Film studios have recently discovered a way to inject new life into their back catalogs without the need to spend money on marketing, retail shelf space, or overstock storage. MOD, or manufacturing on demand, means they don’t press the DVD until you order it. MGM’s Limited Edition Collection is a relative newcomer to the game, but their enthusiasm has already put them at the forefront of this new distribution effort to make currently unreleased titles available for your viewing pleasure. Every month The MOD Quad will list a recent batch of releases and highlight four of them in detail. (Eric “Quint” Vespe is doing a more thorough job over at Ain’t It Cool News (where does he find the time?! does he not need to sleep?!) so be sure to check out his Vault Dweller column as well.)

April’s highlights include The Happy Thieves, The Destructors, Old Dracula, and one of my dad’s favorites, Defiance. (The first couple installments of The Mod Quad will be playing catch-up as the DVDs arrived late, but we’ll settle into a monthly routine soon enough.)

* 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.

Defiance (1979)
Directed by John Flynn; starring Jan-Michael Vincent, Art Carney, Theresa Saldana

Tom Gamble (Jan-Michael Vincent) is a merchant seaman on suspension in NYC forced to bide his time in a sketchy neighborhood where a rough and tumble multi-cultural gang with walking sticks (?) keeps everyone living in fear. Gamble befriends the locals including a single woman upstairs, a Latino kid and his brain-damaged guardian (?), and a gaggle of middle-aged guys who’ve grown accustomed to being victims, but his efforts to avoid trouble with The Souls results in an escalating series of violent encounters. (Widescreen – color – good transfer)

“Who is that dude?” – This is one of my dad’s favorite movies and one I’ve watched with him on many occasions. It had been over a decade since I’d last seen it though, and to be honest I’m surprised with how innocent it really feels compared to the hardcore street violence flick I remembered. And I’m not just referring to the gang’s preference for Bedazzled jeans. It’s PG, no women are raped and in need of avenging, and the violence is rarely more than fisticuffs. Also worth noting is the score by Dominic Frontiere which while generic at times takes on an alternately threatening and energetic rhythm whenever the bad guys appear onscreen. I’d expect to prefer a more hardcore version of the story, something along the lines of a Death Wish or The Exterminator, but the damn thing holds up really well just as it is. The message about unity and standing up for what’s right is an easy target for accusations of cheesiness (and the original songs by Gerard McMahon don’t help in that regard), but it still works really well and comes to finely moving conclusion. Recommended!

The Destructors (1974)
Directed by Robert Parrish; starring Michael Caine, Anthony Quinn, James Mason

Anthony Quinn plays a US agent whose efforts to take down big-time criminal James Mason have met with nothing but failure, so he thinks outside the box and hires a hitman (Michael Caine) to whack the guy. The action escalates and Quinn’s conscience gets the best of him, but when his attempt to cancel the contract comes too late for Caine to quit he’s forced to see things through. (Widescreen – color – good transfer)

“I never make love on television.” – It’s a given that Caine is one cool cat, but he’s rarely been more suave than he is here. He enters the film in what looks to be a supporting role behind Quinn but soon takes over the screen with his inimitable Caine-ness. He follows lines like the one above by shagging Mason’s daughter right under the drug-boss’ roof. He’s the epitome of casual and cool and a great and witty anchor for the film. The action consists of some solid gunfights and car chases, but as was apparently common with the time period the film comes to an abrupt and rather unheroic conclusion. As an added bonus though we also get an example of a rare, non-comedic use of the Italian slang “Fungoo!”

The Happy Thieves (1961)
Directed by George Marshall; starring Rita Hayworth, Rex Harrison

Jimmy Bourne (Rex Harrison) is a master thief who steals a painting in Madrid only to see it stolen by someone else from his assistant/love interest Eve (Rita Hayworth). He discovers who’s responsible but is soon blackmailed into stealing an additional painting or face a long prison sentence. Jimmy, Eve, and their artist accomplice Jean (Joseph Wiseman) head back to Spain to plan for their biggest heist while also trying to outwit the double-crosser. (Widescreen – b&w – acceptable transfer)

“Get plenty of rest and try to get these nudes out of your mind.” – This comedic romp is based on a novel (The Oldest Confession) by Richard Condon and for the most part succeeds at being lightweight entertainment. It does suffer from an unsuccessful tonal shift around the halfway mark though when it moves from being charming and loose to something a bit more serious and less funny. Bullfight footage of the animal being stabbed repeatedly and eventually killed to the cheers of the crowd doesn’t help matters, but even if you don’t care about the bull the film opens stronger than it closes as it becomes an Ocean’s 11-lite minus the laughs.

