Release Date(s)1983 (April 24, 2018)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Shout! Factory/Shout Select)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B-
Doctor Detroit is one of those cult films that, over the years, has gained a certain kind of reputation among those who remember seeing it. To me, it’s always been one of those kooky Dan Aykroyd projects that happened after the death of John Belushi – striving for greatness but never fully reaching it, despite its charms. Featuring the music of Devo, as well as a show-stopping performance by the great James Brown, it unfortunately failed miserably at the box office upon its release but has remained a cable and home video favorite ever since.
The premise is straightforward: a college professor named Clifford Skridlow (Aykroyd), who lives at home with his well-to-do parents, is swept up into a world of crime and prostitution after a pimp named Smooth Walker (Howard Hesseman) flees the country to avoid the wrath of a local mob moss named Mom. Unwittingly finding himself in the middle of all of this, it’s up to Clifford to save a group of ladies of the night (Donna Dixon and Fran Drescher among them) by taking on the persona of Doctor Detroit, an eccentric pimp and mob boss with a metal hand from out of town.
There’s very little to say about Doctor Detroit intellectually. Just looking at how much promotion went into it prior to its release, it’s clear that Universal had high hopes for it. They were, after all, coming off of the success of The Blues Brothers, and with Dan Aykroyd’s popularity on Saturday Night Live, it seemed like a surefire bet. The promise of a sequel, jokingly titled Doctor Detroit II: The Wrath of Mom towards the end of the film, was all but abandoned once it failed. Regardless, the film has had plenty of shelf life over the years, almost despite itself. I personally find it lighthearted and enjoyable. It doesn’t break any comedic molds and it's more or less an excuse for Aykroyd to play multiple roles, but it’s cute, and there’s nothing more to it than that.
Shout Select debuts Doctor Detroit on Blu-ray with a fairly problem-free transfer, although it appears to be from an older master. The overall appearance is natural and film-like with decent grain reproduction and detail, without ever appearing overly sharp. Some mild softness is apparent from time to time, mostly during transitions or opticals. The color palette never really pops, but occasional instances of red and neon colors stand out the most with skin tones that appear mostly natural. Black levels are deep, although nighttime scenes look much better than daytime scenes by comparison, such as the junk yard scene when we first meet Doctor Detroit in the flesh. Brightness and contrast levels are appropriate and it’s a mostly clean transfer outside of some mild speckling. For the audio, an English 2.0 mono DTS-HD track has been included with subtitles in English SDH. It represents the film’s original soundtrack as it’s been heard on home video for decades, meaning that it’s fairly flat without a lot of spatial activity, but handles the elements at play well. Dialogue is clean and clear and sound effects are given an ample amount of impact. Lalo Schifrin’s score, as well as Devo’s and James Brown’s music, offer up some minor aural thrust. There are also no instances of distortion, hiss, or crackle.
Where this release really shines is its extras selection, none of which have been included on any home video release until now. First up is a new audio commentary with director Michael Pressman, moderated by pop culture historian/Blu-ray producer Russell Dyball. Pressman and Dyball reminisce about the film while watching it, offering up plenty of anecdotal information. Next is a new 25-minute interview with Michael Pressman, who discusses the film and his career, covering some of the same subject matter from the audio commentary. Both of these are worth a listen, but the cream of the crop on this release is Radio Free Detroit: Inside the Doctor Detroit Audio Press Kit, which contains nearly 25 minutes of vintage interviews taken from LPs handed out to radio stations for the film’s release. Packed into this material are interview segments with Dan Aykroyd speaking about the film, his characters, John Belushi’s passing, Saturday Night Live, and The Blues Brothers; additional separate interview segments with Howard Hesseman and Donna Dixon about the film and their characters; Friends of the Doctor, which features interviews with various colleagues about Dan Aykroyd, including Steven Spielberg, John Landis, John Belushi, and Steve Martin; interview segments with Devo about the film and their music for it; and last but not least, 2 radio promos and 3 introductions to music selections from the film by Dan Aykroyd himself. Also included are 2 theatrical trailers (both of which feature various deleted moments from the final film); 2 TV spots; 6 radio spots; and an animated photo gallery. All that’s really missing is Devo’s music video for the film’s main title track, as well as some additional publicity material and deleted scenes. However, one can’t complain much as this is an excellent supplementary package, particularly the radio interviews.
Say what you will about Doctor Detroit, but Shout Select has put together a fine Blu-ray release of the film for fans old and new. With a nice transfer and quality extras, it’s definitely a release that fans of 80s cult comedies are going to devour. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons