Updated: Apr 27, 2018
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Blu-ray; 1983; R for sexual content, nudity, drug use and violence
Best extra: Commentary with Director Michael Pressman and Pop Culture Historian Russell Dyball
FILM FLOPS have a way of becoming cult favorites – just look at “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” or “The Big Lebowski.” Lots of people do.
Stashed in the batch is “Doctor Detroit” starring comic/dramatist Dan Aykroyd and the nimble Howard Hesseman, Dr. Johnny Fever of hit TV show “WKRP in Cincinnati.”
Michael Pressman – one of the hardest working director/producers in film today – directed this “French farce,” as he calls it in Shout Select’s bonus features. He’s best known for “Picket Fences” and “Lake Placid,” but most recently Pressman has worked on “Blue Bloods,” “20/20 on ID,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders.”
“Doctor Detroit” was originally adapted from a novella by Bruce Jay Friedman, who co-wrote the script about a mild mannered man who forms a friendship with a pimp. Friedman also wrote “A Change of Plan,” which became “The Heartbreak Kid” (2007). The film appeared only a few months before Aykroyd’s “Trading Places” and “Ghostbusters.” It was expected to be a mega hit on the order of “The Blues Brothers” (1980) in which he co-starred with fellow SNL veteran John Belushi.
It didn’t happen. In the new commentary and interview included on Shout’s presentation, Pressman speculates an early scene where Aykroyd’s naïve Clifford Skridlow, the secret identity of Doctor Detroit, falls prey to a binge of recreational drugs turned viewers off appearing so soon after Belushi’s death by overdose. Filming then was a more innocent time, Pressman says.
Skridlow may be inexperienced, but he’s not dumb. A literary professor at a struggling college, he teaches a course on chivalry in the classics. Smooth Walker (Hesseman) and his quartette of high-priced call girls played by Fran Drescher, Lydia Lei, Lynn Whitfield and Donna Dixon (who would become Aykroyd’s wife), watch him do a ridiculous power walk every day. When Smooth needs a patsy, he decides Skridlow will fill the bill. He’s been skimming the profits from Mom played by Kate Murtagh. She also plays a high-powered madam in “Farewell, My Lovely” (1975) starring Robert Mitchum – available as a double-feature Blu-ray with “The Big Sleep” (1978) in a terrific restoration from Shout.
Smooth tells Mom he’s being muscled by super-pimp Doctor Detroit. who's moved into his territory. He then convinces Skridlow to play the part in fright wig, neon green and robot hand. Once Mom accepts Doctor Detroit as a threat, Smooth packs his bags and skips town – one way – to the balmy tropics leaving the ladies in Skridlow’s care. The professor warms to the role of champion, even as he scurries to help his father plan a party to keep the college from going broke. T.K. Carter co-stars as the driver with know-how.
You’re right – the plot is totally absurd, the comedy slapstick. It will be too much for some tastes, but others will drink it up.
Shout always provides a great package and “Doctor Detroit” is no different. The 1080p transfer (1.85:1 ratio) is a big improvement over the earlier DVD release. Color ranges from natural complexions to bold pimp color; blacks are decently saturated. There is good detail and texture, and a fine wash of film grain throughout.
The film’s original mono soundtrack has been cleaned and upgraded to a more immersive DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. Great music makes this great news. The original score is by Lalo Schifrin, who also wrote “You Are the One,” for the movie. James Brown, who appeared in “Blues Brothers,” performs “Get up Offa That Thing” for the first time; Devo, plays“Luv-Luv,” and Patty Brooks sings “Get It On and Have a Party.”
Shout has provided seven extras. All must be considered new since the DVD had none. It’s a difficult choice picking the best between “Commentary with Director Michael Pressman and Pop Culture Historian Russell Dyball” and a separate interview with Pressman. Both are filled will anecdotes, observations and technical detail. Pressman is a friendly conversationalist, who shares his background in film.
Next up would be “Radio Free Detroit,” an audio press kit with vintage interviews from Aykroyd, Hessman and others. It was designed to promote the film, letting radio D.J.s sound as if they were asking questions. Hessman says he was thrilled to leave his Johnny Fever jeans behind for silk suits, shirts and ties. The fun surprise is comments from Aykroyd’s past directors, Steven Spielberg (“1941,” 1979) and John Landis (“The Blues Brothers”). A photo gallery, radio and TV spots, and trailers complete the lot.
As Aykroyd’s character says, “Ladies and gentlemen, players and ladies, high-lifes and low-lifes, all you trash with cash, allow me to announce the Doctor is in!” In the bonus feature interviews, Aykroyd says his soul brother John Belushi would have approved of the film.
He’s probably right.
- Kay Reynolds
Blu-ray video clip