Reviews Round-Up #44, Western Views and News, and New Announcements
Piggy-backing on its recent Legacy Series release of Imitation of Life, Universal has also released a two-disc Lana Turner double feature of Portrait in Black and Madame X.
The films were originally produced in 1960 and 1966 respectively by Ross Hunter. The better of the two titles is Madame X, the 1966 version here being the venerable story’s sixth film incarnation. The story is basically a soap opera about a woman who eventually comes to be defended in a murder case by an attorney who is unaware that she is actually his mother. The previous sound versions starred Ruth Chatterton and Gladys George in the title role (in 1929 and 1937 respectively), but the 1966 effort is arguably the best of the lot with Lana Turner delivering one of her better screen performances. A strong supporting cast also highlights the film (John Forsythe, Constance Bennett [her last film], Ricardo Montalban, Burgess Meredith, and Keir Dullea). Portrait in Black is a lesser vehicle that is noticeably over-acted, particularly in Anthony Quinn’s over-wrought performance as Turner’s co-conspirator in murder. These films are typically glossily-produced Ross Turner efforts, but unfortunately without the thoughtful direction of Douglas Sirk who had benefited so many of Hunter’s 1950s films. Turner’s performance is more than enough to carry the day in Madame X, but Portrait in Black has to rely too much on production gloss to hide its acting and plot deficiencies and once the gloss loses its effectiveness to hold our attention, the film gradually runs out of steam. Both films are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic transfers, both of which look quite strong with vibrant colour and some modest grain. Madame X looks a little cleaner and slightly more crisp. The mono sound on both is in good shape. The only supplements are trailers for each film. Modestly list-priced at $15, this is a good bargain especially for Lana Turner fans. Others should try a rental.
Fox has returned to its Film Noir series after a lengthy hiatus with three new titles – Daisy Kenyon (1947), Dangerous Crossing (1953), and Black Widow (1954).
These bring the total number in the series up to a couple of dozen, although Fox still has other titles more worthy of inclusion than those in this latest wave. Actually only Daisy Kenyon has any sort of decent noir pedigree. Dangerous Crossing and Black Widow are interesting melodramas, but calling them film noir is a real stretch. Nevertheless, it’s good to have all three titles available to us regardless of the designation. Daisy Kenyon stars Joan Crawford then at the height of her second wave of stardom (highlighted by her work at Warners, especially in Mildred Pierce). She’s a commercial artist who wavers between two suitors – Dana Andrews as a high-powered lawyer who seems unlikely to divorce his wife, and Henry Fonda as a returning veteran who feels out of step with the postwar world. The Fonda character and the film’s shadowy lighting have definite noir connections, but the film is doubly interesting for its obvious if underplayed acknowledgement of topics such as bi-sexuality, child beating, and the plight of the Nissei. Dangerous Crossing takes us on a transatlantic sea voyage during which a young bride’s husband not only disappears mysteriously but there appears to be no record that he was ever on the ship. The film is smoothly acted by two real Fox professionals, Jeanne Crain (as the young bride) and Michael Rennie (as the ship’s doctor), and disguises the resolution of the mystery very effectively, playing out the plot briskly in only 76 minutes. The film’s chief nod to noir lies in its atmospheric lighting. Black Widow is one of Fox’s earliest CinemaScope films, a mystery presented in colour by Deluxe. The story focuses on Broadway producer Van Heflin whose life gets overturned by a young woman (Peggy Ann Garner) whom he allows to use his apartment as a place to write, only to have her found dead hanging in his bathroom. Ginger Rogers is the title character, an actress with a poisonous tongue, who seems to circle the plot like a spider and only really comes into focus at the climax. The mystery and ultimate murderer are well concealed for much of the film, but become fairly obvious to the viewer before the details are actually revealed. None of these films will ever be mistaken for high art, but all are entertaining examples of the Hollywood studio system at work. As usual, Fox gives all of them superior transfers – crisp, with very good shadow detail and contrast. Black Widow is given a 2.55:1 anamorphic treatment that sparkles with vibrant colour. (The others are full frame as originally shot.) A few speckles and bits of minor debris are about all one can find on the negative side of the ledger for all three titles. The mono sound (but 4.0 Dolby Surround on Black Widow) is in quite decent shape in all cases. Supplements on all three discs are superior, with Fox providing thoroughly informative and entertaining audio commentaries on each (courtesy of Foster Hirsch on Daisy Kenyon, Alan Rode on Black Widow, Aubrey Salomon on Dangerous Crossing), new featurettes on the making of the films and/or on selected directors (Preminger on Daisy Kenyon) or actors (Ginger Rogers, Gene Tierney on Black Widow), isolated scores (not on Daisy Kenyon), interactive press guides, still galleries, and the original theatrical trailers. All three titles are highly recommended.
