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View From The Couch

The Devil's Rain, The Fallen Idol

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THE DEVIL'S RAIN (1975). Let's get something straight: There's simply no mistaking The Devil's Rain for a good movie. But in the annals of cinema, has any other motion picture boasted a cast eclectic enough to hold Ernest Borgnine, William Shatner, Eddie Albert, Ida Lupino, Tom Skerritt and John Travolta? I think not. Borgnine actually manages to give three bad performances: as a 17th century Satanist, as his modern-day cowpoke reincarnation, and in heavy goat makeup as Satan himself. Shatner, whose emoting here always seems on the verge of causing him a hernia, and Skerritt play siblings who attempt to defeat the demonic cult hanging out in their corner of the American West, while Travolta, making his film debut as one of Borgnine's followers, delivers only one word of dialogue ("Blasphemer!") before (like most of the cast) melting into a puddle of glop during a painfully protracted finale. DVD extras include audio commentary by director Robert Fuest, newsreel footage of Anton LaVey, the High Priest of the Church of Satan (he also has a cameo in the film), and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: **

Extras: **

THE FALLEN IDOL (1948). Before they teamed up for the classic film noir The Third Man, director Carol Reed and author Graham Greene collaborated on this beautifully executed adaptation of Greene's short story, "The Basement Room." Ralph Richardson, in an excellent performance that nabbed him the Best Actor prize from the National Board of Review, plays Baines, a butler who enjoys a chummy relationship with Phillipe (Bobby Henrey), the ambassador's son who's placed in his charge while the parents are away. Phillipe adores Baines but dislikes his humorless wife (Sonia Dresdel); he much prefers the company of Baines' mistress (Michele Morgan), who the lad believes to be the manservant's niece. When Mrs. Baines gets killed tumbling down the stairs following an argument with her husband, Phillipe believes it was murder rather than an accident, and his inability to hide what he thinks he knows from the police only succeeds in making Baines look increasingly guilty. Henrey (who made only one more movie) does exceptional work as the inquisitive yet uncomprehending child: Depending on his actions at any given moment, viewers will want to alternately hug him and smack him. Yet Reed and Greene (both receiving Oscar nominations for their efforts) toy with our emotions by constantly shifting our sympathies among all the principal players, and they also nicely capture the confusion of a small boy constantly trying to understand the actions and directives of the adults surrounding him. DVD extras include a documentary on Reed, a Reed filmography nicely illustrated by vintage posters from his movies, and a look at the original press book.

Movie: ***1/2

Extras: **1/2

THE HUMAN FACTOR (1975). Edward Dmytryk, a notable director of prestige pictures in the 1940s (Crossfire) and 1950s (The Caine Mutiny), winded down his career with this one-note action yarn that obviously hoped to snag a sizable chunk of the Death Wish crowd. Set in Italy, the picture stars George Kennedy as John Kinsdale, a NATO computer analyst whose wife and three kids are slain by unknown assailants. Rather than let the Naples police and the CIA handle the matter, Kinsdale goes the Charles Bronson route by personally tracking down those responsible, only gradually discovering why these terrorists targeted his family for extermination. Dmytryk can only do so much with a script that's all over the map, but it's the opportunity to see veteran character actor Kennedy in a rare leading role that makes The Human Factor worth a peek -- his performance deserved a better movie. DVD extras include an interview with Kennedy and a TV ad.

Movie: **

Extras: *1/2

SERGEANT YORK (1941). This inspiring drama might be director Howard Hawks' most commercially viable project, but that hardly diminishes its standing as a true American classic. The top-grossing picture of 1941, this tells the story of Alvin York (beautifully played by Gary Cooper), the Tennessee pacifist who reluctantly entered World War I but emerged a decorated hero, having at one point led the charge to capture 132 German soldiers in a single battle. Sergeant York is rich in characterization and detail: York doesn't even get drafted into the war until the end of the film's first hour, with the early portion detailing life in the Tennessee hills and York's transformation from an ill-tempered alcoholic to a deeply religious man. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards (including Best Picture), this won for Best Actor and Best Film Editing. Interestingly, Hawks, merely one of the greatest of all directors, earned his only Oscar nomination for helming this picture; he was ignored for his countless other classics like Scarface, The Big Sleep and Rio Bravo, though the Academy at least had the sense to give him a career achievement award in 1974. Extras on this two-disc DVD set include audio commentary by film historian Jeanine Basinger, two documentaries (one hosted by Liam Neeson, the other by Clint Eastwood), a Porky Pig cartoon and a gallery of Gary Cooper trailers.

Movie: ****

Extras: ***1/2

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