View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray and DVD.
Bill Murray in Quick Change (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.)
ANOTHER THIN MAN (1939). The third entry in the popular series starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as happily married sleuths Nick and Nora Charles (following 1934’s The Thin Man, reviewed here, and 1936’s After the Thin Man, reviewed here) picks up approximately nine months after its immediate predecessor. After the Thin Man concluded with the announcement of Nora’s pregnancy, meaning this one opens with the couple now with an infant (Nick Jr.) in tow. This time, Nick and Nora travel to the estate of a business associate (C. Audrey Smith); when the old man turns up dead, almost everyone’s a suspect, including Nick. As in the first two films, the labyrinthine mystery holds together and leads to the unmasking of a killer whose identity will catch many off-guard — that’s certainly a far cry from too many modern thrillers in which the climactic plot twists can be figured out within the first 30 minutes. This entry further benefits from a strong supporting cast, including an unbilled Shemp Howard (later of The Three Stooges) as a bumbling ex-con.
Blu-ray extras consist of the 1939 musical short Love on Tap; the 1939 cartoon The Bookworm; and the theatrical trailer.
BARB & STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR (2021). Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, real-life BAEs as well as the Oscar-nominated writers of the wondrous Bridesmaids, have again pooled their talents for a comedy that isn’t even half as funny as their previous hit. Still, its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach (comedy! drama! action! song and dance! science fiction!) at least raises the likelihood that it will be able to offer something for everyone. After a series of setbacks in their Midwestern hometown, best friends Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig) decide to take an out-of-state vacation for the first time in their lives. They settle on the beachfront community of Vista Del Mar, Florida, not realizing that it’s marked for termination by a bitter former resident (also Wiig, and practically unrecognizable) who plans to have her hunky henchman (Jamie Dornan) release a swarm of killer mosquitos on its unsuspecting citizenry. The script leans too hard on the forced whimsy, with such out-of-left-field innovations as a splashy musical number and a talking crab who sounds like Morgan Freeman falling flat. It’s more successful when it focuses on these two women and how their friendship never had an opportunity to be tested until they left the suffocating confines of their conservative town. Damon Wayans Jr. appears in a superfluous role as an incompetent spy named Darlie Bunkle.
DVD extras include audio commentary by Wiig, Mumolo and director Josh Greenbaum; deleted scenes; and bloopers.
DEEP BLOOD (1990). With approximately 200 credits to his name as writer, director and/or producer, Italian filmmaker Joe D’Amato (real name: Aristide Massaccesi) found plenty of room on his resume for low-budget rip-offs of established hits: Mad Max, The Blue Lagoon, Conan the Barbarian, and Flashdance were just four of the films that offered D’Amato what could generously be described as inspiration. It took some time, but D’Amato finally made his own Jaws, one in a series of post-1975 sharksploitation yarns that also included Cruel Jaws, Great White, and Tintorera (reviewed here). What’s surprising about Deep Blood is its relative restraint, particularly coming from the man behind such titles as Erotic Nights of the Living Dead, Cop Sucker, and Paprika: The Last Italian Whore (did I mention that D’Amato spent much of his career as a helmer of hardcore porn flicks?). Part of the reason was budgetary — aside from a prop head, all footage of the shark was taken from documentaries — but the story itself is rather subdued, with most of the focus on four young guys and their strained relationships with dads, girlfriends, and street punks. But once it’s clear that there’s a shark munching on the locals, the pals ignore all distractions and elect to destroy the beast themselves. There aren’t many laughs (intentional or otherwise) nor many thrills in this competently staged but lackluster enterprise.
The only Blu-ray extra is the theatrical trailer.
EACH DAWN I DIE (1939). A childhood favorite that never fails to delight, Each Dawn I Die gets its juice from a smashing James Cagney performance as well as a scenario that’s as irresistible as it is unlikely. Cagney stars as Frank Ross, a journalist who’s framed by corrupt city officials to take the rap for a DUI incident that leaves innocent people dead. Teaming up with a “lifer” (George Raft, slightly more animated than usual), Ross learns how to take care of himself behind bars, but the rigors of prison life eventually start to break him down. This has about as much basis in reality as any random episode of Mork & Mindy or any installment in the Saw franchise, but it’s hard to nitpick when the results are this entertaining.
