View from the Couch: Bronco Billy, Hammer Horror, etc.
View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.
View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.
Sondra Locke (background) and Clint Eastwood in Bronco Billy (Photo: Warner Bros.)
(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
BRONCO BILLY (1980). Reportedly one of Clint Eastwood’s favorites among his own output, Bronco Billy finds the director-star showcasing a more gentle side of his persona. He plays the titular cowboy, the leader of a traveling Wild West show struggling through hard times. The troupe gets a jolt with the arrival of a spoiled heiress (Sondra Locke) who reluctantly joins the outfit after she’s deserted by her loutish husband (Geoffrey Lewis). Like such efforts as Lonely Are the Brave (Kirk Douglas) and J.W. Coop (Cliff Robertson), Bronco Billy is at heart another film about a man trying to retain Old West codes of conduct in an increasingly cynical modern world, and scripter Dennis Hackin also utilizes the troupe as an interesting way to tap into the fading promise of the American Dream (each person in the show becomes whatever they want to become). But the good intentions are often outweighed by the awkward execution, as a barroom brawl, an attempted train robbery, and trips to a mental asylum tilt the film away from reverence and into ridiculousness. Like most of her roles in Eastwood films, Locke’s part is both undernourished and overly exaggerated, but the rest of Billy’s team is aptly cast (particularly Scatman Crothers as the outfit’s ringmaster).
The only Blu-ray extra is the theatrical trailer.
FOOTLIGHT PARADE (1933). During Hollywood’s Golden Age, MGM was renowned for its musicals while Warner Bros. largely earned its reputation with its gangster flicks. Yet as the studio that produced The Jazz Singer — the first talking picture and the first musical — Warner wasn’t exactly tone-deaf, and it enjoyed great success with its musicals choreographed by Busby Berkeley. Snatched from Broadway, Berkeley became a Hollywood sensation, as his mind-blowing dance routines fed the imaginations of Depression-wracked audiences. The 1933 classic 42nd Street remains his best film, but Footlight Parade is also a shining example of his genius. Pure entertainment, it receives an added boost from James Cagney, who’s in top form as a producer hell-bent on churning out quality musical “prologues” to accompany screenings of early talkies. The spicy pre-Code dialogue adds to the merriment, but the selling point is the decision to end the picture with not one, not two, but three production numbers: the amusing “Honeymoon Hotel,” the eye-popping “By a Waterfall,” and “Shanghai Lil,” the latter allowing Cagney to show off his deft song’n’dance skills.
Blu-ray extras consist of a retrospective making-of piece; two vintage featurettes; four vintage cartoons; and the theatrical trailer.
THE INTRUDER (2019). If the protagonists in this terrible thriller were any more dense, they would exist only as a thick fog. Scott and Annie Howard (Michael Ealy and Meagan Good) are well-to-do San Franciscans who opt to buy a house out in the country. They settle on a $3-million-plus home owned by Charlie Peck (Dennis Quaid), who claims he’s planning to move to Florida right after he sells the property. But once the Howards purchase the home, they find they just can’t get rid of Charlie. The Intruder is so obvious that viewers could have dotted every narrative i and crossed every fictional t before the screenplay was even written. (As one example, there’s a reason a linen closet is the focus of attention in roughly 326 scenes, and it’s not to showcase the folding techniques of the inhabitants.) But it’s the imbecilic nature of the Howards that really grates on the nerves, with viewers asking all the obvious questions that these married twits never even think to formulate. As the neighborly nut, Quaid starts off fine before exploding in full psycho mode, complete with Jack-Nicholson-as-Jack-Torrance quips (“Lights out!” Charlie bellows before shooting out a chandelier).
DVD extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette; an alternate ending; deleted and alternate scenes; and a gag reel.
THE LEOPARD MAN (1943). In the 1940s, RKO Pictures commissioned producer Val Lewton to churn out a series of sensationalist horror flicks on minuscule budgets. But rather than slapping together silly creature features with shoddy effects, Lewton created nine psychological thrillers that relied on shadows, lighting and sound effects to establish mood. The two best, 1942’s Cat People and 1943’s I Walked with a Zombie, were both directed by Jacques Tourneur; Lewton and Tourneur reteamed one final time for The Leopard Man, but this one unfortunately runs a distant third to their two previous triumphs. Set in New Mexico, it centers on a series of brutal slayings believed to have been committed by an escaped leopard. While this stylish and initially intriguing movie contains one of the finest sequences seen in any of the Lewton efforts — a girl’s trip to the store ends with her blood slowly seeping underneath the locked door of her house, the only visual trigger we need to imagine the worst — the film is ultimately let down by an obvious mystery that’s haphazardly constructed.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by director William Friedkin (The Exorcist); separate audio commentary by film historian Constantine Nasr; and the theatrical trailer.
LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1971). The second entry in Hammer Films’ Karnstein Trilogy is the last to make it to Blu-ray, as Synapse released the final chapter, 1971’s Twins of Evil, in 2012 while Shout! Factory offered the first flick, 1970’s The Vampire Lovers, in 2013. Shout! Factory is also responsible for this release as well, and the film is roughly on par with The Vampire Lovers (Twins of Evil is the best of the batch). All three are loosely based on Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic 1872 novella Carmilla, although all literary pretensions are tossed aside for pleasures of the flesh, as Hammer had by this point entered its decidedly more robust blood-and-boobs phase. The vampire Carmilla (played in this installment by Yutte Stensgaard) has been reincarnated by Count Karnstein (Mike Raven) and attends a nearby girls’ school under the name Mircalla. She still prefers necking with other ladies, but her lesbian tendencies are put to the test when one of her teachers (Michael Johnson) falls in love with her. Not bad, with the low point being a romantic interlude set to the jarring and drippy tune “Strange Love.”
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Jimmy Sangster, co-star Suzanna Leigh and Hammer Films historian Marcus Hearn; still galleries; and the theatrical trailer.
QUATERMASS II (1957) / QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (1967). Adapted from writer Nigel Kneale’s extraordinarily successful BBC serial The Quatermass Experiment, 1955’s The Quatermass Xperiment (retitled The Creeping Unknown for U.S. release) was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, effectively putting Hammer Films on the map and paving the way for the studio’s subsequent two-decade run as a premier producer of horror films. The picture’s success also meant that it would be followed by sequels. The Quatermass Xperiment was released on Blu-ray in 2014 by the Kino Lorber label, so now here comes Shout! Factory to offer its two famous follow-ups (a number of TV movies and miniseries followed over the decades, but these three are generally considered their own trilogy).
Quatermass II (retitled Enemy from Space for U.S. release) is the best of the trio, with The Quatermass Xperiment lead Brian Donlevy returning in the role of Professor Bernard Quatermass. After discovering strange space fragments initially believed to be mere meteorite fragments, Quatermass elects to investigate, leading him into a labyrinthine plot involving a mysterious lunar facility, a government cover-up, and a scenario straight out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Superbly directed by Val Guest and sharply scripted by Kneale and Guest, Quatermass II is choked with a pervasive air of paranoia and panic that’s as effective as those witnessed in such celebrated 1970s thrillers as The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor.
Despite the success of the first two films, it was a full decade before the appearance of Quatermass and the Pit (retitled Five Million Years to Earth for U.S. release). Andrew Keir takes over the role of Professor Bernard Quatermass, here becoming involved in the discovery of an alien spaceship that has been hidden in the London soil for millions of years. Although Roy Ward Baker directed this one, Kneale again wrote the script, and, as before, he balances cerebral musings with dashes of sci-fi excitement. The role of the antagonistic Colonel Breen was played by Julian Glover, laying the groundwork for his future villainous roles in such smash hits as The Empire Strikes Back, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and the 007 outing For Your Eyes Only.
Blu-ray extras on Quatermass II include three separate audio commentaries, one by Guest and Kneale and two featuring film historians; an interview with Guest; the World of Hammer episode “Sci-fi”; and a still gallery. Blu-ray extras on Quatermass and the Pit include three separate audio commentaries, one by Baker and Kneale and two featuring film historians; interviews with Sherlock co-creator and co-star (and Hammer fan) Mark Gatiss and director Joe Dante (The Howling); alternate U.S. credits; and theatrical trailers.
Quatermass II: ★★★½
Quatermass and the Pit: ★★★
THE REPTILE (1966). This Hammer Films production was shot back to back with 1966’s The Plague of the Zombies and likewise takes place in a remote Cornwall village. There’s something about the setting, then, that brings out the best in the studio storytelling, as Plague (reviewed here) is one of the finest of all Hammer features while The Reptile also ranks in the upper echelons. After the mysterious death of his brother, Harry Spalding (Ray Barrett) arrives with his wife Valerie (Jennifer Daniel) to take possession of his late sibling’s cottage in Clagmoor Heath. The locals aren’t particularly friendly, as everyone is spooked by a rash of unexplained deaths; somehow, it all leads back to the strange Dr. Franklyn (Noel Willman), his daughter Anna (Jacqueline Pearce), and his Malaysian manservant (Marne Maitland). Working from John Elder’s script, director John Gilling has fashioned an atmospheric terror tale that benefits from excellent makeup designs and a sympathetic turn by Pearce. Michael Ripper, who appeared in more Hammer films (33) than any other actor (including Cushing and Lee), lands one of his best roles as Tom Bailey, the only villager willing to help the Spaldings solve the mystery.
Blu-ray extras include a retrospective making-of piece; the World of Hammer episode “Wicked Women”; and the theatrical trailer.
I sat in a deathly cold VW Beetle till well after midnight at Charlotte’s Thunderbird Drive-in to finally get a look at Lust for a Vampire, after years of seeing steamy stills from it in monster movie books. Still ranks as a major disappointment in my filmgoing experience. Cheesy performances (Mike Raven!) and lackluster script added up to a rare Hammer dud. I drove away before it ended.
Very cool to see a revival of Enemy From Space, one of the more memorable Science Fiction Theater offerings from my younger days. For many years it was damn-near impossible to see. And Nigel Kneale’s work is always fascinating. Bravo!
Thanks for sharing, Tim. Ha, I remember those steamy stills from LUST FOR A VAMPIRE in the monster movie books!