View from the Couch: Richard Pryor Collection, Straight Time, etc.
View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Richard Pryor: Here and Now, included in The Ultimate Richard Pryor Collection: Uncensored (Photo: Time Life)
[For those planning to watch past James Bond films before catching No Time to Die in theaters starting October 8, be sure to check out the ranking of all the 007 films from worst to best here.]
(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.)
CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984). Stephen King on screen may have gotten off to a slow start — after 1976’s Carrie, it took four years before another of his properties (1980’s The Shining) hit movie theaters — but that all changed during the mid-80s, when a five-year stretch saw the release of a whopping 13 movies attached to his bankable name. While some were distinguished efforts (Stand by Me, The Dead Zone, the latter reviewed here), others proved to be junky rather than classy (Maximum Overdrive, Silver Bullet, the latter reviewed here). Children of the Corn falls into the second category, with a promising premise ultimately no match for slapdash visuals effects, dunderheaded protagonists, and amateurish performances from some of the younger actors. Linda Hamilton (still a few months away from The Terminator) and Peter Horton play young couple Vicky and Burt, who stumble across a small Nebraska town in which everyone over the age of 18 had been brutally slain three years earlier. The killers are the community’s kids, led by a child prophet (John Franklin) who takes his orders from “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” and who now insists that these intruders need to be similarly sacrificed. Director Fritz Kiersch initially makes effective use of the desolate setting, but the story gets sloppier and sillier as it proceeds.
Extras in Arrow’s new 4K edition include audio commentary by Kiersch, Franklin, producer Terrence Kirby, and co-star Courtney Gains; a retrospective making-of piece; an interview with Hamilton; and the 1983 short film Disciples of the Corn, an earlier adaptation of King’s story and winner of a Student Academy Award.
CROCODILE DUNDEE TRILOGY (1986-2001). One of the unlikeliest sleeper smashes of the 1980s, Crocodile Dundee (1986) was second at the U.S. box office in ‘86 — with a phenomenal gross of $174 million, it almost unseated champion Top Gun and its $176 million haul. It’s easy to see its appeal: As amiable and relaxed as its leading man, it offers gentle chuckles and a sizable amount of charm. Paul Hogan delivers a disarming performance as Mick Dundee, a rough ‘n’ tumble Australian (with a bit of the charlatan about him) whose exploits catch the attention of American reporter Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski). She travels to Australia to interview him, ultimately deciding that he should accompany her back to New York. The Oscar-nominated original screenplay (by Hogan, Ken Shadie and John Cornell) is consistent in its quality, with the NYC portion proving to be as humorous as the earlier part set Down Under.
Much of the charm of Crocodile Dundee is from its lack of an overly aggressive plot; it unfolds at its own rhythm and refuses to insert any dramatic contrivances that would go against its very nature. Alas, that’s not the case with Crocodile Dundee II (1988), which didn’t match the success of its predecessor but still fared quite nicely ($109 million for a #6 finish in the Top 10). In this one, Mick and Sue are living in New York, but their blissful life together is interrupted when Sue’s photojournalist ex-husband Bob (Dennis Boutsikaris) sends her photographs of Colombian drug lord Luis Rico (Hechter Ubarry) personally executing someone. After killing Bob, Rico and his goons travel to NYC and kidnap Sue; naturally, it’s up to Mick to rescue her. This one reverses the trajectory of the original by beginning in New York and ending in Australia (where Mick figures he can use his skills to better vanquish the villains), but the plot developments are rote and particular sequences (any involving the helpful street gang, for starters) are annoying and unnecessary.
Like Zoolander 2, Basic Instinct 2, and Dumb and Dumber To, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles (2001) was one of those belated sequels requested by absolutely no one. The result: a $25 million take that ranked it #87 for the year (even Joe Dirt with David Spade grossed more). When Sue takes a job with her father’s newspaper in L.A., Mick finds himself once again leaving the vastness of the Outback for the harsh confines of a concrete jungle. The central plot kicks into gear when Mick and Sue discover that a fledgling movie studio known for producing shoddy sequels (presumably like this one) is actually a front for illegal activities. Laziness is the order of the day, as the film repeats numerous bits from the earlier pictures (Mick gets mugged, Mick encounters transvestites, Mick is confounded by electronic gadgets, etc.) while also turning to such has-been celebrities as George Hamilton and Mike Tyson to pump any semblance of vitality into an extremely tired movie.
