Kit Parker Films @40 (Part 1)

My fascination with films began with the Pincushion Man.

When I was young, everyone watched movies in the theatre or on television.  That’s it…no DVD, Cable TV, Satellite, and YouTube; in fact, no digital anything.   Home movie enthusiasts watched home movies on 8mm (16mm if they were lucky) and that’s about it.  Then, as now, there was a big demand for movies at educational institutions, and all kinds of organizations and institutions.   That need was fulfilled by 16mm film, and distribution of them was a good sized business from the 1920’s to the late 1970s.  A portable 16mm projector, screen and, of course, a film was all that was required.  It was a hassle, but that’s how it was done.   The AV guys who ran the projectors had the same appearance and personality of computer nerds today.  Film buffs remember them, but most young people won’t know what I’m talking about,

8mm was the primary format used for home movies, and my father shot a lot of them.  To augment family films he showed ten minute silent versions of sound movies, mostly cartoons, which were sold in photo shops under the Castle Films label.  One was The Pincushion Man, a re-title of Balloon Land (Ub Iwerks, 1935); it mesmerized me with its bizarre characters and surreal color (Cinecolor, a two color process).  Dad had two others, Little Black Sambo and Sinbad the Sailor, also 1935 Cinecolor cartoons from Ub Iwerks, but to me there was Pincushion Man and then all others.

That was the origin of my interest in films.  The next year I went to the movies and saw a feature film compilation of silent comedies, Robert Youngson’s The Golden Age of Comedy (1957).   It was, and is, terrific. (I can’t believe it still isn’t out on DVD.) [*]

Soon after, I began collecting my own Castle Films, “dirty dupes” from Home Movie Wonderland, and eventually switching to Blackhawk Films.  Blackhawk was the best; silent comedies, and the be-all-end-all of comedy, Laurel and Hardy.  Then I got interested in the physical prints as well as content.  My first Kit Parker Films “catalog” (three pages) offered 8mm movies for sale.  I think I was 11, and my inventory came from offbeat mail order catalogs.  At 13, I began borrowing 16mm public relations films produced by oil companies, railroads, and other corporations which offered them free to organizations through a distributor called Modern Talking Picture Service.  They had film exchanges throughout the country, and offered countless numbers of films on the behalf of corporate clients.  By and large, they were well produced and entertaining.  I told Modern there were several resorts where I lived that were interested in showing those types of films. The sources of entertainment were very, very limited in those days in semi-rural areas like Carmel Valley, California, where I grew up. Modern, who was paid by the sponsors every time a film was shown, asked me if I would sub-distribute for them.   My folks took me to their San Francisco office, and when they saw me, they were stunned and amused by my age.  They looked at each other wondering what they got themselves into.  I got the films, though!

At 14 I started a weekly kiddie matinee at the local community center which showed a feature, short subjects and sometimes a serial, every Saturday at the local community center.  Tickets sold for $.35 and it was a big success.  Over the next four years, I ordered the films (the best part), ran the projector and bought the candy.   The profits went to maintenance of the building.

By 14 my collecting was 100% 16mm…I bought and sold prints.  As my collecting continued I also began shooting my own movies with a Bolex camera my folks gave me one Christmas.  Although I never really had an interest in shooting movies, the news anchor, Mike Morisoli, at KSBW-TV (stood for “Salad Bowl of the World”!)  in Salinas, California, had faith in me and provided unexposed film to cover events such as rodeos and car racing. Back then news stories were all filmed, and my footage ended up on the 6 O’clock News…way cool for a 16-year-old.

At 18, KSBW Program Director, Dwight Wheeler, hired me as the weekend film editor.  In those days television broadcast only network shows, live programming (mostly the News) and lots and lots of film…no video tape.  There were racks and racks of TV shows at the station, and even more feature films!  At one time or another they had, MGM, Columbia, Universal, Warner Bros. and United Artists.  The best distributor was NTA…they had 20th Century-Fox and Republic Pictures.  Syndicated TV shows ranged from Sergeant Preston of the Yukon to Gilligan’s Island.

