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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Compilation > Cliffhangers > Serials > Chapterplays > Mystery > Murder > Detective > Books > Police > Action Heroes Of The Cliffhanger Serials! (1992/Legend DVD)/The Sloane “Fast” Triple Feature: Fast Company (1938)/Fast & Loose (1939)/Fast & Furious (1939/Warner Archive DVD)/George Gently: Series 5 (

Action Heroes Of The Cliffhanger Serials! (1992/Legend DVD)/The Sloane “Fast” Triple Feature: Fast Company (1938)/Fast & Loose (1939)/Fast & Furious (1939/Warner Archive DVD)/George Gently: Series 5 (2012/Acorn Blu-ray)/Nick Carter Mysteries Triple Feature (1939 – 1940/Warner Archive DVD)/Revenge For Jolly! (2012/Sony DVD)/The Sweeney (2012/E1 Blu-ray w/DVD)

 

 

Picture: C/C+/B-/C+/C/B & C     Sound: C/C+/B-/C+/C+/B & B-     Extras: D/C-/C-/C-/D/B-     Main Programs: C+/C+/C+/C+/B-/C+

 

 

PLEASE NOTE: The Fast and Nick Carter trilogy DVDs are only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.

 

 

The Western came out of the silent era and B-movies until it became a genre in 1939, but action mystery suspense thrillers have a different history and they pull from several sources.  Nick Carter and Sherlock Holmes were among the major characters to debut in print in the 1880s, followed by many detectives (too many that have been forgotten) and when silent film arrived, they were among the early characters to be put on film.  The first silent serials aimed at adults as much as anyone also featured their share of mysterious characters.  Then sound arrived to film and things picked up.  Six new releases happen to show that range and give us a look at exactly those roots and what they have led to today.

 

 

We start with a compilation.  Action Heroes Of The Cliffhanger Serials! from Legend DVD and features 90 minutes of previews for old movie serial chapter plays that Hollywood’s smaller companies (Universal, Columbia and Republic in particular) started producing in the 1930s aimed at younger audiences.  They were among the first child-targeting films, feature some Western characters, but often also marked the debut of many other action heroes, comic book heroes and the Science Fiction and Horror genres found major ground and they all becomes the foundation for the growth of many key genres.

 

Many of the serials featured are on DVD (and I wish would show up on Blu-ray eventually) including many we have reviewed on this site.  Included in this set are King Of The Rocket Men, The Iron Claw, Columbia’s Batman & Robin, Columbia’s Superman, Columbia’s Vigilante, Columbia’s Congo Bill, Columbia’s Blackhawk (all DC Comics adaptations from Columbia), Universal’s Flash Gordon, Universal’s Green Hornet, Don Daredevil, The Mysterious Doctor Satan, Undersea Kingdom, The Green Archer, Republic’s Zorro, Republic’s Spy Smasher, Republic’s The Adventures Of Captain Marvel (both from the now defunct Fawcett Comics), Republic’s Dick Tracy, Republic’s Captain America, Universal’s Gangbusters, The Great Adventures Of Captain Kidd, Tex Granger, Columbia’s King Of The Congo (with Buster Crabbe as Thunda), several politically incorrect jungle adventures, a few Western=based, one with John Wayne (he did several at Republic), and a piece of an otherwise lost Lone Ranger serial from 1938.

 

A nice set on DVD, there are no extras, but it gives you an overview of how successful these chapter plays were.

 

 

Adults also had full length novels and feature films, but the studios often took these properties and tried to turn them into B-movie series, even high class ones.  MGM had their successes, but sometimes, the properties did not lead to long series.  Warner Archive has just issued two titles that show how the studio would try to make a series work, but throw in the towel when they saw things were just not working out.

 

First we have what I call The Sloane “Fast” Triple Feature and involve a married couple who happen to run a specialty bookstore and sometimes solve murders.  Joel Sloane and his wife Garda are a bit dysfunctional, but MGM tried to make them work in three films.  Edward Buzzell’s Fast Company (1938, not to be confused with the David Cronenberg film, of course) featured Melvin Douglas and Florence Rice as the couple trying to solve a murder that becomes entangled in a forged book scheme.  They are the best pairing to play the couple despite the quality of actors who succeeded them in the next films, but this plays more like a rough draft of The Thin Man series MGM made later, yet it’s the best of the three films here.

