New to Blu-ray/DVD: Three Sisters, Alone in Berlin, Lon Chaney, Vision Quest, Seven Days in May, Paradise: The Complete First Season, Maverick: The Complete Third Season, Paradise, The Wheeler Dealers, The Accidental Tourist, & Spenser For Hire


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Editor’s Notes: Three Sisters, Alone in Berlin, Lon Chaney: The Warner Archive Classics Collection, Vision Quest, Seven Days in May, Paradise: The Complete First Season, Maverick: The Complete Third Season, Paradise: The Complete First Season, The Wheeler Dealers, & The Accidental Tourist, Spenser For Hire; The Complete First Season are available on their respective home entertainment releases June 13th.

 Three Sisters 

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Three Sisters (Kino Classics) is a 1974 adaptation of the Anton Chekhov play directed by Laurence Olivier. The upper class Prozoroiv sisters of the title — Masha (Joan Plowright), Olga (Jeanne Watts), and Irina (Louise Purnell) — live in a provincial purgatory nearly a thousand miles away from their beloved Moscow. Intoxicated by yesterday’s triumphs and blind to imminent disasters, the three sisters are left to sift through their shattered dreams on the eve of the social and political upheaval that will transform Russia forever.

The film is a literal translation of Olivier’s production for the National Theatre Company of England, and was originally shown as part of the subscription movie service American Film Theatre. The movie suffers from its stage-bound genesis. Little was done to open it up and take advantage of the medium of film to keep the very long (2 hours, 45 minutes) movie visually interesting. Some judicious editing would certainly have made this a better film.

Also in the cast are Derek Jacobi, Alan Bates and, as Dr. Ivan Chebutikin, Laurence Olivier. The acting is very good but it is more suitable to the stage than the screen. The performances are often too expansive when subtlety would be more appropriate. Intimate conversations take on the look and sound of grand declamations. To make matters worse, sound quality on this release is sub-standard. In a work so reliant on dialogue, it’s vital to hear the actors clearly. The muddled sound is extremely frustrating.

Special features on the PG-rated Blu-ray release include interviews with Alan Bates, executive producer Ely Landau, and a gallery of trailers for the American Film Theatre.

Alone in Berlin

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Alone in Berlin (IFC Films), based on the true story of Otto and Elise Hampel and their unorthodox defiance of the Nazi regime, takes place in the Berlin of 1940. German factory mechanic Otto Quangel (Brendon Gleeson) and his wife Anna (Emma Thompson) are a working-class husband and wife doing their best to live under the conditions of wartime. Everything changes, however, when their son is killed fighting on the front lines. They begin pouring their rage and grief into a grassroots campaign sending postcards containing anti-Nazi slogans, risking everything to disseminate their message of protest across the city. But this fairly small expression of dissent rattles the regime, including Police Inspector Escherich (Daniel Bruhl), who will not rest until the culprits have been caught.

Bruhl’s police officer channels Javert from Les Miserables, as he is obsessed by discovering those responsible for the treasonous postcards. He is under pressure from the SS because he is not quick enough in finding the perpetrators and does not subscribe to its extreme tactics.

The subject matter is very interesting and the performances by Gleeson and Thompson excellent, but director Vincent Perez has given the film a somber, muted tone that tends to downplay the courage of this middle-aged couple. The movie lacks suspense as it plods along recounting the couple’s modest form of resistance. A story that should be intensely dramatic comes across as merely a tepid portrait of this example of World War II German citizens’ attempt to subvert a brutal regime.

Bonus features on the R-rated widescreen DVD release include interviews and a trailer.

Lon Chaney: The Warner Archive Classics Collection

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Lon Chaney: The Warner Archive Classics Collection (Warner Archive) is a DVD set containing 5 of the actor’s silent feature films and the only sound film he made, The Unholy Three, a remake of Chaney’s 1925 silent version, which is also in the collection.

Chaney worked as an extra and appeared in small featured roles for two years until making an impression in The Miracle Man (1919). In that film, Chaney twisted himself pretzel-like portraying a crippled man. A highlight of the film occurs when he unwinds himself slowly and dramatically. During this period, he also demonstrated his ability with make-up to transform himself completely into assorted characters. This facility gave him the nickname “The Man of a Thousand Faces.” Chaney is best known for playing the title characters in the silent versions of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera.

Included in this collection is He Who Gets Slapped (1924), in which Chaney plays a man, despondent over personal issues, who joins a circus sideshow and becomes the most famous clown in France. The film co-stars Norma Shearer. Bela Lugosi makes an uncredited appearance as a clown.

