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.
Jack Lemmon, James Cagney, Henry Fonda and William Powell in Mister Roberts (Photo: Warner Archive)
(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 CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957). The back cover of the two-disc Special Edition Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection quotes Christopher Lee as noting that The Curse of Frankenstein was “the film that started it all.” Of course, that quote can be attributed to legions of film fans, all well aware that this was indeed the motion picture that birthed Hammer Horror. While Hammer Films had been producing movies since 1934, many of them crime dramas and science fiction outings, it wasn’t until it turned its attention to monsters that it became a British powerhouse. Written by Jimmy Sangster and directed by Terence Fisher, The Curse of Frankenstein was more explicit in its bloodletting than past horror yarns, with the use of color (a rarity at the time for the genre) paving the way for a fresh new look to the established creature features. In the roles that made them stars as well as Hammer mainstays, Peter Cushing and Lee play, respectively, the scientist hell-bent on creating life and the unfortunate ogre who’s the result of his increasingly risky experiments. Cushing brings the proper degrees of intensity and arrogance to his interpretation of Baron Victor Frankenstein, and while Lee’s creature can’t match Karloff’s, it’s still an appropriately gruesome monster. Flush from the film’s success, Fisher, Sangster, Cushing and Lee all reunited for an even better movie, 1958’s Horror of Dracula (reviewed here); the rest is Hammer history. Cushing would return to the role of the obsessed Baron for five sequels stretched out over 16 years.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by film historians Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr; a piece on the film and the beginnings of Hammer Horror; and a discussion of Gothic horror with author Christopher Frayling (Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years).
THE HARVEY GIRLS (1945). Judy Garland is once again a singing-and-dancing dynamo in this ebullient musical with a unique premise. The plot centers around the real-life restaurant chain created by Fred Harvey, who had the idea of establishing eateries alongside the railroad lines out West in order to serve hungry train passengers. Into one of these historical establishments trots the fictional Susan Bradley (Garland), who in the film’s late 19th-century setting has journeyed westward for a marriage that doesn’t happen (to the relief of both parties). Refusing to head back East, Susan instead joins the newly arrived women who are being trained as waitresses in the town’s Harvey House restaurant. Will these wholesome ladies and the promise of sizable slabs of beef be enough to entice the menfolk to abandon the local saloon and the sultry women who work within? That’s the question posed to the fair-minded saloon owner (John Hodiak), his scheming partner (Preston Foster), and the hotspot’s star singer (Angela Lansbury). The tunes come courtesy of Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer, and while the song score doesn’t rank among either man’s most notable achievements, it does include one keeper: “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe,” which deservedly earned the Oscar for Best Original Song. It’s backed by an elaborate musical number, just one of several that grace this peppy picture. The film marked the reunion of Garland with Ray Bolger, who had played the Scarecrow in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz; here, he provides most of the comic interludes, including a delightful solo dance routine.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director George Stanley; three deleted musical numbers; and the theatrical trailer.
MISTER ROBERTS (1955). Although it was a major box office hit (among 1955 titles, only Cinerama Holiday and Guys and Dolls grossed more) and a critical favorite, Mister Roberts did have to contend with a troubled production that found director John Ford being replaced by Mervyn LeRoy and an uncredited Joshua Logan. Officially, Ford left for surgery; unofficially, it was likely because he punched star Henry Fonda in the mouth during a squabble. At any rate, the movie itself is a terrific achievement, with Fonda recreating his Tony Award-winning role from the Broadway production. He’s Lieutenant Doug Roberts, the cargo officer aboard a Naval supply ship during World War II. Tired of delivering toothpaste and toilet paper to our fighting men, Mr. Roberts is itching to take part in the fray, but his transfer is repeatedly denied by the vessel’s petty and mean-spirited captain (James Cagney). Sympathizing with Mr. Roberts are the rational Doc (William Powell) and the excitable Ensign Pulver (Jack Lemmon). Mister Roberts offers a marvelous mix of comedy and drama, expertly pulled off by its four name actors. Fonda projects hope and dignity in his sensitive portrayal, Powell contributes sly humor to what would be his final screen performance, and Cagney is a riot as the bumbling commander whose nastiness knows no bounds. Yet it’s Lemmon who steals the picture with his boundless energy and comedic shenanigans. (Trivia aside: The nurse wooed by Pulver is played by Betsy Palmer, later to portray Jason’s murderous mom in the original Friday the 13th.) An Academy Award nominee for Best Picture, this nabbed the Best Supporting Actor statue for Lemmon. As for Cagney, he earned a Best Actor Oscar nod for the same year’s Love Me or Leave Me.