 

Edwin L. Marin’s Fast & Loose (1939) pumped up the humor way too much with Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell as the couple, picking up where the last film left off.  However, the plot starts to involve Nazi agents and the humor seems very out of place in addition to a certain flatness to the film and lack of chemistry between the likable leads.  It is worth a look, but not great by any means, so the studio tired one more time.

 

Musical choreographer Busby Berkeley was called in to helm Fast & Furious (1939) which plays better than those sometimes with Vin Diesel no-brainer car films, but despite toning down the humor still has too much of it.  Nazis are here again and the couple is now played by Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern, who make a better couple than Montgomery & Russell but not Douglas & Rice.  This has some good moments and the leads are engaging, but the film just does not improve from the previous entries and with WWII breaking out, MGM folded the series.

 

Trailers for each film are the only extra.

 

 

At the same time, MGM signed a young Walter Pidgeon as Nick Carter and made what would be only three films with him and of the character, now issued as the Nick Carter Mysteries Triple Feature by Warner Archive starting with the still-impressive Nick Carter, Master Detective (1939) with the best mystery, fighting, action sequences, writing, pacing, editing and action.  Phantom Raiders (1940) has sabotage of ships he has to stop and the results are mixed with the ideas working better than the film and Sky Murder (also 1940) has him taking on Nazi spies with less humor despite his bee-loving sidekick.

 

Like the Fast films, the Nick Carter Mysteries became victims of change and Hollywood did not know how to deal with that.  While the Sloane’s were of an upper class who would eventually have to deal with a new darker world, Carter was a pre-WWI action hero who would have to be darker (he would eventually be a Killmaster spy fighter in a post-WWII book series) and a gumshoe detective that he was not created as.  WWII eventually became a dark reality that ended many great movie series (including the Fleischer Superman cartoons) and with TV’s arrival, B-movie series and serials had their days numbered.  However, they were very important pieces of filmmaking, especially at their best and I am glad to see them still arriving on DVD.

 

Trailers for each film are the only extra for this disc as well.

 

 

The spy craze of the 1960s, rise of comic book heroes, retro 1980s adventures and other great classic novels, TV shows and films would follow in the 60+ years following and the classy detective stories up to the 1980s came back in recent years as the formulaic police procedural for “upper class” type looking for “quality: product, but a glut resulted instead, though the likes of George Gently: Series 5 (2012) with one time Professionals action star Martin Shaw as the title investigator somehow manages to be one of the few such shows that are not boring and unwatchable in the subgenre.

 

The four telefilm mysteries here take place in Britain of the 1960s (which likely helps stop it from becoming too micro-technical and cold, i.e. boring) and include Gently Northern Soul, Gently With Class, The Lost Child and Gently In The Cathedral.  It helps that Shaw is a good, likable actor and that he has some believable chemistry with co-star Lee Ingleby, but despite being based on a novel series like the MGM series decades before it, the show never becomes more exciting than what it is which disappoints me.  However, it is at least consistent, but too safe.  A 3-minutes Behind-The-Scenes featurette clip is the only extra.

 

 

Shaw owes his career to The Professionals and the shows that made it possible, especially the original Sweeney with John Thaw as Regan, a tough lad cop running a special crime unit in a show that brought new realism to British TV and started with a telefilm called Regan.  That realism played into the 1980s before such shows became silly and repetitive, but now, there is a feature film remake of the series simply called The Sweeney (2012) and Ray Winstone takes over the Regan role.

 

However, originally initiated as a project by Fox (who later dropped out apparently), this new version is set in 2012 and has a more rotten Regan (this backfires a bit), tries for a new style (even when referencing older classic lines and phrases from the show, save “Gov” which we rarely hear and was sent up so well in a skit from The Comic Strip Presents skit series E1 has issued in a great DVD box set reviewed elsewhere on this site) so it is trying to have it both ways and sometimes it works and certainly better than Michael Mann’s disappointing Miami Vice feature.

