The Austin Chronicle

DVD Watch

Reviewed by Steve Uhler, September 29, 2006, Screens


Shout! Factory, $39.98

Katharine Hepburn didn't know the cameras were rolling when she imperiously strode onto the set of The Dick Cavett Show on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 1973. She immediately seized control – complaining about the carpet, rearranging the furniture, lifting end tables – as her host and his slack-jawed stagehands stood helpless. "All right," she finally pronounced, sitting down for her first-ever television interview. "Let's do it."

Cavett often devoted entire episodes of his 90-minute Seventies ABC late-night talk show to a single celebrity guest, asking the kind of catty questions that his viewing audience members might ask if they found themselves sitting next to Robert Mitchum after a couple of martinis ("So, what is it like working on a chain gang?"). Cavett's nudgey prodding – mingling urbane wit with unbridled hero worship – often disarmed his subjects into compelling and candid conversation. If he was occasionally cowed by a guest's reputation (he played into Alfred Hitchcock's shopworn anecdotes like a trained lapdog), as often as not, his questions were fresh and tenacious: When a disheveled Marlon Brando responds to a cautious query about filming The Godfather with an evasive "I'd rather not talk about movies," Cavett slyly shoots back, "Oh. Well. ... Did you like the book The Godfather?"

These vintage interviews could not take place today; the guests had no movies to plug and 90 minutes in which not to plug them. Delightful surprises abound in this 4-disc set: Mitchum getting progressively plastered on camera; a Goliathan Orson Welles, his head so large he threatens to swallow Cavett whole, recalling dining with a young Adolf Hitler; Bette Davis obligingly playing the Queen Bee; Fred Astaire still nimble on his feet at 77. But the set's crown jewel is the legendary Hepburn; the actress became so at ease with her host that they taped a spontaneous second show on the spot (included here). Regal, bossy, and earthy, Hepburn more than lived up to her legend, bubbling with charisma and energy. "You keep interrupting me," she chastises her star-struck host at one point. "Just shut up." Cavett was an actor's dream: a witty sidekick who knew when to meet such a demand.

Also Out Now

The Boris Karloff Collection (Universal Studios, $29.98): Five lesser-known films from the master of horror, including 1939's Tower of London. Look for a young Vincent Price taking notes from the master.

Mister Roberts (Warner Home Video, $19.98): John Ford may have been fired halfway through filming (replaced by Mervyn LeRoy), but that didn't stop this from being one of the funniest "service comedies" ever made. With a crew including Henry Fonda, James Cagney, and, as the quintessential schemer Ensign Pulver, an Oscar-winning Jack Lemmon.

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