Tag: DVD review

DVD Review: The Avengers: The Complete Emma Peel Megaset

Three seasons of the Avengers passed prior to Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) becoming John Steed’s (Patrick Macnee) partner in fighting crime and espionage. After she left the series, it carried on with a new assistant for Steed for another thirty-two episodes. Yet to many fans, if they think of the Avengers as anything other than Marvel Comics’ superhero team, they think of Steed and Peel. The Avengers was that rare British TV show that came to America and became a success in prime time television.

Steed worked for British Intelligence. Emma Peel was the latest civilian drawn into Steed’s orbit. She had inherited wealth, but also had a keen scientific mind, along with amazing martial arts skills.  

This DVD release collects all 52 episodes comprising the Black and White Season 4, the color Seasons 5 and Season 6, and her departure story in the first episode of Season 7. 

The series had them dealing with a wide variety of different threats, including some that were science fiction. The series was always stylish. Steed’s Bowler hat and umbrella and luxury cars mixed with Diana Riggs iconic style made for a compelling combination. The opening to the color episodes could easily be repurposed as a high-end champagne ad.  

The Avengers had a tongue in cheek feel that  grew as the Emma Peel went on. The fourth Season may be the best from a dramatic standpoint. The episodes were often tongue in cheek, but more grounded than some of the color episodes. When the series went to color, there seems to have been a thought that there wasn’t much to it, if the plots weren’t going to be as outlandish as possible. The plots ranged from elaborate revenge plots to towns populated by assassins, dance schools that were training killers, cyborg killing machines, body swapping, mind control, shrinking technology, underground cities, and even killer Christmas Trees. One episode paid homage to the iconic 1960s Batman show by having Mrs. Peel holding up Comic Book action words like, “Pow!” To be fair, this makes slightly more sense in context of the episode but not a whole lot more.

McNee was great as a leading man, providing great humor, but Riggs is ultimately what made the Avengers work so well. Mrs. Peel was a fun character with a lot of facets as a scientist, heiress, and fighter. Riggs’ acting ability is absolutely superb. She’s able to play both the serious and the playful aspects of the show. The strength of how good she can be is seen in an episode like, “The House that Jack Built” where Steed is mostly absent and Peel is trapped in a house meant to destroy her. She walks about the house in silence and sells the eeriness of the situation.

The set lacks a lot of bonus features, but it’s priced reasonably on Amazon at around $20 for more than fifty episodes. The episodes are a mixed lot. Some black and white episodes are bit dull, and more than a few color episodes that are a bit too silly or over the top. But those are matters of taste. At the end of the day, The Avengers is an iconic classic.

Recently Diana Rigg passed away after a long career that included appearing in a James Bond film as well as working on more modern hit TV shows like Victoria and Game of Thrones. If you want to see how she rose in stardom and why after such a long career, this is the role many remember her best for, this is a must-purchase. It’s also essential if you’re a fan of 1960s spy and adventure shows.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

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DVD Review: Forgotten Noir and Crime, Volume 12


Forgotten Noir and Crime, Volume 12 collects another three rare low-budget films.

First up is The Treasure of Monte Cristo: A seaman (Glenn Langan) on shore leave is swept up into romance and marries a mysterious woman (Adele Jurgens) and then finds himself framed for murder. This is a clever plot and it’s gutsy for a low-budget film to try to write a modern-day sequel to one of literature’s great classics. There are nice location scenes and Langan and Jergens (who would later marry) are both pretty good. The rest of the acting is uneven and some plot points are not well-realized, including a confusing escape sequence. Still, this is a fun story.

The second film is Roaring City, the second of the Dennis O’Brien films which adapted two Johnny Madero radio scripts per film. Hugh Beaumont does seem to settle into his role as the tough talking private eye, strolling casually through scenes pipe in hand and finding a way to deliver the over the top hard boiled lines with as much credibility as he could muster. Similarly, Edward Brophy settles into his role as sidekick/roommate/drunk Professor Schicker.  The film is fun and breezy but not without errors. Outside of Beaumont and Brophy, the acting is so-so and there’s a pretty significant continuity error in the second half. O’Brien tells the Professor he’s agreed to go on a date and pretend to be a woman’s husband before he goes on the date and then after he’s inevitably framed for murder, he tells the Professor all over again as if he hadn’t told him the first time. Still, if you can get past hiccups like this, it’s not a bad way to spend about an hour.

The final film is Sky Liner, which is about a murder occuring mid-flight and being investigated before the plane lands. This is a film with silliness that includes ridiculously fast autopsies, but it’s a good setting and with a breezy pace that’s a tad under 50 minutes. There is a longer version of the film that includes a juvenile song number and a subplot about a newlywed couple. I can’t help but feel that this is probably the best cut of the film.

