Movies ‘Till Dawn: Your Tuesday Morning Lineup

12 a.m. – “The Legend of Lizzie Borden”Crime/Historical Drama

A1927O+7CAL._SL1500_(1975, CBS/Cinedigm) Exceptionally fine, Emmy-winning made-for-TV drama that attempts to determine exactly why the infamous Ms. Borden (Elizabeth Montgomery) may – or may not – have butchered her parents in 19th century Fall River, Massachusetts. Veteran TV scripter William Bast details the story in a clever, dual track format: a straightforward, linear plotline that follows the trial in a mix of traditional courtroom plotting and docudrama (with dialogue taken directly from the court records), and a second, more elliptical series of flashbacks from Borden’s perspective, all depicting grim scenes from her life which can be interpreted as motives to take an axe to her tyrannical father (Fritz Weaver) and stepmother (Helen Craig) without ever quite coming to brass tacks and declaring that she did it. Bast and director Paul Wendkos – another TV vet, with “Brotherhood of the Bell” and “The Ordeal of Patty Hearst” among his many credits – do provide a remarkably gruesome interpretation (for ‘70s TV) of the actual crime, though again, nothing is proved: it can be viewed as the actual event, as Borden’s wish fulfillment fantasy, or as the lurid public perception of the murders, which, it bears noting, remain unsolved. The top-notch production values are matched every step of the way by the solid cast, led by Montgomery (a sixth cousin of the real Borden), who gives an exceptional, Emmy-nominated turn as a woman splintering under the full weight of a dreadful upbringing and an oppressive society; she’s well supported by Katherine Helmond, as Borden’s sister, Fionnula Flanagan as the family’s servant, and Ed Flanders as the prosecuting attorney. The full-frame DVD is the original broadcast version with no extras.

1:30 a.m. – “M Squad” – “The Velvet Stakeout” – Crime Drama

51RiWALxfjL(1959-1961, Shout! Factory/Timeless Media Group) Lee Marvin’s Lt. Frank Ballinger gets his buzzcut ruffled by a wayward dame in this atypical episode of the NBC police series. When a disbarred attorney with mob connections is gunned down in his own home, Chicago’s M Squad sends in Ballinger to root out the killer in his typically taciturn manner. In a curious bit of plot contrivance, Ballinger moves into the attorney’s home to conduct his investigation – all the better, one supposes, to allow viewers the rare opportunity to see the detective’s more human, less fist-centric side in cozy repartees with Whitney Blake, a one-time society girl on a downward spiral. Ballinger’s granite veneer almost cracks under the weight of Blake’s sad back story – her beloved dad went to prison for stealing stocks – and honeyed overtures, but this being “M Squad,” it isn’t long before guns are drawn and things get ugly. Co-produced by Marvin through his Latimer shingle, “M Squad” appeared to pick up where “Dragnet,” which had just wrapped its first TV stint, had left off: just-the-facts police procedural, no moral ambiguity, tight-lipped cops doing their jobs. But the series soon established its own identity – namely, as one of the most violent and noir-tinged programs on television, rife with shootouts, gangland murders and wall-to-wall beatings. The show’s notoriety spurred Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to cancel location shoots for the program, lest viewers got the idea that his city was a criminal cesspool; “M Squad,” however, retained its flinty nature largely through Marvin’s performance, which retained the insouciant magnetism and casual cruelty that marked his best screen roles. He would exit “M Squad’s” brief network run as a newly minted star, while the series itself would be largely remembered for its cool second season theme, composed by Count Basie, and its depiction of Chicago as a city in perpetual night, as seen in the brassy opening credit sequence (which would be parodied by the titles for “Police Squad!”). Whitney Blake – the mother of actress Meredith Baxter – would go on to create “One Day At a Time.” The Shout! Factory/Timeless box compiles the entire series run for “M Squad” on 15 discs while adding a bonus disc featuring Marvin in guest roles on series like “Wagon Train” and “Check Mate.”

2:30 am – “The Dog”Documentary

91uYPV6J3HL._SL1500_(2013, IFC) A tough sell, this documentary about the late John Wojtowicz, whose bank robbery-turned-media circus in 1972 served as the basis for “Dog Day Afternoon.” Wojtowicz, who committed the crime to pay for sex reassignment surgery for his spouse, is a garrulous and filter-free interview subject, and alternately portrays himself as a diehard “pervert” (his own choice of word), a crusading figure in the gay rights movement in 1970s New York, and a hopeless romantic. He is a bit of all of these things, but not to the degree that he has inflated them in his own mind, or for directors Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren. If anything, Wojtowicz is an unapologetic wrecking ball in the lives of nearly everyone that comes in contact with him, from his wife and hopelessly devoted mother to Robert Westenberg, the second accomplice in the bank scheme who fled before the actual robbery was committed, and whom Wojtocwicz claims to have sexually assaulted as a means of securing his loyalty. Documentary subjects don’t have to be sympathetic, but a little of Wojtowicz goes a long way; where “The Dog” may spark real interest for the viewer is in its footage from the actual crime, with Wojtowicz sparring fearlessly with New York City police and citizens before television cameras, and a wealth of images from the gay rights movement in its flashpoint phase post-Stonewall. There, we find real courageous, rebellious figures that Wojtowicz wishes to align himself, but can only suggest a pale and particularly self-satisfied carbon. IFC’s DVD includes commentary by Berg and Kerauden and deleted scenes.

4 a.m. – “The Hook”Drama/War

61K+Xe-t5CL._SL1000_(1963, Warner Archives Collection) Tense and rarely seen war drama about a trio of American soldiers, led by by-the-books sergeant Kirk Douglas, who clash over a command from superiors to execute a prisoner of war in the final days of the Korean conflict. Nick Adams and Robert Walker, Jr., represent opposing sides of the argument, while Filipino actor Enrique “Pancho” Magalona, as the captured North Korean pilot, conveys considerable strength with only a few words of dialogue (and none in English). Director George Seaton – a two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter for “Miracle on 34th Street” and “The Country Girl” – keeps the pace brisk within the confined space of the picture’s main setting (a Finnish charter vessel), though the volcanic twin energies of Douglas and Adams could have hardly allowed anything else. The ending is a particularly bitter gutpunch, so be prepared.

 5:30 a.m. – “Dragonball Z: Battle of Gods”Anime/Fantasy

91ryW5Z6bIL._SL1500_(2013, Funimation) The fourteenth feature film in the venerable “Dragon Ball” franchise features a script co-written by manga artist Akira Toriyama, who conceived the entire, sprawling martial arts/fantasy series. Here, the action revolves around series hero Goku’s attempts to fend off Beerus, the God of Destruction, who seeks to avenge the defeat of the franchise’s long-running villain, Freeza. These names, and in fact, the entire idea of a 14th “Dragon Ball Z” movie, may carry considerable freight for some, while for others (like me), it’s another flurry of fists and gravity-defying hairstyles, albeit with considerable energy and action. Funimation’s Blu-ray includes both the theatrical and extended television versions of the picture.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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