A successful comedy/action film and a truly important set of early television dramas are in this week's DVD review column.
Studio One Anthology
I don't use the word "important" very often to describe a DVD release, but this collection of 17 hours of "Studio One" on six DVDs is indeed significant to anyone either interested in the presentation of live drama or the history of television.
It's sad to note that since "Studio One" ended its 10-year run in 1958, commercial television has clearly devolved. In the infancy of the medium, sponsors and networks strived to present a variety of programming including the production of plays performed live.
Granted, Paddy Chayefsky, who wrote for shows such as "Studio One," predicted television's decline with his films "network," but I doubt that when he was employed in the 1950s by shows such as this one that he couldn't ever envisioned a time when a show such as "Momma's Boys" would be a network hit.
"Studio One" was one of many live dramatic anthology programs from the 1950s, but it is remembered as one of the best. This collection includes a wide range of shows, from Shakespeare to originals such as "Twelve Angry Men" and "Dino," both of which were later adapted into feature films.
The actors featured in these shows included names familiar to 1950s audiences -- people recognized Art Carney in a non-"Honeymooners" role, for instance -- but most were young actors who had come to New York seeking stage experience. The demand created by television programming at that time meant that many new performers received significant breaks on these live dramatic shows.
This collection includes performances by Charlton Heston, Sal Mineo, Jack Lemmon, Eva Marie Saint, Elizabeth Montgomery, Lee Remick, Leslie Nielson and Lorne Greene, before they became stars.
There are two great extras that explain the experience of creating these live dramas and the set includes a great 52-page booklet on each program.
The shows are complete with the commercials for Westinghouse products, which was the sole sponsor of the program for most of its run. It's interesting to note that many of those Westinghouse products were made in Springfield at its plant on Page Boulevard.
These shows were made before the advent of videotape and were recorded on film. Although completely watchable, they do lack the sharpness people have come to expect in this era of high definition.
Whatever technical drawbacks these shows might have, they are easily overcome by the writing, staging and performances they feature. Wouldn't it be great if television seemed really worthy of our time once again?
OK, what if Cheech and Chong had made an action film/dope comedy? Well, I'm trying to wrap my head around Tommy Chong handling a gun -- Cheech Marin already has done such scenes in other films -- but I can't really see it.
So, it's a real accomplishment that the creative team behind "Pineapple Express" was able to make that delicate transition from a dope comedy about two slackers constantly high to an action film in which they find themselves waist deep in crooked cops and warring drug lords. It's not easy mixing genres like that, but director David Gordon Green and writers Seth Rogen, Judd Apatow and Evan Goldberg get it right.
Green was an odd choice, at least on paper, as this project's director, as he has specialized in indie dramas as opposed more high profile studio work. He handles both the comedy and the action very well, though.
The film is centered on the premise of what two stoners would do when they realize their lives are in danger -- would they give up smoking weed long enough to save themselves? And would they have any epiphanies about their lives?
A film that is, in appropriate turns, both satisfyingly funny and action packed answers that question.
I watched the theatrical cut of the film as opposed to the unrated extended version simply because the last time I watched an extended version of a film it dragged. Generally, scenes are cut from a film for a reason and I'm more inclined to watch them as an extra.
Although not a film for people who don't like drug humor, "Pineapple Express" is a fun way to kill 90 minutes.
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