Vintage Charles Bronson TV Crime Series ‘Man With a Camera’ Headed to DVD, Digital

MPI Media Group has set a May 12 release date for Charles Bronson’s “Man with a Camera: The Complete Series” on digital and DVD platforms.

The crime drama ran for two seasons on ABC, from 1958 through 1960, and predated Bronson’s rise to film stardom in the 1970s with a succession of box office hits, most notably Death Wish and its sequels.

Directed by Gerald Mayer (known for “Mission Impossible,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” and “Mannix”), “Man with a Camera” tells the story of Mike Kovac (Bronson), a former World War II combat photographer now freelancing in New York City, who specialized in getting the photographs that other lensmen couldn’t.

His assignments came from newspapers, insurance agencies, and the police and private individuals — and his cases always led to danger and typically involved a good-looking damsel in distress.

Kovac’s police liaison was Lieutenant Donovan, played by James Flavin, who looked to the freelance cameraman for help with the cases the cops couldn’t handle. Kovac employed the latest photographic technology to solve a case, including a Minox III mini-camera fastened to his belt; fisheye and telephoto lenses; and various other cutting-edge technologies. He even converted the trunk of his car into a portable darkroom where he could develop his negatives on the spot. Character actor Ludwig Stossel starred as Kovac’s immigrant father Anton, to whom Kovac frequently came for advice.

Rider on the Rain

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Kino Lorber;
Thriller;
$29.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13.’
Stars Charles Bronson, Marlene Jobert.

Despite a scene in which Charles Bronson dispatches a trio of polished punks in an upscale brothel, the onetime sleeper arthouse hit Rider on the Rain often emphasizes the actor’s sweeter side. What, you say? Well, OK, this isn’t to deny that Chuck doles some out pretty rough psychological treatment (albeit for a cause) to co-star Marlene Jobert, who plays a woman who has just been brutally raped. But his anti-Death Wish persona here isn’t truly consistent with a Photoshop mash-up I saw last year of a so-called Bronson Christmas album, whose dreamed-up selections included at least three personal favorites of mine: Knock Off Those Jingle Bells, If I Catch You Kissing Santa Claus and Make With the Gifts … Pronto!

There’s a relative minimum of that kind of attitude here. In fact, you can make a pretty fair case — and bonus track commentators Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson do — that Rider is the movie that put Bronson over for international audiences that included a lot of women, which had a trickle-down effect on his lead-actor fortunes in America. Before then, Bronson had been a distinctive face (billed by his real name, Charles Buchinsky) all the way back to George Cukor’s Pat and Mike and a little before, including a memorable turn as the well-named “Igor” in House of Wax. After that, Vera Cruz, The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape and Once Upon a Time in the West cemented his status as an action “reliable.” But this picture was something different because Bronson got to wear a suit, though apparently Bronson had initial misgivings about fancier threads the way that Steve McQueen did when he

In this case, Bronson plays … well, maybe I shouldn’t say because Rider isn’t all that well known these days, though it once got a lot of 3 a.m. showings on TV. Come to think, the entire picture is a spoiler maze of twists and turns as we try to figure out what the hell is going on, though thankfully, the script seems aware that it’s been a bit scatterbrained throughout and does a satisfying job of mopping up during the final scenes. In its defense, the movie does begin with a quotation comparing Jobert as the heroine to Alice in Alice in Wonderland, which can be seen as a ticket for the filmmakers to go full crazy-quilt.

So out of the French rain — this is one overcast picture throughout — comes a bus passenger who’d look pretty scary even without the face mask he eventually dons. And he’s especially so, since he’s stalking Jobert — a puzzling-to-me total innocent who’s married to a loutish airline navigator (and this is near-incidental to the plot) with few redeeming values. With her husband is away on a another of his frequent flights, the stalker breaks into the house, puts on his mask and rapes Jobert — an ugly scene by any standards but one whose specifics are largely suggested (the film now carries a ‘PG-13’ when it originally had a long ago — and long-discarded — ‘M’). The result sets off some mayhem involving corpses — a mystery that for reasons of his own, stranger Bronson shows up to sleuth.

