Cross Elmore Leonard with The Bicycle Thief and you’ve got an idea of the story for this 1960 British film noir, directed by John Guillermin before he went bigbudget Hollywood (The Towering Inferno, the ’76 King Kong).
Richard Todd plays John Cummings, a struggling salesman who career and life come undone when his car is stolen. A bit of amateur sleuthing leads Cummings to Lionel Meadows (Peter Sellers, in a startling dramatic turn), the owner of a local garage who masterminds an auto-theft ring on the side.
Sellers, whose every smile borders on a sneer, relishes the change of pace as the volatile Meadows and plays him to the hilt, while Todd gradually comes into his own as the plodding everyman determined to make a difference. As Cummings is goaded into action, Meadows descends into violent paranoia, culminating in a knock-down, drag-out brawl between the two.
Christopher Challis’ atmospheric cinematography and a jazzy score by John Barry accentuate the proceedings nicely, and a familiar British cast includes Elizabeth Sellars as Cummings’ worried wife, singer Adam Faith, Carol White, Mervyn Johns, Nigel Stock and Noel Willman as a pragmatic police inspector whose warnings to Cummings go unheeded.
ASTRO-ZOMBIES M4: INVADERS FROM CYBERSPACE (Alpha New Cinema): The indefatigable Ted V. Mikels (writer/ producer/director/co-star) continues the low-rent sci-fi franchise (begun over 40 years ago!) with skull-faced invaders using the internet and cellphones to launch their latest attack on planet Earth — with scenes filmed in Germany, Japan, England, Australia and throughout the United States… likely places Mikels attended genre conventions. In any event, the most ambitious of the Astro-Zombies, and probably the most fun (relatively speaking). The chintzy CGI effects never fail to elicit a chuckle.
BLAKE OF SCOTLAND YARD (Alpha Home Entertainment): Herbert Tomlinson plays the title role in this 15-chapter serial from 1937, as a retired Scotland Yard inspector on the trail of enemy agents who have stolen a death ray. Top-billed Ralph Byrd (who played Dick Tracy on film and TV) plays the young scientist who created the device. The DVD retails for $7.98.
CARRY ON DOUBLE FEATURES (VCI Entertainment): One of Britain’s most popular and longest-running big-screen comedy franchises comes to DVD in a series of double features (each retailing for $14.99): Volume 1 includes Carry On Follow That Camel (1967) with guest star Phil Silvers, and Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head (1966); Volume 2 includes Carry On Up the Khyber (1968) with guest star Roy Castle, and Carry On Doctor (1967) with guest star Frankie Howerd; Volume 3 includes Carry On Camping and Carry On Again Doctor (both 1969); Volume 4 includes Carry On Up the Jungle and Carry On Loving (both 1970); Volume 5 includes Carry On Henry VIII and Carry On At Your Convenience (both 1971); Volume 6 includes Carry On Matron (1972) and Carry On Girls (1973); Volume 7 includes Carry On Abroad (1972) and Carry On Dick (1974); and Volume 8 includes Carry On Behind (1975), with guest star Elke Sommer, and Carry On England (1976). There were 31 films(!) in all, each one generally spoofing a popular genre or fad for the time. Critics scoffed but audiences came in droves. All the films were produced by Peter Rogers and directed by Gerald Thomas, with regular cast members including Kenneth Connor, Kenneth Williams, Sid James, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Hattie Jacques, Barbara Windsor, Bernard Bresslaw, Peter Butterworth and Jim Dale. Some of the DVDs include audio commentaries.
DON’T GO IN THE WOODS (Tribeca Film/ New Video): Vincent D’Onofrio makes his directorial debut with this odd, offputting combination musical/slasher film about members of a music group — and their obligatory girlfriends — who are butchered during a weekend excursion in the woods. A couple of the songs are catchy but most are not. It’s something different, for sure — but not in a good way, and D’Onofrio (also credited with the story) displays little affinity for the rudiments of either genre. Eric Bogosian pops up at the end.
ELEPHANT SIGHS (Green Apple Entertainment): A group of friends congregate on a regular basis at a small-town community center to comfort, counsel and occasionally cajole each other, in this comedy/drama. A warm and winsome feature debut from filmmaker Ed Simpson, with Ed Asner in prime form anchoring a talented, comfortable ensemble cast. That’s what it says on the DVD sleeve. (I should know, I wrote it!) Said ensemble also includes John Cariani, Mark Fite, David Wells (also a producer) and Jack Kehler. Set in Pennsylvania but filmed in High Point, and based on Simpson’s acclaimed play.
FRED SCOTT DOUBLE FEATURE (Alpha Home Entertainment): A DVD twinbill ($7.98 retail) showcasing singing cowboy Fred Scott in a pair of Western programmers from 1937: The Roaming Cowboy, co-starring Al “Fuzzy” St. John and Lois January, and The Singing Buckaroo with Victoria Vinton.
HOLLYWOOD AFTER DARK (Alpha Home Entertainment): A bizarre romp through the seamier side of Tinseltown is dramatized in this black-and-white 1968 exploitation melodrama (also known as Walk the Angry Beach) with a pre-stardom Rue McClanahan as an aspiring actress who drifts into the world of stripping. Random burlesque acts seemed to have been edited into the film to pad it to feature length. Amusing junk for B-movie buffs.
I WAS A SPY (VCI Entertainment): Madeleine Carroll is in fine form as the reallife Marthe Cnockaert, who spied for the Allies in occupied Belgium during World War I, in this 1933 thriller. Bear with a slow first half, and savor a cast including Conrad Veidt (monocle in place) as the ruthless “Kommandant,” Herbert Marshall, Edmund Gwenn, Martita Hunt and Nigel Bruce.
LOOK IN ANY WINDOW (Alpha Home Entertainment): Producer William Alland’s only stint in the director’s chair, this intriguing, sometimes campy 1961 melodrama exposing the tawdry, tempestuous lifestyles of suburbanites may seem dated now, but prefigured an entire sub-genre of late-’60s and early- ’70s films about suburban ennui and restlessness. Top-billed Paul Anka, as a wimpy teenager-turned-peeping tom, heads a cast that includes Ruth Roman, Alex Nicol, Gigi Perreau and Jack Cassidy (in his screen debut). A real curio, with Anka also crooning the theme song. The DVD also includes an extensive interview with Alland, who died in 1997.
THE PERILS OF PAULINE (VCI Entertainment): Evalyn Knapp plays the title role of the adventurous heroine in this 12-chapter 1933 Universal Pictures serial — a remake of a silent-era serial — now available on DVD ($19.99 retail).
SOUL OF THE SLUMS (Alpha Home Entertainment): Tight (one hour) Depression-era melodrama sees William Collier Jr., paroled from prison for a crime he didn’t commit, plotting revenge on the man (Mathew Betz) who set him up, then having second thoughts when he meets his ex-girlfriend (Blanche Mahaffet). James Bradbury Jr. plays Collier’s mute cellmate “Dummy”(!). A little pious, not surprising in a movie from 1931, but pretty good.
MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2012, Mark Burger.