Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the latest edition of my regular Vault Dweller column. The purpose of Vault Dweller is to compile a complete list of releases from the major studios’ Burn-On-Demand archive titles. These vault titles are often obscure, some for a reason. Some are truly lost gems. The only way to figure out which is to explore each month’s releases and take note of what I find! This column is that record.
The previous two columns have been MGM’s Limited Edition releases, but today we’re going over the great Warner Archive. Not only is Warner’s library extensive they have been in this burn-on-demand business the longest. With their success brings a little more freedom to remaster their releases and put a little more tender loving care into each title.
Below we have the animated Mr. T series and the Go-Bots mini-series for us ‘80s kids reading as well as a ton of Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Ken Russell, Twiggy, Robert Wise, Rod Serling (!!!), Le Var Burton, Jodie Foster, Glenn Ford, Cliff Robertson, Jimmy Durante, Walter Huston and more!
Hang on, lady. We’re goin’ for a ride!
Well into Paul Newman’s career, but before working with Hitchcock on Torn Curtain, The Prize is a Hitchcock movie that Hitch didn’t direct. North By Northwest’s Ernest Lehman wrote the script, so that might explain some of it. Unfortunately, Mark Robson isn’t quite the director Hitch was and this movie has a lot of fat on it, but is still quite enjoyable.
Set in Stockholm during the awarding of the Nobel prizes, Paul Newman plays an American novelist begrudgingly accepting his award (only for the $50,000 that comes with it). Newman is charming and likeable, but a bit of an irresponsible lush. Of course this lush stumbles upon a Cold War plot to replace another laureate (Edward G. Robinson) with a look-a-like who will make a declaration at the awards ceremony that will cause much strain on US/Soviet relations.
Now, knowing what the evil plan is I’m at a loss as to why the double didn’t just make this announcement and had to wait until the ceremony, but Newman is just so damn watchable that I ultimately don’t care. I do care that the movie is a 135 minutes and could easily lose half an hour without hurting the main plot, but despite being overlong and a bit iffy with its central MacGuffin it’s still a fun thrill ride with a great cast including Newman, Robinson, Elke Sommer, Leo G. Carroll and Kevin McCarthy.
Transfer: This is a nice remaster as pretty as any DVD I’ve ever seen. Bang-up job!
This early Paul Newman film is a fascinating watch. It’s a courtroom drama about the effects of psychological torture. Newman was a victim of this torture by his captors during the Korean war and buckled under it. Because this abuse didn’t leave visible scars it’s near impossible for his superiors to understand why he broke to the enemy. What’s fascinating about this movie, which Rod Serling has a “teleplay” credit for, is watching Paul Newman find his feet as a leading man.
It’s very early on in Newman’s career and he’s a far cry from the cool, naturalistic confident star that he’s known as. He goes over the top here, but you can also see the actor he’d become in some key emotional scenes.
I reviewed this movie as part of my A Movie A Day run if you want to read a longer review.
Transfer: This is another one of Warner Archive’s remastered titles and looks good, like it could be in a Paul Newman box set.
This is another title I watched in my A Movie A Day run (read that review here) and it’s a winner. Robert Wise directs this story about four New Zealand women who watch as their town becomes overrun with US soldiers during the Pacific objective during WW2. Most Kiwi men left to fight, so this influx of American men meant for a lot of quickie marriages if you know what I mean.
Paul Newman plays an army investigator who is in charge of looking into the authenticity of these marriages and Jean Simmons, Joan Fontaine, Piper Laurie and young Sandra Dee play the four sisters. Sure, their accents are weird (when they even bother to try one on), but they all give great performances.
With a great cast and a tight screenplay, this female-driven story of love, life and death is a fantastic underseen drama.
Transfer: Actually amazing. Some dirt and debris here or there, but the contrast is brilliant on this gorgeous black and white film. Probably the best burn-on-demand transfer I’ve seen yet.
