The MOD Quad: Act of Vengeance, Little Cigars, The Quatermass Experiment, and Top Banana

MOD, or manufacturing on demand, means studios and labels don’t have to press the DVD until you order it. MGM’s Limited Edition Collection and the Warner Archive Collection are the two big names in the MOD game right now, and each month they make dozens of titles available on DVD for the very first time. And The MOD Quad will take a look at as many of them as we can handle on a semi-irregular basis.

Which will probably average out to some number divisible by four.

Highlights this installment include Act of Vengeance, Top Banana, The Quatermass Experiment, and the little person gangster flick, Little Cigars.

* The discs are manufactured using the best source materials available and they’re strictly no-frills affairs, so the quality varies between releases. But remember, in many cases this may be the only opportunity to own these titles on DVD.

Act of Vengeance (1974, MGM)
Directed by Robert Kelljchian; stars some folks you won’t recognize

Five women are raped by the same hockey mask & jumpsuit-wearing prick who likes to make them sing “Jingle Bells” throughout the assault. When the police fail to catch the guy and don’t even appear to be trying all that hard the girls form an anti-rape club. Their goal is education, self defense, and support for other victims. Soon they’re targeting would-be rapists and pimps with blue dye, crotch kicks and beat downs. What they don’t know though is that their rapist is still watching over them waiting for the chance to strike again.

The Australian title for this little slice of seventies exploitation is Rape Squad, and that should really tell you exactly what to expect. The opening assault is pretty rough, and the dialogue is definitely of the variety you won’t find in movies today. There are some laughs to be found in the more over-the-top moments, but the film still manages a bit of menace thanks to the rapist’s costume and demeanor. It’s not a bad movie within the confines of the genre although the ending is more than a little underwhelming.

Little Cigars (1973, MGM)
Directed by Chris Christenberry; stars Angel Tompkins

A gaggle of midgets who perform comedically-weak stage routines as a diversion while fleecing their audience meet a tall, blond con-girl (Angel Tompkins) who joins them in their escalating crime spree. The expected romantic entanglements and jealousies follow, but the real trouble starts when her past catches up with both her and her newfound business partners.

This is an odd little flick toys with a slapsticky approach once in a while but that otherwise maintains a fairly straight forward style in its tale of diminutive gangsters and their blond moll. Tompkins is good fun, and the lead cigar, Billy Curtis, is an engaging and wily performer, but the others feel like they were chosen more for their appearance than acting ability. Still, the film is an interesting diversion and even gets fairly serious towards the end when the drama and mayhem are ratcheted up a bit. The highlight is probably Curtis kicking ass in a bar though.

The Quatermass Experiment (1955, MGM)
Directed by Val Guest; stars Jack Warner

A manned spacecraft returns to Earth unexpectedly but only one of the three astronauts have survived. The other two have seemingly disintegrated, something that understandably concerns the government agents and scientists assigned to the situation. Soon the survivor begins showing odd behaviors and a creeping menace begins threatening humanity. It’s up to Professor Quatermass to stop this alien invasion (of sorts) and save mankind.

There are actually a handful of Quatermass films made through the 50s and 60s, by which I mean three, and this is the first. It’s a pretty solid little horror/sci-fi thriller with a surprising amount of atmosphere and dread for a mid-fifties film. The plot device of an astronaut who returns to Earth with a terrifying secret (ie an alien visitor or alteration) has been done many times since in films like The Incredible Melting Man and The Astronaut’s Wife, and this is easily one of the better examples thanks in large part to the writing.

Top Banana (1954, MGM)
Directed by Alfred E. Green; stars Phil Silvers, Rose Marie

Jerry Biffle (Phil Silvers) is the self-described “funniest man on television” whose show begins to sink in the ratings with a key demographic. The producers convince him to find a female co-star to bring back women viewers, but while she’s intended to be a love interest for Jerry she actually falls for one of the show’s singers offstage. Chaos and hilarity reportedly ensue.

This is a filmed adaptation of a popular stage play/musical, but instead of actually adapting it into a feature film the film makers simply pointed a camera at the stage. Okay, maybe they made some other minor changes, but if so it’s not enough to make this feel like an actual movie. Instead it looks, feels and plays like a stage show from the fifties… complete with vaudevillian jokes that no one under the age of seventy will appreciate. One of the high points is seeing a young Jack Albertson (Willy WOnka & the Chocolate Factory) as one of Jerry’s writers. Did I say one of the high points? Sorry, I meant the only high point.

Catch up with The MOD Quad here.

Rob is the Chief Film Critic of Film School Rejects. He doesn't eat cheese on weekdays.

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