George C. Scott (THE CHANGELING) headlines two 1930s film sendups and dies two glorious deaths in Stanley Donen's (CHARADE) last stab at a big Hollywood movie with MOVIE MOVIE, a satirical double feature send-up of three classic genres from the golden age of cinema, on Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing.
In DYNAMITE HANDS – filmed in glorious black and white - Joey Popchik (Harry Hamlin, CLASH OF THE TITANS) works in his family's deli while saving up to go to law school until his parents (THE BIG HEAT's Jocelyn Brando and choreographer Michael Kidd) tell him that his little sister Angie (Kathleen Beller, ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE?) needs an eye operation from a specialist in Vienna that will cost twenty-thousand dollars; whereupon he takes up the offer of local trainer Gloves Malloy (Scott) to fight for prize money. He starts to make a name for himself but the money is still not enough and he wants a chance at Madison Square Garden. Although Gloves tells him he is not ready, unscrupulous manager Vince Marlow (Eli Wallach, FIREPOWER) steps in with the promises of riches. Despite the warnings of Gloves and the misgivings of his librarian girlfriend Betsy (Trish Van Devere, THE HEARSE), Joey gets swept up in the glory and the glamor of torch singer Troubles Moran (Ann Reinking, ALL THAT JAZZ) and only comes to realize how deluded he has become when Vince tells him to take a dive for the big fight.
In BAXTER'S BEAUTIES OF 1933, show producer Spats Baxter (Scott) learns that he has a terminal illness and not much time left ("Six months from your last visit five months ago") and decides that his last show must be a hit so that he can continue sending anonymous checks to his daughter who he sent away as a child after killing her mother in a drunken accident. Returning from his doctor's appointment, he is in a generous enough mood to hire just-off-the-buss show biz hopeful Kitty (Rebecca York, MR. MOM) a job in the chorus and to give bumbling accountant/aspiring composer Dick Cummings (Barry Bostwick, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW) a chance to compose an entire new score in twenty four hours when Spats' mistress and star Isobel Stuart (Van Devere again) – in danger of falling off the wagon – threatens to walk out on the show if she does not get some better songs. While Kitty's new roommate/chorus girl Trixie (Barbara Harris, FOUL PLAY) pines for Spats, Isobel becomes enamored of Dick and sweeps him off his feet just as he and Kitty were falling for each other. Various misfortunes befall the production and Spats begins to suffer progressively fainting and dizzy spells as opening night nears.
Both films feature the same opening shot (the black and white film was shot in color but lit for monochrome in order to protect for television sales) and Art Carney (HARRY AND TONTO) as a doctor – he also appears with Scott in the intermission trailer for war film ZERO HOUR – and some of the same redressed sets designed by Jack Fisk (DAYS OF HEAVEN) as a deliberate choice rather than simple economizing since they are after all both "Warren Brothers" pictures. Charles Rosher Jr. (THE ONION FIELD) is credited as cinematographer on DYNAMITE HANDS but his meticulous lighting for the film to look good in both color and black and white was reportedly so time-consuming that he was replaced by Clint Eastwood favorite Bruce Surtees (DIRTY HARRY) who shot the second film. DYNAMITE HANDS runs just under an hour, but the compression of the narrative seems as much what one would expect from an economizing B-feature of around that length from the thirties, and the satirical aspects are smartly played through the fast-talking dialogue over sight gags or intentional jokes. BAXTER'S BEAUTIES OF 1933 is wonderfully lush in its colors and the staging of its final musical sequence with the various plot contrivances organic to the feel good musicals from the period. There are times when the camerawork seems a bit too mobile for the thirties, with a number of zooms for the sake of coverage when thirties films would have remained static or cut closer but both generally manage to suck the viewer into the period feel. There is no real framing device other than an introduction by George Burns (not included on feature transfer, see below) in which he describes this type of double bill as being from a time when "the only four letter word in the theater was 'exit'." Bostwick also appears in DYNAMITE HANDS in the smaller role as the hood who falls in love with Angie, Golden Gloves champion boxer Clay Hodges and stuntman George P. Wilbur (HALLOWEEN 5) appear as boxers early on, and Maidie Norman (WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?) appears as Isobel's frank maid in BAXTER'S BEAUTIES OF 1933.
