The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz

Fun City Editions;
$39.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars Richard Dreyfuss, Jack Warden, Micheline Lanctôt, Joseph Wiseman, Randy Quaid, Joe Silver, Denholm Elliott, Randy Quaid.

If Duddy Kravitz had a literary grandshire his name would be Sammy Glick, the schmuck protagonist of novelist Budd Schulberg’s scathing rags to riches tale of a churlish slum-dweller who, at the dawn of the sound era, adopted a “no prisoners” approach, hacking his way through the Hollywood jungle to become Tinseltown’s preeminent screenwriter. Long considered unfilmable, novelist/screenwriter Mordecai Richler and director Ted Kotcheff’s 1974 effort The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz gives Sammy a run for the money.

Duddy (Richard Dreyfuss) is dream rich and cash poor, a lower-class Canadian teen when first we met, raised by his widowed father Max (Jack Warden), a topflight raconteur who spends more time talking up his older son Lennie (Alan Rosenthal) than he does Duddy. Max drives a cab for a living and pimps to make ends meet. Max rewards Duddy’s admiration for his latter endeavor with a klop to the head. Rich Uncle Benjy (Joseph Wiseman) is putting ungrateful Lennie through medical school, much to Duddy’s resentment. Of the three male role models to impact his life, his zayde (Zvee Scooler) is the only one to show the boy any affection. Grandpa’s mantra is: “A man without land is nobody.” It’s easy for the old man to extol the virtues of being a landowner from the safety and comfort of the cramped backyard garden of the family tenement.

Duddy’s gig as a waiter at an all-Jewish summer resort is marked by lessons learned — always check the roulette wheel — and outright self-loathing (“It’s Jews like Kravitz, with all their hard work, that cause anti-Semitism in the United States”) among his co-workers. In a field of memorable character performances stands Joe Silver, the rubber-faced, borderline macrocephalic mensch whose throaty rumblings never fail to delight. Farber (Silver) is Duddy’s mentor, the gansa macher of his dreams. By way of introduction, Farber rips a hundred dollar bill in two, hands half to Duddy assuring the waiter that he’ll get its companion at the end of the season providing the service is good. It takes a lot, but Farber’s charm eventually curdles when he proffers heartless advice concerning an epileptic admirer (Randy Quaid) of whom Duddy takes sore advantage. Duddy’s love interest Yvette, played by the husky-throated Canadian actress Micheline Lanctôt, means little more to the hustler than folding green and a blouse to stick his hand down. Dreyfuss was disappointed with his performance. With all the running, jumping, and itching, particularly the itching, it’s easy to understand his disdain while not sharing it. Hard though it may be to feel any pity for a guy as downright unprincipled as Duddy, but damn if it isn’t more than a bit difficult to watch the poor jerk twitching in his sleep.

The Three Stooges, Charlie Chaplin and Ernst Lubitsch were among the first in Hollywood to openly lampoon Nazis. Unlike You Natzy Spy, The Great Dictator or To Be or Not to Be, Mel Brooks’ The Producers was the first post-Holocaust release to play Hitler for laughs. Orthodox cousins on my mother’s side refused to see it. “What’s so damn funny about concentration camps?” Donald insisted. Now that you mention it, nothing. But an easily dupable American public turning a tasteless digression designed to “close on page four” into an off-Broadway sensation was considered revolutionary satire by 1967’s standards. Donald was the only Jew on Chicago’s north side who took a pass on both Mel and the big screen adaptation of Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus that followed two years later. More than a mere foray into bad taste, Goodbye, Columbus was a ferocious exploration of the “Jewveau riche” that at times painted its subjects in anything but flattering shades. The celebrated wedding sequence was a paean to gluttony; a Ritz cracker decapitated a chopped liver chicken while hordes of decked-out chazirs straddling the buffet line like a livestock feeder.

Many in the Jewish community felt as though Richler and Kotcheff were purposely casting their own people in a disparaging light by telling tales out of school. (Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever was met by a similar reaction.) If audiences were offended by the aforementioned reception, nothing prepared them for Duddy’s brief career as what has come to be known as a Bar Mitzvah videographer. Working with an on-the-skid drunk (Denholm Elliott, delightfully pompous) with artistic leanings, the final cut he demanded contained enough heavy-handed symbolism to choke Bergman. The presence of Hitler, graphic nudity, and a nod to tribalism in the form of a close-up circumcision would be unthinkable had the local rabbi not given the short his personal dispensation by proclaiming it an artistic triumph. In the end, all but Yvette are shits in wolf’s clothing, even grandpa. Watching Duddy’s world crumble under the weight of his appalling behavior is at times difficult to endure, but nothing is more damning than his becoming fodder for one of his father’s legendary deli spiels.

