by Louis Fowler
Most weeks, I review more DVDs than the Indy can fit into print. You can look for extra write-ups here on the IndyBlog.
Richard Lester made his worldwide name as a director by putting the Beatles’ first two cinematic efforts — A Hard Day’s Night and Help! — on celluloid. Before that, however, he was the guy behind the camera of some of the most influential English comedians’ earliest works, including those of the legendary Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers. After the success of the Fab Four’s flicks, he returned to directing surrealist comedies like the post-apocalyptic oddity The Bed-Sitting Room and the anti-war farce How I Won the War, recently released by MGM Limited Edition. Known mostly as the film starring John Lennon sans Paul, George and Ringo, War is an extremely challenging, mostly confounding film, a black comedy about a chipperly jingoistic young cadet put in charge of an equally eccentric group of soldiers. Their mission: to install a cricket pitch behind enemy lines. Most of the comedy is pretty much lost in translation, but it’s a real must-own for Lennon (or Beatles) completists.
Who needs Young Frankenstein when you have Old Dracula? That would have been a great question to ask if I was reviewing this in 1974, during its first run. Though Mel Brooks’ comedic take on Mary Shelley’s horror story is ingrained into our collected cinematic history, I gotta say that I kinda enjoyed the silly British effort Old Dracula a bit more, if only for the dying gasp of the British swingin’ sex comedy on display here. David Niven is the titular aged Vlad, who has been trying to find the perfect blood type to resurrect his dead wife. He finds it, but there's one problem, at least by politically incorrect wacky 1970s standards: The blood came from an African-American Playboy Playmate, turning his undead betrothed into the same. An elderly white Dracula with a foxy black chick? Say it ain’t so! It’s all thoroughly goofy and never offensive, proudly parading a cavalcade of “Black is Beautiful!” mantras alongside a bevy of chastely sexy old school Playmates. You almost expect Austin Powers to break into a dance routine at any minute. I’m surprised he didn’t.
Before she was a cameo staple of John Waters’ later films, Patty Hearst was best known as the newspaper heiress who was abducted and brainwashed by an extremist left-wing militia group. Both are extremely cool titles to have, but something tells me that working with Waters is far easier than the Symbionese Liberation Army. Directed by gritty storyteller Paul Schrader, this attempt to tell Hearst’s story is extremely no-frills, with Natasha Richardson as the kidnapped, blindfolded, stuck-in-a-closet rich girl, held for ransom and other assorted ideological reasons. When her parents don’t pay, she starts to fall in line with the militants, becoming a member and helping to rob a bank. I’d probably do the same thing too … you hear that, Mom? Featuring early appearances by William Forsythe, Ving Rhames and Dana Delaney, this film does a great job of delivering Patty’s side of the story, even if it all seems a little melodramatically whitewashed.