Category: DVD Review

DVD Review: The Reformer and the Redhead

In the Reformer and the Red Head (1950), June Allyson stars as Kathleen Maguire, a zoo tour guide and the daughter of the local zookeeper. When her dad is fired at the behest of a local political boss, she turns to reformer Andrew Hale (played by Allyson’s husband Dick Powell) to expose the corrupt boss and get her father’s job back. Hale sees an opportunity to bolster his fledgling candidacy. However, he finds himself drawn into the lives of the Maguires and their menagerie of wild animals that they keep as pets around the house.

Allyson is great in this. Kathleen Maguire is eager, earnest, sincere, and with a good bit of temper. She’s really the heart of the film and Allyson makes her likable and a delight in every moment she’s on the screen.

Powell’s character is interesting. While he’s running as a reformer, it’s mostly a cynical marketing ploy. It’s his best line of attack. If he can find a way to settle with the bosses and win the election easily, he’s happy to do that. As the film goes on, he changes. Kathleen is a true believer in the things he says to win votes. As they fall in love, they come to a big inevitable conflict where he has to choose between Kathleen and an easy path to political power. Powell manages to portray this conflict while also doing great with the comedy.

I also to have comment on the animals, particularly the domesticated lion. The animals are fun throughout the film, delivering some cute moments as well as some big laughs. There are some great gags, including a really fun scene in a car towards the end.

The film is predictable. If you’ve seen similar movies from this era, you could sketch out the plot of the entire film. While its predictable, it’s never boring. The leads have great chemistry, the animals are fun, and the moral is good. It’s not a classic epic, but it’s a good time. If you like these films, or are a fan of Dick Powell or June Allyson, this is a pleasant 90 minutes.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

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TV Series Review: The Prisoner

“I’m the new Number Two.”
“Who is Number One?”
“You are Number Six.”
“I’m not a Number, I’m a Free Man!”

Most episodes of the 1967-68 series The Prisoner begin with this meeting between the hero of the series (Patrick McGoohan, who also created the series and wrote several episodes) and his antagonist of the week.

The Prisoner is about an unnamed British secret agent who abruptly resigns and returns home to pack for a trip to Bermuda and is gassed and wakes up in the Village. On its face, the Village is a pleasant, happy community set in a gorgeous environment. In reality, it’s a police state where everyone goes by numbers instead of names.

The organization that runs the Village wants to break Number Six and obtain the valuable information stored inside his head, beginning with an explanation for why he resigned. The Village is administered by Number Two, who also directs the Village’s campaign of psychological warfare against the Agent, designated by the Village as Number 6. Each week, there’s a different Number Two to serve as a foil for Number 6, although some Number Twos repeated.

Patrick McGoohan turns in a stunning performance at every turn, capturing the character’s default defiant mode, but also the reactions to all of the Village’s attempts to break him really make them believable.

The rest of the cast is generally solid, including the rotating Number 2. Each actor brings something different to the role, but my favorite is Leo McKern (who would star in Rumpole of the Bailey.) The penultimate episode, “Once Upon a Time” becomes a two-hander between McKern and McGoohan for almost the entire run time and it’s an acting tour de force.

The series has solid writing, but not all stories are episodes are created equal. McGoohan said  he only wanted to do seven episodes of the Prisoner but the network (ITV) wanted more than that in the series. Thus, seven episodes would be considered essential and the rest merely filler. McGoohan didn’t specify which episodes were the essential ones. The popular fan theory is  the first six episodes to be filmed plus the finale were all McGoohan wanted. However,there are other theories including the idea McGoohan didn’t want hour-long episodes at all, but seven ninety minute episodes, with each containing elements of two of our existing episodes.

Regardless, there are episodes rife with social commentary and deeper meanings and there are episodes that are little more than superb 1960s Spy programs littered with sci-fi content. The only episode I  didn’t care for is, “Do Not Forsake Me All My Darling” which features Number 6 swapping minds with a man known as the Colonel and then being taken back to his life in London as the Colonel and is having to try and convince someone that he really is himself. The reason the story was written this way was so  McGoohan could appear in just the opening and final scenes and therefore be able to take off from filming to go  film the movie Ice Station Zebra. Creative decisions made for reasons like this rarely go well.  The story isn’t horrible, it’s just a bit middling for a great series.

