Now On DVD: Vincent Price In A Pair Of Rarities From Warner Archive, CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER and THE LAS VEGAS STORY

J Hurtado, Contributing Writer
I don't need to tell anyone out there that Vincent Price is a legend. Price was the rare actor who could turn on a dime from sneering menace to suave ladies' man without so much as a hiccup. He became a leading man in the 40s and sustained a career on the screen through the 80s. Whether it was playing the despicable cad in Roger Corman's Poe cycle in the 1960s, the gentle and unforgettable inventor in Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands, or hamming it up wildly as Egghead in the '60s TV version of Batman, Vincent Price knew exactly who he was and what his strengths were. The beautiful part of that is that, rather than allowing himself to be pigeonholed by his one of a kind screen presence, he used it to expand his career beyond places producers expected him to succeed.

Very recently, Warner Brothers' Manufactured-On-Demand home video service, Warner Archive, made available two films that Price fanatics, myself included, have been itching to see for years. On September 30, Warner Archive released Confessions of an Opium Eater, and on October 18, they released The Las Vegas Story as part of their Film Noir Archive Collection. The two films are wildly different, but both make use of Vincent Price in somewhat unique ways that suit him just fine.

Confessions of an Opium Eater is an adaptation of a novel by Thomas De Quincy, in which a man takes on the slave trade among Asian gangsters in 19th century San Francisco. While the book takes place in England, it only made sense to transpose the action to American shores to accommodate Price's appearance. Price's Gilbert De Quincy is the only Caucasian character in the film, an unusual thing in the early 60s. He is surrounded by Asian American character actors speaking in unconvincingly broken English. Apparently, the screenwriter felt that the only thing he needed to change for these character was remove helping verbs from their vocabulary to make them sound appropriately ignorant and backwards. Price battles the entire underground drug and slave trade with the help of an aging female dwarf who constantly brags about her sexual prowess and giggles like a schoolgirl under 17 layers of pancake makeup.

The film is truly a bizarre entry in Price's oeuvre, even in a career that included films like Theatre of Blood and The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Confessions stands out for its abstract weirdness. This may not have the technicolor polish of his films post-Corman, but producer/director Albert Zugsmith used every optical effect tool at his disposal to make sure that Confessions of an Opium Eater was a memorable experience, and he succeeds, but just barely.

Apart from an extended sequence in which an investigating Gilbert De Quincy is given a spiked pipe and goes on a wonderfully bizarre slow motion drug trip, Confessions of an Opium Eater is surprisingly slow for a film packed with so much non-linear narrative. It is really only through the sheer power of Price's charisma that the film manages to stay in "recommended" territory, but he makes it work. Thankfully, when I double featured these two films, I watched this one first and decided to close with The Las Vegas Story, which was a brilliant decision on my part.

lasvegas.jpgThe Las Vegas Story is a film noir top-lined by Jane Russell and Victor Mature, but don't let the billing fool you, this is Price's show all the way. Much like in Otto Preminger's fantastic noir, Laura, Price plays a husband who is not exactly the fuzziest of characters. The film begins with a staunchly contrary Jane Russell as Linda Rollins treating Price's Lloyd Collins as though he's just kicked the family dog for fun. Linda doesn't trust Lloyd any further than she can throw him, and it takes a while to figure out why. It turns out that Lloyd may have been living a bit higher than his hog could provide, and he seems to be aching to go out with a bang and one last gamble on Las Vegas. Meanwhile, Linda (who used to be a cocktail singer in Vegas) runs into an old flame (a rather inert Victor Mature) who is now a detective in town and they begin to rekindle the flame right under Lloyd's nose.

The rest of this fast paced noir goodie involves a diamond necklace, an insurance adjustor, and a murder, all before things really cut loose in the last 20 minutes. Unfortunately, the wonderfully over the top climactic chase scene, which involves a helicopter, a murdered fisherman, and the least convincing kidnapper I've seen in a film, is all accomplished sans VIncent Price, who appears to be hanging out at his Las Vegas hotel sipping on bourbon. I guess he probably got the better of the deal, but I'd rather have watched him chase down the bad guys than Victor Mature any day of the week.

The Las Vegas Story follows all of the rules of classic noir and reaps the rewards. We have a hard boiled cop, a sleazy businessman, and a no-good dame. The dialogue is quick and witty, the action is well-staged and surprisingly ambitious, and the strangely placed songs by Hoagy Carmichael don't detract too much from the tension. Overall, I must say that I'm surprised that this one has slipped below the radar, as it's really solid. I don't expect to see anyone talking about it in the same breath as Laura or Double Indemnity, but it's a good one nevertheless.

These two are far from the only Vincent Price films from Warner Archive waiting to be discovered by fans. They also have DVD editions of Master of the World, The Big Circus, and The Story of Mankind among many, many others. I know that some videophiles whine about these MOD discs being printed on DVD-R discs, but to them I say: SUCK IT UP! This is probably the only way we'll see these films in any form, so I, for one, am eternally grateful. Perhaps Warner Archive will even allow me to continue my exploration of their Vincent Price titles, because there is so much more to be seen!

I definitely recommend these, and there is a Buy 2 Get 1 Free sale going on right now, so there's no better time to place your order! Click through on the link below for more information about other Warner Archive titles and the current sale.
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  • mightyjoeyoung

    "I don't need to tell anyone out there that Vincent Price is a legend. Price was the rare actor who could turn on a dime from sneering menace to suave ladies' man without so much as a hiccup."

    Yeah...I agree with you.

    "Price battles the entire underground drug and slave trade with the help of an aging female dwarf who constantly brags about her sexual prowess and giggles like a schoolgirl under 17 layers of pancake makeup."

    Ehhhh....the what now?

    It seems to be a very loose adaptation of the novel.

    "I guess he probably got the better of the deal, but I'd rather have watched him chase down the bad guys than Victor Mature any day of the week."

    Mature....I liked him in My Darling Clementine (1946), I wonder if I should see this one as well.
    Thanks Mr Hurtado.

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