Box Office Gold, Disc 6

Callie & Son, 1981 TV-movie, color. Waris Hussein (dir.), Lindsay Wagner, Jameson Parker, Dabney Coleman, Joy Garrett, Michelle Pfeiffer, Andrew Prine, James Sloyan. 2:22.

The stirring tale of a mother who loved her son a little too much… Well, not incest, but that’s the key to this tearjerker that feels like (and is) a TV movie, but a very long one. Lindsay Wagner is Callie, who in the opening scenes is in a hospital bed after Being Wronged…and being pressured into giving up her baby for adoption without ever holding him (for $2,000 plus a couple hundred in prenatal expenses). She leaves Chillicothe and moves to Dallas, where she moves into an absurdly restrictive (and probably historically accurate for the 1950s) rooming house and takes a job as a waitress. Since she’s gorgeous and pleasant, she does well…including good tips from the wealthy newspaper editor (Dabney Coleman, in a wholly positive role) who never says much and always just has coffee. In a little side plot, she hires a sleazy PI to find her son—and he winds up decamping entirely (leaving an empty office) after taking another $200 from her.

Moving forward a bit, she learns to be a court stenographer; we then see her doing the stenography for a deposition involving—guess who? He suggests coffee, they talk, he realizes she’s the former waitress, and a little while later she’s the Cinderella who’s married the prince (and is received badly by the local elite). Further down the line, she becomes pregnant, then miscarries and can’t bear children; eventually, she reveals the existence of her son. In the most implausible bit (in my opinion) of the flick, the editor manages not only to find the son but to have him returned to his mother, apparently without difficulty. (What? The adoptive parents didn’t really want him?)

And she turns into SmotherMom. She wants her son to take over as editor. The editor had planned to sell the paper, move to his ranch and run a few head of cattle, but she talks him out of it—and when, shortly after the JFK assassination, he’s shot dead in the newsroom along with two other newspaper staffers, she takes over as editor (after rejecting her husband’s drawn-up but not yet signed plan to make the paper employee-owned). She tries to get her son, now a pot-smoking guitar-playing slacker (Jameson Parker), to get involved in the paper; it doesn’t work.

Third section of the interminable plot: She gets her son involved in politics—but instead of marrying the Suitable Prospect, he elopes with a very young Michelle Pfeiffer (23 at the time, but she plays even younger). A few years later, as he’s planning to move up a rung in office, there’s a big party at the ranch with lots of dove hunting—and SmotherMom winds up shooting and killing Pfeiffer after a struggle (but just a little too late to believe it’s an accident). And a determined local DA gets a grand jury to indict the son for first-degree murder (there was adultery and various other nonsense implied between the not-so-happy couple). The rest of the picture is courtroom drama, remarkably unconvincing, especially when the rotten PI (who SmotherMom had prevented from becoming a judge) lies through his teeth to convict the son and apparently faces neither effective cross-examination nor background checking. The movie almost ends with the son”s execution—but not quite: She goes back to Chillicothe, adopts a baby boy, and we start all over.

Long description because there’s a lot of plot. It’s not terrible, it’s not great. Really good cast, pretty good print. All in all, I’ll give it a middling $1.50.

Dear Mr. Wonderful, 1982, color. Peter Lilienthal (dir.), Joe Pesci, Karen Ludwig, Frank Vincent, Ed O’Ross, Ivy Ray Browning. 1:56 [1:52].

I’m all in favor of naturally-paced movies, but this one is so naturally-paced that it seems to fall apart repeatedly. I think the plot goes something like this:

Ruby Dennis (Pesci) owns a bowling alley in New Jersey, where he sings in the lounge and has apparent dreams of being a lounge singer in Chicago or Las Vegas. He also writes the occasional song. He lives with his divorced sister and her son. There’s some stuff involving a frequent dinner guest (?), an older Jewish man who barely speaks but insists on full observance of rites; also some stuff involving the ex-husband, who’s apparently a leech but trying to get back in touch: Dennis won’t even let him in the door (to his sister’s place).