Finally, I’ve had a chance to take a look at Warners’ release of Warner Bros. Pictures Gangsters Collection: Volume 3. There are six films in the set including four early Cagney titles (Lady Killer, The Mayor of Hell, Picture Snatcher, Smart Money – the latter three of which have not previously been available on any home video format) and two Humphrey Bogart titles (Black Legion, Brother Orchid).
Warners’ other gangster film star, Edward G. Robinson, has starring roles in two of these films (Brother Orchid, Smart Money). All the films are also available individually. Smart Money, made in 1931, is the earliest title in the set. Robinson has the lead as a barber who seizes an opportunity to get into the gambling rackets. His weakness for blondes, however, may be the road to his downfall. The role is a familiar one for Robinson’s boisterous and larger-than-life approach to gangster parts. Cagney is merely along in a small supporting role. Still, as the only film teaming of the two, it’s a diverting and typically brisk Warner outing of the time. Look for Boris Karloff in a small supporting role and also Charles Lane (who recently died at age 100) in apparently his first known screen appearance. Picture Snatcher, The Mayor of Hell, and Lady Killer were all made in 1933 bracketing Cagney’s big film of that year – Footlight Parade (previously released on DVD by Warners). None of the three were major productions but all benefit from Cagney’s exuberant portrayals and the little bits of business that he brought to every role he played. In Picture Snatcher, he’s an ex-con who takes a job as a photographer specializing in pictures of people trying to avoid publicity. Alice White, as a wise-cracking blonde able to match Cagney, and Ralph Bellamy are notable among the supporting cast. The Mayor of Hell finds Cagney as a racketeer with a sentiment for youngsters in reform school. He deposes the head of one particularly nastily-run such institution and introduces a form of self-government that gains the boys’ support, only to have it all jeopardized when his involvement in a killing forces him into hiding. The film is very much a one-man show for Cagney, although Dudley Digges does score in a juicy portrayal of the reform school superintendent. The film was successfully remade as Crime School, a 1938 starring vehicle for Humphrey Bogart. Lady Killer is the best of the three as it features Cagney as a small time hood who goes to Hollywood to hide from the police and finds himself in the movies, soon rising from bit parts (he begins as an Indian chief) to stardom. While imbuing the film with his usual enthusiasm and quick-talking rough-and-tumble approach, Cagney demonstrates the breadth of his ability in this vigorous combination of action, comedy, and romance – even sporting an attractive moustache for part of the film. Poor old Mae Clarke suffers more indignity (á la The Public Enemy) at Cagney’s hands. Black Legion is a lesser-known Bogart vehicle, but is one of if not the best of the minor-A films he starred in during the late 1930s. In it he plays a factory worker angry at the promotion of a “foreigner” to a position he thought should have gone to him. He falls in with a vigilante group of masked Ku Kux Klan types who oppose all people and things un-American, which they interpret as white supremicist-based. Bogart’s involvement with them eventually leads to a tragedy involving a close friend and finds him on the run from the police. The film is a very hard-hitting indictment of prejudice and vigilanteism that plays out its story in a brisk 80 minutes and doesn’t cop out in its conclusion. The always dependable Ann Sheridan has a significant supporting role and otherwise the Warner stock company is well-represented. Brother Orchid is probably the most-widely known film in the set. Robinson stars as a gangster who decides to quit the rackets and go abroad seeking “class”. After a series of disappointments, he returns hoping to regain his place as head of his gang only to find Bogart now firmly in charge. After managing to avoid an attempt on his life, Robinson must hide out in a monastery where the monks grow and sell flowers. Made just on the cusp of Bogart’s ascent to full stardom, Brother Orchid is a familiar tale, yet one that provides an hour and a half of just plain fun. One imagines that Robinson and Bogart must have become fairly tired of such roles by that time, yet both perform with gusto and sincerity. Robinson’s redemption at the end is truly moving. The six films are all presented full frame on DVD as originally released theatrically and all look very nice. Smart Money and Picture Snatcher are slightly weaker than the others with some instances of softness, but still decently-detailed images and minor grain in evidence. The Mayor of Hell, Lady Killer, and Black Legion all offer good detail, commendable gray scales, and generally crisp images. Brother Orchid is marginally the strongest of the six with a crisp, clear. and quite film-like appearance. The mono sound on all is in good shape. Warners has done a superb job on the disc supplements with audio commentaries on every title from such film historians as Drew Casper, Patricia King Hanson, Alain Silver, James Ursini, Jeffery Vance, Tony Maietta, Greg Mank, and Anthony Slide, and biographers Alan Gansberg and Eric Lax. The range of styles provides a welcome mix and the amount of information shared is collectively truly prodigious. In addition every title enjoys the “Warner Night at the Movies” treatment with a range of trailers, newsreel items, short subjects, and cartoons included. Very highly recommended.
Western News and Views
Fox has now released details on its May western DVD releases. The Big Trail: Fox Grandeur Special Edition is a two-disc release featuring a digitally restored and re-mastered presentation from the original 70mm widescreen theatrical release as well as the full-frame version that was also released theatrically. Supplements will include audio commentary with film historian/author Richard Schickel on the 70mm widescreen presentation; four featurettes (The Creation of John Wayne, Raoul Walsh: A Man in His Time, The Big Vision: The Grandeur Process, The Making of The Big Trail); various photo and poster galleries; and trailers. The Fox Western Classics Collection is a three-disc set with a separate disc for each of Garden of Evil, Rawhide, and The Gunfighter. Garden of Evil will be presented in anamorphic widescreen with audio commentary by Nick Redman, Steven Smith, John Morgan and William Stromberg; two featurettes (Travels of a Gunslinger: The Making of Garden of Evil and Henry Hathaway: When the Going Gets Tough…); and restoration comparisons. Rawhide (full frame as originally shot) will have two featurettes (Susan Hayward: Hollywood’s Straight Shooter and Shot It in Lone Pine!); the theatrical trailer; restoration comparisons; and a still gallery. Surprisingly, The Gunfighter will only have its theatrical trailer plus trailers for several other Fox westerns.
Aside from a couple of classic western releases noted in the section below, more recent catalogue western releases planned include The Shadow Riders (1982, with Tom Selleck) due May 13th from Sony. Sony has also announced a trio of western titles for release on Blu-ray Disc on June 10th, including The Professionals, The Missing and Broken Trail.
Please note that the classic announcement database has been updated to reflect the following news.
Blue Underground will make Mondo Cane (1962) and Mondo Cane 2 (1964) available on June 17th. The company has apparently restored the films from the original Italian negatives and promises a generous selection of supplements too. Women of the World, a 1963 film in the same vein as the Mondo Cane titles, will be released concurrently.