Overall, these are pretty good, low-budget films. They’re quirky and fun. There’s plenty of flaws to be found, but also fun elements that will bring a smile to the face of classic film buffs.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

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DVD Review: Forgotten Noir, Volume Seven

Forgotten Noir, Volume 7 collects three B-movie mystery/adventure films from the 1950s, all of which had interest to me as a fan of old time radio.

The first is David Harding, Counter Spy. Based on the long-running Phillip H. Lord radio series, the film has a framing device of a commentator who blasted the government, having the idea of counter-espionage explained to him through a story that occurred during World War II as a Navy Lieutenant Commander is called in to find out how information is being leaked from a torpedo manufacturing plant. The framing device is unnecessary and the film has a few slower moments, but this is the best film in the set as it was made as a studio B picture for Columbia rather than as an Independent release.

Next up is Danger Zone. There’s some confusion around this movie. Some say it’s based on Pat Novak for Hire starring Jack Webb. It’s actually based on the Pat Novak for Hire ripoff Johnny Madero, Pier 23 also starring Jack Webb. Future Ward Cleaver Hugh Beaumont stars as Dennis O’Brien, who is Johnny Madero by another name. This movie adapts two different stories made over radio with little to link them, apparently to allow the option of splitting them to air on television. One of the stories adapts an existing radio episode, “The Fatal Auction” and follows the plot beat for beat.

The biggest change is that rather than having his confidant be a waterfront priest, Dennis’ go-to guy, Professor Frederic Schiker, is a Jocko Madigan-type drunk who lives with O’Brien, which does save on scene changes. I did miss the character’s chiding (which was a feature of both Pat Novak and Johnny Madero) and without that the performance is a bit flat. The stories are decent, but the acting is a bit off. Even Beaumont, true pro that he was, seemed to not totally believe the off-the-wall hard boiled lines he was being asked to deliver. It does make me appreciate the unique quality that allowed Jack Webb to deliver those lines with as much conviction as he did.

Finally, we have The Big Chase. I was interested in this film as it starred Mystery is My Hobby and Stand by for Crime star Glenn Langan and his wife (and Stand by for Crime co-star) Adele Jurgens as a rookie policeman and his expectant wife. The story does have some nice features. Langan’s character is given depth as we learned why he joined the force and why he wants to get into the juvenile division. Langan does a good job and plays his part without the more refined voice he does his most famous radio voice in.

The story features better talent than you’d expect with a film like this with Lon Chaney, Jr. playing one of the bad guys and Douglas Kennedy playing our hero’s police Lieutenant buddy. It also featured Joe Flynn (of McHale’s Navy fame) in one of his earliest film roles as a reporter in yet another unnecessary set of framing scenes. The film is called the Big Chase for a reason. It has a twenty minute chase scene that’s a lot of fun. It involves cars, trains, a helicopter, boats, as well as some fisticuffs, and gun play. It’s not perfectly executed but makes up for it with some nice location shooting which can cover a multiple of film-making sins for many fans.

The big problem with the film is that it is severely padded. It runs a little over an hour and has enough interesting material to fill somewhere between 25-35 minutes. The chase really gets started nearly 40 minutes in, and prior to that the pacing was positively glacial.

I was glad to watch the films, but this is one of those ones I couldn’t recommend for everyone. This is a film that you have to be an OTR buff to appreciate. We have a well-known radio series coming to film, an obscure radio series coming to film, and a star of two lesser known radio series playing a policeman in a slow, dull film that gives way to an impressive low budget chase. As the saying goes, if you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you would like.

Rating: 2.75 out of 5

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DVD Review: Dick Tracy (1990)

Dick Tracy is a comic strip movie starring Warren Beatty as the famous detective Dick Tracy, as he tries to take down the criminal organization of Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino) while avoiding the designs of Breathless Mahoney (Madonna.)

This film won three technical Oscars and deserved it. The world created for this movie is visually appealing with some stunning use of color and art deco touches as well. The make-up and costume design are top notch. In addition, Danny Elfman turns in a typically good score.

The story is decent if not spectacular. The final the twist at the end is good. The plot points related to Junior are taken right out of the comic and feel right in place. There are also some great actors in relatively minor roles including Dick Van Dyke, Dustin Hofffman, and James Caan. In addition, in a nod to classic detective movies, Mike Mazurki shows up.

There are three problems with the film. First, I don’t care much for Beatty’s performance as Tracy. He was going for strait-laced and upright but instead comes off as stiff. Al Pacino, on the other hand, gives a performance that is way over the top. I’ll never understand how he got nominated for an Oscar, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, and a Saturn Award. For me, it was a grating, scenery-chewing performance that was more annoying than funny.

Second, there’s too much of Madonna singing in this film. One or two musical numbers, I can see. But she has five numbers in this film. They’re all well-written, but the only one that worked was, “Back in Business.”

