Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dogville Comedy Shorts

"Smithers, release the hounds!"
- Montgomery Burns

Dogville Collection
directed by Jules White and Zion Myers
USA, 1929-1931, 142 minutes
(Warner Brothers Archive Collection) Archive

Mondo Cane
I'm on an all-animal movie kick, so naturally - once Warner Brothers decided to finally release the hounds - I had to order this official 2-disc DVD containing all nine of MGM's classic "Dogville" comedies. Depending on your sensibilities, you will either find these pre-Code, decidely un-P.C. shorts appalling or funny. I find them to be both appalling and humorous, and got them only because I collect audio-visual oddities of this stripe so that I can tell my theoretical-only grandchildren: This too was a chapter in the annals of Hollywood Babylon.

I first saw these on Turner Classic Movies' great "One-Reel Wonders" series, and apparently Warner Brothers (which owns the MGM film library) has listened to its viewers and rewarded them with this straight-from-the-masters release.

(I've even more excited that Warner Archives has all 63 Joe "Behind the Eightball" McDoakes one-reelers on its 6-disc Joe McDoakes Collection. I loved George O'Hanlon as "Everyman" Joe McDoakes, and his wife was played by the gorgeous Phyllis Coates (soon to become Lois Lane on the first season of the 1950s Superman TV series.) It's a tad pricey, so it'll have to remain on my Wish List until I hit the lottery.)

The nine all-canine, all-Barkie shorts are as follows:

Dogville Filmography

1. Hot Dog (1929, 15minutes)
This Dogville short starts in a nightclub. A married dog is out on the town with her lover boyfriend, which has everybody gossiping. The husband shows up, and after a fight between the husband and the boyfriend, the wife kills the husband. She is put on trial for murder. At the end of the trial is a surprising twist. (summary by David Glagovsky)

2. College Hounds (1929, 16 minutes)
This Dogville comedy is a spoof of college football movies. A man in debt to a loan shark uses his daughter to stop football hero Red Mange from playing in the big game between Airedale College and Spitz University. Guess who makes a last second score to win the game for Airedale?

Since it's football playoff time, enjoy this excerpt from the Dogville short "College Hounds":

3. So Quiet on the Canine Front (1930, 16 minutes)
This is an obvious parody of All Quiet on the Western Front, which was released in 1930 and went on to win the third Academy Award for Best Picture (after Wings and Broadway Melody, which later became anoher Dogville spoof.)

4. The Big Dog House (1930, 17 minutes)
In this dogville spoof, a department store employee is framed for murder by his boss, because he wants the employee's girlfriend for himself. The girlfriend does everything she can to see that the boss gets what he deserves. (summary by David Glagovsky)

5. The Dogway Melody (1930)
In this Dogville spoof of The Broadway Melody (1929), Mr. Cur, a Broadway producer, puts on a show and makes a play for the leading lady.

6. Who Killed Rover? (1930, 15 minutes)
This Dogville short, also known as The Dogville Murder Case, is a spoof of the popular Philo Vance murder mysteries of the period (which starred human actors William Powell at Paramount & Basil Rathbone at MGM) - one of Philo's cases was even called The Kennel Murders. In this entry a wealthy resident leaves his fortune to his nephew, who is then kidnapped by jealous relatives. Detective Phido Vance tries to find the nephew before any harm can come to him.

7. Love Tales of Morocco (1931, 17 minutes)
This Dogville short takes place at an outpost in the Dogville Foreign Legion. As the story opens, the soldiers watch a newsreel, which includes the opera singer Galli Cur (a spoof of Amelita Galli-Curci) sing an aria. After the show, they go to the local bar and tell each other the stories behind the reason they joined the legion. All the stories are about how women did them wrong in one way or another. They all agree that they are fed up with women, until a certain visitor shows up.

8. The Two Barks Brothers (1931, 17 minutes)
I guess the title is a play on The Marx Brothers. Twin brothers are separated at birth when one is stolen by gypsies. One becomes a district attorney. The other becomes a drifter. Thirty years later, circumstances bring them together again, unbeknownst to them. As donzilla comments on IMDB: " This is a story of multi-breed dogs, in which one brother, a politician, is bent upon leading the community, and the other is "bent". There is a lot about gin-drinking because the year filmed was a prohibition year. And efforts to keep his brother from winning the political office are paramount here. The filming is better than "Lonesome Stranger", filmed with various breeds of monkeys, because the lip movements and gestures are more realistic. They don't contain paint-in teeth and mouth movement. A good animated film for it's time. Nowadays, as in "Babe" the animals move their mouths minimally."

9. Trader Hound (1931, 15 minutes)
The narrator for the film is none other than Pete Smith, the award-winning "Smith named Pete" behind the "Pete Smith Specialty" film unit at MGM. Besides the canine actors in this spoof of Trader Horn, a real monkey plays a monkey and an alligator plays an alligator - there are even real dogs playing wild dogs for the climactic chase at the end of the film.

I'm too lazy to spout off more about the Dogville shorts, so I'll leave it to others. Here's the poop on the pooches:


Porfle's review from the "HK Cult Film News" blog:
Back in the old days, studios sometimes tended to get a little experimental with their short subjects. And sometimes they got just plain nutty. Nowhere is this more evident than in MGM's bizarre and fascinating "Dogville" shorts, all nine of which are now available in the DOGVILLE COLLECTION, a 2-disc set from Warner Brothers' Archive Collection.

Directed by Jules White ("The Three Stooges") and Zion Myers, these shorts are corny take-offs on various movie genres and sometimes certain films in particular, using dogs in place of human actors. This means you'll see different breeds of dogs wearing clothes, walking around, hanging out in bars, etc. and speaking with dubbed voices. The miniature sets and props are great--sometimes I'd forget they weren't full-sized. Some shots of dogs driving cars, flying (and parachuting out of) airplanes, riding in buses and fire engines, and just about anything else you can think of, are ingenious.

Are these shorts funny, you ask? Well, the sight of a bunch of dogs strolling around on their hind legs wearing clothes and "acting" out scenes from old movies just can't help being occasionally funny, especially when the costumes and setpieces are more elaborate. Every once in a while a dog's expressions will synch perfectly with the dubbed dialogue and be laugh-out-loud hilarious. And even when it doesn't work, you just sit there mesmerized, thinking, "What the hell am I watching?"

Of course, the thing that will make some viewers uncomfortable and others refuse to watch altogether is the possibility of animal cruelty. To what degree any actual abuse might be involved here in these pre-SPCA shorts is hard to ascertain--mainly the dogs just look like they'd rather be somewhere else instead of wearing clothes and pretending to be movie actors, often sporting a distinct "WTF?" expression.

The most bothersome aspect is the use of harnesses and invisible wires to make the dogs walk around on their hind legs. The sight of entire chorus lines of dogs being manipulated in these contraptions is especially worrisome. However, I didn't see anything in any of the shorts that I would consider out-and-out abuse. I assume (naively, perhaps) that these dogs were valuable to MGM and well cared for during the shoots, and that they at least didn't have it as rough as they would if they were being forced to pull sleds in the Yukon.

Running from 1929 to 1931, the series is wonderfully antique-looking with beautiful opening titles. Dubbing and sound effects are well-done considering that talking pictures were still in their infancy, and the editing is snappy and cartoon-like. The first three Dogville shorts are billed as "All Barkies", after which each is officially designated "A Dogville Comedy." MGM's celebrated mascot Leo the Lion sounds like he has a frog in his throat in his first few appearances, loses his voice altogether for a few shorts, and then finally comes back in fine voice for the last ones.

1929's "Hot Dog" takes place in a speakeasy and concerns a roguish playboy named Joe Barker out on the town with Clara Bone, another dog's wife. When she worries that her husband might show up and catch them together, he brags, "I've been chased by some of the best husbands in town!" There's an all-dog band banging away on their instruments while the entertainment onstage consists of some lovely canine hula dancers in grass skirts. "You never looked at me like that," complains one lady dog to her husband, to which he replies, "You never LOOKED like that!" Naturally, the husband does show up, leading to a violent confrontation. "There's my wife with some yellow cur! I'll kill that dirty dog!" is another example of the pun-filled dialogue. The story ends with a dramatic courtroom scene.

