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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

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Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Classic Reviews Round-Up #43, Western Views and News, and New Announcements (continued)


Western Views and News

If you're looking for a conventional western with plenty of action, don't turn to 2007's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. This instead is a slow-moving character-driven film that rewards patience handsomely.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

There's no doubt that the film begins glacially and not completely coherently either, as Jesse, his brother Frank and a gang of misfits prepare for one last train robbery. Once the film's intent becomes clear, however, it's a fascinating experience watching Brad Pitt's Jesse James, a man of conflicting emotions and impulses, become obsessed with eliminating gang members that he sees as disloyal at best and a danger to himself at worst. Robert Ford, at first a young man who virtually hero-worships Jesse and seeks his approval to validate his own life, becomes increasingly wary of Jesse's feelings towards him and the path towards the eventual murdering of Jesse becomes inevitable. Casey Affleck does a superb job portraying Ford; his facial emotions speak volumes and the subtle changes that he gradually introduces to fit his character's increasingly fragile mental state as the film progresses are a pleasure to behold. Sam Shepard provides an effective if too-brief portrayal of Frank James (if only Jesse had seen through Robert Ford and treated him as dismissively as Frank does at the beginning of the film). The film is handsomely photographed by Roger Deakins and the spare music score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis really captures the film's melancholy mood. Warner Bros.' 2.40:1 anamorphic DVD presentation is quite good at replicating the film's subdued colours and image detail. Edge effects are noticeable at times, but not to excess. The Dolby 5.1 audio track uses the surrounds sparingly but to good effect; otherwise the dialogue and the narration (used effectively in this film) is clear and the music score commands attention, but not intrusively so, when it cuts in. There are no supplements, likely reflecting the film's length. Presumably a two-disc special edition is lurking in the future; the film merits one. Recommended.

The Mountain Meadows Massacre - the brutal murder in 1857 of most of the men, women, and children of a wagon train while passing through Utah on its way to California - is dramatized in the 2007 film September Dawn, now available on DVD from Sony.

September Dawn

The question of whether the massacre of the settlers was carried out by Paiute Indians or a renegade Mormon sect remains unresolved to this day, but the film clearly takes the viewpoint that the Mormons were behind it. A modern-day plaque at the site of the massacre commemorates the event, but the Mormon Church has never acknowledged any responsibility, a situation that many descendants of the wagon train's survivors find disturbing (as indicated in one of the disc supplements). In the film, Jon Voight plays a local Mormon bishop who sees the settlers as potential enemies of the church while Terence Stamp plays a church elder who gives tacit approval of taking action against them. Both Voight and Stamp are effective (Voight particularly when his suspicions morph into a fanatical tirade against the settlers, urging his congregation to rise up against them), but their screen time suffers due to the inclusion of an innocuous love story involving one of Voight's sons (decently acted by Trent Ford) and a young settler woman (a not-very-persuasive Tamara Hope). Aside from this, the story is told fairly straightforwardly and with conviction. The staging of the massacre is graphically shown in many ways, and is shockingly effective, despite the baselessly excessive blood-lust of one of the attackers (another of the Voight character's sons). Sony's 1.78:1 anamorphic presentation is very good. Colour fidelity is superior and overall image sharpness and detail is very pleasing. There are no edge effects. The Dolby 5.1 audio is clear, although surround effects are minimal. Two supplementary featurettes provide an interesting historical perspective on the event itself as well as the feelings of descendants of the survivors. Recommended.

Fans of Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove" Saga recently had the opportunity to revisit Texas Rangers Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call when CBS aired the second chapter entitled Comanche Moon (2008).

