Category: DVD Reviews

THE BIONIC WOMAN Season 3 DVD review

Published February 16, 2012

It’s been four years since I wrote an article entitled Bionic Blunder – Where are those Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman DVDs?  And just over a year since that question was answered by Universal Television with the release of wonderful box sets of both of those series.  While I have not yet reviewed that 40-disc SMDM set ($240 is still a bit steep for that), I have reviewed Season 1 and Season 2 of The Bionic Woman, and am now here to cap it off with my thoughts on Season 3.

In 1977, after two successful seasons of The Bionic Woman, the execs at ABC decided that the show’s legs, bionic though they were, had grown a bit wobbly, and dropped the series from its schedule – this despite the fact that it was still in the top fifteen of the Nielson ratings.  In an unheard of move, NBC stepped up and offered to pick up The Bionic Woman for a third season.

And thus marked the first time that a series and its spinoff were on two different networks, with supporting characters like Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson) and Dr. Rudy Wells (Martin E. Brooks) bouncing back and forth between shows.  While this was handled easily, it was rather irksome that the character of Steve Austin was only mentioned once in the first episode, and thereafter never mentioned again.  To avoid further complications, the producers tried to give Jaime different love interests throughout this final season, as if Steve Austin had never existed.  As a boy watching during this period (nursing a serious crush on Lindsay Wagner), I found this disturbing.  Yes, I knew about the network conflicts, but saw no reason why that should dictate story.  Also, the number of potential boyfriends that Jaime kisses on and cuddles up to here seems out of character.  This problem was, to a great extent, “solved” with the introduction of Christopher Stone as Chris Williams, but still … to expect audiences to warm to idea of a Steveless Jaime simply because of network issues was a burden the show could not shake.  SMDM suffered too – both shows were canceled in the spring of 1978.

Series creator and producer Kenneth Johnson was absent for this final season as he already had his hands full producing The Incredible Hulk.  While his underlings did the best job they could, Johnson’s absence is palpable.  Other season 3 changes include: Jaime is never seen teaching school anymore, and Steve’s parents, who own the ranch where Jaime lives in that awesome carriage house, are never seen or mentioned.  While these don’t seem like major changes, the tone of the series was quite different.

Season 3 of The Bionic Woman starts off a bit silly with a two-part episode called The Bionic Dog.  As always, the charisma of series star Lindsay Wagner makes all the difference.  Maximillian, the aforementioned German Shepherd with the bionic legs and jaw, was supposed to get a series of his own but, after an episode entitled Max,  in which Lindsay Wagner barely appeared at all, smarter minds prevailed.  (I must admit, I laughed pretty hard during the opening minutes of The Bionic Dog Part 2, when, after recapping the events of Part 1, Richard Anderson says, “And now the conclusion of The Bionic Dog on The Bionic Woman.”  Oh, what Beavis and Butthead would have had to say about THAT … uh, huh huh huh.)

While this was not a terrible way to open the third season, things did pick up a bit with another two-parter: Fembots in Las Vegas.  The title says it all.

Other notable episodes from this season include –

Motorcycle Boogie, in which Jaime enlists the aid of Evel Knievel (playing himself – see the photo below) to get her out of West Germany … though she refuses to believe that he is who he claims to be.

The Pyramid – Jaime and Chris are trapped in an underground pyramid with an alien sentinel.  (Given the alien/ Mayan overtones, there is a bit of a Crystal Skull vibe here … 30 years before that Indiana Jones sequel.)

Sanctuary Earth, where 14-year-old Helen Hunt plays visiting alien Princess Zorla, who is being pursued by intergalactic assassins who look uncannily like the Hagar twins from Hee Haw.

Given that this season was made in late 1977 and early 1978, the influence of Star Wars can certainly be felt – especially with those last two aforementioned episodes.

This five disc set breaks down like this (episode descriptions are jacket copy):

DISC 1

The Bionic Dog
When Jaime learns of another bionic prototype – a German Shepherd named Max – who”s suffering from many of the same setbacks she and Steve Austin experienced, she makes it her mission to rehabilitate the animal.

The Bionic Dog Part II
Jaime and Max take refuge with a former flame of hers, forest ranger Roger Grette, but it”s Max who puts his life on the line to save the woods from an overwhelming threat.

Fembots in Las Vegas
While Jaime and Oscar try to negotiate with a reclusive and terminally ill scientist over the fate of an energy ray weapon, the son of the Fembot”s creator, Carl Franklin, remotely activates the killer female robots.

Fembots in Las Vegas Part II
After launching the weapon into Earth”s orbit, Franklin demands that Washington turn over Jaime, Oscar and Dr. Rudy Wells to him as ransom for not destroying the planet.

DISC 2

Rodeo
Jaime”s mission to protect OSI computer expert Billy Cole from a deadly foreign power is complicated by the daredevil”s overwhelming passion to become a rodeo champion.

African Connection
Jaime”s mission in Africa to stop a potentially rigged election takes an unusual twist when she hires Harry Walker and his WWII tank to help her traverse through treacherous jungle terrain.

Motorcycle Boogie
While on the trail of a stolen computer tape in West Germany, Jaime relies on the assistance of Evel Knievel to get her across the border … even though she steadfastly refuses to believe he is whom he claims.

Brain Wash
Someone”s playing dirty at OSI when Jaime overhears industry secrets spilled, but Oscar refuses to believe it has anything to do with his trusted secretary, Peggy.

DISC 3

Escape to Love
Romance complicates rescue when Jaime is assigned to help Dr. Arlo Kelso and his son, Sandor get across the Iron Curtain, and Sandor begins to develop feelings for his gorgeous rescuer.

Max
Everything quickly goes to the dogs when a bionic check-up incapacitates Jaime and Max is kidnapped by opportunistic foreign agents.

Over the Hill Spy
Jaime and retired OSI agent Terrence Quinn reluctantly team up to catch Oscar”s long-time Soviet nemesis, Vilmos Vanovic, in a heart-racing international game of cat- and-mouse.

