Gore Vidal’s revisionist life of Billy the Kid provided an early, juicy piece of method meat for babyfaced Paul Newman, in the first feature directed by Arthur Penn — part of a 7-film Paul Newman collection box.
Appropriately, James Dean was originally slated to play Billy the Poor, Misunderstood Kid: Billy’s guilt-ridden killing spree is initiated when rival ranchers kill one surrogate father (Hurd Hatfield), and comes to an end by the hand another, Pat Garrett — after some not unnoticeable Christlike posing. Also of note is Penn’s staging of Billy’s escape from the Lincoln County Courthouse, an early example of the ambivalent intensity that would characterize the director’s handling of cinematic violence. (It’s also, among many other scenes, a fascinating point of comparison with Sam Peckinpah’s later Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.)
The original trailer builds up Newman by hammering home the Billy the Kid myth; Penn’s commentary is a reasonably acute reading of the film.
A rich text, and a prime candidate for rediscovery
Men Behaving Badly: The Complete Collection
1991-98 • BBC • $99.98
Sometime back in the late 80s, in the more tawdry corners of Fleet Street, that phenomenon known as Lad Culture was born. This led to magazines like FHM and Maxim which featured birds getting their tits out for the lads, articles about pubs and footie and on at least one occasion a full spread devoted to baked beans. This BBC series was the very popular TV version of all that.
The formula is quite simple — Gary and his flatmate (sad sack Dermot in Season 1 then slightly cooler Tony subsequently) spend their time getting drunk on lager, dodging commitment, chasing skirts and generally acting like hormone-brimming pubescent boys. Gary is stuck in a stale relationship with ball-buster Deborah, while Tony has an ongoing infatuation with the upstairs neighbour. The humour is classically British and the material only occasionally dated.
Commentary tracks, interactive quizzes and outtakes.
Black Books, Series II Nov 14 • BBC • $24.98
Nine out of ten BBC sitcoms will likely be funnier and smarter than nine out of ten of their American equivalents — well, here’s the exception that proves the rule. Set in a rundown, rat-infested bookshop owned by a misanthrope and staffed by the daft, Black Books has a Seinfeldian structure (three principals, two of whom are men, none of whom are likable, involved in banal plots that are both arbitrary and random) without being all that funny. Though the show takes risks you’d never see on NBC, they don’t redeem an essentially unpleasant, unfunny program.
That Girl: Season Two 1967-68 • Shout Factory • $39.98
Before Mary Tyler Moore, there was That Girl, a presumably ground-breaking sitcom about a young career girl from the heartland trying to make it in New York City. Unlike Mary, however, Marlo Thomas as Anne Marie is married and except for the fact she works as an actress occasionally, disgustingly dependant on her husband Donald — played with bland 60’s Technicolor charm by Ted Bessell. Off the scale kooky, this at-times charmingly dated show is for hardcore nostalgics only. It also includes perhaps the worst commentary track I’ve ever experienced wherein Thomas and series creator Bill Persky stay silent for long stretches then say things like “that’s great.”