Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr., included in The Buster Keaton Collection: Volume 2 (Photo: Cohen)

(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.)

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Jane Lowry in Alice, Sweet Alice (Photo: Arrow)

ALICE, SWEET ALICE (1976). A flop upon its original release, Alice, Sweet Alice has since been saved from complete irrelevance by film scholars and cultists, even if it still doesn’t quite enjoy the reputation it deserves. Writer-director Alfred Soles (scripting with Rosemary Ritvo) states that he was largely inspired by Nicolas Roeg’s superb 1973 thriller Don’t Look Now — certainly not a shabby source for ideas. Just as that picture featured a diminutive killer in a raincoat, so too does this absorbing effort in which young Karen Spages (an 11-year-old Brooke Shields in her film debut) is murdered at her local church by a masked assailant. Everyone except Karen’s divorced parents (Linda Miller and Niles McMaster) thinks that the killer might be Karen’s older — and obviously troubled — sister, 12-year-old Alice (Paula E. Sheppard). Religious imagery abounds in this gripping yarn that’s marked by at least one unexpected murder as well as a villain whose identity isn’t (contrary to the norm) readily apparent from the start. Briefly titled Communion before the shift to Alice, Sweet Alice, the picture was re-released in the early ‘80s under the moniker Holy Terror in an effort to cash in on Shields’ newfound fame post-The Blue Lagoon and post-Calvin Klein.

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Sole and editor Edward Salier; deleted scenes; an interview with Sole; alternate opening titles; a tour of the original shooting locations; and the alternate TV cut.

Movie: ***

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Hanna Schygulla in The Marriage of Maria Braun, the first film in The BRD Trilogy (Photo: Criterion)

THE BRD TRILOGY (1979-1982). Had Robert Altman not already employed the title 3 Women for his 1977 gem, that would have handily served as a header for Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s acclaimed trilogy. A look at life in postwar West Germany, The BRD (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) Trilogy examines the difficulties faced by three different women. The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979) finds the title character (Hanna Schygulla) becoming involved with an African-American soldier (George Byrd) after she believes her husband (Klaus Lowitsch) has been killed; his unexpected return sets in motion a chain of events that finds Maria acquiring wealth if not happiness. Lola (1981) centers on a singer-prostitute (Barbara Sukowa) whose involvement with the only honest politician (Avalon’s Armin Mueller-Stahl) in town risks leading to his downfall. And Veronika Voss (1982) focuses on a former film star (Rosel Zech) whose drug addiction allows her to be controlled by an unscrupulous doctor (Annemarie Duringer). The bleak views espoused by Fassbinder in these pictures are as universal as they are specific to West Germany post-WWII, which might help explain why the films (particularly the first one) were embraced globally.

Blu-ray extras include audio commentaries (from 2003) on all three films by various filmmakers (including Wim Wenders) and film scholars; interviews (from 2003) with Schygulla, Sukowa and Zech; 1992’s I Don’t Just Want You to Love Me, a documentary about Fassbinder; a 1978 interview with Fassbinder; and trailers.

All Three Movies: ***

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Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr. (Photo: Cohen)

THE BUSTER KEATON COLLECTION: VOLUME 2 (1924). The second set of Buster Keaton classics released by Cohen Media Group (following Volume 1, released in May and reviewed here) offers two titles originally released in the same year, one proving to be a box office disappointment and the other emerging as a major commercial hit.

Mercilessly edited down by Keaton after preview audiences didn’t provide the desired reaction, Sherlock Jr. (1924) turned out to be a soft performer for the innovative filmmaker. The only terrible thing about it, though, is its brief 45-minute running time, since a movie as brilliant as this one could only have benefitted from additional reels. Fans of The General will disagree, but this is perhaps the best of all Keaton features, an absolutely dazzling comedy in which a movie-theater projectionist falls asleep on the job and imagines himself as a detective in the films being shown up there on the silver screen. The gags are laugh-out-loud funny, the stuntwork is breathtaking, and the visual innovations are astounding. For a terrific double feature, watch this in tandem with its most obvious descendant, Woody Allen’s 1985 marvel The Purple Rose of Cairo.

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Buster Keaton in The Navigator (Photo: Cohen)

After the commercial disappointment of Sherlock Jr., Keaton found himself back in the good graces of audiences with the highly successful comedy The Navigator (1924). If this one isn’t quite up to the high standards of many of the other Keaton titles of the period, it’s still a worthy achievement, with the star playing a millionaire who finds himself alone on a cruise ship with the woman (Kathryn McGuire) he hopes to marry. The film is occasionally more frantic than funny, although there are nevertheless many choice comic interludes (who else but a Keaton character would not know that salt water isn’t the best choice when it comes to brewing coffee?).

