50-Movie All Stars Collection, Disc 3

It’s that time again!

Anatomy of an Illness, 1984, color, Richard T. Heffron (dir.), Edward Asner, Eli Wallach, Millie Perkins, David Ogden Stiers. 1:36. [1:38 jacket]

Ed Asner as Norman Cousins, editor of Saturday Review: How could you go wrong? You can’t: This is an excellent fact-based movie (based on Cousins’ autobiography of the same name) with a first-rate cast, about using laughter, will, and (maybe) vitamin C to overcome a crippling degenerative spinal disease. First rate, and generally a very good transfer. $2.

Black Brigade, 1970, color, George McCowan (dir.), Stephen Boyd, Robert Hooks, Roosevelt Grier, Moses Gunn, Richard Pryor, Billy Dee Williams, Susan Oliver. Also called Carter’s Army. 1:10. [1:30 jacket]

Stephen Boyd as a redneck captain dropped behind Nazi lines to take the only available group of soldiers on a mission to keep a German dam from being destroyed (although the jacket and only IMDB review both say it’s to destroy the dam!). The only group is an all-black support brigade, basically a group that digs latrines and fills them in; most of them have never shot at anything but tin cans. Robert Hooks plays the lieutenant in charge of the brigade—and as you can see, pretty much everyone in the brigade is or would be a name actor (I’ve left some out). Well played and worth watching. The transfer isn’t as good as it should be, reducing this to $1.50.

A Christmas Without Snow, 1980, color, John Korty (dir.), Michael Learned, John Houseman, Ramon Bieri, James Cromwell, Valerie Curtin. 1:35. [1:40 jacket]

OK, I’m a California native, so the title seems a little odd—and it’s set in San Francisco, where a recent divorcee from Kansas has moved (leaving her son behind temporarily) to try to get a new start as a teacher. It’s certainly dated in one respect: There are no jobs anywhere in the Bay Area for a credentialed teacher (!) so she winds up doing temp office work. Most of the story, however, is about the choir she joins, John Houseman as the crusty old retired musician who takes over as director, and the trials of going from a bunch of truly rank amateurs to a group capable of handling the Messiah with some flair. There’s even organ rebuilding along the way. Too much plot, and a lot of subplots left hanging, but all in all a good movie (and generally very good transfer). $1.50.

Panic in Echo Park, 1977, color, John Llewellyn Moxey (dir.), Dorian Harewood, Catlin Adams, Ramon Bieri. 1:12 [1:13]. [1:30 jacket]

If you’re wondering why I mentioned Ramon Bieri in the previous film—here he is again, in an entirely different role, also doing a solid job in some key scenes. But he’s not the star; Dorian Harewood is as a black doctor in LA coping with an epidemic centered on one housing project in Echo Park. The jacket blurb calls it a “classic story of the underdog fighting a closed-minded bureaucracy,” and that’s not a bad description. Generally well acted (Harewood is excellent—but the closing theme, which he sings, has lyrics that are banal even by TV-movie standards). Generally very good transfer. The most “TV movie-ish” of this group. $1.

This group and maybe half of the movies on the first two discs raise questions in my mind as to why TV movies are TV movies–that is, these are by no means a bunch of B- flicks with hasbeen casts or “disease of the week” quickies. I may turn some of those speculations into a post. Or I might not…

By the way, don’t expect much posting or comment moderation for the next week.

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