Anchor Bay presents
The North Avenue Irregulars (1979)
"I'm not going to let a preacher and some ding-a-ling dames ruin our business."- Max Roca (Frank Campanella)
Stars: Edward Herrmann, Barbara Harris, Susan Clark, Karen Valentine, Michael Constantine, Cloris Leachman
Other Stars: Patsy Kelly, Douglas Fowley, Virginia Capers, Steve Franken, Dena Dietrich, Dick Fuchs, Alan Hale Jr., Ruth Buzzi
Director: Bruce Bilson
MPAA Rating: GRun Time: 01h:39m:30s
Release Date: 1999-06-29
DVD ReviewLike many of Disney's live action directors, Bruce Bilson had a solid resume of television direction, working on dozens of top ten series including Hawaii Five-O, The Brady Bunch, M*A*SH and The Six Million Dollar Man to name a few. The North Avenue Irregulars is his only feature film, based on Reverend Albert Fay Hill's true stories about the crime fighting experiences in New Rochelle, New York during the 1960's. The film's title is a takeoff on Sherlock Holmes' youth intelligence organization, the Baker Street Irregulars. Car chases, site gags, and standard Disney antics mark the contents of this zany comedy about an undercover clergy.
Edward Herrmann stars as Reverend Michael Hill, who has come to take over the position of pastor at the North Avenue Presbyterian Church. Anne Woods (Susan Clark), Church Secretary and daughter of the former pastor finds it hard to accept the fact that a newcomer is now in charge, especially when he decides to delegate some of the tasks that she and her father used to hold, including overseeing the church's charity fund. However, when Hill finds out his designee has bet the entire $1,200 in the fund on a horse race, he discovers that the town he is in has a seedy underside, with a number of gambling establishments tied to the mob, headed by Max Roca (Frank Campanella). Outraged by the corruption in town, he lashes out against the organized crime on a weekly television broadcast, which brings him to the attention of the treasury department, in the form of Marv Fogleman (Michael Constantine) and his partner Delaney Rafferty (Douglas Fowley), who enlist the reverend's help to break up the mob. When Hill's attempt to get any of the men in town to cooperate with feds falls flat, he turns to a motley group of church ladies for help. Vickie Sims (Barbara Harris), Jane (Karen Valentine), Claire Porter (Cloris Leachman), Rose Rafferty (Patsy Kelly), Cleo Jackson (Virginia Capers) Carmel Hill (Melora Hardin) and her husband Dean (Bobby Rolofson in unusual costuming) go undercover to try to expose the mob activity, and in typical Disney style, do so in bumbling fashion, botching their stakeouts and car tailing in their station wagons with frequent blunders.
While I much prefer Disney's wildlife films, some of their comedy features had good entertainment value, if they didn't get too silly. The North Avenue Irregulars passes nicely as a screwball comedy, though it does get formulaic in the end. The opening is an obvious nod to the Pink Panther series, even down to the musical arrangement and cartoon folly. Cloris Leachman has some great moments as the ditzy Claire, and Karen Valentine has fun defending her activities from her mama's boy fiance (Dick Fuchs) and his unapproving mother (Dena Dietrich). Look for cameos by Alan Hale Jr. (as bookie Harry the Hat) and Ruth Buzzi (as Dr. Rheems) and dig the 1970's threads on the Strawberry Shortcake Band, featuring Shorty, Doodles, Billy and Sam. While not a revelation in filmmaking, I can think of worse ways to kill a couple of hours, and although there is a bit of adult humor, this will go over the head of most youngsters and provide a bit of evidence that this isn't just pandering to kids. Good for the whole family.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.66:1 - Widescreen||1.33:1 - n/a|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes||no|
Image Transfer Review: The North Avenue Irregulars is presented in both 1.66:1 nonanamorphic widescreen and open matte 1.33:1. The colors, while dated, are well rendered, with solid black levels. The transfer does suffer from racking on a few occasions, and there are a couple of places with film damage evident, but overall the source seems in good repair, and aside from those brief moments the disc is a great presentation for this late seventies production. Shimmer and aliasing is not much of an issue, and line structure is barely noticible in zoom mode on a widescreen set.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The two-channel mono soundtrack is free of any irregularities (pun intended). Nothing spectacular sonically, though it suits the film just fine. Dialogue is clear, and the musical numbers are well rendered. albeit with limited frequency range.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Extras Review: There are no on disc extras. The dark purple case does house a four page leaflet which covers a brief bit of background about the film.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsThey don't make films like this anymore, and it is great that Anchor Bay is preserving Disney's live action comedies on DVD. Not overly silly, but with its memorable moments, The North Avenue Irregulars is clean family entertainment in good, old fashioned Disney style. An all star cast populates this not too silly telling of the church's fight against crime. Probably best as a rental on family night.
On a technical note, this disc was unreadable by my computer DVD player, though I had no issues with it on the set top player.
Jeff Ulmer 2001-01-15