Before Oliver Stone set the film world ablaze with conspiracy theory biopics, Larry Buchanan had paved the way for Stone's big-budget epics 30 years earlier! Buchanan, whose credits include AIP nonsense (THE EYE CREATURES, CREATURE OF DESTRUCTION) as well as Southern drive-in classics (FREE WHITE AND 21, COMMON LAW WIFE), has also lensed a number of based-on-a-true-story dramas, beginning in 1964 with THE TRIAL OF LEE HARVEY OSWALD, shot in Dallas several months after the assassination of JFK. His next true crime project was 1968's THE OTHER SIDE OF BONNIE AND CLYDE, incredibly hard to find until Something Weird unearthed a print this year. The 1970s became a Buchanan biopic bonanza, with efforts such as HUGHES AND HARLOW: ANGELS IN HELL, GOODBYE NORMA JEAN, and the infamous DOWN ON US (where the CIA murders counterculture icons Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison!). Here, Something Weird has preserved Buchanan's first two excursions into "speculative history" on DVD.
Opening with a scrolling disclaimer describing the film as a courtroom drama that would have taken place if Lee Harvey Oswald had lived to defend himself, THE TRIAL OF LEE HARVEY OSWALD becomes an exploitation classic by stating the film was suppressed immediately after its first showing due to "unwarranted pressures"!! After the jury is selected and the judge addresses courtroom spectators, Buchanan presents witness testimonials of the infamous parade, actual newsreel footage of the resulting pandemonium, and various other experts take the stand, including the doctor who tried to revitalize the President. Unfortunately the entire film is about as exciting as watching an hour and a half of Court TV: dull and talky. You'll startle yourself awake when you see DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT! cast members William Bill McGhee ("Sam"), Annabelle Weenick ("Dr. Masters"), and Robert Dracup ("Ray the phone man", sans mustache and with spectacles), and Southern exploitation familiar Bill Thurman as trial witnesses. Other than these cameos, there isn't much else worth getting anxious about. It's great to finally be able to see this obscure Buchanan drama, plagued with controversy since its original release, but what once must have been something daring and revolutionary has transformed into a monumental bore. Historically fascinating, but you won't find it worth watching more than once unless you're avidly interested in the compelling history of the JFK assassination.
THE TRIAL OF LEE HARVEY OSWALD is strangely letterboxed at 1.85:1, but it's not your standard widescreen transfer. The bottom matte is thicker than the top matte, and both mattes are fuzzy. What's stranger is that only the courtroom scenes are in "widescreen," the remaining footage is fullframe (perhaps those scenes were shot hard-matted, and the whole show was then soft matted in theaters?). The black-and-white image is very soft and grainy, but this film has been so hard to find for years that just seeing it in any form is worthwhile. The mono audio is good enough to understand the dialogue in the single confined courtroom set.
OK, after waking yourself up from the snoozefest of Lee Harvey Oswald, let's venture over to THE OTHER SIDE OF BONNIE AND CLYDE. In what is essentially a documentary made up of cheesy reenactments, actual interviews with those who encountered them, and a slap on the wrist to those who romanticized their violent crime spree (i.e., the producers of the Warren Beatty-Faye Dunaway BONNIE AND CLYDE), we hear the thoughts of the son and widow of Frank Hamer, the lawman who tracked Bonnie and Clyde's trail of murder, a kidnap victim tell her account of being taken hostage by the gun-wielding lovers, and more melodramatic narration (by Burl Ives!!!) than you can shake a tommygun at! Hell, Buchanan even throws in "actual death film" shot in 1934 of Bonnie and Clyde's death car after the infamous machine gun bombardment, in addition to autopsy photos of the two criminals! Where LEE HARVEY OSWALD is sorely disappointing, BONNIE AND CLYDE is morbidly fascinating. Biographer John Jenkins puts the crime spree into perspective by discussing the political and social climate of the Depression. We learn that sidekick Raymond Hamilton was the bisexual lover of both Bonnie and Clyde (!), the personal histories of Bonnie, Clyde, and Hamer, and witness an on-camera lie detector test conducted with Floyd Hamilton, Raymond's brother and a former Public Enemy No. 1!! Sure, there are some slow spots in the 61-minute opus, but the majority of the film is an incredible adventure into 30s crime Buchanan-style.
