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Featured DVD Review: Fox Triple-Shot

May 19th, 2012

Fox Triple-Shot
Number One With a Bullet - Buy from Amazon
Sinful Davey - Buy from Amazon
Wanda Nevada - Buy from Amazon

Fox and MGM have been using Amazon's MakeSpace program to release a number of lesser known films from their back catalog. At the end of March, the latest wave of movies was released, and while it took a while for the screeners to get to me, they finally did. The screeners that arrived were for Number One With a Bullet, Sinful Davey, and Wanda Nevada. Like all of these films released under this program, they are mostly unknown today. Are any of these forgotten gems? Or should they remain forgotten?

Number One With a Bullet - Buy from Amazon

The film begins in a nightclub with one of our protagonists, Frank Hazeltine, playing the trumpet in a jazz band. He's there with a woman and laying on the charm when his partner, Nick Barzak, comes up and starts telling horrible stories about Hazeltine's exploits on the force, until he scares her away. Barzak isn't there just to ruin Hazeltine's good times. He's there to convince his partner to join him on a stakeout of Harry DeCosta (Barry Sattels). DeCosta is the leader of the local thugs, at least that's Barzak's opinion, but years of investigating him has brought him no closer to proving it. It's gone from a regular investigation to an obsession with him, an obsession that cost him his marriage to Teresa (Valerie Bertinelli) although he's desperately trying to get back with her. No one else believes him, because DeCosta is a pillar of the community. (He even gives to the Boy Scouts.)

DeCosta is certainly up to something. The night Barzak and Hazeltine stakeout his place, DeCosta meets with a hitman, whom he instructs to "take care" of a friend of his. Barzak and Hazeltine catch a break when a sting involving too much cross-dressing results in the capture of the hitman. The D.A. wants the pair to go down south, to the city where Barzak's Mother lives (unrelated to the plot, but it does provide a little character development) and pick up Charlie Boudreau (Alex Rebar), who knows who's bringing all of the drugs into Chicago. It should be a routine transport, but while they are flying him back, they are shot down by a man in a helicopter. Barzak and Hazeltine survive; Bourdreau doesn't. Despite the circumstances, their boss still blames them and puts them on desk duty.

That's not enough to stop Barzak and he soon ropes Hazeltine into continuing the investigation. But another screw-up results in a temporary suspension (and their informant landing head first from a dozen stories up). But even that won't stop them. Their motivation is kicked up a notch when they learn there's a dirty cop helping DeCosta.

If I were to use one word to describe Number One With a Bullet, it would be, "Routine". There's not a lot here to separate it from the pack, from buddy cop elements, to the plot twists, to the romance, etc. This doesn't make the movie bad, but it certainly doesn't help it rise above mediocre. It isn't bad enough to be so bad it's good, it has just enough action to not be dull, and the two leads have just enough chemistry to help the humor along. Bottom line, if you like second-tier buddy cop action films from the 1980s, this one will probably entertain you, but even then a rental will be enough. There will be some who consider this a guilty pleasure, while others won't be able to get past the clichés and the slower moments.

Sinful Davey - Buy from Amazon

The movie begins with Davey Haggart writing his memoirs and describing how his fame was well-deserved. He started his adult life in the King's army, but military life didn't suit him. I don't blame him. There are plenty of things more worthwhile than walking from Scotland to London while beating a drum, even in the 1820s. His plan to get out of military service involved jumping off a bridge and using his drum as a makeshift boat. Amazingly, it works. It also earns him a price on his head of five gold Guineas.

Davey is quite upset that this price is so low and immediately sets out to increase that price by becoming an highwayman. His first victim, McNabb (Ronald Fraser), figured out who he was when he complained about the price on his head being too low, and makes him an offer. McNabb is also a thief, or at least he was before his previous business partner was hanged. Nabb is a good name for a for a thief, but Haggart is a better one in this case, as Davey explains. It turns out his father was William Haggart, one of the most famous highwaymen in Scottish history. This is why he wants to be a highway man, to live up to his father's reputation.

While Davey tries to learn to be a better thief from McNabb , a childhood friend, Annie (Pamela Franklin), tries to redeem his soul and get him onto the righteous path. A local constable, Richardson, also tries to get him to fly straight before he ends up like his dad. However, Davey is determined to be an infamous thief, just like his dad, even if he's not exactly got the talent for it. His first attempt to pickpocket at the marketplace ends with him being chased around the village, and that ends with him being held at gun point by a doctor. The doctor wants to use Davey, or more specifically his cadaver, for research purposes, but Davey convinces him to spare his life, if he can get a different cadaver as a replacement. Pickpocket to grave robber... his path to famous highwayman is off to a bumpy start.

Sinful Davy is like a heist film set in a period piece. This is a genre I enjoy and the film has a number of actors that are very talented (John Hurt, Pamela Franklin, and others) that do perform well in this movie. However, the overall result was just mixed. In addition to the number of strong performances, there are a few heists that are well executed. On the downside, the script doesn't give these actors enough to do. There's not enough connective tissue between the locations and we are left wondering why we should be interesting in following our wandering highwayman. It never gathers enough energy to carry the film through its many lulls, while the humor doesn't hit its mark either. It was directed by John Huston, who earned a combined 15 Oscar nominations for writing, directing, and acting and won two of them for writing and directing The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but this is not one of his best-known or most beloved films.