 

The cast is good as Regan and company have to solve a crime with unusually powerful people involved, but their unorthodox methods (not as gritty as the original show, by the way, which was thematically darker anyhow) may not be enough because what is really going on is so bad.  Ben Drew makes for a solid co-star, Nick Love does his best to direct all this and you can tell the people involved here are happy to make this and love the original series.

 

Unfortunately, it gives us a mixed result and what still makes it watchable are the attempts to keep it going, the unusual energy from the attempt to make it and just that it is a rare totally-British feature commercial production. However, it can also come across as flat as George Gently and those cleaner police procedurals, no matter when they are set.

I feel the original Regan TV pilot, which we covered in an import Blu-ray, still holds up better despite its age.  You can read more about that one at this link:

 

http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review/11223/Pathfinder+In+Space+Trilogy+(1960

 

We should not expect a sequel or series here either.  I also was not impressed by the car chases, despite the involvement of the gang from Top Gear.  It will be a curio at least for those who know the original show, but most U.S. audiences never heard of it or saw it, sadly.  Even if you have not, it is worth a look if it is your kind of storytelling.

 

Extras are actually more impressive in this case with a feature length audio commentary track by Love and the Producers, two Animated Storyboards and no less than six Behind The Scenes featurettes that show how much work and even fun went into its making.  I wish more releases were this ambitious.

 

 

That brings us to the biggest surprise on the list, Chado Harbold’s Revenge For Jolly! (2012) manages to pull off the clever street edge the new Sweeney is missing, has mystery involved and some of the slyest humor in the genre in years.  Harry (Brian Petsos) just loves his little dog Jolly, but is not always involved with the nicest people and after going out with his cousin Cecil (Oscar Issac, a good actor too and they have great chemistry together), comes home to find his dog killed assassination style.  This makes Harry mad and he spends the rest of the film trying to find who did it.

 

Played as darkly comic, the film still takes itself and us seriously and never misses a beat as it is able to do all the humor without becoming a spoof of itself, the script is really good and the makers know their way around the crime genre very well.  I wish more films and TV shows did, but they usually just do bad Tarantino rip-offs with no heart, soul or point.  This film is one of the rare exceptions and worth going out of your way for.

 

There are sadly no extras, but Elijah Wood, Adam Brody, Kristen Wiig, Bobby Moynihan, Kevin Corrigan and Ryan Phillippe also star.  See this one!!!

 

 

The 1.33 X 1 on the Action DVD is weak and soft from the dated transfer and dated trailers as expected, but is watchable enough.  The 1.33 X 1 black and white transfers on the Sloane “Fast” and Nick Carter DVDs look better and come from 35mm vault materials to the point that they are the best-looking DVDs on the list!

 

The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Jolly is a nice shoot off of a RED ONE and RED EPIC cameras, but this transfer makes it look softer throughout than I would have liked and I hope we get a Blu-ray soon.

 

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Sweeney is the best performer on the list as expected, offering a unique mix of several different HD cameras and HD definition concentrations.  That put it just past the 16mm original Regan pilot on Blu-ray in performance quality and has some nice color, but expect some styling choices and minor detail issues here and there.  The anamorphically enhanced DVD version is much softer.

 

The 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on Gently is as good as the previous Blu-ray sets with some minor noise and definition issues, but good looking, colorful to most of an extent and limited in being stylized.

 

 

The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Sweeney is the sonic winner here as well with a fine soundfield throughout, solid recording work and a warm presentation that sounds better than many big action films we have encountered on Blu-ray of late.  The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on the DVD version is not as good, but still has consistent surrounds.  The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Stereo on Gently has some Pro Logic surrounds and is also well recorded if not with constant surround activity.

 

The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on Jolly is dialogue-based and nicely recorded, but I wished for a lossless soundtrack as I watched because I know there is more sound here than the Dolby AC-3 can deliver.  The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on the rest of their DVDs show their age, but we get more background hiss on the Action DVD than I would have liked and it is a few generations down.  The Sloane “Fast” and Nick Carter sound shows their age, but sounds pretty good under the circumstances.

 

 

To order the Fast and Nick Carter trilogy DVDs, go to this link for it and many more great web-exclusive releases at:

 

http://www.warnerarchive.com/

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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