The color transfer for OTHER SIDE OF BONNIE AND CLYDE is very satisfying; it's not a gorgeous restoration from the original negative, but the print that is available is most probably the only one in existence! Colors bleed mildly, but are strong and robust; dirt is kept to a bare minimum and grain is slim to none. Strangely, the on-screen title is video-generated. The mono audio is almost all narration, and is very strong and easy to hear.
The biggest special feature(s) included on this jam-packed Buchanan double feature disc are a twin pair of audio commentaries by the man himself and moderated by Mondo Digital's Nathaniel Thompson. Surprisingly, these are both pretty informative audio essays, considering Buchanan's previous commentaries were rather spotty. He points out actors, who they were and how he met them, and offers several very interesting stories, including William Bill McGhee calling Buchanan up to alert him of where a rare print of HIGH YELLOW can be found! There are a number of dead spaces where nothing is said, but considering how little action there is in both features, Buchanan finds plenty to say about making them and the people involved. He's no Dave Friedman, but then again, nobody is.
A treasure trove of Larry Buchanan trailers offer further glimpses into the oeuvre of his bizarre filmography. A scratchy trailer for THE OTHER SIDE OF BONNIE AND CLYDE never betrays the documentary nature of the film. A BULLET FOR PRETTY BOY stars pop singer Fabian as Pretty Boy Floyd, the infamous gangster of the 1930s. AIP regular Adam Roarke co-stars; look fast for Brownrigg regulars Hugh Feagin in a fight with Fabian, Gene Ross as a mobster mowed down by Fabian's machine gun, and Annabelle Weenick as a barroom tramp! Brownrigg's muse, Camilla Carr, is in the movie, too, and another Brownrigg cast member, Jessie Lee Fulton, but not the trailer, as far as I can tell. The cast alone makes the movie worth seeing, even if it looks pretty dumb judging by the trailer. COMMON LAW WIFE is an exploitation masterpiece recently released by Something Weird Video on DVD; the trailer shows no footage from the actual film, a daring and cool move. Definitely check it out! FREE, WHITE AND 21 is another courtroom drama offered on VHS by SWV; the judge from LEE HARVEY OSWALD, George Edgley, hosts the brief trailer, which shows no footage from the film. HIGH YELLOW looks fantastic: a half-black, half-white maid tries to pass for white so her life can be easier. Bill Thurman and William Bill McGhee (DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT!) are heavily featured in the preview, and Annabelle Weenick strikes back as the lady of the house! Looks absolutely amazing, and I hope it gets released to DVD someday! HUGHES AND HARLOW: ANGELS IN HELL is self-explanatory, the story of producer Howard Hughes and ill-fated starlet Jean Harlow and their supposed love affair. Drive-in lovely Lindsay Bloom (COVER GIRL MODELS) is Harlow, and Haji is somewhere in the film. Buchanan was reportedly going to be releasing this, DOWN ON US, and his Marilyn Monroe films on his own label from his personal negatives, but little has been heard since that announcement. THE LOCH NESS HORROR is a horror indeed, a cheesy-as-hell cash-in on Sun International Pictures' profitable Bigfoot docudrama series, and was Buchanan's last genre effort. The monster must be seen to be believed; somebody release this on DVD now! Russ Meyer stars Garth Pillsbury (VIXEN) and Stuart Lancaster (FASTER PUSSYCAT) are in there somewhere.
