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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

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Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Classic Reviews Round-Up #42 and New Announcements (continued)

One important release of this past year that I've just caught up with is the 1965 version of Othello starring Laurence Olivier. It's available from Warner Bros. either alone or as part of the Shakespeare Collection.

OthelloShakespeare Collection

The film was a special presentation of the National Theatre of Great Britain's 1964 London stage production, shot at Shepperton Studios partly as a substitute for an international tour of the stage production (which was not possible due to other commitments that many of the cast had). This version of Othello is an exhilarating film experience due principally to a dynamic though at times overwrought performance by Olivier in the title role. Overall, it is a superior piece of acting and some have even called it the finest performance of the 20th century, though that seems an excessive evaluation to my eyes. The film is also strengthened by excellent supporting work from Frank Finlay as Iago, Maggie Smith as Desdemona, and Derek Jacobi as Cassio. In the spirit of the stage production, the film version retains a minimalist set look so as to emphasize plot and performance, successfully resisting the unnecessary tendency of some filmed plays to "open things up" by using establishing exterior shots and other novelties that draw one away from the dramatic envelop that a Shakespearian experience usually demands. There have been many filmed versions of Othello, including a fairly successful 1995 one starring Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh and the excellent 1952 version starring Orson Welles. The latter remains for me the class of the field, but the Olivier one is a worthy contender. Warner's DVD presentation includes a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that looks very fine indeed. Image detail is excellent throughout as is colour fidelity. There is some mild grain that is also well-rendered. The source material seems to have been very good as dirt and debris are minimal indeed. The mono sound is in good shape and presents the dialogue clearly and distortion free. Supplements include the film's theatrical trailer and a short featurette in which Olivier discusses the intent of the film production. Recommended.

The Young Savages was a 1961 film that Burt Lancaster reluctantly made for UA as part of an arrangement to pay off a $6 million debt resulting from the end of Lancaster's production company (Hecht-Hill-Lancaster).

The John Frankenheimer Collection

Despite his feelings about doing it, however, the film (about an assistant D.A. who has to prosecute three young Italian boys for killing a Puerto Rican boy) holds one's attention throughout. It has a strongly-written story that pulls few punches though does seem a little conveniently plotted at times. The lead role is well suited to Lancaster's forceful style and personality and he carries the film. Strong support is provided by Shelley Winters, as the Lancaster character's former lover and also mother of one of the boys being prosecuted. Telly Savalas (as a cigar-smoking police detective) and Edward Andrews (as the politically-motivated D.A.) also provide effective if for them standard characterizations. Direction is by a young John Frankenheimer who uses the streets of New York very effectively, particularly in the opening sequence. MGM's 1.75:1 anamorphic DVD presentation is very pleasing. The image is clear and sharp with excellent image detail throughout. There is a superior gray scale evident and modest grain provides a fairly film-like look. The mono sound is in good shape. Unfortunately there are no supplements whatsoever. The film would be an easy recommendation, except for one sticky point. It's only available as part of The John Frankenheimer Collection which otherwise provides double dips for The Train, The Manchurian Candidate, and Ronin, most disappointingly of which is The Train which looks to have the same tired old non-anamorphic transfer that fans lamented the first time it appeared.

Fox takes its third crack at An Affair to Remember with a two-disc 50th Anniversary Edition and it's clearly the edition to get if you haven't got the film in your collection yet.