In The Monster (1925), insane Dr. Ziska (Chaney) devises an elaborate scheme to trap human specimens for his bizarre resurrection experiments. “Mr. Wu” is about a Chinese aristocrat (Chaney) who ruthlessly defends his daughter’s (Renee Adoree) honor after a wealthy Englishman seduces and abandons her. Mockery (1927), set during the Russian Revolution, focuses on Countess Tatiana Alexandrova (Barbara Bedford) who must leave Siberia and travel to Novokursk, Russia in disguise. She enlists the help of a peasant, Sergei (Chaney), to get her there safely.

In both versions of The Unholy Three (1925 and 1930), a sideshow ventriloquist, Dr. Echo (Chaney), forms an underground trio with a strongman and a midget. Disguised as kindly Mrs. O’Grady, a kindly grandmother who runs a pet shop, Echo uses the pet shop as a front to attract wealthy buyers. After casing the homes to which they deliver pets, the team later commits burglaries, with their rich customers as victims. The silent version is directed by Tod Browning (Freaks, Dracula), who would team up frequently with Chaney, directing him in roles requiring both make-up expertise and physical stamina.

There are no bonus features in the 6-disc DVD set.

Vision Quest

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Vision Quest (Warner Home Video) focuses on Louden Swain (Matthew Modine), a member of his high school wrestling team, who has just turned 18. While his classmates are OK with just getting by, Louden decides to lose 23 pounds in order to take on the legendary Shute (Frank Jasper), the unbeaten state champion.

Vision Quest is a term from Indian folklore referring to the search for spiritual enlightenment, but Louden’s concern is to win at any cost, even risking a college scholarship and endangering his health to gain the satisfaction of beating Shute. Louden receives moral support from Kuch (Michael Schoeffling), a friend on the wrestling team; Elmo (J.C. Quinn), a short order cook who dispenses philosophical advice; and Tanneran (Harold Sylvester), a teacher who realizes that his student is not just a jock with limited brain power. When Louden meets aspiring artist Carla (Linda Fiorentino), a slightly older woman, their respective goals are sidetracked by romantic involvement.

There are many movies about high school sports, but not many about wrestling. The film provides a portrait of the driven athlete just as his focus is distracted by other factors, in this case Ms. Fiorentino. Modine is excellent as Louden, conveying both self-assurance regarding his prowess on the mat and awkwardness in the art of seduction. The film boasts a great 1980s soundtrack, consisting of songs by Journey, Foreigner, John Waite, and Madonna who performs “Gambler” and “Crazy for You.”

There are no bonus materials on the widescreen Blu-ray release.

Seven Days in May

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Seven Days in May (Warner Home Video) is a political thriller about an attempted military coup of the United States. Set during the nuclear age and the anxiety and fear it produced, the movie focuses on three key characters, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. James Mattoon Scott (Burt Lancaster), U.S. President Jordan Lyman (Fredric March), and Col. Martin “Jiggs” Casey (Kirk Douglas), the man who discovers a dangerous plot may be brewing.

Lyman has just signed a treaty with the Soviet Union to disarm all nuclear weapons. The public is unhappy, calling the move foolish. Scott believes the President’s decision has left the country at a strategic disadvantage and has, along with several other military leaders, planned a secret plot to seize power. Most of the movie deals with Col. Casey learning bit by bit of the complicated plot, deciding how to act, and convincing others that the plot is real.

Director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate) and writer Rod Serling have fashioned a gripping, dramatic “what if” scenario, very much a product of its time. It still packs a powerful punch, and Lancaster and Douglas are excellent. Lancaster’s Scott conveys both authority and arrogance, while Douglas’ Casey, who’s Scott’s right-hand man, runs through a range of emotions — admiration, loyalty, doubt, concern, and determination. He’s the man in the middle — the guy responsible for preserving democracy.

A sub-plot involving blackmail features Ava Gardner, but rather than furthering the plot, it serves as an unwelcome distraction, slowing the film’s otherwise brisk pace.

The only bonus feature on the Blu-ray release is commentary by director John Frankenheimer.

The Loved One

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The Loved One (Warner Home Video) is a satire based on the comic novel by Evelyn Waugh. The film skewers the American funeral business and is filled with dark comedy and lots of gags predicated on death. British poet Dennis Barlow (Robert Morse) falls in love with funeral-home cosmetician Aimee Thanatogenos (Anjanette Comer) who, in turn, is loved by prissy funeral director Mr. Joyboy (Rod Steiger). Joyboy lives with his obese mother (Ayllene Gibbons), whose eating sequence is a comic highlight of the movie, even overshadowing much of its dark humor.

