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Classic Hollywood MOD

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

May 28th - June 1st, 2012

This week I'm beginning a new weekly column here at The Digital Bits called Classic Hollywood MOD that will focus entirely on MOD (Manufactured-on-Demand) DVD releases, with an emphasis on classic film titles. I will provide information on all the newly announced titles from any of the MOD initiatives by the various Hollywood film studios, hopefully giving you some perspective on how that week's titles fit into Hollywood history. While I will touch on disc content and quality at times, this column is initially not intended to be a review vehicle and I will prefer to reserve fuller MOD reviews to my monthly Classic Coming Attractions columns or other stand-alone situations in The Bits. Of course, that could change over time. In this first column for the week of May 28th to June 1st, I have news related to Fox and Warner Bros. MOD activities.


Fox MOD

As reported by Lou Lumenick in the N.Y Post, Fox will apparently finally formalize its entry into the sphere of MOD discs with the Fox Cinema Archives arriving this month. Here's a link to Lou's full piece, the details of which I've added below:

Three titles are already available for pre-order at Amazon: Rouben Mamoulian's romantic comedy Rings on Her Fingers (1942) starring Gene Tierney and Henry Fonda; Irving Cumming's Technicolored Betty Grable musical Sweet Rosie O'Grady (1943) with Robert Young; and Henry Hathaway's thriller Diplomatic Courier (1951) starring Tyrone Power and Patricia Neal. Other titles said to be included in the program's first wave include John M. Stahl's costume adventure The Foxes of Harrow (1947) starring Rex Harrison and Maureen O'Hara; Arthur Pierson's Dangerous Years (1947) with Billy Halop, Scotty Beckett, and Marilyn Monroe in a bit part; Ray McCarey's The Perfect Snob, a delightfully obscure 1941 comedy starring Charlie Ruggles and Charlotte Greenwood; Hugo Fregonese's The Raid (1954) with Van Heflin, Lee Marvin, Richard Boone and Anne Bancroft; and Edward L. Cahn's thriller Twelve Hours to Kill (1960) with Sypros Skouras protege Nicos Minardos and Barbara Eden. There are also four films directed by sometimes actor Irving Pichel: Hudson's Bay (1941), an adventure with Paul Muni, Gene Tierney, Laird Cregar and Vincent Price; The Man I Married (1940), an anti-Nazi tract starring Joan Bennett and Frances Lederer; Secret Agent of Japan (1942), World War II propaganda with Preston Foster, Lynn Bari and Victor Sen Yung; and Life Begins at 8:30 (1942), a theatrical comedy starring Monty Woolley and Ida Lupino. The partial list will also include a pair of titles previously available only as part of sets - Alan Dwan's Frontier Marshal (1939) with Randolph Scott as Wyatt Earp and Cesar Romero as Doc Holliday, and Tay Garnett's Love is News (1937) starring Tyrone Power, Loretta Young and Romero, which was remade as both Sweet Rosie O'Grady (1943) with Grable and Young as mentioned above and with Power back again in That Wonderful Urge (1948). A second wave of titles may arrive in late July/early August, with Fox shooting for around 150 MOD titles by year's end. It remains to be seen if the Fox discs will also be at the Warner Archives website, like those of MGM's and Sony's MOD programs.


Warner Bros. MOD

Meanwhile on the Warner Archive MOD front, the most recent announcements were those from Tuesday May 22nd. No new ones showed up this week (i.e. on May 29th), given Monday's Memorial Day holiday in the United States. The May 22nd titles were most timely given my second-last Classic Coming Attractions column here at the Digital Bits. Readers may remember that it included a lengthy focus on producer David O. Selznick, in the course of it mentioning a number of the Selznick-produced titles at RKO in the early 1930s that were not yet available on DVD. Well, the new Archive titles hit that mark with six of the desired titles:

In State's Attorney, (1932) John Barrymore stars as a mob shyster who turns crusader while caught between a good bad girl (Helen Twelvetrees) and bad good girl (Jill Esmond). Unflinching in its examination of moral compromise - and moral certainty - State's Attorney's courtroom dramatics bedazzle while Twelvetrees' sensitive seductress beguiles. Also stars William (Stage, not Hopalong Cassidy) Boyd and Mary Duncan.