In "College Hounds", a spoof of the old campus football comedies, we find a dorm room full of students going about their daily business--shaving, brushing their hair, relaxing in the bath, lifting weights, ironing their clothes--as they discuss the upcoming big game. Later, a scoundrel with big money bet on the other team hires a femme fatale to lure hometown hero Red Mange into a trap so he'll miss the game. There's a really bizarre love scene, and an even more bizarre football game with two whole teams full of dogs in uniforms being scooted around like puppets on a tiny football field.

"Who Killed Rover?" is a Phido Vance murder mystery complete with knives, guns, and all sorts of scary goings on. An all-dog wedding ceremony leads to a romantic honeymoon night with a rather risque' scene--the groom enters the bedroom, whisks the pillow off one of the twin beds, and nestles it next to the other one. Ooh, suggestive! This one has a surprisingly downbeat ending.

"The Dogway Melody", a spoof of backstage musicals, is one of the best. A slick-talking smoothie hustles to get his girlfriend into the big show, which consists of a series of mind-boggling production numbers including an elaborate version of "Singin' in the Rain."

Then comes the impressive war movie spoof "So Quiet on the Canine Front", which features a full-scale WWI battle sequence with machine guns, cannons, and flea grenades. Private Barker is enlisted to go behind enemy lines disguised as a nurse and ends up at the wrong end of a firing squad before his pal rescues him in the nick of time.

"The Big Dog House" tells of a mild-mannered bookkeeper for the Dogville Department Store who is framed by his boss Mr. Barker (related to Private Barker, perhaps?) for embezzlement and murder, and sent to Dogville Penitentiary. A funny spoof of hardboiled prison pictures, this one has another suspenseful ending with the innocent dog on his way to the electric chair as his girlfriend Trixie, after hearing Mr. Barker's deathbed confession, races with the governor to stop the execution.

Heartbroken soldiers in the Foreign Legion recount their sad tales of romantic betrayal in "Love Tails of Morocco", which offers several entertaining flashbacks in various settings. In "The Two Barks Brothers", gypsies steal a baby who later becomes a shiftless tramp named Oscar, while his twin brother grows up to be an anti-liquor crusading district attorney. Underworld beer king "Scartail" Growler hires Oscar to slip some gin into the D.A.'s water pitcher, leading to a hilarious scene in which the D.A. tries to deliver a temperance speech to some conservative citizens while getting sloppy drunk.

The final short, "Trader Hound", lampoons the enormously popular jungle adventure "Trader Horn" which would in turn inspire MGM's "Tarzan" series. Using the same music and basic plot, this spoof begins with a safari into darkest Africa in search of the great white goddess, Nina T-Bone. This film seemed promising but turned out to be one of the worst of the series--much time is devoted to the antics of human actors in animal costumes, with an extended battle between a lion and a gorilla proving particularly boring. The whole thing is narrated by Pete Smith in his usual unfunny (to me, anyway) style. However, the dramatic appearance of Nina T-Bone and the climactic chase as the hunters flee a tribe of dog-eating cannibals liven things up at the end.

As usual with the Warner Archive series, this burn-on-demand DVD set is taken from the best available video masters in the Warner vault, but with no remastering or restoration. Thus, the picture quality is less than perfect, yet considering the age of these shorts they look and sound quite good. Average running time is 15 minutes each.

The entertainment value of these DOGVILLE COLLECTION shorts is, of course, a matter of taste, not to mention one's tolerance for seeing dogs being manipulated like puppets to walk around on two legs and perform other human-like activities. While several moments elicited big laughs, the overall effect of this series of novelty films is a sort of dazed incredulity at their utter strangeness. I would love to see a roomful of stoners watching these things and flipping out.


From geophos on Rotten Tomato's forum:
If you’ve ever watched a film on Turner Classic Movies you’ve no doubt caught the beginning or end of one of the Dogville Comedies. If you were lucky, you saw it in its entirety.

MGM was distributing Hal Roach's Our Gang/Little Rascals shorts and they proved to be so popular that the studio wanted a series of their own. So between 1929 and 1931 they hired B-movie director Zion Myers and an associate, Jules White, who came up with The Dogville "All Barkie" Comedies. Trained dogs of every breed were dressed as humans and acted out imaginative and delightful scenarios concocted by the two partners.

Myers and White did most of the main voice-over dialogue themselves, though extras were brought in for "crowd scenes". When they couldn’t get a dog to “speak”, a little peanut butter on the roof of its mouth got those chops working just fine. Props were attached to the animals' paws with double-sided tape and they were manipulated, like puppets, with fish wire. While the ASPCA and HSUS would no doubt set up the picket lines today (don’t even thing about what the folks at PETA might do!), at the time these pups were well cared for by MGM for being, literally, “top dogs” and a good draw at the box office.

As you can tell by some of the following titles, plots of currently popular movies were lampooned and a film’s “big scenes” were often duplicated to hilarious effect. The Dogway Melody, for instance, features vaudeville routines, a black pooch named Al. J. Olson in a suit and white gloves singing a soulful rendition of “Mammy”, and a Busby Berkeley-style extravaganza of “Singing in the Rain”. The Big Dog House’s centerpiece is a prison riot, and Love-Tails of Morocco has the hounds of the Dogville Foreign Legion recalling the reasons they joined up, with one reminiscence taking place in a long hotel hallway with chases and doors slamming in true French-farce style. Dachshunds, of course, are the “Germans” in So Quiet on the Western Front; an English bulldog is an RAF flyer piloting a bi-plane, and the battle scenes are so good you’d swear they were lifted from a legitimate Hollywood epic. But those sausage links used as barbwire are a dead giveaway. Since these were made pre-Code, some of the shorts were subversively risqué and definitely politically incorrect. In Trader Hound, the “African native” dogs have grotesque woolly Afros, face paint, bones under their noses and speak English Steppin Fetchit-style. This was the last and, to me, the least successful because they broke the illusion by using two humans in lion and gorilla suits wrestling in a scene that went on way too long.

Related Links:
TCM's Shorts Circuit

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tennis Is Looking Up, Down Under

2010 Australian Open Early Round Round-up

The only thing that keeps me from getting depressed thinking about my upcoming birthday at the end of this month (my own little variant of Seasonal Anxiety Disorder) is...the first Grand Slam tennis event of the year! Here are some random thoughts about the first week's matches...

Justine Is Back, Ready to Slam!

Back for one more at the Aussie Open

She'll never be as popular as her countrywoman - and fellow un-retiree - Kim Clijsters , and she's always been too-tightly wrapped (each match seems to present an existential crisis), but Justine Henin is my favorite female tennis player and I'm glad she's back in her first Grand Slam, and only her second tournament (she lost that first tournament to Clijsters two weeks ago in Brisbane in three tight sets - after blowing match points in the second set), since retiring from the game 18 months ago. That's good for the game of tennis, as the women's pro tour needs the competition. In what commentator Chris Fowler called "perhaps the greatest second-round match in Grand Slam history," Henin met #5 Elena Dementieva, who was fresh over a big win over Serena Williams. But everyone knew how this one was gonna play out (was there ever any doubt?). Brad Gilbert nailed it best when he predicted Dementieva would get a big case of "the wobblies" (big game jitters) against an opponent who owned her on tour and the long-legged Russian went down in straight sets to her nemesis, 7-5, 7-6 (8-6).

Not Fade Away: Henin with another put-away

Dementieva was magnanimous and gracious in defeat, heaping praise on the player who hung another defeat at a major on her.

"She’s a great player,” Dementieva said afterwards, adding that it was like the petite Belgian had never left the game. "Playing against her, you really can learn a lot and improve your game. We really need these kind of players to increase the level of the game. So it’s great to have her back here on the tour.”

Dementieva: At a loss at what to do with Henin

Henin now has a 10-2 record against Dementieva, whose serve Justine broke on seven of 15 opportunities. Big wobblies indeed...