The production values on this series are superb.  Visually, the series stands up better than anything I’ve seen from the 1960s. Portmeirion in North Wales was an absolutely fantastic location for most of the Prisoner’s location work.  However,  there’s a lot of real workmanship involved with every episode. In an age when many TV dramas were just point and shoot, there’s some deliberate choices made to frame shots to communicate the mood and add layers to the story.

The Western episode  of The Prisoner, “Living in Harmony” was well-filmed and felt authentic in the setting, costuming, and most of the characters.

The Prisoner has other weird and wonderful touches such as inventing a new sport named Kosho in which Number 6 and his opponent bounced around on trampolines wearing kimonos, helmets, and boxing gloves while trying to knock each other into a pool. Then there’s the episode where the Prisoner showed that week’s Number Two doing some great martial arts moves…for no apparent reason.

Not everything weird that the Prisoner tries works. The ending, for example, was so controversial  McGoohan had to go into hiding for several day after its airing. To this day, lots of people  think it was a horrible way to end the series. However, its oddness and the questions it raises does fit the rest of the series, and fans overall give the episode an 8.1 out of 10 on IMDB.

The Prisoner is a television experience.  It’s incredibly rewatchable, and not just because there are only seventeen episodes, but three alternate viewing orders have been recommended by various fans over the years to better enjoy the series. Overall, this is an unforgettable classic.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5

Currently, the series is available to watch for free for Amazing Prime subscribers.

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DVD Review: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 1

The Murdoch Mysteries series is based on characters in novels by Maureen Jennings. The series stars Yannick Bisson as Detective William Murdoch. In early twentieth century Toronto, the detective’s innovative methods solve baffling crimes.
 
The first season featured thirteen episodes. The series features robust mysteries that don’t feature obvious solutions. Instead, the mysteries are complex with plenty of twists along the way. The first season features historical figures from the era. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Geraint Wyn Davies) appears as does Nicola Tesla. (Dmitri Chepovetsky)
 
The strong principal cast gels together in Season 1. Helene Joy plays pathologist Doctor Julie Ogden. Thomas Craig is Inspector Thomas Brackenridge. Finally, Johnny Harris is Constable George Crabtree. The Constable is wet behind the ears but enthusiastic.
 
The series includes many neat historical details that add credibility to the series. The gorgeous design and cinematography bring home the feel of the era.
 
The first season isn’t without its flaws. A couple times, modern sensibilities intrude into an era where they didn’t exist. This takes viewers out of the story. The show should’ve stuck to issues raised in the era. For example, the suffragettes, temperance, and freed American slaves. The series did best when exploring those sort of situations.
 
The series establishes Murdoch as a Catholic in the first episode. In the second, it establishes, at the time, he couldn’t get promoted because of his faith. From there, the series creates many situations to challenge Murdoch’s faith. Doing this once could be interesting and is fair game. Doing this repeatedly during the first season was repetitive. Further, the writers strained to give Murdoch personal stakes his cases. A ridiculous number of cases involve people Murdoch knows or his personal issues.
 
Overall, the Murdoch Mysteries first season got off to a promising start. It has good action, great production values, and well-crafted mysteries. Intrusive modern issues and a couple overdone plot lines did hamper the series. Still, if you can stomach those flaws, and you’re a Victorian-era mysteries fan, it’s worth watching.
 
Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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DVD Review: A Bone to Pick


A Bone to Pick is the first of the Aurora Teagarden Hallmark mysteries starring Candace Cameron-Bure. Aurora is a librarian and an active member in a local group for readers of true stories of unsolved crimes that likes to speculate on whodunit. A childless group member dies of old age and names Aurora as her sole heir. While going through her late friend’s effects at her friend’s home, Aurora discovers a hidden human skull. This leads her to try and prove her worth as an amateur detective and solve the case.

