This week, we begin in the Old West:
Monogram Cowboy Collection, Volume 4
Starring Johnny Mack Brown:
Land of the Outlaws, Blazing Bullets, Colorado Ambush, Montana Desperado, Texas City.
Starring Jimmy Wakely: Springtime in Texas, Moon Over Montana, Rainbow Over the Rockies, Six-Gun Serenade.
Available now on DVD.
The Warner Archive Collection returns with its fourth manufactured-on-demand collection of the highly entertaining Westerns once turned out by small Monogram Pictures.
The studio’s most popular cowboy, Johnny Mack Brown, stars in the first five films, all distinguished by their rapid pacing and their lean, well-plotted scripts. Tunesman Jimmy Wakely stars in the other four, nabbing the bad guys while also delivering a melodic song or two.
Brown takes his regular role as undercover U.S. Marshal Nevada McKenzie in the first entry, Land of the Outlaws (1944), a tale revolving around a double-cross involving a mine. Frequent Brown co-star Raymond Hatton again plays fellow Marshal Sandy Hopkins. In Blazing Bullets (1951), Brown takes his own name as he helps break up a gang who has stolen a shipment of gold. Brown again plays Brown in Colorado Ambush (1951). He is a lawman sent to investigate undercover when three stage agents are killed. A string of murders causes Brown to become the accused in Montana Desperado (1951), and he investigates stage coach robberies in Texas City (1952).
All films are unrated and run slightly less than an hour.
Impulse The Warner Archive also releases the manufactured-on-demand 1989 film Impulse, one of only four movies directed by former actor Sondra Locke. Critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert called this crime drama the best-directed film of the year.
Theresa Russell stars as Lottie Mason, a detective who specializes in working undercover as a prostitute. Her supervisor, Joe Morgan (George Dzundza), constantly harasses her until her unit comes temporarily under the authority of Stan (Jeff Fahey), a kindly assistant district attorney. Lottie then walks a tightrope between rigid law enforcement and tempting attractions.
Locke shows no expected soft, feminine side in her direction as Lottie takes several beatings, wears garishly provocative clothes and puts up with sexual harassment from Joe Morgan. The lurid, sometimes ridiculous movie retains a certain depraved attraction. Rated R, 109 minutes.
The Words (**1/2) This understandably uneven melodrama flips among several storylines, all somewhat superficial but with glossy veneers. Co-writers and directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal fill their creation with a surplus of visual cliches, matched only by the verbal ones.
Dennis Quaid plays Clay Hammond, a writer who narrates his latest novel, which comprises the bulk of the movie. In this novel, a writer, Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), meets failure and rejection. He humbles himself by taking a menial day job to survive.
On a trip to Paris, he and his wife, Dora (Zoe Saldana), buy an old briefcase. Later, Rory discovers an unpublished manuscript in it, which he then has published under his name. Success follows until one day an old man (Jeremy Irons) confronts Rory and gives evidence it was his manuscript.
Parts of the plot of this purloined novel play out on screen, as does a drama between Rory and Dora as well as a lesser subplot between Clay and a young groupie (Olivia Wilde).
The parts never mesh and, worse, seem to be working against each other. It’s ambitious but eventually awkward and distracting.
The DVD, in all formats, includes the unrated version (103 minutes) and the PG-13 version (97 minutes). Both contain a nine-minute “behind-the-scenes” featurette and a brief segment featuring Cooper. The Blu-ray version includes additional supplements, so check labels.
Red Hook Summer (**1/2) Co-writer and director Spike Lee returns to his favorite borough in this sincere story of a boy, Flik Royale (Jules Brown), who travels from Atlanta to Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, where he’s spending the summer with his religious grandfather, Bishop Enoch Rouse (Clarke Peters).
Flik grouses around, complaining about the repressive rules, until he meets Chazz Morningstar (Toni Lysaith), a bright, funny youngster who helps him discover some unforeseen attractions of the area, all before he realizes the worth of his grandfather’s discipline.
Rated R, 121 minutes. The DVD offers Spike Lee’s commentary, a comprehensive 28-minute “behind-the-scenes” featurette and a music video.
Black Like Me (**1/2) The reissue of this fully restored 1964 release, based on the 1961 book by John Howard Griffin and directed and co-written by Carl Lerner, serves a sociological niche.
Its initial release stoked controversy for its story, based on Griffin’s experiences, of a white man (James Whitmore) who darkens his skin by various methods and then travels throughout the South writing about the prejudice he encounters. That he is also shunned by some African-Americans also surprised audiences.
A few sequences are now cringe-worthy, but overall, the film retains a certain historical curiosity. With Sorrel Booke, Roscoe Lee Browne, Al Freeman Jr. and Will Geer (Grandpa Walton).
Not rated, 105 minutes. The new release has been restored from the original negative. The two-disc set also includes the 58-minute documentary Uncommon Vision: The Life and Times of John Howard Griffin, directed by Morgan Atkinson.
Also available on DVD: Killer Joe, Premium Rush and Resident Evil: Retribution 3D.