Paramount is offering all three films in one Blu-ray set, with Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles making its debut in the format. Extras consist of a behind-the-scenes featurette on Crocodile Dundee II; a making-of piece on Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles; and theatrical trailers for all three movies.
Crocodile Dundee: ★★★
Crocodile Dundee II: ★★
Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles: ★½
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923). One of the greats of the silent era, Lon Chaney suffered for his art more than just about any other performer in film history. Armed with his own makeup kit, Chaney became so well-known for his radically different appearances that he earned the nickname “Man of a Thousand Faces” and further inspired the popular crack, “Don’t step on it; it might be Lon Chaney!” But his creations came at a price, as his makeup applications and physical contortions led to such enduring problems as poor eyesight and aching body parts. One of his most remarkable transformations can be seen in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, an expensive production that proved to be a box office blockbuster and turned the actor into a superstar. Chaney delivers a remarkable performance as Quasimodo, the misshapen Parisian bell-ringer who falls for the lovely gypsy Esmeralda (Patsy Ruth Miller). While it’s difficult to ascertain whether this film or the 1939 version starring Charles Laughton is the best screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel (either way, I would hate to live on the difference), this is nevertheless an awe-inspiring achievement, featuring magnificent sets (built on the Universal backlot), the proverbial cast of thousands (the crowd scenes are mesmerizing), and an opportunity to catch Chaney at his most commanding.
Kino Lorber has produced a handsome new Blu-ray edition that’s been subject to a 4K restoration. Extras include film critic audio commentary; home movie footage of Chaney; and slideshows of the official program book, production stills, and publicity materials.
A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935). One of the best of all Marx Brothers movies, this uproarious classic finds Otis P. Driftwood (Groucho), Fiorello (Chico) and Tomasso (Harpo) running interference by keeping a narcissistic opera star (Walter Woolf King) away from his leading lady (Kitty Carlisle), who’s in love with one of the chorus players (Allan Jones). Not even the humdrum romance between the dull-as-dirt duo of Carlisle and Jones (to say nothing of too many opera numbers) can break the spell of the comic material, which remains fantastic from first frame to last. Margaret Dumont, who was the perpetual foil to Groucho in seven of the siblings’ films, once again takes the brunt of his stinging quips as Mrs. Claypool, a wealthy patron of the arts (“Listen, I saw Mrs. Claypool first. Of course, her mother really saw her first, but there’s no point in bringing the Civil War into this.”), although some of the barbs are reserved for Sig Ruman as the stuffy head of the New York Opera Company. It’s impossible to determine which is the greater scene: the stateroom or the party of the first part.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film critic Leonard Maltin; a 2004 piece in which various folks (including Carl Reiner and Dom DeLuise) discuss their appreciation of the brothers Marx; Groucho guesting on a 1961 episode of The Hy Gardner Show; 1935’s live-action How to Sleep, an Oscar winner for Best Comedy Short; the 1935 live-action short Los Angeles: Wonder City of the West (with an appearance by Walt Disney); the 1937 live-action short Sunday Night at the Trocadero (featuring approximately two dozen celebrities, including Groucho); and the theatrical trailer.
QUINQUI COLLECTION (1980-1984). “Cine quinqui” was a mini-genre in Spain that originated in 1977 and was in play through the first half of the 1980s. Translated as “delinquent cinema,” its practitioners employed non-actors and realistic storylines to punch across the brutal lives of drug-addled street hoodlums. Writer-director Eloy de la Iglesia, whose earlier output included the 70s thrillers The Cannibal Man (reviewed here) and No One Heard the Scream (reviewed here), made a handful of films in this vein, including the trio collected here. De la Iglesia collaborated with journalist Gonzalo Goicoechea on the scripts for all three, and he additionally cast José Luis Manzano in the lead role in each.