Comanche Moon

The three-part miniseries has quickly appeared on a two-disc DVD presentation released by Sony. Covering roughly a ten-year period straddling the Civil War, the four-hour-plus production is a somewhat uneven one. There is much to like in the leisurely and authentically-detailed presentation of the various threads of the Rangers' lives, from their pursuit of various Comanches (Chief Buffalo Hump, horse thief Kicking Wolf) and the Mexican bandit Ahumado (who has kidnapped Ranger captain Inish Scull), to the waxing and waning of their relationships to the two young women in their lives, and to the life in their headquarters town of Austin Texas. Yet this is tempered by a narrative structure that downplays the resolution of some of the story threads (that of Ahumado and Scull most particularly) or ignores others virtually completely (the role of the other Rangers aside from McCrae and Call). As a result the third part of the series is more of a slow deflation than anything else. The concluding sequence, however, is hauntingly memorable. Among the cast, Steve Zahn is most impressive as McCrae, evoking effectively a younger version of the character portrayed by Robert Duvall in the original Lonesome Dove series. At the other end of the scale, we get a bizarrely curious performance by Val Kilmer as Scull, although having not read the McMurtry novel, I can't judge as to how accurately it portrays the written character. Wes Studi deserves recognition for good work as Buffalo Hump as does Adam Beach as Buffalo Hump's son. The production takes good advantage of location shooting in New Mexico and features a nice score by Lennie Niehaus. Sony's 1.78:1 anamorphic presentation provides a crisp, clear image with very good colour fidelity. The Dolby 5.1 audio offers some nice separation, but limited surround usage. The music score sounds quite dynamic. The supplements comprise three short featurettes covering some of the production concerns, principally relating to the desire to get period detail accurately portrayed. Lonesome Dove fans are not going to find another show of comparable appeal in Comanche Moon, but it does have interest and warrants at least a rental.

In terms of upcoming western titles, Warners will offer the Tom Selleck Western Collection on May 20th. It will contain Monte Walsh, Last Stand at Saber River, and Crossfire Trail, each on a separate disc. I believe these have been issued separately before, but for those who may have missed them, the set is available at a nice price ($20 list). Coming at the same time is a Richard Harris double feature of Man in the Wilderness (1971) and The Deadly Trackers (1973). Also coming on May 20th is the 1978 TV film The New Maverick. The latter was the pilot for the short-lived Young Maverick TV series which later led to 1981's Bret Maverick series.

According to TVShowsonDVD.com, it looks like the 12-part miniseries Centennial will be coming to DVD from Universal on July 8th. The 1978 production focused on Colorado was based on the James Michener novel of the same title and stars the likes of Richard Chamberlain, Robert Conrad, and Andy Griffith (among a huge cast of well-known players).

MGM also goes to the well once again with The Magnificent Seven: The Complete Series, due May 13th. The 22 episodes spread over two seasons were previously released in separate season sets by the studio.

Other release news for classic western titles (particularly from WB, Fox and MGM) can be found in the following section.


New Announcements

Criterion has The Thief of Bagdad (1940) in the pipeline for release later this year. Meanwhile, The Red Balloon (1958, Albert Lamorisse), Paddle to the Sea (1966, Bill Mason), and The White Mane (1953, Albert Lamorisse) have also been added to Criterion's April plans, for release on the 29th.

Disney will release The Classic Caballeros Collection on April 29th. It will include Saludos Amigos (1943) and The Three Caballeros (1945).

Flicker Alley will have a new release resulting from its association with David Shepard's Film Preservation Associates - Georges Melies: First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1944), due on March 11th. The set comprises five DVDs containing 173 original Melies films (including the likes of The Misfortunes of an Explorer, A Trip to the Moon, The Impossible Voyage, The Merry Frolics of Satan, The Palace of the Arabian Nights, and The Conquest of the Pole); the 1953 film tribute Le Grand Melies; and a booklet of essays and supporting information.

Fox plans to release The Shirley Temple Collection: Volume Six on April 22nd. The set includes Stowaway (1936), Wee Willie Winkie (1937), and Young People (1940). Each title will also be available separately. Wee Willie Winkie was previously released in the Ford at Fox box set, but the other two titles are new to DVD. On May 13th, Fox finally releases The Gunfighter on DVD. It will be part of a three-disc box set entitled The Western Classics. The other films in the set are Garden of Evil (also long expected) and Rawhide. Coming on the same day also is The Big Trail: Fox Grandeur Special Edition. It'll be a two-disc set offering both the full screen version of the 1930 film and the widescreen version that fans have long wanted Fox to make available. Several new featurettes will be included in the set too.

