Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A pirate double feature and a camp classic are in this week's DVD column.

Mommie Dearest: Hollywood Royalty Edition

The studios what release DVDs these days understand the value of packaging. We've seen a plethora of "special editions" and "director's cuts" of films as well as multiple releases of the same movie. Just how many versions of Napoleon Dynamite or the Evil Dead trilogy or Peter Jackson's King Kong do we need?

The release of Mommie Dearest in its "Hollywood Royalty edition" is a triumph of packing over content. Mommie Dearest is the film version of the 1978 best-selling book by Christina Crawford about her life and relationship with her mother, the superstar actress Joan Crawford.

High controversial when published - there were both defenders and opponents of Christina's side of the story - the book was a huge success and encouraged other children of celebrities to write about their miserable lives. As you know now, it's almost a genre onto itself.

The film was shot in 1981 and galvanized its audiences. It could either be seen as a tragedy or a story of survival or simply as over-blown camp. Since its release the film has achieved cult status. Most of us know what the phrase "No more wire hangers!" mean.

So this DVD capitalizes on the film's campiness with a commentary by director and writer John Waters and a feature on the enduring popularity of the film. Just like Joan herself, the DVD has a second face. While some of the extras celebrate the film as kitsch, the other extras feature producer and writer Frank Yablans and co-stars Diana Scarwid speaking about how good the film is and how serious it is.

Apparently star Faye Dunaway won't talk about the film, which is a bit of a mystery to Yablans.

I have to say that I'm not a fan of the film. In his commentary Waters describes the production as a bit of a horror film, and I think he's right. Dunaway's Crawford is an unstable bomb capable of going off any time for any reason - she's not an ideal parent by any stretch of the imagination. What we have is a feature-length film depicting years of child abuse, which isn't my definition for light entertainment.

However watching the film with the Waters commentary is the only way to get through it.

If you enjoyed the film before, you'll love it now. If you're like me, making fun of it is the only way to endure it.

Fortunes of Captain Blood/Captain Pirate

There are certain genres of films that were once staples, but have fallen out of favor. One of those is westerns, which were once ubiquitous, and another is the swashbuckler.

During the 1930s though the 1950s, movie goers could bet on seeing at least couple of films each year that involved guys in tights, duels, ships battling one another at sea, references to "doubloons" and "pieces of eight," dungeons, and casts full of rangy, dirty looking pirates.

Douglas Fairbanks, Junior, made a few of these films. Errol Flynn probably starred in the best ones. Louis Hayward, perhaps, made the most.

Hayward was a versatile actor who never made it to the top rung of the Hollywood ladder, but appeared in dozens of movies and television series from 1932 to 1978. Among his films were films such as The Son of Monte Cristo, The Man in the Iron Mask and this double feature in which he played pirate Captain Peter Blood.

Fortunes of Captain Blood from 1950 is a competently made, enjoyable film which Blood must free some of his men from slavery and woe the lovely Isabelita (Patricia Medina). The fast-moving story is told in expertly handled black and white.

The 1952 sequel to that film is the Technicolor Captain Pirate in which Hayward and Medina reprise their roles.

These are films from a simpler time when people simply closed their eyes and bloodlessly dropped to the ground when shot and no one questioned just why those hard-working pirates wore the exact same outfits over the course of the movie. Just learn to accept them!

If you're in the mood to sail the Spanish Main and say "Arrrrrr!" a lot, this double bill will shiver your timbers.

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs, Standard disclaimer applies.

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