Released theatrically by Warner Bros. in 1978, dumped onto video by Magnetic Video in 1980, and then pretty much forgotten after that, MOVIE MOVIE comes to Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing in a handsome 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono audio that only reveals some minor archival damage. The feature presentation is missing the film's opening credits which feature the technical credits including that of director Donen and choreographer Kidd as well as an intentionally waffling introduction by George Burns. The feature starts with the cast credits for DYNAMITE HANDS but the title sequence is included as an extra in 4:3 letterbox (2:26) since the film materials for it could not be found. TV prints of the film featured DYNAMITE HANDS in full color, and that would have been a nice extra here even from a tape master or TV recording.
No trailer is included for the film (which would be interesting to see how it was promoted) but the disc does include three brand new interviews. Actor Hamlin (46:23) – who looks pretty much the same now as he did then – recalls going into acting with the intention of working solely on the stage. Winning a Fulbright scholarship, he was set to study in the USSR until his Visa was pulled and he then planned to study in London instead. He took a job reading against auditioning performers for MOVIE MOVIE in order to afford a camera for his trip and subsequently turned down offers from the production for a role in the film until his mother persuaded him to "sell out." He recalls researching the films of John Garfield since the character was patterned after him and being lucky that his first venture into movie acting was a homage to films of the earlier period since the performance style was often as theatrical as stage acting. He recalls being intimidated by Scott and Carney until they got drunk on their first day of shooting, scuttling the entire day of work. He does recalls how much he learned from both actors along with his contemporary Beller. He also reveals that York was meant to play his love interest in DYNAMITE HANDS and that production almost shut down when Scott insisted on casting Van Devere in the role. The second half of the featurette covers some of his other notable works – after walking away from a Warner Bros. contract that included leads in GREYSTOKE and FIRST BLOOD since early drafts of both required lengthy scenes of full frontal nudity and he did not want to be the go-to guy for nudity after doing EQUUS on stage – including CLASH OF THE TITANS (in which he threatened to quit when the producers wanted to avoid a possible X-rating by working out a less direct way of decapitating Medusa and then scuttled a world promotional tour by refusing to appear in South Africa due to his anti-apartheid stance) and KING OF THE MOUNTAIN which he worked on while expecting the birth of his first son by actress Ursula Andress (THE 10TH VICTIM) and remarks on reflects on how dangerous the stunt work and non-permitted shooting actually was.
Actor Bostwick (29:13) recalls being well-regarded as a song-and-dance man of the time but having no signature move to show Donen and Kidd when called upon to audition. He speaks briefly of the film, including his dual roles and that of Devere. He recalls how his look in THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE was what producers of MEGAFORCE wanted for his Ace Hunter character. Actress Beller (16:34) recalls meeting Donen and Kidd while touring for THE BETSY and auditioning for the lead in BAXTER'S BEAUTIES only to be told that her dancing was good but not so much her singing. She instead was cast as Angela in DYNAMITE HANDS and admits to having a crush on Bostwick as well as also offering up some anecdotes about a hammered Scott and Carney. She then discusses some of her other memorable roles including FORT APACHE – THE BRONX and PROMISES IN THE DARK which she regards as her most difficult role playing a girl with cancer. Most interesting is her discussion of the Canadian production SURFACING and how she ended up doing the hair of her stunt double in order to look somewhat like her and how the early onset of Alzheimer's for director Claude Jutra (MON ONCLE ANTOINE) may have contributed to the film's adaptation and editing. An ITV acquisition, the Blu-ray of MOVIE MOVIE is coded for Region A playback only. (Eric Cotenas)
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