Grapevine Video's February offerings include five silent releases and two sound ones. The silents are: The Chaplin Mutual Films (all 12 presented with the reissue jazz tracks from the 1930s), D.W. Griffith as an Actor (6 films from 1908), Pony Express (1925, with Ricardo Cortez, and Betty Compson), The Last Trail (Zane Grey story made in 1927 and starring Tom Mix), and The Sign of the Claw (1926, starring the dog Peter the Great). The two sound releases are: Calendar Girl (1947, Republic musical with Jane Frazee and featuring Victor McLaglen) and a Black Cinema double bill of Murder on Lenox Avenue (1941, with Mamie Smith) and Boy! What a Girl (1947, with Tim Moore).

Hermitage Hill Media will have two new serial offerings in February. The Scarlet Horseman (Universal, 1946) is apparently now available (only from hermitagehillmedia.com), with supplements including a photo gallery and a Virginia Christine biography. The Sign of the Wolf (Metropolitan, 1931) is scheduled for the 26th. The latter early sound serial starring Rex Lease will include an optional music score that accompanies the cliffhanger endings. This version was originally released by The Serial Squadron a few years ago and will be available at the usual online sellers.

Image Entertainment is targeting April 29th for the release of I Spy: Season 1, I Spy: Season 2, and I Spy: Season 3. Each will be a five disc set.

Kino's previously-announced three-disc set of Houdini: The Movie Star will now appear on April 8th. It is to include The Master Mystery (1919), Terror Island (1920), The Man from Beyond (1922), and Haldane of the Secret Service (1923). Supplements include a short fragment of The Grim Game (1919).

MGM continues its tie-in to United Artists' 90th anniversary with the announcement of releases of the following titles: on February 12th, A Pocketful of Miracles, The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Some Like It Hot, and The Train; on April 22nd, Midnight Cowboy, The Miracle Worker, The Misfits, Vera Cruz, and Witness for the Prosecution. These will all have the AFI logo and recognition of the films' inclusion in the AFI's 100 Years… 100 Movies series. It is not expected that the releases will offer new transfers or other content, so they are not included in the table of upcoming classic releases. Better news, however, comes in the form of MGM's May plans. May 13th will bring five war films and seven westerns. The war films are: Carve Her Name with Pride, Morning Departure, The One That Got Away, The Secret Invasion, and The Secret of Santa Vittoria. The westerns are: Day of the Outlaw (excellent Robert Ryan western), Gunfight at Dodge City (Joel McCrea), Man of the West (Gary Cooper, at last!), Man with the Gun (excellent Robert Mitchum western), Navajo Joe, The Way West (Kirk Douglas), and The Westerner (Gary Cooper again). Coming too on May 13th is a separate release of Duck You Sucker (A Fistful of Dynamite) - Sergio Leone's 1971 film. On May 20th, expect the following three comedies: If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium, The Night They Raided Minsky's, and What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?. MGM will also offer the TV series The Rat Patrol: The Complete Series (two seasons, 58 episodes, 7 discs) on May 13th. Both seasons have previously been released separately.

Milestone has announced that it will release The Dragon Painter (1919, with Sessue Hayakawa) on March 18th. Included will be another Hayakawa film, The Wrath of the Gods (1914). The disc will also include a fine set of supplements including a 1921 Screen Snapshots short featuring Hayakawa and Roscoe Arbuckle.

Mill Creek Entertainment plans to release the classic TV series The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Richard Greene, with The Complete Season One set for March 18th. It will contain all 39 black and white episodes.

MPI Home Video has the next two releases in its The Color Honeymooners series scheduled. Collection 2 is due on February 26th while Collection 3 is set for May 27th. Each is a three-disc set containing 8 programs from the 1966-70 period when The Jackie Gleason Show (the original name of The Color Honeymooners) originated in Miami Beach - 'the sun and fun capital of the world". Collection 1 which appeared in June 2006 is also still available. MPI will also have Family Affair: Season 5 available on February 26th.