I remember watching this movie on 16mm at Harry’s house way back in the day when he used to throw 16mm movie parties. It’s been a while, but the movie holds up on a rewatch. I quite like how glitzy and over-the-top Ken Russell’s love-letter to the Busby Berkeley films gets and Twiggy is an adorable lead with just enough awkwardness to really sell the character of Polly Browne, a stage assistant who is is thrown center stage when the show’s star is injured and can’t make the performance.
The choreography is the star of this particular movie, which goes from real stage-bound song and dances to huge fantasy numbers (the Berkeley ones) as the show’s director dreams what he could do with a huge budget. It’s quite a fun movie for musical lovers. Others might find it a bit grating, but who doesn’t love musicals?
Transfer: Another remastered title that looks better than I’ve ever seen this movie. Popping colors, distinct lines and no noticeable artifacting.
The romance between Robert Walker and Donna Reed keeps this generally unfunny propaganda comedy afloat for its 100+ minute runtime. Barely. Unfortunately the movie is more about the accident-prone Walker as Private Hargrove as he fumbles through basic training at Fort Bragg than the genuinely sweet and aloof romance he has with Reed. Keenan Wynn plays a conniving buddy who shows his friendship by constantly taking Walker for every dime he has. That relationship could be much funnier in a better movie, but the movie can’t decide if it’s going to be earnest or slapstick and ends up in some No Man’s Land of flat comedy between the two.
Transfer: This title isn’t restored and is more along the lines of the MGM titles… a bit hazy, but not bad. Somewhere between laserdisc and DVD in quality.
Think of this one as Police Academy: The Civil War Years. Superman’s daddy (Glenn Ford, not Brando) plays a young Union soldier that has a bit of a smirk to his personality, but is generally the straight man as he’s relegated to commanding the outcasts of the Union army. There’s a pyromaniac, a dude that smells so much like horses they all follow him when he walks past, jokesters, brawlers and nutjobs the lot. Of course, they accidentally get put in charge of securing the Union’s biggest supply of gold, something that could change the course of the war should the Confederates get their mitts on ‘em.
Ford is so likeable here it’s easy to overlook some of the flaws of the film. With him you also have Stella Stevens as a sexy Confederate spy, and familiar faces like Joan Blondell, Jim Backus (Magoo!), Melvyn Douglas and the Skipper himself, Alan Hale Jr. The flick’s not always successful, but it has a very easy air to it and the jokes that work are gangbusters, so it’s worth digging up. And I wasn’t kidding with that Police Academy comparison. It really does feel like a precursor to those films… and, God help me, Glenn Ford’s Captain Jared Heath is comparable to Steve Guttenburg’s Mahoney. I probably just broke some cinephile rule comparing Glenn Ford to Steve Guttenburg, but watch this movie and tell me there aren’t similarities!
Transfer: Another remastered title, for sure DVD quality.
Steve McQueen followed up The Magnificent Seven with a leading turn in this slapstick romantic comedy based on a Lorenzo Semple Jr. play about a Navy man who figures out a way to make a ton of money by using his ship’s brand new electronic brain (read: computer) to predict within three numbers where the ball will fall at a roulette wheel in an Italian casino. With the help of Jim Hutton (the brainy tech running the computer), McQueen attempts to break the Casino’s bank, but his communications with the ship’s computer (via light signals) are interrupted and misunderstood by the Navy’s top brass, the Italian police and even Russian spies. Throw in a romance with the Admiral’s daughter (the adorable Brigid Bazlen), a drunk MP convinced aliens are invading (played by the great chubby character actor Jack Weston) and you have an idea of the tone of the flick.
This is another one of those movies that’s really easy to like, but not totally successful. McQueen is just so damn charismatic he commands your attention even in goofy fluff like this. Dean Jagger is a great threat as the Admiral trying to chase down this breach of information (while staying one floor above the con artists as they execute their plans). It wraps up with almost no consequence to anybody, criminal activity or not, so it’s a bit of a letdown as far as the ending is concerned, but an enjoyable film nonetheless.