An Affair to Remember: 50th Anniversary Edition

The 1957 film was director Leo McCarey's remake of his 1939 film Love Affair. That version starred Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne as a couple that shares a shipboard romance and agree to meet six months later at the top of the Empire State Building. Love Affair, as most originals are, is the better version. It's shorter by 30 minutes and the chemistry between Boyer and Dunne is excellent. There's no doubt the remake is a glossy vehicle with fine performances by both Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, but one is not completely convinced by the romantic attachment that develops between the two. The comedic aspects of the film's first half are diverting, but the second half is allowed to languish with unnecessary musical numbers featuring what seems like a latter day Our Gang troupe. The film is saved in the end by a beautifully acted finale. Another saving grace is some fine shot composition by McCarey who adapts quite well to the wide CinemaScope image as the film progresses. Fox's 2.35:1 anamorphic presentation is a very slight improvement over its already fine-looking previous version (part of the Studio Classics line). Colour fidelity is modestly improved and the image seems slightly brighter overall. Complaining about anything in this transfer would be quibbling. The stereo sound is clear and free of age-related defects, but it lacks dynamism or significant separation. The supplements include those on the Studio Classics release (audio commentary, AMC Back Story, newsreel, trailer) as well as new featurettes on Grant, Kerr, McCarey, producer Jerry Wald, and the film's look. The new release is recommended, but if you have the previous release, an upgrade is only really worthwhile for ardent fans of the film.

Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers is the second of Ray Harryhausen's films to receive a deluxe two-disc treatment from Sony (20 Million Miles to Earth was the first [last month, when it also appeared in Blu-ray no less] while It Came from Beneath the Sea is also being released concurrently with Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers).

Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers

Considered within the cycle of science fiction thrillers that characterized the 1950s, the film is one of the better ones, well anchored by star Hugh Marlowe as a scientist who spearheads the develop of a weapon capable of destroying flying saucers that are menacing the Earth. The film also has some authoritative-sounding narration that adds weight to it. The special effects work courtesy of Ray Harryhausen looks quite inventive for the most part, particularly the details of the flying saucer design and movement. Some of the crash and explosion sequences are less persuasive and not a patch on what the Lydeckers were able to accomplish at Republic in the 1940s. Overall, the film really conveys the general paranoic atmosphere of the 1950s and provides an easy-going 80-odd minutes of entertainment. I can't imagine anyone not getting some enjoyment out of it. The two-disc DVD presentation represents an impressive assemblage of material. One of the driving reasons behind the release is the film's colourization (by Legend Films). Thus both the original B&W (1.85 anamorphic and looking quite crisp, though characterized by substantial grain at times) and the colourized version are available on the first disc with the capability of switching between the two on the fly. As colourization efforts go, I guess it looks okay, but what's the point? The film doesn't need colour - in fact, it's more effective without it, and the film was shot and lit for black and white, so any colourization is fundamentally fallacious no matter how much research and rationalization goes into it. That aside, we're treated to a very informative audio commentary featuring Ray Harryhausen, plus a number of worthwhile featurettes (the making-of the film, the Hollywood Blacklist, stop-motion animation) and interviews (Harryhausen, film co-star Joan Taylor). Recommended.

We've come to expect solid releases from Paramount when it comes to classic TV product originating with CBS. Rawhide: The Second Season, Volume 2 and Gunsmoke: The Second Season, Volume 1 are the two latest additions to the impressive list.

