View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Will Smith in King Richard (Photo: Warner)
(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.)
THE CAPTURE (1950). Here’s an early screen credit for director John Sturges, later to make his mark with such excellent efforts as Bad Day at Black Rock, The Magnificent Seven, and The Great Escape (recently reviewed here). Primarily told in flashback, it stars Lew Ayres as Lin Vanner, a middle-management supervisor at an oil company located along the U.S.-Mexican border. After the payroll is stolen, Linn sets out in pursuit of the thief and believes he has found him in the form of a cowboy named Tevlin (Edwin Rand). Lin shoots first and asks questions later, eventually learning that Tevlin might not be the guilty party. When Tevlin dies of the gunshot wound, the guilt-racked Lin visits his widow Ellen (Teresa Wright), only to fall in love with her. This turn of events ultimately leads to a murder, a flight from the police, and the flashback chat with a Mexican priest (Victor Jory). The central storyline of a man crushed by his own conscience is interesting, but the relationship between Linn and Ellen strains credulity, and the ending is dopey. At the time of filming, Wright was married to writer Niven Busch (Duel in the Sun), found here adapting his own novel for the screen.
Once again, The Film Detective has taken a movie that’s long been in the public domain (read: looks like hell wherever and whenever it’s shown) and cleaned it up for greater viewer consumption and appreciation. Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by author C. Courtney Joyner (The Westerners: Interviews with Actors, Directors, Writers and Producers), and pieces on Sturges and Wright. A booklet is also included; it contains an essay on the troubled 10-year (1942-1952) marriage between Wright and Busch.
F/X (1986) / F/X2 (1991). A sleeper hit from the mid-‘80s and its sequel are offered together as a Blu-ray double feature from Kino.
While F/X will doubtless continue to play best for those of us who knew it back when, it should still effectively engage all but the most cynical of today’s seen-it-all film fans. Australian actor Bryan Brown, who had a nice little run in the 1980s (Breaker Morant, Gorillas in the Mist, TV’s The Thorn Birds, etc.), adeptly tackles the role of Rollie Tyler, one of the best special effects artists working in film. Rollie is approached by a pair of Justice Department suits (Cliff De Young and Mason Adams) to help them stage a fake assassination of a mobster-turned-witness (Jerry Orbach); he reluctantly agrees, only to learn post-assignment that someone has set him up as a fall guy. As he feverishly works to evade both the police and the killers, hard-boiled cop Leo McCarthy (Brian Dennehy) conducts his own unorthodox investigation into the matter. A few glaring plotholes dissipate in the wake of the clever twists concocted by Robert T. Megginson and Gregory Fleeman, whose screenplay also allows Rollie to rely on his effects training to extricate himself from some deadly situations. The turns by Brown, Dennehy, Orbach and Joe Grifasi as Dennehy’s sad-sack partner are especially pleasing, and look fast for Angela Bassett in her film debut as a reporter.
F/X was followed by F/X2, a ridiculous, implausible yet occasionally exciting yarn in which Rollie (Brown) uncovers police corruption and turns to ex-cop Leo (Dennehy) for assistance. Besides Rollie and Leo, the only other returning character is likable lonelyheart Marisa Velez (Jossie deGuzman); her ultimate fate can’t help but leave a bad taste in the mouth. Trivial pursuit: One of the producers of both pictures was Dodi Fayed, the Egyptian millionaire killed alongside Princess Diana in that tragic 1997 car crash.
Blu-ray extras consist of an interview with F/X director Robert Mandel, and vintage making-of featurettes and theatrical trailers for both films.
GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933). Choreographer Busby Berkeley’s eye-popping production numbers have already shone on Blu-ray with the earlier releases of 1933’s 42nd Street and the same year’s Footlight Parade (reviewed here). Here’s another hit from that prolific six-year, 15-film stretch at Warner Bros. when Berkeley was allowed — even encouraged — to take dance on film to new heights. Gold Diggers of 1933 opens with a smashing musical number — Ginger Rogers’ character performing “We’re in the Money” (partly in pig Latin!) — and closes with the equally riveting, Depression-era ode “Remember My Forgotten Man.” In between is the usual plot of a bunch of swell guys and girls attempting to put on a show. The producer (Ned Sparks) has great ideas and great performers (Rogers, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler and Aline MacMahon) but no money. No problem: It turns out that the aspiring songwriter (Dick Powell) living in the same building as the ladies is actually a millionaire, and he provides the funds to mount the show. But complications arise in the form of his brother (Warren William), a condescending blue blood who believes show business to be a disreputable profession full of avaricious hussies. Some mildly naughty humor can be found in this pre-Code offering, and there’s an amusing turn by Guy Kibbee as an excitable lawyer with the great name of Faneuil H. Peabody. And don’t miss the trippy dance number featuring rows of neon-lit violins! Three more gold-digging musicals followed: Gold Diggers of 1935, Gold Diggers of 1937, and 1938’s Gold Diggers in Paris.
Blu-ray extras include the 1933 promotional piece The 42nd Street Special; the 1933 short Seasoned Greetings, with Lita Grey (Charlie Chaplin’s second wife), Robert Cummings (in his screen debut), and a 7-year-old Sammy Davis Jr.; and three vintage cartoons.
