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Vault Dweller: Quint checks out MGM's archive releases! Lee Marvin! Robert Wise! Roy Scheider! Oliver Reed! William Shatner! Gregory Peck!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a little new column that I hope becomes a monthly staple here called Vault Dweller. I’m a little obsessed about DVD/Blu-Ray collecting. I think anybody of my generation can understand the joy of actually owning a ton of movies, realizing that childhood movie geek dream of having your own video store.

With DVDs being as cheap as they are today, it’s easy to have a Blockbuster in your house (and with the amount of Blockbusters closing and liquidating their stock you may literally have a Blockbuster library in your living room). I was always a Mom & Pop video store fan myself because you could always find the weirdest shit… and let’s face it, independent video stores had a much cooler horror section than the chains did, right?

I think that’s why I go cuckoo for all the big studios with giant libraries embracing the “Burn on Demand” specialty labels. Warner Bros pioneered this with their fantastic Warner Archive line, Universal has released a few goodies (like the Michael Caine starrer Gambit) in their Universal Vault line and now MGM’s massive library is starting to be tapped.

While Warner Archive is the king of the hill, MGM’s Limited Edition Collection seems eager to catch up, releasing something like 20-ish titles per month.

I was contacted about looking at a few MGM titles for review and I responded that I’d rather do a big round up of every release, kind of like Harry’s DVD column, but posted monthly, not weekly; a rundown of all the titles that are making their way out of the MGM archive; the good, the bad and the ugly. I’ll do my best to note the quality of the transfers, a big factor in dropping premium prices on these obscure titles.

For now this is just an MGM Limited Edition Collection round up, but perhaps Vault Dweller will begin covering Columbia, Warner Archive and Universal Vault titles in the future as well. That’s a whole lotta movies, but this has been a lot of fun. I’m up for the challenge!

So, let’s take a look at a complete rundown of everything MGM in their March releases (the April titles are just now shipping)!

 

 

 

RETURN FROM THE ASHES (1965)

Holy shit, this movie is awesome! Directed by Cape Fear and The Guns of Navarone director J. Lee Thompson Return From the Ashes starts off on a noisy, crowded train. A haggard woman sits blank faced as a little boy keeps kicking the wall. Everyone in her compartment seems annoyed, but not willing to say anything. The mother tries to bribe the child. “Will you stop if I give you another chocolate bar?” “Maybe,” he says, kicking away. Then he starts fumbling with an emergency release on the door and before anyone can make a move the door swings open and the child falls to his death from the moving train. Chaos erupts, the mother’s wailing and everybody is up in arms. Everybody except the haggard woman, still staring blankly off into nothing. We see she is rundown, hair streaked gray… and she has a number tattooed onto her arm.

That woman is Dr. Michele Wolf (Ingrid Thulin). She has been newly freed from a concentration camp and is returning home to her husband, a brilliant chess player named Stanislaus (Maximilian Schell). We get a flashback of them meeting and the first act seems to be a period drama of two interesting people meeting and falling love as the Nazis invade France, but that’s not the whole movie… not by a long shot. The overall picture is a thriller, more of a big budget version of an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode as Thulin returns to find her husband has now shacked up with her estranged daughter, played by the delectable Samantha Eggar. Everybody is a little nuts in this movie. Schell is a slimeball, but a charming one, Eggar is oddly bloodthirsty and Thulin is intelligent, but seemingly blind to the kind of man she’s in love with. The great Herbert Lom comes into the story as a co-worker that obviously has feelings for Thulin and the poor bastard has to sit back and watch Schell take advantage of her love for him.

The script by Julius J. Epstein is fantastic, full of great wit, suspense and dialogue… which shouldn’t be a big surprise as Epstein also wrote Casablanca and Arsenic and Old Lace. The performances are outstanding, the black and white photography brilliantly sharp and the direction by J. Lee Thompson top notch. The whole is a tad uneven, to be honest, but as the story switched gears from drama to romance to mystery to thriller I was with it the whole way.

Transfer: I’d love a Blu-Ray quality remaster, but this widescreen transfer was obviously taken from a very nice, sharp 35mm source.
 

 

 

THE EXPLOSIVE GENERATION (1961)

This release was actually the first disc I popped in. On the surface it was everything I was looking for in my first time… A pre-Trek William Shatner plays a cool teacher who talks to his high school students as adults, not kids, and invites them to write about whatever’s on their minds. What’s on their minds, of course, is sex and he allows them to start that conversation, assigning them to write anonymous papers on their feelings of the pressures of puberty. They do, parents freak out and the school is pressured to fire him, causing the students to protest. For my first time I was hoping this title would make it a special night. Instead of incense and candles, The Explosive Generation showed up sloppy drunk and just rammed it in. Shitty movie, with black and white cinematography that would look more at home in an episode of Leave It To Beaver instead of a theatrical feature. It’s interesting to see Patty McCormack (playing a good seed this time) and a very young Beau Bridges and Shatner’s at his serious-acting best here, but the movie is a drag. Not only that, but there are shots where the film equipment is blatantly in frame, Ed Wood style. The filmmakers didn’t give a shit, they were just cashing in on the teenage rebel craze. There’s nothing outstanding about this film and a lot downright horrible. There’s a reason this one is obscure.

