View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby (Photo: Criterion)
(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
BRINGING UP BABY (1938). Bringing Up Baby was the only Howard Hawks film to crack the AFI’s Top 100 list, and while fans of the director’s countless other classics might be rankled at the exclusion of Rio Bravo and His Girl Friday (to name but two), there’s no denying the enduring popularity of this immortal screwball comedy. One of those movies that seems to improve upon repeat viewings — it took me several watches over the years to completely warm up to Katharine Hepburn’s characterization — this finds Cary Grant in top form as a fumbling paleontologist whose neatly structured life goes to seed once he inadvertently hooks up with an apparently off-her-rocker heiress (Hepburn). Baby, incidentally, is the name of a leopard that turns out to be as gentle as a lamb. A flop when first released, this has since influenced scores of filmmakers over the ensuing decades — for starters, Peter Bogdanovich’s 1972 What’s Up, Doc?, with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal, is an unofficial remake.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary (from 2005) by Bogdanovich; a new video essay on Grant; the 1978 German documentary Howard Hawks: A Hell of a Good Life; an audio interview from 1969 with Grant; audio excerpts from a 1972 conversation between Hawks and Bogdanovich; and the theatrical trailer.
DEAD & BURIED (1981). Even promoting Dead & Buried as coming from “the creators of Alien” (writers Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon, although O’Bannon’s contributions to D&A were minor) couldn’t prevent the film from becoming a box office flop. It has slowly found its audience over the ensuing years, which is only proper for a movie as distinct as this one. In the seaside town of Potters Bluff, sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino of The Final Countdown, recently reviewed here) works in tandem with the mortician Dobbs (Jack Albertson of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, recently reviewed here) to discover why tourists are being brutally murdered and, more disturbingly, why some of these victims are later seen walking around town. Ably directed by Gary Sherman, this unfolds like a good mystery, and while the final twist is illogical and absurd, it’s still very much in the spirit of the entire enterprise. Four-time Oscar winner Stan Winston (Aliens) created the excellent visual and makeup effects (the one cheesy effect, involving acid up the nostrils, was created by another party).
Blue Underground is offering the film in a to-die-for Limited Edition 4K + Blu-ray + CD set, with the choice of three different lenticular slipcovers (pictured). Extras include four audio commentaries, including one with Sherman and one with Shusett; behind-the-scenes footage; new interviews with Sherman and composer Joe Renzetti; and vintage interviews with O’Bannon, Winston, and actor Robert Englund (who appears in a supporting role).
DEEP COVER (1992). Bill Duke, better known as an actor (Car Wash, Predator, Percy Odell on TV’s Black Lightning) than director, provided a solid (and largely underrated) one-two punch behind the camera with 1991’s A Rage in Harlem, starring Forest Whitaker and Gregory Hines, and 1992’s Deep Cover. The former has yet to hit Blu, but the latter has just made its debut. After witnessing his father fatally shot while robbing a liquor store, young Russell Stevens swears not to follow in his footsteps. Growing up to become a straight-arrow cop (Laurence Fishburne), Stevens finds his honesty and idealism put to the test when he’s recruited by a speechifying DEA official (Charles Martin Smith) to go undercover and take down an LA drug operation. Passing himself off as a drug dealer, Stevens finds himself forming a strange partnership with David Jason (Jeff Goldblum), a corrupt attorney hoping to become a major cocaine kingpin. It’s fascinating to watch Stevens valiantly struggle to hold onto his values, and Fishburne and Goldblum make an excellent and unexpected team. There are also fine supporting stints from Clarence Williams III as a Christian cop and Gregory Sierra (Julio on Sanford and Son) as a bullying mob boss.
Blu-ray extras consist of a new interview with Duke; a 2018 seminar featuring Duke and Fishburne; a conversation about the movie’s standing as part of the black film explosion of the early 1990s and as a neo-film noir; a discussion of Dr. Dre’s title track; and the theatrical trailer.
SKIN DEEP (1989). Blake Edwards was responsible for so many top-flight productions (including Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Days of Wine and Roses, and the hilarious Pink Panther series starring Peter Sellers and reviewed here) that we can forgive him for the string of duds that winded down his career post-Victor/Victoria. Skin Deep is actually one of the more tolerable of this ragtag bunch, a dismal grouping that includes A Fine Mess, which painfully paired Ted Danson with Howie Mandel, and Son of the Pink Panther, a miserable attempt to resurrect the series with Roberto Benigni. Yet despite a couple of standout scenes and Edwards’ sharp dialogue, Skin Deep is overall a letdown coming from this talented filmmaker. A miscast John Ritter plays an alcoholic womanizer trying to better himself, but that’s hard to do when there are so many beauties to bed and bottles of booze to consume. It would take a tremendous performance to make this vile character interesting, and Ritter isn’t up to the task, although his physical agility (seen weekly on Three’s Company) remains strong. Skin Deep does boast of one ingenious scene, so gaspingly funny that it’s teased in the film’s tagline (“The comedy that GLOWS in the dark”).
There are no Blu-ray extras.
TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME (1949). Nine months before co-starring in the same year’s 4-star classic On the Town, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin and Betty Garrett all appeared together in this comparatively minor but still enjoyable musical romp. Kelly and Sinatra play Eddie O’Brien and Dennis Ryan, two pals who divide their time between performing in vaudeville shows and playing baseball for the Chicago Wolves. The players are all stunned when their team is bought by a woman, K.C. Higgins (Esther Williams), but their anxiety is dispelled when she displays her deep knowledge of the game as well as her own athletic prowess. Garrett co-stars as the rambunctious Shirley, who’s hot for Dennis, while Munshin portrays fellow ballplayer Nat Goldberg. Williams was best known for the elaborate swimming numbers that made her a star in her solo vehicles, but since she was a late replacement for (among others considered) Judy Garland, the only sequence that involves water finds her swimming a few laps in a pool. The title tune is warbled a couple of times, although the best song sequence features the peppy tune “O’Brien to Ryan to Goldberg.”
Blu-ray extras consist of the deleted musical numbers “Baby Doll” (sung by Kelly) and “Boys and Girls Like You and Me” (sung by Sinatra); the 1949 Tom & Jerry cartoon The Cat and the Mermouse; and the theatrical trailer.
THUNDERBOLT (1929). The collaboration between Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich is legendary (read the review of the box set Dietrich & von Sternberg here), but before joining forces with the actress for seven pictures from 1930 to 1935, the director worked with actor George Bancroft on four films dated 1927 through 1929. The Oscar-winning 1927 gangster flick Underworld and 1928’s The Docks of New York are reviewed here, while 1928’s The Dragnet remains a lost film. As for Thunderbolt, it was von Sternberg’s first talkie (a silent version was also produced) and nabbed Bancroft his only Best Actor Oscar nomination. He stars as “Thunderbolt” Jim Lang, a gangster who finds himself on death row. Fuming over the fact that his girlfriend (Fay Wray) left him for clean-cut bank employee Bob Moran (Richard Arlen), Thunderbolt orders his underlings to frame Bob for murder so that he can personally kill him once he’s likewise sentenced to death row. A far-fetched story line is made palatable by Bancroft’s boisterous performance, von Sternberg’s visual and aural touches, and some unexpected twists in the tale. One of the scripters was Citizen Kane co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz (the subject of last year’s Mank, reviewed here), while his brother, All About Eve mastermind Joseph L. Mankiewicz, provided the titles for the silent version (not included on this Kino release).
Blu-ray extras consist of film critic audio commentary and trailers for other films on the Kino label, including a pair of early Hitchcocks (Murder! and Blackmail).