THE BAD SLEEP WELL (1960) is one of Akira Kurasowa’s contemporary dramas (drawing on then-current events in Japan) in which a corrupt executive’s right-hand man (Toshiro Mifune) is secretly working to undermine and expose a corporate cabal in revenge for the death of his father. If I didn’t know Kurasowa was reworking Hamlet, I don’t know I’d pick up on that——it’s much further from the original than Throne of Blood (Macbeth) or Ran (King Lear). Still, an excellent drama; the corporate setting would make it a logical double-bill with Ethan Hawke’s much-inferior corporate-takeover version of Hamlet. “The bosses whom you serve so slavishly are celebrating tonight.”
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967) has the Red Chinese employ S.P.E.C.T.R.E. to attack Soviet and US space launches in order to trigger a nuclear war; when MI5 fails to convince either side of the real enemy (another example of the Bond series’ emphasis on British superiority), it fakes Bond’s death (which serves no purpose other than to justify the title) so that he can go undercover and find SPECTRE’s HQ in Japan (with Donald Pleasance making a great turn as Blofeld). Nowhere near as good as the first three Bond films (among other things, there’s no strong players on the bad guys’ side besides Pleasance) this is livelier than Thunderball. I was also interested to discover the climax has a ninja army attacking SPECTRE——I didn’t think anyone in the west was using ninjas before the 1970s. “We consider this nothing less than a deliberate plan to take total control of space!”
DETECTIVE STORY (1951) is an adapted stage play in which vindictive cop Kirk Douglas’ relentless pursuit of a criminal abortionist (fudged with references to “black market babies” in deference to the Production Code) leads to the discovery wife Eleanor Parker paid the doctor a visit after a broken affair several years before they met. And Douglas, tragically, is not a man who knows how to forgive her … Very good; with William Bendix as Douglas’ better-hearted partner, Joseph Wiseman as a cat burglar and Lee Grant (shortly before she got blacklisted) as a nervous shoplifter. This would double-bill well with Sean Connery’s stage adaptation The Offense where Connery also plays a self-destructive cop. “I said ‘tramp’—I didn’t make up the word either.”
The second season of ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE on DVD continues the insanity of the first season, as the guys battle Boris and Natasha for control of an anti-gravity mine, Peter Peachfuzz becomes head of American intelligence and the robot whale Maybe Dick terrorizes the oceans. Greatly entertaining——the only weak spot is a cliched satire of method acting (the style Marlon Brando made famous, which movies, TV and even comic-books would parody for years). Plus, of course, Dudley Do-Right, Mr. Peabody and Sherman (no relation) and Fractured Fairytales.
The first season of VENTURE BROTHERS introduces us to the bizarre world of Hank and Dean Venture as they cope with their insane, neurotic father (loosely based on a grown-up Jonny Quest), brutal bodyguard Brock Sampson and adversaries including the inept super-villain Monarch and his lover Dr. Girlfriend. While I’ve seen episodes of this before, they gain from watching in order; I look forward to catching more of this.
MAX HEADROOM is an interesting example of a show that caught the zeitgeist (though I suppose that’s debatable, given the low ratings) and still works today: In a future world where TV ratings are tracked like the stock market and televisions have no off switch, a series of implausible events results in TV reporter Edison Carter (Matt Frewer) being saddled with Max Headroom, a computer-generated AI based on his own mind. With Max’s help, Carter and his team fight to bring a little justice to this cyberpunkish future, while tackling censorship, networking programming and Edison having his entire credit history rewritten. The special features include details on the genesis of the show and interviews with actors and writers (one of whom admits their 99-channel TV universe is one point where they fell short of what the future would bring). Highly recommended.