Under the Radar

Holding on to the Cold War

Here's a weird (but positive) side effect of the declining home DVD market: movie studios are looking for any way possible to make up for lost revenues and now they're digging deep into their archives and releasing just about anything that might make a buck.

The Fourth War (1990) flat-out baffles: it's sort of like Rambo times two, except the American and Soviet Rambos are actively serving commanders serving on the Czech-West German border. It's directed by the great John Frankeneimer (guy classics like The Manchurian Candidate, French Connection II, Black Sunday, 52 Pick-Up and Ronin) and stars Roy Scheider, Jürgen Prochnow and Harry Dean Stanton.

%embed1% In The Fourth War, Roy Scheider plays Col. Jack Knowles, a Vietnam hero whose temper has had him stashed in backwater outposts all over the world until Stanton's General Hackworth decides he deserves one more chance on the front lines. Roy looks pretty worn out here, only a decade after his Oscar nomination for All That Jazz and just a couple of years before he was sleepwalking through Steven Spielberg's lamentable TV series Seaquest DSV.

His Soviet counterpart is Jürgen Prochnow's Col. Valachev, a veteran of the USSR's failed war in Afghanistan. Prochnow's still having his high-profile foreign-actor-comes-to-Hollywood moment, kind of like the one Christoph Waltz is enjoying now after Inglourious Basterds. After Das Boot made him famous, Prochnow had big parts in Beverly Hills Cop II and The Seventh Sign before getting his name above the title on The Fourth War.

Both Knowles and Valchev feel like they've been rejected by their home countries after their campaigns in Vietnam and Afghanistan and both decide to deal with the chips on their shoulders by taking out their anger personally on their opposing counterpart.

We know this because of a lot of narration and declamatory speeches by Harry Dean Stanton, looking really uncomfortable in an ill-fitting uniform.

Neither Scheider nor Prochnow's characters are disciplined for their cowboy antics and things degenerate until they're locked in hand-to-hand combat on a frozen lake, very purposefully echoing Einstein's quote about the fourth world war being "fought with stone clubs."

The Fourth War was made just as the Soviet Union was disintegrating and really wants to make some kind of point about what happens to warriors who lose their enemies. This one is highly recommended if you're having movie night with a bunch of guys and a case of beer but not so much if you're planning to watch it by yourself.

Hot Cars exposes the seedy underworld of 1950s SoCal stolen car rings. Star John Bromfield is a rare character in Hollywood. Once he figured out that the leading man thing wasn't really going to work out for him, he quit the business and became a commercial fisherman. The femme fatale is played by Joi Lansing, who later gained a small amount of well-deserved fame playing Mrs. Lester Flatt on The Beverly Hillbillies.

Anyway, Hot Cars is only an hour long, features some great shots of the PCH as it rolls into 1950s Santa Monica and ends with a fight to the death on the Santa Monica Pier's roller coaster. Totally worth the hour it takes to watch it.

%embed2% Johnny Cool (1963) is one of the few great Sicilian mob movies made before The Godfather. Henry Silva plays a young Sicilian hood rescued from the police by crime boss and groomed as a hit man by his new boss.

Silva, renamed "Johnny Cool" gets sent to the States and goes on a killing rampage that rivals Lee Marvin's revenge fest Point Blank. Along the way, he encounters Jim Backus, Mort Sahl, Telly Savalas, Joey Bishop and Sammy Davis Jr. as "Educated."

What you get is a second-tier Rat Pack movie with a real sense of danger. You also get Elizabeth Montgomery, incredibly sexy in a rare feature film performance and a great Billy May score.

It's hard to figure why this one's been never been on DVD before. Henry Silva's not exactly a big star but his association with Sinatra and big role in the original Oceans Eleven should've convinced someone to put it out. This one's an absolute winner.

All three titles were released by MGM's Limited Edition Collection, which takes advantage of Amazon's On-Demand DVD burning service to make you a single copy only after your order the title. They're a little bit more expensive than the mass-produced titles clogging up the bins down at Walmart but you're getting a chance to buy movies that would otherwise never see the light of day.

The DVD mastering on these titles won't win any awards and there aren't any of the extras that fill out mainstream releases. Once they're mastered, these movies are far more likely to show up for online streaming. You can watch both Hot Cars and Johnny Cool on Netflix Instant Streaming but you're going to have to make the small investment if you want to see The Fourth War.

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