Preaching To The Choirboys

  • videoarchives
  • February 28, 2023

The Video Archives Podcast is skipping choir practice! Quentin, Roger and Gala go on a ridealong with the boys in blue in Robert Aldrich’s ensemble comedy The Choirboys. Then they’ll head to London on the hunt for an elusive explosives expert who’s been pushed too far, played by Rod Steiger in Hennessy. Once that hunt is over, they’ll keep heading east, looking for the even more elusive star of Russia’s landmark fantasy film Amphibian Man. I’ve got posters, film facts and VHS boxes on this globe-hopping Counter Talk, so let’s take the plunge…

Before I get into the films featured on today’s episode, allow me a moment to showcase last week’s Better Late Than Never art again (can you blame me?). This poster comes from the New Beverly’s collection, and now hangs in Quentin’s Tel Aviv office. In this full poster size, you can see the film’s dual taglines, and the promise that the film may end, but “the laughs go on forever….”

Also spotted in the bathroom of Quentin’s home theater - a British quad double feature poster for Straw Dogs, backed by the H.G. Wells adaptation The Food Of The Gods! The film about a mysterious substance that turns rats and insects into giant monsters sounds like a perfect palate cleanser for Straw Dogs, balancing the bill between real-world horror and goofy creature feature.

The Choirboys is legendary director Robert Aldrich’s adaptation of Joseph Wambaugh’s bestselling novel about the LAPD, and the officers’ after-hours activities to cope with the pressures of the job. Wambaugh hated the final product, calling it a “dreadful, sleazy, vile film,” and eventually sued the studio to get his name removed, which you can hear all about in today’s episode.

How did Aldrich respond to Wambaugh’s critiques? He told Film Comment that he didn’t feel the same way as Wambaugh about "the problems of the cop... I don't find the fact that cops can't "cope" particularly rewarding; I can't relate to it. I don't know how to feel sorry for a cop. It's a volunteer force. You're not drafted to become a cop. So you've got to take some of the heat if you don't like what people think about you.” (Am I allowed to call Robert Aldrich ‘based’ in this newsletter?)

The Choirboys MCA/Universal box art is a little dry; it features a photo of ten of the cops, some playfully doffing their police caps, but no one is large enough in the image to make an impact. The bottom credits take up as much box real estate as the supposed stars.

If I’m reading the sticker on the back correctly, The Choirboys was categorized at one point as “R Dra” - does “Dra” mean Drama? A strange placement for this outsized farce, black comedy or no. (Tune in for more thoughts on genre categorization next week on the After Show.)

Today’s Video Archives episode was taped in two pieces; the segment about Hennessy was originally planned to go in an earlier episode, but we later decided it would make a nice counterpoint to The Choirboys and Amphibian Man. By the time we recorded the latter conversations and the final awards segment, Quentin, Roger and Gala’s enthusiasm for Hennessy had only grown. It’s a tense, ticking time bomb of a movie that’s not easily forgotten- it’s also the film debut of Sir Patrick Stewart!

The Hennessy HBO/Cannon box art is incredibly cool - those stylized vertical lines give this composition a very pop art, comic book look.

Steiger’s intense performance and the brilliant use of ‘newsreel footage’ mentioned on this back cover elevate Hennessy over the typical revenge story.

Our final film, 1962’s Amphibian Man (“Chelovek-amfibiya” in its native Russian) was originally called “Tarzan des Mers”, or “The Tarzan of the Seas,” until the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs forced the filmmakers to change it. It held the record of the most tickets sold for any Soviet film for 12 years, until 1974’s The Red Snowball Tree, and remains justly beloved in Russia, a fantastical romance with the force of myth. It’s rare for a science-fiction film to explore romance with this kind of depth - it’s a mix of tones that still felt novel as recently as 2017, when Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape Of Water rode a very similar story to a Best Picture Oscar win.

Amphibian Man is the first Sinister Cinema film to appear on Video Archives - this company specializes in made-to-order releases of rare sci-fi and horror films, and all of their tapes come in an identical paper Sinister Cinema sleeve. You’ll have to look at the VHS label to spot the film name:

Sinister Cinema is still active today! Check out their wonderful, Comic Sans-filled homepage at I also love their logo and VHS fanfare – everything about this presentation is so charming.

This week’s Video Archives Merch Spotlight comes from John Raucci, aka @Night_of_the_Tapes on Instagram, backed by an impressive array of VHS tapes! He says “I wear this shirt while hunting for VHS at flea markets and thrift stores and I know it brings me good luck finding cool tapes. As a former mom and pop video store clerk (1994-99), I love hearing Roger and Quentin’s stories about the legendary Video Archives store. I think the podcast is brilliant, and I look forward to it every week.”

That’s it for this week – next week we’ll have even more to say about The Choirboys, Hennessy and Amphibian Man. Until then, keep following us on Twitter and Instagram – and if you’re a Letterboxd user and log a Video Archives movie, mention us in your review! Go to the Video Archives website for even more info about the show and these films, and I’ll be back next week with more Counter Talk.