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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Slavery > Racism > Sex > Murder > Western > Teens > Mandingo (1975/Legend Blu-ray/Paramount) + The Spikes Gang (1974/MGM Limited Edition DVD)

Mandingo (1975/Legend Blu-ray/Paramount) + The Spikes Gang (1974/MGM Limited Edition DVD)

 

Picture: B-/C+     Sound: C     Extras: D/C-     Films: B-

 

 

It continues to be my contention that journeyman director Richard Fleischer is one of the most underrated of all filmmakers in his time and that all his films form the 1970s are underrated, underestimated and underappreciated.  The works deserve some serious revisionist thinking and appreciation and we have two gems that deserve rediscovery.

 

First is Mandingo, whose name became a part of the sillier side of pop culture, yet the film has not been seen much since the 1980s.  Critics simply wrote off it sexual and racial politics, while others were not able to handle its honesty and realism, especially in its brutal portrayal of what slavery was really about and what was happening.  This is a story of how that white nationalist order inevitably breaks down and was especially timely as a comment on the Civil Rights Movement of the time.  Legend Films has issued the motion picture on Blu-ray and here is our coverage of their previous DVD edition:

 

http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review/7243/Mandingo+(1975/Legend+DVD/Paramo

 

 

The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image is the same print as the DVD, but is a nice improvement in color, depth and detail, even when the print can show its age and you get soft spots.  For an older film somewhat forgotten, this is a nice transfer overall.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is the same track as the DVD, though it sounds narrowly better here since it has more room on this disc to playback.  I would have liked a lossless track, even PCM, but this will do.  There are no extras, but it is one of the most important mature dramatic 1970s films to arrive on Blu-ray to date and is definitely recommended.

 

 

A year earlier, Fleischer took on the Western in a clever revisionist take called The Spikes Gang (1974), telling the story of three young men who decide to become cowboy criminals inspired by the older, tough gunfighter of the title (Lee Marvin) and start by robbing a bank.  Then things get messier.  Instead of an energetic romp like the first Young Guns (1988), this is a much more realistic film and the young men here never become successful criminals.

 

Gary Grimes (Summer Of ’42) leads the trio (including the underrated Charles Martin Smith (The Untouchables) and Ron Howard in one of his best acting performances) who want to have fun and be successes, especially if it is easy in the slowly building-up West.  Like any young men ready for action, maybe one robbery would not hurt.  For Grimes’ character, he has a home life of rejection and his friends also are looking for a better place to be.

 

Though there are genre conventions here, this is a character study of the men, masculinity, myth, what the West was, growing up and ultimately a deeper look at America that is smart, interesting and one of the most underrated later Westerns made.  Especially with Ron Howard alone, it is amazing this is only available as a Limited Edition DVD from MGM’s DVD-R program, but I hope this release is so popular that MGM decides to do a Blu-ray down the line.  Maybe even with Criterion.

 

The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image is pretty good from a pretty good print with good DeLuxe color that is not too faded and has a naturalistic look that does not try too hard and convinces the viewer that it is the period it takes place in.  Costume and set design holds up as well.  Some detail limits and softness get in the way, but not too much.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is a little on the weak side, sounding a generation down and with some harmonic distortion, so be careful of volume switching.  However, it is a well-mixed soundtrack and Fred Karlin’s score is very good.  He also scored Westworld (Limited Edition CD reviewed elsewhere on this site) and parts of Futureworld (also now an MGM Limited Edition DVD, reviewed elsewhere on this site), making him one of the period’s most underrated composers. 

 

Once again, a real composer has the talent to make great music and make it effective in a narrative context.  Maybe a soundtrack release of this film would be nice too.  A trailer is the only extra, though there is so much more to say about both films and maybe these releases will get the ball rolling on special editions somewhere down the line.

 

Next up from Fleischer is his underrated 1973 Science Fiction film Soylent Green (Limited Edition CD soundtrack already reviewed elsewhere on this site) on Blu-ray from Warner.  Wouldn’t be nice if all of his 1970s films were released by year’s end?

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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