My job was to assemble the filmed programs and add the commercials.  I had to find the best spots to insert commercials into feature films, and sometimes editing them down to fit into specific time slots.  Everything had to be timed right down to the second.   I learned fast because of my film experience, so soon after had lots of spare time which allowed me to study how the technical directors worked.   A “TD,” as they were known, sat at a large console full of switches and buttons, like you’d see today at a recording studio.  They pushed the buttons and moved levers at the correct time to assure everything went on the air at precisely the right moment.  Today only live programming still uses a TD; everything else has long been computerized.  During half-hour news program there could easily be scores of decisions and manipulations; most had to be anticipated five seconds ahead of the actual event.  On the weekends when only the TD and I were at the station, they would teach me how to do the job.  I was a fast learner and had quick reflexes, at least in those days!  When one of the TD’s quit, the others recommended to the Chief Engineer that I take his place, and I went from the film room to the control room.  I became akin to a super projectionist…and had a ball.  A few months later I was the TD in charge of all of the prime time programming.

1967 the Viet Nam war was raging, and young men were being readily drafted.  I didn’t want to end up in a jungle shooting people, so I joined the Navy Reserve, and ended up on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise.  It was a small city with over 5,000 officers and men.  Logically, they put me in charge of the ship’s entertainment television and radio stations; illogically they moved me into the Public Affairs Office for the duration where I worked on the daily newspaper, gave tours of the ship, and mostly shuffled papers.  Morale on the ship was poor; I think our Captain idolized Captain Bligh, and my Chief Petty Officer was never happy because flogging was outlawed.

Fortunately I had enough free time to work on creating my passion, Kit Parker Films.

OF PART ONE

[*]  Not to be confused with other productions on DVD with the same name.

Cool book about Castle Films:

http://www.amazon.com/Castle-Films-Hobbyists-Scott-MacGillivray/dp/0595324916/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1310594230&sr=1-1

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Dark Night of the Scarecrow wins a 2011 Reaper Award!

VCI Entertainment is excited to announce that DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW won a 2011 Reaper Award for Best Title From the Vault (Catalog Title).  VCI would like to thank all the fans who took the time to vote for us in the nominations.

The Reaper Awards, presented by Home Media Magazine and DreadCentral.com, honor the top horror and thriller titles of the past year. Eligible titles were released between Aug. 1, 2010, and July 31, 2011. Contenders were submitted by studios for consideration by a panel of judges in conjunction with a consumer vote.

  Click here to see the full list of winners.

 

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s Desk – The Art of Editing.

The Art of Editing: is new technology hindering quality as it enhances our ability to deliver more, faster?

When I started out in the Film and Video industry almost 15 years ago, I had a wonderful video producer, who patiently guided me on how to edit video…properly.  She would simply say, “That’s a good start, now tighten up your shots.”  The last half of that statement usually got repeated 1-3 times before I’d get approval on my project.  At the time, I was a little frustrated, mainly because I wasn’t totally sure what was expected of me…until the final edit and then I would see how the video flowed SO much better than my rough cut.  She didn’t tell me how to edit, she just kept nudging me in the right direction until I figured it out.

With the onset of the Internet, Flip cameras, iPhones, iPads, iMovie, etc…it seems like EVERYONE is uploading video for public viewing these days.  But that doesn’t mean everything out there is worth your precious time. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should… just sayin’.  Even I am guilty of throwing out poorly edited videos, knowing the grandparents don’t really care about the quality of my edits, they just want to see their grandson’s face and have the opportunity to be a part of his active life.  And frankly, with a toddler in the house, I don’t have the time to make a masterpiece out of everything I shoot.

All of this has led me to the question: Has the art of editing been as corrupted by new technologies as it has been enhanced by them?  Are we being desensitized by the plethora of bad editing on the Internet that we don’t know good editing when we see it?  I think, deep down, we all know better.

Recently, my husband saw The Green Lantern.  He commented that he thought the editing was horrible.  I didn’t see the movie, so I cannot comment on whether I agree with his opinion, but he does represent the general public, at least where superhero movies are concerned and he noticed something was “off”.  My experience through the years is that the sign of a well-edited piece is that you don’t notice the editing at all.