If all those Buchanan previews weren't enough, there's an entire selection of crime flick trailers to be savored here! BLAST OF SILENCE follows a hired killer's journey through New York to assassinate a mobster. This looks like a marvelous low-budget film noir effort, I wonder whatever happened to it? THE BLOODY BROOD stars future "Columbo" Peter Falk as the leader of a nasty gang of hoodlums who commit all manner of crazy crimes, including putting ground up glass into a deliveryboy's hamburger! THE BOSS' trailer stars "Drew Pearson", addressing the audience that the film has been suppressed by the government for fear of conspiracy theories running rampant. It doesn't look that controversial, but is another film noir gangster tale. Actress Gloria McGhee gives a great performance! COP HATERS. What a title. Sexy women, hoodlums starting a brawl in a juke joint with a wild drummer, and a syndicate trying to track down the murderer of a cop. A woman in a towel is held hostage by a gun-wielding intruder! FOUR FOR THE MORGUE (another great title!) is a letterboxed preview about two detectives trying to solve a number of different crimes. A cop is charged with murder, there's a shoot-out in the Louisiana swamps, and a big gundown in a police department's jail cell! KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS/JOHNNY STOOL PIGEON is a double-feature preview; fugitive Burt Lancaster falls in love with Joan Fontaine as he hides out in her apartment in the former, and Shelley Winters, Tony Curtis, and Dan Duryea star in a tale of the feds infiltrating a heroin ring in the latter. REVOLT IN THE BIG HOUSE uses lots of hyperbole and violent highlights to sell this prison drama. Plenty of rock'em-sock'em action sequences, a big escape plan, and future murderer Robert Blake as a framed killer...hmmm..... SHAKEDOWN opens with three guys chasing down one guy and cornering him before he clobbers 'em all. Lawrence Tierney is a ruthless killer whom Brian Donlevy wants reporter Howard Duff to frame. With Bruce Bennett, Rock Hudson, and Peggie Castle, too! WHEN GANGLAND STRIKES has one cool sequence that sold me: a hitman kills a bowler at the same time his ball hits the pins. Wow! Otherwise, looks like the standard mobster story. Why doesn't Turner Classic Movies rerun ANY of these movies?!
Not enough true crime for you? Three shorts finish off the platter with a bang. First up is "You Can't Beat the Rap!", a roadshow short with recently released criminal Roy Gardner testifying that he wants to become a regular citizen and leave his lawbreaking days behind. He's interviewed by producer Louis Sonney (MANIAC, WAGES OF SIN), where he talks about how he was sent to Alcatraz and his wife divorced him while he was in jail! "The March of Crime" is another Roadshow Attraction warning parents to take care of their kids so they don't become hardened criminals! Wedgwood Nowell is the narrator discussing the history of the criminal system and how offenders of the law are punished and executed. There's stock footage from silent movies (!), including a man hanging from a tree, ghostly women, and a military firing squad, we see the methods of admitting prisoners into jail, creepy wax faces of infamous criminals, examinations of heinous crimes committed all over the country (including the sex murder of Louise Tabor), decapitated heads, and plenty of other shocking and eye-opening details of law and order in 1936. I wonder what feature this short played with? If the first "March of Crime" isn't enough, you also get "The 2nd Edition" produced three years later! That's right, it's more stomach-turning looks at headline-making crimes of the day (including the Lindbergh baby!), how the police and court systems punish the guilty, and details of some of the nastiest criminal cases in America's history, all narrated by the melodramatic Wedgwood Nowell! These "March of Crime" shorts are like celluloid versions of a tabloid newspaper, 100% fascinating and just as trashy! An Easter Egg on the Extras menu hides the trailer for VANISHING GANGSTERS, a roadshow flick whose preview is packed with hyperbolic title cards!
Sure, TRIAL OF LEE HARVEY OSWALD was a big bust after waiting years for a print to resurface, but OTHER SIDE OF BONNIE AND CLYDE is a fascinating time capsule documentary and the wealth of extras are incredibly thrilling crime adventures! Not one of Something Weird's trademark discs, but it's a departure from the usual sex-n-violence flicks they usually preserve, and they've done a bang-up job in this subgenre as well! (Casey Scott)
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