Rupert Pupkin Speaks: VHS Gems Guest Post: Jon Hertzberg ""

Monday, September 17, 2012

VHS Gems Guest Post: Jon Hertzberg

My friend Jon runs the Obscure One-Sheet Blog which I highly recommend:
He can also be found on twitter at @carroljohummer.

The Challenge (1982, John Frankenheimer)  One of the more obscure films in the Frankenheimer oeuvre, The Challenge was co-written by John Sayles and stars Scott Glenn as an American boxer thrust into a Japanese family feud involving the ownership of an ancient sword.  Toshiro Mifune, playing a master samurai once again, trains the American in the ways of Japanese martial arts and culture so that he can assist him in foiling his rich industrialist brother (Atsuo Nakamura).  Boasting a muscular Jerry Goldsmith action score and handsome visuals, The Challenge entertains and should please fans of pictures like The Yakuza, Big Trouble in Little China, Remo Williams, Black Rain, as well as The Seven Samurai, a fairly obvious cinematic forebear.

The Crowd (1928, King Vidor) Not only one of the best films not on DVD, The Crowd is just one of the best films, period.  Vidor's masterpiece employs some virtuoso camerawork to tell its alternately tragic and triumphant working class tale, which still has the power to stun and which remains quite progressive to this day.  Vidor picked up nominations for Best Picture and Best Director for The Crowd and got arguable career-best contributions from stars James Murray (whose life and career ended tragically) and Eleanor Boardman and d.p. Henry Sharp.  The film's gorgeous set design and many striking black and white compositions really deserve the clarity and quality of Blu-ray at this point.  Its prolonged absence on either DVD or Blu-ray is puzzling and frustrating to say the least.

Employees' Entrance (1933, Roy Del Ruth) Pre-Code king Warren William is in top form as the ruthless manager of a New York department store.  This was one of the original "Forbidden Hollywood" VHS and laserdisc releases by MGM/UA.  The series has since been picked up by Warner Home Video, where the rights to these films now reside, but after five volumes on DVD, this film remains m.i.a.  For William fans, this is essential, offering plenty of the star's customary bad behavior, i.e. cruelly berating his employees constantly and sleeping with Loretta Young to try to break up her romance with Wallace Ford (before he gained weight and became a character player).

Last Summer (1969, Frank Perry) Based on Evan Hunter's novel of the same name, the faithful film adaptation by Frank and Eleanor Perry remains one of the darker, painfully truthful stories about teenagers to hit movie screens.  The Warner Archive folks have said that Last Summer will be coming to the collection as soon as the proper elements are is said to be the original X-rated cut that will eventually be released on MOD DVD.  Hopefully, this will happen soon, but until then the film remains one of those lost classics not available on DVD.

Little Darlings (1980, Ronald F. Maxwell) Kimi Peck and Dalene Young's tawdry premise of two girls competing at summer camp to lose their virginity first turns out to be surprisingly sensitive and funny, with a standout performance by co-lead Kristy McNichol as the "bad girl" in the contest.  Tatum O'Neal is her "rich girl" rival and Matt Dillon (post-Over the Edge) is her hunk-in-progress paramour.  At one time an HBO and video store staple, the film, like many, has become harder to see and own (for those with cable the film has lately appeared uncut, in HD, and with soundtrack intact on TCM and some of the premium channels).  Tunes by John Lennon, the Bellamy Brothers, and others are apparently what's keeping this fine film from DVD.

Some other m.i.a on DVD favorites I've already written about are Night of the Juggler, The Wild Life, Knife in the Head (available in an English-unfriendly German DVD), Chilly Scenes of Winter, and Sitting Target (said to be coming at some point from Warner Archive).


KC said...

I can't believe The Crowd isn't on DVD. That's one I definitely assumed was available. What on earth could have prevented that? I'm glad to see Chilly Scenes of Winter on your list. I've had it saved in my instant play queue for a long time, but haven't quite had the motivation to watch it. Now you've got me curious.

Ned Merrill said...

The only thing I think can be holding up THE CROWD is the the elements need to be worked on, but it's truly sad that it's taken pretty much the entirety of the life of the DVD format and we still have no CROWD DVD. CHILLY SCENES is a longtime favorite of mine since reading about it in Danny Peary's books as a high school kid in the early '90s. You're in for a treat, I think.