Category: DVD Review

Telefilm Review: The Rockford FIles: White on White and Nearly Perfect

In this Season Five episode of The Rockford Files, Jim Rocko (James Garner) is hired by an industrialist to find his kidnapped daughter. However, Rocco runs into an obstacle in the form of fellow private eye Lance White (Tom Selleck) who, despite claiming to be there just as “a friend”, becomes Rockford’s partner and annoys him with his almost perfect luck.

The episode is a comedy gem. As a series, The Rockford Files was known for having a somewhat cynical view of the world. Lance’s sunny optimism and classic do-gooder hero status clashes beautifully with that attitude, and Rockford’s annoyance with Lance makes for good comedy. Lt. Doug Chapman (James Luisi) is usually quick to bite Rockford’s head off about being involved as a private investigator in police manners. In this episode, he’s ridiculously chummy with Lance, and Rockford’s incredulity is priceless. Rockford has to deal with this sunny optimism while facing off against dangerous criminals and dealing with a client who is not being entirely straight with him.

“White on White and Nearly Perfect” was inspired by a 1959 episode of the Western series Maverick (which starred Garner as Bret Maverick) called “The Saga of Waco Williams”.

Selleck was a lot of fun in this role. His character was written in an absurd way and he leaned into it, making it a memorable outing. The episode is a treat for mystery fans, as Selleck was only a couple of years away from the premiere of his own hit detective series, Magnum, PI. The series features the most popular detective star from the 1970s with the most popular detective star from the 1980s.

This alone makes this a fun viewing experience for fans of vintage television. Add in Selleck’s comedy and this is a definite winner.

Rating: 4 out of 5

This episode can be viewed for free on Tubi on Freevee

Telefilm Review: Walker, Texas Ranger: One Riot, One Ranger

In the feature-length series premiere of Walker, Texas Ranger, Ranger Cordell Walker (Chuck Norris) hunts down a dangerous criminal who is planning a big job by doing a series of dry runs in Fort Worth. In a bank robbery, Walker’s partner is shot down. He takes on a new partner in the form of rookie ranger Jimmy Trivette (Clarence Gilyard). Together the two set out to discover who is behind the murders, get justice, and thwart their evil plans.

Review (Some Spoilers Follow):

You get all the high-powered action you’d expect from Walker, Texas Ranger, with a lot of big action scenes and even an explosion thrown in for good measure.

The villain is menacing, with a combination of ruthlessness, a CIA background, and a disregard for human life. But he’s also a bit cartoonish and so is his plan. If he has a CIA background, it seems that he should be able to gather intelligence to find the right partners for his big heist, rather than using a series of smaller heists as trial runs that will draw the attention of the police and the Texas Rangers.

Despite the flaw in the villain’s plan, the case is still interesting, as there are a lot of details teased out over the course of the episode, and Walker and Trivette have to figure out the villain’s endgame.

Beyond the main plot, One Riot, One Ranger serves as an introduction to the series’ cast of characters. We get back story exposition from both Walker and Trivette. While not an ideal way to introduce characters, it’s at least done in a way that’s natural, and I think it was actually pretty effectively weaved in, as Walker shared his own trauma to comfort a young lady who’d also been a victim. We get far less time with prosecutor Alex Cahill (Sharee Wilson), but a good performance and well-selected scenes capture the combination of compassion and a passion for justice that are so key to her character. The series also introduces ex-Ranger and barkeeper C.D. Parker (Gailard Sartain) in the pilot episode, who serves as a mentor to both rangers.

Walker’s partner leaves no impression at all in the scenes he’s in before being killed. His inclusion seems like an unnecessary and pointless trip to the cliche-o-matic. Even in the 1990s, if you’re going to make “They killed his partner” part of your hero’s motivation, you have to make some effort to sell the audience on it, either by getting the audience to care about the dead partner, or by showing how deeply it affected the hero. None of that happens here.

While I thought Walker’s character worked well for the most part, the writers had him intentionally mispronouncing Trivette’s last time for the entire episode. Really, I can’t think of any non-illegal behavior that’s more insufferable than that. It’s a weak joke that could have sabotaged the show if other factors weren’t in its favor.