This TV movie checks some of the most important genre boxes. Aurora is a likable protagonist and the mystery is well thought-out. The mystery is two-fold as Aurora has to figure out who the victim was as well as who the murderer while refusing to report it to the police while she plays detective. The story is given an added sense of realism by having a best friend (Lexa Doig) who warns Aurora this is not a good idea. When the police do get involved, they don’t at all appreciate the amateur’s interference and threaten to arrest her. To make matters worse for Aurora, the police detective on the case is her ex-boyfriend’s new wife (Miranda Frigon) who is about nine months pregnant.

Several minutes are taken up with Aurora meeting and dating the Episcopal Priest Father Scott Aubrey (Stephen Huszar) The relationship goes nowhere, has nothing to do with the mystery, and he never appears in the series again. I also found the attempt to add peril to the denoument to be a bit silly and over-the-top.

But if I really had a “bone to pick” (ha) with the movies it is that there’s a missing sense of place. I’ve heard the books are set in Georgia. This makes sense. Aurora Teagarden the most Southern Belle name you’ll ever find. However, the movie is set in a generic small town and is filmed in Canada. This works fine most of the time, but a few details of the film would make a lot more sense if this story were set in Georgia, such as Aurora’s name and her mother’s attitude. Devoid of her cultural context, the proper patrician Southern lady becomes plain snooty.

Despite that, this was a fun movie. It’s a family-friendly mystery. with a likable actress playing the amateur detective. It’ll never win an Edgar but if you want to watch a cozy mystery with an amateur sleuth, this will do nicely.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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DVD Review: The Great Gildersleeve Movie Collection

Harold Peary originated the role of the Great Gildersleeve on the Fibber McGee and Molly radio program in 1939. The character was an antagonist for Fibber McGee and proved so popular that he got his own radio show starting in 1941. Peary played the role until 1950 when he left it for the ill-fated Harold Peary show.

Before that happened, the Great Gildersleeve went from radio to feature films, including four that were directly adapted from the characters in the radio. The Warner Archives Great Gildersleeve Movie features all four of these wartime movies plus the film Seven Days Leave in which Gildersleeve plays a much smaller part.

So how do the films hold up? Let’s take a look at each one:

The Great Gildersleeve (1942)

This film is probably the truest to the radio program. The plot has a lot of gags and bits, but the central point is that a woman mistakenly thinks Gildersleeve has proposed to her. Unfortunately for Gildersleeve, the woman is the unmarried sister of Judge Hooker. And Judge Hooker is questioning Gildersleeve’s fitness to be guardian to his niece and nephew. His goal throughout the movie is to prove he’s fit and to stop Judge Hooker from revoking his custody.

This a good film. It’s well-balanced. A lot of goofiness comes out of Gildersleeve’s quest, but his goals make you want to cheer for him. The heart of the Great Gildersleeve series is that he does care for his family. It’s a fun movie with a lot of great twists and well-worth watching.

Gildersleeve’s Bad Day (1943)

Gildersleeve has jury duty for a gangster who’s on trial for a bank robbery. Unbeknownst to him, he’s been identified by the gangster’s mob as the one man who could persuade the jury to acquit their guilty boss. Unbeknownst to them, he’s already decided to push for acquittal on his own.

This one is decent and has some madcap hilarious scenes, including a great chase involving Gildersleeve at the end. However, there are a few elements that come off as dumb rather than funny. Still, not a bad watch overall.

Gildersleeve on Broadway (1943)

Gildersleeve’s niece Marjorie fears that her beau who is in New York is not being faithful to her, so Gily catches a train to find out what the score is. He’s traveling with Mr. Peavy, the town pharmacist who fears a wealthy woman’s decision which could spell doom for his drug store.

This is probably the most funny of the films. The movie keeps a quick pace as the situation continues to spiral out of Gildersleeve’s control. It’s delightfully over the top fun. Its only flaw is that it ends far too abruptly.

Gildersleeve’s Ghost (1944)

Based on the radio series, someone decided that what the gentle, domestic comedy of the Great Gildersleeve called for was a comedy horror movie. The plot begins when two ghosts of Gildersleeve’s ancestors decide to help him win an election for Police Commissioner by hypnotizing a gorilla of a mad scientist so that Gildersleeve can discover an invisible woman. That sure sounds like a typical Gildersleeve plot.