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I’ve been a 50-year Jobert fan, and I suppose it doesn’t hurt that I also think she’s one of the best-looking actresses who was ever in the movies (I have a history of redheads being my downfall). Here, though, I think that despite strong chemistry with Bronson, her attempts to play a mostly guileless hottie who eventually wises up (some) makes her come off as borderline simple — especially given that the character was eyewitness to some rather sordid behavior when she was growing up. This is to say that her still attractive mother (Annie Cordy, rounding out great mom-daughter casting) has, as used to be said, “been around.” She is now, of all things, running a bowling alley, though she’s a lot more chic in appearance than the women who give me my own size-11’s before I prepare to roll a 101. By the way, Wikipedia notes that Cordy’s recording of “La Ballade de Davy Crockett” (which is what you think it is) was No. 1 on the French charts for five weeks. I need a drink.

Rider’s standout virtue is its character dynamics, and the voiceover trio is correct on the bonus track in noting that were this an American TV movie (which would be its more likely Hollywood genesis), the running time would be 74 minutes instead of the two hours we get and would have the guts completely cut out of it. Instead, the great producer Serge Silberman (a slew of super late Bunuel films and Kurosawa’s Ran) found himself with France’s third-biggest grosser of its year and a big-city crossover hit with sophisticated audiences over here, who probably weren’t going to Airport; I saw it first-run in New York amid a lot of buzz. This would have been the dubbed version, which is a yahoo-magnet I generally hate, though the job done here isn’t bad. I’ve written this piece from seeing the Blu-ray’s also included and barely longer French cut, which is still very close to what I saw in 1970, with techno-changes that are on the inside-baseball (or inside-something) side.

Veteran director Rene Clement gave the movie has a soft look, which many French thrillers/mysteries had back then, and the visual rendering is pretty close to what I remember, which was never going to sport a vital color palate in the first place. After taking all the time to learn his French phonetically, it must have irked Bronson when U.S. distributor Avco-Embassy then dubbed the movies for American audiences (and he’d already been a kid, as the son of an immigrant Lithuanian coal miner, who didn’t learn English until he was in his teens). It all worked out, and Bronson became something of a drive-in/grindhouse superstar in the ’70s, but you have to wonder if his initial reaction was to flash on a fourth title that appears on the LP jacket of that fanciful Christmas LP: Meet Saint Smith & Saint Wesson.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Can’t Stop the Music’ and ‘Rider on the Rain’

Never So Few

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Available via Warner Archive;
Warner;
Drama;
$21.99 DVD;
Not rated.
Stars Frank Sinatra, Gina Lollobrigida, Steve McQueen, Richard Johnson, Charles Bronson, Peter Lawford, Paul Henried.

The odds of my writing about two Gina Lollobrigida movies in the same week are about the same as seeing Frank Sinatra in a goatee on screen (or, matter of fact, anywhere else), but here we are. For whatever reason in Never So Few, a chin-full of Francis follicles shows up early on in this glossy adaptation of a 1957 novel by Tom C. Chamales — but are soon dispensed with once we get to this yarn’s two dominant threads. And these would be: a) fighting the Japanese in 1943 Burma as part of an under-equipped OSS detail; and b) Captain Sinatra’s attempt to pry the more or less “kept” Lollobrigida away from a high-rolling merchant (Paul Henried) who, in one of the not infrequent scenes where the narrative takes a respite from the jungle, throws glitzy bashes for which the MGM set-dresser did a really bang-up job.

Sometimes a bad movie can be passable fun to watch in the home arena when there are historical (or otherwise non-aesthetic) reasons to do so, especially when the print is as immaculate as the one in this Blu-ray from Warner Archive. For the right person in the right mood, this one might be among those, though there’s really only one “must” reason to give this misfire with compensations a cursory whirl, and that’s seeing the emergence of Steve McQueen (then on the heels of TV’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” but not much else) into what now seems like inevitable stardom. McQueen plays the corporal/driver for Sinatra and his British counterpart-in-charge (Richard Johnson), and it’s a kick seeing the youngster, who was then about 28, interacting with his senior in movie rebel-dom, who looks admiringly amused. The two have a lot more chemistry than the future Chairman had with the King on Sinatra’s Welcome Home Elvis TV special from about a year later, and you can almost hear Frank saying, “Henry Silva and I were really digging you in that Blob thing, which is why I OKed you for this caper.”

