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Saturday, June 28, 2014

DVD Review: Action-Adventure Movie Marathon

Action-Adventure Movie Marathon includes four films on two discs: I Escaped From Devil’s Island, The Final Option, Shake Hands With The Devil, and Treasure Of The Four Crowns. Three of those films are seriously good (one of them, in fact, is an excellent film). The fourth film, well, we’ll come to that one, but perhaps it’s best to think of this set as being three films, with a fourth thrown in as a bonus feature. Interestingly, the films are from different decades, with one from the fifties, one from the seventies, and two from the eighties.

I Escaped From Devil’s Island

I Escaped From Devil’s Island stars Jim Brown and Chris George as prisoners who make a daring escape from Devil’s Island. One thing that sets this film apart from other prison break movies is that it takes place in French Guiana in 1918, just as the war is ending. It opens with an execution scene, but just before the execution takes place, the war ends, with France and its allies victorious. So all death penalty cases are commuted to life sentences of hard labor on Devil’s Island.

The first section of the film takes place at the prison, where there is gambling among the prisoners. And interestingly, there are communist meetings as well. Davert (Chris George) is a pacifist who tries to talk sense to a guard, and gets a beating for his efforts. This film can be surprisingly brutal. And there is some cool shark footage. Escaping from the prison is just the beginning. This movie has lots of interesting developments, including help from lepers and a strange mating ritual that Lebras (Jim Brown) becomes involved in. It’s a seriously enjoyable film, written by Richard L. Adams and directed by William Witney. It was produced by Roger Corman and Gene Corman.

The Final Option

I have long been a fan of Judy Davis’ work, as she is always interesting. And she does not let me down in The Final Option, a movie about espionage, terrorism, and the quest for a peaceful planet. Plus, she looks totally hot in most of her outfits, like that fur jacket she wears in a concert scene. Frankie Leith (Judy Davis) is one of the two leaders of the People’s Lobby, an organization protesting nuclear weapons and aimed at creating peace. Captain Peter Skellen (Lewis Collins) is tasked with infiltrating their organization, getting close to Frankie, and discovering their plans, as it is believed that terrorists within the organization are plotting something big.

It’s a really good film, with lots of excellent scenes, such as an early scene at a military-type training facility. There is also a very impressive shot as Frankie takes Peter to the organization’s headquarters, beginning at one level, rising to another, and involving several actors. There are some surprises, and lots of interesting (and believable) procedural shots. But what’s really wonderful about this film is its characters.

In addition to an excellent and nuanced performance by Judy Davis, The Final Option also features a performance by Ingrid Pitt as Helga, an important woman within the organization. I am always happy to see Ingrid Pitt, and there is something sexy about her, even as she instructs people at a firing range (the targets are peace symbols, which is a humorous touch).

The Final Option was directed by Ian Sharp.

Shake Hands With The Devil

As good as those first two films are, the best film of the four in this collection is Shake Hands With The Devil, starring James Cagney, Don Murray, Dana Wynter, and Glynis Johns. This 1959 film takes place in Dublin in 1921, and a bit of voice over at the beginning tells us that “It was also the year of the black and tans, the army assembled to replace the English regulars who had lost their taste for the suppression of men in search of freedom.” (And don’t worry, that’s the only narration in the film.)

Don Murray plays Kerry O’Shea, a medical student of Irish descent who had been raised in the United States and has no interest in getting involved in the Irish movement as he is against violence. Of course, circumstances force him to become involved, but what is wonderful is that it doesn’t happen quickly or easily. In fact, even after his friend and roommate is shot and killed, he doesn’t immediately join. Instead, he chooses to leave Ireland, though with the help of the movement. By the way, the scene where Sean Lenihan (James Cagney) works to try to save the friend’s life is wonderful, done basically without dialogue.

O’Shea is arrested, and his interrogation scene is done in a really interesting way, from O’Shea’s perspective with a close-up of the officer’s hand as it hits him. Of course, there’s no surer way to politicize someone than to beat him. That’s true of both sides. At one point, O’Shea asks an English prisoner, “Was Captain Fleming anything special to you?” The woman responds, “Not until you killed him.” What a great line.

This film is an intelligent, intriguing drama, offering no easy answers. It features an excellent performance by Cyril Cusack (from Harold And Maude) as Chris Noonan, and a young Richard Harris as Terence O’Brien. There is also a wonderful performance by Glynis Johns as Kitty Brady, a local woman who also finds herself caught up in the events.

Shake Hands With The Devil was directed by Michael Anderson, who also directed 1984 and Logan’s Run.

Treasure Of The Four Crowns

So the only bad film in this set is Treasure Of The Four Crowns. And it is not just bad. It is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. The film was originally released in 3D, and it is not in 3D here, so you have all sorts of stuff flying directly at the camera which without the 3D effect seems even sillier. Also, this DVD is not in the original aspect ratio, but is rather full screen, which makes for a less enjoyable viewing experience. For example, in the opening crawl (yes, exactly like in Star Wars), because of the full screen aspect, it’s difficult to read a complete line until it reaches the very top of the screen. It seems like less care was taken with this film (perhaps understandably), so it’s rather surprising that this is the only of the four films to have a bonus feature. There is a commentary track on this one. More on that in a bit.

The film opens with a man exploring a castle. Think of the opening of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, then subtract the suspense and the humor, remove all of the fun, and put in some birds and dogs and a less charismatic actor, and you’ll have a good idea of what this is about. Anyway, the film is full of random objects tossed at the camera and lots of pointless explosions. The plot, such as it is, involves this man being asked to break into the castle of a cult leader to steal the crowns. That’s it, really. Apart from the film being just awful and it being presented in the wrong aspect ratio without the 3D effect, the print is also a mess.  It actually seems like the camera crew just never checked the gate, never cleaned the lens. There are black globs all over the place throughout the film (and imagine how many more we’re missing due to the lack of the proper widescreen aspect ratio).

Basically, a film couldn’t possibly go more wrong than this one. And yet, there is a commentary track by a self-described fan of the film, Russell Dyball. He says it’s one of his favorite cult films of the 1980s, and repeatedly says he’s a fan of the film, and eventually I’m convinced that he is. He talks about how 3D is merely a gimmick used to get people to the movie theatre. So true, now as then. During the long opening scene, he says: “Obviously, there’s not a lot of plot going on here. It’s all about the 3D.” Throughout the film he points out problems with the plot and so on, and this is from a fan. He says it’s easy for some people to dismiss this film. It was certainly easy for me to do so.

But, again, the other three films are all worth watching and worth owning on DVD. Just think of the fourth one as a bonus feature that you’ll likely never watch.

Action-Adventure Movie Marathon is scheduled to be released on July 15, 2014 through Shout! Factory.

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