Blu-ray extras consist of scene-specific audio commentary by Lemmon and the theatrical trailer.
MY SCIENCE PROJECT (1985). The cinema of summer ‘85 found kids of all ages dabbling in weird science, as witnessed in Back to the Future, Explorers, Real Genius, D.A.R.Y.L., and, of course, Weird Science. The low point in this mini-genre was My Science Project, which, as befits its general lousiness, was also the lowest grossing of the batch (a measly $4 million total). The film kicks off during the Eisenhower years, with Ike (Robert Beers) himself ordering a group of scientists to bury the UFO that has come into their possession. Cut to 30-odd years later, and slacker high school student Michael Harlan (John Stockwell), whose entire character is defined by the fact that he loves cars, is reminded by his teacher (Dennis Hopper) that he needs to come up with a science project or risk a failing grade. Snooping around an abandoned government site, Michael stumbles across a strange alien artifact, the only surviving gizmo from the UFO. He plans on passing it off as his science project, only to soon discover that the object has the ability to create a time warp that allows enemy soldiers, futuristic mutants, and even a T-Rex to roam the high school halls. To return things to normal, the insufferable Michael enlists the aid of his insufferable best friend (Fisher Stevens), an insufferable nerd (Raphael Sbarge), and an insufferable wallflower (Danielle von Zerneck). Hopper’s role is particularly lamentable, as he plays a former hippie who ends up donning the actor’s Easy Rider duds. Like the rest of the film, it’s as pathetic as it is predictable.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historians Mike McPadden and Kat Ellinger; an interview with Stevens; and theatrical trailers.
TENET (2020). At the risk of sounding like a swooning fanboy, I have never given a Christopher Nolan movie less than three stars … until now. The weakest of his 11 cinematic at-bats to date, Tenet finds the filmmaker unable to get out of his own way as he attempts to spin a yarn that makes earlier efforts like Memento and Inception seem as linear and uncomplicated as A Charlie Brown Christmas by comparison. John David Washington is nicely understated playing a character listed only in the credits as “Protagonist.” Mr. Pro is a CIA agent who gets involved with an outfit examining “time inversion” and how it’s possible to move backwards through the years and even appear at the same place as your past self (just don’t meet yourself!). His mission is to stop a Russian madman (Kenneth Branagh) from destroying the world with this newfound intel, and he’s assisted by an affable colleague (Robert Pattinson) and the Russian’s bullied wife (Elizabeth Debicki, playing a role not significantly different from the one she essayed in the TV adaptation of the late John Le Carre’s The Night Manager). Nolan’s wishful thinking is laid bare in the moment when a character says, “Don’t try to understand it. Feel.” But one of Tenet‘s biggest problems is that it’s largely bereft of feeling, as the writer-director is far more interested in the intricacies of his convoluted jigsaw-puzzle plot than in massaging audience empathy. There are some lovely individual scenes and, until the interminable climax, some impressive action set-pieces, but it’s ultimately a frenzied jumble whose problems are compounded by Nolan’s usual insistence in muffling or drowning out the dialogue during key exchanges.
Extras in the 4K + Blu-ray + Digital edition consist of a lengthy making-of feature and theatrical trailers.