This week, we begin somewhere in Europe:
This Land Is Mine
Not rated, 103 minutes.
Available now on DVD.
The manufactured-on-demand Warner Archive Collection releases this unheralded, unrated 1943 feature that boasts a remarkable pedigree.
After Jean Renoir had directed his masterpieces Grand Illusion and Rules of the Game, he came to the U.S. to escape the Nazis. While here, he turned out a limited yet varied assortment of films. In This Land Is Mine, he follows the jingoistic script by legendary scribe Dudley Nichols (who wrote Stagecoach and won an Oscar for The Informer).
The story takes place “somewhere in Europe” in an anonymous small town occupied by Germans.
Albert (Charles Laughton), a timid, cowardly schoolteacher who lives with his mother (Una O’Connor), is secretly in love with Louise (Maureen O’Hara), his neighbor and fellow teacher. But she is engaged to a collaborating local industrialist (George Sanders).
When several acts of sabotage make the Nazis repress the citizenry further, Albert stumbles but then rights himself when he finally has a chance to show bravery.
Nichols and Renoir often pause for speeches about democracy, liberty, freedom and the tyranny of the Nazis, but they deliver some solid entertainment even while painting with the broad strokes of the era.
Cherry Tree Lane (*) It is somehow comforting to see that the British film industry can also turn out pure pieces of junk.
In this psychological thriller written and directed by Paul Andrew William, a staid middle-aged couple, Christine (Rachael Blake) and Michael (Tom Butcher), are dining at home when three young thugs break in, supposedly looking for their son. The trio ties up the couple and then abuses them verbally, physically and sexually for the next hour.
Between the assaults, snippets of inane dialogue offer no insight and no further plot development until the threesome receive their inevitable comeuppance, delivered in expected violent fashion.
The film’s only redeeming quality is its blissful brevity. Not rated, 77 minutes.
The Wild Bill Elliott Double Feature: Fargo (***) and The Homesteaders (***1/2) Warner Archive also releases this unrated double bill, on a single disc, of two features directed by Lewis Collins. They star once-famous movie cowboy Bill Elliott.
At one stretch during the 1940s and 1950s, “Wild Bill” ranked as one of moviedom’s top 10 cowboys. But he was not exactly wild — at some point in most of his movies, he pauses long enough to state some variation of his recurring theme, “I’m a peaceable man.”
In fact, Bill usually adapts a taciturn, sullen demeanor, one best fitted to wiping out the bad guys when the time comes. In 1952’s Fargo (69 minutes), Bill travels from Texas to the Dakota territory when his brother dies, still managing to land in a few scrapes and fistfights. Yet he avoids his trademark — the backward-draw of his twin revolvers.
The Homesteaders (62 minutes) debuted in 1953, the same year as the French thriller Wages of Fear. Considering how fast studios like Monogram Pictures turned out these oaters, it’s hard to overlook the plot similarities between the two.
In Homesteaders, Wild Bill plays an Oregon farmer right after the Civil War. In order to blow up rocks and clear the fields for himself and fellow farmers, he buys a shipment of so-called bad dynamite from the Army. He then hires a troop of undisciplined soldiers fresh from the army stockade.
They must transport the delicate cargo through Indian territory and, if they succeed, they look to clash with a gang determined to steal the cargo. Poor Bill then navigates among these foes, providing for taut entertainment.
The Love Section (**1/2) In this fairly standard romantic comedy, Lawrence Adisa, who also wrote the screenplay, appears as Ali, a moderately successful real estate agent. But more important, he is a single man who loves the ladies. He loves them, and then he leaves them.
Ali hits unknown territory, however, when he meets Sandrine (Davetta Sherwood), a single mom who wants more than a one-night stand. Suddenly, Ali questions himself and his habits.
With Mekhi Phifer and Brian Hooks, and directed by Ronnie Warner. Not rated, 100 minutes.
And, finally, from this week’s TV offerings:
The Men Who Built America This eight-part miniseries aired on the cable channel History. Now on three discs, the miniseries examines the lives of some legendary industrialists: Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford.
The series uses dramatic re-enactments to examine points in the men’s lives that led to their eventual successes. Along the way, an amazingly impressive list of current-day financial figures and renowned entrepreneurs testify to the men’s legacies: Russell Simmons, Jim Cramer, Alan Greenspan, Steve Wozniak, Mark Cuban, Jack Welch, Donald Trump, Steve Wynn and others.
Various historians also add background and valuable information on the men. As the series approaches modern times, more archival footage, newsreel excerpts and other clips appear. Peripheral figures such as Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, William Jennings Bryan and others play roles. A major fault with the series, however, comes with the needless repetition of footage in each episode.
Not rated, 360 minutes. The collection also includes a total of seven brief featurettes spread among the three discs. They further examine points of interest, such as “Monopoly” and “Traits of a Titan.”
Also available Tuesday on DVD: The Awakening, Downton Abbey: Season 3, Paranormal Activity 4 and Seven Psychopaths.