The mob (I guess) wants to take over the bowling alley for a big new development, and make it clear that they’re going to get it one way or another, one favored way being that it burns down overnight and he collects the insurance. Meanwhile, he’s taken to a daughter of someone who’se involved with the mob (I think), is seeing that she gets singing lessons and dating her in his own awkward way. There’s a Tony Martin cameo, very much as himself. Oh, and along the line, his sister basically disappears, quitting her job in a garment factory to go work with—what? urban rehabilitators?—and, I guess, moving in with a family of them. The son is a cheap street criminal who presumably means well; he has a gang ripping chains off of people and sells them to another cheap criminal in a boxing gym, getting ripped off himself in the process.

There’s probably more to it. Eventually, Dennis does sell the place, winds up with the girl (I think), the mom moves back in (I guess) and…well, the movie ends. Frankly, if I hadn’t been down with a cold, I would have turned this off half an hour in and done something more exciting, like staring at the wall. But fans of Pesci might enjoy it. According to IMDB, the German version is 1:56 and the U.S. version is 1:40. This version was 1:52—and I’m sure cutting 12 minutes wouldn’t hurt. It’s a German production, which may or may not explain anything. Charitably, $1.

Twisted Obsession (orig. El sueño del mono loco, also The Mad Monkey), 1989, color. Fernando Trueba (dir.), Jeff Goldblum, Miranda Richardson, Anemone, Daniel Ceccaldi, Dexter Fletcher, Liza Walker. 1:43.

There are some oddities with this one. First, it’s in stereo—unusual for movies in these collections. And I do mean stereo, not reprocessed mono: The orchestral score underlying most of it is well-recorded stereo. Second—well, it’s in English, except for a few minutes of dialogue in French with no subtitles, and it was filmed in Spain (Madrid stands in for Paris).

The plot? The very tall and very strange Jeff Goldblum (he always seems to do best with semi-deranged roles) narrates the movie as an entire flashback about a movie he won’t see, that shouldn’t have been made, that he shouldn’t have written. That’s right: He’s a screenwriter, an American in Paris, whose wife leaves him early in the movie for no apparent reason, leaving behind a son whose apparent indifference masks his total need for his mother. None of which has much to do with the plot.

The plot? A producer wants him to write a screenplay based on a “treatment” that’s one line handwritten on a sheet of paper—a line, as it turns out, that’s from Peter Pan and used in front matter to the screenwriter’s failed novel. The very young director (whose previous experiences is music videos) who wants to make the movie points this out and hands him an annotated copy of the novel—annotated, we find out, by the very young director’s extremely young sister (16 years old, but a very mature 16), who also seems to make any difficulties in the way of the film go away, apparently by various acts the screenwriter summarizes with the word “whoring.”

The plot? Oh, let’s not forget the screenwriter’s agent, a lovely wheelchair-bound 30-year-old who pretty obviously has a thing for the screenwriter. And who we later find also has some backstory with the director and sister. Nor should we forget the screenwriter’s final development of exactly the screenplay the director wants, which the producer knows to be unbankable unless a major star is on board—and, oddly, the screenwriter knows such a major star.

The plot? I give up. There’s also drugs, death, various forms of love, the seeming absence of any deep human emotions on the part of most everybody involved—and, in the end, it felt like an art film, in the reading of “art film” that keeps them out of the commercial marketplace. To wit, after one hour and 45 minutes that seemed much longer, I had no idea what the outcome was, I didn’t know where things would lead, but…well, but I’d kept watching. For those who might enjoy this sort of thing, this is exactly the sort of thing they’d enjoy, and for them it’s probably worth at least $1.25.

Summing Up

So here we are at the first half—or, really, not quite, since this 50-movie pack lacks very short films and so is spread over 13 discs. The first six discs include the first 22 movies; the “second half” includes 28 over 7 discs. (For the other movies, see the posts for discs one, two, three, four and five.)

It’s a truly odd set, a combination of TV movies, foreign films that apparently weren’t headed for stateside DVD release, and at least one movie that should never have been in this bargain set. There’s one absolutely firstrate film, The River Niger, and two very strong contenders, Christabel and A Hazard of Hearts. I count four more good $1.50 flicks, seven at a reasonable $1.25 and five at a mediocre-but-passable $1, for a total of $25.25. Ah, but as I look now, the prices of Mill Creek Entertainment’s 50-packs have firmed up a lot—I see $44.49 at Amazon, about three times what I would have expected. At that price, the first half is neither a bargain nor a cheat. (Of the three other films—two at a weak $0.75 and one at a miserable $0.25—the less said, the better.)

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