Criterion has announced three titles for release in May. Coming on the 13th are two Louis Malle films – The Lovers (1958) and The Fire Within (1963), both with Jeanne Moreau and each presented as a single-disc edition. On May 27th, the new two-disc edition of Alexander Korda’s The Thief of Bagdad (1940) arrives. Among the extras are two audio commentaries, one by film historian Bruce Eder and the other by directors Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese, and the film The Lion Has Wings (Korda’s 1939 war propaganda film shot during a production hiatus on The Thief of Bagdad). June 24th brings the anticipated release of The Furies, Anthony Mann’s fine 1950 western starring Walter Huston and Barbara Stanwyck. Featured on the DVD are an audio commentary by western film historian Jim Litses and a rare 1931 on-camera interview with Walter Huston. Other June releases, on the 17th, include Yukio Mishima’s Patriotism (1966) and Class Tous Risques (1960, with Lino Ventura and Jean Paul Belmondo) – both single-disc special editions.
Disney has The Sword in the Stone: 45th Anniversary Edition set for a June 17th release. The studio also plans to release Destino, a film that began as a 1946 collaboration between Disney and surrealist Salvador Dali and completed in 2003 under the supervision of Walt's nephew, Roy E. Disney. The release is expected to be part of a two-disc "Walt Disney Treasures" set on November 11th. Also included will be a feature-length documentary describing how the partnership between Disney and Dali developed, and a short about Disney projects that never came to full fruition. Two other “Treasures” releases on the same date are The Chronological Donald: Volume 4 (1951-1961 including the Cinemascope shorts) and Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow (includes all three episodes in the series The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh and the English theatrical feature edited from them). Pinocchio (1940) will be the studio’s follow-up Platinum Series release to this fall’s Sleeping Beauty. It’s expected on DVD and BD in 2009.
Fox’s next Marquee Musicals will comprise the Carmen Miranda Collection, due on June 17th. It’s a five-film set including four new-to-DVD titles – Doll Face (1945), Greenwich Village (1944), If I’m Lucky (1946), Something for the Boys (1944) – and a remaster of The Gang’s All Here (1943). It’s great to see Carmen, but even better is the fact that Vivian Blaine stars in the set’s first four films. An addition to Fox’s spring western plans is John Wayne: The Fox Westerns, due on May 13th. It will be a five-disc set including the new two-disc SE of The Big Trail, The Comancheros, North to Alaska, and The Undefeated. I would expect that the latter three discs will be just the same releases already available. In a real surprise move, Fox will be offering The Tyrone Power Collection: Volume 2 for release on July 29th. It will include ten titles: Cafe Metropole (1937), Girls' Dormitory (1936), Johnny Apollo (1940), Daytime Wife (1939), The Luck of the Irish (1948), I'll Never Forget You (1951), That Wonderful Urge (1948), Love Is News (1937), This Above All (1942), and Second Honeymoon (1937). These will apparently be presented as five double features, and at a bargain list price of $50 total. The double bills will not be available individually, only in the box set. Fox also has a number of classic releases in the plans that don’t have specific release dates as yet. They include Stars and Stripes Forever (1952, with Clifton Webb), Man Hunt (1942, with Walter Pidgeon), Dragonwyck (1946, with Gene Tierney), Chandu the Magician (1932, with Bela Lugosi), and Dr. Renault’s Secret (1942, with J. Carrol Naish). Also planned is A Box of Ritz Crackers (films featuring the Ritz Brothers), but individual titles have not been specified as yet.
Grapevine Video (grapevinevideo.com) has five silent and two sound releases for March. The silent offerings are The Phantom Carriage (1920, both Swedish and Metro versions), The Nut (1921, with Douglas Fairbanks), Hills of Kentucky (1927, with Rin Tin Tin), The Cruise of Jasper B (1926, with Rod LaRocque), and The Wandering Jew (1921, the life of the founder of modern Zionism). The two sound releases are a double bill of 1930s exploitation films Reefer Madness (1936) and Sex Madness (1938), and a crime double bill of X Marks the Spot (Republic, 1942) and Gambler’s Choice (Paramount, 1944).
