Budd Boetticher, one of the most neglected of American auteurs, gets some much overdue respect with the marvelous box set The Films of Budd Boetticher, a collection of five features starring Randolph Scott and produced by Scott’s production company. The films are not exactly B-movies but they are lean productions, shot on 18-days schedules and small budgets, and not a one of them breaks 80 minutes. In a few of the most urban theaters they might have played bottom of a double bill, but most everywhere else these films were sold on the strength of star Randolph Scott and his track record as a reliable western star. Boetticher took the “limitations” of his stiff, craggy star and turned them into essential elements of his characters, a hard, inexpressive man at home on a horse and in the wilderness, a survivor with few words and no wasted actions. When he moved, it meant something.
The earliest film in the set, The Tall T (1957) is also one of the best and a genuine western classic, with a tiny central cast and vivid characters carved out of the rogues gallery, especially Richard Boone as the charming but ruthless gangleader. Burt Kennedy, who first worked with Budd Boetticher on Seven Men From Now, writes the perfectly tuned, beautifully austere script and Boetticher matches it with a style stripped of all flourish and focused in on the tensions and dynamics that play out in the hostage situation.
The set includes the offbeat black comedy Buchanan Rides Alone and the grim Decision at Sundown (all mastered to fit the 16×9 frame) along with his widescreen classics Ride Lonesome and Comanche Station, both scripted by Kennedy and set in the almost abstract nowhereland of the desert. The latter films, like The Tall T, are lean stories about men on the dangerous, inhospitable frontier, and they stand next to the greatest works of Anthony Mann and John Ford.
Read my DVD review on MSN here.
Also new this week is the cult sci-fi show The Starlost, famously created by Harlan Ellison and Ben Bova, who took their name of the project when they saw what the budget-starved Canadian project turned into. Or at least Ellison did, turning to the pseudonym “Cordwainer Bird” for creator and script credits. Bova’s name stuck as science adviser, much to his chagrin in a show that pointedly ignored all his science advice. Keir Dullea (of 2001 fame) stars as a kind of flower child peacenik who rebels against his repressive agrarian culture (a cross between an Amish village and a religious cult) and the dictatorial leader (guest star sterling Hayden) and discovers his enclosed society is really a sealed pod on a giant crewless space ark that has drifted off course. It’s sort of like Star Trek, except all the new life and new civilizations are discovered in the many sealed pods on this ship, which Dullea and his companions (Gay Rowan and Robin Ward) explore on a scavenger hunt to find the lost secrets of the science and engineering needed to put the ship back on course. The Canadian series was shot on videotape and filled with primitive video blue-screen effects, which are more endearing than convincing, and was shown in the U.S. on NBC in 1973 until it was cancelled. The four disc set features all 16 episodes, most of which have not been seen in syndication for decades. the DVD review is featured in the DVD column’s TV section.
Here’s a digest of the other DVD releases featured on my MSN column:
… a no-frills train ride through the isolated wilderness of the Siberian winter, where they get tangled with drug smugglers (Eduardo Noriega as a charming cad who tempts former wild child Mortimer) and a corrupt Russian narcotics detective (Ben Kingsley). Brad Anderson, who co-wrote as well as directed, makes effective use of the beautiful and unforgiving desolation of the setting. It’s a little sloppy and full of convenient coincidences, but at its best roils with edgy character tensions.
TV: Primeval: Volume One from Britain, Reaper: Season 1 from the U.S., and Spin City: The Complete Season 1, which brought Michael J. Fox back to the small screen and the sitcom format:
It was developed for Fox by Gary David Goldberg, the man who made Fox a star in Family Ties, but its inspiration was largely Fox’s role in The American President. Along with the downsizing from feature to sitcom comes a wacky city government staff (Richard Kind, Michael Boatman, Alan Ruck, Connie Britton and Alexander Chaplin) and a doofus of a mayor (Barry Bostwick). It’s a crack cast and a tight ensemble and Fox is perfect as the charming operator running the show behind the scenes with a quip and a grin.
Bob Clark’s adaptation of Jean Shepherd’s novel “’In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” wasn’t a hit when it was first released, but Clark tapped into nostalgia and childhood remembrance so well that it has become one of the best loved Christmas movies of all time via video and TV.
“Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” So growls astronaut Charlton Heston, who returns from a centuries-long space journey to land on a distant planet ruled by apes who use a primitive race of humans for experimentation and sport in the original Planet of the Apes. Franklin J. Schaffner directs Rod Serling’s adaptation of the novel by Pierre Boulle and Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans and James Whitmore co-star under latex masks and fur body suits. It remains a striking, exciting classic of late 1960s science fiction, a kick-ass adventure with a bizarre but cleverly conceived vision of an alternate reality, unnerving percussion-heavy score by Jerry Goldsmith, and a legendary climax that never fails to provide a final kick.
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