DVD Round-up (January 2007)
Shy, prone to stage sickness, deep depression and melancholia the British comedian Frankie Howerd was still the funniest man ever tp have been born in the city of York, England. A brilliant, stammering pontificate of a stand-up comedian, Howerd’s talent transferred badly to cinema as the woefully underfed double bill Comic Icons: Frankie Howerd (Optimum - 3 stars) testifies. The two films featured here, Up Pompeii and Up the Chastity Belt are cheap relics from a time when Variety was breathing its last breath (the 1970s). Howerd deserves so much more. At the time of going to press, however, it was undecided whether Peter Sykes’ fine 1973 comedy horror film The House in Nightmare Park, in which Howerd really showcases his considerable scope was to be included in the set. If so this is probably worth investing in.
By comparison Leslie Philips was a man born for cinema. Comic Icons: Leslie Phillips (Optimum - 3 stars) contains the hodge podge of cheapo comedies which featured Phillips at his best - Please Turn Over (1959), Watch Your Stern (1960), No Kidding (1960) and Crooks Anonymous (1962) are of their time but sweetly amiable in their own caddish way.
Still looking back so I can bear to look forward - HC Potter’s breathless and quite wonderful 1941 musical farce Hellzapoppin (Second Sight ), featuring the deranged madcap talents of US vaudeville legends Chic Johnson and Ole Olsen, is worth purchasing. If some of the gags here seem familiar that’s because Monty Python raided this duo’s larder 30 years later without anyone noticing.
More serious chinstrokers out include Dogme doll Jan Dunn’s subtle examination of racism in Ramsgate, Gypo (Fox - 4 stars), starring the brilliant Paul McGann and Jorge Ramirez-Suárez’s flawed but occasionally thrilling Mexican thriller Rabbit on the Moon (Guerilla - 3 stars).
So it’s come to this. Russ Meyer in the red corner and Jacques Tourneur in the blue. Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Fox - 4 stars) gets released both as a standalone and alongside the less glorious Valley of the Dolls. It’s got sex, drugs, rock’n’roll and sleaze by the D-cup; they really don’t make them like this anymore. Out of the Past (Universal - 5 stars), on the other hand, is a deeply vital noir starring Robert Mitchum as a private dick, hired to follow a gambler’s demented girlfriend to Mexico. I’m betting on a draw.
Next issue we’ll be sitting down with short films, female convicts and Jewish gangsters. Kol Tov!