Infinity Entertainment will have Route 66: Season Two, Volume One for release on May 20th. For the same date, it will also package the previously-released two volumes of season one into the 8-disc set Route 66: The Complete First Season. The Real McCoys: The Complete Season 3 will be available June 17th.
Kino will have Before the Nickelodeon: The Early Cinema of Edwin S. Porter and The Magic of Melies for release on April 22nd.
One wonders about the thinking processes over at Lionsgate. With the entire Republic catalogue at its disposal, the only release of an American classic title it can come up with (and that it hasn’t released before) is Tobor the Great (1954) on May 13th. On May 27th, Lionsgate will also release The World War Collection, containing Angels One Five [1954, with Jack Hawkins], The Captive Heart [1946, with Michael Redgrave], King and Country [1964, with Dirk Bogarde], and The Sound Barrier [aka Breaking the Sound Barrier, 1952, with Ralph Richardson]). A two-disc edition of High Noon (1952) is set for a June 10th release and Lionsgate indicates it will feature Paramount’s restoration of the title. As part of a new line called the Celebrity Series, Lionsgate will release the Sophia Loren Collection on June 10th. Included are: Carosello Napoletano (1954), Attila (1954), Madame Sans-Gene (1962), and I Girasoli (1970). A Catherine Deneuve Collection due on the same date will include Manon 70 (1968) as well as later films - Le Sauvage (1975), Hotel des Ameriques (1981), Le Choc (1982), and Fort Saganne (1984).
MGM plans a release of Casino Royale: 40th Anniversary Edition (single disc) on June 3rd. The studio will have The Outer Limits: The Complete Series for release on July 1st. This is the original series.
Paramount continues its emphasis on TV series releases with three offerings on June 10th: The Fugitive: Season Two, Volume One, Hawaii Five-0: the Complete Fourth Season, and The Odd Couple: The Complete Fourth Season. Meanwhile, My Three Sons: Season One, Volume One is apparently in Paramount’s future release plans; it has appeared on but been subsequently removed from the June schedule. Paramount plans The Streets of San Francisco: Season Two, Volume One is set for July 1st and Cannon: Season One, Volume One follows on July 8th. The studio also plans to release The Untouchables: Season Two, Volume Two on August 26th, according to TVShowsonDVD.com. Meanwhile, somehow in a moment of weakness, Paramount is managing to allow a few minor classic titles to trickle out (amongst a number of lesser late-1970s and 1980s films). These titles have actually been licensed to Legend Films for release and will be available from Legend through its website on April 1st with wider release available on the June and July dates mentioned below. Legend Films indicates that Paramount has provided them with the best dup negs and IPs that the studio has in its vaults. The DVDs will present the films in their original aspect ratios and anamorphically enhanced as appropriate. No supplements are included. Legend anticipates a long and fruitful relationship with Paramount so hopefully many of those Paramount classic titles (generally from 1950 on – pre-1950 titles are held by Universal) that fans have been hoping for will become available in due course. On June 3rd, expect in wide release Villa Rides! (1968, with Yul Brynner and Robert Mitchum), Houdini (1953, with Tony Curtis), Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969, with Tony Curtis), The Optimists (1973, with Peter Sellers), The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972, with Shirley MacLaine), Z.P.G. (1972, with Oliver Reed), Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973, with Alec Guinness), and The Skull (1965, with Peter Cushing). July 1st will bring Papa’s Delicate Condition (1963, with Jackie Gleason), The Busy Body (1967, with Sid Caesar and Robert Ryan), Rhubarb (1951, with Ray Milland), and Desperate Characters (1971, with Shirley MacLaine).