Serb and Folly

Ivanovich's ball toss form has really gone south

And speaking of poor serving, Martina Navratilova was spot-on when she pointed out the gist of former World No. 1 (ever-so-briefly), Ana Ivanovich's problems since her breakthrough year in 2008 when when she won the French Open and reached the Australian Open final. In a nutshell: She's lost her serve and hence her nerve. "Everything flows from the serve," Martina commented. "When your lose confidence in being able to hold serve, everything else follows." Ivanovic was able to get by her athletic but out-classed opponent, Shenay Perry, in straight sets (6-2, 6-3) - but don't count on her advancing too far with a serving game that is starting to resemble Dementieva's iffy form from a few years back. Navratilova quite rightly noted that Ana's serving woes all stemmed from a technical breakdown in her erratic ball toss - a technical deficiency that is also plaguing another former World #1, Maria Sharapova. Speaking of which...

Q: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? A: Beat Her!

I'm so glad 2008 Australian Open champ Maria Sharapova lost in the first round to her fellow-22-year-old, fellow-Roosk, fellow-Maria: Maria Kirilenko. For one thing, there was no way I could stomach Sharapova's hideous Creature from the Black Lagoon seaweed ensemble (shown below):

Sharapova as Seaweed Sally

I'm sick of these tennis stars with their sideshow fashion lines trying to pimp their game like it's red carpet time at the Oscars. Tennis players are paid to play tennis and their fans pay to watch them play tennis. If I wanna look at gear, I'll switch over to Sundance Channel's Full-Frontal Fashion show or dig out my Goth fetish mags.

My ears are also delighted that Sharapova lost, as her screeching has gotten really annoying. Unfortunately, her audio aura is never far from mind thanks to the presence of fellow Rooskie grunter Victoria Azarenka, who like Kirilenko advanced to the second round. (Click here to see a list of the Top 10 Grunters on the Women's Tour - half of whom are Russian or Belarussian - courtesy of the UK Telegraph)

Kirilenko says "Shush" to her compatriot

Another bonus to Sharapova's early exit is that it stops cold all those lazy network broadcasters like Dick "Shoulda Retired Years Ago" Enberg who babble on endlessly about her beauty and fashion sense, neither of which are justified. Sharapova strikes me as a charming personality, but when people talk about her a babe I gotta set the record straight: she's an albatross. (And certainly carries one around her neck since her shoulder injury.) Check out her 6-2 wingspan, with those wide-axle shoulders that only an ox would envy.

If you want babe-age, look no further than her first round opponent, the very-fit, very lovely world #58, Maria Kirilenko (who as a teen won a 2004 doubles title with Sharapova in Birmingham, England).

Maria Kirilenko: The Total Babe Package

Boy howdy! And the Moscow beauty turns 23 next week, which makes her a fellow Aquarian like me (albeit with decades of age difference!). Check out her official web site:


Melanie Oudin: All over but the shouting (and the finish)

Of course, another unimaginative broadcasters' fave is America's Sweetheart, world #49 Melanie Oudin, whose 15 minutes of fame expired long ago. All that blabbering about her "Heartbeat of America" pluck and Norman Rockwell spirit. Bollocks! She's still a kid and still learning the game. She got lucky last year beating some Russians whose rankings were perhaps a little over inflated to begin with (including a rehabbing Sharapova who is still not 100% and two notorious big-game chokers in Petrova and Dementieva). Anybody see Oudin in Fed Cup action in 2009? She went 1-3, needing three sets to defeat an Argentine with a world ranking of #132 (Betima Jozami) while losing to Agentina's #36 Gisela Dulko and Italy's #18 Franesca Schiavone and, in the final, #12 Flavia Pennetta. Yet she won the Fed Cup's BNP Paribas Heart Award. Pathetic - pure hype. Let's move on, shall we? I get the feeling the Great American Hopeful is just the female Donald Young. Oh, by the way, she lost in the first round to #91-ranked Russian (they're everywhere!) Alla Kudryavtseva, 2-6, 7-5, 7-5.

The Bitch Is Back

Serena says: "Feets don't fail me now!"

It's still Serena Williams tournament to lose (unless the resurgent Belgians, Henin or Clijsters, can stop her - or the very sharp-looking, very hungry world #3 Svetlana Kuznetsova, who twice has lost in the finals here - both times to Justine Henin) but Serena's already lost the sexism argument. When asked by a broadcaster about her U.S. Open final implosion last September, Serena claimed that the whole thing was blown out of proportion because she was a woman and that she would not have been penalized $92,000 for threatening the female linesperson if she was a man. WTF??? (What The Foot-fault???) Where did that conspiracy theory come from? Johnny Mac, Nasty, and Connors on their worst days never threatened a referee or linesperson like Serena did. Even Darren Cahill pipped that he thought she got off pretty lucky with not getting suspended for her U.S. Open doubles final with sister Venus the next day, pointing out that in any other sport (certainly in soccer of baseball) such behavior would have merited an automatic suspension. Serena does her best talking on the court, not off it. Play on, Serena - and watch your feet (and your mouth - it goes without saying!).

Now, I haven't caught much of the men's action, though I saw that Roger Federer had a pretty tough first-round draw against Maria Kirilenko's big-serving pal, world #37 Igor Andreev. Roger Federer had never faltered in an opening match of a major played on a hard-court surface, but he was pushed and pushed hard by Iggy. If the Henin-Dementieva match was the perhaps the toughest second round clash in Grand Slam history, you could make an argument on the men's side for this first-round match (no to mention that five-set second-rounder between Juan Martin Del Potro and James Blake). Don't forget, Andreev has a history of giving Federer a difficult time, having pushed Federer to a five-setter in the fourth round two years ago at the U.S Open. As Federer knows from last year's Wimbledon final, any time you go up against a big server, there's a chance for an upset...

And speaking of big servers, the only full match I've seen so far was Andy Roddick's first rounder against The Boy from Brazil...

Give A-Rod A Hand - But Just One!

Hands-off: A-Rod learns less is more

I'm no Andy Roddick fan, as I've always thought he was a hot-headed one-trick pony in dire need of some humility, but I think he's gotten some following his spirit-crushing defeat to Roger Federer (who else?) in last year's Wimbleton final (the match of the year and an all-time classic, as far as I'm concerned). His work ethic has never been questioned (you don't stay in the Top 10 and win at least one title a year for 10 consecutive years without being dedicated to your work!) but now he's playing really well since he's added a one-handed slice backhand to his game. In his straight-set win over young Brazilian Tomaz Bellucci, he used it almost exclusively (I don't recall seeing more than one or two two-handed backhands the entire match). As the Zen saying goes, A-Rod's new shot is the equivalent of one hand clapping.

A-Rod's backhand was always his weak spot, but since he added the slice it's become, dare I say, a weapon. No, he doesn't hit winners with it, but uses it to set up points. Another two-hander, Raphael Nadal, has similarly added the one-handed slice backhand to his ever-expanding arsenal, with similar results - as has Novak Djokovic. It may mean these players have to play additional shots instead of going for outright winners on the backhand, but that's what constructing points and strategy is all about. Just ask Roger Federer on that score!

Ok, back to watching some more late-night tennis...

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Hail Brittania, Dundalk Style

If you crave some dick, head to Merritt Boulevard

The British Isles representing in
Dundalk Giant's British Aisles

My girlfriend Amy was craving some dick - Spotted Dick that is, the steamed suet pudding commonly served with custard that is a popular English dish - so we made a trip down to Baltimore's best British food outlet: the Giant Food store on Merritt Boulevard in Dundalk.

Amy had spotted the dick on the Giant shelves the week before when she was shopping there with her mom and was, um, intrigued by the name. But she was too embarassed buy a can of the oddly named pud in front of her mother. When she mentioned it to me, she said, "I wonder why the Dundalk Giant has so much British food? I mean, is there enough of a Brit ex-pats community in Dundalk to merit including Spotted Dick on Merritt Boulevard?" A subsequent Facebook posting led Scott Huffines to request some spotted dick on her next trip to the Dundalk Giant, so we had added purpose in our trip.

