MOD Movies Round-up: "The Stars in My Crown" is a Forgotten Treasure
Plus "The Last Dinosaur," "Soldier in the Rain" and eight Mexican Spitfire" comedies
"The Stars in My Crown" (Warner Archive)
Thanks to the MOD model of film releases, a lot of marvelous films heretofore unavailable on DVD, wonderful films without the recognition that translates into the kind of sales needed to sustain a full DVD release, are being made available to those dedicated cineastes and few but passionate fans. "The Stars in My Crown" (1950) is one of those films that lacks the hook that would entice the average classic movie fan to blindly give it a chance—a low-key frontier drama of community and conflict starring the sturdy but unexciting Joel McCrea, framed in nostalgia and overflowing with homespun values of 19th century Americana—but deserves the look for the power of its storytelling and the strength of its character. Especially McCrea as the unconventional deacon who strides into town and conducts his first service in the local bar, not quite holding the patrons at gunpoint but suggesting that it's in their best interests nonetheless.
Director Jacques Tourneur is famous as a director of moody, evocative horror films of shadowy threats and psychological reverberations, classics such as the original "Cat People" and "I Walked With a Zombie" and "Curse of the Demon," and for his film noir masterpiece "Out of the Past." But his frontier dramas (westerns, yes, but really about communities built out of the wilderness) are equally powerful and "The Stars in My Crown" is one of his best and most moving films, a piece of ur-Americana and small-town values carved out of a culture of self-interest and violence. Tourneur reminds us that the country was constructed out of both sides of this equation.
Also recently released:
"Mexican Spitfire: The Complete 8-Movie Collection" (Warner Archive)
Eight films starring Lupe Velez as the fiery Latin American entertainer Carmelita, who marries staid American businessman Dennis Lindsay in "The Girl From Mexico" (1939) and runs wild in a whole series of comedies. Donald Woods plays her husband in the first films, replaced by Buddy Rogers with "Mexican Spitfire's Baby" and then Walter Reed for the final two films but Leon Errol is in all eight as the apoplectic Uncle Matt (and the absent-minded Lord Epping). Leslie Goodwins directs all eight films, all of which run under eighty minutes. Four discs in a standard case with hinged trays.
For the record, the films in the set are: "The Girl From Mexico" (1939), "Mexican Spitfire" (1939), "Mexican Spitfire Out West" (1940), "Mexican Spitfire's Baby" (1941), "Mexican Spitfire at Sea" (1942), "Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost" (1942), "Mexican Spitfire's Elephant" (1942) and "Mexican Spitfire's Blessed Event" (1943).
"The Last Dinosaur" (Warner Archive) – Great White Hunter Richard Boone goes hunting for the most dangerous game: a Tyrannosaurus Rex, alive in well in a secret volcanic jungle hidden in the polar region. A rare live-action film from holiday TV impresarios Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass, who embrace the Japanese monster movie art of suitmation (that is, a guy in a monster suit) for their prehistoric star. Susan King has fun with the film for Hero Complex at Los Angeles Times.
"Soldier in the Rain" (Warner Archive) – Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen are operators working the supply system on an American military base in this comedy produced and co-written by Blake Edwards.
"Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd" (Warner Archive) – Charles Laughton reprises the role of the pirate captain (which is played in the non-comedy "Captain Kidd") to terrorize the duo in the 1952 comedy.
MOD stands for "Manufacture on Demand" and represents a recent development in the DVD market, where slipping sales have slowed the release of classic, special interest and catalogue releases. These are DVD-R releases, no-frills discs from studio masters, ordered online and "burned" individually with every order. You can read a general introduction to the format and the model on my profile of the Warner Archive Collection on Parallax View here.