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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Romance > Satire > Drama > Business > Intellectual > Detective > Documentary > Counterculture > Bir > Annie Hall (1977)/Manhattan (1979)/The Apartment (1960/MGM Blu-rays)/The Manchu Eagle Murder Caper Mystery (1975)/What Do You Say To A Naked Lady? (1970)/Pussycat, Pussycat, I Love You (1970/MGM Limit

Annie Hall (1977)/Manhattan (1979)/The Apartment (1960/MGM Blu-rays)/The Manchu Eagle Murder Caper Mystery (1975)/What Do You Say To A Naked Lady? (1970)/Pussycat, Pussycat, I Love You (1970/MGM Limited Edition Collection DVDs)/The Big Year (2011)/The Rebound (2009/Fox Blu-rays)


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



PLEASE NOTE: Manchu, Lady and Pussycat are MGM Limited Edition DVDs and are available exclusively from Amazon through the right-hand sidebar of this site.



Some people don’t think of comedies as a film genre but just want a funny film to be funny.  The genre is one of the most enduring, starting in the silent era and obviously still with us today, but it saw an especially large boost thanks to the likes of Billy Wilder as the best artists working in the genre took advantage of the fall of the production code and filmmakers like Mel Brooks and Woody Allen followed.  This led to counterculture comedy movements that ended in the 1980s, then the genre declined with only occasionally good films.  The following releases show the wide variety of such films over the last 50+ years.



Wilder’s The Apartment (1960) is a comedy, but has its serious sides and is a more complex work than an outright comedy as Jack Lemmon plays an executive who finds himself able to help out his fellow co-workers and himself by lending out his rented apartment so people can conduct personal business anonymously and this goes so well that his boss (Fred MacMurray) eventually takes advantage of this convenient situation.  However, our tenant starts to fall for his mistress (Shirley MacLean) and complications ensue.  Yet there is more going on here.


Like Frank Tashlin’s Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957, reviewed elsewhere on this site), it offers a cynical view of much of that same world, though that was more of an outright satire about advertising, commercialism and plasticity.  Though this is also shot in the scope frame, the black and white is meant to be as cosmopolitan as it is oppressive and Wilder (with longtime writing partner I.A.L. Diamond) have something more complex and multi-layered in mind.  Then they have dead-on casting giving great performances and an enduring film finally making a welcome Blu-ray debut.


Extras include the original theatrical trailer, featurettes Inside The Apartment & Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon and a feature-length audio commentary by Film Producer and Historian Bruce Block.



That critical and commercial smash eventually inspired the musical Promises, Promises, which also shows how the rise and Pop and Rock music hit records started to slowly creep into the genre along with the sweep of the counterculture itself.  This included the rise of Woody Allen including hits like Clive Donner’s What’s New Pussycat? (1965, which Allen wrote and starred in with a huge hit title song by Burt Bacharach & Hal David, who made The Apartment into said musical Promises, Promises) and Allen’s directorial debut with the underrated Take The Money & Run (1969) which was more of a free-style comedy that stressed gags and jokes more than a coherent narrative spoofing documentaries among many other things.


Allen Funt was best known for his huge hit TV comedy series Candid Camera, capturing people and their shock when suddenly caught in unusual situations that Funt artificially orchestrated, or a sort of Punk’d for an audience that was still treated like they had a brain.  However, there were many things Funt could not do on TV and so, he made What Do You Say To A Naked Lady? (1970) which presses people’s buttons over their reaction to nudity among other things.


At its best, the moments are funny and remain interesting, as well as a time capsule of the free love movement and generation gap of the time.  However, there are also some politically incorrect moments that may shock some, one sequence that absolutely qualifies as a sexual harassment sequence, toddler nudity that makes little sense in any context and a more serious sequence of teens who have sex earlier than anyone at the time could have expected explaining their private lives as they are interviewed on camera.  It is worth seeing and revisiting if you managed to catch it so many decades ago.  There are no extras.



Rod Amateau’s Pussycat, Pussycat, I Love You (1970) is a strange, very belated attempt to have a loose sequel of sorts to What’s New Pussycat? with that hit sing being used and abused all over this film Ian McShane gets involved in sex, absurdity and with eccentrics in Rome (including Severn Darden as especially off-kilter) in another free love fiasco, though this one has more of a narrative.  It also has throw-away scenes that are time capsule moments and never adds up to much, which says something since the original film was overrated to begin with.  With three Austin Powers films and counting, plus McShane’s resurgence, it is surprising it took so long for this to hit DVD, but here it is.  John Gavin, Joyce Van Patten, Anna Caulder-Marshall and uncredited one-time Bond girl Madeline Smith also star.  A trailer is the only extras.

This trend helped make Hollywood’s last golden age possible and this included trying all kinds of things with genres, including satires of the mystery/detective genre in films like The Cheap Detective, the underrated Murder by Death and Dean Hargrove’s The Manchu Eagle Murder Caper Mystery (1975) in which a detective-by-mail (Gabriel Dell) joins a chicken hatchery owner to solve a murder by arrow, immediately suggesting at the time the then waning Western genre and the rise of awareness of Native American issues.  It is this tone that the film uses throughout, but it is sadly more miss than hit, then instead of working decides in the end to go over the top and falls flat in the end.  This is a cult favorite among fans of classic detective fiction, but never adds up to what it should have and Hargrove moved on to better success on TV.