Transfer: Remastered and looks great!
I think the title of this film is intended as a double entendre, but Jim Hutton spends more time on his back because of bumbling injuries than he does between the sheets with Paula Prentiss. Director Jim Thorpe followed up The Honeymoon Machine with this film, bringing over the pairing of Prentiss and Hutton to this WW2 romantic slapstick comedy. Unfortunately the movie is pretty generic, floating by on a lackluster charm instead of good gags or character development.
Basically you have this army intelligence officer (Hutton) sent to a calm island to root out a Japanese troublemaker hiding in the caves. He’s not a warrior picking off US troops, but a sneaky thief that likes to steal the General’s socks and rations. Prentiss is a nurse whose character is solely there to rebut Hutton… and it’s strongly suggested she’s a slut, going out with everybody on the island. This flick is easily forgettable, which I assume is why it didn’t hit DVD until now. It’s nice seeing Jim Backus pop up and nobody is insultingly bad, but the story and jokes are extremely lazy and unaffecting. The Honeymoon Machine is much better.
Transfer: Remastered and looks solid.
I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t seen much Jimmy Durante, so I was happy to check out Strictly Dynamite, an early film from him, as a way to start the ball rolling on some catching-up. While the film itself isn’t all that memorable, Durante is great in it. He plays a radio personality named Moxie Slaight, who is in search of a great writer. Moxie is an easy guy to dupe, a rich entertainer who falsely fancies himself an intellectual and has a dozen people constantly trying to get him to spend money, fame or dole out a piece of his spotlight. Lupe Velez is his sexy co-star who puppets him at every turn to get a good line or bigger part.
The main plot follows the fall of a serious undiscovered writer (Norman Foster) as he goes from new talent to hack writer within the short 70-ish minute runtime. He’s brought down by instant fame, fortune and the sexual manipulation of Velez, turning from the interesting writer in love with his wife to a genuine piece of shit human being. It’s a fascinating character study that is used more for laughs than it probably deserves and as a result isn’t as satisfying as it could have been either dramatically or comically.
Ultimately, Durante is worth watching this one just by himself, but it ain’t a classic. Ha-cha-cha-cha!
Transfer: I watched this on a small screen and it held up very well there, but don’t know if it’d survive a big screen blow up. I’d expect at least obscure DVD quality here.
This made for TV spy movie seems corny on the surface, but while the “state of the art” equipment still stick out this is a fantastic idea for a secret agent TV show. It did spawn a one-season show called Search, but this was my first time hearing of this particular series.
Hugh O’Brian plays a generic Bond knock-off that likes to sex up the wimmins and defy danger at every turn, but what makes this concept work is something that would later be used to full effect on 24. You have one badass agent out in the field and with the cutting edge of technology he is backed up by a control center. Jack Bauer had Chloe and the team at CTU and O’Brian’s Hugh Lockwood has Burgess Meredith at HQ.
This story is about tracking down priceless diamonds that were stolen and are being used to help hide old Nazis. Not only is Meredith awesome, as usual, but there’s also a guest appearance by the great John Gielgud who greatly helps lift the quality of this TV movie simply by being in it.
By having the main guy using sci-fi like implants to hear orders at HQ, get readings on body language, voice patterns, identities, profiles, records and elevated heartrates you have a lead that seems to be superhuman and that makes for quite an interesting type of show. I’m now very interested to see the 14 episodes of Search that Probe spawned.
Transfer: Not amazing, but the original TV aspect ratio is preserved. Better than laserdisc.
”My name is Mr. T. First name Mister, middle name that period and last name T.” So sayeth the great Mr. T in the intro to the first episode of his Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon show. Boy, was this a trip to revisit. Not just the show itself, which I did watch as a very, very young man, but the animation style. This is on the lower end of the Hanna-Barbera animated material spectrum, but the sloppiness of the animation only adds to its charm. Characters stretch like Mr. Fantastic because the story demands it, there’s no gravity, it seems, and some of the more complicated motions (jumps and flips) seem to get about 70% through before the animator just said, “Fuck it!” and the character snaps into their final position.
