Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Random Musings from Ground Zero

• Friday I received the new Burke's Law DVD set from VCI Home Video. This early-60's detective series was produced by Aaron Spelling, and like his later productions, it's slick, a little sleazy, and lgimmicky. And man, Burke's Law may just be the most gimmick-laden detective series ever!

The first gimmick is that Amos Burke (Gene Barry), a L.A. homicide captain, is a multi-millionaire, spending his nights in an alcoholic haze, romancing starlets and debutantes and engaging in the other sordid pursuits of the insanely rich. But, when duty calls, Burke orders his Asian manservant Henry to bring around the Rolls Royce, and is chauffeured to the crime scene – usually still in his black tie and tux.

The second gimmick is that each episode is loaded with big name guest stars, both the young, fresh faces of 1964, and a whole lot of Hollywood legends and almost-legends. This first set includes the first 16 episodes of the first season, and the guest stars in those episodes alone include: William Bendix, Bruce Cabot, Rod Cameron, Zasu Pitts, Will Rogers Jr., Elizabeth Montgomery, Soupy Sales, Jim Backus, Mary Astor, Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor, Paul Lynde, Lizabeth Scott, Chill Wills, Joan Blondell, Juliet Prowse, Barbara Eden, Don Rickles, Ed Begley, Rita Moreno, Keenan Wynn, Arlene Dahl, Sammy Davis Jr., Burgess Meredith, Diana Dors, Carolyn Jones, Nick Adams, Cesar Romero, Howard Duff, Ida Lupino, Tina Louise, Niancy sinatra, Gloria Swanson, Edward Everett Horton, Dean Jones, June Allyson, Jack Haley, Agnes Moorehead, Yvonne DeCarlo, Hoagy Carmichael, Broderick Crawford.... and a whole lot more.

The third gimmick is "Burke's Laws," pithy little bits of wisdom that the suave homicide cop occasionally likes to pass along to his junior officers.

But, gimmicky as it is, it's also damned entertaining. If you're a fan of old TV detective shows or enjoy spotting familiar faces – as the wife and I both do, since we're huge old movie buffs – Burke's Law is definitely worth checking out. The writing is sharp (two of these episodes were penned by Harlan Ellison), the production values slick, Gene Barry is charming, and the mysteries are engaging.

VCI's set is pretty decent, with really nice transfers and some vintage television commercials. My only complaints are that it's only half the season on 4 discs, and each disc has its own, full-sized DVD case. For a guy with over 3,000 DVDs, I have some serious storage issues, and, frankly, this set eats up too much shelf space. I really wish VCI had packaged these 4 discs in a couple of two-disc slimpaks – it would have taken up probably about a third of the space, and be more in line with most other TV-on-DVD releases.

• Over the weekend, I re-read the Richard Stark novels Nobody Runs Forever and Ask the Parrot, and then read the latest installment in the Parker saga, Dirty Money. If you're a Stark fan, I highly recommend you do the same, as these three volumes comprise a single narrative, a marvellous, twisty caper that's probably Stark's magnum opus. When Nobody Runs Forever was released a few years back, I remember finding it a rather unsatisfying read, but now that the story is finally completed, I think it's one of the stronger books of the "second wave" of Parker titles. Good stuff.

• Remember the doughnut adventure? Well, I got screwed again. For a long time, I've wanted the DVD set of the first season of the 90's Adventures of Sinbad syndicated television series. After writing those Sinbad posts last week, I finally decided to see if I could find a set online to buy. Well, the set was only released in Canada, and is long out of print, and I couldn't find a set for sale anywhere. None... except – a single private seller had it offered on the Canadian Amazon site.

Well, the price seemed reasonable, so I placed my order. But when I contacted the seller today to get an ETA on my discs, I was confused when she asked me if I wanted to buy the "other volumes" at 50% off. Other volumes? As far as I'd been able to determine, only the first of the series' two seasons had been released on DVD. I started to be concerned that maybe I'd bought some bootleg DVD-Rs instead of the authorized, commercial release, so I wrote back and asked for a clarification.

It was actually worse. What I bought was "Volume 1" of Season 1 – the first disc of the 5 discs in the Season 1 set. The seller had broken up the set and was selling each of the five discs separately. The "reasonable price" – in Canadian dollars, mind you – was actually pretty damned unreasonable for just three or four episodes! Seriously, who the hell would sell a TV box set that way?

So now, I've been exchanging a bunch of e-mails with the seller and trying to figure out how I'm going to get my money back. Sigh....

• My favorite sword & sorcery flick from the 1980s is Albert Pyun's 1982 epic, The Sword And The Sorcerer. I won't claim that it's particularly high art, but it's fast-paced, funny, and friggin' entertaining. It's got an appealing lead in Lee Horsley, some great make-up effects, bare boobies, well-staged action scenes, and a rousing score. And an incredibly silly, rocket-propelled tri-bladed sword.

I love this movie!

Well, at the end of the movie's credits, the producers promised a sequel: Tales of the Ancient Empire... and according to Ain't It Cool News, that long-promised follow-up film is finally being made. Apparently, Lee Horsley is returning, and genre vets Kevin Sorbo, Christopher Lambert, and Yancy Butler (Witchblade) will also be in the cast. The original film's director, Albert Pyun, is allegedly shooting Tales now.

I'm really curious about this one – The Sword And the Sorcerer is a real anomaly in Pyun's filmography in that it's actually watchable; most of Pyun's movies are unbearably bad. And around 26 years have passed since the original film, so I'm wondering just how much of a sequel it's really going to be...


bish8 said...

Great blog! Really enjoyed your comments on Burke's Law. I have to admit the idea of a millionaire LAPD police captain driving his Rolls Royce to crime scenes not only smacks of big time corruption, but is about as ridiculous a scenario as TV has ever come up with for a cop show. Still, I vaguely remember the originals from when I was growing up and not caing about that particular abnormality at the time.

Will also have to check out the Sword andthe Sorcerer as Lee Horsley is still a favorite from his days as Matt Huston.

laughingwolf said...

sorry about your probs with that canuck asshole, chris [yes, we have them, too]

burke's law was a fun series, like you say... i liked berry as bat masterson, too ;)

as for the flicks, will look for em

Anonymous said...

Amos Burke isn't corrupt, that money's inherited! BURKE'S LAW is not only an extremely fun show --it might just be the only Spelling produced series that I find watchable. The Ellison penned episodes are particularly great.

They released the first season in the UK a while back, and I bought that along with the complete HONEY WEST. Season 2 has yet to appear though. And I've yet to see an episode of the third season when it changed to AMOS BURKE, SECRET AGENT.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've never even heard of this.

NoelCT said...

Pyun's BRAINSMASHER, starring Andrew Dice Clay and Teri Hatcher, is quite watchable as well. The Diceman plays a club bouncer who has to protect a supermodel (Hatcher) from a band of evil Shaolin monks. It's ridiculous as all hell, but surprisingly entertaining.

Glen said...

I liked both the original version of Burke's Law and the revival in the '90s.