Good editing impresses the intended emotion in the audience.  Think about the scene in An Affair to Remember (1957) (one of my all time favorite movies), where Deborah Kerr is running to theEmpireStateBuildingto meet up with Cary Grant.  You don’t actually SEE her get hit, but you know something tragic happened and your heart sinks.  And don’t tell me that you can watch Braveheart orPearl Harborwithout experiencing the entire gamut of human emotion.

So, what does all of this have to do with Classic movies?  If you want to study some of the greatest editing, watch the Classics.  Some of my personal favorites include The Godfather (1972), The Untouchables (1987) (watch the scene in the train station…and notice how the use of silence/limited sound enhances the visual edits), and A Christmas Carol (1951) starring Alastair Sim (too many scenes to list).

A lot of what we call “The Classics” are from an era when the Hays Code didn’t allow them to show so much of the gore and sex that we see (almost as the “norm”) in today’s films.  The editing had to speak for that which couldn’t be visually portrayed.  Hitchcock movies were incredibly effective at implying violence without actually showing it.  Every time I see a black bird, I think of The Birds (1963)  In some ways, allowing the imagination to fill in the blanks is WAY more impressionable than showing an axe in a guy’s skull!  Maybe that’s why I love Classic Movies so much.

To Carol (Spann) Mathews: Thank you for your investment in my career.  I will forever be grateful for the time you spent teaching me excellence.

A great resource for more information on some of the great film editing sequences through the years: http://www.filmsite.org/bestfilmediting.html

You can purchase A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim on our website: http://vcientertainment.com/christmas-carol-bluray-p-464.html

 

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Distinctive Voices

Have you ever sat down in your study or TV room settling in to do some work and just flipped on the television for a little background noise? Maybe even landing on Turner Classic Movies where I find myself quite a bit.

You begin to work when something familiar begins to break your concentration. It’s Dick Powell spouting out a line to a detective. The detective begins his counter and you know it’s Regis Toomey. You still haven’t looked up at the screen.  You just instinctively know who the actors are. It’s not that you have seen the film dozens of times, but rather that you’ve heard those voices before. It happens to me time and time again. I hear the voices and know who they are. It’s the quality of those voices. Each actor displaying an almost haunting individuality. A delivery in their speech pattern, that no matter the role, the actor is instantly recognizable.

I have found that those great lead actors and character actors of the 40’s and 50’s seem to display those singularly significant and distinctive voices much more than the actors that followed that era. Yes, some of today’s actors display those same vocal qualities, but not quite in the vast numbers from actors of the past.

Tell me that Joseph Cotton, James Cagney, Kirk Douglas, and Charlton Heston wouldn’t perk up your ears. You may even be surprised that you recognize William Talman, James Gleason, Andy Divine or Royal Dano by their voices. It’s amazing how individual each of the golden oldie actors sound to me at least. Maybe I’m delusional. I just don’t think so.

It may seem interesting to you to give yourself the test. Of course you really need to be a buff or have an appreciation for those gems of the past. At least you will have to have had some exposure to the classic actors for this to be successful. So, if you fit in the category of having these qualifications, simply slide a DVD of an old movie in the player and close your eyes…and listen.

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Friends I Miss: Bill F. Blair – Founder of VCI Entertainment

BILL F. BLAIR (1930-2006)

Bill Blair was more than a film buff, he was a film nut.

Unlike my other two “Film Friends I Miss,” Bill never wrote an autobiography.  He was modest, so it would have been out of character for him.  Fortunately, his son, Bob, wrote an affectionate, biographical piece on his father and his brainchild, we all know today as VCI Entertainment.  Combining Bill’s biography with VCI’s history made sense to me since Bill and VCI were so intertwined that sometimes it wasn’t always possible for me to separate the man from the business.

Bill Blair-Biography/VCI Entertainment-history:  http://vcientertainment.com/about_us.php

It was almost four decades ago when I first spoke with Bill, two years after I founded my 16mm (Bill called it “16 em em”) library, Kit Parker Films.  This was before there was such a thing as home video.

All I had to offer were movies in the public domain, so it was important to move up a notch by offering copyrighted ones.  No one was willing to sell me any, at least that I could afford.

