#113 - Holy Diver

Dedicated To
Ronnie James Dio
1942 - 2010

Added 5/17/10

Bad news for you this week, film fans. I don’t have any reviews of new theatrical releases to offer. I could blame myself but instead I think I’ll blame Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe for making a movie that completely failed to make me want to see it on any level. I’ll probably catch up with Robin Hood on home video and if I’m wrong about it, I’ll certainly plaster a big old “mea culpa” across the Electric Theatre’s marquee. But man oh man, does that thing look like a gloomy plod through two-and-a-half of the most boring hours of my life.

Instead, let’s turn our attention briefly toward the Electric Theatre’s Facebook page and a little feature I introduced awhile back called JET’s Most Wanted: Forgotten Films Not Available On DVD. If you’ve already joined our little group, you’re familiar with this. Every day, I spotlight one of the hundreds of movies still awaiting DVD release in R1 (some of the titles have been released in other parts of the world and I try to note those when available). Some of them come from my own personal wish list, others have been suggested by you folks. There’s something for everybody, from Oscar-winning classics to obscure cult flicks.

Amazingly enough, in the short time I’ve been doing this, several of JET’s Most Wanted have either been released or announced. And we’re hoping to get the ball rolling on several other titles, as well. Since Facebook’s blink-and-you-miss-it news feed isn’t very conducive to making announcements, I thought I’d present a quick roundup of Most Wanted picks that have now been captured on DVD.

DreamChild – Dennis Potter’s underrated take on Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland features amazing puppetry from the Jim Henson studios and outstanding performances by Ian Holm as the Reverend Charles Dodgson and Coral Browne as the elderly Alice who inspired the tales. Directed by Gavin Millar, MGM has released this 1985 film on DVD-R as part of their burn-on-demand arrangement with Amazon.com.

Cold Turkey – The one and only feature film credit from TV legend Norman Lear, this 1971 comedy boasts an all-star cast (including Dick Van Dyke, Bob Newhart, Tom Poston, Bob & Ray, and Edward Everett Horton in his final film) in the hilarious and ahead-of-its-time tale of a small Iowa town that accepts an evil tobacco company’s challenge to quit smoking for thirty days. A very funny movie, now available on DVD-R thanks to MGM and Amazon.

Crack In The World – Dana Andrews stars in this 1965 sci-fi disaster flick as a scientist attempting to tap the energy of the Earth’s core by detonating a thermonuclear device. Now I’m nowhere near as wise as Dana Andrews but the consequences of such a move seem pretty dire to me. Thanks to a licensing arrangement with Paramount, Olive Films will be bringing Crack to DVD on July 27.

The Fiendish Plot Of Dr. Fu Manchu – Peter Sellers’ final film casts him as both the notorious Dr. Fu Manchu and his arch-nemesis, Dennis Nayland Smith. Sellers also directed much of the film himself, although original director Piers Haggard receives sole screen credit. Not a particularly good movie, unfortunately, but where else will you see Sellers, Helen Mirren and Sid Caesar together? Warner Archive has Fu Manchu on tap for their on-demand collection as of May 18.

Metalstorm: The Destruction Of Jared-Syn – Those of you that remember the last time 3-D was the next big thing may recall that Charles Band, founder of Full Moon Pictures, helped lead the charge with such one-dimensional 3-D flicks as Parasite and, of course, Metalstorm. Believe it or not, Universal is bringing Jared-Syn to DVD on August 3. Like Avatar, no doubt they are holding off on the big 3-D Blu-ray version for the time being.

The Docks Of New York – A silent classic from Josef von Sternberg and one of the most visually impressive movies you’ll ever see. This 1928 gem will be released by Criterion on August 24 as part of the 3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg box set, along with Underworld and The Last Command.

With studios cutting back on their catalog releases, it’s especially gratifying to see some of these elusive titles finally making their way to disc. Keep an eye on JET’s Facebook page for many more Most Wanted titles…and with a little luck, more announcements of long-awaited movies coming to DVD.


The Great Silence

Ask just about anybody who the greatest spaghetti western filmmaker of all time is and you’ll probably hear the name Sergio Leone ten times out of ten. There’s no denying that Leone’s contributions to the genre are indelible classics. But ask who the number two spot belongs to and you’ll probably just get blank stares from all but the most devoted of movie lovers. Personally, I think a convincing argument could be made for Sergio Corbucci. Like many Italian filmmakers, Corbucci worked in a wide range of genres, making a big impact on the western throughout the 60s and 70s with such movies as Navajo Joe, Companeros and, most notably, the original Django starring Franco Nero. The Great Silence, released in 1968, might just be his best film, almost rivaling the work of the great Leone himself.

Jean-Louis Trintignant stars as Silence, a mute gunslinger who drifts from town to town avenging the loss of loved ones. He arrives in a snowbound Utah town along with the new sheriff (Frank Wolff) and Loco, a bounty killer played to sneering perfection by Klaus Kinski. Vonetta McGee plays the widow of one of Loco’s most recent kills. She hires Silence to get rid of him. But Loco knows his reputation and refuses to allow himself to be drawn into a fight. Meanwhile, the sheriff wants to rid the town of bounty killers as well, only he wants to do it according to the law.

The western can be a very conventional genre. Even the best examples thrive on familiar settings, characters and plot points. The Great Silence surprises at every turn. Very few westerns take place during the winter and almost none use snow, ice and freezing temperatures as well as Corbucci. You feel the cold and isolation everywhere, whether it’s seeing horses struggle through impossibly deep snow banks or just through the authentic-looking furs and hats the characters are draped in. Trintignant is impressive, especially considering he doesn’t utter a single word throughout the picture. Kinski is even better, a calculating, cold-blooded sociopath who sees murder as a business. Once the main characters are assembled, you may think you know where the movie is headed. Think again. This is one of the most relentlessly grim westerns you’ll ever see and it offers no guarantees about who will make it out the other end unscathed.

With a memorable score by Ennio Morricone as the cherry on top, Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence emerges as one of the finest westerns of the 60s and a film primed for rediscovery. Unfortunately, none of the available DVDs are quite perfect. If you can, track down the Fantoma release. It offers the best image quality, although the English-dubbed soundtrack isn’t great. Until an ultimate edition comes along with the Italian audio, it’ll have to do. However you end up seeing it, The Great Silence will surpass all your expectations. (* * * ½)

Thanks to Brian DeLeon for this week’s TFTQ recommendation! Don’t forget to pass along your suggestions of underrated and rarely seen movies for TFTQ, as well as movies that have yet to see the light of the digital age for JET’s Most Wanted. In an ideal world, today’s entry in JET’s Most Wanted will become tomorrow’s Tale From The Queue. We can dream, can’t we?

Your pal,

Jahnke's Electric Theater

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