Third, the film’s tone is inconsistent. It’s a movie that doesn’t know who its marketing itself to. I remember seeing happy meal toys for this movie and the bright colors and character of Junior would appeal to kids. On the other hand, some of the violence was too extreme for children and Breathless Mahoney is an over-sexualized character in keeping with Madonna’s 1990s brand. On the other hand, much of the plot, story, and characters doesn’t appeal to adults. The tonal differences means that sometimes, it feels like the characters are in different movies.

They were trying to imitate Chester Gould, who made Dick Tracy, the type of comic strip the whole family wanted to read by mixing elements that appeal to kids and adults to satisfy everyone. In the film, they seem to have succeeded in not fully satisfying many people at all.

That said, there are worse attempts to adapt a classic property. A lot does work about the film. Something Val Kilmer would prove six years later in The Saint. The film looks classy and has a great sense of style, with a lot of homages to its source material. If you’re a Madonna fan and/or you liked Al Pacino’s performance in this, you’re going to like it more than I did. For me, it’s a film that had a lot of potential but never fully lived up to it.

Rating: 3 out of 5

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DVD Review: Television’s Lost Classics, Volume 2:Rare Pilots

This DVD collects four unaired pilots of 1950s television shows.

The first is a pilot for Racket Squad starring Reed Hadley as Captain Braddock. In general, if you’ve seen an episode of Racket Squad, then you have a good idea of what this episode is like as it shows how con men set up a clever scheme to rip off the mark. If there’s any difference between this episode and the series proper, it’s that Captain Braddock is a little harsher to the victim, greeting him with, “Hello, sucker.” Still, it’s an entertaining half-hour of television.

Second is Cool and Lam. After the success of Perry Mason, network officials decided to give another Erle Stanley Gardener detective a chance and so they adapted the story of detective team Bertha Cool (Benay Vanuta) and Donald Lam (Bill Pearson). I enjoyed this one. There’s good humor and a decent mystery. This a series I wish had been picked up.

A bit of an oddball in this collection featuring crime dramas is the 1948 pilot for The Life of Riley. The series had been a successful radio program starring William Bendix. However, due to Bendix’s movie contract, he wasn’t able to reprise the role over television. We get to see the first choice to play Riley over television instead–horror movie legend Lon Chaney, Jr.

The pilot is historically significant. It was a taped program back in 1948 when live Kinescopes would dominate early television for the better part of five years. However, the big problem was Lon Chaney playing Riley. He  wasn’t cut out for the part. The TV script was based on a radio script and Chaney tried to play it like Bendix did and it just doesn’t work.

His delivery is flat and uninspired. When Jackie Gleason became the first TV Riley in 1949, he gave it his own spin. I’m not a huge fan of his approach, but at least he realized he couldn’t be Bendix.

Note we get to see John Brown as Digger O’Dell, the undertaker, often heard on the radio program. I have mixed feelings on this because Digger is such a broad character. I imagine him walking around with a black mustache and black coat and being tall. However, John Brown just looks like an ordinary guy in an ordinary suit. So that was a bit jarring.

The final pilot is 1959’s Nero Wolfe starring Kurt Kazner as Wolfe and William Shatner as Archie Goodwin. Shatner is a great choice for Archie, bringing great charisma to the role. Kaszner is an interesting choice for Wolfe. Kaszner was Austrian born. Having a European play Wolfe is closer to the book than most other portrayals of Wolfe which ignore the fact that he was from the Eastern Europe country Montenegro. William Shatner brings that swagger that’s a requirement to play Archie Goodwin and is pretty fun to watch. The plot was decent. Wolfe solved this case mostly from reading the newspaper and that was clever. Though the episode wasn’t based on the Wolfe stories by Rex Stout, it captured the spirit of them nicely.

On the other hand, this was a series that would have needed to be an hour rather than the pilot’s half-hour length. The episode was a bit bare-bones and lacked the style I associate with a Wolfe story or any of Wolfe’s and Archie’s supporting cast. Kaszner wasn’t quite big enough to play Wolfe which the wardrobe seemed to try to make up for by putting him in clothes that were a bit too big, which doesn’t work. Also, Wolfe has a cold in the pilot and is stuck in bed, which is a weird thing for a pilot to do as its establishing what a normal episode is like.

The bonus feature with this set is a not-for-air blooper reel that was sent out by CBS to managers of its affiliates, featuring many bloopers and flubbed lines. The programs featured are mostly Westerns, but with the Twilight Zone and The Red Skelton Show. I will warn that this is not really for kids. The unscripted bad language is not censored, so it’s PG-13 stuff.

Overall, for those interested in classic television, this set does offer some fun rarities. While this wasn’t the best the 1950s had to offer in television, it’s a mostly entertaining look at what might have been.

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