All for One
It”s back to school for Jaime when she enrolls as a college student to find out who has been stealing thousands of dollars by connecting the campus computer into the OSI system.

DISC 4

The Pyramid
Jaime finds herself trapped in an underground pyramid with an alien sentinel who claims that a ship from his world is headed to Earth … and that the consequences will not be good for mankind.

The Antidote
Man”s best friend becomes especially important to Jaime when she and a Russian diplomat are poisoned and Max must find the doctor who can provide the antidote and save her life.

The Martians Are Coming, The Martians Are Coming
When Oscar sees what appears to be a U.F.O. abduct a scientist who is working on a top-secret project, Jaime sets out to find the man and has her own encounter with the spacecraft.

Sanctuary Earth
Jaime is first on the scene when a satellite crashes into a lake, and she meets a girl who claims to be a princess from the planet Zorla and says that she is being pursued by trackers from another planet.

Deadly Music
A doctor isolates a sound frequency that makes sharks attack anything he wants, and Jaime becomes the first human test subject when she joins a diving team that is deploying a submarine detection system.

DISC 5

Which One is Jaime?
Oscar learns that Jaime is under some kind of investigation and takes her to OSI headquarters for protection, but then the culprits mistake Callahan, who is dog- sitting Max, for Jaime and kidnap her.

Out of Body
During a break-in at the OSI labs, a Native American is electrocuted and falls into a coma, but his spirit remains intact and desperately tries to save Jaime from being destroyed by the most deadly bomb ever created.

Long Live the King
Posing as the social secretary for a Middle Eastern king who is visiting New York, Jaime works to stop an assassination plot … but soon finds herself in the cross hairs.

Rancho Outcast
On a mission to find stolen currency plates, Jaime assumes the identity of a crook known as Blondie Malone and heads to Central America with a convicted criminal who is working with OSI in the hopes of getting paroled.

On the Run
Terrified of becoming more machine than human, Jaime retires from OSI, but Oscar”s superiors move to put her in a special compound because they believe her bionics are government property and that she knows too much confidential information.

(One item of interest: All for One, The Pyramid, and Rancho Outcast all feature actor and stuntman Henry Kingi, whom Lindsay Wagner would be married to from 1981 to 1984.)

The Bonus Features here are okay, but nothing to cheer about.  Other than some audio commentaries on select episodes by various writers and directors (one of whom is Steven E. de Souza, who would go onto cowrite the scripts for 48 Hrs. and Die Hard 1& 2), there is a photo gallery, a podcast, and a Q&A with Lindsay Wagner, which, while interesting, plays like leftovers from the previous two featurettes on the Season 1 and Season 2 box sets.  Oh, well … considering how long we have waited for these shows (35 years!), this is still a wonderful package.

While I would love to review the three bionic reunion movies that were made in the late 80s and early 90s, those are not available in this Season 3 set.  They ARE available in that 40-disc SMDM box, which I promise I will get to as soon as the price drops.  Season One of SMDM was released individually last year at around $30 but, as I believe there are hours of bonus content available in that big set that may not be released on the stand alones, I think I will hold off.

For all its story problems, network troubles, and 1970s cheese, this third season of The Bionic Woman (Amazon $19.99) shines for the exact same reason that the first two did: it stars Lindsay Wagner.  While she is still quite lovely, this series captured her in her late 20s, in all of her tall, leggy, beautifully tomboyish glory.  For some reason, that long, straight, dark blonde hair, parted in the middle and worn loose, just killed me when I was a boy.  Rewatching these episodes decades later … the effect hasn’t changed.  No amount of CGI or digital trickery can match what lovely Lindsay did during the three years she got to play Jaime Sommers and the world fell in love with her.

But if you are a fan of this show, you already knew that.

SEASON 3 GRADE: B
BONUS CONTENT: B-

THE BIONIC WOMAN SEASON 2 – DVD review

Published June 15, 2011

After having a huge success with the looooong awaited release of The Bionic Woman Season One last year, Universal Studios Home Entertainment has followed it up with (what else?) Season Two.  If you grew up in the 1970s, you were likely as big a fan of this show and its Six Million Dollar Man counterpart as I was.  I have written many words on this site about my affection for these iconic shows (not to mention the massive boyhood crush I, and countless others, had on Lindsay Wagner), and I am about to write more.

As much as I loved Season One (and I did), Season Two ups the ante not only in quantity (nearly twice the episodes in this package as in Season One), but in quality.  Things start off in classic fashion as the two-part crossover episodes The Return of Bigfoot Part 1 & 2 pit Jaime Sommers and Steve Austin against time-traveling aliens and Sasquatch.  Yes, this is Grade A cheese, but from a purely nostalgic point of view, these episodes had me grinning from ear to ear.  It’s hard to hate anything which boasts Ted Cassidy (The Addams Family) dressed up like Bigfoot.

Other Season 2 highlights include the epic, 3-part, crossover storyline Kill Oscar in which John Houseman unleashes his Fembots upon the OSI.  These episodes alone make this set worth its already reasonable purchase price.  (And, is it just me, or does Lee Majors spend an inordinate amount of time in these episodes running around with his shirt off?)  The story which follows that, Black Magic, is also a lot of fun (… though it has nothing to do with magic, black or otherwise).  It features Vincent Price in a dual role, a spooky old mansion, classic film stars all scheming to win a deadly scavenger hunt, and Lindsay Wagner looking absolutely stunning dressed like a Gypsy fortune-teller.  Two more 2-part episodes stand out: Doomsday is Tomorrow and Deadly Ringer – the latter would garner Lindsay Wagner her first Emmy Award for Best Actress, as she played Jaime Sommers and her troubled doppleganger Lisa Galloway.

