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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

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Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

A New Year, Some Reviews, and the Latest Announcements

The Wild Bunch

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Wild Bunch (1969)
(released on DVD by Warner Bros. on January 10th, 2006)

Film Rating: A+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A+/A/A

The Wild Bunch should be on any western fan's list of his or her top ten westerns of all time. First released 37 years ago, it has long since transcended its then too-violent tag to become recognized as a true masterwork of the genre. I well remember seeing the film upon its initial theatrical release and being so impressed that I returned four or five times to see it then. In 1994 the film was restored to the original director's cut, including many of the scenes that provided context to the lives of the individual characters. It is that version that Warners gives us on this new two-disc special edition DVD.

The film of course is directed by Sam Peckinpah who finally received a second chance some four years after being effectively ostracized after the Major Dundee fiasco for Columbia. It also boasts a fabulous cast including some of William Holden and Ernest Borgnine's best work on screen, as the two principals in a gang of outlaws (the Bunch) whose time has past.

After a botched holdup, they retreat to Mexico where they carry out one last job - the heist of a shipment of rifles and ammunition from an army train. The intent is to sell them to Mapache, who leads some Mexican revolutionaries opposing Pancho Villa, and then retire. Robert Ryan provides wonderful support as an ex-gang member now working with a collection of rabble on behalf of the railroad to capture the gang. Also in the cast are Ben Johnson, Warren Oates, and Edmund O'Brien as gang members, and Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones as two of the group being led by Ryan.

Everything rings true in this film, from the carefully constructed script partly written by Peckinpah to the breath-taking action scenes, the thoughtful and elegiac interludes, and the civilization that is gradually eradicating the likes of the Bunch from the American west soon after the turn of the century and tightening a geographic noose that leaves them only Mexico in which to exist at all. The latter is wonderfully invoked throughout the story, from the modern trappings of the town in which the Bunch's bank robbery is staged, to the train on which the arms shipment is staged, and even to the early automobile and advanced weaponry ultimately used in Mapache's encampment. Peckinpah uses his Mexican locations to impressive effect and the film's climactic sequence in the old hacienda is masterfully staged and edited. Jerry Fielding's fine score is also a major plus in the film.

Is The Wild Bunch violent? Of course, but in comparison to the comic and ridiculously staged violence that some current films subject us to and the coarse graphicness of that in others, it pales in comparison. As was Peckinpah's intent, when people die in The Wild Bunch, our reaction is still revulsion at the act, not the who-cares attitude fostered by violence in films nowadays. If you haven't seen The Wild Bunch, don't let its reputation for violence scare you off. This is film-making of the highest and most moral order, and a western that stands the test of time.

Befitting a film of such excellence, Warners DVD presentation is truly superior. The 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer is superb - certainly one of the best I have ever seen. The colour fidelity is first rate; image detail is outstanding; and there's no sign of edge or other authoring effects. Similarly, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is excellent with good separation and surround effects as well as a dynamic sound to the musical score and the action sequences. A French stereo track and English, French, and Spanish subtitles are provided. The package's supplements are spread over both discs. Disc One contains an excellent audio commentary by biographers and documentarians Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and David Weddle, as well as a Peckinpah trailer gallery (Ride the High Country, The Wild Bunch, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, The Getaway, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid). Disc Two contains three really fine documentaries: the 1996 Oscar-nominated The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage; the feature length Westerns Channel documentary Sam Peckinpah's West: Legacy of a Hollywood Renegade; and an excerpt from A Simple Adventure Story: Sam Peckinpah, Mexico, and The Wild Bunch in which Nick Redman and friends retrace the shooting locations of The Wild Bunch. The only slight disappointment is 8½ minutes of outtakes which are little more than alternate takes of existing shots rather than the never-before-seen additional scenes advertised on the back of the disc case. Available for sale separately or as part of the Sam Peckinpah Legendary Westerns Collection, this release of The Wild Bunch is night-and-day better than the previous DVD version and is very highly recommended.