Bill founded United Films, also a 16mm distributor, only big-time, renting out many copyrighted movies from major studios.  I called and asked if he would sell me several “A-” RKO movies.  He agreed, even gave me a real good deal, especially considering it put me in competition with him for those movies.  He was a nice man to do that, and, as you can see, I never forgot it.   He let me buy more movies, and then more.   It didn’t take long for me to realize that Bill worked with me not only because he was a nice guy, but because he knew I was a kindred spirit…a film nut…just like him.  A friendship developed, that would continue for over 30 years, right up until his passing.

Some time later, we couldn’t come to an agreement on the price of some Dick Tracy serials.  Somehow he worked into the conversation that he had, as he called it, a “bad ticker.”  I took that to mean exactly what he wanted me to, that he really didn’t care if the deal went through or not, because he wasn’t going to be around much longer to care about it.  I figured out years later that he was saying that to make me worry about losing the deal for fear he really didn’t care.  Bill got his way, even though he wanted the deal as much as me. It was just one of his ways of negotiating.  He tried the “bad ticker” routine later on, but by then I had caught on.  If I pressed him I wonder if he would have grasped his chest pretending to have a heart attack, just like Fred G. Sanford did in “Sanford and Son”?

By the way, he did have a bad (physical) heart, but it managed to serve him well for  another three decades.

Another one of his mid-west style negotiating tactics was to speak real slow and work into the conversation that he was just a “Slow mule from Oklahoma,” or just plain “Okie.”  This was to get you to think he was a rube ripe for the picking, but in reality, at the end of the day, he’d end up with all the chips!

I don’t want to paint Bill as someone who took advantage of a 25 year old’s naïveté.  The extra money he got from me was peanuts.  He loved toying with me because I think I reminded Bill of himself at the same age…a kid who “had” to have those movies.

Later in the 1970s, VCI got out of the 16mm film business and became the first firm to produce movies specifically for the video market.  In fact, they made the very first one.  Don’t ask me the names because I’ve been pretty successful at erasing his made-for-video movies completely from my mind.  He asked me what I thought of an early one…all I could say was it was “innovative.”

Ten years later, he produced a picture called “The Last Slumber Party,” which was really gawd awful.  Again, he asked me what I thought, and I just paused until he blinked, and admitted, “I know, I know, it’s a piece of s**t.”

I didn’t actually meet Bill in person until around 2000.  As expected, he was modest and unassuming, and I already knew he had the bedside manner of a country doctor.

By now I had a reputation for clearing rights to hard to find movies, and helped him get some of his favorites, such as the Benedict Bogeaus collection**.  Coincidently, they were “A-” RKO releases he had wanted for years, and it was as if I gave him the moon…just the way I felt when I got those other “A-” RKO’s from him three decades before.  Believe me, I was just as happy to help him, because it gave me a chance to make him really happy.  After all, he always was good to me.

Bill was beyond being a film buff, he was a film nut, and his enthusiasm was absolutely infectious.  Film buffs, and nuts, alike; owe a lot to him and his team for locating, restoring and releasing hard to find movie favorites on DVD.  His sons inherited that passion, and continue searching out the movies Bill always wanted, but were always just out of his grasp.   I know he appreciates that.

Bill Blair lived his dream, made his passion a vocation, got to work with all the movies he wanted, and was loved by his family, employees, and people like me.

I miss Bill Blair.

——————

The Benedict Bogeaus RKO Collection, all in Technicolor: “Appointment in Honduras,” “Silver Lode,” “Passion,” “Cattle Queen of Montana,” “Escape to Burma,” “Pearl of the South Pacific,” “Tennessee’s Partner,” and “Slightly Scarlet.”  I recommend them.

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Tom Weaver, “bombproof”

“Bombproof,” in equestrian jargon, is a horse that can be put into any situation, remain calm, and persevere until the job is done perfectly.

Author Tom Weaver is just that way with interviews.  The ones he’s conducted with horror movie stars, directors, and producers throughout a couple of dozen books…are all winners.  He bats a thousand.