Sinatra had that kind of clout, and, in fact, the corporal role was originally intended for Sammy Davis Jr. — who got bounced from the project when he went on a radio interview show and hinted that his superstar benefactor sometimes treated people harshly. In addition to keeping this picture from then qualifying as a footnote in the Rat Pack oeuvre (Peter Lawford is cast here as a military doctor), you have to believe that Davis’s firing necessitated a little script-doctoring, given a scene early on where McQueen beats up a couple of fairly burly guys. In fact, given Davis’s real-life ocular situation, you have to figure the army wouldn’t want him peeling rubber on Burmese dirt roads in a government Jeep. The payoff was that Few’s nominal director was John Sturges (probably forced by Frank to phone it in), who then cast McQueen in The Magnificent Seven and (speaking of peeling rubber) The Great Escape.

Getting back to what’s on screen (which isn’t as interesting) and speaking again of chemistry, Sinatra had more of the latter with the Nevada Gaming Control Board in 1963 than with Lollobrigida here, though you’d think that Old Home Country considerations just by themselves might have generated some sizzle. When you combine my comments here with the ones on Trapeze, I likely come off as a disser of “Lollo” (as I seem to recall she was termed), though I suspect the actress’s pre-Hollywood career in Italy was a lot more potent. For one thing, Kat Ellinger says so on the Trapeze commentary, and she thoroughly knows the material. For another, I fairly recently saw the actress’s substantial career-makers Bread, Love and Dreams and sequel Frisky for the first time, and both are delightful. (I’m pretty sure Bread was the first foreign-language film I wanted to see as an 8-year-old during my weekly devourings of the Sunday Cleveland Plain Dealer movie page). Lolo just didn’t register well in domestic productions, and December 1959 was a bad month for her all around when she also co-headlined one of the era’s most snake-bit undertakings, Solomon and Sheba, which gave the originally cast Tyrone Power a fatal on-set heart attack and further ended King Vidor’s five-decade directorial career. I did like Lollobrigida’s 1961 Come September, though substantially because Bobby Darin sang “Multiplication,” which we about-to-be ninth graders thought was a dirty song.

Few is more fun when Sinatra’s captain tosses out the book and stays sassy: talking back to nurses, combatting institutional racism against the campaign’s Kachin colleagues and risking an almost certain court martial for defying orders to combat Chinese renegades who’ve been killing American soldiers. The last confirms a couple things we already knew — that Brian Donlevy was great at playing grizzled old army generals and that when Whit Bissell was a child, the pediatrician must have said to his parents: “This lad was put on this earth to grow up and play army psychiatrists.” A most handsome picture, Few was shot by Sinatra favorite William H. Daniels, who before that had been an Anthony Mann favorite and a Greta Garbo favorite and before that had photographed Greed. In an alternate universe, one can imagine Sinatra on location in Death Valley for the famed climax of the Stroheim picture, with Daniels saying, “Don’t worry Frank; we’ll fly in Dean with the liquor cart for your trailer-with-a-pool — plus some Vegas showgirls who want to get a really deep tan.” Either it was this kind of excess or simply the impressive Burma-Thailand-Ceylon location shooting, but Few’s swollen budget prevented it from covering its costs, even though a lot of people did end up paying to see it. Sinatra was Ruler of the World at the time, and Come Dance with Me had been a monster hit earlier in the year on LP.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Trapeze’ and ‘Never So Few’

‘The Great Escape’ Tribute Documentary ‘The Coolest Guy Movie Ever’ Available Now From Virgil Films

The Coolest Guy Movie Ever, a tribute to the John Sturges classic The Great Escape, is available now on DVD ($14.99), EST and VOD from Virgil Films.

The documentary follows hardcore fans that return to the locations where the film was made, revealing little known facts about The Great Escape, which starred Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson and James Coburn.

Narrated by an actor in the film, Lawrence Montaigne, The Coolest Guy Movie Ever celebrates the 55th anniversary of the theatrical release of The Great Escape.