Navajeros (1980), aka Knifers, stars Manzano as El Jaro, a juvenile delinquent who lives with a much older prostitute (Isela Vega) but spends most of his time committing crimes with his best friends. Once he acquires a gun, he grows even bolder and eventually makes the mistake of ripping off a drug dealer (Enrique San Francisco). El pico (1983), alternately known as The Needle and Overdose, casts Manzano as Paco, a middle-class kid who becomes so dependent on drugs that he steals his dying mother’s meds so he can remain dosed until he’s able to acquire more heroin. El pico 2 (1984) picks up the story with Paco still a heroin addict but now also an inmate at a prison full of particularly nasty convicts.
It’s difficult to establish which movie is bleak, which is bleaker, and which is bleakest. But all three are of comparable quality: They’re sturdy, sobering pictures but don’t quite trigger a transcendent experience like Hector Babenco’s 1981 Brazilian hit Pixote (reviewed here), which also tapped into a neorealist style and employed actual street kids to relate a similarly horrific and harrowing tale. Incidentally, de la Iglesia and Manzano, lovers in real life, both became heroin addicts; de la Iglesia eventually kicked the habit, but Manzano died of an overdose in 1992, at the age of 28.
Blu-ray extras consist of a look at the quinqui genre; a panel discussion titled “Queerness, Crime, and the Basque Conflict in the Quinqui Films of Eloy de la Iglesia”; an interview with actor Jose Sacristan (who appears in a supporting role in Navajeros); and theatrical trailers for El pico and El pico 2.
El pico: ★★★
El pico 2: ★★★
SANTA FE TRAIL (1940). My Holy Trinity of Cinema is comprised of horror flicks from the 1930s and 1940s, film noirs from the 40s and 50s, and the Warner Bros. movies of the 30s and 40s (the ones starring the high-powered contract-player likes of Bogart, Cagney, Davis, and Robinson). Of the last named, Santa Fe Trail might be the weakest of the entire WB bunch. It rewrites history to such an absurd degree that it becomes laughable — that’s par for the course for Hollywood, but what really sinks this one is its standing as a racist document only slightly less offensive than D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (reviewed here). Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan respectively play Jeb Stuart and George Custer, West Point buddies who spend their time wooing a railroad builder’s daughter (Olivia de Havilland) when they’re not busy pursuing abolitionist John Brown (Raymond Massey). Even contemporary scholars argue as to whether John Brown, who made it his mission to free blacks from slavery, was a saint or a madman, but this movie clearly paints him as a villain, so heinous that even his own son betrays him (not true). As for the issue of slavery, Jeb Stuart (even today still a hero to Southern yahoos) has a ridiculous speech where he states that it might be right and it might be wrong and who knows for sure. Because the town of Palmyra was the Western end of the Underground Railroad, it’s of course tagged as the “cancer of Kansas,” while the few black characters lament about how they preferred life as a slave as opposed to a free man. Considering how many Warner features from the era displayed a strong moral and social conscience, it’s somewhat startling that this came from their stable.
There are no Blu-ray extras.
STRAIGHT TIME (1978). One of the most unflinching movies ever made about the criminal mindset, this adaptation of real-life convict Edward Bunker’s novel No Beast So Fierce (scripted by Bunker, Alvin Sargent and Jeffrey Boam) finds Dustin Hoffman doing terrific work as Max Dembo, a lifelong small-time crook who has just been released from prison after a stint of several years. Max’s desire to go straight is immediately railroaded by the odious actions of slimy parole officer Earl Frank (an excellent M. Emmet Walsh), but hold on. The beauty of Straight Time — and what makes it different from more sympathetic treatments of cons coming clean — is that it’s apparent that Max Dembo was never going to become an upstanding member of society. Burdened with impatience, irritability, and self-destructive impulses, he merely uses Earl as the fuse to his own explosive nature. The best thing Max has going for him is his relationship with a young secretary (Theresa Russell in only her second film) who doesn’t seem to mind that he’s hardly a catch; more problematic are his friendships with two other cons (Harry Dean Stanton and Gary Busey), both of whom wouldn’t mind helping him partake in a series of armed robberies. Any pity for Max Dembo remains intact as long as he’s forced to deal with Earl Frank, and it’s satisfying to see the seedy parole officer eventually receive a well-deserved public humiliation (a great scene). But the character becomes off-putting and irredeemable once he returns to his criminal lifestyle, and it’s a testament to Hoffman’s immense skills that he keeps audiences hypnotized by this Loser-with-a-capital-L.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Hoffman and director Ulu Grosbard; a vintage making-of featurette; and the theatrical trailer.