His latest is “The Horror Films of Richard Gordon” (BearManor Media, 2011), which just came out…I can’t wait to get my copy.  A Weaver/Gordon combo is guaranteed to be a page-turner.

Out of many interviews, there have been occasions when the interviewees are problems…want to give only “yes or no” answers, are boring, senile, or even drunk!  Even if all four, and the house is on fire, Tom somehow perseveres.  He prepares in advance and works harder conducting interviews than anyone I’ve known.  He just makes it look so eeeeasy.

I first met Tom a few years ago when he agreed to come from his home in Sleepy Hollow, New York to Los Angeles, to conduct interview/commentary tracks for one of my “Positively No Refunds” DVD double-features.  I’ve met him a couple of times since, and he’s always come across as a warm, thoughtful, teddy-bearish sort of guy…quick-witted, a master of plays on words…with a radio voice.  He loves to wear comfortable clothes (I’ve never seen him in anything other than well-worn shorts and t-shirt,) and eats comfort food (packs more cholesterol in a day than most people do in a week, maybe two).

Now that I’ve introduced the Tom I know, the movies on the “No Refunds” DVD are “Bride and the Beast” (1958) and “White Gorilla” (1945).   Charlotte Austin, star of “Bride”, was one of the participants along with beloved science fiction movie icon, Bob Burns.  Both movies had “gorillas” in them, and for those who don’t know, Bob is the expert on movie gorillas. “Bride” bit-player Slick Slavin (Trustin Howard) also joined them. Tom didn’t need to worry about bombproofing with this group…just wind them up and let ‘em roll.  The funniest commentary tracks I’ve produced so far!

People ask me how I come up with those witty descriptions of my movies on the back of DVD covers.  The answer is easy…I didn’t write them – Tom Weaver did.

The Horror Hits of Richard Gordonhttp://www.amazon.com/Horror-Hits-Richard-Gordon/dp/1593936419/ref=sr_1_19?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1306199227&sr=1-19

Other Tom Weaver interview bookshttp://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_21?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=tom+weaver+interviews&sprefix=tom+weaver+interviews

Charlotte Austin’s Filmography:  http://www.fandango.com/charlotteaustin/filmography/p2878

Bob Burns’ website:  http://bobburns.mycottage.com/

Bride and the Beast Trailerhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-jHnHEo4K4

White Gorilla Trailerhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ortvsw03fDo&feature=fvsr

Bride and the Beast/White Gorilla “Positively No Refunds” DVD:  http://vcientertainment.com/positively-refunds-double-feature-p-516.html

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Before Roger Corman…there was Robert L. Lippert

LIPPERT PICTURES – The First Incarnation (1945-1956)

Producer/Exhibitor Robert L. Lippert’s low-budget productions are sometimes called Grade “C.”  Personally, I’ve never seen one below “B-,” and in fairness, he did put out some “B+,” “nervous A,” and who can call “The Fly” (1957) anything but an “A”?

Lippert felt there was an unmet demand for “B” product for his circuit of theatres, so in 1945 he and John L. Jones formed a production company, Action Pictures, and distribution company, Screen Guild Productions.   The first and sole release for 1945 was “Wildfire – The Story of a Horse,” in Cinecolor, starring Bob Steele.  Regular releases followed and in 1949 Screen Guild became “Lippert Pictures,” and in the final count, cranked out over 125 low budget movies, and released many more acquisitions and reissues.  He produced many more films for release by 20th Century-Fox…more about the Fox deal late.

The early Lippert productions were unremarkable B movies (okay, there may have been some C’s), with a few notable exceptions.  Things changed in 1949 when he rolled the dice and took a chance on a feisty independent newspaper reporter by the name of Samuel Fuller. Lippert gave Fuller, who had no movie experience, virtual free-reign, and his name above the title, to create a film about Jesse James’ assassin, Bob Ford.   It was released as “I Shot Jesse James” (1949), and became a critical and box office success, and today it is considered a classic, notable, among other things, for its extensive use of close ups.  Soon after, Fuller directed his second film, “The Baron of Arizona” (1950), a true story about a swindler who seized much ofArizonaby forging Spanish land grants.  Vincent Price played the “Baron,” and many years later claimed it was one of his very favorite roles.  Truly, the Lippert/Fuller magna opus was the classic Korean War drama, “The Steel Helmet” (1951), which garnered first-run dates at prestigious theatres.  The three Fuller films are out on DVD from the Criterion Collection.

