A string of forgotten vintage films on DVD this week
Posted August 24
The vintage films “Act One” and “A Cry in the Night” make their home-video debuts this week, and “The Deadly Trackers” and “Midnight Run” receive Blu-ray upgrades.
“Act One” (Warner Archive, 1963, b/w, trailer). George Hamilton stars in this superficial adaptation of playwright Moss Hart’s autobiography, and he’s just OK, if ridiculously miscast. This major-studio period production plays out like a B-movie as it focuses on the backstage machinations that worked to pull together Hart’s first hit play, “Once in a Lifetime.”
What gives the film some light, however, is a bevy of supporting performances that offer no end of surprises and occasional delights, especially Jason Robards as grumpy, eccentric, hilarious George S. Kaufman. Also, George Segal (in his third film) as Hart’s pessimistic pal, Jack Klugman as a patron, Eli Wallach as a producer and Bert Convy as young Archie Leach (aka Cary Grant). (This manufacture-on-demand DVD-R is available at warnerarchive.com.)
“A Cry in the Night” (Warner Archive, 1956). An 18-year-old woman (Natalie Wood) is kidnapped by an unstable psychopath (Raymond Burr) and taken to a shack in a deserted brickyard. When the police realize the kidnapped girl’s father (Edmond O’Brien) is a cop, they quickly mobilize. Ham-fisted performances from Burr and O’Brien only serve to make this ineffectual thriller a campy affair, though it does have its moments and offers some insight into 1950s attitudes about mental illness. Brian Donlevy co-stars. (This manufacture-on-demand DVD-R is available at warnerarchive.com.)
“The Deadly Trackers” (Warner Archive, 1973, PG, trailer). This release offers a Blu-ray upgrade to this Western starring Richard Harris, which is surprisingly violent and bloody for its PG rating. Harris is a pacifist sheriff whose wife and young son are killed by vicious Frank Brand (Rod Taylor) and his even more vicious gang of thieves. Harris' character sets aside his moral compass and tracks the gang to create a fair revenge-Western with a few interesting twists and turns. (Available at warnerarchive.com.)
“Midnight Run” (Shout Select, 1988, R for language, featurettes, trailer). This hilarious comedy gets a Blu-ray upgrade this week (on the Shout! Factory’s new Shout Select boutique label), as tough-guy bounty hunter Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) captures and transports meek mob accountant Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin), all the while being dogged by assassins. De Niro and Grodin are great together, but the R-rated language is excessive and tiresome, and rather inappropriate for such a light comedy. Co-stars include Yaphet Kotto, John Ashton and Dennis Farina. Featurettes include several new interviews with the principal players.
“On Guard”/“Five Day Lover” (Cohen, 1997/1961, color/black-and-white, two discs, two movies, in French with English subtitles, featurettes, trailers; eight-page booklet). Philippe de Broca, best known in America for “That Man from Rio” (1964) and “King of Hearts” (1966), directed these two French films: “On Guard” is a predictable swashbuckler starring Daniel Auteuil that benefits from de Broca’s lithe style and winds up being a lot of fun. “Five Day Lover” is a black-and-white comedy-drama about a married woman (Jean Seberg) who embarks on an affair with her best friend’s lover (Jean-Pierre Cassel). (Both films are unrated but would probably earn PG-13 ratings.)
“The Golden Age of Musicals” (Film Chest, 1937-57, b/w and color, five discs, 17 movies). These are all public-domain musical movies (so the quality varies from film to film) and each has been released previously on DVD, both individually and with many other collections. None is considered a genuine classic but many nonetheless provide delightful entertainment, including Danny Kaye’s “The Inspector General”; Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’ first starring film, “At War With the Army”; two Fred Astaire vehicles, “Royal Wedding” and “Second Chorus”; the Andrews Sisters in “Private Buckaroo”; James Cagney in “Something to Sing About”; the all-star World War II pictures “This Is the Army” and “Stage Door Canteen,” etc.
“The Bloodstained Butterfly” (Arrow, 1971, not rated/probable R for sex, in Italian with English subtitles or dubbed English, audio commentary, featurettes, promo gallery; 36-page booklet). A young woman is killed in a local park and evidence points to a popular TV anchorman, who is arrested and tried. But the police are puzzled when the killings continue. One of the better Italian giallo murder-thrillers, this one is both a police procedural and a courtroom drama. The violence is remarkably restrained for this genre but there is a sex scene about halfway through the film that would easily earn the film an R rating.
“Microwave Massacre” (Arrow, 1983; not rated/probable R for violence, language, sex, nudity; audio commentary, featurette; booklet). When his wife suddenly switches up their meals from meat-and-potato basics to highfalutin but terrible haute cuisine, a construction worker goes berserk, kills her and turns to cannibalism. This comedy-horror movie, justly cited as one of the worst films ever made, stars stand-up comedian Jackie Vernon, and, not coincidentally, it arrived in theaters just a year after the cult success of Paul Bartel’s “Eating Raoul.”
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.