FDR (1994)
(released on DVD by Paramount on January 10th, 2006)

Program Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/E

This is an entry in the American Experience series that appears regularly on PBS. Written and directed by David Grubin, FDR is a 1994 profile of one of the handful of truly great American presidents. Despite having died almost 60 years ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt has continued to attract the interest and admiration of the American people, as evidenced in numerous filmed versions of his life (documentary and otherwise) and written biographies. The most recent of the latter was the massive tome written by Conrad Black.

Grubin's 1994 profile is worthwhile viewing whether one is well versed in FDR's history or not. Presented in four parts extending over some four hours, it presents a reasonably balanced view of Roosevelt's life with major emphasis on his 13 years as president from 1933 to 1945, as one might expect. Grubin utilizes a good combination of rare archival film, home movies, and newly filmed footage. Much of the latter consists of interviews with family members, friends, biographers, and eyewitnesses to the Roosevelt era. The material is blended nicely together and well framed by authoritative narration by David McCullough. The results manage to convey the genuine affection that many Americans had for Roosevelt and emphasize the many advances on social issues for which Roosevelt was responsible. That Roosevelt was clearly the right man in the right place at a critical time in American and world history comes through very clearly. On the other hand, the film does not shy away from the difficulties of Roosevelt's personal life, particularly his valiant struggle with the results of infantile paralysis and the many loveless years of marriage to Eleanor Roosevelt. This is a profile that evokes real emotion and represents four hours well spent.

Paramount's DVD is made available on behalf of PBS Home Video. The presentation is full frame as originally telecast and looks quite presentable. New footage is crisp and clear while archival footage is of varying quality as one might expect. The stereo sound conveys clear dialogue and allows pleasing reproduction of the documentary's appealing theme music. There are no supplements. Overall, there's nothing startling about the DVD presentation, but the subject matter is superior. Recommended.

Foyle's War, Set 3

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Foyle's War, Set 3 (2004)
(released on DVD by Acorn Media on November 1st, 2005)

Program Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/B-

Foyle's War is a British television mystery series that aired on ITV in 2002 with its first four episodes. Another set of four was telecast in both 2003 and 2004, with at least two new episodes scheduled to be broadcast in late January 2006. Foyle's War possesses all the characteristics of the best British mysteries - well-plotted stories with nicely concealed resolutions, fine acting from both principals and supporting players, and good use of location shooting. The wrinkle in this series is the fact that all the mysteries are set during the Second World War and draw inspiration from actual wartime events. Foyle, of the series title, is Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle of the Hastings police department. He has served his country's forces in World War I, but now feels somewhat shunted aside in the reserved occupation of police detective during a new war. Yet, despite the war, crime has taken no holiday and Foyle is never short of cases to solve.

He is assisted by Samantha Stewart as his driver and by young detective Paul Milner who has been returned to policing after suffering the loss of a leg during action in Norway. Michael Kitchen who has had a great depth of experience in British stage and screen work plays Foyle in a low-key yet commanding fashion. He has made the part completely his own, so that after a dozen episodes, it's hard to imagine the show without him. Honeysuckle Weeks and Anthony Howell complement Kitchen's work nicely as driver Stewart and assistant Milner respectively.

The release of Foyle's War, Set 3 means that all episodes aired to date are now available on DVD. The four shows in the box, each approximately 100 minutes in length, are set during the February to June 1941 time period. The French Drop finds Foyle involved in a murder investigation that appears to be related to inter-service rivalry in the British intelligence community. In Enemy Fire, Foyle's son (a flyer in the RAF) is entangled in his father's investigations of irregularities associated with a manor house used as a burn unit for RAF pilots. In They Fought in the Fields, a German plane crashes in the Hastings countryside and Foyle finds himself investigating the murder of a local farmer that may or may not be related. Finally, A War of Nerves finds Foyle looking into a shipyard crime racket that may somehow be connected to activities of a local bomb disposal unit. All four episodes are diverting entertainment and maintain the high standard set by the preceding sets. The script in each case intertwines several plot threads effectively and each story evokes time and place very authentically.