This one has some funny moments, but it was a really flawed film. For one thing, there’s not enough plot for an hour film, so they keep doing the same gags over and over again, such as mistaken identity around the gorilla being there and someone in gorilla suit. Mr. Peavey says, “I wouldn’t say that,” about a dozen times.

Nick Stewart gets a lot of screen time as Chauncey, a chauffeur written as the racist “cowardly Negro” stereotype. It’s not just a minor point, it’s a big part of the second half of the film. Stewart was a good actor who deserved better than this role.   Stewart did eventually get better roles as he’d voice Brer Bear in Song of the South and play Lightnin’ on the Amos and Andy TV show, before founding the Ebony showcase, the first Black-owned theater, where Black Actors could play way better parts than the one he got in this film.

The one thing I do like is the title sequence. It looks spooky and shows a lot of labor went into it. The film itself is padded and at times, unpleasant to watch. This one was understandably a franchise killer.

Seven Days Leave (1942)

Johnny Gray (Victor Mature) learns he is heir to $100,000 through the radio program, The Court of Missing Heirs. He borrows from every member of his company to have a time with his fiancée before he goes to meet the lawyer in charge of this estate, the Great Gildersleeve. Gildersleeve advises the money was left by the descendant of a Union Civil War general and will only be willed to him if he marries the descendant of a particular Confederate general who was his friend. The descendant in question is Terry Havalok-Allen (Lucille Ball) who is also already engaged to someone else.

The movie is a musical with beautifully performed numbers. Gildersleeve even gets in on one of them. There are also great orchestras in the film, including Les Brown’s with Brown playing himself, Ginny Simms shows up to sing a song, and there’s a talented dance trio. The film looks expensive and looks mostly made before the crunch of wartime cost-cutting hit Hollywood.

The movie is a treat for radio fans. First, we get to see Gildersleeve, albeit his characterization is much more like on Fibber McGee than on his own program. We also get a look at two rare radio programs. The Court of Missing Heirs was an actual radio program, with no full episodes in circulation. In addition, the film has Grey and Terry attend a taping of Truth or Consequences and get involved in a game. The earliest available radio episode of Truth or Consequences is from 1945, so this gives insight into how the show looked and sounded in its earliest days.

In addition, Lucille Ball is good in this. She has great lines and good moments when her character is rebuffing Grey’s advances. In addition, Marcy McGuire is a lot of fun as Terry’s sixteen-year-old sister. In a rarity for these films, she was actually sixteen and not only was funny, but her musical numbers were great.

Everything works about this film except the lead character. Johnny Grey is not likable at all. He’s written as a greedy narcissist and none too bright. After all, he’s stringing his own fiancee along while he sets out to break up someone else’s engagement so that he can get big money. While the movie tells us he changes, we don’t see much evidence or growth. Grey sets out to win Terry over by being as obnoxious, intrusive and irritating as possible. My favorite scenes in the movie are the ones where he’s put in his place. The only reason he wins are genre conventions.

If you find Johnnie irritating and unlikable as I did, the question becomes whether that ruins the movie for you. For me, the good stuff in it out-weighs the bad, but your mileage may vary. In a scene my wife found disturbing, Johnny crosses a serious line by kissing Terry by force. My wife found some parts of the film very disturbing, including one where Grey forcibly kissed Terry. Looking at it through modern eyes, Johnnie Grey’s behavior is really predatory and the movie’s message that seems to affirm the behavior illustrates that even with the Hayes code, Hollywood films could have some creepy ideas about sex in them. This is not one I’d say is definitely not for kids.

Overall Thoughts:

The Gildersleeve films came before the TV sitcom was invented and often feel more like TV episodes than actual movies. The first three films managed to expand enough to tell a passable story but Gildersleeve’s Ghost only had enough good material for a half-hour TV episode and then repeated stuff to fill up the run-time. Seven Days Leave is fun for those willing to overlook Johnny Grey’s general sleaziness. Taken together, it is an eclectic set of wartime comedy.

If you’re a fan of old-time radio and the Great Gildersleeve, the set is worth checking out for all of the highlights, unless the lowlights are deal-breakers for you.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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