THE ULTIMATE RICHARD PRYOR COLLECTION: UNCENSORED (2021). It’s a shame that the greatest stand-up comic of all time was never allowed by Hollywood to take a crack at the title of the greatest screen comedian of all time. The film industry usually had no idea how to handle Richard Pryor’s uncompromising brand of genius, and he often found himself miscast (Superman III), trapped in toothless comedies (Brewster’s Millions, reviewed here), or mired in absolute junk (The Toy). To that end, this remarkable 13-disc box set from Time Life — almost certain to remain the best DVD release of the year — only contains one feature film, preferring to focus its attention elsewhere.
The big news regarding The Ultimate Richard Pryor Collection: Uncensored is that it houses all four of the theatrically released concert films featuring the comic at his most mercurial. Actually, accounts differ as to whether the first of the quartet, Richard Pryor: Live & Smokin’ (1971), really did play theaters — running less than an hour, it maybe was booked in a New York movie house or two but nothing beyond that. It’s an early peek at Pryor being filmed before an audience, clearly nervous but still offering some top material. Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979) is a stone-cold classic, featuring many of the comedian’s most hilarious bits (I’ve always been partial to the monologue involving his grandmother and a stick suitable for ass-whupping, as well as the “piss” segment). Pryor’s performance is as fine as any found in a fictional flick, and the National Society of Film Critics and author Danny Peary (in his book Alternate Oscars) were correct in nominating him for Best Actor. Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982) is almost its equal, and, until 1987’s Eddie Murphy: Raw, its $36 million haul made it the all-time top-grossing concert film. There’s no shortage of keeper sequences in this one, including Pryor discussing his trip to Africa, his decision to no longer use the “n” word, and his notorious freebasing accident. Rounding out the pack is Richard Pryor: Here and Now (1983), which marked the comedian’s directorial debut. There’s more material about Africa, some discussions concerning his post-drugs life, and a couple of amusing bits involving President Ronald Reagan (“Motherfucker looked at me like I owed him money”).
As noted above, there’s only one fictional film included in this set: 1986’s loosely autobiographical Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling, which marked Pryor’s second and final directing stint (he also co-wrote the script). Critics weren’t too kind to this drama that took many episodes from Pryor’s actual life, but, although not a complete success, it’s much better than its reputation.
Also included in this collection is 1977’s The Richard Pryor Special?, which featured appearances by Maya Angelou, John Belushi, and Sanford and Son’s Aunt Esther, LaWanda Page. The special was successful enough that NBC gave Pryor his own series … and then immediately regretted it. Despite a supporting roster that included such up-and-comers as Robin Williams and Sandra Bernhard, censorship battles contributed to The Richard Pryor Show being cancelled after only four episodes. And, yes, all four episodes are included in this set.
Rounding out this spectacular collection are five of the 13 episodes of the children’s show Pryor’s Place, created by Sid and Marty Krofft (guests in the selected episodes include Sammy Davis Jr., Willie Nelson, Lily Tomlin, and Rip Taylor), various Pryor appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Merv Griffin Show, and The Dick Cavett Show, the 2019 documentary I Am Richard Pryor, and a few other goodies.
DVD extras include deleted scenes from The Richard Pryor Show; never-before-released footage from Pryor’s 1969 film Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales, directed by Penelope Spheeris while she was still a film student at UCLA; and a pair of interviews with Pryor’s widow, Jennifer Lee Pryor. The set also contains a 40-page booklet crammed with quotes and photos.
