View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray and DVD.
Rick Moranis in Spaceballs (Photo: Kino & MGM)
(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.)
HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN (1961). This sword-and-sandal yarn was released in its native Italy as Hercules and the Conquest of Atlantis; recognizing the accuracy of the title, other countries opted for similar marquee fillers, including the United Kingdom (where it was called Hercules Conquers Atlantis). But not the U.S. of A.! Stateside, the film was shortened by seven minutes, outfitted with new opening credits, and released in 1963 under the misleading title Hercules and the Captive Women (there’s only one woman, and she’s only held captive briefly on two occasions). Aside from being filmed in 70mm Super Technirama (usually reserved for only the most prestigious of epics, like Spartacus and King of Kings), this is an ordinary entry in the genre, offering minimal thrills as Hercules (Reg Park) seeks to liberate Atlantis from the grip of its power-hungry queen (Fay Spain). For another Hercules film starring Park, check out Mario Bava’s 1961 Hercules in the Haunted World, co-starring Christopher Lee and reviewed here.
Hercules and the Captive Women was featured on a 1992 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and that version is also included on this special edition Blu-ray release from The Film Detective. The episode gets off to a promising start as Joel allows Gypsy to enter the auditorium to watch the film (much to the dismay of Crow and Tom Servo), but that idea is abandoned far too early, leaving the team (and us) with a movie that for whatever reason doesn’t generate the usual high number of consistently amusing cracks from the Satellite of Love crew.
In addition to the MST3K version, the other extras consist of audio commentary by film critic Tim Lucas; an introduction by MST3K’s Frank Conniff (aka TV’s Frank); and the documentary Hercules and the Conquest of Cinema.
THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975). Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis co-starred in 16 movies, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau appeared together 10 times, and James Cagney and Pat O’Brien shared screen credit on nine occasions. Unless one counts their mutual participation in the all-star WWII epic A Bridge Too Far, Sean Connery and Michael Caine only made one movie together. That’s a shame, because based on their excellent chemistry in The Man Who Would Be King, theirs was a potent pairing that deserved to headline at least a half-dozen features. Director John Huston had wanted to adapt Rudyard Kipling’s story for decades — his original vision had Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart in the lead roles — but the adage “better late than never” certainly applies here, given the splendid results. Connery and Caine respectively play Danny and Peachy, two former British officers who have moved on to careers as consummate con men in India. As they explain to Kipling himself (a nice turn by Christopher Plummer, R.I.P.), they plan to travel to the distant land of Kafiristan and set themselves up as rulers. That they do, and the ruse works so well that the locals come to believe that Danny is an actual god. The splendid turns by Caine and Connery are supported by immaculate production values and a script that’s heavy on the humor, adventure, and delightful English colloquialisms. Incidentally, that’s Caine’s real-life wife, Shakira Caine, as the beauteous villager who catches Danny’s eye. This earned four Academy Award nominations (including one for the adapted screenplay by Huston and Gladys Hill) and might have nabbed more had it not been released in such a powerhouse year for film (Jaws, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nashville, etc.).
Blu-ray extras consist of a vintage making-of featurette and the theatrical trailer.
THE PRODUCERS (1968). Writer-director Mel Brooks’ first foray into feature films pushed enough envelopes that it became an instant success — and earned him an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, to boot. The basis for the Broadway smash, this often uproarious effort finds Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder in terrific comic form as, respectively, unscrupulous producer Max Bialystock and sensitive accountant Leo Bloom, who figure out they can get rich by backing a theatrical flop. They search around for the worst script possible and find it in Springtime for Hitler, a musical celebration of Adolf Hitler penned by the insane Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars). Further fortified by grade-Z director Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewett) calling the shots and an aging hippie named LSD (Dick Shawn) cast as Der Fuhrer, the play seems destined to close after only one show. The Springtime for Hitler sequences are particularly memorable — and that’s Mel himself dubbing the classic line, “Don’t be stupid, Be a smarty, Come and join the Nazi Party!” — but the inspired lunacy extends to all corners of this madcap comedy which Brooks once insisted “rises below vulgarity.” Wilder earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for only his second screen credit (the first, of course, was for his riotous scene in the previous year’s Bonnie and Clyde).
Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary; a making-of piece; an outtake; Paul Mazursky reading the statement that Peter Sellers placed in Variety regarding the film (Sellers loved it); a sketch gallery; a radio spot; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for six other comedies on the Kino label (including two from Brooks and three from Wilder).
SPACEBALLS (1987). On the 10th anniversary of the original Star Wars, Mel Brooks released his satiric take on the trilogy, and while it doesn’t skewer the sci-fi genre as brilliantly as Young Frankenstein tackled the horror film, it was the last Brooks theatrical release to consistently offer more laughs than groans. Bill Pullman plays Lone Starr, the Luke Skywalker/Han Solo composite who travels around the galaxy with his faithful half-canine, half-human companion Barf (John Candy) by his side. When the evil Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) wages war against the peaceful planet Druidia, Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) and the android Dot Matrix (Lorene Yarnell; voiced by Joan Rivers) join our heroes in attempting to vanquish the villains. Brooks himself appears in two roles — the evil President Skroob and the wizened Yogurt the magnificent (“Please, I’m just plain Yogurt”) — although it’s the minor character of Pizza the Hutt (voiced by Dom De Luise) who never fails to make me chuckle. A slapdash effort that throws in all manner of gags — some inspired (that opening shot), some predictable (when troops are ordered to comb the desert, you just know an actual mega-sized comb will be shown sifting through the sand), some completely off the wall (the Alien chestburster performing a song-and-dance number) — Spaceballs demonstrates that the Schwartz is still with us.
Spaceballs has just been released on the Kino label in a lovely 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray edition. Extras include audio commentary by Brooks; a conversation between Brooks and co-scripter Thomas Meehan (in which it’s revealed that the original title of the movie was Planet Moron); a making-of piece; a tribute to Candy; film flubs; and the opportunity to watch the movie in Ludicrous Speed.
THE WILD LIFE (1984). Two years after earning stellar notices for his screenplay for Fast Times at Ridgemont High (adapted from his own book), Cameron Crowe returned to a similar milieu with moribund results. Whereas Fast Times starred Sean Penn as the lovable pothead Spicoli, this one stars his brother Chris Penn as the irresponsible slacker Tom Drake. Tom shares an apartment with his straight-laced friend Bill (Eric Stoltz); he has a younger brother named Jim (Ilan Mitchell-Smith), who’s interested in military hardware and frequently visits a damaged Vietnam vet (Randy Quaid, whose character belongs in a completely different movie); and he strings along a girlfriend (Jenny Wright) who works at a mall clothing store alongside a prissy nerd (Rick Moranis, natch). As for Bill, he recently broke up with Anita (Lea Thompson), who’s now dating a smarmy cop (Hart Bochner) who (unbeknownst to her) is married with a kid. Only Mitchell-Smith’s Jim comes close to being an interesting character; practically everyone else (particularly Stoltz’s Bill) is unremittingly dull, while Penn’s bad-boy party animal is insufferable from first frame to last. Since the movie’s a dog, the best way to pass the time is to check out all the familiar faces in small roles: Twin Peaks’ Sherilyn Fenn in her film debut; future Independence Day and Stargate scripter Dean Devlin as the liquor store clerk; Kevin Peter Hall (the original Predator) as a bouncer; exotic dancer and Russ Meyer fave Kitten Natividad as a stripper; and musicians Nancy Wilson (Crowe’s wife), Lee Ving, and Ronnie Wood (yes, he of the Rolling Stones) in minor parts.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by author Mike “McBeardo” McPadden (Teen Movie Hell: A Crucible of Coming-of-Age Comedies from Animal House to Zapped!) and DJ Ian Christe; an interview with Mitchell-Smith; and the theatrical trailer.