The show itself is just as ridiculous and hokey, but damn if it isn’t entertaining. Mr. T isn’t with the army or working with the cops, but for some reason touring the world with teenage acrobats… and a Mr. T dog (complete with Mohawk). They solve petty crimes and unravel mysteries like Scooby-Doo, but with Mister T as their backup instead of a stoner and his high dog.
I think the fact that Mr. T plays himself is a big reason why this show rocks. He throws an alligator, man. An alligator! And his live action wrap-arounds really take me back. All ego, all flash and with the best cheesy quips this side of Schwarzenegger, Mr. T is the best and I pity the fool who disagrees!
Transfer: As good as a standard def transfer of an early ‘80s cheesy Saturday morning cartoon can look, I’d wager.
This one didn’t grab me, I’m sad to say. As much as I love Glenn Ford this WW2 Pacific Theater slapstick rom-com couldn’t hold my interest. Now, I made it through the whole thing, but I was pretty bored. It just doesn’t click despite Anne Francis pretty much being the hottest thing on the Earth at this time.
The story follows the PR branch of the navy filled with servicemen that never dip a toe in the water or step aboard a sea vessel. They instead juggle visiting Senators (horny) and newspapermen (power-mad). The romance of the film didn’t click and the comedy barely kept my interest. I did like seeing Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) and Keenan Wynn pop up (especially Wynn, who is the newspaperman who constantly talks about how he has 2 ½ million readers… reminds me of some of the more braggy online guys at Comic-Con), but the whole is a bit of a flat bore in my opinion.
Transfer: Super nice. The photography isn’t the problem with this one and neither is Warner Archive’s Remastered disc.
Released just 5 months before his assassination, this film tells the story of John F. Kennedy’s days fighting in the Pacific during WWII and is quite good. At 2 hours and 20 minutes it’s a tad overlong, but it runs the gamut from war action to a survival story as JFK and his crew find themselves stranded in a cluster of islands surrounded by the enemy and without any way to call for help.
This film was made with the approval of the JFK White House (in fact, Cliff Robertson was Kennedy’s choice to portray him in the movie) so there’s for sure a little legend-making going on here, but if you approach it from a storytelling perspective it’s a pretty damn solid flick.
Robertson is a great lead and doesn’t even attempt Kennedy’s accent but for one throwaway correction on how to pronounce Harvard (Haa-vaad). Also in the cast are Roberts Blake and Culp. To the person, everybody in the movie brings it.
Transfer: Gorgeous, restored transfer… Man, these Warner Archives restored discs are fantastic!
William Holden stars (as well as produces) this story of a Korean War vet who broke under torture and is trying to rebuild his life in the service with an assignment at Edwards Airforce Base as a test pilot. With the torture background this flick would make a good double feature with the Paul Newman “Koreans Tortured Me” flick THE RACK. The Rack is a much better film, but Toward the Unknown was made with the full cooperation of the US Air Force, so there’s some great flying sequences to be seen.
The basic story is good, too, but there’s about 20 minutes of drag that keep me from fully giving this one a glowing review. Holden is fantastic as the self-doubting Major Lincoln Bond and he has some great conflicts with the base commander (Lloyd Nolan) over not just his traitorous past, but the two men also find themselves competing over the affection of Virginia Leith. Leith was the weak point in the film for me… I didn’t buy her at all as anything more than an attractive woman who lazily delivered her lines.
There’s a great supporting cast, including Mayor Vaughn himself Murray Hamilton and James Garner in his pre-Maverick days. Holden is great from beginning to end and there’s some wonderful tension in the dangerous world of test piloting that kept the movie afloat. I wish the actual test pilot missions were more the focus of the story instead of a weird shoe-horned love triangle, but enough works for me to dig the movie.
Transfer: Probably the weakest I’ve seen of the Remastered bunch, but still early DVD quality. The popping ‘50s color photography is still great and done justice, but it’s a far cry from the perfect picture.