Transfer: Solid.
 

 

 

BILLY TWO HATS (1974)

Gregory Peck did a few westerns as his career wound down, one of my favorites being the western thriller The Stalking Moon that feels more like an Old West Horror Movie than your typical white hat/black hat gunslinger flick. This was my first time even hearing of Billy Two Hats and I found it interesting if not wholly successful. Peck plays an outlaw with a half-Indian son being hunted by lawmen even dirtier than he is (Jack Warden and the Big Lebowski himself David Huddleston). There’s a charm to this movie, but the melodrama is thick and heavy, especially between Peck and Desi Arnaz Jr. Now, I don’t hate melodrama, but you’ve gotta have a pretty high sugar tolerance to fully embrace this flick. If not there’s always Peck being a Scottish gunslinger, greedy Indians and Santa Claus from Santa Claus: The Movie wielding a giant ass old school style sniper rifle.

Transfer: Very solid widescreen presentation, good color. Looks like a typical library DVD release from the early aughts. Not hugely restored, but a good quality transfer.
 

 

 

COHEN & TATE (1989)

Screenwriter Eric Red followed up the success of Near Dark (which Kathryn Bigelow directed, of course) with this directorial effort starring Roy Scheider and Adam Baldwin. From the title I guessed it was some kind of buddy cop movie, but it turned out to be a dark hitman thriller. Roy Scheider plays badass very well and is a cold, calm and collected veteran hitman. He is partnered with a young gun, a borderline psychopath (Baldwin), on a job to kill a family in witness protection and bring the 9 year old kid back to his bosses. Scheider and Baldwin do the job in the first 5 minutes and the rest of the flick is them taking the kid on the road. If the child actor wasn’t so awful this could be a classic little flick, but he damn near kills the movie. Red’s script isn’t too strong either, but Scheider is glue and barely holds the movie together by sheer force of awesomeness. This one would be ripe for a remake, with a great child actor that could actually sell being smart enough to psychologically pit these two hitmen against each other on a long road trip.

Transfer: Solid, not pristine. Dirt on the film at reel changes, a slight film waver noticeable during the opening credits (white on black), but I dig that look of a real film print, so it didn’t bug me.
 

 

 

THE CAPTIVE CITY (1952)

John Forsythe stars in this early directorial effort from the legendary Robert Wise about a small town newspaperman who slowly goes about exposing organized crime in his quaint little town. The flick starts with a bang, as Forsythe and his wife are speeding away from trouble, run into a small police station and ask for an escort to DC. While waiting for the police chief to return Forsythe documents his story, speaking into a reel to reel recorder and the whole thing is shown in flashback. This was Wise’s follow-up to The Day The Earth Stood Still, which is a far superior movie, but you can still see his eye for framing and grand instinct for pacing on display here even if the whole thing is hobbled by a talk-at-the-camera soap box session of real life Senator Kefauver (who Forsythe is trying to reach alive in the film) as he preaches against the evils of organized crime. There’s nothing lifechanging about this movie, but it’s a solid little newspaper investigatory flick.

Transfer: Not outstanding, especially when it comes to sound, but it’s hardly an eyesore… don’t believe the cover info, though. The movie is standard 1.37 aspect ratio, not widescreen.
 

 

 

THE CALLER (1987)

Malcolm McDowell shows up at a lone woman’s front door one chilly night claiming a flat tire. What follows is a Sleuth-like (ie almost like a filmed play) back and forth between McDowell and Madolyn Smith. At first the cheap, cheap production value threatened to shake me loose as a viewer, but as soon as McDowell shows up I was sucked into the story… and then there’s a balls-out “What the fuck!?!” ending that pushed me from liking it to respectfully loving the balls on this production. Smith, best known by me as Chevy Chase’s wife in Funny Farm, isn’t a very good actress. Had they cast a better woman opposite McDowell and spent more than $3 on lighting/set design this could very well be a movie geeks still talk about excitedly today. As it stands, McDowell, the cat and mouse word-sparring and that crazy ending makes it worth the watch, despite its flaws. Oh, and did you know Charles Band (Puppet Master et al) produced this?

Transfer: Pan and Scan transfer looks somewhere around laserdisc quality. Is this a TV movie? I can’t tell, but if it isn’t then they obviously don’t have the right aspect ratio. Still, this is one of those forgotten movies, so I wouldn’t hold your breath for a better presentation.
 

 

 

THE GREAT SCOUT AND CATHOUSE THURSDAY (1976)

I dug this one, a comedy western featuring Lee Marvin, Strother Martin and Oliver Reed (playing a half-breed drunk, yet college educated, Indian) as partners trying to settle an old debt with the sleazy Robert Culp who robbed them of their share of a gold strike in the early 1900s. Oliver Reed is the stand out, as to be expected, but I love the trio of leading men in this one, all iconic actors in their own right. The movie itself is a bit of a mess, some of the jokes falling flat, some hitting, but not enough to save the movie from being much more than an “I liked it” kind of movie.

Transfer: One of the best widescreen transfers of any of the MGM Limited Edition titles I’ve seen. Very clear.
 

