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 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 The File Of the Golden Goose, The Fourth War, Hennessy, and the movie where Thurston Howell III gets a cap in his ass, Johnny Cool.
* 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. These are all MGM titles, but Warner’s releases will be joining our coverage in the next couple weeks.
Johnny Cool (1963, MGM)
Directed by William Asher; stars Henry Silva, Elizabeth Montgomery, Jim Backus, Joey Bishop, Telly Savalas, Sammy Davis Jr.
A young boy in post WWII Italy sees the effects of power and violence first hand and grows up to be a member of the mob. Johnny Cool (Henry Silva) heads to America with an itinerary consisting of revenge as he targets and takes out the mobsters he believes have done him and his family wrong. Along the way he meets a woman (Elizabeth Montgomery) who could be either his salvation or his doom, but will he know the difference when the time comes? And what is the entire bottom rung of the Rat Pack doing in this movie?
Instead of giving a paragraph about the film and how good it is seeing Silva shine in a leading role, I’m just going to share the original trailer. It’s pretty damn great and surprisingly funny, and hopefully it interests you in seeking out the whole movie.
The File of the Golden Goose (1969, MGM)
Directed by Sam Wanamaker; stars Yul Brynner, Edward Woodward
Millions in counterfeit US currency is popping up around the world, much of it in the hands of dead people. Government agencies from the US and the UK join forces when they discover a cold-blooded gang called the Golden Goose is behind the phony money. That’s right. The most brutal gang in Europe goes by the frightening moniker of the Golden Goose. Yul Bryner plays an American Treasury agent who partners with a Scotland Yard detective (Edward Woodward) to bring the gang to justice, but the one thing they didn’t plan on is the power of greed over loyalty.
Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I don’t understand how anyone could take Yul Brynner seriously. Ever. We first meet him trying to be romantic with his lady, and while it’s painful to watch he somehow manages to get less believable from there. He goes undercover as an everyday thug and thief dressed in high jeans and a tucked in button-up shirt. Even more off-putting than Brynner is the opening 15 minutes that feature an off-screen narrator laying on thick exposition and actually describing things we just saw happen. The fights are poorly choreographed, the story never feels international, and the characters rarely engage. Edward Woodward is cool though.
Hennessy (1975, MGM)
Directed by Don Sharp; stars Rod Steiger, Lee Remick, Trevor Howard
Niall Hennessy (Rod Steiger) is an Irishman who long ago chose peace over the ways of IRA, but when a British soldier accidentally shoots and kills his wife and young daughter he vows an elaborate and destructive revenge. He’s going to blow up the Queen. Well, the Queen and several other members of the royal family and Parliament. His chances of success begin to shrink though when both the authorities and the IRA set out to stop him.
Director Don Sharp’s thriller gives a little bit of time to the political traumas behind the story, but for the most part it plays out as a fairly solid game of cat and mouse. It’s a middle of the road kind of film that never reaches anything higher or lower than just ok. But that’s not a bad thing. Steiger gives a strong but controlled performance as a man who crosses several lines in his quest for vengeance, and while his actions are unforgivable they’re clearly understandable. An interesting side note, the film uses actual footage of the Queen, Prince Charles, and others that may have gotten the filmmakers into trouble… the movie opens with a disclaimer stating the Queen had no part in the movie.
The Fourth War (1990, MGM)
Directed by John Frankenheimer; stars Roy Scheider, Jurgen Prochnow, Harry Dean Stanton
Col. Jack Knowles (Roy Scheider) is a professional soldier in a world with no real war left to fight. His most recent placement finds him overseeing the border between Germany and Czechoslovakia, but when he witnesses Russian troops kill an attempted defector he decides it’s time this Cold War thawed the eff out! He begins a small war of his own and finds a worthy opponent in a Russian warhorse (Jürgen Prochnow) much like himself.
This may just be the most ridiculous cold war thriller you’re ever likely to see. The story idea is a solid one with two men from a bygone era trying to survive in a world that no longer needs their services, but the execution takes on almost cartoonish levels of absurdity as the two old timers take turns crossing the border in an escalating series of violent incursions. It’s a real mano-a-mano battle where the two warriors block out the real world around them as they fall deeper and deeper into their personal battlefield. And Scheider is nuts from his very first scene. It’s lesser Frankenheimer, but it’s still a fun flick.
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