We quickly scored Scott's Spotted Dick and Amy got some for herself, being ever the curious omnivore.

Amy wraps her fingers around some spotted dick.

With two cans already in tow, Amy asked if I needed some more dick. (If I had a dollar for everytime a woman's asked me that...)

"Sweetie, do you need some dick?" Amy queried.

"I got more than enough dick already!" Tom replied.

"I got plenty," I replied, "But I could use some of this Cock-flavoured soup to go with it!"

Mmm-Mmm Good - That's what Cock Soup is!
And the perfect accompaniment to Spotted Dick.

OK, enough about the silly name. According to Wikipedia, the "spotted" part of this dessert's name refers to the dried fruit (which resemble spots) and "dick" may be a contraction/corruption of the word pudding (from the last syllable) or possibly a corruption of the word dough. Another explanation offered for the latter half of the name is that it comes from the German word for "thick," in reference to the thickened suet mixture.

Wikipedia also pointed out that Spotted Dick was a popular dish in the Harry Potter book series, being a favourite of Ronald Weasley.

"Maybe that's why it's suddenly on the shelves down here," Amy said. "Makes me wanna go to a Hogwarts Feast now!"

With our palates now getting adjusted to English cuisine, we filled our cart with some more edible curiosities, as shown below. Thanks to the Dundalk Giant's British Aisle, we'll be bringing some of the British Isles back home tonight!

Jammie Dodgers are jam splodged with goodness

Creamed Rice goes great with Spotted Dick

Amy is a Smart Alec!

Amy scores a white chocolate Milkybar

"Somebody, somewhere is eating a Toffee Crisp."
In this case, me.

(Had to score a Toffee Crisp, if only because it reminded me of the Toffees, Everton's football club.)

Digestives give ya the urge to purge!

(Attention IBS sufferers, these are a lot tastier than Metamucil!)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dollar DVDementia

I'll buy that for a dollar! And that! And that...

Tom's Tex Avery Epiphany:
"Dollar DVDs? Must! Buy! All!"

Christ, we're in a recession and I'm getting furloughed in two days time, but priorities are priorities and when a man discovers a good $1 DVD source, well, like the '49 Gold Rush miners, ya just gotta tap that vein-o-gold nuggets! Yes indeed, one man's grimy and wrinkled dead president represents another man's ticket to Nirvana (the state of perfect peace, not the band).

Down for the Count: Dollar Bin Diving

So herein are my recent scores at the dollar store near Lexington Market. I walked in on a futile quest for underwear-of-color and there next to a row of tighty whities (all they had, alas!) was a bin of el cheapo Grade Z public domain movies. I walked out with 30 of them - and I wonder why I'm always broke (those dollars add up...).

Carry Nation: A Fiftysomething totes Thirtysomething

Almost all of them are distributed by an entity calling itself EastWestDVD who are renowned for their atrocious/misleading cover art designs. Like...

Bill and Coo (1948)
directed by Dean Reisner, cast trained by George Burton

Wow, what a find! You'd never know it going by the retardo cartoon cover art, but according to Wikipedia (a librarian's best friend!), Bill and Coo was a 1948 live-action film featuring an all-animal (albeit mostly fine-feathered) cast! Now anytime you run across an "all-(something or other)" film, it usually has direct-to-"cult"-status written all over it, be that "all-something" an all-midget (The Terror of Tiny Town), all-sideshow (Freaks), all-handicapped (Crippled Masters), all-deaf (Deafula), all-retarded (The Kids of Widney High, Adam Sandler films), all-Esperanto-language (Incubus), or what have you (sometimes all of these elements are represented; those films are usually directed by Crispin Glover!). And I'm happy to report that the all-avian Bill and Coo is no different in that regard.

Bill and Coo: this bird-brained flick is super fly!

The film was conceived by producer/comedian Ken Murray as a showcase for George Burton's trained birds (who'd previously been featured in Murray's long-running Los Angeles stage review Blackouts) and earned him an honorary Academy Award for its "novel and entertaining use of" the movie medium. The film's titular Bill and Coo are parakeet lovebirds (hmmm, in that case, this might make a good double-bill with Hitchcock's The Birds) who live in peace in Chirpendale (a miniature village build into a 15' x '30 table - the world's second smallest film set) with their fellow birds of a feather until an evil black crow by the name of The Black Menace (played by Jimmy the Crow) terrorizes the town. Though some critics think "The Black Menace" has racial overtones - citing Disney's Dumbo (1941) for depicting of minorities as members of the bird family and pointing out that the "Jim Crow" laws were named after the black bird for a reason - but I thought the Black Menace was a clear reference to Nazis and the aerial bombing of London; every time the crow attacks Chirpendale the soundtrack queues up the sound of aircraft and you see Jimmy the Crow's shadow cast over the own like a plane's wings, while the town's birds all flee into an air raid shelter called the "Fraid Hole."

Watch Bill and Coo:

Subsequent research determined that there are a number of all-animal films, though mostly shorts, like MGM's all-canine Dogville "Barkies" comedies and Hal Roach's mostly all-simian Dippy-Doo-Dads series for Pathe in the early '20s. The Dippy-Doo-Dads were trained by Tony Campanero and later appeared in Charlie Chaplin's 1928 feature The Circus. Interestingly enough, the only Dippy-Doo-Dads short I've ever been able to track down is "Orange Blossoms for Violet," which appears as an extra on disc four of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Vol. Two DVD; it's Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones' 1952 remix of the original silent with Mel Blanc voicing the characters.

Roach/Pathe's Dippy-Doo-Dads

An MGM "Dogville" barker

I also learned that the hard-to-find Bill and Coo can be found on something called Weird Cinema: 15 Freaky Flicks! (an intriguing collection from dvdatcom that includes The Terror of Tiny Town, Glen or Glenda, Wild Guitar, The Sadist, Chained For Life, Mesa of Lost Women, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, The Killer Shrews, Child Bride, Hitler: Dead Or Alive, Night Tide, Carnival of Souls, Spider Baby, and Teenagers From Outers Space). Oh, I also learned that Bill and Coo's director/co-writer, Dean Riesner, went on write some of Clint Eastwood's biggest '70s hits, including Play Misty for Me, Dirty Harry, and High Plains Drifter. And to think it all started with this bird-brained (literally!) little film.

Captain Fathom Vol. 1

Like Clutch Cargo and Space Angel, this is yet another example of Cambria Studio's unfathomably cheapo animation style known as "Synchro-Vox" - which we take for granted these days thanks to its resurgence on Late Night with Conan O'Brien - but at the time was a low-budget filming method that superimposed talking lips over static cartoon drawings. Though 'toon expert Jerry Beck name-checked Captain Fathom in his "Worst Cartoons Ever" list, the character design was by renowned comic book artist Alex Toth (who also designed Cambria's Space Angel and went on to do a number of stylish character designs during his stretch at Hanna-Barbera, including Space Ghost and The Super Friends), and that alone made this curio immensely pickup-able. Captain Fathom commanded a submarine called the Argonaut whose crew included Cookie, Ronnie, Scotty, and Miss Perkins, plus a tag-along porpoise named Flip. The show debuted in 1965 and Cambria cranked out 17 half-hour episodes, which were often broken up into 5-minute serial cliffhanger-style episodes on kiddie TV shows. I also grabbed Volume 3. So far I've only seen one episode, which was pretty funny as each international character's voice, like a Mexican general in the episode I saw, was peppered with the most blatantly stereotypical accents ("Si, seeen-yore!"). Oh, the disc also includes episodes of Space Angel and Clutch Cargo. Speaking of which...

Clutch Cargo, Vol. 5

Clutch Cargo was a kind of poor man's Jonny Quest - and Cambria Studio's first "Synchro-Vox" star - who traveled around the world on dangerous missions with his young sidekick Spinner and his pet dachshund Paddlefoot. I restrained myself and only picked up one volume of this series, but there were at least seven on display.