THE WINDOW (1949). A Cornell Woolrich story (“The Boy Cried Murder”) served as the basis for this nifty thriller about Tommy Woodrey (Bobby Driscoll), a little boy living with his parents (Barbara Hale and Arthur Kennedy) in a New York tenement building. Tommy has an awful habit of making up outlandish stories — his latest, that he and his folks are moving to a ranch out west, even results in the landlord coming around to show the apartment to some new tenants and then angrily storming away when he discovers it’s not true. One muggy night while sleeping out on the fire escape, Tommy witnesses the neighbors, Joe and Jean Kellerson (Paul Stewart and Ruth Roman), brutally kill a man in their living room. Bobby tells his parents and then the police, but nobody believes him … except the killers, of course. Director Ted Tetzlaff had spent two decades as a cinematographer before making the career switch; since his last film in his capacity as d.p. was Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 masterpiece Notorious (reviewed here), it’s no surprise that he’s able to milk this picture’s shadowy setting for maximum impact. Like a select few others, including Claude Jarman Jr. for 1946’s The Yearling (reviewed here), Driscoll won an honorary miniature Oscar as the outstanding juvenile actor of 1949 for his performances in The Window and the Disney feature So Dear to My Heart. The Window also earned a nomination for Best Film Editing. Tragically, a severe case of acne largely killed Driscoll’s film career; he began taking drugs as a teenager, later became part of Andy Warhol’s Factory scene, and eventually died of an overdose in 1968, at the age of 31.
There are no Blu-ray extras.
Short And Sweet:
CRUELLA (2021). Like 2014’s Maleficent, Cruella purports to show the origin story of a notorious Disney villainess. Unlike Maleficent, which found clever ways to connect the character in that live-action feature to the character rendered immortal in 1959’s animated Sleeping Beauty, this one has more trouble making the ride a smooth one back to 1961’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Whereas Angelina Jolie can be accepted as either a misunderstood woman or a fire-breathing monster, Emma Stone is simply too soft and likable to be entirely believable as a woman who will eventually want to kill puppies for their pelts. Still, the film looks great, the plotting is inventive (if occasionally exhausting), and Emma Thompson is appropriately menacing as Cruella’s mentor.
Blu-ray extras include a handful of making-of featurettes; deleted scenes; and bloopers.
DOLLY (2021). A collection named Dolly certainly doesn’t need more clarification — obviously, we’re not talking about Dolly Madison. Pared down from the previously released 11-disc and 19-disc DVD editions offered by Time Life, this one contains six discs and harbors a handful of episodes from the short-lived 1987-1988 variety show Dolly (guests include Burt Reynolds and Kermit the Frog), her 2009 London concert, the 1988 special Bob Hope’s Jolly Christmas Show (featuring Parton, Don Johnson, and Los Angeles Dodgers pitching sensation Orel Hershiser), the 2019 documentary Dolly Parton: Here I Am, and a behind-the-scenes look at the recording sessions for the soundtrack to the 2018 movie Dumplin’.
The only extra is an interview with entertainer Mac Davis (who appears in one of the included episodes of Dolly as well as Dolly Parton: Here I Am).
THE NAKED SPUR (1953). One of the five Western collaborations between director Anthony Mann and star James Stewart (go here for a review of 1952’s Bend of the River), this exciting yarn finds the actor cast as Howard Kemp, a bounty hunter in pursuit of the murderous Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan). Forced to take on a grizzled gold prospector (Millard Mitchell) and a dishonorably discharged cavalry officer (Ralph Meeker) as his partners, Kemp eventually catches up with Ben and his traveling companion (Janet Leigh). The savvy Ben pits his captors against each other, a psychological maneuver that results in distrust and betrayal. This exemplary oater earned Sam Rolfe and Harold Jack Bloom an Academy Award nomination for Best Story and Screenplay.
Blu-ray extras consist of the 1953 live-action short Things We Can Do Without; the 1953 Oscar nominee for Best Cartoon Short, Little Johnny Jet; and the theatrical trailer.
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