The guest star cast includes Jonathan Winters in a dual role as funeral home manager Wilbur Glenworthy and his envious twin brother, who operates the Happier Hunting Grounds pet cemetery. Paul Williams plays a 13-year-old aeronautics genius who develops a method of sending corpses into “eternal orbit.” Also appearing are Milton Berle, Tab Hunter, John Gielgud, Robert Morley, James Coburn, and Liberace (as a sleazy coffin salesman).

Director Tony Richardson (“Tom Jones”) takes aim at the shallowness of youth culture, English snobbery, the fakery of organized religion, the arrogance of Hollywood, and the greed of funeral homes. That’s a lot to poke satirical jabs at in one movie, but Richardson manages to be an equal opportunity offender. In fact, the original advertising catchphrase was “The motion picture with something to offend everyone!”

Bonus materials on the widescreen Blu-ray release include the featurette “Trying to Offend Everyone,” and a theatrical trailer.

Paradise: The Complete First Season

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Paradise: The Complete First Season (Warner Archive) is a TV Western drama about Ethan Allan Cord (Lee Horsley), a volatile man with a violent past, who lives alone in the 1890s frontier mining town of Paradise, California until the unexpected arrival of the four orphaned children of his deceased sister. Though gifted as a gunslinger, Cord possesses little ability for raising these children, four city kids abruptly transported to a farmhouse in the wilderness.

With the help of his best friend, John Tyler (Dehl Berti), an Indian shaman, and stubborn bank owner Amelia Lawson (Sigrid Thornton), Cord discovers his own fatherly instincts as he gradually accepts the responsibilities of parenthood. Despite his efforts to become a peaceable rancher, Cord is still hired for his skills with a gun and called upon to protect the honest folk of Paradise from criminals. Among the townspeople seen frequently are Scotty the bartender (Mack Dryden) and Tiny the blacksmith (John Bloom).

Paradise aired at a time when the Western was practically an endangered species on television. Its heyday was the late 1950s when more than 15 Westerns aired on the (then) three networks in prime time. Paradise had a interesting spin, combining the family values of Little House on the Prairie and the straightforward adult drama of Gunsmoke. The show was well written, and it’s a testament to its quality that it lasted three seasons.

Paradise originally aired on CBS from 1988 to 1991. In its abbreviated third season, the show returned with the new title Guns of Paradise.

There are no bonus features on the 5-disc DVD set. Episodes are unrated are are presented in full-frame format.

Maverick: The Complete Third Season

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Maverick: The Complete Third Season (Warner Archive) is a collection of all 26 episodes from the show’s 1959-1960 season. The show stars James Garner as Bret Maverick and Jack Kelly as his brother Bart, gamblers who manage to get themselves mixed up with bad guys, seductive women, and awkward, often comic situations. The show was different from other Westerns of the time because of its light touch. The brothers weren’t hardened gunslingers or lawmen, making their focus in a prime time Western unusual. But the formula worked, and the show ran on ABC on Sunday nights from 1957 to 1962.

Season Three opens with the episode “Pappy,” in which Garner, in a dual role, plays his own father. Other third season episodes feature Bret getting blackmailed into serving a six-month term as sheriff, Bart being accused of murdering a young cowboy, an elaborate heist involving a gang of bad guys, an Indian massacre, an eye-for-an-eye drama of vengeance, a rainstorm stranding gambling rivals Gentleman Jack and Bart in a small roadhouse, a political assassination plot, a secret tunnel leading to a bank vault, and the brothers trying to referee a long-standing family feud.

Guest stars in Season Three include Buddy Ebsen, Edgar Buchanan, Henry Daniell, Troy Donohue, Adam West, Joel Grey, and Robert Redford.

There are no bonus materials on the 6-disc DVD set, The unrated episodes are presented in the full-frame format.

The Wheeler Dealers

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The Wheeler Dealers (Warner Archive) is a spoof of Wall Street stock market ethics starring James Garner as Henry Tyroon, an aggressive wheeler dealer who dresses, talks and acts like a stereotypical Texas millionaire. Molly Thatcher (Lee Remick) is a stockbroker in a company run by Bullard Bear (Jim Backus). When the company does poorly, he will have to fire someone. Molly’s poor performance makes her the obvious choice but, to avoid charges of sex discrimination, he assigns her the impossible task of unloading shares of an obscure company. When she fails, he will have grounds to fire her.

In New York City after his Texas oil well proved to be dryer than desert at high noon, Tyroon meets Molly, but is more interested in her than the shares she’s trying to sell. In order to win her over and save her job, he comes up with a plan to turn what’s worthless into the hottest stock on Wall Street.