As you can see, snow-haired Clutch looks a lot like Jonny Quest's Race Bannon...

...though that glory-hole mouth with the superimposed lips makes him look like a crimson-lipped drag queen!

Colonel Bleep and Friends, Vol. 2

Colonel Bleep was the first color cartoon ever made for television and has been cited by Ren and Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi as a major influence on his own work. I can see it. Somewhere at home I think I have Vol. 1. Anyway, Colonel Bleep was an alien from the planet Futura who protected Earth with the help of his sidekicks, the mute cowboy Squeek and burly caveman Scratch (who, like Godzilla, was awakened from a sleep of several thousand years by an atomic explosion).

Watch Colonel Bleep's "Arrival On Earth" :

Diver Dan, Vol. 2

People under the age of 50 that see Diver Dan (no, it's not a Van Halen album!) can't believe that this 1960-62 series was one of my favorite shows growing up, one that was near-and-dear to me not just because it featured puppet-fish marionettes with clearly visible strings attached that smoked cigarettes (like Trigger the triggerfish) and sported monocles (like baddie boss Baron Barracuda), or because the charmless Diver Dan's main squeeze was a zaftig blonde mermaid (Miss Minerva), but because it was all so surreal...I mean, all the voice-over narrative and rhymed ("Below in the deep there's adventure and danger/That's where you'll find Diver Dan/The sights that he sees are surprising and stranger/Than ever you'll see on the land"), and the whole thing was shot through a Chinese restaurant fish tank for the low-tech "underwater effect." Years ago I scored a video containing a bunch of Diver Dan episodes from Reptilian Records and now I have this Vol. 2 DVD release from East West Entertainment that packs 17 episodes into its two-hour running time. Can't wait to while away the next snow storm watching Dan and his fishy friends Finley Haddock, Doc Sturgeon (with his delightful Yiddish accent!), Georgie Porgy, Gabby the Clam, Gill Espy, Glow Fish, Goldie the Goldfish, Hermit Crab, Sam the Sawfish, Scout Fish, Sea Biscuit the Seahorse, and Skipper Kipper. (Hmmm, one character, Diver Dan's captain, was heard but never seen, positing the question...was his skipper Captain Fathom?)

Voodoo Black Exorcist (Vudu Sangriento, 1974)
"A Manuel Cano Film"

When it doubt, paint it black. On a Caribbean island in the distant past¸ a Voodoo priest kills his lover’s husband and they are both killed for the crime. On a modern day cruise, the Voodoo priest begins looking for his lover’s reincarnation, beheading passengers along the way. Love Boat it's not!

I love that the director's name is branded iconographically on the cover of this piece of low-budget trash in an attempt to give this cheeseball Spanish zombie flick an aura of class, like the nobody director is worthy of Auteur Status alongside, say Orson Welles or Alfred Hitchcock - or even Alan Smithee! I mean, who the f**k is Manuel Cano (or Manual Dog in literal translation)? Still, with Amazon customer reviews like the following...
"Voodoo Black Exorcist" technically awful, with horrible color balance (it now comes across as various hues of aqua, pale yellow, and brown), awful acting, atrocious dubbing, plodding pacing, and a ridiculous premise."

...I kinda want to put it on in the backdrop when I clip my toenails tonight. Plus other reviews indicate that a few of the voodoo natives are actually white guys in blackface - or should I say "brown face" since several critics have inferred that the mummy character's costume design consists of nothing more than smearing shit over the actor's gauze-wrapped face! (Could this be a Spanish zombie homage to Divine in Pink Flamingos? The mind boggles...)

The posters for this film are pretty funny, with taglines like "This dude means business so watch out when your nerves start to shatter!" and the William Castle-worthy viewer's caveat emptor "Warning - We are not responsible to [sic] any person that this film may disturb, either physically or mentally. See at your own risk":

The Voodoo Black Exorcist means business!

But the folks at Psychotronic Video Guide love this film! Here's Michael Weldon's review:
Here's a crazy mummy movie you might have missed, a Madrid/Miami production with some scenes shot in Hait, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. On a tropical island, two natives (Spanish actors in blackface) fight over Kenya (Tanyeka Stadler). During a voodoo ceremony - complete with frenzied topless black dancers - Kenya is decapitated and her (very fake-looking) head is passed around. The titles show up over NASA stock footage. A Love Boat-type cruiser contains the casket of a mummy (Also Sambrell), who can change, wolfman-style, into a "normal" scary bald man with a magic ring. He makes a shipworker his servant and pursues Kenya's reincarnation. He decapitates a man and puts his head in bed with her. In Kingston he has a man run over by a steamroller, and is interviewed on TV: "Three centuries in museums. I've learned many things!" In Port-au-Prince somebody fights the mummy with a a water hose. He kidnaps his lost love and takes her to a huge cave. His obvious double goes down in flames at the end. The music ranges from sitars to davie Allan-style guitar soundtrack rock. This movie has lots of talk and flashbacks and a fire-eating belly dancer. In my favorie scene, the mummy man is seen in a mirror, slapping a dancer around. The cameraman is clearly seen in the mirror, too. Director Cano also made King of the Jungle.

Watch the "Voodoo Black Exorcist" trailer.

Starbirds (1982)

Thanks to my Japanarama sensei Dave Cawley, I've learned to never hesitate picking up anything to do with giant robots - after all, Dave is the guy who penned the ultimate paen to them, Berserk's classic toe-tapping ditty "Giant Robots"... when I spied this DVD whose liner notes promised "pulse pounding giant robot action," 'twas a no-brainer. I subsequently learned that Starbirds is the dubbed American movie version cobbled together from the 44-episode 1978-1979 Japanese TV anime series known as Tosho Daimos, or Brave Leader Daimos. (The name Daimos is derived from Deimos, one of the two moons of Mars.) The Daimos/Starbirds toys were distributed stateside in the late '70s as a part of Mattel's Shogun Warriors line of imported Super Robot toys.

The Mattel Shogun Warrior Daimos

Here's what Anime Bargain Bin Reviews had to say: "Giant robots, bad dubbing, music from the Police Academy guy." You need more??? OK:
In 1982 several of the episodes were edited together into a 70 minute movie for TV and video distribution by New Hope Entertainment. The production duties were handled by Bunker Jenkins, the man behind the Tranzor Z version of Mazinger Z, with the same cast and crew that worked on his other anime adaptation Shadow World.

Piecing together footage from episodes; 01 ("Victory will be Ours Forever), 02 ("The Mysterious Girl Erika") and 06 ("Wipe Away Your Tears and Rise") with parts of the later additions comprising the climax. As usual character names are changed, now we have Kelly Hunter fighting off the Volarian invasion, led by Roderick, using his mighty robot Dynamo.

This movie, entitled Starbirds, was first seen in the U.S. where it was aired on the SHOWTIME network throughout the early 1980's. It made it's home video debut in the UK in 1983 where it was released by Derann a company founded in 1964 by husband and wife team Derek and Anne Simmonds. Unfortunately the company left the home video market after the introduction of the 1984 video recordings act (see Frankenstein) and Starbirds was never to reappear on the shelves.

It wasn't until 1987 that the Bunker Jenkins version reached American stores from Hi-Tops Video the same distributor that had released Shadow World a year earlier. It has been long out of print although at some point it has been re-released on $1 DVD.

Watch "Starbirds: Dynamo Vs. Speedboat Lizard":

Watch "Starbirds: Dynamo's First Fight":

Hoppity Hooper, Vol. 1 (1964)

Hoppity Hooper - not to be confused with the similar-sounding Warner Bros. character Hippety Hopper - was a 52-episode animated television series produced by Jay Ward (of Rocky & Bullwinkle and George of the Jungle fame) in 1964, originally broadcast on ABC (1964-67), originally co-sponsored by General Mills and Topper Toys, and later syndicated under the title Uncle Waldo's Cartoon Show. The recurring characters were Hoppity Hooper (a frog, voiced by Chris Allen), Uncle Waldo P. Wigglesworth (a fox voiced by Hans Conried), Fillmore (a mentally-challenged bugle-blowing bear who wore Civil War duds and was voiced by Bill Scott), and narrators Paul Frees (episodes 1-50) and William "Cannon" Conrad (episodes 51-52). Alan Reed voiced Fillmore Bear in the first two episodes before going on to become the long-running voice of Fred Flintstone.

