve, Malcolm McDowell, Liza Minnelli, James Coburn, Carrie Fisher, Vincent Price, Susan Sarandon, Frank Zappa and, perhaps inevitably, Klaus Kinski.

HOW TO ROB A BANK (IFC Films. $19.99): No, this isn’t a re-release of “Heat” or the opening reel of “The Dark Knight.” Instead, it is a quirky drama that tells the tale of a slacker (Nick Stahl) and a bank employee who get themselves stuck in a vault during a botched robbery and find themselves running interference between the robbers (led by Gavin Rossdale) and the cops (headed by Terry Crewes) .

ITTY BITTY TITTY COMMITTEE (Wolfe Video. $27.95): Nowhere near as edgy or amusing as its title, this is a fairly innocuous romantic comedy from director Jamie Babbitt (who also did the far more interesting “But I’m a Cheerleader” and “The Quiet”) about a sweet-but-shy young lesbian (Melonie Diaz) who finds her horizons broadening when she hooks up with an edgy radical (Nicole Vicius) and finds herself breaking out of her shell in order to fully embrace the sisterhood.

MARRIED LIFE (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.96): In this strange and darkly funny meditation on murder and manners from director Ira Sachs, post-war American male Chris Cooper has a wife (Patricia Clarkson) that he cares deeply for and a mistress (Rachel McAdams) that he is passionately in love with. Alas, he knows that putting his wife through a divorce would be too much of a public humiliation for her to bear, he decides that the only sensible thing to do is to kill her in the most humane way possible to spare her the embarrassment and to allow him to run off with his new girlfriend. I wouldn’t dream of revealing how it all turns out but I will note that Pierce Brosnan turns up as the best pal who confuses matters even more when he becomes smitten with the girlfriend himself.

MICKEY MOUSE CLUBHOUSE: MICKEY’S STORYBOOK SURPRISES/ MY FRIENDS TIGGER & POOH: HUNDRED ACRE WOOD HAUNT [(Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $19.99): Two of the most beloved and iconic characters of all time are given the CGI treatment in these two collections of episodes of Disney Channel shows aimed strictly at the youngest possible audiences--the former finds Mickey and his pals putting goofy (though not always Goofy) spins on classic fairy tales (though with nowhere near the success or charm of the aforementioned “Faerie Tale Theatre”) while the latter pits Pooh and his friends in a series of semi-spooky mysteries that viewers can help solve. Little kids may get a kick out of these but they would be much better off watching the still glorious original Mickey and Pooh shorts.

OUTSOURCED (Ocean Park Home Entertainment Films. $24.98): In this reasonably charming indie culture-clash comedy, a rising young American businessman (Josh Hamilton) learns that not only is his job being outsourced to India, he has to go over there and train the people that will be replacing him. Luckily, his anguish is soon tempered by a pretty local who catches his eyes and opens his heart to his new surroundings.

THE PROMOTION (The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. $19.98): Making his directorial debut, screenwriter Steve Conrad (who wrote, among other things, “The Weather Man” and “The Pursuit of Happyness”) tells the darkly comic story of two ambitious grocery store employees (Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly) who find themselves locked in a pitched battle for the same management job. It never quite succeeds--it is a little too low-key for its own good--but if you don’t mind the numerous dull spots, there are a few bright moments from Lili Taylor as Reilly’s long-suffering Scottish wife and Jason Bateman as a goofy motivational speaker.

REPRISE (Miramax Home Entertainment. $29.99): In this Norwegian comedy-drama that proved to be a popular favorite on the international festival circuit, two lifelong pals and aspiring novelists drop their first manuscripts in the mail on the same day in the hopes of achieving fame and fortune with their words. As it turns out, one becomes a big hit and the other is rejected by every publisher and the film follows what happens to them as they follow the paths that open up to them as a result of these twin twists of fate. Although not as great as its proponents would have you believe, its combination of punk-inspired energy and French New Wave-inspired formal inventiveness does give it a certain edge that is worth investigating.

SON OF RAMBOW (Paramount Home Video. $29.98): Although it was as crowd-pleasing of a film as you could possibly hope for, this gentle and quirky British comedy about a pair of young boys in early-80’s England trying to produce a no-budget camcorder sequel to the Sylvester Stallone classic “First Blood” received only a quick and perfunctory release last spring and disappeared from theaters before any potential positive word-of-mouth could be generated. Alas, unless you live near a Best Buy, you will still have trouble getting a look at the film since it is only being sold exclusively through them for the time being.

SUPER NINJA DOLL/TARZEENA (Infinity Video. $14.98 each): If you love those cheap and exceptionally skeezy soft-core skin flicks that they show late at night on Cinemax--the ones that feature the same six or seven people cavorting around the same two or three sets in the same three or four positions--but don’t want to have to wait until the wee hours of the morning to enjoy them, you will definitely want to pick up these two titles. The former has something to do with a sexy ninja super-heroine battling sexy intergalactic supervillains who are trying to take over the world via comic books while the latter has a sexy jungle girl battling a not-particularly sexy villain who wants to take over the world via something or other. Of course, I may be a little hazy on the plot details--suffice it to say, I watched the majority of these two films via the magic of fast-forward--but if you are worried about the plot details on these particular films, you may not be the target audience for them.

THEN SHE FOUND ME (Thinkfilm. $27.98): Having pretty much disappeared from view since the end of “Mad About You,” Helen Hunt makes up for lost time by making her feature directorial debut with a dramedy in which she stars as a woman whose midlife crisis, brought on by the departure of her rotter husband (Matthew Broderick) and the passing of her adoptive mother, is given a jolt with the arrival of a potential new fling (Colin Firth) and the sudden appearance of her birth mother. Since the latter is a brash talk show host portrayed by Bette Midler, you can be rest assured that wackiness, tears and a potential Cole Porter medley are just around the corner as well.

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originally posted: 09/05/08 13:35:28
last updated: 09/08/08 12:01:44
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