Acorn Media's box set packages each episode with its own disc and case. The image presentations are 1.78:1 and anamorphically enhanced. The transfers are very appealing with accurate colour and a generally sharp image. Shadow detail is very good with the odd patch of softness the only quibble. The stereo soundtrack is in fine shape, with dialogue very clear and the series' appealing theme music nicely rendered. Supplements are offered on each disc with the best one being a making-of documentary. Otherwise, they are text-based encompassing production notes, historical background, cast reflections, and cast filmographies. Recommended.

The Latest Classic Release Announcements

We have only a modest slate to start the new year, although as usual Warners doesn't disappoint. Universal also has some welcome early Paramount titles on tap. The news is arranged alphabetically by studio and the Classic Coming Attractions Database has been updated accordingly.

Anchor Bay has finally settled on April 4th as the release date for The Anniversary (1968) with Bette Davis. The disc is expected to have audio commentary featuring director Roy Ward Baker and producer Jimmy Sangster. This and other possible supplements have not been confirmed as yet, however.

Criterion begins April with the release on the 11th of two titles previously available only as part of box sets. Supplementary content is the same as before. The titles are Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959) and the concert film Monterey Pop (1968). On April 25th, we'll finally get the film that really launched the careers of director Louis Malle and actress Jeanne Moreau - the film noir Elevator to the Gallows (1957, aka Frantic). Criterion also has announced some street date changes. The Children Are Watching Us (1944) has been delayed from January to March 28th; The Complete Mr. Arkadin (1955) has been delayed from March to April 18th; and Fists in the Pocket (1965) has been delayed from March to April 25th. Canadians should note that The Complete Mr. Arkadin will not be available in Canada while Fists in the Pocket and 3 Films by Louis Malle will not be available in Quebec.

Disney's Lady and the Tramp: 50th Anniversary Edition, a two-disc set due on February 28th will include the film in both anamorphic widescreen and full frame, with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras will include two never-before-seen deleted scenes, the original 1943 storyboard version of the film, a rare alternate recording of The Siamese Cat Song, the Finding Lady: The Art of Storyboards and Lady's Pedigree: The Making of Lady and the Tramp documentaries, artwork galleries, original trailers, excepts from the Disneyland TV series, interactive games, and more.

Fox plans a 14-disc Planet of the Apes: Ultimate DVD Collection for release on March 28th. It will include all five classic Apes feature films (all anamorphic transfers), the complete Planet of the Apes TV series, the 2001 Tim Burton remake, and the never-before-released Return to the Planet of the Apes NBC cartoon series from 1975, along with the Behind the Planet of the Apes documentary and an additional disc of bonus content. The studio has also confirmed April 11th as the release date for its The Laurel and Hardy Gift Set, a three-disc set with the films The Big Noise, Great Guns and Jitterbugs. Extras will include commentaries with Randy Skretvedt, photo galleries, "Opening the Freemont Theatre" and "Inauguration of the Railway" Movietone News clips, and trailers. Fox's Charlie Chan releases will not start to appear in March as originally planned; early summer now looks more likely.

Grapevine Video plans five new DVD-R titles for January although exact release dates are not known. Included are three silent releases: The Prisoner of Zenda (1922, with Ramon Novarro, directed by Rex Ingram), The Squaw Man (1914, directed by Cecil B. De Mille), and D.W Griffith - Director, Volume #2 (1909, 12 early films from Griffith - this DVD release is the second of a planned 20-disc effort on Griffith). Two early sound double bills round out the slate. Sinful Cargo (originally known as Yellow Cargo) and Captain Calamity are a couple of 1936 films (both distributed by Grand National) from writer/director Crane Wilbur. The latter film is transferred from a color print. The other double bill comprises two musical comedies: The Girl from Calgary (a 1932 Monogram release with Fifi D'Orsay and Paul Kelly) and Girl O' My Dreams (a 1934 Monogram release with Mary Carlisle and Sterling Holloway).

