Thursday Video Roundup

on June 10, 2010 by Steve Simels

captain_video_III.JPGWell, as always, not so much of a roundup as a sort of conceptual Spring cleaning, in which I share a few pithy observations about a bunch of films whose disc versions have been sitting on my desk for a few weeks. Only in this case, we're talking about a couple of stuffed to the gills DVD box sets.

Also, and totally OT, I would like to note here, and for the record, that the series finale to Lost that I dismissed (possibly incorrectly) as an It Was All a Dream cop-out a few weeks ago still sucked.

Thank you.

Okay, and now on to those box sets.

1. Tales of the Gold Monkey: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory)

Yup, the entire 26 (hour-long) episode run on six discs. In case you've forgotten it, TOTGM was a 1982 ABC series that was, shall we say, inspired by Raiders of the Lost Ark; Stephen Collins starred as a seaplane pilot in a South Pacific backwater in the late 1930s who spent his time encountering shady dames, sinister Nazis, fabulous treasures and the occasional monster. The always entertaining Roddy McDowell was a co-star, as well as the well-intentioned but ultimately annoying Leo the Dog (I really hated that eye patch). The special effects usually lacked Spielbergian luster -- the mutant apes in the opening episode are roughly as convincing as the dogs with carpet remnants glued to their backs in The Killer Shrews -- but I must confess that the show has a certain what-the-hell quality to it that I still find appealing. In any case, Shout! Factory's video transfers look pristine.

2. TCM Spotlight: Charlie Chan Collection (Warner Home Video)

A nicely packaged anthology of four late Chans, made after the series had moved to its final Poverty Row address at Monogram Pictures. The best of the bunch is easily Dark Alibi, directed by interesting B-flick auteur Phil Karlson, but they're all fun, including the concluding The Chinese Ring, which marks star Roland Winters' first appearance as the inscrutable sleuth (and which happens to be a virtual line by line remake of the 1937 Mr. Wong in Chinatown, one of the better entries in Monogram's earlier Chinese detective series starring Boris Karloff). The real news from the set, however, is that the prints are absolutely gorgeous. Much of the Monogram stuff you've seen on TV over the years or on public domain video derives from 10th generation sources and as a result looks embarrassingly seedy, so it's nice to be reminded that even at an El Cheapo assembly line like Monogram there was a basic and very satisfying level of craftsmanship.

3. The Virginian (The Complete First Season) (Timeless Media Group)

Okay, this one's the motherlode -- thirty gorgeously restored and remastered episodes on ten discs, plus a bonus disc of new interviews with the surviving series regulars. Why should you care? Well, apart from the fact that The Virginian (which ran from 1962-71) is historically important as TV's first 90 minute western, the fact is that this was a really good show -- consistently well written, handsomely produced (as close to feature-film quality work as was being done on television at the time) and unfailingly adult, far more so than the better remembered Bonanza that, as you can see from the opening clip above, provided its touchstone. Then, of course, there was the acting; star Lee J. Cobb was obviously not your run-of-the-mill small screen hack, and the show attracted lots of guests of comparable stature; George C. Scott and Bette Davis, among others, show up in memorable episodes here. Great stuff, in other words, although just about everybody on the bonus disc has gotten rather shockingly old. Of course, to be fair, charming series regular Roberta Shore looks a lot better for her age than Anita Pallenberg does on the bonus disc with the recent reissue of Exile on Main Street, and yes -- that was totally gratuitous, but I couldn't resist.

Tags: Stephen Collins, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Charlie Chan, The Virginian

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