The bonus features on this 5-disc set leave a bit to be desired, but are certainly better than nothing.  Chief among them is an 11-minute featurette called Bionic Blast, which continues what the Season One featurette Bionic Beginnings started.  Much of the discussion here regards the stunt woman and stand in who made Lindsay Wagner’s work a bit easier.  There are also four commentary tracks: two by series creator Kenneth Johnson (Doomsday is Tomorrow Parts 1 & 2) and two by Lindsay Wagner (Road to Nashville and Biofeedback).  While Johnson’s loquaciousness reveals a staggering amount of knowledge about these shows (especially considering they were made 35 years ago), Lindsay Wagner is decidedly more laid back, and it is quite entertaining listening to her reminisce about a show which she obviously enjoys as much as her fans.  Other than a photo gallery, that’s it for the bonus content.  (Well, technically, this set refers to the two crossover 6MDM episodes as “bonus content,” but … come on.)  Like I said, there isn’t a lot, but what’s here is pretty cool.

The discs round out like this:

DIC ONE:
6MDM – The Return of Bigfoot
The Return of Bigfoot Part II
In This Corner, Jaime Sommers
Assault On The Princess

DISC TWO:
Road To Nashville
Kill Oscar
6MDM – Kill Oscar Part II
Kill Oscar Part III
Black Magic

DISC THREE:
Sister Jaime
The Vega Influence
Jaime’s Shield
Jaime’s Shield Part II
Biofeedback

DISC FOUR:
Doomsday Is Tomorrow
Doomsday Is Tomorrow Part II
Deadly Ringer
Deadly Ringer Part II
Jaime And The King

DISC FIVE:
Beyond The Call
The DeJon Caper
The Night Demon
Iron Ships And Dead Men
Once A Thief

Not all of the episodes here are as good as those gems I mentioned earlier.  Although looking back through that list, nothing bad is springing to mind.  I don’t think I was crazy about Sister Jaime … then again, that was the episode where Oscar Goldman is driving down a country road and comes across some nuns tending sheep in the middle of it.  He gets out and tells them, “I’m sorry ladies, but you’re going to have to get the flock out of here.”  I don’t know how that line got slipped in, but I about busted a gut from laughing.

No matter the quality of the individual episodes, the talent, charisma, and beauty of Lindsay Wagner make all the difference.  Quite often the script doesn’t give her a lot to work with, and yet with a tiny smirk, or a roll of the eyes, or a subtle giggle, or a tremulous whisper, she gives this character a rich, and rare, humanity – not bad for a sci-fi kids show.  We CARE about her … especially when she’s battling those creepy Fembots.

Here’s hoping that before the year is out, Universal sees fit to release The Bionic Woman Season 3 (the NBC season, after ABC’s cancellation).  Come to think of it, they should include the 3 reunion movies in that set, like the massive 40-disc complete 6MDM box set did.  Just an idea.  (Yeah, I know they weren’t very good, but they would complete the set, and who wants to pay for them?  Plus, you get 1989-era Sandra Bullock as the bionic girl, remember?)  Until then, this is pure nostalgic candy.  Highly recommended.

THE BIONIC WOMAN SEASON 2: GRADE A-
BONUS CONTENT: B

Continue on to The Bionic Woman Season 3 DVD review.

NOTE: there is a brief problem with the soundtrack during the opening minutes of Deadly Ringer Part 1 – a problem which many of the commenters on Amazon feel is an unforgivable sin.  It was a little annoying, but certainly not the unforgivable faux pas that some of these haters feel it was.  (Sheesh, and I thought I was anal retentive.)  Regarding this, Universal has released the following statement: Every episode in the Bionic Woman Season 2 DVD release has been digitally re-mastered for optimal viewing. However, the remastering cannot correct flaws that either were part of the original presentation or that happened over the passage of time. Certain moments within select episodes from Season 2 may include noticeable moments of imperfect picture or audio. This is reflective of the source material which unfortunately, is the best source material that is available to the studio and cannot be corrected. The episodes are still included in the set to provide as complete a collection as possible.

In fine: be thankful we’ve got this.  We only waited 35 years.

THE BIONIC WOMAN Season One DVD review

Published November 7, 2010

I have written at length on this site about my affection for the 1970’s über shows The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman.  From championing the cause of getting these two iconic series released on DVD after decades of legal entanglements, to basically reviewing Season One of The Bionic Woman last year after Hulu decided to put all 14 episodes online.

Still I waited (and waited) for the DVD box sets.  Well … the wait is over.

The Six Million Dollar Man – The Complete Series is being released on November 23rd, 2010 in a massive 40-disc box setThe Bionic Woman Season One was released last month.

Since I already gave my thoughts regarding Season One of The Bionic Woman in last year’s aforementioned Hulu article, allow me to pull some snippets from that post, and add additional thoughts as we go.

After spending a couple days reliving my childhood (all of these episodes are from 1976), I wondered if they would still hold up after so much time. Since this was one of my favorite shows (and yes, I have admitted on here before that back in the day I had a MAJOR crush on Lindsay Wagner), I hoped that 33 years (I honestly cannot recall ever seeing these in syndication) would not tarnish my memories. I needn’t have worried. I already knew that the plots were often simplistic and the special effects cheesy, and that The Bionic Woman’s true appeal was in the talent, beauty, and charisma of its star. Rewatching these episodes again after so many decades merely reminded me of those facts. I was not disappointed in the least …

… well, I will say these first season episodes are a bit plot-heavy, and (if memory serves) seasons 2 and 3 wisely relied more on personal stories (not to mention fembots), but they are still quite enjoyable. In fact, for anyone who grew up in the 70s and had the same affection for this show (and its Six Million Dollar counterpart) as I did, these are incredible comfort food.

I stand by all of that.  But I will add that watching these shows with the help of my TV and DVD player beats the hell out of streaming them online.  Lindsay Wagner literally radiates talent, charisma, and wholesome sex appeal here, and makes it all too obvious why NBC’s ill-conceived Bionic Woman reboot in 2007 was such a dismal failure.