Sony will have Bewitched: The Complete Sixth Season on May 6th. More importantly, however, is the announced May 27th release date for The Three Stooges Collection: Volume Two (1937-1939). It will contain 24 chronologically-released shorts on two discs. Also in the plans for May 20th is a release of James Stewart: Columbia Screen Legends Collection. Titles include The Man from Laramie, Bell, Book and Candle and Anatomy of a Murder (all previously issued half a dozen years ago). If the past Sony track record is any indication, these titles will have new transfers and perhaps new supplements and the set (being variously advertised as either three or four discs) may contain a further title not previously out on DVD. We’ll see! According to DVD Drive-in.com, this summer Sony will be releasing a box set of Hammer Films’ costume adventures originally released theatrically by Columbia Pictures. The films in the set include Terence Fisher’s Stranglers of Bombay (1960), Terror of the Tongs (1961), Pirates of Blood River (1962), and Devil Ship Pirates (1964). All films except for Stranglers star Christopher Lee. Extras will include three separate commentaries with legendary Hammer screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, as well as some to-be-announced short subjects.
Timeless Media Group, according to TVShowsonDVD.com, will release a three-disc set of Laredo: Season One, Part Two on March 25th. Laredo was a 1965 TV series spun off from The Virginian (now that would be great to see on DVD) and lasted two seasons. Timeless Media previously released Laredo: The Best of Season One last autumn. This new release will complete all the first season’s episodes though because of the sets’ best-of nature, the episodes will not be in chronological order. Other releases in Timeless Media’s plans include two-disc tins for each of Here’s the Johnny Carson Show (episodes from the 1955 Johnny Carson Show and Who Do You Trust?), The Best of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon (10 episodes), Red Skelton: America’s Crown Prince (10 episodes), Red Skelton: America’s Crown Prince Returns (10 episodes), and The Jack Benny Show (10 episodes). All are due out on May 6th.
Last year, Universal pleased western fans with two nice four-title sets of western films from both its Paramount and Universal holdings. Things don’t look so promising this year though. So far all that’s been announced is James Stewart: The Western Collection (May 20th release), which merely collects six films previously released separately on DVD (Destry Rides Again, Winchester ’73, Bend of the River, The Far Country, Night Passage, The Rare Breed). June 24th brings Man of a Thousand Faces (1957, with James Cagney as Lon Chaney) and Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (1969, with Roy Thinnes).
As previously reported here at The Bits in one of the daily updates, Warner Bros. is currently working on Quo Vadis and expects to release the film this year, probably in the fourth quarter. Less exact as to timing is Raintree County. The studio is intent on releasing the roadshow version and has access to a collector’s print which they are marrying to their own source material. Warners is still searching for even better elements though, hence the uncertainty as to release timing. This Is the Army is also being worked on at this time, but considerable work is required so that timing of the finished product is difficult to determine at present (i.e., a 2008 release seems unlikely).
Meanwhile, the studio has announced Popeye the Sailor: Volume Two - 1938-1940 for release on June 17th. It will be a two-disc set containing 31 cartoons and a number of supplements including commentaries on almost half of the cartoons, several short documentaries, and a number of vintage short items. Also widely available on April 22nd (after last year’s exclusive deals through Deep Discount) will be Merrill’s Marauders (1962, with Jeff Chandler) and A Date with Judy (1948, with Jane Powell). Although a little beyond our classic mandate (and not listed in the classic announcement database), readers will probably be interested to know that the studio will release all five Dirty Harry films in new editions both individually and in a box set in both DVD and Blu-ray versions on June 3rd. The original Dirty Harry film will sport a two-disc special edition. On July 22nd, Warners will have Blues in the Night (1941) and Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955) available as part of a jazz-themed release that will also see a few more recent titles also released.
In high definition news, Fox has announced that Batman: The Movie (1966, with Adam West) will appear on Blu-ray on July 1st. There will be both a Special Edition with numerous supplements including audio commentary by Adam West and Burt Ward, and a Limited Special Edition featuring a 1/18th scale Batmobile from Hot Wheels.
And that’s it for this outing. I’ll be back again soon.