Republic, 1952, B&W, 85 mins.- Collector's Ed. DVD

Lon Chaney: "People gotta talk themselves into law and order before they do something about it. Maybe because down deep they don't care- they just don't care."

Boy, don't they. Faced with the prospect of an outlaw returning to their little old Western town to avenge himself on the lawman who jailed him, the "Decent" local folk urge the good guy to run away so they can "Just get along" with the bad guy. Not only that- they refuse to help out marshal Gary Cooper, with even his mentor, ex-lawman Lon Chaney, excusing himself from the coming showdown. Cooper won an Oscar for this role, a variation on the solid, decent, stoic American persona that he made his own. In this story his conscience drives him to look out for the townspeople whether they want him to or not. It doesn't help that his new bride, Grace Kelly, became a non-violent Quaker after a gunfight took the lives of her immediate family- and that she threatens to leave him in the lurch if he gets into a situation which involves flying lead.

You can read a lot into this picture, with its echoes of the McCarthy era and its symbolic representation of America "Going it alone" in a screwy world, but it's enjoyable as a good, solid Western. The story essentially progresses in real time, as the town waits for a train carrying the bad guy and Cooper looks for help. As the clock ticks down to 12:00, we learn about the events leading up to the showdown and the people involved, so that when Cooper faces off against the baddies- yes, there's more than one, those varmints don't fight fair- you understand what the consequences will be for everyone involved. The ending is appropriately bittersweet, contributing to the mood of this classic. Disc extras include documentaries and an audio commentary.

Paramount, 1950, B&W, 110 mins.- Paramount Coll. DVD

Erich Von Stroheim: "-There was a Maharajah who came all the way from India to beg one of her silk stockings. Later, he strangled himself with it."

Ah, the downside of fame! Starving screenwriter Wiliam Holden experiences it when he chances to find himself at a gaudy, decaying mansion on Sunset Boulevard, home to a gaudy, decaying Hollywood relic- silent movie star Gloria Swanson. Before long, Holden has conceived a scheme whereby he polishes her "Comeback script" for good money- but the question of who is using who gets a little blurry as the pair's co-dependent relationship corkscrews into a dark romance. The batty Swanson is a drama queen in every sense, and when she discovers that Holden is helping out another writer with a script- a writer who happens to be a young lady- things get really ugly.

Director and co-writer Billy Wilder's scathing take on the movie business is as over-the-top as Swanson's silent acting techniques- and even more fun to watch. Wilder brilliantly melds fiction and reality, with real-life silent star Swanson playing a twisted version of herself, silent film director Erich von Stroheim playing a twisted version of himself, and the likes of Buster Keaton, Hedda Hopper, and Cecil B. DeMille just playing- well, themselves. It's an odd picture, but if you enjoy dark satire or film noir, you'll find yourself on familiar ground as Holden gets sucked into a situation that he can't control. The outcome isn't happy, but it sure is entertaining. Extras on the disc include documentaries, an audio commentary, and photo galleries.

Avco Embassy, 1968, Color, 90 mins.- Special Ed. DVD

Kenneth Mars: "You know, not many people know it, but the Fuhrer was a terrific dancer."

Mel Brooks' first picture, the source of the recent Broadway musical hit, is all about producing a Broadway musical hit....which is designed to be a flop. And if you think that's unusual, you should see this movie, which offers an amusingly warped view of the theatrical scene. Former hotshot impresario Zero Mostel, who has been reduced to romancing little old ladies in exchange for supposed production "Investments," is visited by accountant Gene Wilder- and the two don't exactly get along. But an idle observation by Wilder sets the pair off on a daring criminal scheme, involving the production of a deliberately awful play, and the pocketing of the investment money when the show flops.

The meek Wilder is overwhelmed by the colorful characters he encounters in this enterprise, from producer Mostel to flamboyantly gay director Christopher Hewitt to hippie space-case actor Dick Shawn- and most of all, by their play's author, Kenneth Mars. Mars is an ex-Nazi- although not "Ex" by choice- and he aims to clear the reputations of Adolf and the gang with his opus, "Springtime For Hitler." The opening night of this play is one of the highlights of the film, an outrageous spectacle in the poorest possible taste. Even today, there are some who might be turned off by it, as well as by the movie's broad, burlesque-style humor and characterizations. So if you're the sensitive type, you may want to skip this. But if not, fire it up and see how long it takes for your jaw to drop. Extras on the disc include a documentary, photos, and a deleted scene.


© Melt Magazine 2003