While this set (obviously) contains all 14 first season episodes, it also includes four crossover episodes from The Six Million Dollar Man, entitled simply enough The Bionic Woman Parts 1 & 2, and The Return of The Bionic Woman Parts 1 & 2.  When, in March of 1975, the world was first introduced to Col. Steve Austin’s long lost love, Jaime Sommers, ratings went through the roof.  So did the cards and letters, many from traumatized children who simply could not deal with the tragic death of Jaime’s character, from “bionic rejection.”

And so, after bringing Jaime back to life the following season, she was quickly given her own spinoff series.  I love the scene in The Return of The Bionic Woman when the recently hospitalized Steve Austin thinks he sees Jaime (whom he believes is dead), and takes off so quickly in his wheelchair that he literally screeches the tires and burns rubber on the sidewalk.  These early crossover episodes – which again, I haven’t seen in about 35 years – brought it all home again how much I loved these shows as a kid.

The episodes, spread over four discs, break down like this (synopsis are actual jacket copy):

DISC ONE

The Six Million Dollar Man: The Bionic Woman
The original second season The Six Million Dollar Man episode where Jaime Sommers becomes the Bionic Woman.

The Six Million Dollar Man: The Bionic Woman Part II
Jaime Sommers is sent on her first assignment for the OSI in this second season The Six Million Dollar Man episode.

The Six Million Dollar Man: The Return of the Bionic Woman
Steve learns that Jaime did not die as he was led to believe, but was kept alive with cryogenic techniques by one of Rudy’s assistants. Jaime has just awakened from the cryogenic coma and suffers from memory loss resulting from mild brain damage.

The Six Million Dollar Man: The Return of the Bionic Woman Part II
Steve Austin learns that Jaime Sommers is still alive after seeing her die from a Bionic rejection. However, Jaime has suffered brain damage and no longer remembers anything about her past life, including Steve.

Welcome Home, Jaime
The Six Million Dollar Man episode that launched The Bionic Woman spin-off series. Oscar Goldman arranges a job for Jaime as a schoolteacher, but she also insists on taking on missions for the OSI.  (The DVD liner notes say this is a 6MDM episode – actually it is the first episode of The Bionic Woman.)

DISC TWO

Welcome Home, Jaime Part II
Oscar arranges a “falling out” with Jaime so that she can go undercover in businessman Carlton Harris’ shady organization and determine whether he is trading illegal government secrets.

Angel of Mercy
When Jaime is sent to Costa Brava with ace helicopter pilot Jack Starkey (Andy Griffith) to rescue the U.S. ambassador and his family, the mission becomes infinitely more complicated when the ambassador’s wife is trapped in a collapsed building.

A Thing of the Past
Jaime is the only one who can help an old friend and bus driver (Donald O’Connor) when thugs discover that he has been hiding out in Ojai since witnessing a murder years ago. Lee Majors co-stars.

Claws
Fur is sure to fly when Jaime protects a lion and the other creatures of a wild animal ranch from ranchers out for blood.

The Deadly Missiles
Jaime is forced to investigate her friend, J.T. Conners, after a missile is launched from his property at the very moment the U.S. missile warning system breaks down. Lee Majors co-stars.

DISC THREE

Bionic Beauty
Beauty and brawn are on display when Jaime enters a Miss United States pageant in order to infiltrate a nefarious espionage plan.

Jaime’s Mother
Jaime’s dream about her mother leaves her feeling disturbed – especially when she receives word that her parents’ graves have been vandalized.

Winning is Everything
Hoping to obtain vital information from a foreign country, Jaime becomes a navigator in an international desert auto race.

Canyon of Death
When she is captured by a group that is scheming to steal an atomic-powered device, Jaime’s life depends on a small boy who has “cried wolf” in the past.

DISC FOUR

Fly Jaime
In an effort to protect a doctor and his top-secret formula, Jaime heads to the skies and goes undercover as a flight attendant.

The Jailing of Jaime
Jaime fights to clear her name after the valuable decoding instrument she delivered is discovered on the international market.

Mirror Image
A woman undergoes plastic surgery in order to become Jaime’s double and steal privileged information from Oscar’s files.

The Ghost Hunter
Jaime poses as the governess for a small-town girl (Kristy McNichol) when supernatural forces disturb the classified project being developed by the child’s father.

While plotwise these episodes certainly are a mixed bag, some do stand out among the rest: all of the 6MDM crossover episodes (the chemistry between Majors and Wagner is palpable … even when Lee is warbling Sweet Jaime), Angel of Mercy, The Deadly Missiles, Fly Jaime, and Mirror Image.

Worst episode: Winning is Everything (I consistently wanted to smack Lindsay’s sleazy costar).

Silliest episode: Claws (… why IS that lion allowed to roam free, around kids no less?)

Cheesiest moment: Jaime sings Feelings at a beauty contest (… also, this episode, Bionic Beauty, is eerily close in plot to Miss Congeniality, which would be made 24 years later, and even drops that very term – even weirder, Sandra Bullock, who starred in Miss Congeniality, would, in 1989, costar as the new bionic girl in one of those reunion movies, Bionic Showdown).

Most surreal moments: the chats between Jaime and a young Indian boy in Canyon of Death reminded me weirdly of … Twilight.  I always thought that lovely tomboy Kristen Stewart would make a good Jaime Sommers in a theatrical update of this series (if anyone could figure out how to adapt 6MDM for the big screen), but this episode reminds me of that all over again.  Someone (with better editing equipment than I have) should re-edit portions of this episode with some Bella and Jacob dialogue from the Twilight movies – I think it would be hilarious (… just remember you heard it here first).

Bonus content on this box set includes:

Four commentary tracks by directors Alan J. Levi and James Parriott, and series producer/creator Kenneth Johnson.  Johnson offers a treasure trove of behind-the-scenes factoids.

A short gag reel (… an obvious trimming of some of the longish blooper reels seen on YouTube – Lindsay Wagner could, when frustratingly tongue tied, talk like a sailor).

A photo gallery.