Critics consider "The Traffic Zone" - a parody of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone - to be the series' best episode.

Watch "The Traffic Zone" :

Captain Nemo and Friends, Vol. 1 (1975)

This was a series of five-minute cartoons produced in Canada in the mid-1970's telling the story of Captain Mark Nemo and his young crew, Christine and Robbie, in their nuclear powered submarine, the Nautilus. It was shown Stateside on CBS' Captain Kangaroo show.

Gabby (1941)
directed by Dave Fleischer

Using a patented technique in which the animation is traced over live-action footage, the Fleischer brothers, Max and Dave, spun-off "Gabby" - a character originally introduced in their 1939 feature Gulliver's Travels - in his very own short feature collection. The Fleischers made eight Gabby shorts in total. Also featured are five early Fleischer shorts, including the 1938 Oscar nominated Hunky and Spunky.

Asterix and Cleopatra (1968)

I've never seen an Asterix cartoon, though I loved the diminuitive Gaul and his obese pal Obelix when I read the comics for high school French credits. Asterix and Cleopatra is a 1968 Belgian/French production that was the second Asterix adventure to be made into a feature film and the first to spoof the 1963 Liz Burton epic turkey. It was overseen by Asterix comic creators Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. A live-action version of this adventure, Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleoptara, was released in 2002 (naturally, like every film from New Gaul, it starred Gerard Depardieu).

Flash Gordon (TV series, 1954)

This is from the 1954-1955 TV series starring Steve Holland and shot in West Berlin, where the rubble provides an eerie reminder of the post-war ruin - and a perfect sci-fi landscape. Includes three episodes: "Deadline at Noon," "Race Against Time," and "Forbidden Experiment." According to Wikipedia:
Steve Holland starred in a 1954-1955 live-action TV series which ran for 39 episodes. The first set of episodes had the distinction of being filmed in West Berlin, less than a decade after the end of World War II. Later episodes were filmed in Marseille, France. In this series, Flash, Dale (Irene Champlin), and Dr. Zarkov (Joseph Nash) worked for the Galaxy Bureau of Investigation, approximately 1200 years in the future. The actual timeline was established in one episode, "Deadline at Noon", in which Flash, Dale, and Dr. Zarkov went back in time to Berlin in the year 1953. Flash & co. traveled in the Skyflash and Skyflash II spaceships. The series was syndicated, appearing on stations affiliated with the long-defunct Dumont Network, and many other independent stations in the United States. It was recut into a movie in 1957.

The Phantom Empire (1935) (12-part serial)

What a concept, a sci-fi western with starring Gene Autry that mixes robots with cowboys. Is it any wonder why this serial merits inclusion in Michael Weldon's Psychotronic Video guide? Here's the Psychotronic review:
"This 12-chapter Mascot serial is pretty great and has similarities to Flash Gordon (which wasn't released until the next year). It's easy to find and has been released by at least five video companies. Gene Autry stars as himself (the singing-cowby star of the Radio Ranch radio show). He falls into a hole and discovers the futuristic, subterranean city of Murania underneath his ranch! (The funny-looking robots with flamethrower hands and metal top hats had first been used in the 1933 musical Dancing Lady, with Joan Crawford.) Dorothy Christy is the evil Queen Yika, and Wheeler Oakman is the high chancellor. With Frankie Darro as Frankie, Betsy King Ross as Betsy, and Smiley Burnette. Feature versions are called Men with Steel Faces and Radio Ranch. It's also on the video series Saturday Night Serials (Rhino) with three other serials."

Goes for $15 bucks on Amazon; advantage (for a buck): me.

Watch "The Phantom Empire" trailer :

Fearless Hyena (1979)/Fearless Hyena 2 (1983)
Martial Arts Double Feature

Late '70s flicks starring a young Jackie Chan doing more mugging than fighting - and currently out-of-print! Already had these in big, clunky '80s VHS cases, so figured I'd go for the compact convenience of this two-fer deal. 1979's Fearless Hyena was the first film directed by its star Jackie Chan and follows the conventional "You killed teacher!" plot structure of its time by having our happy-go-lucky hero spend most of the film training (a la his similar "laborious training films" like Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagles Shadow) and learning "emotional kung fu" (or emo-kung-fu, for short) from his uncle as he gears up for a big finale showdown against villain Yen Chuen-Wong (Yen Shi-Kwan of Once Upon a Time in China fame). You see, masters of emo kung-fu style will find added strength and endurance while seemingly going bonkers, either breaking down in tears (perhaps of boredom from all that training!) or laughing hysterically - like a (fearless) hyena!

Jackie gets all emo against Yen Shi-Kwan

The English language dub is laughably atrocious (making Jackie sound like Mick Jagger), adding yet another layer of kitsch to the already goofball humor. Click here to watch a particularly painful/"funny" cross-dressing scene - if you dare!

1983's sequel Fearless Hyena 2 is universally panned as a stinker, however.

Of course, every time I see Fearless Hyena it makes me think of a crazy library patron, Sixth Sensei (aka The Bruce Lee Guy), who was obsessed with hyenas and martial arts. I wonder if his insanity started with this film? I can still recall the day he threw us for a loop when he asked the (non-rhetorical) question: "Who do you think would win a fight between a hyena and a long-necked weasel?" (I had no preparation for this sort of speculative-query "research interview" from library school! Unbelievably, it never came up in my coursework!) Sixth Sensei (so-named because he had a sixth sense for hearing voices in his head) always went with the hyena in these fantasy death matches; when later he thought up fights between human martial artists, he always picked Jackie Chan over everybody else - except Bruce Lee (he wasn't called "Bruce Lee Man" for nothing!) - because, as he put it, "Jackie Chan is kinda sneaky like a hyena - he kid around and then snap at you like a laughing hyena!" I miss Sixth Sensei!

Tattoo Connection (1978)/Ninja Turf (1985)
Martial Arts Double Feature

Tattoo Connection (aka Black Belt Jones 2: The Tattoo Connection) stars Jim "Blackbelt Jones" Kelly, Bolo "Chinese Hercules" Yeung, and Sing "Head Crusher" Chen in a story about a stolen diamond in Hong Kong. (Kelly and Yeung had, of course, previously appeared in Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon.) In Ninja Turf (aka Los Angeles Streetfighter), a young Korean immigrant in Los Angeles encounters difficulties when he refuses to join the all Korean gang at his High School. In both thought-provoking narratives, chop-socky hijinks ensue. Amazon reviewer chumcitymark praised Ninja Turf for having "...everything you're looking for. Really bad lighting. 30 year old guys playing high school kids. Totally awesome action. Drugs. a horrible script and Philip Rhee!" (San Francisco native Korean-American martial arts phenom/director/producer Phillip Rhee starred in the Best of the Best film series.)

A Gathering of Heroes (1973)/Kung Fu Rebels (1978)
Martial Arts Double Feature

A Gathering of Heroes stars Sing "Head Crusher" Chen. According to web site Kung Fu Cinema, "Chen co-starred in many Shaw Brothers films, mainly as an extra or a villain role. He was also perhaps known for his films with fellow karate expert Yasuaki Kurata in films like RAGE OF THE WIND (1973), A GATHERING OF HEROES (1973), and GOLD SNATCHERS (1973). As opposed to kung fu film stars like the late Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Hwang Jang-Lee, Chen had a bulky figure and would be more ferocious in his fight scenes rather than relying on flashy technique. His use of a technique similar to Eagle’s Claw would earn him the nickname “Head Crusher” as he tends to use this move in the films to kill his opponents a lot of times. Chen would also work as a fitness trainer and a martial arts instructor in the Hong Kong prison system while working in films."

