(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what's new on Blu-ray, DVD and Streaming. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
BLUE DENIM (1959). Even though it changed the harsh ending of the stage play on which it was based – and even though the word “abortion” is never uttered at any point throughout its 90-minute run time – Blue Denim nevertheless met with its fair share of controversy during its initial release. Arthur Bartley (Brandon de Wilde) and Janet Willard (Carol Lynley) are two clean-cut teenagers whose parents – his: a former military man (Macdonald Carey) and a housewife (Marsha Hunt); hers: a lonely widower (Vaughn Taylor) – simply don’t understand them. Obviously, what we’ve got here is failure to communicate — this means that the kids are on their own after Janet gets pregnant, with only Arthur’s best friend Ernie (Warren Berlinger) offering them reluctant assistance once they decide that obtaining an illegal abortion is their only viable option. Clearly, Blue Denim is a product of not only a more conservative time but also a more conservative Hollywood (hence, why the ending was altered from its source material). Yet the film is nevertheless free of the hysteria and hypocrisy often found in vintage works of this nature, with writer-director Philip Dunne (co-scripting with Edith Sommer) preferring a measured and respectful approach. Lynley and Berlinger, imports from the Broadway version, are both excellent – ditto de Wilde, already an Oscar-nominated actor for his supporting turn as the little boy in 1953’s Shane and with the 1963 Paul Newman classic Hud still on the way (tragically, he would die in a car crash in 1972, only 30 years old).
Blu-ray extras consist of the theatrical trailer and an isolated track of Bernard Herrmann’s score.
BRUCE’S DEADLY FINGERS (1976). The cinematic scene of the 1970s was full of various forms of exploitation, from blaxploitation to nunsploitation. And then there was Bruceploitation, which was the practice of producing martial arts movies capitalizing on the vacuum left by the unexpected 1973 death of superstar Bruce Lee. One busy actor in the genre was Ho Chung Tao, who starred in numerous films under the moniker Bruce Li; another was Kin Lung Huang, who made his mark while essaying the name Bruce Le. One of the first endeavors to feature “Bruce Le” was Bruce’s Deadly Fingers, a must-see for Bruceploitation aficionados but a hard pass for most other viewers. The plot posits that the real Bruce Lee once wrote an instructional tome named The Kung Fu Finger Book, and a villainous hoodlum (Lieh Lo) wants to add it to his collection. Naturally, it’s up to Lee’s former disciple, Bruce Wong (Bruce Le), to locate the book first and quickly absorb its teachings so he can lay waste to various evildoers. The plot is nonsensical and the dubbed dialogue is inane, but some of the martial arts mayhem is imaginatively staged. There are also some bizarre interludes which find their way into the proceedings – one guy suffers death by cue ball, and is that a snake or a lizard dangled precariously close to a captive woman’s ... ahem?
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by actor and kung fu film expert Michael Worth; deleted scenes; a photo gallery; and trailers for various kung fu flicks.
FIFTY SHADES FREED (2018). The final movie based on the popular series by E.L. James, Fifty Shades Freed is the best film in the trilogy that began with 2015’s Fifty Shades of Grey and continued with 2017’s Fifty Shades Darker. Yet before we start popping champagne bottles in celebration, let’s consider the general awfulness of this franchise. Still, blessings should be snatched wherever and whenever they appear, and it’s comforting to note that this isn’t quite the excruciating experience as its forebears in foreplay. Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) finally get married, but their happily-ever-after status is immediately threatened by the reemergence of Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), who’s jealous of Christian and seeks revenge via a series of badly thought-out schemes. Also rubbing against the couples’ eternal contentment is the fact that Anastasia is thinking about babies while Christian still prefers handcuffs to high chairs. This fares slightly better than its predecessors because it at least has what can loosely be described as a plot to give it some shape. It also helps that it’s the most unabashedly pornographic picture in the series. No, not in a sexual sense – this franchise remains exceedingly mild, and washing dishes will probably offer viewers more of an erotic charge than any of the tepid and typically muted trysts on display. Instead, the porn is of the material sort, the capitalist kind, the lifestyles of the rich and famous variety. YMMV, but it’s easy to imagine some viewers audibly moaning over the beachfront vistas or the palatial estates or the sleek sports cars. These folks will need a cold shower to douse those libidos. Or they can simply watch the rest of Fifty Shades Freed.