Joel McCrea stars alongside William Gargan in The Sport Parade (1932), a sports-opera pre-Code morality tale of friendship on and off the field. Dartmouth football heroes Johnny Baker (Gargan) and Sandy Brown (McCrea) go their separate ways after graduation, one to the news desk, the other to play professionally. When life throws them back together, their re-established bond threatens to break over the charms of a lovely newshen (Marian Marsh). Robert Benchley makes his feature debut as a befuddled sportscaster. With Walter Catlett.

Then RKO secretary Dorothy Wilson was plucked from obscurity by director Gregory La Cava to star in The Age of Consent, a 1932 tale of pre-Code collegiate innocence lost and found. Michael (Richard Cromwell) and the aptly-named Betty Wilson plan to "save it" until after graduation - but two years is a long time. And in the spring of his youth, a young man's fancy turns to a pert, perky waitress named Dora (Arline Judge). Facing the shotgun end of matrimony, has Michael blown his chance at a load of happiness with Betty? Pandro S. Berman co-produces with Selznick on this pot-boiler.

In Is My Face Red? (1932), Ricardo Cortez stars as the New York scandal monger William Poster who knows how to uncover every secret hidden in back-alleys, speak-easies and behind closed doors. But after breaking the news of a politico's murder, Poster finds himself in danger of taking top-billing in the obits. Starring Helen Twelvetrees along with "Charlie Chan" portrayer Sidney Toler, King Kong's Robert Armstrong, Jill Esmond, Arline Judge, and Zasu Pitts.

Decades before The Stunt Man satirically punctured the glories of being a Tinseltown working stiff, Lucky Devils (1932) finds Skipper Clark (Hopalong Cassidy's Bill Boyd) and his cronies smashed through the studios' skylights with a film of their own. Back in 1932, it turns out that he-man stuntmen fear one thing, and one thing only - falling for a dame. Unfortunately, this is what happens to Skipper after he falls for the lovely Fran (Dorothy Wilson) and his livelihood is in jeopardy. Lucky Devils provides many thrills along with the soap opera, from its bravura opening to its glimpses into film-making circa 1932. Also stars William Gargan.

The Phantom of Crestwood (1932) began as a multi-episode radio serial (complete with a you-solve-it contest) and climaxed with a conclusion you could only catch in this motion picture. Jenny Wren (Karen Morley) is a wayward girl pushed into blackmail by the degradations of the rich and powerful - only to wind up on a slab. A career criminal (Ricardo Cortez) takes it upon himself to solve the crime before the coppers pin it on him. The moody Phantom of Crestwood offers up a parlor mystery, the gothic thriller, and the old-dark-house chiller. King Kong's Merian Cooper lent a hand in the production.

All six of the Archive releases offer Academy-standard images 1.37:1 and do not include trailers. The releases are not remastered, but offer quite workable efforts.


Additional MOD Titles

One additional and related May 22nd Archive release was Sealab 2010: The Compete Series. The offering consists of a 2-disc, 13-episode of the 1970s Hanna-Barbera, Saturday-morning, animated TV series. Voicing in the series was provided by the likes of Ross Martin, John Stephenson, Jerry Dexter, and Ann Jillian.

There is advance Warner Archive news for June 5th. Available then will be The Journey (1959), an MGM film about a group of Westerners trying to escape Budapest after the 1956 Soviet uprising. Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr star in what is a glossily-mounted drama well-directed (and produced) by the often-overlooked Anatole Litvak. Litvak's connection into Hollywood classic film links back into the 1930s including a fertile period at Warner Bros. (The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, Confessions of a Nazi Spy, City for Conquest, etc.). The Warner Archive MOD disc of the 126-minute, Metrocolor feature of The Journey gives us a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer and the original theatrical trailer. As a bit of a teaser, other June 5th releases will focus on Red Skelton and some of Johnny Mack Brown 1940s westerns for Monogram.


Final Word

Well, that's our trip to Classic Hollywood MOD for this week. I look forward to being back with you again in seven days.

Barrie Maxwell
barriemaxwell@thedigitalbits.com

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