This made-for-TV movie is a fairly standard crime-thriller starring David Janssen as Harry Orwell, an ex-cop that left the department after getting shot in the back. He now reluctantly takes PI cases and is brought in by a fellow cop to help solve the murder of his daughter’s husband.
The murder mystery isn’t really one at all since we know from the first five minutes who the killer is and why he’s killing people around the girl. If Dario Argento directed this we’d never see the killer, only his POV, and it’d be a remarkable giallo, but all tension is taken away as this obsessed photographer stalks a pretty girl (Andrea Marcovicci), killing the men in her life be it her abusive husband or loyal older lover.
The movie isn’t dull, but everything is too matter-of-fact. There are great moments between Janssen and Clu Gulager’s Det. Bosworth. These two men hate each other, but have to put up with each other and while it’s a common Private Dick/Police Detective trope it works very well here. We could have done with more of it, actually. Another great subplot that goes nowhere fast is Janssen’s relationship with young Jodie Foster, a mysterious older-than-her-years runaway that shows up at Janssen’s beachfront property and sticks around. I was hoping for a Baker Street Irregulars type relationship here, but it’s really only the b-side to the main story and Foster exits the picture pretty quickly.
Overall, it’s a solid TV movie, but nothing you should be embarrassed having not seen.
Transfer: Very good, especially for 37 year old TV.
Robert Taylor stars in this pre-WW2 story of the new guy joining the ranks of the US Navy Air Corps’ infamous Hell Cats squadron. At first the company doesn’t warm to him, naturally, but he does prove himself a good pilot, if somewhat over-eager.
The real drama here plays out two-fold. On one level Taylor struggles to gain acceptance, but it always seems to be a one step forward, two steps back scenario with these guys. The secondary drama is Taylor’s relationship with his Commander’s wife (Ruth Hussey). It’s never more than a brother-sister type relationship, but his squadmates don’t quite see it that way and alienate him further when they think he’s been up to no good with her.
None of this melodrama is overdone and the result is a fantastic movie with some great aerial photography of real bi-planes at work (and some also great model work, strings and all). There’s also a subplot about a device being worked on to allow pilots to land in heavy fog that doesn’t exactly work the first time it’s tested to some disastrous results.
Everybody is great here, from Robert Taylor (who took flying lessons to prepare for this role, fell in love with it and even signed up as a US Navy Air Corps pilot when the US entered WW2) to Ruth Hussey and Walter Pidgeon. They all turn in fantastic, understated performances. I was very happy with this one.
Transfer: Remastered Title, and it looks it. The 1.37 aspect ratio is preserved, not stretched to fill modern TVs, thank God.
Now this is a good propaganda film, done with a sense of thrill and fun as well as all the jingoism you can swallow. The movie is set in the years leading up to WW2 and focusing on the changing tactics in our aerial combat, suggesting anticipation of the US’s entry into the theater of war. In a way it feels like America’s answer to the great British war movie The Dam Busters, but not quite as exciting or iconic (and far less use of the “N” word). There’s a reality to the movie since it was made with the full cooperation of the air force that actually does a lot to keep it interesting.
The story follows a friendly competition between the old school and the cutting edge of blowing the Axis powers to hell and back… the old school way involving a nose-dive into enemy fire and dropping the bombs as the pilot pulls up sharply and the new way uses that horrible math thing to drop bombs from high orbit, hitting the targets from miles above it.
Pat O’Brien stars, but it is the familiar faces of the squadron that really made me smile, including Eddie Albert and Robert Ryan. Everybody is solid in the flick, though, and I found it to be one of the more entertaining war films in this batch of titles.
Transfer: Not remastered quality, but damn good.