Even in the pre-9/11 days, it’s hard to believe it would be as easy to drop off a bomb at the Texas Rangers’ headquarters as is portrayed in the episode.

Also, while I thought Galiard Sartain did a decent job, I did find myself longing for the late Noble Willingham, who would play C.D. in the main series.

Overall Thoughts:

In some quarters, the original Walker, Texas Ranger is a bit of a joke, and you can see hints of why in this episode. But I think you also see why it remained a ratings hit for most of its eight-year run.

It’s a fun show to watch, the action is good and the characters are likable, even if they have some rough edges. Walker himself is perhaps the most prickly. He’s tough, relentless, and very gruff. Yet, at the end of the day, he lets a rape victim take sanctuary at his ranch in the midst of big investigations, and agrees to a dangerous rodeo stunt, one which landed him in the hospital the last time he tried it, in order to help out orphans.

While some may view the show as corny, the series really seems to be quite earnest. In particularly, Trivette’s story of his own origins, growing up as a fan of The Lone Ranger, reflects the sort of heroic tradition that the series puts its protagonists in. It was a very intentionally a throwback even in 1993.

Fundamentally, viewers approved and liked hanging out with these characters in between the big fight scenes.

The pilot has some weak spots that the series would improve on a little. It’s still a fun way to spend ninety minutes for anyone curious as to how a cultural phenomena like Walker, Texas Ranger began.

Rating 3.25 out of 5

The full episode is available for free on YouTube.

Film Review: Cosmo Jones in the Crime Smasher

Frank Graham created the character of Cosmo Jones for his radio series Nightcap Yarns, where he voiced all the characters in a Monday-Friday program. One of the more recurring stories to emerge was Cosmo Jones, an eccentric little “professor” who solved crimes whether the police wanted him to or not.

In 1943, the series received a poverty row adaptation as Monogram released Cosmo Jones in The Crime Smasher. The main plot centered around a socialite being kidnapped after a gangland killing.

The highlight of the movie was getting an actual on-screen appearance by Frank Graham, who also did radio announcing work and starred in the more serious detective program Jeff Regan, Investigator in the 1949-50 season. He had also served as narrator for a lot of short subjects and animated features (the most famous of which was Disney’s The Three Caballeros)Graham does a great job embodying the character of Cosmo Jones, the small, eccentric professor. He shows some decent physical comedy skills and is fun to watch as far as that goes.

The rest of the movie is weak. It feels unfocused at times. Edgar Kennedy and Mantana Moreland, two Monogram mainstays, were in the film but the script didn’t give them a lot to work with. The story is simple enough, but seems to get sidetracked, and much of the humor doesn’t land. Like many films, they felt the need to tack on a boy-girl romance between two side characters that just isn’t that compelling. It mostly seems to take away from the main attraction of seeing Cosmo Jones work on-screen. The film is not horrible or particularly offensive, but it isn’t good, either.

The film’s an odd curiosity for modern viewers. It’s a movie adaptation for a radio character for whom we have scanty recordings. The one episode we do have from Frank Graham’s run on Nightcap Yarns that features Cosmo Jones includes a fight between Jones and several policemen that would have taken Monogram days to shoot and an elaborate stunt in a museum that would have probably blown their production budget for the entire year. All this occurred in a twelve-minute radio story with nothing more than Frank Graham’s voice and a few sound effects.

As such, this was one of those ideas that would never have worked as a film, but you can’t blame either Monogram for giving it a try in the midst of World War II. I can only recommend it if you’re curious to see Graham act or if you’re a completist fan of either Kennedy or Moreland.

Rating: 2.25 out of 5

Telefilm Review: Garfield’s Babes and Bullets

Garfield’s Babes and Bullets is a 1989 Emmy-Award-winning Television special based on Jim Davis’ book Garfield: His Nine Lives, a book which was based on the premise that cats literally have nine lives and that Garfield has had past lives as a cave cat, a lab animal, etc. The other segments of the book were adapted as a separate TV special, Garfield: His Nine Lives. The Babes and Bullets segment from the book shares only the name of the character and tone. The story for the TV special is different from what was in the book.