Image looks to be releasing in June a new box set of Charlie Chaplin's Mutual films that has been prepared by Film Preservation Associates. Features of the set will be new orchestral scores by Carl Davis, the long version of One A.M., and a better version of The Rink, based from an original unused 1916 print. Supplements will include a documentary about Eric Campbell - Chaplin's Goliath, Richard Paterson's Gentleman Tramp (both television and theatrical version), and 82 original production stills.

Paramount will have I Love Lucy: Season 6 on May 2nd. This meager news continues Paramount's rather dry spell of late concerning new classic feature releases.

Sony has announced Buster Keaton: 65th Anniversary Collection for release on March 7th. It includes ten comedic shorts (1939-1941) from Keaton, arriving on DVD for the first time. The two-disc set will include digitally remastered versions of General Nuisance, His Ex Marks the Spot, Mooching Through Georgia, Nothing But Pleasure, Pardon My Berth Marks, Pest From the West, She's Oil Mine, So You Won't Squawk, The Spook Speaks, and The Taming of the Snood. Extras will include commentaries for each short film, a new documentary and a reproduction of an original script. March 14th will bring I Dream of Jeannie: Season 1 in a four-disc package that will include all 30 episodes of the first season, audio commentary on the pilot episode, an exclusive featurette, and some bonus previews. Among Sony's announcements of its first Blu-Ray high definition DVD releases are The Guns of Navarone (1961) and For a Few Dollars More (1966) in the spring and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) in the summer.

Universal finally dips into its early Paramount catalog to bring us three new collections of Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, and Carole Lombard titles. Each two-disc set will include five films, with the exception of the Carole Lombard set - which will include six. Marlene Dietrich: The Glamour Collection will include Morocco, Blonde Venus, The Devil Is a Woman, Flame of New Orleans, and Golden Earrings. Mae West: The Glamour Collection will include Night After Night, I'm No Angel, Goin' to Town, Go West Young Man, and My Little Chickadee. Lastly, Carole Lombard: The Glamour Collection will include Man of the World, We're Not Dressing, Hands Across the Table, Love Before Breakfast, The Princess Comes Across, and True Confession. The only extra material will be some trailers. Then on May 23rd, Universal will offer the five-disc Cecil B. DeMille Collection. It will include Sign of the Cross (1932, Fredric March and Claudette Colbert), Four Frightened People (1934, Claudette Colbert and Herbert Marshall), Cleopatra (1934, Claudette Colbert and Henry Wilcoxon), The Crusades (1935, Loretta Young and Henry Wilcoxon), and Union Pacific (1939, Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea). There's no news on any supplements as yet, but the Universal track record tells you what's likely.

VCI has now set February 28th as the release date for two Universal serials - Tim Tyler's Luck (1937, with Frankie Thomas) and The Master Key (1945, with Milburn Stone).

Warner Bros. plans to release Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory on April 25th. This will be a five-disc box set containing newly restored (from original elements) and remastered versions of five MGM musicals - It's Always Fair Weather (1955, Gene kelly), Summer Stock (1950, Judy Garland and Gene Kelly), Three Little Words (1950, Fred Astaire and Red Skelton), Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), and Ziegfeld Follies (1945). Supplements on each will include new featurettes, rare outtake musical numbers, audio only bonus outtakes, and vintage cartoons. Each film will also be available separately. In other Warner news, the release of the Tennessee Williams Collection has been delayed until May 2nd. There is further confirmation that a John Ford box set will be forthcoming later this year, probably in the second or third quarter. Titles likely to be included are: The Informer, Stagecoach, The Long Voyage Home, Fort Apache, The Searchers, and Cheyenne Autumn. Writer Scott Eyman is involved in some of the supplementary content (commentary, interviews) being assembled for these releases. More distant Warner plans include a new release of the Cinerama film How the West Was Won (late 2006 or early 2007) and a 2007 release of the three Showboat films (1951, 1936, and 1929 - previously missing Vitaphone discs have been located for the latter), in honour of the 80th anniversary of the original Broadway production.

Well that's all for this first column of 2006. See you all again soon.

Barrie Maxwell
[email protected]

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