This Walter Huston starrer is actually a remake of a Lon Chaney picture called West of Zanzibar and it’s quite fucked up. Not just for its time, either. Huston plays a crippled man hellbent on revenge. He holes up in deepest, darkest Africa and rules the natives via sheer willpower, stage magic and fear as he plots his revenge against the man who broke his back. In many ways, this film is a precursor to some of the great Korean revenge flicks (including one in particular that I can’t name for fear of spoiling a great moment in this flick) in its stark portrayal of obsession. Huston is fantastic here and would be worth giving this a watch even if the rest of this crazy pre-coder wasn’t so good. A great obscure gem of a flick.
Transfer: I watched this one on a portable DVD player during my travels, so it’s hard to state without reservation, but the transfer didn’t strike me as being horrible, especially for a movie that’s almost 80 years old.
Michael Curtiz’s name alone should make this film interesting to any cinephile. He made this movie just before Angels With Dirty Faces, actually. Add to that a couple of notable names: John Garfield and Claude Rains and you have the movie geek equivalent of a metal detector gauge going into the red.
This charming, Academy Award nominated drama centers on a loving family of four sisters and their eccentric music loving father (Rains) as each sister finds love. The primary focus of the story is on familial bonds, but the premise isn’t as sickly sweet as it sounds, especially when the youngest falls in love with the same man as one of her older sisters.
John Garfield makes his debut here (and was nominated for it) and is very strong as the conflicted embodiment of chaos thrown into this content family like a hand grenade. Everybody is strong in the film, including the four sisters, three of which are actual real life sisters (Priscilla Lane, Rosemary Lane and Lola Lane with Gale Page being the odd woman out). Especially the four sisters. Their bond is natural, easygoing and isn’t at all forced or generic, which would have come off as cloying and eye-rolling. All in all, this is quite a good film.
Transfer: Another great remaster!
There are four “Daughters” films. This one is an odd bird in that it’s not a sequel to the first film at all, but a whole new story with the same cast as the first, including the return of Mr. John Garfield, which was a head-scratcher for me considering what happens in the first movie.
Unlike the first film, the four sisters live with their (alive) mother with Claude Rains being the absentee father who left 20 years previous with no word as to why. The story is once again about the women finding love, but what elevates this from just being a repeat of the successful Four Daughters precursor is the focus on Rains as he returns just as his wife is about to be remarried and his daughters need his advice on love, life and happiness.
Garfield plays almost exactly the same character, an innocently bad influence, but it really is Rains being the loveable irresponsible missing daddy that makes this one work.
Once again directed by Michael Curtiz one of the most fascinating aspects of this film is that it features a score from Curtiz collaborator Max Steiner that sounds like a rough draft for his iconic Casablanca score three years later. No kidding, there are whole sections that are just a note or two off from his famous Casablanca score.
Transfer: Remastered and it looks it!
The third entry into this series is actually a sequel to the first movie, with the four sisters now married and preparing for motherhood. At this point the formula is getting a little worn, but I have to say that it is something to sit and watch all four of these movies in a row. I can’t think of another film series so dedicated to following the lives, loves and challenges of women through each stage of development. These films don’t devolve into cliché despite their premise and you come to love this family.
Once again both Michael Curtiz and Max Steiner return. Despite some wheel-spinning it’s still as heart-warming and likeable as the previous films.
Transfer: This one isn’t remastered so it’s a bit rougher than the first two, but it’s still a very nice transfer.
Probably the most pedestrian of the FOUR series, Four Mothers is nonetheless an enjoyable melodrama as the Lemp sisters are forced to pull together as a family when their childhood home is threatened. Eddie Albert is a nice breath of fresh air to the series as a job-obsessed doctor (and love interest to one of the sisters) caught up in a medical investigation.
Curtiz is out and William Keighley steps in to direct. The series really has run its course by the time this one hits, but like I said above by this time you like the family and are with them through their adventure.
Transfer: Solid, not remastered.
If you have any interest in watching these movies this collection set is the way to go. All four movies for the price of two. And watching this as a series is the way to go. The strength of these movies is embedding you into the lives of the Lemp family as they go through the trials and tribulations of life. As single movies they work as charming melodramas, but as a series it becomes a richer, deeper examination of familial love overcoming any adversity.