Kung Fu Rebels stars Chang Mei & Wang Ching in a story of Kung Fu rebels taking on an unstoppable killing machine, the Iron Villain.

Return of the Kung Fu Dragon (1976)/
Return of the Street Fighter (1976)

Martial Arts Double Feature

Ah, the "Many Happy Returns" double feature spectacular. Return of the Kung Fu Dragon (Ju Ma Pao) once again stars Sing "Head Crusher" Chen. One sci-fi obsessed fanboy likened it to a Flash Gordon serial with a finale similar to Return of the Jedi (another return motif?) and a villain with a ZZ Top beard that doubles as a weapon. Here's a review from the web site The Action Mutant Reviews:
There’s trenchant dubbing, worse editing and the martial arts is not exactly on the level of Yuen Woo-Ping (or a hung over Yuen Woo-Ping…with one arm & a limp). Funny thing is none of those matters, for at merely 83 minutes, RotKFD rolls with all of those horrible, schlock trappings & makes for a fun time killer. A few bizarre touches are worth the mention, such as the running joke involving the evil ruler being constantly subdued by having his Pai Mei style beard always tied into objects, a la shoestrings. Or the Bjork-looking midget (Hsiao Wang) that I swore was an old woman at first & had me confused right up to his (her?) last scene. Fortunately, there was no Crying Game theatrics here. Speaking of theatrics, there are enough elaborate (yet cheap) sets & insanely gaudy costumes to go along with the operatic grandeur the flick builds up. It’s total costume melodrama, with over the top death scenes & corny dialogue galore and enough unnecessary plot twists thrown to show that the effort is there. And the costumes…good gravy, the costumes! One of the male heroes dresses like a centurion you would find in a Vegas casino, a bad guy has a big red bow in his hair & the Bjork midget looks like an Indian that wandered off of the Bonanza set! Everything is thrown into the cauldron for this one (dig the magic mirror & the burning gravel!), which means there are enough crudely imaginative elements to make Return of the Kung Fu Dragon strangely viewable at best. That is, if you’re a hardcore Fu junkie. If you’re a normal person, you might take a pass on it.

Return of the Street Fighter stars the iconic Sonny Chiba, who was badder than old King Kong and meaner than a junkyard dog. Need I say more?

Goose Boxer (1979)/Jaws of the Dragon (1976)
Martial Arts Double Feature

Director Tommy Lee's Goose Boxer (aka Shaolin Tough Kid) is billed as a "Kung Fu Comedy," which is usually the mark of a real dog (as the Chinese, like Germans, are not exactly known for their sense of humor), but in Martial Arts Movies: From Bruce Lee to the Ninjas (1985), author Richard Meyers ranks it #9 in his list of the "25 Best Kungfu Movies." According to Meyers, Goose Boxer is "One of the best. Charles Hueng plays a hapless bumpkin who just manages to survibe all sorts of crazy goings-on as a maddened White Crane killer tries to flush out his enemies. It would be difficult to describe the charming combinations of training, fight, and comedy sequences which make this a top tape for any martial arts library, but how about this for a try: The hero mistakenly uses a sex manual to learn kungfu and flabbergasts the villain with such styles as 'Pushing the Cart Upstream' and 'Rowing Upstream.'"

As for director James Nam's Jaws of the Dragon (aka The Fierce One), one IMDb reviewer fanboy effused:
This movie is awesome. If my VCR was broken, and one tape was stuck in it that I had to watch over and over again, this would be the tape. If you can find this movie, which you probably won't be able to, you should definitely buy it and savor every second! (You even get to see some girl's boobs while she's in the bath tub.) If you enjoy intense kung-fu, unnecessary use of slow motion, white VW Beetles, and continuity errors, this movie is for you, sucka! In closing, a quote from Black Beard. "Get me the heroin...ALL of the heroin."

OK, I'm sold!

Watch the "Jaws of the Dragon" trailer:

Rivals of the Silver Fox (1982)/Return of the Scorpion (1980)
Martial Arts Double Feature

Two chop-sockys starring "The Human Tornado," spin-kicker Casanova Wong, who was a former taekwondo champ in the South Korean Army. Don't know much about these titles..."Philip Kao directs himself in the martial arts action film Rivals of the Silver Fox. Kao plays the Silver Fox who, in addition to being a master of Iron Body and Flesh Piercing Kung Fu, has total control of his bodily organs. The fox infiltrates a Shaolin Temple that houses 18 bronzemen." - All Movie Guide. Other sources suggest this is a Godfrey Ho film. Hal Erickson at All Movie Guide describes the other film: "Beware the sting of "The Scorpion" in this martial-arts opus. Having proven his mettle in previous set-tos, the Scorpion returns to his home turf. This time his foes think they're ready for him. They're wrong as usual; the Scorpion cleans everyone's clock with his kung-fu knowhow. Yang Pan Pan, Lan Men Wei and Phillip Ko head the cast."

Ninja and Dragons (1982)/Shadow Ninja (1980)
Martial Arts Double Feature

I wonder if Ninja and Dragons is really Ninja in the Dragon's Den, the 1982 film by legendary Hong Kong director Corey Yuen. I hope so!

Shadow Ninja (aka The Killer in White, The Killer Wears White) is supposed to be a kung fu Training Day with a great fight at the end between the cops and a killer who wears white pajamas. It was produced by Jim Brown, the former NFL running back turned action star.

Made for Each Other (1939)/Of Human Bondage (1934)
Director John "Don't Call Me Oliver" Cromwell Double Feature

Made for Each Other stars Carole Lombard, James Stewart, and Charles Coburn while Of Human Bondage, the first Hollywood adaptation of a W. Somerset Maugham novel, stars Bette Davis (whose performance was nominated for an Oscar), Leslie Howard, Frances Dee, and Kay Johnson. You can't go wrong with that kind of talent on hand.

His Girl Friday (1940)/My Dear Secretary (1949)
A Workin' Gals Double Feature

Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday is a classic; it's Rosalind Russell's best ever role, one of Cary Grant's best, and its Ben Hecht/Charles MacArthur/Charles Lederer-penned script is filled with more non-stop snappy banter than today's text-messaging La-La Land imbeciles could muster in a lifetime. I've never seen My Dear Office Assistant (in today's parlance), but I like Laraine Day, so worth a look, if only to see Kirk Douglas tackle romantic comedy.


I also picked up, as gifts to give to the uninitiated, additional copies of the following cult items, which I was surprised/delighted to see buried beneath the DVD bins:

Evel Knievel (1971)
directed by Marvin J. Chomsky
(Alpha Video)

Trash classic starring George Hamilton as Evel Knievel, "the last American Gladiator" (he's surprisingly good!) and Sue Lyon (best known for her role as the 16-year old sexpot in Stanley Kubrick's Lolita) as his wife Linda Knievel. This made-for-TV movie came out at the heightof Evel's fame and much of it was filmed in Butte, Montana, where the daredevil stuntman was born. The highlights of the film - besides Hamilton's over-the-top, ham-fisted but effective performance - have to be the real archive footage of Evel Knievel, including even the infamous jump/wipeout at Caesar's Palace on Christmas Eve, 1967. And, of course, the freeze-frame ending with that glorious jump over the Grand Canyon! See also Scott Huffines' tribute this film in his "Scott's Obsessions" episode of Atomic TV.

Watch George Hamilton's inspiring "Evel Knievel" speech:

The Curious Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird (1953)
directed by Paul Grimault

This Digiview release is the English-dubbed U.S. version of the 1953 French film La Begere et la Ramoneur (also known in the UK as The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep) by the French animator freres Paul and Pierre Grimault. It features great British voice work from Denholm Elliot, Claire Bloom (Anouk Aimee was the voice in the French version!) and Peter Ustinov as the title character, Mr. Wonderbird. It allegedly had a great influence on the founders of Japan's Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki (who references the film in The Castle of Cagliostro and The Castle in the Sky) and Isao Takahata.