March 11th will bring Love American Style: Season One, Volume 2 (3 discs) and The Mod Squad: Season One, Volume 2 (4 discs) from Paramount. The studio also has The Invaders: The First Season set for a May 6th release. Included in the set will be the season's 17 episodes (the show was a mid-season replacement beginning in 1967). Mission Impossible: The Complete Fourth Season (all 26 episodes) is set for May 13th. This was the season in which Leonard Nimoy joined the cast, his character effectively replacing that of the departed Martin Landau. Coming on May 20th is Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.: The Complete 4th Season (30 episodes. Paramount will continue to feed those with appetites for western TV shows on May 27th with the release of Gunsmoke: The Second Season, Volume 2 (although there's no word yet about how the missing episode from Volume 1 will be addressed) and Rawhide: The Third Season, Volume 1 (likely 15 episodes).

Shout! Factory plans a four-disc set that it calls Hiya Kids!!: A '50s Saturday Morning. It will contain a single episode of each of 21 different shows that were available on Saturday morning TV in the 1950s. Examples of the shows involved are: Kukla Fran & Ollie, Howdy Doody, Lassie, The Paul Winchell Show, The Roy Rogers Show, Andy's Gang, Sky King, Time for Beany, and The Pinky Lee Show. Release date is May 6th.

Sony will have Barabbas (1961) available for March 4th, but there's no indication if this is a new version or just a repackage of that already released. Although not strictly a classic title, David Lean fans will be pleased to know that a two-disc A Passage of India: Collector's Edition will be issued on April 15th. Included in the supplements is an audio commentary by producer Richard Goodwin.

Universal is apparently set to release on May 13th the science fiction collections that were previously only made available as Best Buy exclusives. The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection Volume 1 and 2 will contain the following ten films (Tarantula [1955], The Mole People [1956], The Incredible Shrinking Man [1957], The Monolith Monsters [1957], Monster on the Campus [1958], Dr. Cyclops [1940], Cult of the Cobra [1955], The Land Unknown [1957], The Deadly Mantis [1957], and The Leech Woman [1960]). Trailers are the only supplements.

VCI will have three releases on March 25th. The Mr. Wong Complete Collection offers all six films in the series from 1938-1940 that starred Boris Karloff (in the first five of them). The Cisco Kid Triple Feature presents Duncan Renaldo in the title role for three films from the 1945-1947 period (The Cisco Kid Returns, Old New Mexico, Gay Amigo). Jungle Queen is a 1945 Universal serial starring Ruth Roman. VCI has also indicated that its release of The Phantom Empire 1935 Gene Autry serial has been delayed to February 26th. The company's April plans include Burke's Law: Season One, Volume 1. It will be a four-disc set containing 16 episodes and will include a special collector's booklet. Two 12-chapter Universal serials will also appear: Tailspin Tommy (1934) and Tailspin Tommy and the Great Air Mystery (1935). Finally, there will be three more volumes of Forgotten Noir. Forgotten Noir: Volume 7 will include David Harding, Counterspy (1950), Danger Zone (1951), and The Big Chase (1954, presented in 16x9). Forgotten Noir: Volume 8 will have Mr. District Attorney (1947), Ringside (1949), and Hi-Jacked (1950). Forgotten Noir: Volume 9 will include Scotland Yard Investigator (1947), Pier 23 (1951), and The Case of the Baby-Sitter (1953). Various interviews, radio programs, and trailers will be included on all three volumes. A Forgotten Noir Collector's Set - Series Three (containing all three of these volumes) will also be available. All April titles are set for a release on the 29th.