Extras include an audio commentary by Adam Nayman.




Kino Lorber;
$29.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13.’
Stars Charles Bronson, Robert Duvall, Jill Ireland, Randy Quaid, John Huston, Sheree North, Emilio Fernán.

A year after Death Wish made him the king of the vigilantes, Charles Bronson stars as Nick Colton, a private bush pilot hired by a woman (Jill Ireland) to free her husband (Robert Duvall) from a Mexican prison.  Bronson and his crew, Hawk (Randy Quaid) and Myrna (Sheree North), perform said task with the quasi-comic aplomb typical of action films from the polyester decade. Breakout is certainly not Bronson at his best, but it’s a popcorn pleaser, one of those Friday-night-at-the-drive-in movies that probably worked best when viewed by a car full of teenagers sipping Coke and doing whatever.

And for fans of 1970s kitsch, like me, buying this movie is a no-brainer. Is it really something I’m going to watch once, twice, then again a few years later? The answer is an emphatic yes.

The film has been cleaned up nicely for its high-definition debut, arriving on Blu-ray Disc exactly 20 years after it was issued on DVD by what was then Columbia TriStar Home Video. (A 2019 Blu-ray, from Powerhouse Films, was only available in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Australia/New Zealand). 

Released under Kino Lorber’s Studio Classics banner, Breakout comes with an audio commentary by film historian Paul Talbot, author of two books on Bronson: Bronson’s Loose: The Making of the ‘Death Wish’ Films and Bronson’s Loose Again! On the Set with Charles Bronson. The Blu-ray Disc also comes with assorted trailers, TV spots and radio spots.

1980s Charlie Sheen Film ‘The Wraith’ Due on Blu-ray July 20 From Lionsgate

The 1986 film The Wraith arrives on Blu-ray (plus digital) July 20 from Lionsgate as part of the Vestron Video Collector’s Series.

The Wraith stars Charlie Sheen (“Spin City”), Nick Cassavetes (Face/Off, The Hangover Part II, TV’s “Entourage”), Sherilyn Fenn (“Twin Peaks”) and Randy Quaid. In the film, when four glowing orbs crash into each other over the Arizona desert, they leave in their wake a badass Dodge Turbo Interceptor and its enigmatic, helmeted driver. The next day, the mysterious Jake (Sheen) appears in the town of Brooks, catching the eye of Keri (Fenn) and the ire of Packard (Cassavetes), the ruthless leader of a gang of street racers. When gang members start losing races — and lives — to the Interceptor, the recent death of Keri’s boyfriend suddenly seems connected to the arrival of Jake, the unbeatable car and an avenging entity called The Wraith.

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Special features include:

  • audio commentary with writer-director Mike Marvin;
  • audio commentary with actors Dave Sherrill and Jamie Bozian;
  • “Tales from the Desert,” an Interview with writer-director Mike Marvin;
  • “Rughead Speaks!,” an Interview with actor Clint Howard;
  • “Ride of the Future,” interviews with stunt coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker and transportation coordinator Gary Hellerstein;
  • “The Ghost Car,” interviews with visual effects producer Peter Kuran and effects animator Kevin Kutchaver;
  • isolated score selections featuring audio interview with co-composer J. Peter Robinson;
  • The Wraith Filming Locations: Then and Now” featurette;
  • an alternate title sequence;
  • a still gallery;
  • the theatrical trailer; and
  • TV spots.

The Wild Life


Street Date 4/13/21;
Kino Lorber;
$24.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R.’
Stars Chris Penn, Lea Thompson, Ilan Mitchell-Smith, Jenny Wright, Eric Stoltz, Rick Moranis, Hart Bochner, Randy Quaid.

While 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High has gone on to become an iconic representation of 1980s teen cinema, screenwriter Cameron Crowe’s 1984 follow-up, The Wild Life, would find itself relegated to something of a footnote.