Blu-ray extras consist of appreciations of Keaton by various folks as well as trailers for both movies. Up next is The Buster Keaton Collection: Volume 3, releasing on August 20 and featuring Seven Chances and Battling Butler.

Sherlock Jr.: ****
The Navigator: ***1/2

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Myrna Loy and William Powell in The Thin Man (Photo: Warner)

THE THIN MAN (1934). We tend to think of sequels as a modern innovation, but the truth is that Hollywood’s been fond of them almost from the start. The 1930s were packed with all manner of long-running film franchises: Tarzan, Andy Hardy and Bulldog Drummond were just some of the familiar characters who enjoyed enduring popularity with audiences of the day. Among the most successful of the bunch was The Thin Man series, with its enticing mix of comedy and mystery and a screen couple so compatible that they were repeatedly paired in other projects as well. It’s a shame that only the first film is being released on Blu-ray — all six features were housed in one DVD box set back in 2005 — but hopefully the rest will soon follow. The original 1934 gem, based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel, introduces happily married couple Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) and their dog Asta. Nick’s a former detective (and ladies’ man) who has settled down with heiress Nora and her money; he’s content drinking himself into oblivion, but when the father of a former acquaintance (Maureen O’Sullivan) appears to be mixed up in murder, Nick (prodded by Nora) reluctantly agrees to crack the case. The recipient of four Oscar nominations (Best Picture, Actor, Director, and Adapted Screenplay, but, alas, not Best Actress), this classic clicks on all cylinders: deft direction, sharp dialogue, a compelling mystery and, most importantly, beautiful chemistry between its two elegant leads.

Blu-ray extras consist of the 1936 radio version starring Powell and Loy; an episode from The Thin Man TV series (1957-1959) starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk; and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ****

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Jason David Frank and Catherine Sutherland in Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie (Photo: Shout! Factory)

TURBO: A POWER RANGERS MOVIE (1997). Taking place between the Power Rangers Zeo and the Power Ranger Turbo TV seasons (if you speak Morphinese, you already knew this; if not, then IMDb is your friend for plotting all this out), Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie also follows on the heels of the first theatrically released picture, 1995’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (on Blu-ray this past June and reviewed here). In this installment, heroic teenagers Tommy (Jason David Frank), Adam (Johnny Yong Bosch), Kat (Catherine Sutherland) and Tanya (Nakia Burrise) and pipsqueak Justin (Blake Foster) must don their color-coordinated Ranger costumes to protect the dwarfish wizard Lerigot (an annoying cross between a Ewok, E.T., Gizmo, and MAC of Mac and Me notoriety) from the cackling Divatox (Hilary Shepard Turner) and her dim-witted minions. Meanwhile, former Power Rangers Kimberly (Amy Jo Johnson), Jason (Austin St. John) and Rocky (Steve Cardenas) turn up at various points, as do attempted-comic-relief imbeciles Bulk (Paul Schrier) and Skull (Jason Narvy). I can’t say whether fans of this deathless franchise would respond favorably to this particular camp exercise — I imagine the youngest among them can dig it — but those with no investment in MMPR lore will find it tough going throughout.

Blu-ray extras consist of a new retrospective piece; a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette; and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: *1/2

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DeForest Kelley in Warlock (Photo: Twilight Time)

WARLOCK (1959). In his annual Movie Guide (RIP 1969-2014), critic Leonard Maltin opined that Warlock is “forgotten, but worthy of rediscovery.” That’s pretty much the consensus among many who have seen this top-flight Western, which used to turn up regularly on television before seemingly disappearing from the scene. (I first caught it during my teen years in the early 1980s, rediscovered it in my 20s, and then wondered where the hell it went until it turned up on DVD in the mid-2000s.) Warlock’s the name of a town known for its lawlessness, a condition that leads its respectable citizens to hire a notorious gunslinger (Henry Fonda) to serve as their enforcer. With the help of his crafty sidekick (Anthony Quinn), he gets the job done, but his mercenary status begins to irk many of the townspeople, and things become even more complicated when a repentant outlaw (Richard Widmark) becomes the community’s officially sanctioned sheriff. The dense storyline doesn’t always pan out as expected in this bracing saga that anticipated Unforgiven in its ability to dig a little deeper into the mythology of the Old West. The supporting cast is exceptionally strong, starting with a pre-Star Trek DeForest Kelley in one of his best roles as an agitator who might not be quite as bad as he (or anyone else) thinks.

Blu-ray extras consist of a Fox Movietone newsreel that mentions the movie in passing; the theatrical trailer; and an isolated track of Leigh Harline’s score.

Movie: ***1/2

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