 

 

QUEEN OF HEARTS (1989)

This was a title I skipped over a few times because, to be honest, it looked boring. A period drama about an Italian family that emigrates to an English speaking country? Yeah, I’ve seen that film a few times and this one wasn’t going to feature a horse head bedmate. But I finally relented and was pleasantly surprised with a small, charming and touching little drama. It was pretty much what I expected, but I liked these people, mostly actors I don’t know, much more than I expected. Everybody involved did a fine job, but two people stood out to me: writer Tony Grisoni (his first feature script produced… he later went on to adapt Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for Gilliam and the Red Riding Trilogy) and young actor Ian Hawkes, who must have been all of 11 and provides the point of view of the ups and downs, prejudices and loves of his chaotic little family. Hawkes reminded me a whole bunch of Lukas Haas in his Lady In White/Witness days here.

Transfer: Very nice widescreen transfer.
 

 

 

COP HATER (1958)

A very young Robert Loggia stars in this noir flick about a string of cop killings in some unnamed big city. Based on an Evan Hunter/Ed McBain story this flick is a little frustrating in that there’s a lot of great, groundbreaking ideas and characters (for instance there’s a black detective that isn’t treated any differently than anybody else, something I must imagine was quite ballsy in those segregated times) but Henry Kang’s adaptation of Hunter’s story is horrible. The dialogue in particular is weak (“He wasn’t just my partner. He was my friend. We had some good times” is an example of the genius writing here), but through all that a great central performance by Loggia, who really goes batshit crazy by the end, and a nice feeling of paranoia. In another filmmaker/screenwriter’s hands this could be a classic. As it stands now there’s just enough greatness there to make you sad the whole movie doesn’t live up to its potential. Also look out for a nice performance by a young Jerry Orbach as a tough hoodlum.

Transfer: Solid.
 

 

 

THE MAN FROM DEL RIO (1956)

Anthony Quinn is the reason to watch this forgotten western. It’s a fairly unique set up, a revenge movie where the revenge is completed in the first five minutes. It’d be like starting Hang ‘Em High with Eastwood finding Ed Begley hanging from his rope and seeing what happened next for Eastwood. Quinn begins by defeating the final boss, proving himself as one of the quickest guns in the west and the rest of the movie is watching the politics of this small town as everybody tries to get a piece of this man. Quinn starts off as shy, unsure… a man with a natural gift fueled by righteous rage and we watch as he begins to believe the hype as the town’s local shady criminal type (a sleazy saloon owner played by Peter Whitney, a precursor to Al Swearengen) tries to mold this kid into his own instrument. The story is a moral tug of war where Quinn is the rope, Katy Jurado is the good side and Whitney is the bad. I also love it in movies when a powerful character has his power taken away. It happens to Roland at the beginning of The Drawing of the Three and it happens to Quinn here… just when he needs his drawing arm at full function he has his wrist broken and has to keep that a secret from the bad guys. My main complaint is that it feels like they cop out on a happy ending, when the arc of the character (and the whole story now that I think about it) feels like it’s leading to a much darker finale.

Transfer: Again, very solid DVD quality transfer.
 

 

 

NOT AS A STRANGER (1955)

Producer Stanley Kramer makes his directorial debut with this surgical drama starring Robert Mitchum as an idealistic med student turned small town doctor, Olivia de Havilland as his neglected wife and Frank Sinatra as his lazy best friend who is in the medicine game for the quick buck. There are other familiar faces, including a great one-scene performance by Lon Chaney Jr. as Mitchum’s drunk father and a very early appearance by Lee Marvin, who is kind of hard to accept as a dark-haired youngster med student. That man should always be a gray-haired wrinkled badass!

Kramer would go on to direct some incredible features and you can see early indicators of his future drama work here (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Inherit the Wind), but this damn movie is well over 2 hours long and it feels like it. Fantastic performances all around and a deadly serious (and oddly timely) look at the worst parts of our medical system keep the film from becoming a bore, but it’ll require a little more patience than it should for such a captivating story told by such talented filmmakers.

Transfer: I thought the film looked sharp, but I’m reading that the correct aspect ratio is off (1.33 instead of 1.66), but I didn’t notice anything cut off or obviously missing.
 

 

 

BODY SLAM (1986)

The guys putting together the DVD covers for these releases need to know what sells. Look at the art above… Can you tell this is an ‘80s wrestling movie? Starring Rowdy Roddy Piper? And Captain Lou Albano as the bad guy? With Dirk Benedict playing a sleaze-ball promoter loosely based on Vince McMahon? With special cameo appearances by Charles Nelson Reilly, John Astin, Rick Flair and Billy Barty. Nope, you know none of that from that cover and that’s what would actually sell copies. What the cover does represent well is that Body Slam is an incredibly dated piece of ‘80s trash cinema and not in the best meaning of that phrase. It’s actually a pretty bad movie, but fascinating in its badness. You can say a lot about this movie, but bland it is not. Directed by Smokey and the Bandit’s Hal Needham this one is for sure a curiosity; an artifact of a bygone era.

Transfer: Much better than a lost ‘80s low budget comedy like this ought to have. Nice widescreen presentation.
 