In his IMDB review, Iconophoric comments, "Imagine discovering a prime Disney feature from their hot 1937-1947 period moldering in the dollar bin, unheralded, let slip into public domain. That's the thrill-- and sadness-- you get from just a few minutes of this obscure French cartoon from 1952." Iconographic goes on to say: "I have heard it said that this film...was an influence on some fine anime directors, and I don't doubt it. It's surreal, sweet and beautiful. It's a pity this film has wound up teetering on the edge of extinction. It is one of the most unique, witty, stylish and strange cartoons you will ever see. It's nothing less than a masterpiece of world animation, deserving more exposure and respect. I would hope KINO or the Criterion Collection will get a presentable copy of this together for posterity; a full restoration isn't too much to ask for this film."

In 1966, Paul Grimault retrieved the rights and negatives of the 62-minute 1953 film, redrew existing scenes, and added new footage; this new, digitally restored 87-minute version was released in France in 1980 as Le Ro iet l'oiseau (The King and the Mockingbird) and won the Prix Louis Delluc award. Unfortunately, this expanded French version remains unavailable in the U.S.

I'm a Boy with a Problem

You'd think 30 DVDs would be more than enough to hold me, but I'm a boy with a problem: I'm a cinemaniac - a vidiot-savant who just can't stop accumulating cheap DVDs!

Boy with a Problem: Too Much Stuff!

To make matters worse, two days later I went to the Rainbow Car Wash on German Hill Road in Dundalk to get my car cleaned (after three years of neglect, it was time!) and while waiting for my car to pass through spotted...more DVDs! What a collection! They had used copies of titles like the Mexican cult horror classic Brainiac for a mere $5. Thank God I already owned that one (I recall using clips from it on an old Atomic TV episode, "Mexican Mayhem Madness"), but I simply could not resist picking up Buster Keaton's The Saphead (1920) for a fiver!

I'd be a sap to pass this one up!

OK, maybe The Saphead (1920) wasn't directed by Buster Keaton, but it does represent his first feature film starring role - the one that established him as a star in his own right and not just a sidekick stuntman in Fatty Arbuckle two-reelers. Good thing I passed on getting a wax job - I think a Kino Video remastered classic is a better investment in the long run.

Chin up! You'll get through your screeners!

Big Lotta Love

But further down the road a trip to the Merritt Boulevard Giant to buy some spotted dick (no, it's not some Michael Jackson memorabilia - it's that sponge pudding the Brits eat) meant passing by the Big Lots store and - resistance was futile. These were not dollar DVDs, but the more pricey $3 variety - still about the price of a draft beer and the pleasure lasts longer. And while Big Lot has its share of dreck (countless copies of Gigli are always on hand), there are a number of real finds to be found here. My scores there were:

I Walked With a Zombie (1943)/The Body Snatcher (1945)
A Val Lewton Horror Double Feature
(WEA/Warner Bros.)

Given current events with the tragedy in Haiti, how could I resist picking up Jacque Tourneur's Haitian voodoo classic I Walked With a Zombie? It was surely kismet. This was the film where I discovered Lewton favorite Theresa Harris...

Theresa Harris

...a beautiful African-American actress who, even when playing maids, never was written as subserviant but always shown with dignity and as an equal - especially in the pre-Code Baby Face, where she's not just Barbara Stanwyck's maid but her friend as well. Harris was somewhat of a Tourneur regular, also turning up as sassy waitress Minnie in Tourneur's Cat People (1942) and also Out Of The Past (1947). But she was probably best known as Josephine, the object of Eddie "Rochester" Anderson's affections in the Jack Benny film Buck Benny Rides Again (1940). The Harris and Anderson pairing clicked so well that they were reteamed in the same roles in another Benny comedy, Love Thy Neighbor (1940).

Plus even better is Boris Karloff in Robert Wise's The Body Snatcher, which is based on Robert Louis Stevenson's story.

Creature Comforts America - The Complete First Season (2008)

Creature Comforts America is a series from the creators of Wallace & Gromit and the original UK series Creature Comforts. Like the Brit version, "Everyday people" are interviewed on various topics and then their interviews are turned into animated interviews with strange creatures. The series aired on CBS, but only three of its six episodes aired before the show was pulled. All of the episodes, including the unaired ones, were aired on the Animal Planet channel in April and May 2008. My friend Cody worked on this and loved the experience, so I had to pick it up to see what all the fuss was about.

Funny Games (2007)
directed by Michael Haneke
(Warner Home Video)

Michael Haneke's American remake ofhis own film with Naomi Watts and Tim Roth. Worth a look.

Living In Oblivion (1995)
directed by Tom DiCillo
(Sony Pictures Classics)

Cult film that airs frequently on the Sundance Channel...a darkly comic indie film looking at the darkly comic world of indie filmmaking, with just about every filmmaking "type" sent up, spoofed, and hoisted on their own petard. And what a cast - Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener ( a personal fave!), Dermot Mulroney, the always-excellent James LeGros, and little person Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent, Death at a Funeral), a mini-me man who can act alongside the best of the big boys.

Innocent Blood (1992)
directed by John Landis

A vampire flick with Don Rickles! I love this film, which is one of the better vampire comedies and stars a very sexy Anne Parillaud fresh off her breakthrough turn in La Femme Nikita (1990). I've never forgotten vix-vamp Marie (Parillaud) explaining her omnivore's poly-palate taste for blood ("Some nights you feel like having Chinese, other nights Italian") or the scene where mobster Robert Loggia bashes comedian Don Rickles' head in with a phone - for some reason it always makes me laugh and I think the only thing that would top it would have been having Loggia screaming Rickles' trademark zinger "Hello Dummy!" while beating his brains out!

Bitter Moon (1992)
Directed by Roman Polanski
(New Line Home Video)

I have it on tape somewhere, but it's a Polanski with his then hottie tottie partner Emmanuelle Seigner (Frantic), plus Kristen Scott Thomas, Hugh Grant, and Peter Coyote. Amy hates this movie ("Ugh! All the characters are horrible and bitter and - oh I hate that movie!") and while it's not his best...still...Emmanuelle Seigner!.

Emmanuelle Seigner: Hard to resist

Somewhere in my long dormant libido's archives I recall being aroused by her garters-and-stockings seduction scene, which is well-worth three bucks.

The Spirit of '76 (1990)
directed by Lucas Reiner
written by Roman Coppola & Lucas Reiner
(Warner Home Video)

David Cassidy, Lief Garrett, Devo and Redd Kross all in one movie? Plus Olivia d'Abo? Essential! I already own this kookie back-to-the-future-style cult flick, but had to grab this extra copy as a potential stocking stuffer for my friends who are as yet unenlightend to its wonders. The highlight for me is seeing the McDonald brothers, Jeffrey and Steve, from Redd Kross do their Southern Cal airhead schtick. Bonus: Great '70s soundtrack (naturally!) highlighted by Redd Kross' "1976" and my beloved Dickies doing "Spirit of '76."

And there you have it, pop culture voyeurs: the confessions of a consumate conspicuous consumer who is now feeling a sort of Hipster Buyer's Remorse in the wake of the Haiti earthquake tragedy (full disclosure: I sent an immediate relief donation in) and my silly, non-essential purchases. Now I know the depths of self-loathing that surely Jeffrey Dahmer must have felt when, sated after the thrill of the hunt and the rush of a score, he saw the fruits of his labors staring at him on the leftovers shelf of his fridge.

Still, 38 movies for $56 bucks ain't too bad a deal in today's economy. (And I won't even mention the movies I picked up from Criterion during their 50%-off sale over the holidays, which are still shrink-wrapped and starring at me in my towering DVDs-To-Watch pile that stops just short of the ceiling...)

Damn. And just this morning an Amazon package arrived, containing the long unavailable Japanese comedy Supermarket Woman (Supa no onna, 1996), starring the charming Nobuko Miyamoto, which completes my Juzo Itami collection. Must! Stop! Now!

Stimulating the economy one DVD at a time

Related Links:
I'll Buy That for a Dollar! (Accelerated Decrepitude)
Tom's Big Score (Accelerated Decrepitude)
Cheap DVDs (Accelerated Decrepitude)

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