DVD Round-up, 8 March 2010

With Tim Burton’s version of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale taking the cinema by storm, there’s now a chance to revisit an earlier adaptation in the shape of 1972’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Fiona Fullerton takes on the role of Alice, tempted by the White Rabbit’s (Michael Crawford) into Wonderland where she meets Tweedledum and Tweedledee, The Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and a host of weird and wonderful characters.

As with many British fantasy films of the past, the look of the magical land is less Hollywood technicolor and more low budget soundstage, but that’s not to say it looks cheap. Director William Sterling takes his cue from Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations to build his bizarre dreamscape.

Using impressive visual techniques to shrink and grow Alice, and inserting well known actors such as Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore and Spike Milligan alongside a feisty Fullerton, Sterling gives us a memorable Wonderland, one where parents and children should feel slight trepidation once they make it to the bottom of that hole.

Little remarked upon on its 2009 release, Just Like the Son (Bounty) is a road trip with a difference, in which a young thief takes a boy across America to find his mum using ill-gotten gains to fund the journey.

Mark Webber stars as Daniel Carter, a petty criminal sent to work at a primary school in Greenwich Village where he meets 8-year-old Boone (Antonio Ortiz). Finding out that Boone’s mother has been taken ill and the boy sent away to a foster school, Daniel decides to save him and reunite him with his family.

Managing to avoid sentimentality, director Morgan J Freeman has a lightness of touch which ensures the potentially cloying nature of the story is avoided. The rapport between Webber and Ortiz is also refreshingly real, time given over to establishing their relationship.

With its straightforward narrative and appealing actors, Just Like the Son is a gentle enough tale with enough rough edges to ensure it doesn’t become too predictable.

English history gets a kick-up the ramparts in 1939’s Tower of London (Optimum Classic), a gothic-tinged retelling of the Richard III story, Basil Rathbone giving it his all as the murderous King hell-bent on attaining the throne by any means necessary.

Starting out as the Duke of Gloucester, brother to King Edward IV, Richard doesn’t suffer fools, or failure, gladly. Assisted by the fictional executioner, Mord (Boris Karloff), Richard, cons, swindles, fights and murders his way through the ranks to place himself as King of England.

Made by Universal, the studio that brought Frankenstein and Dracula to the big screen, Tower of London has all the darkness of those movies along with its own sense of morbidity that is inevitable in such a doom-laden tale.

Rathbone is a strong lead, always on the look out for his next opportunity for success, and much of the fun her can be found in trying to second guess his next move.

Karloff is also on good form, his thoroughly evil Mord showing the odd glimpse of humanity when he’s not drowning Vincent Price in a vat of wine or torturing unfortunate peasants.

While a bit of historical knowledge might help your enjoyment of the film, and the odd American accent does distract, Tower of London is never dull and adds a touch of colour to historical events.

Awaking in a small Welsh fishing village and unsure how he got there, Rex Harrison finds himself embroiled in a series of unfortunate events in The Constant Husband (Optimum Classic), the upshot of which being that he’s married…to seven different women.

Taking it upon himself to investigate his own life, Harrison uncovers false names, occupations and love affairs, becoming increasingly unsure of why he did what he did or how to get out of the mess.

Written by The Lady Vanishes Sydney Gilliat, The Constant Husband is clearly a lesser affair for Harrison compared to Doctor Doolittle or My Fair Lady, but this doesn’t stop him having a ball as the uptight cad, a kind of 1950s Hugh Grant.

The story rattles along at a fair lick, with few signs of reality bothering the script, cameos from the likes of George Cole helping to make it a frothy concoction that lovers of romantic comedies should find appealing.

Finally this week, Optimum have pulled another little known British film out of the archives by the scruff of the neck in the shape of 1954’s The Rainbow Jacket.

Last of the Summer Wine’s Compo, Bill Owen, stars as disgraced champion jockey Sam who discovers a potential protege in the form of young Georgie (Fella Edmonds) and encourages him to take up riding.

With the promise of riches and fame,Georgie and his mother jump at the chance, the boy discovering that there’s more to training than just sitting on a horse as he’s put through various trials by the owners of Lord Logan’s (Robert Morley) stables.

Beginning as a comedy with an appearance by Sid James in the opening scene, Rainbow Jacket switches direction somewhat during the film’s run, Sam’s history clearly troubling him as he tries to mould Georgie into an honest jockey.

As Sam schools the boy, telling him to always do the right thing, Bill Owen portrays his clapped out character with empathy in a role which would usually be shown by way of a simple cheeky chap routine.

With the emphasis placed on the need for morals and dignity at all times, The Rainbow Jacket has elements not expected in these type of films and as such marks it out as something that little bit different, thanks mainly to a strong turn from Owen.

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