 

 

QUEEN OF BLOOD (1966)

I found this to be a very interesting, yet deadly boring entry to the cheapo sci-fi flicks of the ‘60s. On the one hand it’s beautiful; rich IB Tech colors pop out even on standard def DVD and the acting isn’t as bad as some of the other sci-fi flicks of the era, but any sort of exciting pace is non-existent thanks largely, I’d assume, to the cobbled together nature of the production. You see, the filmmakers Frankensteined some Russian sci-fi films’ effects and shot John Saxon, Dennis Hopper, Basil Rathbone and Judi Meredith around them to make something new that cost them nothing. Because of the cast, the photography and the decent design work (thanks, my red friends!) I’d give this a recommend to sci-fi fans, but don’t expect too much. Although they do have a nice cameo by Forrest J. Ackerman, so that gives then a few dozen bonus awesome points.

Transfer: The photography is vibrant and pops out of the screen. One of the best of the MGM transfers I’ve seen.
 

 

 

EDGAR ALLAN POE’S BURIED ALIVE (1990)

What a disappointment. With the production value of a bad Red Shoe Diaries episode and a bigger waste of good talent than, say, any Eddie Murphy movie of the last decade, Buried Alive is cheaper than cheap and sadly the last credit for John Carridine. The plot follows a young, shoulder-padded Karen Witter as she goes to teach at a troubled girls’ school run by Robert Vaughn. The great Donald Pleasence gives the movie a little life as a crazy German doctor and, we soon discover, ex-inmate that works at the school, but that 5 minutes of good doesn’t make the rest of the runtime worth it, I’m afraid. Outside of always dependable Pleasence and Vaughn, I can’t really compliment the rest of the actors. A young Nia Long makes an appearance, as does Arnold Vosloo… I’d be surprised if they keep this movie on their resume.

Transfer: If the movie wasn’t bad enough, this is a pan and scan transfer for a movie shot 1.85. Color and clarity wasn’t an issue, but with the aspect ratio issue I’d rank it slightly better than VHS-on-DVD.
 

 

 

THE MURDER OF MARY PHAGAN (1988)

I put this one off for a long time. It’s easy to do when you look at the runtime. The Murder of Mary Phagan isn’t a movie, it’s a mini-series, so it pushes 236 minutes. That’s a commitment, so I kept moving it to the bottom of the stack, only to finally snuggle in one night and put it in the ol’ DVD player. And it’s fantastic. Set at the turn of the century in rural Georgia, this real life court case is fascinating, tragic and heroic all at once. The cast is incredible, with Jack Lemmon as the Governor of the state, Peter Gallagher turning in perhaps his best performance as the accused child-murderer Leo Frank, Kevin Spacey as the town reporter, Paul Dooley as detective William Burns, Robert Prosky as the man who pulls the political strings in the state, Charles S. Dutton as an unreliable witness, Dylan Baker as Lemmon’s assistant and a young Cynthia Nixon as another material witness.

Split into two parts, essentially two different trials, this courtroom drama is one of the best I’ve seen. The filmmakers (including writer Larry McMurtry) put you in the shoes of the angry townspeople when this sweet little girl is murdered. You see the sweaty, kinda creepy Peter Gallagher and instantly think he’s the murderer. I say smart because the rest of the mini-series questions his guilt. By starting us on the side of the mob, when we begin seeing the evidence not really stacking up we’re taken on a journey ourselves, from sure of his guilt to sure of his innocence.

The only reason this title isn’t my pick of the bunch is because upon doing some research I’ve found that MGM’s “best materials available” apparently is missing 20 minutes of what originally aired. I didn’t notice a gap, but it’s a bit difficult to recommend as the best title of the bunch when it’s not complete. I can say what is there is splendid, with some brilliant performances especially from Lemmon, Gallagher, Spacey and Dutton. Should be a must watch for anybody with even a passing interest in real life crime cases or courtroom dramas.

Transfer: I imagine this is as good as the material could look. It is an ‘80s TV movie, so the production value has its limits. Presented in its original 1.33 aspect ratio and sharp for a TV movie, but still lit like one.
 

 

 

THE BLACK SLEEP (1956)

This one is shocking and not just for its time. The ending of the movie, like many of this time period, comes at a rush, almost feeling as if there is a reel missing somewhere, but when it hits it’ll surprise you with its brutality. Here you have a mad scientist story, a brain surgeon played by Basil Rathbone testing open brain surgery on his victims as a way to better understand the human brain so he can operate on his comatose wife without turning into a raging monster. Horror icons Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson and Lon Chaney Jr. play his previous victims, forever altered by his probings. For instance, Lugosi can’t speak, Johnson is blind and Chaney’s brain has been so damaged that he’s not much more than a hulking brute.

The main plot line, following Herbert Rudley and Patricia Blair is the least interesting part of the movie (much like another overlooked b/w horror flick THE BLACK CAT), but it’s very much in tone, style and production value a match to the greats of the previous decade of horror. It is a little sad seeing Lugosi so run down and near the end, though. The only film he’s credited with after this one is Plan 9 From Outer Space and we know he died very early on in the shooting of that picture, replaced by the dentist with a similar brow. Overall, though, a nifty forgotten black and white shocker.

Transfer: Very solid, from an original negative I’d wager. Definitely not a dupe transfer.
 