Rawhide: The Second Season, Volume 2Gunsmoke: The Second Season, Volume 1

I've previously espoused the virtues of Rawhide and this latest release is just further evidence of the series' quality. Strong and original writing, evocative black and white cinematography, and a uniformly impressive ensemble cast anchored by Eric Fleming and increasingly Clint Eastwood are all reasons why Rawhide can still be heartily enjoyed by both western and non-western fans alike. The consistency and intelligence of the series is admirable, something that most current network TV fare can only dream of offering. Sixteen episodes from 1960 are presented on four discs by the latest DVD release. Aside from Clint Eastwood's Rowdy Yates character who is increasingly present, each of the series' other main players (Paul Brinegar as Wishbone and Sheb Wooley as Pete Nolan) gets ample opportunity to shine in one or more episodes. Among the most interesting episodes are "Incident of the Sharpshooter" (framed as the prime suspect for murder, Rowdy doesn't know his lawyer is actually a notorious criminal), "Incident of the Stargazer" (Pete and Wishbone face a fiery death when they attempt to save the life of an astronomer's wife), "Incident of the Deserter" (fed up with the way the drovers have been making fun of his cooking, Wishbone quits the cattle drive to open a restaurant of his own with a frontier widow), "Incident of the Murder Steer" (a series of strange murders occurs after four men join the cattle drive, each murder marked by the word "murder" being branded on a steer), and "Incident of the Music Maker" (a gunsmith sabotages the guns of the cattle drivers in an ingenious plan to rustle the cattle). Most of the episodes look very crisp and clean on DVD, with the odd one appearing a little softer. Modest grain is evident. The mono sound is in good shape. There are no supplements. Gunsmoke (still in the half-hour format - it wouldn't expand to one hour for several seasons yet) solidified its status as king of the short adult-western morality play in its second season. The original cast of James Arness, Dennis Weaver, Milburn Stone, and Amanda Blake became even more cohesive and comfortable as evident in the easy interaction present in virtually every episode. Arness anchored the series strongly as marshal Matt Dillon and his work in the second season would be recognized with the first of three straight Emmy nominations for best actor (continuing character) in a dramatic series. The three-DVD set contains 20 episodes, although it should be noted (as reported elsewhere) that one of the episodes on the first disc ("How to Cure a Friend") has inadvertently been replaced by one from the fourth season ("How to Kill a Friend"). Following the results of the first season DVD release, the second season episodes all look very crisp and clear with very good image detail. There is modest grain in evidence. The mono sound is strong. The only supplement is a set of sponsor spots featuring the main cast members. Both of these latest releases of Rawhide and Gunsmoke are recommended.


New Announcements

Here are the latest classic announcements. The Classic Release Database having been updated accordingly.

BCI (Navarre) will be releasing The Best of The Price Is Right on March 25th. It includes 20 episodes but there's no information available regarding their vintage.

Criterion's April plans include Death of a Cyclist (1955) also featuring a career documentary on Spanish director Juan Antonio Bardem, the low-budget crime drama Blast of Silence (1961), and Silent Ozu (Eclipse Series 10, featuring Tokyo Chorus [1931], I Was Born, But… [1932], and Passing Fancy [1933]).

Fox will release Bette Davis: Centenary Celebration Collection on April 8th. The titles included are: The Nanny (1965), Virgin Queen (1955), Phone Call from a Stranger (1952), Hush... Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964), and All About Eve (1950). The latter will be a new two-disc edition.

Infinity Entertainment will be distributing Route 66: Season One, Volume 2 on February 5th. The season's final 15 episodes are included on four discs. There are no supplements announced. The company has also re-announced Sergeant Preston of the Yukon: The Complete Collection for June 17th.

Kino will be offering two German silent films on February 19th - The Hands of Orlac (1924, directed by Robert Wiene) and Secrets of a Soul (1926, directed by G.W. Pabst). Each will be available individually or as part of a four-title German Expressionism Collection (which will also include The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Warning Shadows).

Koch Publishing will release Sophia Loren Classics: Two Women/Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow on March 4th.

Mackinac Media is working on a release of Hooray for Hollywood, a 1975 documentary hosted by Mickey Rooney which focuses on films of the 1930s. The 99-minute program will be accompanied by five theatrical trailers and a four-page booklet. There's no specific release date set as yet, however. A number of other films listed as forthcoming in the classic release database have now been removed as Mackinac apparently no longer has rights to them.

MGM's recent announcement of the forthcoming 12 Angry Men: 50th Anniversary Edition (due March 4th) indicates that the bonus features include two all-new featurettes - Beyond A Reasonable Doubt: The Making of 12 Angry Men and Inside The Jury Room - but no word on any restoration, new transfer, etc. Also due on March 4th is The Pink Panther & Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume Six: The Inspector, containing 17 cartoons from 1965-1967. Coming on March 18th is Pride of the Yankees: Collector’s Edition, featuring six new featurettes.