Old Dracula (1974)
Directed by Clive Donner; starring David Niven

Dracula (David Niven) is dead (and loving it!) and the unseen proprietor of Transylvania’s most popular attraction… Dracula’s Castle. Tour groups spend the night after being drugged at dinner, and the vampire and his assistant drain their blood without their knowledge. He uses it for sustenance as well as for research in the hopes of bringing his beloved Vampira back to life from her deep-freeze coma, but when it finally pays off she awakes from her deep sleep with one minor difference… she’s become a beautiful black woman! Vampira’s down with her new appearance, but Drac is old school and afraid the neighbors will talk, so the trio heads to London in the hopes of reversing the foxy hue change. (Widescreen – color – impressive transfer)

“This isn’t a vine cellar!” – In case the psychedelic opening credits weren’t enough of a clue of the film’s highly nontraditional tone, Dracula is first seen “reading” an issue of Playboy, centerfold and all. Hugh Hefner is name-dropped and a quartet of Playmates play a considerable role in the film’s plot. Niven showcases some strong comedic chops and nails just about every line he speaks, and while the movie isn’t wall to wall laughs I’d be lying if I said I didn’t chuckle aloud a few times. More impressive than the comedy (and the two exposed pairs of Playboy-sized breastesses) though is the film’s progressive and off-color humor. Teresa Graves’ Vampira grows more and more comfortable in her skin as the film runs on leading up to a conclusion we’d never see in a film today. “Black is beautiful!” indeed. Recommended!

Other titles made available by MGM in April include:

1950’s

  • DAVEY CROCKETT, SCOUT (1950) Stars George Montgomery, Ellen Drew, Noah Beery Jr.  Directed by Lew Landers.
  • CLOUDBURST (1951) Stars Robert Preston, Elizabeth Sellars, Noel Howlett, Harold Lang.  Directed by Francis Searle.
  • FORT DEFIANCE (1951) Stars Dane Clark, Peter Graves.  Directed by John Rawlins.
  • CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL (1957) Stars Brian Keith.  Directed by Sidney Salkow.
  • FOUR BOYS AND A GUN (1957) Stars Frank Sutton, Tarry Green, James Franciscus, William Hinant.  Directed by William Berke.
  • FORT BOWIE (1958) Stars Ben Johnson, Kent Taylor, Jan Harrison, Jana Davi.  Directed by Howard W. Koch.
  • THE GUN RUNNERS (1958) Stars Audie Murphy, Eddie Albert.  Directed by Don Siegel.

1960’s

  • GERONIMO (1962) Stars Chuck Connors, Kamala Devi.  Directed by Arnold Laven.
  • STOLEN HOURS (1963) Stars Susan Hayward, Michael Craig, Diane Baker.  Directed by Daniel Petri.
  • THE CEREMONY (1963) Stars Laurence Harvey, Sarah Miles, Robert Walker Jr., John Ireland, Ross Martin, Lee Patterson.  Directed by Laurence Harvey.
  • A THOUSAND CLOWNS (1965) Stars Jason Robards, Barbara Harris and Martin Balsam.  Directed by Fred Coe.

1970’s

  • CALL OF THE WILD (1972) Stars Charlton Heston.  Directed by Ken Annakin.
  • BOBBIE JO & OUTLAW (1976) Stars Marjoe Gortner, Lynda Carter.  Directed by Mark Lester.

1980’s

  • THOSE LIPS, THOSE EYES (1980) Stars Frank Langella, Jerry Stiller.  Directed by Michael Pressman.
  • PATTY HEARST (1988) Stars Natasha Richardson, William Forsythe, Ving Rhames, Dana Delany, Frances Fisher, Jodi Long.  Directed by Paul Schrader.

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