 

 

A COLD WIND IN AUGUST (1961)

Uuuggghhh. This one was tough to sit through. I’m sure it was shocking in its day, but this story of a middle aged divorcee seducing her landlord’s 17 year old son would come off as creepy and edgy if the son wasn’t played by Scott Marlowe, who was pushing thirty when they shot this. Now it just comes off as silly. The Graduate this is not, all melodrama with none of the personality. Lola Albright hams it up big time and isn’t vicious enough or likeable enough to pull off this role.

Transfer: Much like the movie itself, the transfer is acceptable if unspectacular.
 

 

 

FORT MASSACRE (1958)

Now this was one fun B-western. In fact, it almost feels like a Romero film. If you took the Apaches and replaced them with zombies you’d get a film that would fit comfortably in Romero’s Dead universe. Basically we come into this story mid-stream as a column of cavalrymen narrowly escape an Apache attack leaving an undependable sergeant in charge, played by Joel McCrea. They are deep in Apache territory, out of supplies and many days journey to the safety of the closest fort. McCrea makes a series of questionable decisions. For instance, attacking a group of Apache warriors camping at a watering hole (picture zombies around a grocery store and the humans are starving in the alternate horror version of this film). Is he making these choices out of necessity or because of a deep hatred for all Native Americans? Or both?

Like most great B-movies, this one tackles a bunch of heavy issues, including blinding racism and the evils that are allowed to happen due to indecision and complacency, while being a fun thrill ride.

Transfer: The MGM guys need to get some better cover art for this one… for one, it’s a Cinemascope De luxe color western and the cover makes it look black and white… They might sell a few more copies if the cover showed that and was a bit more dynamic. The aspect ratio is preserved, the color is strong and there’s a little film debris (an occasional scratch, dust spots), but nothing too distracting.
 

 

 

DAUGHTERS OF SATAN (1972)

Daughters of Satan is Filipinosploitation junk, but it has lots of ‘70s boobs, Tom Selleck’s mustache and Vic Diaz in it, so it’s not all bad. Yeah, Tom Selleck is in this movie, something you couldn’t tell by the cover on the DVD. Not only is he in this schlocky witch movie, he’s pretty much the star. There are a lot of exploitation pictures set in and around the Philippines in the ‘70s due to their dirt cheap labor and scenic locals and this isn’t among the best (The Muthers is my favorite), but Selleck actually brings some charisma to the movie as a rich white dude, some kind of professor who apparently never works, who stumbles across an old painting of three witches being burned at the stake and the witch in the middle looks eerily like his wife. He buys the painting, takes it home and soon the witch power stuff starts. Gotta give the filmmakers credit for predating The Omen and The Exorcist. Lord knows there was a glut of low-rent Satanic themed knockoffs of those movies after they came out. The flick is about as cheap as you can get. At one point Tom Selleck uses a hammer obviously made out of tin foil. Don’t ask me why they couldn’t get a real hammer for the scene… maybe they were outlawed in the Philippines? Filipino character actor Vic Diaz does make an appearance, a nice familiar face for any exploitation lovers out there, but he doesn’t do much. Overall, mediocre, but interesting for all of its faults. Feels like the kind of movie you’d see on a random Weird Wednesday screening at The Alamo Drafthouse.

Transfer: As solid as you’d hope for from a 39 year old cheap-o exploitation movie. Widescreen presentation is preserved and color is good. Not too many digital artifacts.
 

BEST OF THE BUNCH:

 

 

 

THE AMBULANCE (1990)

I figure I’ll close each of these columns highlighting my favorite of the litter. Of this month’s releases THE AMBULANCE wins hands down as the most crazy, odd, fun what-the-fuck-am-I-watching release. It stars Eric Robert’s crazy mullet (with Roberts himself co-starring) as a Marvel comic book artist who sees a cute girl on his way into work every day and finally decides to turn up the charm and make a move. Unfortunately for him he waits just long enough to witness her abduction by a mad doctor trying to study diabetics in order to come up with some crazy cure. By study, of course, he means kidnap and murder. For science!

Roberts spends the movie hunting down this old Ghostbusters looking ambulance with glowing neon lime green light inside and as he does so he finds help in a funny old newspaperman (the fantastic Red Buttons), a suicidal, mentally disturbed gum-chewing detective (James Earl Jones) and there’s even a more-than-cameo appearance by Marvel’s own Mickey Mouse, Mr. Stan Lee.

Directed by genre fave Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, The Stuff, Q – The Winged Serpent) this movie is so cheesy it might grow mold if left in the open air for too long, but it’s such a goddamn good time I didn’t mind. James Earl Jones is flat out awesome in the flick, Buttons is great, Roberts is so horribly over-the-top that you just gotta accept it and the whole thing is just a blast to watch. And you get to see Eric Roberts somehow survive being hit by the title character, like, 17 times over the course of the movie. So good!

Transfer: Stronger than you’d expect for a title like this.
 

The MGM Limited Collector’s Edition releases so far feel very much like the early Warner Archive releases in that the transfers ranged from acceptable to good, the cover art leaves some room for improvement and the title selection is hit and miss. But you know what, even the misses are fascinating… Going through these releases is kind of like going through garage sales… everything has personality and occasionally you stumble across some genuine treasure, like The Ambulance or The Murder of Mary Phagan or Return From the Ashes.