KING RICHARD (2021). Less a movie about sports than a movie about parenting, King Richard takes the incredible true-life tale of tennis sensations Venus and Serena Williams and elects to channel it through their father. While that might sound like some patriarchal b.s. taking place, the truth is that it’s a sound way to relate this particular story, given that it was their pop who was largely responsible for their joint success — they provided the talent, but he provided the inspiration. A Shreveport, Louisiana, native who had to contend with the Klan while growing up, Richard Williams (Will Smith) ends up raising his family in Compton, California. Determined to keep his daughters Venus and Serena off streets that are clogged with drugs and prostitution, he begins their tennis training at absurdly early ages. Often acting more like a drill sergeant than a parent, Richard takes a tough-love approach with Venus and Serena (played as teenagers by Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton) that occasionally earns the disapproval of his wife and their mother, Oracene “Brandy” Williams (Aunjanue Ellis). Nevertheless, Richard remains focused and unfazed, turning to coaches Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) and Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal) to teach his daughters while continuing to plot their career trajectories himself. King Richard makes a strong case for the adage “The end justifies the means,” but it doesn’t shy away from portraying Richard as an often infuriating individual. The performances are excellent across the board, with Ellis and Bernthal the standouts. This just nabbed a total of six Academy Award nominations, including bids for Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress (Ellis), and Original Screenplay (Zach Baylin).
Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette; a look at Smith’s performance; and deleted scenes.
LA DOLCE VITA (1960). A Federico Fellini masterpiece, one of many. Marcello Mastroianni stars as Marcello Rubini, who writes for Italian scandal sheets but dreams of becoming a serious writer known for his intellect and insights. Yet he does nothing to forward his desire, choosing instead to spend all his days and nights hanging out with vapid celebrities and wooing a series of beautiful women. Running just shy of three hours, this visual stunner provides Fellini and co-scripters Ennio Flaiano and Tullio Pinelli ample opportunities to observe and critique. Despite containing the famous scene with movie star Sylvia Rank (Anita Ekberg) at — excuse me, in — the Trevi Fountain, the picture’s first half is the weaker chunk, with select scenes prone to meandering. Yet the second half is astonishing in its execution and emotional implications, with one great sequence after another: Marcello’s chat with the teenage girl (Valeria Ciangottini) at the seaside café; the visit from his distant father (Annibale Ninchi); the castle sojourn; the heartbreaking incident involving Marcello’s philosopher friend Steiner (Alain Cuny); the attempted orgy; and that remarkable coda on the beach. Incidentally, this film introduced the word “paparazzi” to the world, as it was derived from the character of celebrity-snapping photographer Paparazzo (Walter Santesso). La Dolce Vita grabbed the Oscar for Best Black-and-White Costume Design, with additional nominations for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Black-and-White Art Direction-Set Decoration.
The only Blu-ray extra is a new introduction by Martin Scorsese.
PARANOIAC! (1963). Depending on who’s being asked, Freddie Francis is best known either as the cinematographer who won a pair of Oscars for Jack Cardiff’s 1960 Sons and Lovers and the 1989 Civil War drama Glory or the director who oversaw various horror flicks for Hammer and Amicus. An effort in that latter column is Hammer’s Paranoiac!, one of the roughly 2,648 films from the decade that was influenced by the massive success of Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho. This one’s pretty good — and pretty similar to the same year’s Dementia 13 (reviewed here) — with Oliver Reed showcased before he made the leap from Hammer regular to all-around movie star. One of those intense actors who always appeared on the verge of exploding every last blood vessel in his body, Reed is appropriately concentrated here — he’s cast as Simon Ashby, a hard-drinking rotter who’s about to inherit a large sum of money from his deceased parents. He’s expected to split the loot with his gentle sister Eleanor (Jannette Scott), but he instead attempts to drive her mad so he won’t have to share with anyone. Both Simon and Eleanor are haunted by the suicide of their brother Tony, who had thrown himself into the raging sea eight years earlier. So who should suddenly show up on their doorstep but a man who claims he’s Tony (Alexander Davion)? The “is he or is he not” angle dominates much of the ensuing proceedings, but there are other mysteries offered by Francis and scripter Jimmy Sangster, including the extent of Simon’s nastiness and the identity of a masked, hook-swinging individual. A plot point concerning incest is bungled, though.
Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary and interviews; a half-hour retrospective making-of piece from 2017; a still gallery; and the theatrical trailer.
SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959). Billy Wilder’s immortal screen gem was voted the best comedy of all time by the American Film Institute in 2000, and you won’t find many movie fans who don’t agree that it’s at least near the top of the heap. Caught in the wrong place at the wrong time — specifically, front-row seats for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre — musicians Jerry (Jack Lemmon) and Joe (Tony Curtis) evade the mobsters hot on their trail by disguising themselves as Daphne and Josephine, two members of an all-female jazz band. Leaving Chicago and ending up in Florida, both guys have their hands full trying to keep up the ruse; additionally, Joe decides to occasionally disguise himself as a millionaire in order to romance band singer Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) while Jerry considers marrying a real millionaire (Joe E. Brown) who actually believes he’s a woman. There isn’t much to say about this masterpiece that hasn’t already entered into cinema lore, whether it’s the off-screen troubles with Monroe, the risqué double entendres that somehow slipped by the censors, or the endless barrage of classic quotes. The film’s final line is legendary, although I have a soft spot for Jerry’s description of a sashaying Sugar: “Look at that! Look how she moves! That’s just like Jell-O on springs!” An Oscar winner for Best Black-and-White Costume Design (Orry-Kelly), this earned five other nominations, including bids for Wilder (as both director and co-scripter with I.A.L. Diamond) and a sensational Lemmon; absurdly missing were the nods for Monroe (in the finest performance of her career) and Best Picture.
Some Like It Hot is now available in 4K through the Kino label. Extras on the accompanying Blu-ray include film historian audio commentary; a making-of piece; and a look at the film’s legacy.