Lippert’s cause célèbre was to produce films as cheaply as possible, and still offer at least some entertainment value, particularly for the more unsophisticated movie patrons. No Lippert movies were allowed to go over budget.  Not negotiable…even for Fuller.

Robert L. Lippert, Jr. told me a story about the filming of the climactic ending of “The Steel Helmet,” where a Korean temple is to be destroyed, and it almost didn’t come to be…  Fuller had shot all but the ending, and production was about to go into overtime. Lippert came on the set and literally pulled the power switch to shut down production.  Fortunately, after he left the set, Fuller turned the power on and filmed the finale.

In 1950, Lippert gave himself a challenge…produce a series of six Jimmy “Shamrock” Ellison/Russell “Lucky” Hayden westerns, all at the same time, using the same casts, sets, crew, and so on.  In one movie an actor may play a bad guy and a bartender in another.  A camera was set up in the saloon, for example, and the saloon scenes for each movie would be shot sequentially, with actors rushing about changing costumes between each roll of the camera.  It must have been a nightmare for the script girl!  Robert L. Lippert, Jr. told me it was his father’s proudest achievement!  VCI released this series as a set under the “Big Iron Collection” banner.

Despite the puny budgets, minor classics resulted, including “Little Big Horn” (1951) and “The Tall Texan” (1953), both starring Lloyd Bridges.  There was also a distinctive film noir series filmed in Great Britain, starting in 1953, when Lippert formed a production alliance with his British distributor, Exclusive Films, soon known as Hammer Film Productions.  Under the arrangement, Lippert would provide an American “star,” on the way down, but who still had some name value, plus cash to pay for part of the production.  Exclusive/Hammer and Lippert divided up the distribution territories.  The result was a series of good thrillers supported by solid English casts, and many directed by Terence Fisher in his pre-horror film days.  The Lippert-Hammers are all available as part of the “Hammer Noir” collections, released by VCI Entertainment.

Lippert, like Roger Corman after him, was able to gather together producers, directors, screenwriters, composers, and of course, actors willing to work on tight schedules for minimal pay.  There were stars who had lost their major studio contracts (Paulette Goddard, George Raft) or who had problems with the House on Un-American Activities (Lloyd Bridges, Lee J. Cobb).   Even Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson had roles in later Lippert productions.

Lippert was a master marketer.  When producer George Pal set out to mount a big budget Technicolor production of “Destination Moon” (1950), based on the science-fiction book by Robert A. Heinlein, Lippert saw an opportunity.  He capitalized on Pal’s media campaign by throwing together his own low (of course) budget “moon” picture, “Rocketship X-M” (1950).  It beat Pal’s movie into the theatres, stealing a good deal of the Technicolor epic’s thunder.   I’m told Mr. Pal was not amused.

Trouble and opportunities, lay ahead for Lippert.  To be continued…

Robert L. Lippert – http://kitparkerfilms.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/robert-l-lippert/

Wildfire – Story of a Horse – http://vcientertainment.com/darn-good-westerns-p-558.html

I Shot Jesse James, The Baron ofArizonaand The Steel Helmet – http://www.criterion.com/boxsets/499-eclipse-series-5-the-first-films-of-samuel-fuller

Little Big Horn – http://vcientertainment.com/western-film-noir-double-feature-p-512.html

The Tall Texan -http://vcientertainment.com/tall-texan-p-493.html

The Big Iron Collection – http://vcientertainment.com/iron-collection-p-559.html

Hammer Noir – http://vcientertainment.com/advanced_search_result.php?search_in_description=1&keywords=hammer+noir&x=0&y=0

Rocketship X-M – http://www.amazon.com/Rocketship-X-M-Lloyd-Bridges/dp/6305869367/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1306621007&sr=1-1

Destination Moon – http://www.amazon.com/Destination-Moon-John-Archer/dp/6305761078/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1306621077&sr=1-1

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