My advice to the MGM people… don’t bury the lead with the covers… Body Slam should have all the wrestlers on the cover, Fort Massacre shouldn’t make it look like a cheap black and white picture and Daughters of Satan should have Tom Selleck’s name in giant capital letters… and for the love of God, think about what you put in the description on the back. Almost every DVD has the entire plot summarized, beat by beat, including the ending. Not cool.

Other than that, I dig the variety of the titles and the overall quality of the transfers, so no more bitching from me.

For anybody obsessed with movies these vault title services are a godsend. Sure, ideally we’d get perfect remasters, bonus features and the like, but there are hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of movies out there and some titles are either going to be lost forever, residing on the island of forgotten flicks, available only on VHS or through these releases.

No movie deserves to be completely ignored, no matter how poorly made or bad it may be. Okay, maybe Uwe Boll’s movies deserve it, but almost no movie deserves to be completely ignored. The fact that there were some legitimately good films in this batch of 20 titles fires me up to search out more forgotten films. If something like Return from the Ashes is obscure and that good then what else could be out there?

Speaking of, I want to list a couple of previous MGM Limited titles that stood out to me, that I could vouch for. I haven’t seen the MGM Limited Collector’s Edition versions yet, but these titles are must-sees.

 

 

 

THE BEST MAN (1964)

Cliff Robertson and Henry Fonda are political rivals on the eve of their party’s primary, but as different as they are you could believe they’re in different parties. Robertson is cold, calculated and unscrupulous. He’ll do anything to win. Fonda is the everyman, the candidate of hope and progress. I watched this film back during the 2008 race and the similarities between Fonda and Obama were striking. It’s a fantastic political drama with two great actors knocking heads throughout. So good. You must check it out!
 

 

 

ROLLING THUNDER (1977)

I would love it if MGM spruced up this release, one of their very first movies put out on this format and one of the best, sweatiest, craziest goddamn revenge movies of the ‘70s. William Devane is a Vietnam vet who returns to his wife and family only watch them butchered in front of him and have his hand shoved down a garbage disposal. The rest of the movie has Devane recovering and plotting his revenge. When the time comes he calls upon an army buddy, Tommy Lee Jones, to go on the hunt and boy do they ever.

This is the kind of movie that deserves Blu-Ray treatment, with tons of commentaries and documentaries. I know for a fact Quentin Tarantino would record a commentary track for this movie (he named his distribution company after this film, afterall) and Devane and Tommy Lee Jones are still around kicking ass.

I find it hard to believe MGM has a better movie in their archive titles than this one and I hereby nominate it to get a full on wide-release DVD release!

 

And so I’ll leave you guys with that. I know for sure I have at least one more batch of MGM titles on their way to me, the April releases, and I hope MGM keeps them coming because they’ve just announced their May titles including films from Sam Fuller and Jacques Tourneur.

The next Vault Dweller will include films made by and starring the likes of Don Siegel, Audie Murphy, Rita Hayworth, Rex Harrison, Laurence Harvey, Jason Robards, Charlton Heston, David Niven, Lynda Carter, Jan Michael Vincent, Frank Langella and Ving Rhames.

Hope you guys enjoyed this run and will come back to check out the next one!

-Quint
quint@aintitcool.com
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  • May 13, 2011, 3:34 a.m. CST

    I remember Body Slam and The Caller!

    by Jaka

    Body Slam is terrible, from what I remember. But for some reason I have fond memories of The Caller. I love pretty much anything with Malcolm McDowell in it. Probably due to my slightly unhinged love for A Clockwork Orange. Unfortunately the quality doesn't sound quite good enough for me to drop cash on it. <p>Love this column, though, so if the "powers that be" are reading, keep sending Quint stuff to write about. Its probably the only way I'll ever pay any attention to these releases.

  • May 13, 2011, 3:45 a.m. CST

    Cheers Quint, shame i'm in the UK.....

    by Big_Bubbaloola

    As we will NEVER see most of these titles over here. Will look out for Rolling Thunder though ..... Devane! ..... Jones! ........ Revenge! Fuckin A man!

  • May 13, 2011, 3:54 a.m. CST

    Dirk Benedict

    by RedEgiraahgnal

    I saw him a few weeks ago at a convention. A great storyteller, with thousands of interesting things to say. (Unfortunately people who worked behind the scenes, said that he was a huge prick and they will never invite him again.)

  • May 13, 2011, 4:07 a.m. CST

    LIFEFORCE!!!!

    by Kirbymanly

    This film needs a blu ray release NOW!

  • May 13, 2011, 4:16 a.m. CST

    Streaming

    by Smegmasaurus_Rex

    What is preventing MGM and Warner Bros. from licensing these films to Netflix and the like?

  • May 13, 2011, 4:26 a.m. CST

    Good column, Quint

    by Vern

    These burn-on-demand DVDs have been great but there are hundreds of them, I like that you're pointing us to some good ones. ROLLING THUNDER has been at the top of my "must release on DVD" list for years. I'm so glad they finally did it even if the cover looks like a menu from iDVD. attention nerds, the Warner Archive put out a thing called "Legend of the Super Heroes" which is a live action special from the '70s where Adam West as Batman and Superman and everybody make shitty jokes about each other.

