Apr 19, 2011

New, Vaguely Color-Coordinated Spy DVDs Out This Week

Spyder's Web
The most exciting new DVD release this week is a PAL Region 2 title from the UK's Network, out well ahead of its previously announced May 2 street date. I'm always eager to sample ITV spy shows I've never seen before, and that goes double when they're Avengers imitators from the late Sixties or early Seventies, as is the case with 1972's Spyder's Web! As with so many ITC shows of that vintage, TBC's Spyder's Web focuses on a top secret spy organization reporting directly to the highest levels of government who take on the assignments too hot or delicate or weird for the standard branches to handle. This secret organization, Web, uses a documentary unit called "Arachnid" as its cover. Some of the Avengers-like weirdness encountered by Web's top agents (Patricia Cutts, Anthony Ainley, Roger Lloyd-Pack and Veronica Carlson) includes a nursing home that can arrange almost anything, a romance tour company whose clients fall in love and then disappear, a mynah bird who relays orders to field agents (in an episode that also involves life-size puppets), a mad vicar waging a private war in the middle of Britain and a gadget that instantly ages humans to the point of skeletonizing them. Though the show was originally shot in color, only two episodes survive in that format; therefore the majority of the 13 episodes (that's the complete series) included on Network's 4-disc set exist only as black and white film recordings. Retail is £40.84 but the set is available now from Network's website for £35.74. I'm really looking forward to this one!

Speaking of weirdness, that's really the only possible way to categorize the 1978 curiosity Sextette. Best known as Mae West's last film, Sextette is also one of Timothy Dalton's earliest spy roles, playing a British agent "even bigger than 007." ("I didn't get his measurements," replies West with an arched eyebrow.) That's actually intended as a surprise revelation, but it's also the critical bit for readers of this site... and this really isn't the sort of movie you can spoil. To call a spade a spade, it's an unwatchable mess... yet a compellingly watchable unwatchable mess for discerning viewers of a certain disposition.  (And if you can stomach it yourself, it's a great film to torture your friends with at a party—provided everyone's suitably inebriated.) Sextette comes to us from Ken Hughes, one of the many directors of another famous unwatchable mess that will be familiar to readers of this site, the 1967 spoof extravaganza Casino Royale. (In the interest of fairness, however, Hughes should also be credited with the wicked James Coburn spy movie The Internecine Project and episodes of the TV series Espionage, as well as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.)
Octogenarian West plays a serial matrimonist whose titular, all-star harem includes Tony Curtis, George Hamilton and Ringo Starr as well as Dalton. For good measure, Keith Moon, Alice Cooper and Regis Philbin also show up. And it's a musical. It really has to be seen to be believed, and now, thanks to Scorpion Releasing, you can. (Sextette was previously available on Rhino, but that version has long been out of print.  Now I kind of wish I'd taken advantage of that duration to unload my Rhino copy when they were commanding prices  $60-$100!) New extras on the remastered Scorpion version include a long interview with West's vocal coach and the original theatrical trailer. Retail is $19.95, but Amazon's got it for $13.49.

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