Wednesday, January 26, 2005

TV: Gamewatch

Behold a miracle of the push-button age: On Demand. This cable feature allows for so much more than the ability to watch the entire first season of ENTOURAGE in an all-night binge. You can also avail yourself of exclusive original programming. Like Modern Manners, a series of short films on the appropriate etiquette for trailer parks (no wind chimes, easy on the garden gnomes) and bachelor parties (ditto).

Gamewatch is a personal favorite. It’s a cheesy how-to series on casino gambling that doesn’t just explain table games, but gives guided tours of the latest slot machines. New ones are released every week, and Gamewatch is there to provide the lowdown.

The problem is that all slot machines operate on the same basic principles. Only the pictures and host Jeff Colt’s inane patter changes. But that’s enough to keep me watching. Licensing is a huge part of the gambling industry, so I tune in to see how the LAVERNE & SHIRLEY game capitalizes on the TV show, or how the bonus features on the HOLLYWOOD SQUARES machine pay off. Jeff’s advice never varies: always bet the maximum. I also appreciate the problem gambling PSA that opens each installment.

I’m hoping Jeff gets around to some of these movie-themed games. I want to see them in action. A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS machine? One that pays off with a clip from CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON?

Come to think of it, I’m due for a trip to Las Vegas.

DVD: The Letter (1940)

Turner Classic Movies runs an annual viewers’ choice contest to determine which titles from the vault will be released on video. This year’s winners tend toward entertaining hooey like ICE STATION ZEBRA and IVANHOE, but they come at the expense of some worthy alternatives: the classic I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG, the union corruption drama EDGE OF THE CITY, and Raquel Welch in KANSAS CITY BOMBER.

It’s the last one that really hurts.

William Wyler’s production is the class of the lot. This adaptation of Somerset Maugham unfolds in a handful of extended scenes. Bette Davis kills a man and claims self-defense. Then word of the titular missive surfaces, threatening her case.

It’s a lush, entertaining film. But one aspect of the storytelling made it seem like a relic: no flashbacks. When a man dies in the opening scene, I figure we’ll get to meet him in flashbacks. I’ve come to expect it. But that doesn’t happen here. In fact, we never even see the dead man’s face.