Though marketed as if it were another Fast Times (“… from the creators of Fast Times at Ridgemont High comes something even Faster …”), The Wild Life is more of a spiritual successor, continuing the search for zany laughs through the hijinks of driftless teenagers looking for a good time in Los Angeles. However, The Wild Life did not go on to achieve the breakout success that Fast Times did, though it has its fans.

Interestingly enough, according to the commentary track included with the Blu-ray, the genesis of Wild Life may have had less to do that re-capturing the magic of Fast Times and more with Crowe’s efforts to make a movie about The Doors frontman Jim Morrison. As the story goes, when those plans didn’t pan out, the intended script was re-tooled into The Wild Life — the most visible remnant of its former life being the Jim character played by Ilan Mitchell-Smith, a teenager with an obsession about the 1960s and the Vietnam War. A Jim Morrison poster even makes its way into the set dressings.

As for why it has toiled in relative obscurity despite the notable talent involved, well, there are a number of reasons for this. Its close association with Fast Times couldn’t have helped, but the primary culprit might have to do with an ambitious soundtrack that originally included the likes of Prince and Madonna, and a score by Eddie Van Halen. Licensing the music for home video proved too expensive given the film’s relatively light box office haul ($11 million against a $6 million budget, compared with Fast Times‘ $27 million against a $5 million budget), so Universal Studios took the unusual step of preparing an alternate soundtrack for VHS, Laserdisc and television airings — replacing most of the pop songs with Van Halen guitar riffs.

Lack of access to the original theatrical cut outside of bootleg circles certainly couldn’t have helped when it came to the ubiquity of television airings and home video releases needed to keep a film in the public consciousness (both of which helped Fast Times grow its popularity, to the point it got a spinoff TV series in 1986). Universal didn’t even release The Wild Life on DVD until 2014, and that was through its manufactured-on-demand DVD-R “Vault Series.”

Now, The Wild Life isn’t the kind of cult hit that’s going to inspire the kind of spending needed to clear up the rights issues for a new disc release in 2021; nor is Kino the kind of distributor so flush with cash that it could be expected to take up such an endeavor. Thus, Kino’s new Blu-ray Disc release of The Wild Life, to the disappointment of many of the film’s fans, contains the alternate soundtrack. Aside from this, Kino has done right by the film in finally delivering it to HD.

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The picture quality looks good for a film that probably hasn’t gotten much love in the 37 years since it was made. The visual style has a certain mid-’80s sweaty quality to it that echoes the lustful cravings of its protagonists.

Like Fast Times, The Wild Life casts a Penn in the role of a party-loving stoner with a penchant for bringing trouble to those around him. No, it’s not Sean Penn as Spicoli, but his younger brother, Chris, who is saddled with the oft-repeated catch-phrase, “It’s casual.”

Eric Stoltz plays Bill, Jim’s older brother and a recent high school graduate who has just moved into his first apartment and finds himself short on cash after the manager upsells him to a more-expensive unit. He also broke up with his still-in-high-school girlfriend, Anita (Lea Thompson), who has moved on to a fling with a neighborhood cop (Hart Bochner) who doesn’t know she’s underage, which is just as well since she doesn’t know he’s married.

The presence of Stoltz and Thompson actually make The Wild Life more significant to cinematic history that it otherwise would have been. Not long after making The Wild Life, Stoltz was cast to play Marty McFly in Back to the Future. In scouting Stoltz, the BTTF producers viewed The Wild Life and were impressed enough by Thompson’s performance that they cast her to play Marty’s mother. Ultimately, Stoltz’s interpretation of Marty didn’t match the comedic tone producers wanted, and he was famously replaced by Michael J. Fox, while Thompson remained.

As for The Wild Life, it’s a fun lark that makes for a nice companion piece to Fast Times while still highly rewatchable on its own. The film also features notable appearances by Rick Moranis just a few months after his breakout role in Ghostbusters; Ben Stein in an early role as an Army surplus clerk before his iconic appearance in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; Robert Ridgely, who is best known as the executioner in Blazing Saddles and a porn financier in Boogie Nights; Dean Devlin, later a big-time Hollywood producer of films such as Independence Day, as a liquor store clerk; Randy Quaid as a drug-adled Vietnam vet who befriends Jim; and a slew of punk rock icons, such as Lee Ving, better known acting-wise as the main dead guy in Clue.

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Kino’s Wild Life Blu-ray includes a 15-minute retrospective interview with Mitchell-Smith, who would go on to a bigger role the next year in Weird Science before dropping out of acting, but here he shares a lot of fond memories about making The Wild Life.

