Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment recently put a batch of B movies on DVD (priced under $20 each) through its video on demand, tapping into MGM’s library. Among the new releases are several interesting pictures worth seeing at least once for diehard film fans. The unexceptional My Gun is Quick (1957) starts off well enough but peters out and is notable chiefly for being based on the pulp fiction murder mystery novel by Mickey Spillane. Robert Bray as private detective Mike Hammer is physically right for the role; the muscular actor is strong, masculine and commanding, flirting with everyone from his full-figured secretary Velda to Whitney Blake’s wealthy, blonde dame and sending a young prostitute packing for home in the Midwest. Packed with gangsters, strippers, and gunshots, this clunky potboiler is drained of Spillane’s pulsating narrative, though a few lines pop off the screen. A lengthy Los Angeles freeway chase offers a rare glimpse of southern California in the 1950s.
Sex is the subtext of The Careless Years (1957), directed by Arthur Hiller (Love Story), featuring a young Dean Stockwell (NBC’s Quantam Leap) and Natalie Trundy (of the 1970s Planet of the Apes films) in an earnest episode of teen-age love. The short movie is stiff, dated, and totally predictable and it is also curiously involving as the Santa Monica High School teens act out their passion in a logical sequence that leads them to conflict with their parents, played by such actors as Barbara Billingsley (Leave it to Beaver) and, briefly, character actress and Folgers’ coffee lady Virginia Christine, who played a subtle racist in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Judgment at Nuremberg.
Another actress from Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Beah Richards, is featured in the best of these, Take a Giant Leap (1959), a frank racial and sexually-themed drama about a black boy (Johnny Nash, who went on to record “I Can See Clearly Now”) in an integrated neighborhood. With Ruby Dee as the object of his boyhood crush, and Estelle Hemsley memorably as the witty and wise old woman who’s his grandmother, the perils and pressures of being black in the Fifties come across in this 100-minute drama, which is based on a play. The only child of a bank teller and his wife gets tired of being the only black and he dares to speak up with a degree of self-respect exactly as his parents taught him, much to their chagrin. With raging hormones and a mind of his own, the youth goes on a binge in the wrong part of town, encountering a hooker with anything but a heart of gold, among others. From there, Take a Giant Leap drifts into standard coming of age fare, though with good performances and common sense, it’s worth a look.