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BY Steven D. GreydanusFilm Critic
Knock on Wood (1954) PICK
The Muppet Movie (1979) PICK
My Favorite Spy (1951) PASS
Shane (1953) PICK
A family-film classic, an iconic Western and a pair of Golden Age espionage comedies make their debut on Blu-ray.
The Muppet Movie is Jim Henson’s big-hearted valentine to himself and all his fans, a charming, self-aware origin story with Kermit (and, by implication, his creator) going from an unknown with dreams of "making millions of people happy" to the leader of a crew of gentle oddballs with "Rich and Famous Contracts" watching themselves on the big screen actually doing so. And they did, and they do.
Some of the period humor falls flat today ("Have you tried Hare Krishna?"), but the playful imagination and romantic optimism remain winsome. And it’s still startling to see Kermit riding a bicycle.
Like The Muppet Movie, Shane is a self-conscious act of mythologizing, a Western story seen through the wide eyes of a young boy, highlighting the disconnect between how big-screen heroes are perceived by young fans and what a man knows himself to be. Unlike the Muppets’ celebration of their own lovable milieu, there’s an element of self-critique here, particularly with respect to the romantic view of guns in many Westerns, an attitude young Joey exemplifies but which his hero Shane (Alan Ladd) rejects. (Fisticuffs are another story!)
Finally, two of Hollywood’s best-loved funnymen, Danny Kaye and Bob Hope, each put a comic spin on the cloak-and-dagger genre as stage performers mistaken for spies.
In Knock on Wood, Kaye plays an unstable ventriloquist who somehow gets mixed up with a pair of rival spy teams both vying for stolen plans to a new weapon. Misunderstandings (and bodies) pile up, and Kaye does what he does best: uses funny accents, sings songs and takes pratfalls while vainly trying to negotiate a situation he doesn’t understand. While not touching the brilliance of Kaye’s The Court Jester, Knock on Wood is a decent vehicle that Kaye fans will enjoy.
My Favorite Spy, with Bob Hope being recruited to stand in for a look-alike spy, likewise allows Hope to do what he does best: wisecrack, flirt with his female costar (Hedy Lamarr) and riff on the foibles of his own image. I’ve recommended this one in the past, but, in retrospect, it doesn’t hold up as well as Hope’s earlier "My Favorite" spoofs, My Favorite Blonde and My Favorite Brunette. Hope fans should check them out.
Content Advisory: Knock on Wood: Stylized violence, including comic treatment of cloak-and-dagger murders; brief mildly risqué humor. Generally fine family viewing. The Muppet Movie: Mild menace. Fine family viewing. Teens and up. Shane: Recurring brawl-style violence; brief deadly gunplay; discreet romantic complications. Might be fine for older kids.