In the TV special, it’s a rainy day, and Garfield (Lorenzo Music) goes to sleep in the closet and dreams he’s Sam Spayde, a hard-boiled private investigator. The wife of a recently deceased twenty-three-year-old college professor thinks her husband was murdered rather than dying in an auto accident. Spayde sets out to investigate the case.

The special does a great job capturing the tone, the feel, the style, and the dialogue of a noir film perfectly. The story is a comedy but never becomes a farce. The story is kid-friendly, but the humor is a little less silly than what was being played on the Saturday Morning mainstay Garfield and Friends with that sort of all-ages family comedy feel the Garfield specials went for.

I also appreciate the premise on a conceptual level. Cats spend a lot of time sleeping or perching in odd places and staying totally still. The idea that they’re doing something like daydreaming about being a hard-boiled private eye is a nice premise.

While the “Garfield” framing segments are animated in the typical style of the other TV specials, the Spayde segment is done very well in Black and White, which really adds to the ambiance. The special also has a very nice jazzy theme song and score. Although, if I were to level one criticism at the special, it’s that there was at least one segment where either no music or a different selection might have worked a bit better.

Garfield’s Babes and Bullets is a well-done and entertaining love letter from the late 1980s to the hard-boiled detective films of the 1940s and 1950s. If you love Garfield or share the creative team’s appreciation, it makes for an entertaining twenty-four minutes.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Garfield’s Babes and Bullets is currently available for free to Amazon Prime Members along with eight other Garfield TV specials.

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Streaming Review: Runaway (1984)

In the film Runaway, it’s the near future, and people rely on robots for a lot of things, but sometimes robots go haywire and run away. It’s the job of Jack Ramsay (Tom Selleck) to fix it. However, when robots start to kill by program, it’s up to Ramsay and his partner to stop them,

The acting in this film is decent enough, with Tom Selleck turning in an expected good performance as the action hero. Kristie Alley gives the best performance in the film as the villain’s girlfriend, which netted her a nomination for a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress. The villain is played by none other than Gene Simmons of KISS. The film is also the movie debut of child star Joey Cramer (best known to a certain generation of 80s kids for his lead role in Flight of the Navigator.)

However, where the film really shines is on a technical level. The practical effects used to bring the robots and chase scenes to life are really impressive for the time, making for some superb action scenes and a superficially good visual feel.

The film’s weakness is really its writing. When you strip away the robots and all the cool visuals, what writer/director Michael Crighton has produced is a very standard 1980s cop film. Our hero is a cop traumatized by the death of his partner and has emotional baggage from that, which can only be overcome by engaging in copious amounts of violence, during which his new female partner falls in love with him because they’re the leads. No word on whether his partner was only three days from retirement, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that were so.

In addition. while the robots are well-designed, it feels like very little thought was given to the world they inhabit. The ready availability of skilled robots at the level of this film would have major implications for society and would literally change the world. You wouldn’t expect a film (particularly Runaway) to go into some discussion of all the ethical and social implications, but you’d expect the writer to have thought through what those would be and to shape his world accordingly. Yet, the world of Runaway is very much “The Eighties but if everyone had robots.” Given the pioneering science fiction films of the era, such as Blade Runner, Terminator, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, and the Star Trek films, it’s easy to see that this was forgotten.

It is by no means a bad film for what it is. If you think a typical 1980s cop film starring Tom Selleck and robots sounds fun, I don’t think this will disappoint. But despite its strength of cast, director and effects, it’s an ultimately disposable and forgettable film.

Rating 2:5 out of 5

As of this writing, Runaway is available for free viewing on Amazon Prime.

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The Top Ten Perry Mason TV Movies, Part Three

A version of this article appeared in 2012.

Continued from Part One and Part Two

3) Perry Mason and the Case of the Lady in the Lake (1988)

Okay, it’s not by Raymond Chandler, but for a Perry Mason film, this one has got some nice twists. First of all, Perry’s client is an ex-tennis player, played by none other than David Hasselhoff, who is accused of killing his rich heiress wife.