And a 25-minute Making-Of doc called Bionic Beginnings, featuring all new interviews with Lindsay Wagner (still as lovely and charming as ever), Richard Anderson, Martin E. Brooks, and Kenneth Johnson.  All relate fascinating stories about the production of this iconic show.  Love the moment near the end of this documentary, when Lindsay Wagner is asked if she can make the “bionic noises” when she moves.  Laughing and blushing, she replies that she doesn’t need to because, to this day, everyone around her does it for her.  Hilarious.

The Bionic Woman Season 1 is a MUST HAVE for fans of the show.  If you have children, don’t hesitate to share this kid-friendly program with them.  Sure, by today’s standards, the plots are simplistic and the special effects charmingly cheesy, but those were never the main drawing point of this series anyway.  It’s all about the star – and back in the mid 1970’s, they didn’t come any brighter than Lindsay Wagner.  Highly recommended.

Bring on Season 2!

DVD GRADE: A
BONUS CONTENT: B

AND … check out the video below: a very cool sneak peek at The Six Million Dollar Man – The Complete Series box set.

THE PSYCHO LEGACY – DVD review

Published September 22, 2010

In an earlier article, PSYCHO BABBLE: The Legacy of Norman Bates, I waxed Hitchcockian on Hitch’s notorious 1960 classic, its three sequels, and my affection (is that wrong?) for all of them.  (You may want to scratch that post before continuing here.)  In that article, I mentioned that a recently-produced documentary, THE PSYCHO LEGACY – chronicling the making of ALL of the PSYCHO films – had been completed and was seeking distribution.  Thanks to our friends at Shout! Factory (who also valiantly released the long-awaited bio-pic ELVIS), the wait is over.

From the Shout! Factory press release:

Just when you thought it was safe to take a shower again, Shout! Factory is set to reveal THE PSYCHO LEGACY, a 2-Disc Special Edition DVD set that explores the history, impact, and mystique of PSYCHO and the films that it spawned.  THE PSYCHO LEGACY follows the indelible filmmaking legacy left by the PSYCHO movies and unravels the screenwriting, casting, and directing of all the movies, examining their undeniable longevity and success.   Interweaving rare and never-before-seen interview footage with Anthony Perkins and dozens of interviews with the films’ cast, crew, writers, and directors including Robert Loggia, Olivia Hussey, Henry Thomas, Diana Scarwid, Tom Holland, Hilton Green, Mick Garris, Richard Franklin,  and others, THE PSYCHO LEGACY is the first documentary to unite and explore decades of PSYCHO movies in one place, revealing surprises and insights into what is considered the “grandfather of modern horror.”

It’s been two years since I first wrote about this documentary, and now that I have received and watched my advanced copy (I love this job), I am here to tell you my thoughts.

Was it worth the wait?  Pretty much.  In addition to the 90-minute feature – a treasure trove of new interviews, vintage footage, and behind-the-scenes factoids from all four films – the 3+ hours of bonus material make this a MUST HAVE for fans of this series.  Those special features include extended and deleted scenes, an hour-long panel discussion with Anthony Perkins (this feature alone, filmed in the late 1980s, is a fascinating look into the mind and heart of PSYCHO’s charismatic star), The PSYCHO Reunion panel, a tour of the Bates Motel, Revisiting PSYCHO II (screenwriter Tom Holland and TPL director Robert Galluzzo look through original blueprints, props, and possessions left behind from PSYCHO II director Richard Franklin), Shooting PSYCHO II (an interview with famed cinematographer Dean Cundey), a visit with PSYCHO memorabilia collector Guy Thorpe, PSYCHO on the web, and The Hyaena Gallery Presents Serial-Killer-Inspired Art (… ironically, the most disturbing thing included here).

While the making of the original PSYCHO was brilliantly chronicled by documentary filmmaker Laurent Bouzereau – featured on all of the previous PSYCHO DVDs – this new doc is a perfect companion piece to that earlier film.  Director Galluzzo has called this an unofficial sequel to Bouzereau’s documentary.  Even a Hitchcock aficionado like myself learned much from the material here, including the fact that PSYCHO II producer Hilton Green (Hitch’s assistant director on the original PSYCHO) initially wanted Jamie Lee Curtis to play Mary Loomis in PSYCHO II.  Producers balked, however, and the part eventually went to Meg Tilly.  Meg was fine in the role (… though one also learns here that she and Perkins did not get along on the set).  However, I think Jamie Lee would have been perfect in the part – after all, as we eventually learn (SPOILER ALERT), the part is actually supposed to be the niece of the character January et Leigh played in the original, so who better than to play the role than Leigh’s daughter, Jamie, hot off of John Carpenter’s Halloween?  Oh well.

There are so many tasty tidbits here, one could not possibly list them all.  Some highlights: like when Jeff Fahey (PSYCHO III) segues off-topic and relates a story from the set of Grindhouse, where directors Tarantino and Rodriguez casually taunt him with his “Duane Duke” dialogue.  Or Perkin’s own anecdotes regarding the filming of the first three movies (his interview was completed not long before the filming of PSYCHO IV), and his relationship not only to the role of Norman Bates, but to fans of the series, is utterly fascinating.  He even tells us how the hilarious pronunciation of the word “cuuuuuutlery” from PSYCHO II came about.  One forgets this was shot on a camcorder during a panel discussion.  Thank God for the amateur cameraman in the audience, otherwise this footage of the notoriously interview-shy Perkins would not exist.

If I had any problems with the material presented here, I wish the producers had sprung for the rights to use Bernard Hermann’s iconic score for use on this disc (… or even Jerry Goldsmith’s haunting score for the first sequel), but instead we get a PSYCHO-esque score that more-or-less does the job.  I quibble – this is a very well produced documentary, and director/producer Robert Galluzzo is to be lauded for taking on this task on spec.

If I haven’t made my point yet … THE PSYCHO LEGACY is a marvelous document on all of the PSYCHO films, a brilliant companion piece to Bouzereau’s PSYCHO documentary (not to mention this bargain-priced DVD), and also to the continuing legacy of Norman Bates.

