Robert Aldrich Smackdown: …All the Marbles (1981)

December 17, 2016 | By

AllTheMarbles_stillA few years ago I snapped up some CED titles that at the time weren’t available on DVD or Blu-ray, and in the intervening years Robert Aldrich’s final work, the women’s wreslting comedy …All the Marbles / aka California Dolls (1981) has popped up in Europe and in the U.S. as a Warner Archive disc, but I decided to engage in a perverse fascination and watch the film on this antiquated format developed by RCA that’s essentially a record that plays a movie.

CEC Magic provides a stellar overview of the format and all things CED, but my desire to own a pair of players and a few discs is to retain proof this nutty idea actually went into production for a  few fleeting years before recordable videotape clobbered it, and laserdisc took over as the premium collector format.

To be fair to CED, the thing did work, and could carry stereo tracks, alternate dub tracks for foreign films, but like the Beta vs. VHS and HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray wars, some studios signed exclusive deals for the CED format, of which Disney, MGM/UA, and Fox were the main ones.

That means a lot of films, TV, documentary, and odd titles appeared on CED, hence determined collectors tracking down whatever exists to complete their collections. In 2017 I’ll put together a short-short on the format, but for now there’s a sampling of the first 4 minutes from Ticket to Heaven (1981) to give you an idea of the picture and sound quality.

My copy of Marbles was a rental, so there was lots of skipping near the end of each side which oddly resembled DVD skipping, except it was a needle struggling to stay in an ultra-fine groove instead of a laser fighting against a fingerprint or gunk on a DVD. (I’ve a rental CED of Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny & Alexander that’s virtually unplayable; either people loved the film to death, or someone swapped the diamond stylus for a Victrola’s steel tip. The gamble in buying former rental titles is no different than a tapes, which  may have a mangled section or three.)

Like Ticket to Heaven, Aldrich’s last film was one of the first to circulate on Pay TV, so after being teased with the trailer, it was kind of satisfying to finally see the film after 30-odd years. It may not be the director’s best – his cult & commercial highpoints include Kiss Me Deadly (1955), What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), The Dirty Dozen (1967), Emperor of the North (1973), The Longest Yard (1974), Hustle (1975), Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977), and The Choirboys (1977) – but it’s another orphan film deserving a proper Blu-ray special edition, with a commentary track dissecting where and how the film fits into the director’s cynical worldview.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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