The Blu-ray contains both theatrical and unrated versions. Extras include making-of featurettes; a deleted scene; and music videos.
THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971). Shout! Factory, the outfit that released the anthology twofer Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Terror back in 2014 (see reviews here), now provides us with more ‘70s-era terror tales from Amicus Productions. Robert Bloch, the author of Psycho (as well as the recently reviewed The Psychopath), uses the framework of a haunted house to connect four stories involving (as the original tagline blared) “Vampires! Voodoo! Vixens! Victims!” The first segment, “Method for Murder,” centers on a writer (Denholm Elliott) who creates a demented killer for his latest story and subsequently starts seeing him in the flesh. Then comes “Waxworks,” in which a retiree (Peter Cushing) visits a nearby wax museum and is shocked to see that Salome looks just like his previous love. Next is “Sweets to the Sweet,” in which a tutor (Nyree Dawn Porter) notes the tension between her young charge (Chloe Franks) and the little girl’s strict father (Christopher Lee). Finally, “The Cloak” centers on the effect that the title garment has on an actor (Jon Pertwee) who purchases it for use in his latest vampire picture. The framework is weak since the house really has no bearing on any of these stories’ supernatural shenanigans, but never mind: All the tales are enjoyable, with “Sweets to the Sweet” arguably emerging as the strongest (though “Method for Murder” sports a nifty twist) and “Waxworks” bringing up the rear due mainly to its lackluster ending.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Peter Duffell and author Jonathan Rigby; an interview with second assistant director Mike Higgins (who points out that Lee’s character in the film can be seen reading The Lord of the Rings, a full 30 years before the actor appeared as Saruman in the film adaptations); a vintage making-of featurette; and theatrical trailers.
MODEL SHOP (1969). So you think it’s impressive how the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are all connected? Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk et al might have taken a page from Jacques Demy, who penciled in the dots between many of his movies long before such a gimmick became the norm. Naturally, his international blockbuster The Umbrellas of Cherbourg led directly to The Young Girls of Rochefort, but there are also connections with his first two features, Lola and Bay of Angels, as well as his first American film, Model Shop. The latter proved to be a major stateside flop, and that’s not entirely surprising. Yet for those who can land on its wavelength (admittedly, it can take a while to locate it), it’s an attractive and offbeat picture, almost as interested in its Los Angeles setting as in its central characters (as Demy noted in interviews, he fell in love with the city upon arrival and wanted to capture it on film). 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Gary Lockwood plays George Matthews, an aspiring architect who lives with his girlfriend (Alexandra Hay) but barely pays her any attention. Having just learned that he’s been drafted and will doubtless soon be sent to Vietnam, he wanders around until he spots Lola (Anouk Aimee), a Frenchwoman who works at a studio where customers can take risqué photos of scantily clad models. George and Lola strike up an unusual relationship, and Demy’s film settles into rhythmic beats of unexpected encounters and second chances.
Blu-ray extras consist of the theatrical trailer; TV spots; and an isolated track of the music score by the band Spirit.
FROM SCREEN TO STREAM
(Recommended films currently available on streaming services)
BARBERSHOP: THE NEXT CUT (2016). The best of the Barbershop quartet (following 2002's Barbershop, 2004's Barbershop: Back in Business, and 2005's Beauty Shop), Barbershop: The Next Cut offers more laughs and more meaningful commentary than previous installments in the series. Calvin's Barbershop is still being run by its namesake (series star Ice Cube), but the formerly all-male Chicago business is now coed, with the smart and sensible Angie (Regina Hall) and her ladies offering beauty-shop services right alongside Calvin, crotchety Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer) and the other barbers. Whereas the first two Barbershop entries employed the gimmicky plotline of rival developers attempting to swallow up the venerable venue, this one turns more toward the day's headlines, with Calvin and his crew worrying about — and being affected by — the crime that's tearing apart their community. While it makes for many somber moments, the humor isn't neglected in other scenes, thanks to the contributions of, among others, Sean Patrick Thomas as the sensitive Jimmy, J.B. Smoove as the opportunistic One-Stop, and, of course, Cedric the Entertainer. (Only Dante Cole, utterly annoying as the sexist and preening Dante, fails to draw any laughs.) Other subplots freely come and go — the most prominent centers on a stylist (singer Nicki Minaj) coming between married employees (Common and Eve) — but the twin strengths of the movie remain its amusing asides and, across the field, its civic-minded seriousness. (Amazon Prime)