The aforementioned audio commentary comes courtesy of Mike McBeardo McPadden, a podcaster and author of Teen Movie Hell, joined by author and disc jockey Ian Christe. Their entertaining discussion is expectedly more focused on the historical impact of the film, some of the behind-the-scenes details, and how it compares to Fast Times. But they also recommend The Wild Life as essential viewing in any 1980s teen comedy marathon simply for how it delves into darker aspects of the lives of movie teens that don’t often get seen in other more popular movies from the time.

Rounding out the bonus materials are the film’s theatrical trailer and some radio spots.

All in all, “it’s casual.”

Days of Thunder


$29.99 Blu-ray, $29.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13.’
Stars Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid, Nicole Kidman, Michael Rooker, Cary Elwes, John C. Reilly, Fred Dalton Thompson.

Almost immediately upon its release in 1990, Days of Thunder was labeled by critics as a car racing version of Top Gun, a reputation that isn’t exactly unearned.

Days of Thunder shares the same production team of Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, the same director in Tony Scott, and also stars Tom Cruise, who plays another hotshot looking to fulfill his need for speed with reckless abandon.

In this case, Cruise’s character is named Cole Trickle, an Indy circuit washout looking to make a name for himself in NASCAR. He takes on the mentorship of a master pit crew chief played by Robert Duvall, but a devastating crash shakes his confidence.

Robert Towne’s screenplay (with Cruise sharing a story credit) throws not one but two rivals at Trickle. First is Michael Rooker’s Rowdy Burns, the top dog of the circuit whose career is cut short in the same wreck that impairs Cole. When they become fast friends due to shared misfortune, Rowdy asks Cole to take over his racing team, setting up the showdown with rival No. 2, another rookie driver named Russ Wheeler, played by Cary Elwes, whose blink-and-you’ll-miss-it introduction obscures a rise through the ranks so unexpectedly rapid that one wonders why the movie isn’t about him.

The requisite love interest, which like with Top Gun comes with professional complications, is Cole’s and Rowdy’s neurologist, played by Nicole Kidman, who was 22 at the time of filming lest anyone wish to question the likelihood of her character’s medical credentials. The swirling rumors of the day suggested Cruise became enamored with Kidman after seeing her in 1989’s Dead Calm and arranged for her to be in Days of Thunder so they could meet. When 1990 began he had been married to Mimi Rogers, but divorced her in February. Cruise and Kidman were married from December 1990, six months after Days of Thunder hit theaters, to 2001.

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For the most part, Days of Thunder comes across as a series of exciting racing scenes and establishing shots of NASCAR speedways strung together with a by-the-numbers plot and some perfunctory dialogue. Duvall is as good as he usually is, while Cole Trickle is such a stock character in the Tom Cruise mold that naming him is more a screenwriting formality than a necessity of the story.

This new edition of Days of Thunder is presented as both a standalone Blu-ray under the “Paramount Presents” label, as well as a 4K Ultra HD disc with digital copy. The 4K version doesn’t come with a separate Blu-ray Disc, which is something of a break from the industry norm of 4K/Blu-ray combo packs, so consumers will have to pick whether they want the higher-definition resolution of the 4K version or the fancy Paramount Presents slipcover with fold-out movie poster. The film looks great either way, particularly because the racing footage is so good.

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The new Days of Thunder Blu-ray seems to have avoided the fate of most of the other titles in the Paramount Presents line, which to this point has offered Blu-ray re-releases with most of the bonus materials from previous editions left out this go-around (it seems anything previously available only in SD got the axe, with maybe a new short retrospective featurette to replace it).  That’s because the previous Days of Thunder Blu-ray from 2008 had zero extras on it aside from the film’s trailer, so anything offered here is a step up. The extras, sparse as they may be, are the same on both the Blu-ray and 4K discs.

The new discs don’t include the trailer, but they do have a seven-minute “Filmmaker Focus” featurette which is essentially a retrospective interview with Bruckheimer interspersed with clips from the movie.

There’s also an isolated audio track containing just Hans Zimmer’s musical score, his first of many collaborations with the Bruckheimer/Simpson team. Zimmer’s music is a highlight of the movie, but compared with the rest of Zimmer’s works it comes across as one of the more generic efforts in a career built on establishing a baseline sound for reliable action cues.