THE PSYCHO LEGACY ($19.95) will be released in stores nationwide October 19, 2010.  Copies can also be purchased at Amazon.com and Shout! Factory.

Highly recommended.

DOCUMENTARY GRADE: A
BONUS MATERIAL: A

John Carpenter and Kurt Russell’s ELVIS – DVD review

Published January 25, 2010

Two years ago I wrote an article entitled John Carpenter & Kurt Russell’s ELVIS – Where’s the DVD?, wherein I championed this nearly forgotten 1979 biopic of the King of Rock and Roll. Produced by Dick Clark two years after Presley’s tragic passing, ELVIS was the first collaboration between young director John Carpenter – hot off Halloween, the highest-grossing independent film at the time – and Disney’s teen heartthrob Kurt Russell. These two up’n-comers would, of course, later collaborate on Escape From New York, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, and Escape From L.A.

KURT RUSSELL AS ELVIS
Russell as Presley
Premiering on ABC in February 1979, ELVIS garnered huge ratings and effusive critical praise … especially for Russell who seemed to be channeling Mr. Presley from beyond.

That same year, ELVIS was edited from three hours down to two, and released in Europe as a theatrical feature. That shorter cut was released on videotape in the early 1990s, but was soon after pulled, shelved, and placed on moratorium because of a dispute over music rights. Much bemoaning and bemusing ensued regarding when we would see it released again …

In 2005, CBS produced another Elvis biopic starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, but it couldn’t hold a candle to the Carpenter/Russell version, despite the cooperation of the Elvis Presley Estate, and the use of Elvis’ actual recordings.

Now, finally, after years and years (and years) of waiting, I was recently contacted by the SHOUT! Factory video production house in response to my original article. They thanked me for championing the cause of getting this neglected classic re-released, sent along the news that they had acquired the rights to John Carpenter and Kurt Russell’s ELVIS and, in a joint partnership with Dick Clark Productions, were releasing the three-hour cut on DVD – street date: March 2nd, 2010.

They also sent along an advanced copy for review … some days this job doesn’t get any better.
Elvis DVD
So, was it worth the wait?

While I have a few quibbles, I must answer a resounding YES.

As an aficionado of (well-made) biopics – not to mention John Carpenter’s spooky oeuvre, and Elvis Presley himself – I’ll be the first to admit that ELVIS has been something of an obsession with me since its first airing. Its unavailability for so long only fed my mania. Six years ago I purchased a pirated DVD off of eBay, which had been transferred from that earlier videotape version. After watching it many times (I simply LOVE showing this film to the uninitiated), this two-hour edit became ingrained in me.

My first impression of the new DVD was how handsomely packaged it is: with a clear clam shell, a two-sided, full color jacket, and an 8-page booklet chronicling the production. The film itself (and this was the biggest surprise of all) is shown in its originally-shot theatrical ratio of 1.85:1. After seeing only the cropped and grainy version for the last 30 years, this was like viewing it for the first time.

RUSSELL AND HUBLEY AS ELVIS AND PRISCILLA
Russell and Hubley
This three-hour version (actually around 170 minutes) is not without its faults. Maybe I’m too used to the shorter cut, but this version is seriously padded – I don’t think there was anything left on the cutting room floor … other than the penultimate Burning Love number from the film’s final concert, included in the 2-hour cut, but not the longer one. There are also a couple of scenes which are not only badly edited, but completely misplaced. Early in the film, young Elvis is sitting around a guitar shop, listening to some old bluesmen wail That’s All Right Mama. His girlfriend comes in, leads him outside, and tells him that his parents are looking for him because a record company has called. At this point in the movie, Elvis hasn’t even been to Sun Records. Later, after Elvis goes to Sun to record My Happiness for his mother, it is evident where this scene was supposed to be placed. Such sloppy editing can only be blamed on the original editor – the two-hour version fixes this problem and is actually pretty tight, but it is not included here. Regardless, other than a few scenes which should have either been trimmed or cut, this version is remarkably entertaining.

KURT RUSSELL AS YOUNG ELVIS – HIGH SCHOOL TALENT SHOW
Russell as Elvis
Kurt Russell is SO good in this role, at times one forgets that we are not watching the real article – not bad for someone who in real life looks nothing like Elvis Presley. Season Hubley does an excellent job as Priscilla Beaulieu; though the part is underwritten, she makes the most of it, and often strongly resembles the beautiful woman she portrays. (Hubley and Russell fell in love on the set of this film, and were married a month after filming wrapped. Though they divorced four years later, they had a son together, Boston Russell, born in 1980.) Fine support is also offered by Shelley Winters as Gladys Presley, character actor Bing Russell (Kurt’s father) as Vernon Presley, Pat Hingle as Colonel Tom Parker, Carpenter-regular Charles Cypher as Sam Phillips, Ellen Travolta (John’s sister) as Sam’s assistant Marion Keisker, Joe Mantegna as Joe Esposito, and Robert Gray as Red West. Almost 20 years later, Kurt Russell would reprise (kind of) his role as Elvis in the Kevin Costner casino caper 3000 Miles to Graceland – the film was a stinker, but it was nice to see Russell back in the sideburns and rhinestones.

Charlie Hodge and Larry Geller, both members of Elvis’ Memphis Mafia, were production consultants and play themselves in the film – their presence adds much authenticity. Country singer Ronnie McDowell does a phenomenal job providing the singing for this production; he is to be credited as much as Russell and Carpenter for this film’s allure and success.

KURT LOOKING EERILY LIKE THE REAL McCOY
Kurt Russell as Elvis
While it seems an impossible task to try and fit Elvis Presley’s rags to riches story into a two or three hour film, this movie not only does so, but adds nuance after nuance of the charismatic-but-troubled entertainer. The story ends in 1969 as Elvis is returning to Las Vegas after years of languishing in substandard film fare. While his eventual decline and self-destruction are not dramatized, the seeds of those later problems are certainly planted. My only problem with the script is that it fudges the date of Elvis and Priscilla’s divorce by a few years – it was 1973 not 1969 – but from a storytelling point of view, this works.