Paramount doesn't have much joy for classic film fans, but it does deliver the goods on classic TV shows. Mannix: Season One is apparently in the works for a projected June 3rd release. Meanwhile, the studio has also announced Perry Mason: 50th Anniversary Edition (2008 is 50 years after the end of the show's first season) for release on April 8th. This four-disc set will contain 12 of the show's best episodes from its nine-year run (with introductions by Barbara Hale); the 1985 TV-movie Perry Mason Returns; plus supplementary features including various initial screen tests, new cast and crew interviews, and several featurettes focusing on Raymond Burr and Erle Stanley Gardner.

Shout! Factory has announced the release of Father Knows Best: Season One for April 1st. The set will consist of four discs containing the first season's 26 episodes and considerable bonus material courtesy of the estate of Robert Young.

Tempe Video, courtesy of the Milton Caniff estate, will offer Steve Canyon: Special Edition on March 18th. It will contain four half-hour episodes remastered from the original 35mm materials. Included also will be extended clips (totaling 17 minutes) from six additional episodes.

After last summer's Woody Woodpecker success, Universal will bring out The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoons Collection: Volume Two on April 15th. The three-disc set will contain 75 vintage Walter Lantz cartoons, completely uncut and as originally seen in theatres, including 45 Woody Woodpecker cartoons from 1952-1958. Universal also has welcome news with the release of a new wave of its Cinema Classics series on April 22nd, subtitled Screwball Comedies. Titles will be Easy Living (1937, with Jean Arthur), The Major and the Minor (1942, with Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland), Midnight (1939, with Claudette Colbert), and She Done Him Wrong (1933, with Mae West).

VCI continues to feed the appetites of serial fans with three new offerings due on February 5th. The Phantom Empire is a 1935 Mascot release starring Gene Autry in a science fiction/western hybrid plot; The Phantom Creeps, from Universal in 1939 and starring Bela Lugosi, will hopefully be a much-improved version than that currently available on the market; and Junior G-Men of the Air (Universal, 1942) features the Dead End Kids and Little Tough Guys in an entertaining wartime plot. Also coming on the same date are three double bills titled Psychotronica: Volume One (Delinquent Schoolgirls [1974], Dream No Evil [1973]), Psychotronica: Volume Two (Mondo Keyhole [1966], The Raw Ones [1966]), and Psychotronica: Volume Three (The Mermaids of Tiburon [1962], Yambao [1957]). Audio commentaries and trailers will accompany each title. All three volumes are also available in the set Psychotronica: Collector's Set. Meanwhile, other titles that VCI is working on include three Dick Tracy serials (Dick Tracy Returns, Dick Tracy's G-Men, Dick Tracy Vs. Crime Inc.) and Columbia's Brenda Starr, Reporter serial. TV series in the works include the first seasons for each of Burke's Law, Honey West, and best of all Zane Grey Theatre. There's no specific timing available on any of these as yet although they will presumably appear sometime in 2008.

Warner Bros. returns to the fray with an April 1st release of The Bette Davis Collection: Volume 3, honouring what would have been the actress's 100th birthday. The set will contain six titles all newly restored: The Old Maid (1939), All This, and Heaven Too (1940), The Great Lie (1941), In This Our Life (1942), Watch on the Rhine (1943), and Deception (1946). Each will be available separately as well. Supplements include a Warner Night at the Movies selection of short subjects with each film and audio commentaries for In This Our Life, All This and Heaven Too, Deception, and Watch on the Rhine.

Weinstein has apparently scheduled Samuel Bronston's The Fall of the Roman Empire for release on April 29th.

In high definition news, BCI (Navarre) will have the second release of its Bob Hope Collection on HD-DVD on March 25th. (The first release [Road to Bali/Road to Rio] is apparently already available as originally announced despite subsequent reports that it would be delayed until February.) The second release will include My Favorite Brunette (1947) and Son of Paleface (1952). Fox and MGM will combine in a June Father's Day promotion of new Blu-ray titles to include Patton, The Longest Day, The Sand Pebbles, A Bridge Too Far, and The Battle of Britain.

Once again, that's it for now. See you all again soon.

Barrie Maxwell
barriemaxwell@thedigitalbits.com
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