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The North Avenue Irregulars DVD Review

The North Avenue Irregulars

Theatrical Release: February 9, 1979 / Running Time: 100 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Bruce Bilson

Cast: Edward Herrmann (Rev. Michael Hill), Barbara Harris (Vickie Sims), Susan Clark (Anne Woods), Karen Valentine (Jane), Michael Constantine (Marvin Fogleman), Cloris Leachman (Claire Porter), Alan Hale Jr. (Harry the Hat), Ruth Buzzi (Dr. Rheems), Patsy Kelly (Rose Rafferty), Douglas Fowley (Delaney Rafferty), Virginia Capers (Cleo Jackson)


Reverend Michael Hill (Edward Hermann) arrives in the town of New Campton as the new minister of the North Avenue Presybterian Church. In the grand style of Disney's madcap comedies of the late '70s, Rev. Hill meets a diverse group of women who are involved with the church. Among these are Anne Woods (Susan Clark), a secretary whose father was the former minister.

Hill shakes things up right away with his plan for active participation in overseeing church affairs, quickly assigning Mrs. Rafferty (Patsy Kelly) to the "sinking fund." Before he can say his first service, Rev. Hill learns that Mrs. Rafferty's husband (Douglas Fowley) has spent the fund's entirety of twelve hundred dollars on a horse race. After a remarkably short service, Rev. Hill hops on a motorcycle with Mrs. Rafferty to get back the money.

He arrives at a store named "Sam the Tailor" and finds Harry the Hat (Alan Hale, of "Gilligan's Island" fame) in the back room. Here, the reverend is introduced to a secret world of gambling. After failing to get back the church money, Hill takes the matter to the police, who are little help.

The women of the North Avenue church welcome their new minister. Mrs. Rafferty and Reverend Hill burn rubber.

When the time comes for Rev. Hill to make his weekly televised appearance on a segment called "Words to Live By", he doesn't preach from the good book. Instead, he calls out to the people of New Campton to take a stand against gambling. Rev. Hill's passionate speech brings on quite a reaction. The church's phone keeps ringing with threats, and the Presbytery executive warns that the minister's goal should be to increase church membership and not to mudsling.

The broadcast also piques the attention of a couple of investigators from the Treasury Department who are also looking to break up the gambling networks in the neighborhood. The agents ask Rev. Hill to round up some good men who can help the cause. But everyone Hill asks turns him down.

So, the reverend gets an idea. Why not use the strength of the church women to aid the law officials in their quest to clean up New Campton? The Treasury workers reluctantly agree, and this sets forth what in theory sounds amusing: some slightly off-center church women taking on crime in their community.

When you gamble with Harry the Hat, you lose your pants. Rev. Hill delivers a diatribe on local television.

With some predictablity, the women prove baffled by the task, unable to blend into worlds of racket. For instance, dressed unmodestly as part of the charade, the engaged Jane (Karen Valentine) gets caught by her fiancι looking like a tramp.

When it becomes clear that a heartier effort is needed in order to succeed, the women put money into the operation, investing in a radio communication system and taking on code names. What ensues is the network of suburban church women driving around and trying to find the 'bank' where all the money from the gambling can be tied to.

Undercover, the church woman are up against the odds, and the criminals are taking action against the church.

These investigators are looking for a few good men. Hill and the ladies are ready to fight crime!

The North Avenue Irregulars is based on a true story, recorded in a book by the real life Reverend Hill. For the clever nature of its real life roots, the film is far less amusing and captivating than you'd expect. The women aren't very well defined, and the second half's action sequences documenting efforts to clean up the town leave the viewer easily disengaged.

Though the cast is comprised of actresses that Disney made good use of in other films of the late '70s and early '80s, the characters here are subservient to the story, which itself is rendered uninteresting through a series of unexciting action sequences. In the lead role, as the man in cloth surrounded by women, Edward Hermann is pretty stiff.

There's not a noticeable lack of quality in any particular places. Instead, the film feels like a half-hearted effort which doesn't make the best use of its material. At an age of twenty-five years, the film does feel a bit dated, which will mean an off-putting pace for younger viewers but a nostalgic familiarness for children of the '70s. Perhaps the most telling element is Strawberry Shortcake, the local rock band that Rev. Hill appoints church music coordinators in an effort to bring youngsters into the church.

While inoffensive and fleetingly entertaining, you see an uninspired execution of the material. Perfect example: the comic pinnacle is a scene of the minister and a crowd of gamblers all in their underwear in the back room of a pants-pressing shop.

Buy The North Avenue Irregulars from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Mono (English)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned
Release Date: July 6, 2004
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
White Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

The North Avenue Irregulars appears in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, which is approximately its original theatrical aspect ratio. For the most part, picture quality is satisfactory, as the film displays a commendable clarity and vibrancy. A fair amount of grain and imperfections mar the print, but for the most part, this 16x9-enhanced transfer is pleasing to the eyes. The transfer can get quite grainy at times, and the colors maintain a bit of a faded look as was the norm for films from this era. Still, this is one of the better looking films from the July catalogue batch.

The Dolby Mono soundtrack dutifully portrays the late '70s Disney score, and provides dialogue and sound effects naturally and accurately. Volume level is consistent, although the dynamics of the whole track seems to be on the low side. Obviously, this isn't the type of complex and atmospheric sound presentation that a modern film would have, but it serves the film aptly.

Twenty-five years ago, Strawberry Shortcake is a band that would have been 'hip.' The DVD's Main Menu comes from the inspired animated opening credits.

EXTRAS

There are no extras for The North Avenue Irregulars, as the disc is missing even a theatrical trailer for the film. There is only the standard preview for live action Disney films on DVD and video at the start of the disc.

The 16x9 menu screens colorfully feature artwork from the film's animated opening credits, joined by selections of the score which grows louder.

Hill's Angels. With these sunglasses, you can't tell who we are! Without them, can you?

CLOSING THOUGHTS

For those who fondly remember Disney's films of the late '70s, Disney's release of The North Avenue Irregulars is bound to satisfy. It may not do much for others. Though the DVD's presentation of the film is certainly satisfactory, the lack of even a trailer is mildly disappointing.

More on the DVD

Related Reviews

New to DVD:
Hot Lead & Cold Feet (1978) | The Cat From Outer Space (1978)

Other Disney films with the cast of North Avenue Irregulars:
Freaky Friday (1977) | The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975) | Herbie Goes Bananas (1980)

UltimateDisney.com | Review Index | Classic Live Action (Pre-1980) Films Page | July 2004 Catalogue Releases

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