SGT. PRESLEY AT THE PIANO, PUTTING HIS MOJO ON 14-YEAR OLD PRISCILLA BEAULIEU … DUDE, THAT’S HARDLY FAIR
Russell and Hubley
My only other quibble regards the bonus content on the new DVD. While a short-but-fascinating 1979 Making Of featurette is presented, I wish the producers had sprung for some new interviews from the director and star. Carpenter and Russell – whose commentaries on their later collaborations are extremely entertaining – have previously expressed interest in doing the same for this film, should it ever be released on DVD. Sadly, that is also not included here. There is a commentary by singer Ronnie McDowell and author Edie Hand, but it is no compensation for the exclusion of the film’s principal actor and well-learned auteur. (Listening to John Carpenter wax cinematic is nearly as entertaining as hearing Martin Scorcese do likewise – the man knows his film history.) The bonus features are rounded out by clips from Elvis Day on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand circa 1962 (understandably without any actual Elvis music), and a photo gallery of production stills.

RUSSELL AS ELVIS AND THE SHADOW OF HIS TWIN, JESSE GARON
Russell as Elvis
While I am disappointed in some of the exclusions in bonus content, and in the lazily edited original runtime, I still must enthusiastically recommend this DVD release to all who are interested in either excellent biographical pictures, Carpenter and Russell films, or anything regarding Elvis Presley. Perhaps if response to this looooooong-awaited DVD release is strong enough, in a few years we can get another DVD (ELVIS – The Definitive Cut, for which I would gladly offer my editorial assistance), with new interviews and a Carpenter and Russell commentary. Looks like I’m still not done campaigning for this film.

To SHOUT! Factory who made this happen, may I offer a sincere …

Thank you. Thankyouverymuch.

And to you still reading this long review … you’re a beautiful audience!

MOVIE GRADE: A-
BONUS CONTENT: B-
PACKAGING: A

ELVIS can now be found on Amazon for around $10.00!

EASTWOOD: AMERICAN ICON COLLECTION

Published July 4, 2009

Clint. Say it soft. Say it low. Say it with a squint.

I’m a big Clint Eastwood fan — if you’ve read my reviews of Dirty Harry: The Ultimate Collector’s Edition or Gran Torino, you already know this. Having recently picked up a 4-movie DVD package entitled Clint Eastwood: American Icon Collection, I didn’t expect to be writing about it. Reason being, I thought this bargain-priced set was just another quick cashing in by a studio (in this case, Universal) of films that were gathering dust in their vaults. So what a pleasant surprise to discover that this one was actually terrific.
Eastwood: American Icon
Containing Play Misty For Me, The Eiger Sanction, Coogan’s Bluff and The Beguiled, this collection is a must for Eastwood aficionados. Obviously, the cream of this particular crop is …

Play Misty For Me (1971) — In his directorial debut, Clint stars as a radio disc jockey who becomes the victim of psychotic obsession when he tries to end a torrid affair with a fan (Jessica Walter). Does this film hold up after nearly four decades? Yeah, boy. Not even countless imitators like Fatal Attraction can tarnish the brilliance of the original. Tense, creepy, and the ultimate cautionary tale for those with loose morals and looser belts: be careful whose bed you climb in — that pretty face could be hiding your worst nightmare.
GRADE: A

The Eiger Sanction (1975) — Clint directs and stars in this action thriller about a professional assassin who is forced out of retirement in order to avenge a friend’s murder in the Swiss Alps. Ever tried to imagine Eastwood as James Bond? This film answers that question. While the plot does not bear close scrutiny, and some of the performances are downright silly (like Thayer David — Jergens, the fight promoter from Rocky — as the Blofeld-esque Dragon), the real stars of this movie are the Swiss Alps and Monument Valley, Arizona. Both locales are used brilliantly — filled with breathtaking visuals and some of the most amazing stunt work I’ve ever seen … by Clint himself. Not a green screen (or any CGI obviously) in sight.
GRADE: B

Coogan’s Bluff (1968) — Clint stars as a soft-spoken, straightforward Arizona lawman whose unorthodox methods of capturing an escaped murderer anger a tough NYC police lieutenant. This was the first pairing of Clint with director Don Siegel and, while obviously dated, is the perfect transition film from the actor’s legendary spaghetti westerns to his iconic portrayal of Dirty Harry three years later (also directed by Siegel). This movie was the inspiration for the TV series McCloud (1970 – 1977), starring Dennis Weaver.
GRADE: B

The Beguiled (1971) — In this psychological thriller of love, betrayal and hidden passions, Clint stars as a wounded soldier who finds shelter in an all-girls academy during the Civil War. Eastwood’s third film with Siegel is one of his strangest, but what happens to Clint’s Union soldier while under the bed care (ha!) of these young women (led by an excellent Geraldine Page) is the stuff of nightmares. Especially what they do to his leg … yeeesh!
GRADE: B

CLINT EASTWOOD (1993) painted by Andy Williamson — acrylic vinyl
Clint Eastwood
All films are widescreen and nicely transferred. Misty and Eiger get their own discs, while Coogan and Beguiled share a third (single-sided). But the kicker here is the bonus content on the Play Misty For Me disc (which is identical to its previous solo release). Play It Again … A Look Back at Play Misty For Me (49:20) is an excellent 2001 Making Of doc (directed by über-documentarian Laurent Bouzereau) featuring new interviews with its makers and cast. Very well done. Be warned however, if you’ve never seen the film, this doc is pretty spoilerific … watch the film first. The other, shorter features: The Beguiled, Misty, Don and Clint (6:13, with more spoilers), Clint Eastwood on DVD (1:26), Clint Eastwood Directs and Acts (2:03), not to mention Photo and Poster montages, and theatrical trailers, make this DVD set a must have for Clint fans. Amazon currently has this at only $12.49! Disc One of this set is worth that purchase price alone — to get these other three films too is all gravy, baby.
BONUS CONTENT: B+

By the by … each of these films contain dialogue, characters and situations that are so glaringly un-PC as to be startling in this new millennium. The black stereotypes (like Eiger Sanction’s Jemima Brown), gay caricatures (especially in Misty and Eiger), and seduction of Clint by teenage girls (in Beguiled) are shocking to be sure. And yet, right or wrong, they seem to fit in the late 60s/early 70s time capsule that these films represent. But come to think of it, which of Clint’s films aren’t edgy and controversial? None, that’s how many. Somehow coming from Clint (“That’s mighty white of you,” heard in more than one of his movies) — the epithets are strangely diffused. If one needs a final discourse on racism in Eastwood movies, one need only watch Gran Torino.

Bottom line, this is a terrific (and terrifically priced) package — highly recommended.

OVERALL GRADE: A-

ONE FINAL NOTE: Speaking of “imitators” … it occurs to me if you take the psychotic female fan of Play Misty For Me and cross it with the wounded man held captive in The Beguiled — again, especially with what they do to his leg, yeeeesh! — you get Stephen King’s Misery. Hmmmm. (Sorry Steve, you’re my favorite, but in 1971 I’m thinking both of these films made quite an impression on you.) Even the “Annabelle Lee” reveal in Play Misty For Me is similar to the film version of Misery when Sheriff Buster figures out about Annie Wilkes from a Misery quote. Not in the book, so thank you William Goldman. As Chuck Berry and Richard Matheson can attest: There truly is nothing new under the sun.

WORDSLINGER’S SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION: Yes, I did paint the above portrait (and the one below). To see more, check out ThePaintslinger.

CLINT EASTWOOD AS DIRTY HARRY (2009) – painted by Andy Williamson
Dirty Harry

VERTIGO — WORTH THE DVD UPGRADE?

Published April 27, 2009

Any discussion regarding Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest films is going to include Vertigo. Is that 1958 film Hitch’s masterpiece? Some would say yes — others would say Psycho, or Rear Window, or North By Northwest, or … well, you get the idea. Rereleased last year on DVD as part of Universal’s Legacy Series, the 2-disc Special Edition of Vertigo is a shining upgrade for one of the most important films ever committed to celluloid.
Vertigo
Neurosis (not to mention psychosis) have long been part of The Master’s favorite plot devices (see Rope, Psycho, Marnie) — and Vertigo is perhaps the quintessential example. San Francisco Police Detective John “Scotty” Ferguson (James Stewart) hasn’t been the same since he almost fell to his death after a rooftop chase. Another officer, while trying to help him, did make that unfortunate plunge. Retired from the force, plagued with guilt, and crippled by a very bad case of acrophobia, Scotty now spends his days “wandering about.” When an old colleague asks Scotty to trail his wife, who seems to be haunted by (perhaps even possessed by) a dead woman, Scotty is reluctant … but when he finally sees “Madeleine” (Kim Novak) for himself, he is intrigued (perhaps even smitten). What ensues is one of the greatest mysteries of our time.

Never fully appreciated in its day, Vertigo had a slow build of appreciation as filmmakers, critics, and fans began to refer to it more and more often as on of Hitch’s most involving and suspenseful films. Great chunks of screentime go by without one word of dialogue, as Scotty trails Madeleine through museums, cemeteries and the San Francisco bay area. Bernard Hermann’s haunting score is one of his best. This is Hitchcock firing on all cylinders.

In the mid-nineties, Vertigo, in danger of being lost forever since the original negative was in such bad shape, was painstakingly restored, frame by frame, by Robert Harris and James Katz. It was rereleased to great acclaim (although some purists have taken exception to some of the sound changes made).

Previously released on DVD in 1998 (and again in 2005 as part of the 14-film Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection), Universal has recently given major upgrades to Vertigo, Rear Window, and Psycho as part of its Legacy Series. So … is it worth the double dip? While much of the bonus material is carried forward from the 1998 disc (I’ve been told the 2005 release was identical), this 2-disc special edition is a wonder to behold. The film is finally available in an anamorphic ratio which lets the viewer see the whole thing in all its gorgeous Technicolor/Vistavision glory — also available is the original 2.0 mono sound track (for those who thought Harris and Katz took too many liberties with their stereo mix).

Among the bonus features carried over are:

– audio commentary featuring Harris, Katz, and associate producer Herbert Coleman.
– Foreign censorship ending
– The Vertigo Archives (production drawings, storyboards, publicity photos, lobby cards, posters, etc …)
– Production Notes
– Original and restoration trailer
Obsessed with Vertigo: New Life for Hitchcock’s Masterpiece: The original documentary on the film’s legacy and restoration. The half-hour program was produced by American Movie Classics (obviously back in the days when that cable station still broadcast widescreen classics, and not the pan-and-scanned shite they offer today).

New bonus features include:

– Feature commentary with film director William Friedkin (Mr. Friedkin hardly takes a breath during his interesting commentary, even if he does sometimes state the obvious).

Partners in Crime: Hitchcock’s Collaborators — This hour-long doc is divided into four parts, regarding Saul Bass’s titles, Edith Head’s costumes, Bernard Hermann’s music, and Hitchcock’s wife, Alma Reville (who was indeed his most trusted collaborator). Informative and entertaining — very well done.

– Hitchcock/Truffaut Interview Excerpts (dealing specifically with Vertigo)

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Case of Mr. Pelham

So, again, is it worth the double dip? If you are a Hitchcock aficionado, absolutely. If you are a casual fan who is content with your old DVD, you’ll probably be fine without the upgrade. For newbies, I recommend this new 2-disc special edition most enthusiastically. In fact, I am almost jealous of those who will get to see this film for the first time in this format. A great DVD for a great film.

See my review of the Universal Legacy Series 2-disc Special Edition of Psycho (article includes much more, including reviews of all the Psycho sequels).

Coming soon: my review of Universal Legacy Series 2-disc Special Edition of Rear Window.