Transfer: Like the single DVDs, the first two are remastered and the last two are a little rougher transfers. None are hard to watch.
Lupe Velez, featured in both Strictly Dynamite and Kongo, was a tragic Old Hollywood figure whose suicide rocked the industry in its day. This set will make you even more sad that Ms. Velez left us so soon. I went into these movies expecting melodrama, but what I got was a series of vaudevillian farces. Velez became known as the Mexican-Spitfire for her rambunctious energy and hot-temper and that comes through clear as crystal the first time we see her in THE GIRL FROM MEXICO. She’s dropped into the life of an ad man searching for the next hot thing and once there she refuses to leave. She breaks up an unhappy engagement to a really horrible woman and finds her only ally within this family is the goofy Uncle Matt (Leon Errol).
Donald Woods plays the ad man, Velez’s love interest, and is pretty boring, actually. “I need to get that account!” is pretty much his character throughout the series. What keeps these movies afloat are Velez and Errol. Things get pretty goofy. There even a film centered on a haunted house!
My favorite of the series is THE MEXICAN SPITFIRE, which is pretty much a retread of the first film, but with Errol impersonating a stuffy Englishman named Lord Epping in a slapstick mistaken identity farce that quickly spirals out of control.
Transfers: None of the transfers are remastered, but all were solid. Little 35mm scratches come and go, but the contrast is bright and image clear.
Are the Gobots the poor man’s Transformers? Sure are! But as a child of the ‘80s this series still strikes quite a nostalgic chord with me. The similarities to Transformers is striking. Both are about robots that transform into vehicles, but on a more detailed level the stories are exactly the same. Gobotron is the name of the robot world the Gobots hail from… they chase the bad guy robots to Earth, befriend humans and struggle to protect Earth from the evil machines.
Watching as an adult it was hard to swallow what passes for a story here, but there’s still a charm to this cheesy animation that can’t be denied. I’ll take this cheap cartoon work over the anime-via-cheap-CG-animation shit that kids have to suffer through today.
Transfer: Remastered and looks about as good as it ever will.
BEST OF THE BUNCH:
I quickly found myself engrossed in this TV movie about a young deaf mute man named Donald Lang accused of the murder of a prostitute. Having grown up a poor ghetto kid with a disability he was never taught the use of sign language or the ability to read lips, so could only commute in rough gestures. Basically, he was accused of murder and since he’s deemed mentally unfit to stand trial he’s committed to various mental institutions and schools indefinitely. His deaf lawyer takes on the system, which essentially unfairly commits his client to life in prison without the possibility to prove his innocence and that’s the subject of the movie.
Paul Sorvino plays the lawyer and LeVar Burton plays Donald Lang and both are absolutely fantastic in the movie. Burton was made famous by another TV project (Roots), but it’s a shame this one is overlooked as he does tremendous work playing an innocent being. We don’t know if he was guilty or not, but the character is portrayed as an innocent… which makes the finale quite shocking… you think the movie’s going for a happy ending and you kind of get it… until a brutal stinger sends you out of the film… I was so hooked I immediately looked up details of this real life crime and find it’s even darker and more fascinating than I expected.
I won’t say any more to avoid spoilers, but it’s a crazy court case and a fantastic TV movie with two stellar leading performances. Sorvino somehow manages to play deaf realistically, with the correct vocal expressions, without it feeling like a joke. That said, while he’s great in the movie don’t look at his eyes or you’ll see he’s not reading lips at all, like he’s supposed to be doing. Heh.
Transfer: Definitely DVD quality, preserving the aspect ratio of the original broadcast.
In honor of my favorite month of the year the next installment of Vault Dweller will undergo a transformation. “Crypt Dweller” will hit in the coming weeks, focusing on horror and thriller titles from various archives, including Warner Archive, MGM’s Limited Edition series and even Sony’s burn-on-demand series! Stay tuned!