The cast is interesting including Will Geer, Sorrell Booke, Joyce Van Patten (again), Anjanette Comer, Vincent Gardenia, Barbara Harris, Jackie Coogan, Huntz Hall, Nita Talbot and Dick Gautier.  That great cast makes it all the more unfortunate this did not work, thus the cult status.  There are unfortunately no extras.



As the counterculture trend gave way to other trends, Woody Allen took its energy and made a more sophisticated comedy with Annie Hall (1977) and landed up having a commercial and critical success along the lines of The Apartment as it too won Best Picture (over Star Wars and Close Encounters!) as well as becoming a big hit.  Allen is Alvy Singer, telling is his life story in flashback, by talking to us directly in breaking the fourth wall constantly (i.e., talking to the camera when he should not) and in this case, almost al the jokes work.  Diane Keaton is the title character, whose look set a new fashion trend and with Shelley Duval, Christopher Walken, Coleen Dewhurst, Janet Margolin and singer Paul Simon among those rounding out the cast (we will not ruin everything), it is the peak of the early cycle of comedy Allen made his name on.  A trailer is the only extra.


He would start pushing into new territory and out of comedy slowly starting with his love letter to his view of Manhattan (1979), shot in black and white, it is a comedy, yet there is also his successful attempt to give us a sometimes serious drama about relationships and how the layered character of the city (several eras all in one at one time) plays a subtle part in all of it.  Muriel Hemmingway, Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton are the female leads (more Bergman than Altman territory in tone) and was among the first films ever available widescreen in any home vide format in the U.S. and especially as a U.S.-produced film.


Note that Allen found this version of the city before its comeback and rebuilding, so it had a stronger meaning then, yet is also one of his most unique and important films now.  It has aged very well.  A trailer is the only extra.



Fast forward two decades later and comedy is not what it used to be.  The scripts have become regressive, childish and dishonest, even when some ambitions exist.  Bart Fruendlich’s The Rebound (2009) tries to do too much.  He wants to make a silly precocious comedy where the adults act like children and vice versa, complete with gross humor to make up for the scripts shortcomings, yet it also wants to be a smart comedy about a mother (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who leaves her husband after she finds him cheating on her and befriends a young man (Justin Bartha) who also just divorced himself and is a few decades younger.


Of course, she has “lost her groove” and he might be able to help her find it, but it is too bad the film could not concentrate on this and all the important issues that entails.  As this also takes place in Manhattan, it becomes the polar opposite of Allen’s classic in so many respects and too much like so many bad New York-set comedies of late.  Though the production itself is professional, I was just stunned so many bad decisions were made as this moved along.  This could have worked (Bartha can act), but fails over and over again, in part due to rollback politics that have ruined filmmaking in general.  The supporting cast includes Lynn Whitfield, Sam Robards, Joanna Gleason, a bizarre appearance by the underrated John Schneider and in what may be an Annie Hall reference of sorts, Art Garfunkel.


Last and least is David Frankel’s The Big Year (2011), an awful comedy that managed to waste the major opportunity of matching up Jack Black (who has been on a bad streak lately), Owen Wilson (who deserves more) and Steve Martin (who steals every scene he is in) as three men competing for the title honor of the man who has spotted and photographed the most birds in a year.  It is never funny, mildly amusing, sleep educing and you will never believe for one minute any of them actually know anything about birds or anything else.  What a disaster, including the uncut version included here!


Worse than anything on this list, this shows how you can have the influence of the great counterculture comedies (which all of them have made, but Martin is a master of at his best), yet have a package deal that lays an egg.  It is one of those films you have not heard about because there was nothing good to it.  Sad.  Extras include a DVD version, Digital Copy for PC and PC portable devices, BD Live interactive features, Deleted Scenes, Gag Reel and featurette.




The 1080p 2.35 X 1 AVC @ 33 MBPS digital High Definition image transfer on Apartment and 1080p 1.85 X 1 AVC @ 36 MBPS digital High Definition image transfer on Manhattan are the best transfers on the list and ironically are the only black and white films here.  Though they are not perfect throughout, there are some great shots, even demo shots and prove once again that there is nothing like a monochrome scope film shot on film with real anamorphic lenses, Panavision in both cases here by Joseph LaShelle, A.S.C. and Gordon Wills, A.S.C., respectively.


The 1080p 1.85 X 1 AVC @ 38 MBPS digital High Definition image transfer on Annie Hall is not as good and seems to come from an older HD master, so it looks better than previous versions on home video, but not as fine as it should have including color issues in some shots.  The 1080p 2.35 X 1 AVC @ 24 MBPS digital High Definition image transfer on Year is weak for a new shoot and the weakest of the all the Blu-rays by the narrowest of margins.  The anamorphically enhanced DVD version also included is worse and as weak as the three DVDs we cover here, which are all films on average 40 years older!  The 1080p 2.35 X 1 AVC @ 22 MBPS digital High Definition image transfer on Rebound is nice in shots and was shot in the Super 35mm film format, but the transfer is uneven at times, though some shots are nice.


The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 color image on all three MGM DVDs are DVD-Rs that all have the disclaimer that they are from the best prints available, but they all look good for their age and the prints used are not bad, though I wish the color on Pussycat was more consistent.  Manchu is also mixed, but not meant to look as colorful.  Lady has some black and white footage that is fairly good, but not great.


The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Year is the sonic winner here with a solid soundfield throughout, while the same mixes on Apartment (originally a monophonic release) and Rebound are more dialogue based and more towards the center channel.  The two Allen films have DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless mixes that work just fine and are clean.  Year’s DVD has a livelier, yet lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 than expected, while the three MGM DVDs have Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mixes that are all decent for the age of the films.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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