It’s nice to see that the Warner Archive Collection has carried over the format employed for several of its classics on DVD: “Warner Night at the Movies,” which (emulating the moviegoing experience from decades past) includes a vintage newsreel, a short film, a cartoon (in this case, 1939’s Oscar-nominated Detouring America), and a theatrical trailer before the main attraction. Other extras on this Blu-ray release include film historian audio commentary; a piece on gangster films; the 1949 Elmer Fudd cartoon Each Dawn I Crow; and a studio blooper reel, consisting of outtakes of Warner’s stars swearing, flubbing lines or playing on-set pranks.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966). Roger Ebert once admitted that he badly underrated the film upon its initial release, while Quentin Tarantino has declared that it’s his favorite movie of all time. Clearly, Sergio Leone’s seminal Spaghetti Western has been elevated to a plateau far beyond its meager origins, and while it may not be the best Western ever made — heck, it’s not even the best Western Leone ever made (1968’s Once Upon a Time in the West earns my vote) — it’s clearly the work of a master filmmaker whose style has never grown stale. With its dazzling camerawork and editing, its integration of music score to story (Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack is merely one of the all-time greats), and its gallery of iconic characters (Clint Eastwood as the Good, Lee Van Cleef as the Bad, Eli Wallach as the Ugly), it’s obvious that Leone has proven as influential a director on subsequent generations as just about any other revered moviemaker. Lengthy interludes involving a Civil War skirmish will strike some viewers as inspired and others as draggy and distracting, yet the rest of the picture is guaranteed to cause cineaste delirium.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has hit 4K, but be aware that this is the original U.S. theatrical cut, not the extended version that arrived decades later. Extras include audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas; a making-of featurette; a two-part piece on Morricone; and deleted scenes.
QUICK CHANGE (1990). While audiences had no problem watching Bill Murray in the army, at a summer camp, on a golf course, or in a library busting ghosts, they apparently drew the line at watching him in clown makeup. That might explain the box office failure of Quick Change, whose poster showing a forlorn Bill as Bozo clearly did nothing to spark moviegoer interest. Yet those who don’t mind their comedies operating in low-key stealth mode will find plenty to enjoy in this easygoing effort that also marks Murray’s only stints as director (sharing the credit with scripter Howard Franklin) and producer. Murray plays Grimm, who successfully pulls off a fiendishly clever bank robbery alongside his accomplices Phyllis (Geena Davis) and Loomis (Randy Quaid). With an intrepid police chief (Jason Robards) in hot pursuit, the trio plan to leave the country. But try as they might, they can’t even leave New York City, as a number of unlikely obstacles turn their escape into a Sisyphean task. Murray and Davis make an attractive couple, while Quaid amplifies his character’s frustration to such an extreme degree that you can almost reach out and touch it. The bright supporting cast includes Tony Shalhoub as a perplexed cab driver, Stanley Tucci as a mob flunky, and Philip Bosco as a bus driver with a very strict set of rules.
The only Blu-ray extra is the theatrical trailer.
THE TIME TRAVELERS (1964). Even as a low-budgeter, the visual effects and set design are more than adequate in this brainy sci-fi film. Three scientists (Preston Foster, Philip Carey, Merry Anders) construct a screen that shows the world in the future and are stunned when it turns out to be an actual portal. With an annoying technician (Steve Franken) in tow, they visit the Earth of 2071, a post-apocalyptic world in which murderous mutants roam the wastelands and the normal humans live underground alongside their android creations. The techie gets involved with a lovely denizen (Delores Wells, a 1960 Playboy Playmate) while the scientists try to figure out how to return to the past. The characters are stiff even by the standards of 50s-60s sci-fi, and some subplots are left dangling (there’s a scene involving a docile mutant that leads nowhere). But the superbly executed ending is not only unexpected but startlingly downbeat for its era. The Time Travelers was an early credit for two accomplished cinematographers: Vilmos Zsigmond (an Oscar winner for Close Encounters of the Third Kind), here serving as director of photography, and László Kovács (Easy Rider, Ghostbusters), hired as camera operator. The film also marked the first of many fantasy-flick cameos by Famous Monsters of Filmland editor Forrest J Ackerman; he’s the scientist working with the circular devices that transform into squares.
The only Blu-ray extra is the theatrical trailer.
WANTED FOR MURDER (1946) / CAST A DARK SHADOW (1955). While many movie critics and scholars have argued that film noir is specifically an American genre and can only apply to motion pictures made in Hollywood, others maintain that it’s as international as any other classification of cinema. For those folks, the two titles included in this Blu-ray double feature would certainly qualify as film noir with a British bent.
Taking a break from his legendary partnership with Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger had a hand in the screenplay for Wanted for Murder, in which Victor Colebrooke (Eric Portman), the distinguished descendant of a notorious hangman, finds release by strangling young women throughout London. His girlfriend (Dulcie Gray) is oblivious to his double life, but a Scotland Yard inspector (Roland Culver) starts linking the various clues. The scenes involving the coppers (Stanley Holloway is a hoot as the inspector’s right-hand man) are ultimately more involving than the ones centered around Colebrooke’s psychosis.
Based on the Janet Green play Murder Mistaken, Cast a Dark Shadow casts Dirk Bogarde as Teddy Bare, who’s married to the much older Monica Bare (Mona Washbourne). Naturally, Teddy insists he loves Monica, but he’s really in love with her money, and when he mistakenly believes he’s about to lose it all, he murders his wife and stages it as an accident. He then sets his sights on another wealthy woman, the bawdy widow Freda Jeffries (Margaret Lockwood), although the arrival of another woman (Kay Walsh) might potentially complicate matters for all involved. As with Wanted for Murder, the ending could be stronger, but Lockwood is a standout as an independent woman who plays by her own rules.
The only Blu-ray extras are the theatrical trailers.
Wanted for Murder: ★★★
Cast a Dark Shadow: ★★★