Warner Bros. has some very welcome news for Frank Sinatra fans. On May 13th, the studio will roll out four box sets dedicated to him. Frank Sinatra: The Early Years offers five titles all new to DVD: Double Dynamite (1951), It Happened in Brooklyn (1947), Step Lively (1944), Higher and Higher (1943), and The Kissing Bandit (1948). Frank Sinatra: The Golden Years will include None But the Brave (1965), The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Some Came Running (1958), The Tender Trap (1955), and Marriage on the Rocks (1965). Supplements in this set will include making-of featurettes on three of the titles (not for None But the Brave or Marriage on the Rocks). Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly will repackage each of Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949), On the Town (1949), and Anchors Aweigh (1945) and also add the When the Lion Roars documentary (quite a supplement if this is the whole three part effort) as one of several extras. Finally, The Rat Pack Ultimate Collection will offer the new-to-DVD Sergeants 3 (1962) and repackagings of Ocean's Eleven (1960), 4 for Texas (1963), and Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964). Included will be such collectibles as Rat Pack playing cards, 10 behind-the-scenes photo cards, 8 colour lobby card reproductions from Sergeants 3, and a reproduction of the 24-page original 1960 Ocean's Eleven press book. All films in these four collections will also be available separately. Sinatra fans should also note that the 1992 TV mini-series Sinatra will appear at the same time.

Warner Bros. has also revealed some (though by no means all) of its longer-term plans for 2008 as part of its 85th anniversary celebration. Most of the first two quarters' releases have already been announced (Gangsters, Bette Davis, Forbidden Hollywood, Frank Sinatra, etc.) although new editions of all five Dirty Harry movies can be added to that (including a box of all five plus a new documentary Clint Eastwood: Out of the Shadows). The third quarter will bring two western collections and the long-anticipated How the West Was Won in both Special and Ultimate Collector's Editions. The two western collections include a Western Classics Collection (no details yet available) and an Errol Flynn Westerns Collection. San Antonio and Virginia City will both be included in the latter. Other possibilities speculated are Silver River, Montana, Rocky Mountain, and Santa Fe Trail. There will also be new special editions of An American in Paris (expected for some time now) and Gigi (50th anniversary). The fourth quarter is expected to bring a new DVD horror collection featuring Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre (likely The Beast with Five Fingers [1946]), and more horror releases from Val Lewton (not sure what that might mean). The fourth quarter will bring a Warner Bros. Holiday Collection although what this might contain has not yet been revealed. (RKO's Holiday Affair might be a possibility, although the set is more likely to contain just original WB productions.) Other plans for 2008 include special edition treatment for Cool Hand Luke, Splendor in the Grass, and Gypsy. Other planned titles are Pete Kelly's Blues, Thank Your Lucky Stars, Kid Galahad, Inside Daisy Clover (likely part of a Natalie Wood set along with Splendor in the Grass and Gypsy), and Gold Diggers of 1937 (likely part of another Busby Berkeley set). Additional thematic box sets will be drawn from the classic MGM and RKO libraries (optimistically, this perhaps refers to the series films that Warners hinted were in the works last year). And finally of interest to classic fans will be the DVD release of a new (by Richard Schickel) 5-part documentary series You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story - a history of the studio narrated by Clint Eastwood and featuring clips from numerous WB films to show how the studio's films reflected the times and mores of the eras in which they were made. The series will first debut on PBS in September and will be supported by a 550-page companion book by Schickel and Times of London film critic George Perry.

In High Definition news, the HD version of Bonnie and Clyde will now appear from WB Bros. on April 15th, three weeks after the standard and BD releases on March 25th. The second quarter of 2008 will bring BD versions of the five Dirty Harry films (Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Sudden Impact, The Dead Pool) as well as the Dirty Harry: Ultimate Collector's Edition that contains the five films plus the Clint Eastwood: Out of the Shadows bonus disc. Four major classic titles - The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, Woodstock, and North by Northwest will be released on by WB on BD in 2009 as celebrations of their individual anniversaries. More generally, it is Warners' intention in the future to release BD versions of any classic film special editions it produces at the same time they appear on standard DVD. Also, classic titles previously only available on HD will be getting a BD release eventually. The Adventures of Robin Hood is seemingly closest to fruition in this regard. Sony will have a BD version of A Passage to India: Collector's Edition on April 15th.

Well, once again that's all for now. I'll return again soon.

Barrie Maxwell
barriemaxwell@thedigitalbits.com
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