50 Movie Box Office Gold, Disc 5

Christabel, 1988, color (TV). Adrian Shergold (dir.), Elizabeth Hurley, Stephen Dillane, Geoffrey Palmer, Ann Bell, Nigel Le Vaillant. 2:27.

When I look at the running time (nearly 2.5 hours), the date (1988) and the cast (Elizabeth Hurley), I immediately think “Why is this on a Mill Creek Entertainment set?” The answer—or a possible answer—comes at the end of the movie.

Christabel is an upper-class British woman who marries a German lawyer she met a Cambridge, to the considerable dismay of her father. Did I mention that this starts in 1934? The two move to Germany, start a family, and by 1938—well, you probably know what was happening in the late 1930s in Germany. At her husband’s request, she moves back to England for a while, but that doesn’t stick. A fair amount of middling intrigue later, it’s mid-1944—and he’s been arrested after a plot to kill Hitler fails. She’s off in the Black Forest (where he sent her after the bombing began, although she came back to Berlin at least once)—but she sets out to find him and see what she can do for him. It’s gritty, includes some interesting (and, I suspect, plausible) details about ordinary people in Berlin coping with the situation (they learn to count to eight for the bombs in each U.S. heavy bomber during nighttime raids), and—well, I guess it ends happily.

It’s a little slow, and maybe that’s intentional. It’s also quite good, with some remarkably good scenes and Hurley doing subtle, generally deglamorized work. If you don’t mind a fundamentally serious movie, you’ll probably like this. The print is usually better than usual: Somewhere between VHS and DVD quality—but about 10% of the time, something happens and it’s got jaggies and vertical jitters. All in all, though, the problems don’t distract from a very good picture.

The answer? It’s a BBC television production, and since it’s not a series, BBC probably didn’t think they could gouge sell pricey DVDs successfully in the U.S. (Reading IMDB, I see that this is apparently based on a true story.) This one’s worth $1.75.

Ginger in the Morning, 1974, color. Gordon Wiles (dir.), Monte Markham, Susan Oliver, Mark Miller, Sissy Spacek, Slim Pickens, David Doyle. 1:30 [1:33]

This begins with two entirely different scenes. In one, a young woman—OK, let’s say it, a hippie chick (Sissy Spacek)—is getting out of a truck, thanking the driver, and starting to thumb her way along the highway again, suitcase and guitar case in hand. In the other, a vaguely worried man (Monte Markham) is deplaning and being pestered by someone he must have been seated next to on the plane, a middle-aged dirty old man (David Doyle) telling him he should go out and get laid a lot (he’s been divorced for a couple of months), that he should say “motel” right away when picking up a woman so he knows where he stands… And then they come together, as he (Markham, not Doyle—thankfully, we never see Doyle again) passes her on the highway, turns around, gets a flat tire in the process, and they wind up in the car together.

After this “meet cute,” we have a three-day story (starting on December 30) that winds up with an odd sort of Happily Ever After ending and involves the worried man, the young woman, the man’s rowdy friend who’s in Mexico but flies back to see him, the rowdy friend’s ex-wife who also happens to be in town…and, for good measure, Slim Pickens as the sheriff of Santa Fe (where this is all set).

I want to like this movie more than I do. Unfortunately, much of it is drunken carousing, and neither of the primary characters seem concerned that they’re apparently both badly-functioning alcoholics. That, and the somewhat vapid characterization by Spacek, diminish an otherwise interesting little film. (OK, so Spacek was probably 22 at the time this was filmed, and had to work with a poor script. She apparently wrote her own songs; they’re actually pretty good.) Good print. This has the feel of a TV movie, but apparently it wasn’t. All told, I’ll give it $1.25.

The River Niger, 1976, color. Krishna Shah (dir.), Cicely Tyson, James Earl Jones, Louis Gossett Jr., Glynn Turman, Jonelle Allen, Roger E. Mosely. 1:45.

A superb cast, a generally very good print (except that the music, written & performed by WAR, is sometimes wavering as though there were soundtrack problems), a Tony Award-winning play opened out into a movie.

I’m not sure how much more to say. I’m probably not the natural audience. The movie, set in an LA ghetto (presumably Watts), features James Earl Jones as an alcoholic house-painter/poet trying to keep his family together, Cicely Tyson as his wife, stricken with cancer, Louis Gossett Jr. as the best friend and local doctor—and a remarkable crowd of other actors. It’s a movie of its time, and very well done. Summarizing the actual plot would be of no particular use.

I don’t quite understand how this movie could be in this set, but that’s a common theme here. I’ll give it $2.

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