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.
Gene Barry in The War of the Worlds (Photo: Criterion)
(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.)
THE CARER (2016). Brian Cox delivers a bear of a performance as an elderly Shakespearean actor, which of course means he gets to tackle ample monologues from various Shakespearean works — catnip, I imagine, to any British thespian worth his or her salt. Cox stars as Sir Michael Gifford, who’s so ornery and unpleasant that no caretaker can stand to be around him for more than a few days. Enter an aspiring Hungarian actress named Dorottya (so-so newcomer Coco König), who takes on the job of carer for Sir Michael and impresses him with not only her quirky humor but also her willingness to stand up to his temper tantrums. Movies about the unlikely friendship between a senior citizen and a young woman are rarely as perceptive or poignant as planned (see also Venus with Peter O’Toole and Last Love with Michael Caine), and this one follows suit. Roger Moore appears as himself in a brief cameo; it would be his final theatrical appearance before his death in 2017.
DVD extras consist of interviews and the theatrical trailer.
THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (1963). The Kiss of the Vampire features one of the best openings found in the Hammer canon, a graveside sequence with a startling denouement. As for the rest of the picture, it’s an above-average outing from the studio, with a British couple (Edward de Souza and Jennifer Daniel) who find their honeymoon plans going astray after they become mixed up with an aristocratic family of vampires in the Bavarian wilds. Clifford Evans is intense as the Van Helsing surrogate, Professor Zimmer, and the bat-filled climax is unusual, innovative, and effective.
Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray edition offers the film in three versions: the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the 1.66:1 aspect ratio, and a U.S. television cut titled Kiss of Evil. Extras include three separate audio commentaries (two with film historians, one with De Souza and Daniel); a piece on Hammer composer James Bernard (who had previously won an Oscar for his only writing credit, Seven Days to Noon, reviewed here); and additional scenes filmed for the American TV airing.
NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK (1941). This uneven film was W.C. Fields’ revenge on the industry that at this point in time was beginning to abandon him. It’s a nonsensical tale in which the actor (playing himself) tries to sell a studio executive (Franklin Pangborn) a screenplay packed with non sequiturs, flights of fancy, and a great gag with Fields diving out of an airplane to catch up with the bottle of booze he accidentally dropped out the window. The film runs 71 minutes, and 71 minutes of Fields would make for a good time. Unfortunately, a lot of the picture is handed over to 15-year-old singing star Gloria Jean, and her tepid musical numbers take too much time away from Fields’ peerless comic routines.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historian Eddy Von Mueller; the 1964 episode of the Canadian TV series Wayne and Shuster Take an Affectionate Look at… that focuses on Fields; and theatrical trailers.
THE PALEFACE (1948). Bob Hope had a sizable hit on his hands with this amusing Western comedy in which he stars as “Painless” Peter Potter, an inept dentist who unwittingly assists Calamity Jane (Jane Russell) in her undercover work for the U.S. government. Hope milks his cowardly routine for maximum impact; the scene in which he receives conflicting advice on how best to win a shootout is particularly riotous. Russell is also terrific, with her strong and sexy character a perfect counterpoint to Hope’s doltish dentist. An Academy Award winner for Best Original Song (“Buttons and Bows”), this was followed four years later by Son of Paleface, a worthy sequel with Hope playing Potter’s son and Russell cast as an outlaw.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by film historian Sergio Mims; the 2002 documentary short Entertaining the Troops: Bob Hope & the USO; and theatrical trailers for a handful of Hope comedies.
STRIKE UP THE BAND (1940). Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland appeared in 10 films together, four of which were musical hits directed by Busby Berkeley. Strike Up the Band was the second of the series, with Mickey cast as a teenager who transforms his high school’s dull band into a swinging set in order to win a national contest; Judy plays the best friend who’s constantly hoping he’ll notice her in a more romantic fashion. It’s always a pleasure to hear Garland sing, and the fevered and frenzied manner in which Rooney often tackled a role (such as the one here) is something to behold. But the story is awfully thin, with many of the more dramatic elements (Rooney’s relationship with his mom, a friend in need of an operation) falling flat. An Oscar winner for Best Sound, this also earned nominations for Best Score and Best Original Song (“Our Love Affair”).
Blu-ray extras include a 2007 introduction to the film by Rooney; the 1940 comedy short Wedding Bills; the 1940 cartoon Romeo in Rhythm; and the theatrical trailer.
THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953). Beginning with 1950’s Destination Moon, George Pal spent the next two decades producing a string of celebrated fantasy flicks. This adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel is arguably the best, as invaders from Mars descend upon Earth bent on destruction and domination. The technical merits (including the vibrant color scheme and the aural assaults) all rate an A+, and, while humanity eventually comes together to combat the threat, the scenes of people panicking and rioting are jolting. The special effects deservedly won an Oscar, with the movie receiving additional nominations for Best Film Editing and Best Sound. Trivia note: MST3K’s Dr. Clayton Forrester was named after the scientist portrayed by Gene Barry in this film.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary (from 2005) by filmmaker Joe Dante (Matinee), film historian Bob Burns, and author Bill Warren (Keep Watching the Skies!); a 2005 making-of featurette; a 1970 audio interview with Pal; Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 radio broadcast; and a 1940 radio chat between Wells and Welles.