Release Date(s)1987 (May 25, 2021)
Studio(s)De Laurentiis Entertainment Group/StudioCanal (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: C
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
One of several films that ended the run for the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (responsible for distributing films like Manhunter, Blue Velvet, and Maximum Overdrive), Million Dollar Mystery (aka Money Mania) did not see a huge turnout in 1987. Essentially a clone of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World with a large cast of characters doing zany things for money (previous knock-offs include 1984’s Scavenger Hunt), it essentially flopped, even with a gimmick tie-in co-sponsored by the Glad Company in which one lucky theater patron would receive a million dollars if they correctly guessed the location of the money in the film. The prize was eventually handed out, but De Laurentiis would not survive on the vine much longer, having released a string of commercial failures. Essentially a broad, madcap comedy with a series of slapstick set pieces and generic gags, its most valuable asset (in retrospect) are its visuals, which were shot by legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff in and around Arizona. It’s not particularly well-remembered, but is mostly noted for its product placement contest tie-in, a fatal on-set accident, and being the final films for both Cardiff and director Richard Fleischer (Fantastic Voyage, Doctor Dolittle).
Off the desert highway in the middle of Arizona sits a diner, run by brother and sister Tugger (Royce D. Applegate) and Dotty (Pam Matteson). One day several people stop in for a rest from the road, including the newly-married Rollie and Lollie (Eddie Deezen and Wendy Sherman), the Briggs family (Rick Overton, Mona Lyden, and Douglas Emerson), the singer Crush and his backup dancers (Daniel McDonald, Penny Baker, Tawny Fere, and LaGena Hart), and a man named Sidney (Tom Bosley). After a bowl of chili, Sidney dies of an apparent heart attack, but before he does, he tells the group of hidden loot tucked away in four different locations. The chase is on with car crashes and mayhem abound as they try and locate it all, running into a weirdo park ranger (Rich Hall), a pair of factory workers trying to keep toxic chemicals under wraps (Peter Pitofsky and Greg Travis), a pair of professional wrestlers (Hard Boiled Haggerty and Bob Schott), and a private investigator (Tommy Sledge) while avoiding two FBI agents (Mack Dryden and Jamie Alcroft) and a pair of bumbling cops (Gail Neely and Kevin Pollak).
Million Dollar Mystery comes to Blu-ray for the first time from Kino Lorber Studio Classics with an existing master, which appears to be an older scan of an interpositive. It’s a good looking presentation with healthy levels of grain and excellent detail, though a fresher scan would definitely have brought out more detail, particularly in the skylines and darker areas of the frame. The color palette offers a nice range of hues with decent saturation, but contrast that’s slightly too high. Blacks are a tad crushed and there’s even minor delineation issues, particularly during the black and white sequence. Otherwise, everything appears stable and clean with only minor speckling and a few lines running through the frame leftover.
The audio is included in English 2.0 DTS-HD MA with optional subtitles in English. This stereo presentation does a lot with a little, particularly when it comes to music and sound effects. Various moments are punched up with specific placements of the sounds of car crashes, as well as score and song selections. In other words, both speakers are given plenty to do. Dialogue exchanges are clear and discernible, and there are no leftover instances of damage to speak of.
The following extras are included, all in upsampled SD:
- Audio Commentary by Bryan Reesman
- Trailer (1:53)
- Honky Tonk Freeway Trailer (2:40)
- Moving Violations Trailer (1:29)
- Running Scared Trailer (1:30)
- Bank Shot Trailer (2:44)
In the audio commentary with journalist and author Bryan Reesman, he discusses the Glad Company’s contest tie-in, backgrounds on those involved with the production, the film’s perceived teenage appeal, the fact that it’s the final film of several people involved, comparisons to It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, the shooting locations, Tom Bosley’s presence in the film as an in-joke, observations about the film during the era it takes place in, the presence of many unknown or forgotten comedians, older directors like Richard Fleischer working in less restrictive cinematic environments, excerpts from an interview with stunt coordinator George Fisher, having to plan stunts without a locked cast, the work of cinematographer Jack Cardiff, the film’s comedic take on companies dumping toxic chemicals illegally, nerds in movies in the 1980s, other movie product tie-ins, how the cars in the film were procured, how certain comedy only works in context, details about the death of stuntman Dar Robinson, various stunts done for the film, the alternate theatrical ending, and the fate of the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group. The rest of extras consist of the film’s trailer and several trailers for other, similar films released by Kino Lorber.
Million Dollar Mystery is a true throwback, in every sense of the word. They simply don’t make them like this anymore. The closest anyone has come to replicating this formula was in 2001’s Rat Race, which was a modest success at the time of its release, as well as the Dhumaal series in India. Kino Lorber’s treatment of Million Dollar Mystery offers the film in decent quality with a very nice audio commentary to supplement it for those interested in revisiting a bygone era of movie comedy.
- Tim Salmons