The film features a brisk script by Ira Wallach. Tyron’s life is an uninterrupted business deal as the script chronicles through a number of scenes. Garner brings charm to a character that might otherwise be boorish, but the movie’s light tone allows him to portray Tyroon as a devil-may-care guy out for the thrill of the deal. Ms. Remick’s Molly is a modern woman battling workplace bias and the Old Boy network. She is caught up in Tyroon’s whirlwind of flimflamming, and it excites her as she is increasingly drawn to him romantically.

The Wheeler Dealers, directed by Arthur Hiller, is an entertaining film that nicely blends romantic comedy with a satirical look at both Wall Street and men who live for the chase, whether to cement a deal or win over the girl.

There are no bonus features on the unrated, widescreen Blu-ray release.

The Accidental Tourist

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The Accidental Tourist (Warner Archive), based on the bestseller by Anne Tyler, stars William Hurt as Macon Leary, a writer of travel books for folks who hate traveling. He advises how to avoid the locals, find American food abroad, and feel as if they haven’t even left home. The film begins with Macon identifying his son’s body. The unexpected death of the boy has closed him off, especially from wife Sarah (Kathleen Turner) who, after a year, asks him for a divorce and moves out. She leaves him with their dog, Edward.

When it comes time for Macon to make another of his overseas research trips, he takes the dog to be boarded at a kennel. There, he meets Muriel Pritchett (Geena Davis). She sizes him up, recognizes his emotional turmoil, and thinks she can help.

As directed by Lawrence Kasdan, the movie is unusual in its tone. Though Macon is suffering deep depression, many scenes are cheerful and light in nature. Davis’ Muriel is eccentric and amusing, yet she is empathetic and is able to connect with Macon’s pain. If you had to pigeonhole the film, it would fall into the romantic comedy genre. Yet because it has as its basis a tragedy, it defies the genre’s traditional structure. There is a “meet cute” scene, though underscoring it is a sense of loneliness and self-imposed human isolation. Macon is so turned away from human contact, Muriel’s natural attempts to break through the ice are both touching and funny.

Ms. Davis is easily the best ingredient of the movie. Her Muriel is not only the catalyst in restoring to life Macon’s soul, but a genuinely likable person as well. She brings charm, intelligence, humor, and reflection to a role that, in lesser hands, could have been regarded as cloying. Hurt and Turner are reunited after their sizzling pairing in “Body Heat.” Unfortunately, this time around, the roles aren’t as good. Ms. Turner, in particular, is wasted.

There are no bonus materials in the widescreen Blu-ray release. The Accidental Tourist is rated PG.

Spenser For Hire; The Complete First Season

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Spenser For Hire; The Complete First Season (Warner Archive) stars Robert Urich as Robert B. Parker’s creation —a Boston private eye who defies the mold of most TV detectives. Spenser is well-read, a gourmet cook, ex-boxer, and former Boston policeman. Operating out of a converted firehouse, he drives around town in a vintage Mustang solving crimes and protecting those who want a touch of class with their private detecting.

His chief street contact and occasional back-up is Hawk (Avery Brooks), a tall, menacing, yet intelligent black man who operates on both sides of the law. Lt. Quirk (Richard Jaeckel) is Spenser’s buddy in the Boston Police Department, and Sgt. Frank Belson (Ron McLarty) is Quirk’s subordinate, always ready with a wisecrack.

In the first season, Spenser is hired to find the runaway wife of a wealthy businessman, the police department engages him to protect a witness who might not be who she claims, thrill killers target Spenser, an investigation of the apparent suicide of a young nun leads to a corrupt landlord, a valuable relic is stolen from a museum, Lt. Quirk is suspended because of suspected involvement in a gambling ring, Spenser investigates the disappearance of a Mexican labor organizer, Sgt. Belson falls in love with a white supremacist, and a rape victim is kidnapped by an ex-con determined to kill Spenser.

Urich balances Spenser’s Renaissance-man aura with his tough as nails manner of dealing with bad guys. Making the lead character literate and well-educated is an interesting touch, setting him apart from other TV private eyes. First season guest stars include William H. Macy, Patricia Clarkson, Chuck Connors, Shirley Knight, George Grizzard, Alfred Drake, Lonette McKee, Dick Latessa, Richard Jenkins, Frances McDormand, Jimmy Smits, Brad Dourif, and Linda Thorson.

All 22 episodes of the 1985-1986 season are contained in a 6-disc DVD set. The unrated episodes are presented in the full-frame format. There are no bonus materials.


About Author

For over 25 years, I was the Film and Home Entertainment Reviewer for "The Villadom TIMES," a New Jersey weekly newspaper, and have written for several other publications. I developed and taught a Film Studies program for two New York City high schools that included Film History, Horror/Fantasy, and Film Making.