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Featured DVD Review: Hickey and Boggs / Master of the World

September 23rd, 2011

Hickey and Boggs - Buy from Amazon
Master of the World - Buy from Amazon

We nearly lost MGM. That studio has been around since 1924 and came about after a merger between three other studios: Metro Pictures Corporation, Goldwyn Pictures, and Louis B. Mayer Pictures. The studio produced many classics over the decades, but it had been fading for years. By the time 2010 rolled around, it was mired in debt and didn't even have the cash on hand to distribute the few films it had ready to go (like Cabin in the Woods) while films that most analysts considered guaranteed moneymakers were stalled in production. The only assets they had of value were the rights to a few franchises (Bond) and a massive, massive library of films. Many of these films have never been released on DVD, at least not in this market, but that's been changing with a flood of classics films coming out on DVD, many times by the dozens during a single week. August 23rd, was one such week and among the releases was Hickey and Boggs and Master of the World. But are these two DVDs worth checking out? Or are they lesser entries in MGM's history?

Hickey and Boggs

In 1968, Bill Cosby became the first African-American to star on a primetime network TV series in the United States, I Spy. His co-star was Robert Culp, and the pair had great chemistry together. The chemistry was so good, that when Robert Culp got a chance to direct his first film, he teamed up with Bill Cosby to make Hickey and Boggs.

In the film, Bill Cosby plays Al Hickey and Robert Culp plays Frank Boggs, two private eyes. They are in serious need of money and have to decide between paying for the phone and paying the answering service. (On the other hand, they seem to have enough money for booze.) They get a prospect for a job, a Mr. Rice hires them to find a woman by the name of Mary Jane. But he just wants them to find her, not approach her. Also, leave his name out of it. It seems like a simple case, he even has a few leads, former friends, that might be able to help. However, when Hickey finds his first lead dead, the case becomes a lot more complicated.

Meanwhile, we are also following Mary Jane Barlow, as well as Mr. Brill (Robert Mandan) who is the other person looking for her. And as we do, the bodies really start to pile up. We learn more than Hickey and Boggs do, at least for a while, but I think it's best not to discuss that in this review, lest I spoil too much.

So is this a forgotten gem? Is it worth watching? Yes, to both parts. The film starts with, "This film has been manufactured using the best source material available." As I mentioned in my review for the 1991 version of Captain America that this was a really bad sign, as it indicates someone wanted to lose the film. However, there are two points that need to be made here. Firstly, the film looks better than I was expecting after that warning. Secondly, unlike Captain America, Hickey and Boggs was made before the home market boom, so while it is certainly a smaller film from MGM, it was not buried. It was forgotten. I would be amazed if half the people reading this have ever heard of the movie.

This is a shame, as it is a strong neo-Noir film. I can see why it failed to connect with moviegoers when it first came out, as it is a unrelentingly downbeat film. Those going into the movie looking for the same kind of energy and humor found in I Spy will be deeply disappointed here. What you will find is a good script from Walter Hill, who also wrote The Warriors, Aliens, and others. Also, the two leads are very good in their roles, even if the same humor isn't there.

On a side note, there are a lot of famous actors in this movie, including some before they were famous. Actors like Michael Moriarty, James Woods, and Roger E. Mosley (T.C. on Magnum P.I.).

The Extras

There are no extras on the DVD, no subtitles, and the chapters are just placed ten minutes apart.

The Verdict

Hickey and Boggs is a movie that deserves to be seen by more, but the DVD is as bare bones as you can get. Unless you have been eagerly waiting for this movie, I can't see spending $18 to grab it. It is a solid rental, on the other hand.

Master of the World

This film was made in 1961 and was a relatively big-budget offering from American International Pictures, which specialized in low-budget films aimed at teenagers and mainly for the drive-in market. The film is based on two novels by Jules Verne, Robur the Conqueror and Master of the World, which both featured the exploits of Captain Robur. In the film, Vincent Price stars as Captain Robur.

The film begins with a short prologue on mankind's attempt to fly in the early 1900s, before we flashback to 1868 and the town of Morgantown, Pennsylvania. The nearby mountain, The Great Eyrie, begins to erupt, before a booming voice warns the population that if they continue to build weapons of war, they will suffer the wrath of the lord. Shortly afterward, John Strock, a government geologist, goes to see Mr. Prudent (David Frankham) who is in the munitions industry, but also a balloon enthusiast. When John arrives at the Weldon Balloon Society, Mr. Prudent is in a heated argument with Phillip Evans (David Frankham) over where to place the propeller on their latest design. When Strock helps solve the problem, Mr. Prudent agrees to help him with his investigation, and Phillip Evans will travel with them, as will Dorothy Prudent (Mary Webster) Mr. Prudent's daughter and Phillip Evans' fiancee.

When they arrive at the top of The Great Eyrie, they are shot down. All four manage to survive the crash, but are knocked unconscious. When they come to, they are aboard The Albatross, the armored zeppelin / helicopter / weird flying machine of Captain Robur. When they meet Captain Robur, they are a little put off by his strange mannerisms, but after a tour of the massive ship, they are certainly impressed by his technological accomplishments. However, they are still concerned as to the purpose of the ship, especially some of the more unique pieces of technology, like the voice amplifier, and the extensive armory on board. Fortunately, Captain Robur built The Albatross for peaceful purposes. In fact, he's planning on using it to convince all of the world's governments to give up war completely. Unfortunately, he plans on doing this by bombing all of the world's armies and navies and its clear our four heroes will have to figure out a way to stop him.

When 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days became huge hits, a lot of people tried to duplicate this success with other Jules Verne novels. There were more than a few misses. Whether or not you think Master of the World is a miss will depend greatly on your expectations. If you are expecting the film to live up to its big budget counterparts, then you will be disappointed. The film's production budget is far lower and the special effects range from okay to laughable. There is also an overuse of "borrowed" footage. On the other hand, it does have that Victorian quasi-Steampunk look to it that does have its charms. The acting is likewise a little mixed with Vincent Price being the only one that stands out in a good way.

The Extras

Again, there are no extras and the chapter placements are just set ten minutes apart. The film does look better than expected given the age and low budget nature of the film. Obviously it's not crystal clear and some of the stock footage is noticeably worse, but for the most part it quite good.

The Verdict

Master of the World is based on two of the lesser works of Jules Verne and combined with the budgedary constraints, its among the bottom third of the adaptations of his works. That said, it still has a charm to it and for fans of his, it is worth checking out. Unfortunately, the featureless DVD costs $18 to buy, which is a bit much.

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