This is one of Perry’s more complex cases. It’s not just a matter of this current murder, but a twenty-year-old kidnapping plays a big role as well. The movie was the last for Paul Drake, Jr. (William Katt) and Michael Reston (David Ogden Stiers) and it’s certainly a memorable one with a big twist on the usual Mason ending.

2) Perry Mason and the Case of the Sinister Spirit (1987)

A horror writer invites hosts a private party at a hotel for his friends and associates, who are suing him after he wrote a book whose characters are obviously based on them, in an unflattering way. The writer ostensibly intends to make peace with them, but he instead pulls a series of cruel practical jokes that bring up painful memories for everyone. For publisher Jordan White (Robert Stack), this includes a reminder of the death of Jordan’s son in a swimming pool.

It surprises no one when the writer turns up murdered, thrown from the top of the hotel. The publisher is accused and Perry is hired by White to defend him. Paul Drake, Jr. is investigating. A witness who heard the dead man’s last word and saw him fall to his death is seemingly beset by supernatural occurrences, apparently being haunted. In what amounts to one of the most inexplicable scenes in all the movies, Perry impeaches the poor woman’s testimony. Decency aside, there was no real reason for this and it made Drake’s job harder.

However, the solution to the mystery, the story’s dramatic conclusion, and a spell-binding performance by Dwight Schultz make up for these little wrinkles.

1) Perry Mason and the Case of the Desperate Deception (1990)

Perry Mason takes on Nazi war criminals. This is the basic plot of the story. His client is a young Marine attached to the U.S. Embassy in Paris. The young officer is searching for the concentration camp guard that devastated his family during the Holocaust. He is led to believe he found the ex-Nazi at a health club. However, when the ex-Nazi is killed, suspicion points to the young officer, who faces a court martial.

Perry Mason goes to Paris to head up the defense. He and Ken Malansky find intrigue around every corner. Mason finds ex-Nazis, traitors, and Nazi hunters roaming Paris. Perry has to sort through more than four decades of deception to find the truth, not only to acquit his client but to bring long-overdue justice to the perpetrators of heinous war crimes. A goal worthy of one Perry Mason’s top cases.

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The Top Ten Perry Mason TV Movies, Part Two

A version of this article appeared in 2012.

Continued from Part One

6) Perry Mason and the Case of the Avenging Ace (1988): Prior to the first movie, Perry Mason had been elevated to an appellate court judge. In this film, he revisits a case he’d heard on appeal and declined the defendant’s appeal because the trial was fair. But when the convicted murdered (an Air Force officer) has a new witness come forward, Mason steps in to help clear the man.

This case is far more complicated than that.  The witness changes his testimony at the last minute, so it no longer helps the convicted man and Perry’s client apparently escapes, and is set up to take the fall, when the wavering witness is murdered. This movie takes Perry Mason to a different place – a lot more action, suspense, and intrigue than usual. In addition to this, the producers take full advantage of the Colorado location to produce some great scenic shots.

5) Perry Mason and the Case of the Fatal Fashion (1991): Perry is in New York and this time he defends a long-time friend (Diane Muldaur) of Della’s who is accused of killing the editor of a rival fashion magazine.

This episode has a lot going for it. Ken Malansky finds himself dealing with the mob when a relative of the head of the family is killed before he can reveal vital information to Perry.  He finds a mob tough guy assigned to “help” him investigate, but how far can Malansky trust his new “colleague? This works out to a lot of excitement in New York City.

This movie also features a rare prosecutorial highlight, with the appearance of Scott Baio in his first post-Charles in Charge appearance, as Assistant DA Peter Whelen. Baio makes a solid competitor for Mason as the young upstart New York D.A. You knew he wasn’t going to win, but he made it interesting for a while.

The episode ends with an emotional punch and a murderer you’d never guess.

4) Perry Mason and the Case of the Lost Love (1987):

Perry’s old flame (Jean Simmons) is being appointed to a vacant United States Senate seat, but it’s all put at risk when her husband is accused of murdering a man who knew a secret that could have destroyed her political career.

The chemistry between Simmons and Raymond Burr is incredible. The mystery is well-plotted and we’re left with a powerful and very surprising ending as Mason faces one of his most unpleasant tasks.

Continued…Next Week

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