Once again, Cinema Retro has spoken- and the studios have listened. Well, at least it's beginning to seem that way. So many of the films we've been calling for them to release on DVD have been made available recently that we sometimes think we must have a magic lamp around here. For years, we've been after Fox to do something with the special features from their 1993 laser disc release of The Comancheros. In fact, in the latest issue of Cinema Retro (#20), writer Nick Anez provides a major analysis of the film- and we point out that it's a pity the laser disc special edition has never been released on DVD. Well, as soon as the article went to press, what shows up in our mailbox? You guessed it- a terrific Blu-ray special edition of the film that not only combines elements from the laser release, but also boasts some wonderful new features as well.
The 1961 film was the last of a three-picture deal John Wayne had inked with Fox in the late 50s. The first effort, The Barbarian and the Geisha, was a major dud, despite teaming the Duke with director John Huston (they hated each other, but that's another story). After Wayne went into hock to produce, direct and star in his 1960 epic The Alamo, he needed cash. Fortunately, the lucrative Fox contract afforded him two major hits: North to Alaska and The Comancheros. With the latter film, Wayne seemed to be comfortable in his middle-aged years and allowed younger co-star Stuart Whitman to have all the love scenes with female lead Ina Blain. The film represents the last movie to be directed by the great Michael Curtiz. When he fell ill during production, Wayne ended up directing about half of the film, though out of respect for Curtiz, he never took a screen credit.
Joe Dante sent us an advance look at his new Trailers From Hell DVD on the Shout! Factory label. This second volume is a retro movie lovers dream, with commentary tracks on cult film trailers by noted filmmakers. Here is the official description:
you know, those fast-paced two-to-four-minute theatrical promotional shorts
that have preceded the feature attraction since the dawn of sound? They’re an
exciting montage of all the best parts of a movie the exhibitors want to show
you in order to get you to see the film . . . full of swirling letters
screaming hyperbolic promises of: Thrills! Action! Mystery! Romance! All the
highlights of a whole picture are packed into its own mini-movie in just a few
The Best Of Trailers From Hell Volume 2 showcases the cream of the
award-winning Web site series, plus new trailers that have yet to be seen,
concentrating on comedy, horror, science fiction, action and fantasy films that
viewers can watch both in their original versions or accompanied by pithy
commentaries from the esteemed Trailers From Hell gurus. Includes a new
anamorphic widescreen transfer (1.78:1) of Roger Corman’s classic Little
Shop Of Horrors, in its entirety.
Joe Dante on Donovan’s Brain, Little Shop Of Horrors and The
Mick Garris on Fire Maidens From Outer Space and Flesh Gordon!
Guillermo Del Toro on Deep Red (in English and Spanish) and The
Hunchback Of Notre Dame!
John Landis on Gorgo!
Roger Corman on Ski Troop Attack and Premature Burial!
And Many More . . .
Click here to pre-order from Amazon. Vol. 1 of this DVD is already going for big bucks!
Great news for action movie fans: Dark of the Sun (aka The Mercenaries) has been released by Warner Archive as part of their burn-to-order DVD collection. The film, made in 1968, was directed by Jack Cardiff and is a superb, tough-as-nails adventure about mercenaries in the Congo. The movie stars Rod Taylor, Yvette Mimieaux, Jim Brown and Kenneth More. It's as good as action movies get and has been one of the titles that Cinema Retro readers have desired most. The only downside: Warner Archives ships only to customers in the USA.
I'm always amazed at the transition between the New York City of many years ago and the Gotham of today. Few major urban areas have seen such a successful renaissance of safety and civility. In the 1960s-early 1990s, the city was plagued by crime waves, largely fueled by the increasing activity in drugs. Today, Gotham still hasn't reached the point of being an urban Shangri-la, but crime statistics have dropped to their lowest point since the early 1960s. Thus, it's interesting to revisit films made during those bad old days that depict New York as a wasteland of crime, corruption and murder. Things were never that bad, of course, but these films did tap into a popular discontent with the way crime was escalating and how helpless the average man and woman felt in terms of doing anything about it. It was not surprising that films reflected the fantasy of one man standing up to the cretins of the streets and bringing about law and order through vigilantiism. Ironically, the great improvement in Gotham life came about through stricter penalties for criminals and a major resassessment of policing strategies, not uprisings of everyday citizens (Bernard Goetz, the "Subway Vigilante" aside). However, these methods would be rather unexciting to protray on screen. Thus, the enduring popularity of the vigilante films.
The first and most influential of these movies depicting a righteous avenger was Michael Winner's original 1974 film Death Wish. The movie ultimately spawned so many cartoon-like sequels that it's easy to forget the impact the original had on audiences. Director William Friedkin once told me the audience reaction he witnessed was the most visceral he had ever experienced. Soon, every studio in the world was jumping on the vigilante bandwagon. Among the films churned out of the mill was Defiance, a 1980 production directed by John Flynn (who helmed the far superior thriller The Outfit). Jan Michael Vincent stars as a laid off merchant marine who has to spend several months in a Bronx tenement while awaiting his next job. He soon realizes that the entire neighorhood is terrorized by a brutal street gang whose leader Angel (Rudy Ramos) excercises dictator-like power. Store merchants are menaced, church functions are robbed and women are brutalized. The police seem to be able to do nothing but fill out reports (the impotence of law enforcement is a common and necessary ingredient to this genre.)
One of the few remaining Steve McQueen films not available on home video finally comes to DVD with Warner Archive's release of the 1961 military comedy The Honeymoon Machine. Sadly, the film can only be recommended to McQueen fans who feel obliged to buy the DVD in order to keep their collections complete. The movie is an embarrassing fiasco that might have been excusable had it been produced by a low-rent film studio. However, MGM backed this turkey and it must have seemed pretty stale even during its release back in the JFK administration. It's worth contemplating that America's obsession at the time with showing respect for any aspect of the military extended to many films that was neutered for fear of offending Pentagon brass. Sure, screenwriters could denote some high-school like upstarts in the Army or Navy, and the top brass might be seen as humorless stiffs, but studios rarely wanted to tweak the military powers-that-be, lest they not get cooperation from the military for their war movies. In fact, it wasn't until The Americanization of Emily in 1964 that the glass ceiling was truly broken and the U.S. military could be the object of outright satire and cynicism. From there, the floodgate opened and by the late 1960s and early 1970s, films like Kelly's Heroes and M*A*S*H went to the opposite extreme and portrayed the American military as primarily comprised of dolts.
The Honeymoon Machine was made during the era when servicemen were portrayed as overgrown kids whose most dangerous exploits were acting like the kind of towel-snapping wiseguys you encounter in locker rooms. In this ill-advised opus, McQueen- in one of his first starring roles- is a Navy lieutenant who teams with civilian scientist Jim Hutton to come up with a scientific method of predicting how roulette wheels can be manipulated. When the fleet pulls into Venice, the theory is tested at the local casino, where McQueen and Hutton break the bank. Unfortunately, through a convoluted sub-plot, their shenanighans are mistaken for espionage activities and a Cold War crisis ensues.