Palomar Pictures, 1972, Color, 138 mins.- Anchor Bay DVD

Laurence Olivier: “There’s nothing like a little bit of mayhem to cheer one up.”

Upper-crust English mystery author Olivier asks working-class hairdresser Michael Caine to pop over to the old country estate for a discussion about something precious to both of them- Olivier’s wife. Thus begins the latest round of “Fun and games” by Olivier, a master manipulator who gets his kicks out of messing with people. But this time he may have bitten off more than he can chew, for Caine isn’t the sort who takes kindly to being made a fool of, and their continuing “Game” escalates into a contest with potentially lethal consequences.

Adapted from the stage hit by its author, Anthony Shaffer, this picture will appeal to anyone with a fondness for classic Agatha Christie-type mysteries, which it both parodies and honors. As the only two people in the cast, Olivier and Caine have to carry the whole picture, and they do so with aplomb, veering from slapstick to deadly seriousness as the script demands. The fact that the characters’ backgrounds are not dissimilar to those of the actors portraying them adds to the fun of their conflict, which is distinctly class-conscious. As things intensify- with Olivier in particular chewing so much scenery that you wonder whether he had to eat- the humor gets darker and darker until the climax, which is as dark as they come. Only one extra of note is included, an interview with author Shaffer, who not unexpectedly would fit right into the skewed world that he created.

Paramount, 1984, Color, 90 mins.- Widescreen Coll. DVD

Lucy Gutteridge: "As long as a single man is forced to cower under the iron fist of oppression, as long as a child cries out in the night or an actor can be elected president, we must continue the struggle."

Well, when you live in this film's version of East Germany, whose newspaper is "The Daily Oppressor" and whose authorities are so fond of the Nazi era that they follow its fashions and technology, you do what you can to keep hope alive. Even if it means teaming up with that symbol of the decadent West, a heartthrob rock-'n-roll star, to prevent a crippling strike against NATO by the Bad Guys. The rocker, Val Kilmer, is riding on the crest of the popular "Skeet surfing" craze, but he gets more than he bargained for when he appears at an East German cultural festival. After stumbling into the evil plot, he gets some unwanted experience with the East German "Justice" system before winding up with Gutteridge and her cohorts in the, er, French Resistance.

If you haven't guessed already, this is another bit of insanity from the creators of "Airplane," featuring the same sort of off-the-wall humor in a hybrid of old wartime espionage movies and Elvis-style musicals. It's as odd as it sounds, playing out in a sort of movie neverland where elements from the 1940s to the 1960s are jumbled together (plus one1970s reference in the form of a Ford Pinto gag). This makes it more of a film (and video) buff's movie than its predecessor, and while it is not as successful it does have its moments. Disc extras include alternate scenes and audio commentary by the responsible parties.

Ealing, 1955, Color, 91 mins.- Alec Guinness Coll. DVD

Katie Johnson: "Simply try, for one hour, to behave like gentlemen!"

Easier said than done, when the "Gentlemen" in question are criminal mastermind Alec Guinness, murderous thug Herbert Lom, con artist Cecil Parker, big oaf Danny Green, and would-be tough guy Peter Sellers. They're using the crazily-tilted house of little old lady Katie Johnson as the base of operations for a criminal plot- which is bad enough, as the dotty Johnson constantly interrupts them and drives them to distraction. But when they rope her into the plot without her knowledge, at the risk of her finding out what's been going on- well, things get worse. A lot worse.

Another goofy, black-humored classic from Ealing, this film provides a valuable lesson in trust- or rather, the lack of it. Once lead plotter Guinness- whose looks remind one of Mr. Hyde- decides to rely on Johnson for a key part of his plan, dissent starts within the ranks of his little gang......and when it all starts to hit the fan, trust goes right out the window. Especially when they decide that one of the bunch has to literally become a "Ladykiller" and dispose of the old woman who knows too much- a job which none of them wants. It all wraps up in one of those wonderfully ironic climaxes that only happen in the movies- which, of course, is one of the reasons that we watch movies in the first place. Watch this one- you'll like it!


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© Melt Magazine 2003