  • May 13, 2011, 5:45 a.m. CST

    Great column - off to see if i can buy several

    by filmcoyote

    Love the column Quint. You covered each film with brevity but telling me what i needed to know. I'm now off to buy about 6 of these. I look forward to the next one.

  • May 13, 2011, 5:48 a.m. CST

    Speaking of Madolyn Smith in The Caller …

    by Andy Williamson

    I too have fond memories of this film. Yes, McDowell is good as always, but I've had a crush on Madolyn Smith since she co-starred in Urban Cowboy as Pam, the woman Travolta's Bud Davis had an affair with after he split up with Sissy. THAT is her most famous role – though she was good (and gorgeous) in Funny Farm, too. Too bad this is only pan-and-scan. Though it was direct-to-video, I doubt that the original aspect ratio is 4x3. Who is the moron at these production houses who thinks people still want to pay full price for half a movie?

  • May 13, 2011, 6:27 a.m. CST

    Ollie Reed and Lee Marvin

    by Con Shonnery

    In the same movie! I wish I owned a bar near that location.

  • May 13, 2011, 6:48 a.m. CST

    The ending of The Caller...

    by jimmythesaint

    ... is exactly as fucking mental and out-of-leftfield as Quint says it is. I still believe Charles Band must have imposed it on the filmmakers. I've been eyeing up the Cohen & Tate DVD-R for a little while now, might have to take the plunge. Really like that film, and don't have any problems with Harley Cross' acting. Oh, and Rolling Thunder is getting an official DVD/Blu-Ray release here in the UK from Optimum.

  • May 13, 2011, 6:55 a.m. CST

    Awesome job Quint!

    by krod

    Please keep this column around each month.

  • May 13, 2011, 7:01 a.m. CST

    That "Body Slam" cover doesn't even make sense

    by TheHumanBeingAndFish

    I mean, just look at it - Dirk Benedict is leaning against nothing! Very strange. And yes, this would still bother me if I *were* sober.

  • May 13, 2011, 7:06 a.m. CST

    Cohen and Tate!

    by DocPazuzu

    Finally! Great movie. It astonishes me that it hasn't seen the light of day on DVD until now.

  • May 13, 2011, 7:10 a.m. CST

    Awesome column!

    by Goon Bighead

  • May 13, 2011, 7:52 a.m. CST

    Where's the Blu-ray?

    by Norm3

    Until they do Blu-rays like this count me out.

  • May 13, 2011, 8:09 a.m. CST

    Where the BLEEP is Johnny Sokko?

    by Gojira_X

    It's been a year since they announced it...

  • May 13, 2011, 9:02 a.m. CST

    Eye of the devil

    by Sprinky

    Yes it's a Warner's title and i know it's already released but with no extras. The movie always stood in the shadows of The wicker man despite being made first and i would like some more behind the scenes stuff and commentaries. Unfortunately that won't happen. :-(

  • May 13, 2011, 9:09 a.m. CST

    "No, Mr. Smirack! Korean differeeeeeent!"

    by Mr Nicholas

  • May 13, 2011, 9:19 a.m. CST

    Enjoyed this article, hope it's a mainstay on the site.

    by Jeffrey

    I didn't see anything that I wanted to buy right away, but strong feelings of nostalgia reading about some of these old films.

  • May 13, 2011, 9:28 a.m. CST

    Great column Quint.

    by The Shropshire Slasher

    I'm with you on the DVD/Blu-Ray collecting, especially obscure titles. Look forward to more installments. I loved James Earl Jones in the ambulance...man was WORKIN' that gum.

  • May 13, 2011, 9:59 a.m. CST

    Great column, Quint! And look at that list of names...

    by Mr. Nice Gaius

    ...those are some manly men. Absolute badasses.

  • May 13, 2011, 10:18 a.m. CST

    Eye Of The Devil is excellent

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    I taped it off of TCM and watched it earlier this week, and was extremely impressed. Great photography, performances and music. Better than The Wicker Man, in my opinion (which is weird and surreal, but hardly scary). Just a shame all of these "CDR" movie releases are so ridiculously expensive. I'd pull the trigger on a lot of these for ten bucks apiece, but for $20 + shipping, they're noth worth a "blind buy". If these titles were made available on Netflix and I could rent them beforehand, that'd be nice too.

  • May 13, 2011, 11 a.m. CST

    "Puhl de streeeeng! PUHL DE STREEEENG!!"

    by WriteForTheEdit

  • But they're all Rembrandts next to that "Body Slam" cover.

  • May 13, 2011, 11:17 a.m. CST

    Gotta check out "Rolling Thunder" once and for all...

    by WriteForTheEdit

    Devane is a fabulous actor and I've heard for too long how sweet this film is. And didn't realize Tommy Lee Jones was in it, too! Bonus!

  • May 13, 2011, 11:59 a.m. CST

    Great column Quint

    by UncomfortablyInLoveWithHitGirl

    This is definitely a keeper.

  • May 13, 2011, 12:01 p.m. CST

    And speaking of Rolling Thunder

    by UncomfortablyInLoveWithHitGirl

    Watching the garbage disposal scene as a kid scarred me for life. I won't put my hand near one. That movie kicks all kinds of ass.

