Why you can't find the 1994 version of Fantastic Four, and more movie questions answered!

Question: I know there's a Roger Corman version of the Fantastic Four floating out there. Do you know if it ever is going to be released on DVD? John

FlickChick: Legitimate DVD? Don't hold your breath there are various versions of exactly why the low-budget, 1994 version of The Fantastic Four, executive produced by Roger Corman and Bernd Eichinger and directed by Canadian TV specialist Oley Sassone, isn't available. But it boils down to movie rights to the source material, which Eichinger has apparently had for years.

Movie rights to material based on existing sources aren't acquired in perpetuity: If you buy the right to make a movie from a book, an play, or whatever, you have a certain period of time within which to do it. If you don't the rights revert to the original rights holder, usually the original author but sometimes an estate or a corporate entity.

It's widely believed that the '94 Fantastic Four was done on the cheap to fulfill the requirement that a film be produced, but was never meant to be released. It was an investment in keeping the rights so they could be developed into a big budget picture.

Tim Burton's Batman (1989) blazed the trail for big budget, state-of-the-art effects heavy versions of classic comic book properties, and once comic book fans had seen Batman, it seems like a real gamble to think they'd be willing to go back to the kind of low-rent production values and b-list actors associated with Corman-produced properties.

While Corman has always been a raffish gambler, Eichinger was by then focusing on prestige pictures for the international market ( Body of Evidence being a conspicuous exception, but even it was a high profile and expensive project) and less expensive theatrical and TV films for the German market. An English-language, low-budget Fantastic Four doesn't fit into either category.

That said, some actors involved with the production have said in interviews that the film was intended for release and was shelved later. But if you were the executive producer, would you tell the talent that no-one was ever going to see their work? Probably not.

The direct-to-DVD My Name is Modesty: A Modesty Blaise Adventure (2004), with New Amsterdam's Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, was the product of a similar situation: Miramax needed to make a film in order to hold onto the rights to Peter O'Donnell's female superspy character, a favorite of Quentin Tarantino's.

There's a longstanding rumor that he wants to make a big-budget version, but in the meantime, Miramax made a modest one as a kind of place holder and released it to the home market with no fanfare. And just by the way, it's not a bad little movie given the limitations imposed by a low budget.

If you want to see the 1994 Fantastic Four, you're going to have to buy a bootleg believe me, they're not hard to find. And while I don't advocate buying bootlegs of movies that are commercially available, because it cuts the legitimate rights holders out of the picture, I will admit to having bought them when films I want to see just aren't available in any form.

Question: Several years ago my mother watched a WWII movie that had soldiers skiing and shooting (bi-athletes). We know that the movie was not titled Heroes of Telemark because we have already seen that film. She believes that the movie was made sometime between 1940-1950 and that it was a black and white film. Any suggestions? -- Maria

FlickChick: You don't mention whether or not the movie was subtitled; if so, the Russian Ski Battalion (1938) is a possibility, or perhaps the Norwegian Kampen om Tungtvannet (1948), of which The Heroes of Telemark (1965) was a remake.

If not, the US Ski Patrol (1940) seems like a good bet. The Roger Corman produced Ski Troop Attack (1960) is an outside possibility; it was produced later than your mother thinks, but was in B&W and is set, obviously, during WWII, which could have made it seem older.

Question: I'm looking for the name of a movie that aired last week, but didn't get to see but a small bit . It was about two sisters who were left with a lady who had other children, and one of the sisters was torched until death. Can you help me find the title? Thanks -- Bugs

FlickChick: I'm thinking you mean "tortured" rather than "torched," and if so, you're looking for American Crime (2007), starring Catherine Keener and Ellen Page.

It's based on the true case of teenager Sylvia Likens, who was tortured to death in 1965 by a group of youngsters encouraged by Gertrude Baniszewski, the woman who was being paid to look after Sylvia and her sister. An American Crime was intended for theatrical release, but wound up going direct to cable it was picked up by Showtime.

The same case also inspired The Girl Next Door also 2007 -- based on a novel by Jack Ketchum.

Question: As a child growing up in late 1950s, early '60s, I was entranced by two movies I remember to this day. I don't think either has ever been on TV and I'm not sure why -- perhaps they're available somewhere on DVD?

I think both were English. One was about faith: A little Jewish girl named Rachel was best friends with a little Catholic boy -- I think title was "Hand in Hand?" Something happened to the little girl and the village Rabbi and Catholic priest banded together.

The other was a comedy about a small European country which, I believe, had a nuclear bomb. I think Peter Sellers starred in it, possibly in multiple roles -- one being the Queen of the country. Can you help? Thanks -- Emily H


FlickChick: The first film is indeed called Hand in Hand; it was made in the UK in 1960 and starred child actors Philip Needs and Loretta Parry as the children. It was released in the US by Columbia Pictures and won a special Golden Globe award for "Promoting International Understanding."

It has never been released commercially on VHS or DVD; there are bootlegs available online, if you really look for them.

The other film is the satirical The Mouse That Roared (1959), based on Leonard Wibberley's satirical 1955 novel in which the tiny Duchy of Grand Fenwick (the "mouse"), its economy in ruins, declares war on the United States in hopes of being immediately defeated and then receiving generous foreign aid to rebuild (remember that in 1955, memories of the Marshall Plan were still fresh).

Peter Sellers played three roles, including the country's ruler, the Grand Duchess Gloriana XII. It's available on DVD from Sony.

Wibberley wrote three more mouse novels, all tied to topical concerns: 1962's The Mouse on the Moon (the US-Soviet space race), 1969's The Mouse on Wall Street (inflation and stock market speculation) and 1981's The Mouse that Saved the West (the oil crisis). Only The Mouse on the Moon was filmed, in 1962, but Sellers bowed out. Margaret Rutherford took over the role of the Grand Duchess and Ron Moody assumed the part of Prime Minister Monutjoy. The third Sellers character isn't part of the story.

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