Overall, I think it is worth watching if you are a fan of the genre or want to see an early performance by John Hurt. But don't let your expectations get too high.

Wanda Nevada - Buy from Amazon

Wanda Nevada begins with the titular Wanda Nevada putting on some makeup. She's trying to look more mature, which is hard for a thirteen-year old. After that, she heads to the back room where a less than legal poker game is going on. She's hoping to be a good luck charm for one of the gamblers, Slade, whom she refers to as Lover. It doesn't work. Not only does Slade lose the hand to Beaudray Demerille, because he didn't have enough cash to cover the bet, he loses her to Beaudray as well, and then after a couple of accusations of cheating (the showdown was aces over queens vs. queens over aces, so one or both of them were cheating) he loses his life.

Beaudray knows its time to leave when the other guy's got a couple of bullets in him, and grabs Wanda on the way out. He figures if she's hanging out with a gambler willing to bet her for $50, she's got no where else to go. He's right. She's an orphan and her previous plan was to marry Slade and become a famous singer. Beaudray figures without someone to protect her, she's probably going to get into trouble. And he's right about that as well. After a short argument at a roadside diner, Wanda runs off and almost immediately gets into trouble with some lecherous truckers. After about half a dozen other catcalls, she decides traveling with Beaudray is her safest bet, but she still doesn't like him. He's not too fond of her either. Her personality is, to be kind, prickly.

After their first night together, in which they have to share a motel room with a single bed (It's not creepy. He makes he sleep on the floor.) Beaudray decides to leave before she wakes up. He is nice enough to give the motel clerk $50 in an envelope to give to Wanda, which shows he's not as mean as you might think. However, Wanda's not a heavy sleeper, and once he's out on the road, he discovers she snuck into his car while he was paying the bill. Now he wants her to pay for that $50 and simply going back and getting it is not an option, because its against his philosophy to return to where he's come from. When you are a card cheat and a con man, that's a good philosophy to have. Wanda again proves she has a good head on her shoulder when she suggest he teaches her a few tricks of the trade, so she can pay him back the money she owes.

Wanda doesn't get a lot of opportunity to learn, because while Beaudray is playing pool with a bank robber, a drunk prospector starts talking about how he found gold in the Grand Canyon. ... Just go with it. Most of the pool hall patrons mock him (his talk of a ghost of an Indian warrior doesn't help his credibility). However, he's got proof in the form of three huge nuggets of gold, which he uses to buy everyone drinks. This turns out to be a fatal mistake, as he's killed by the two bank robbers Beaudray was trying to con. Unfortunately for them, he's dropped his map before they got to him. Fortunately for Wanda, she picked it up, so she and Beaudray can go looking for the gold themselves. Unfortunately for them, the two bank robbers are soon on their case.

There are a lot of elements in Wanda Nevada, many that work, some that don't. On the positive side, Brooke Shields and Peter Fonda do have good chemistry together, even if the movie has a weird romance element that seems only half thought out. Brooke Shields had just been in Pretty Baby, which had a similar sexual theme, but was done in a lot more controversial way. For the vast majority of the film, Wanda and Beaudray had a relationship similar to that Addie and Moses had in Paper Moon. Had this film stuck with a more mentor relationship, it would have worked better. Also had it stuck with a con man / card shark angle rather than add the treasure hunter / supernatural elements, it also would have been better.

The film also tends to drag a bit in the second half when they reach the Grand Canyon. It becomes a bit episodic as Wanda and Beaudray meet a parade of strange individuals, some whom only have minor impacts on the plot and are little more than distractions, like the lecherous ornithologist. Others actually point the film in a promising directions, like a potential romance for Beaudray. (This does include Henry Fonda as on old prospector. This is the only movie where father and son worked together.) The two bad guys are not intimidating enough, nor did I care about their back story. Finally, this is only one of three films Peter Fonda directed and he didn't have the experience needed to get the action right.

The Extras

There are no real extras on any of these DVDs, but the Sinful Davey and Wanda Nevada have their trailer.

The Verdict

Bottom line, Number One With a Bullet is rather routine and forgettable, but if you are a fan of second-tier 1980s buddy cop movies, then the DVD might be worth a rental. Maybe. Even with those caveats, there are still better options out there. Sinful Davey has a few good performances and the swashbuckler action is fun. If you are a fan of John Hurt and want to see him in an early role, or like the genre in general, then the DVD is worth checking out. If you are a fan of both, it might even be worth picking up. Wanda Nevada tries to be too much and had it stuck with con games and a mentor relationship between the two leads it would have been an easy recommendation. As it is, enough works that the DVD is worth checking out, but for most a rental will be enough.

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Filed under: Video Review, Number One with a Bullet