Movies Till Dawn: Programmer’s Notes – Binge Watching as Patriotic Duty, Part 2 (Post July 4th Edition)

81XOS4iv5fL._SL1500_Five Miles to Midnight” (1962, Kino Lorber) stars Anthony Perkins and Sophia Loren as an unhappy couple whose martial discord takes a criminal turn when Perkins bullies her into committing insurance fraud. The premise operates on some implausible machinery – Perkins concocts his scheme after surviving an airplane crash, which seems like a miracle of serendipity – but director Anatole Litvak stages a handful of taut suspense setpieces, and the Paris locations and score by Mikis Theodorakis are appealing.

More traditional (if somewhat contentious) thrills are on hand in the Warner Archives Collection’s two disc “Charlie Chan Collection,” which culls three features from the Chinese detective’s tenure at Monogram Pictures: “The Red Dragon” (1946), “The Feathered Serpent” (1948) and the last in the series, “Sky Dragon” (1949). Your appreciation of the films may depend on your reaction to white actors Sidney Toler and Roland Winters as Chan (and Mantan Moreland and Willie Best as Chan’s drivers, Birmingham and Chattanooga Brown); those that can see past the yellowface and stereotypical characters will find the trio agreeably brief and fast-paced whodunits, and there are a host of familiar late-night players among the supporting casts, including the late Noel Neill (Lois Lane on “Superman”), Nils Asther, Elena Verdugo and Keye Luke as Number One Sun Lee Chan, who’s joined by Victor Sen Yung (as his brother Tommy) in “Feathered Serpent.”

product_images_modal_TMWBRCover72dpi__7B1e65480e-ffdb-4300-9421-9f96fd9e0426_7DThose seeking a meatier cut of mayhem can chew on “Two-Minute Warning” (1976, Shout! Factory), a surprisingly violent all-star crime/disaster flick with Charlton Heston and John Cassavetes on the trail of a sniper loose at the L.A. Coliseum; among the celebs in his crosshairs are Gena Rowlands, Beau Bridges, David Janssen, Walter Pidgeon and Jack Klugman. Shout Factory’s Blu-ray includes two versions: the theatrical release and a re-edit for TV broadcast that adds 30 minutes of a heist subplot to give the sniper a reason to carry out his terror campaign. The game, between fictitious L.A. and Baltimore teams, is actually footage of a Stanford-USC game from 1975, and there are plentiful back-in-the-day looks at the Coliseum and the surrounding South Figueroa area, as well as the Hotel Angeleno and Sheraton Town House.

Shout is also offering “Rabid Dogs” (2015), a French-Canadian remake of Mario Bava’s claustrophobic crime thriller about a trio of bank robbers who make life miserable for two hostages (Virginie Leydoyen and Lambert Wilson) as flee the police. There is visual style and production value to spare – excellent camerawork by Kamal Derkaoui and music with a ‘70s Eurocult vibe by Laurent Eyquem – but director/co-writer/co-producer Eric Hannezo can’t do much with the material beyond stacking up unpleasantries before an ugly ending.

AV051-1Those hankering for overseas action might do better with “Hired to Kill” (1990, Arrow Video), a energetic and ludicrous action-thriller with the Marvel Comics-sized Brian Thompson as a mercenary who joins a bevy of female agents to pose as a gay fashion photographer and a pack of models (!) in order to infiltrate the compound of impressively mustachioed Mediterranean strongman Oliver Reed and rescue rebel leader Jose Ferrer. Director Nico Mastorakis does his best to keep the picture from tipping into total anarchy amidst the outrageous performances, lapses in continuity and logic, and endless shoot-out and training sequences; Arrow’s Blu-ray features entertaining interviews with Thompson and Mastorakis and commentary by editor Barry Zeitlin, who details his work on countless horror/cult films for Roger Corman and others; the original script can also be accessed via BD-Rom – perfect for a staged reading of “Hired to Kill” with family and friends in the comfort of your own home. 

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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