FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER (1965). Orson Welles' Citizen Kane is routinely cited as the greatest movie ever made, but what about the all-time worst? Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space seems to be the general consensus (thanks in no small part to its first-place -- or would that be last-place? -- finish in the indispensable book The Golden Turkey Awards), while Robot Monster and Manos: The Hands of Fate are serious contenders for the dishonor. Yet for roughly the past quarter-century, ever since catching it on late-night TV as a teenager, I've been convinced that Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster is the clear choice. It's finally being released on DVD, and a fresh viewing reveals that it's lost none of its, uh, charms. Also known under the title Mars Invades Puerto Rico, this centers on an android astronaut named Frank (Robert Reilly) who embarks on a killing spree after his circuits get melted during a fiery explosion. But ultimately, it's up to him to save Earth (or at least Puerto Rico) from invading aliens hell-bent on kidnapping nubile women for breeding purposes. The alien leader is Princess Marcuzan (not to be confused with marzipan), her assistant is Dr. Nadir (complete with Mr. Spock ears that always look ready to fall off) and their pet monster is Mull (no relation to Martin); you also get reams of stock footage (mostly of planes and rockets), a cheesy pool party (accompanied by an equally cheesy rock score) and the sight of the hero (James Karen, who survived this to become a character actor of note) repeatedly putting around on his motor scooter. The worst movie ever made? Hard to say anymore, given all the competition. Must-see viewing for bad-movie buffs? Oh, yeah. DVD extras include the theatrical trailer, a photo gallery and an informative 16-page booklet.
MURDER, INC. (1960) / 100 RIFLES (1969) / YELLOW SKY (1948). In anticipation of Father's Day, 20th Century Fox's home entertainment division is releasing (or, in some cases, re-releasing) a slew of vintage movies they figure will appeal to male moviegoers -- specifically, Westerns, war flicks and gangster tales. Space and time don't allow for coverage of all these titles (though many are worthy), but here's a peek at three of the offerings, including one that's never been available either on DVD or VHS.
The new-to-home film is Murder, Inc., a (loosely) based-on-fact account of the notorious crime syndicate that ruled Brooklyn shortly after the end of Prohibition. In just his third year in show business, Peter Falk earned the first of his two back-to-back Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominations for his compelling turn as Abe Reles, the outfit's cold-blooded killer. Indeed, after spending the '60s establishing himself as a first-rate character actor in theatrical films, Falk landed the role of Columbo in 1968 -- and the rest is TV history. As for Murder, Inc., the movie really does owe its juice to Falk; it's less compelling when it focuses on the travails of Joey Collins (top-billed Stuart Whitman), a decent guy caught between the law and the mob.
I wonder how Roger Ebert feels about being quoted on the DVD box for 100 Rifles, which claims he stated that the movie has "humorous charm"? Actually, Ebert only gave the movie a measly 1-1/2 stars, writing that it was star Jim Brown who "has a cool, humorous charm." Personally, I didn't see much humor in Brown's performance -- the former football great is pretty wooden -- but the film itself makes for adequate small-screen viewing on a lazy Sunday afternoon (which, come to think of it, is how I first caught it some two decades ago). Brown plays Lyedecker, a US lawman who journeys to Mexico to bring back bank robber Yaqui Joe (Burt Reynolds). Even after learning that Joe stole the money to buy rifles for the Mexican peasants to use in their war against a sadistic general (Fernando Lamas), Lyedecker still insists on doing his job, figuring it's not his fight and therefore not his business. Naturally, he'll reluctantly end up becoming the leader of the ragtag army, which leads to a bloody final battle. Rachel Welch (as the fiery revolutionary involved with both men) is even less expressive than Brown, though Reynolds was already displaying the easygoing charm that led to his superstar status in the 1970s. The score by the prolific Jerry Goldsmith (The Omen, L.A. Confidential) is outstanding and the best thing about this often lumbering Western.
A better Western -- and one that's ripe for rediscovery -- is Yellow Sky, from the same director and writer (William A. Wellman and Lamar Trotti) who made the classic oater The Ox-Bow Incident. After nearly perishing while crossing punishing salt flats, a gang of bank robbers led by Stretch Dawson (Gregory Peck) finds itself in the once-prosperous town of Yellow Sky, now deserted except for an old prospector (James Barton) and his granddaughter Mike (Anne Baxter, seriously sexy in tomboy mode). The smartest member of Stretch's gang (Richard Widmark) wants the gold that the pair are hiding; the vilest member (John Russell) wants the gold and the girl. For his part, Stretch tries to remain a hard-core criminal but finds himself increasingly attracted to Mike. From its nod in the direction of Shakespeare's The Tempest to its imaginatively staged final gunfight, Yellow Sky takes some unusual detours that allow it to stand out from the pack.
The only DVD extras on Murder, Inc. are theatrical trailers; extras on 100 Rifles and Yellow Sky consist of still galleries and theatrical trailers.
Murder, Inc.: ***
100 Rifles: **1/2
Yellow Sky: ***
Rifles / Sky extras: *1/2
PLATOON (1986). Frankly, we needed another DVD reissue of Platoon -- writer-director Oliver Stone's Oscar-winning drama about the Vietnam War -- about as much as we needed another senseless and inhumane war set on foreign soil (whoops, we got both). This marks Platoon's fourth tour of duty on disc, and as befits a DVD billing itself as the "20th Anniversary Edition," this is the most fully loaded version yet. Many of the extra features were included on the "Special Edition" released in 2001: separate audio commentaries by Stone and military advisor Dale Dye, the documentary Tour of the Inferno, and a photo gallery. New to this two-disc set are five additional documentaries (between them, the six docs total over two hours), a few never-before-seen deleted scenes and the DTS sound option for extra wall-shaking emphasis. As for the movie itself, it remains one of the best Vietnam War films, and Johnny Depp completists will be interested to learn that he pops up in the supporting cast.
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