  • May 13, 2011, 12:15 p.m. CST

    OT: AICN Extra Stuff Mod Updated--It Works Again

    by kevinwillis.net

    For those of you who use it, you might have noticed over the past few days, the comments section disappeared. Well, that's cuz they changed the underlying HTML code, so . . . Anyway, it's fixed. Come get the AICN Extra Stuff Mod here: http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/92278 Works with Firefox, Chrome, and can be made to work with Opera and Safari (I'm using it in Safari now). Includes Ignore function for irritating Talkbackers, a hilite function for favorite talkbackers, the ability to change Moderator boxes to pink (ha ha!), reverse the talkback order, reformats the Talkback to look more like it did before "the change" . . . special formatting stuff to embed images and styles (but can only be seen by other AICN Extra Stuff mod users) . . . Oh, and auto-expand--automatically displays all comment text! That's the thing I miss most when I'm not running it. Will cross-post this OT commentary in a few places, just so folks know. And I tested it with Chrome, and it was working. Let me know if you have any problems . . . Sorry for the cross-postings. I don't have a better way of getting the word out.

  • May 13, 2011, 12:38 p.m. CST

    Great Column, Quint

    by MacTard420

    I'm always interested in learning about films that seemingly slip through the cracks. I agree with the others that $20 is a little steep for a DVR copy of a flick. I think $10 would be a great price point on these and get a lot more people intrigued to blind-buy a few. Also, I agree on the Netflix point. They should really try and get these on Instant View to spread the word about them! Maybe even advertise on the Netflix description page that they are only available on disc through their 'Burn on Demand' program.

  • May 13, 2011, 1:53 p.m. CST

    that's not a photoshop

    by Vern

    That's the original Body Slam poster, although cropped a little bit. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Body_slam_poster.jpg

  • May 13, 2011, 2:18 p.m. CST

    The Best Man

    by Bloo

  • May 13, 2011, 2:19 p.m. CST

    THE BEST MAN

    by Bloo

    TCM around election time and it is really really good. The Ambulance has me intrigued, as does, sadly, Body Slame

  • May 13, 2011, 2:49 p.m. CST

    The Ambulance is AWESOME!

    by sonnyfern

    Larry Cohen is a genius I tell you! GENIUS!

  • May 13, 2011, 3:14 p.m. CST

    So many bad DVD covers

    by I am not a number

    THE BEST MAN one really annoys me, as does the flattering shot of James Earl Jones for THE AMBULANCE. He should sue. And check out that DAUGHTERS OF SATAN cover! That cover makes me want to see what that is all about.

  • May 13, 2011, 5 p.m. CST

    Rolling Thunder DVDr vs Blu

    by Glennascaul

    I think I'll pass on the burn-on-demand and wait for the bluray which hits the UK June 6th. Nice article though Quint...always interesting and always a pleasure.

  • May 13, 2011, 11:47 p.m. CST

    The Best Man

    by dukeroberts

    and The Murder of Mary Phagan are both fantastic.

  • May 14, 2011, 11:58 a.m. CST

    Excellent Column

    by Partyslammer

    Nice to read someone here write with knowledge and authority about these movies and the quality of their presentations. Now MGM needs to get "The Incredible Melting Man" out on disc!

  • May 14, 2011, 12:20 p.m. CST

    Queen Of Hearts

    by dannyocean

    is great. One of Jon Amiel's first features (after the original, British television version of "The Singing Detective"), it is a long time coming on dvd. Whenever someone gushes about "Cinema Paradiso", I point them toward this film.

  • May 15, 2011, 3:15 a.m. CST

    LIFEFORCE ON BLU-RAY

    by Gorgomel

    I second that. Mathilda May's boobs deserve to be shown in 1080P

  • May 15, 2011, 3:40 a.m. CST

    Direct URL Links to Collections...

    by Dasinfogod

    Quint, really appreciate the direct links to the Universal and Warner collections, particularly since Amazon kinda buries these series' listings. Is there a reliable all-encompassing URL for the MGM Limited Editions, too? Your column is a great idea, and it'd be great to include entries from the Sony/Columbia one, as well. The DVD-on-demand line is great for obscure titles, but because of digital delivery systems, removable media (i.e. DVD & Blu) are going the way of the dodo. I expect the first to adopt will be Universal/KableTown, since the digital delivery system is already in place and Universal seems to be hell-bent on liquidating their DVD back-catalog.

  • May 16, 2011, 12:23 p.m. CST

    Rolling thunder on blu ray

    by billm57

    available at amazon.co.uk

  • May 16, 2011, 3:27 p.m. CST

    ROLLING THUNDER on Blu, there is a god!

    by Sonny_Williams

    The last time I went searching for this flick I had to settle for a fucking EP VHS piece of shit that would have been better quality had I recorded it off of HBO myself! B movies don't get any grittier than this one; it belongs in a double feature with the original ASSAULT ON PRECINCT THIRTEEN. I need to get on Amazon and order this today!

  • May 21, 2011, 5:45 a.m. CST

    looks late a lot of fucking great b movies

    by chien_sale

    then again I don't want to go broke so i'll just rent them

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